Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Theoretical

"Moral ambiguity creates mental cramps of various sorts, which lead to reflection, discussion, and argument… Morality resists theoretical unification under either a set of special-purpose rules or single general-purpose rule or principle, such as the categorical imperative or the principle of unity. If this is right, and if it is right because the ends of moral life are plural and heterogeneous in kind and because our practices of moral education rightly reflect this, then we have some greater purchase on why the project of finding a single theoretically satisfying moral theory has failed." - Owen Flanagan

"Only a theoretical deity is left to any man who has ceased to commune with God, and a theoretical deity saves no man from sin and disheartenment." -

"The noblest quality and highest in rank of all human activities is philosophy… The philosopher’s aim is his theoretical studies is to ascertain the truth; in his practical knowledge, to conduct himself in accordance with that truth." - Rasa’il al-Kindi

"[A majority of people] are not theoretical atheists; they are practical atheists. They do not deny the existence of God with their lips, but they are continually denying his existence with their lives." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Will without freedom is an empty word, while freedom is actual only as will, as subject... Mind is in principle thinking, and man is distinguished from beast in virtue of thinking. But it must not be imagined that man is half thought and half will, and that he keeps thought in one pocket and will in another, for this would be a foolish idea. The distinction between thought and will is only that between the theoretical attitude and the practical. These, however, are surely not two faculties; the will is rather a special way of thinking, thinking translating itself into existence, thinking as the urge to give itself existence." - Georg Hegel, fully Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

"The pace of science forces the pace of technique. Theoretical physics forces atomic energy on us; the successful production of the fission bomb forces upon us the manufacture of the hydrogen bomb. We do not choose our problems, we do not choose our products; we are pushed, we are forced — by what? By a system which has no purpose and goal transcending it, and which makes man its appendix." - Erich Fromm, fully Erich Seligmann Fromm

" Only a theoretical deity is left to any man who has ceased to commune with God and a theoretical deity saves no man from sin and disheartenment. " - Harry Emerson Fosdick

"I am now convinced that theoretical physics is actually philosophy." - Max Born

"I have tried to read philosophers of all ages and have found many illuminating ideas but no steady progress toward deeper knowledge and understanding. Science, however, gives me the feeling of steady progress: I am convinced that theoretical physics is actual philosophy. It has revolutionized fundamental concepts, e.g., about space and time (relativity), about causality (quantum theory), and about substance and matter (atomistics), and it has taught us new methods of thinking (complementarity) which are applicable far beyond physics." - Max Born

"The idea inherent in all idealistic metaphysics–that the world is in some sense a product of the mind–is thus turned into its opposite: the mind is a product of the world, of the processes of nature. Hence, according to popular Darwinism, nature does not need philosophy to speak for her: nature, a powerful and venerable deity, is ruler rather than ruled. Darwinism ultimately comes to the aid of rebellious nature in undermining any doctrine, theological or philosophical, that regards nature itself as expressing a truth that reason must try to recognize. The equating of reason with nature, by which reason is debased and raw nature exalted, is a typical fallacy of the era of rationalization. Instrumentalized subjective reason either eulogizes nature as pure vitality or disparages it as brute force, instead of treating it as a text to be interpreted by philosophy that, if rightly read, will unfold a tale of infinite suffering. Without committing the fallacy of equating nature and reason, mankind must try to reconcile the two. In traditional theology and metaphysics, the natural was largely conceived as the evil, and the spiritual or supernatural as the good. In popular Darwinism, the good is the well-adapted, and the value of that to which the organism adapts itself is unquestioned or is measured only in terms of further adaptation. However, being well adapted to one’s surroundings is tantamount to being capable of coping successfully with them, of mastering the forces that beset one. Thus the theoretical denial of the spirit’s antagonism to nature–even as implied in the doctrine of interrelation between the various forms of organic life, including man–frequently amounts in practice to subscribing to the principle of man’s continuous and thoroughgoing domination of nature. Regarding reason as a natural organ does not divest it of the trend to domination or invest it with greater potentialities for reconciliation. On the contrary, the abdication of the spirit in popular Darwinism entails the rejection of any elements of the mind that transcend the function of adaptation and consequently are not instruments of self-preservation. Reason disavows its own primacy and professes to be a mere servant of natural selection. On the surface, this new empirical reason seems more humble toward nature than the reason of the metaphysical tradition. Actually, however, it is arrogant, practical mind riding roughshod over the ‘useless spiritual,’ and dismissing any view of nature in which the latter is taken to be more than a stimulus to human activity. The effects of this view are not confined to modern philosophy." - Max Horkheimer

"I think this serious and fundamental relation between struggle and truth, the dimension in which philosophy has developed for centuries and centuries, only dramatizes itself, becomes emaciated, and loses its meaning and effectiveness in polemics within theoretical discourse. So in all of this I will therefore propose only one imperative, but it will be categorical and unconditional: Never engage in polemics." - Michel Foucault

"Nor do piecemeal steps however well intended, even partially resolve problems that have reached a universal, global and catastrophic Character. If anything, partial `solutions' serve merely as cosmetics to conceal the deep seated nature of the ecological crisis. They thereby deflect public attention and theoretical insight from an adequate understanding of the depth and scope of the necessary changes." - Murray Bookchin

"My conviction has grown so strong that I no longer look on this plan of energy or intelligence transmission as a mere theoretical possibility, but as a serious problem in electrical engineering, which must be carried out some day." - Nikola Tesla

"Knowledge of the scriptures is beneficial only when it stimulates a desire for practical realization; otherwise, theoretical knowledge gives one false conviction of wisdom." - Paramahansa Yogananda, born Mukunda Lal Ghosh

"The methods of theoretical physics should be applicable to all those branches of thought in which the essential features are expressible with numbers." - Paul Dirac, fully Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac

"The steady progress of physics requires for its theoretical formulation a mathematics which get continually more advanced. ... It was expected that mathematics would get more and more complicated, but would rest on a permanent basis of axioms and definitions, while actually the modern physical developments have required a mathematics that continually shifts its foundation and gets more abstract. Non-Euclidean geometry and non-commutative algebra, which were at one time were considered to be purely fictions of the mind and pastimes of logical thinkers, have now been found to be very necessary for the description of general facts of the physical world. It seems likely that this process of increasing abstraction will continue in the future and the advance in physics is to be associated with continual modification and generalization of the axioms at the base of mathematics rather than with a logical development of any one mathematical scheme on a fixed foundation. " - Paul Dirac, fully Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac

"There are, at present, fundamental problems in theoretical physics… the solution of which… will presumably require a more drastic revision of our fundamental concepts than any that have gone before. Quite likely, these changes will be so great that it will be beyond the power of human intelligence to get the necessary new ideas by direct attempts to formulate the experimental data in mathematical terms. The theoretical worker in the future will, therefore, have to proceed in a more direct way. The most powerful method of advance that can be suggested at present is to employ all the resources of pure mathematics in attempts to perfect and generalize the mathematical formalism that forms the existing basis of theoretical physics, and after each success in this direction, to try to interpret the new mathematical features in terms of physical entities." - Paul Dirac, fully Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac

"Science is an essentially anarchic enterprise: theoretical anarchism is more humanitarian and more likely to encourage progress than its law-and-order alternatives. " - Paul Feyerabend, fully Paul Karl Feyerabend

"Experience arises together with theoretical assumptions not before them, and an experience without theory is just as incomprehensible as is (allegedly) a theory without experience." - Paul Feyerabend, fully Paul Karl Feyerabend

"What is surprising is that almost all the trends that developed within the sciences, Aristotelianism and an extreme Platonism included, produced results, not only in special domains, but everywhere; there exist highly theoretical branches of biology and highly empirical parts of astrophysics. The world is a complex and many-sided thing." - Paul Feyerabend, fully Paul Karl Feyerabend

"By now many intellectuals regard theoretical or 'objective' knowledge as the only knowledge worth considering. Popper himself encourages the belief by his slander of relativism. Now this conceit would have substance if scientists and philosophers looking for universal and objective morality had succeeded in finding the former and persuaded, rather than forced, dissenting cultures to adopt the latter. This is not the case." - Paul Feyerabend, fully Paul Karl Feyerabend

"Now - how can we possibly examine something we use all the time and presuppose in every statement? How can we criticize the terms in which we habitually express our observations? Let us see! The first step in our criticism of commonly-used concepts is to create a measure of criticism, something with which these concepts can be compared. Of course, we shall later want to know a little more about the measuring stick itself; for example, we shall want to know whether it is better than, or perhaps not as good as, the material examined. But in order for this examination to start there must be a measuring-stick in the first place. Therefore, the first step in our criticism of customary concepts and customary reactions is to step outside the circle and either to invent a new conceptual system, for example a new theory, that clashes with the most carefully established observational results and confounds with the most plausible theoretical principles, or to import such a system from outside science, from religion, from mythology, from the ideas of incompetents, or the ramblings of madmen. This step is, again, counter-inductive, Counter-induction is thus both a fact' - science could not exist without it - and a legitimate and much needed move in the game of science." - Paul Feyerabend, fully Paul Karl Feyerabend

"Moses assigned to the body its proper tasks and similarly to the soul what falls to its share, and his earnest desire was, that the two should be waiting to relieve each other. Thus, while the body is working, the soul enjoys a respite, but when the body takes its rest, the soul resumes its work, and thus the best forms of life, the theoretical and the practical, take their turns in replacing each other. The practical life has six as its number allotted for ministering to the body. The theoretical has seven for knowledge and perfection of the mind." - Philo, aka Philo of Alexandria, Philo Judaeus, Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, Yedidia, "Philon", and Philo the Jew NULL

"Catholic doctrine tells us that the primary duty of charity does not lie in the toleration of false ideas, however sincere they may be, nor in the theoretical or practical indifference towards the errors and vices in which we see our brethren plunged but in the zeal for their intellectual and moral improvement as well as for their material well-being. . . True, Jesus has loved us with an immense, infinite love, and He came on earth to suffer and die so that, gathered around Him in justice and love, motivated by the same sentiments of mutual charity, all men might live in peace and happiness. But for the realization of this temporal and eternal happiness, He has laid down with supreme authority the condition that we must belong to His Flock, that we must accept His doctrine, that we must practice virtue, and that we must accept the teaching and guidance of Peter and his successors… He was as strong as he was gentle. He reproved, threatened, chastised, knowing, and teaching us that fear is the beginning of wisdom, and that it is sometimes proper for a man to cut off an offending limb to save his body. Finally, He did not announce for future society the reign of an ideal happiness from which suffering would be banished; but, by His lessons and by His example, He traced the path of the happiness which is possible on earth and of the perfect happiness in heaven… something quite different from an inconsistent and impotent humanitarianism." - Pope Pius X, aka Saint Pope Pius X and Pope of the Eucharist, born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto NULL

"However we select from nature a complex [of phenomena] using the criterion of simplicity, in no case will its theoretical treatment turn out to be forever appropriate (sufficient)... I do not doubt that the day will come when [general relativity], too, will have to yield to another one, for reasons which at present we do not yet surmise. I believe that this process of deepening theory has no limits." - Albert Einstein

"If you want to find out anything from the theoretical physicists about the methods they use, I advise you to stick closely to one principle: don't listen to their words, fix your attention on their deeds. To him who is a discoverer in this field the products of his imagination appear so necessary and natural that he regards them, and would like to have them regarded by others, not as creations of thought but as given realities." - Albert Einstein

"The longing to behold this pre-established harmony [of phenomena and theoretical principles] is the source of the inexhaustible patience and perseverance with which Planck has devoted himself... The state of mind which enables a man to do work of this kind is akin to that of the religious worshiper or the lover; the daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart." - Albert Einstein

"The area of a population’s theoretical eco-footprint depends on four factors: the population size, the average material standard of living, the average productivity of land/water ecosystems, and the efficiency of resource harvesting, processing, and use. Regardless of the relative importance of these factors and how they interact, every population has an ecological footprint and the productive land and water captured by EFA represents much of the ‘natural capital’ (productive natural resource base) required to meet that study population’s consumptive demands. It is important to recognize that population eco-footprints constitute mutually exclusive appropriations of productive capacity. The biocapacity used by one population is not available for use by another. All human populations are competing for the available productive capacity of Earth." - William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel

"So much of what we said sounded crazy, yet none of it was false... as if two theoretical physicists stood on stage to say that when we travel near light-speed, we get younger than nontravellers; that a mile of space next to the sun is different than a mile of space next to the earth because the sun-mile space is curved more than the earth-mile. Silly ideas, worth the admission price in smiles, but they're true. Is high-energy physics interesting because it's true or because it's crazy?" - Richard Bach, fully Richard David Bach

"I was reminded of a quotation by the famous American physicist Steven Weinberg, Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist. Weinberg said: Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it, you'd have good people doing good things, and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion." - Richard Dawkins

"All theoretical chemistry is really physics; and all theoretical chemists know it." - Richard Feynman, fully Richard Phillips Feynman

"It has been a mystery ever since it was discovered more than fifty years ago, and all good theoretical physicists put this number up on their wall and worry about it. Immediately you would like to know where this number for a coupling comes from: is it related to ? or perhaps to the base of natural logarithms? Nobody knows. It's one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the hand of God wrote that number, and we don't know how He pushed his pencil. We know what kind of a dance to do experimentally to measure this number very accurately, but we don't know what kind of dance to do on the computer to make this number come out, without putting it in secretly!" - Richard Feynman, fully Richard Phillips Feynman

"It is odd, but on the infrequent occasions when I have been called upon in a formal place to play the bongo drums, the introducer never seems to find it necessary to mention that I also do theoretical physics." - Richard Feynman, fully Richard Phillips Feynman

"On the infrequent occasions when I have been called upon in a formal place to play the bongo drums, the introducer never seems to find it necessary to mention that I also do theoretical physics." - Richard Feynman, fully Richard Phillips Feynman

"The more you see how strangely Nature behaves, the harder it is to make a model that explains how even the simplest phenomena actually work. So theoretical physics has given up on that." - Richard Feynman, fully Richard Phillips Feynman

"The theoretical broadening which comes from having many humanities subjects on the campus is offset by the general dopiness of the people who study these things." - Richard Feynman, fully Richard Phillips Feynman

"Therefore psychologically we must keep all the theories in our heads, and every theoretical physicist who is any good knows six or seven different theoretical representations for exactly the same physics." - Richard Feynman, fully Richard Phillips Feynman

"The truly mysterious ‘object’ is beyond our apprehension and comprehension, not only because our knowledge has certain irremovable limits, but because in it we come upon something inherently `wholly other’, whose kind and character are incommensurable with our own, and before which we therefore recoil in wonder that strikes us chill and numb." - Rudolf Otto

"On the contrary, enjoyments can be understood and analyzed, and it is the business of psychology to analyze enjoyments." - Samuel Alexander

"Prudence considers the means of acquiring happiness, but wisdom considers the very object of happiness." - Saint Thomas Aquinas, aka Thomas of Aquin or Aquino, Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis or Doctor Universalis

"No race of barbarians ever existed yet offered up children for money." - Samuel Gompers

"One should meditate on the form of God concentrating the mind on all the features. The person of self-control should withdraw the organs from the sense-objects with the help of the mind, and with the intellect [the determinative faculty] as guide, direct the mind to the entire form. Then he should concentrate the mind --- distributed all over the form --- on one part and think of the smiling countenance alone and nothing else." - Shrimad Bhagavatam, or the Bhâgavata Purâna, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, or Bhāgavata NULL

"No human being escapes the necessity of conceiving some good outside himself towards which his thought turns in a movement of desire, supplication, and hope. consequently, the only choice is between worshipping the true God or an idol. Every atheist is an idolater — unless he is worshipping the true God in his impersonal aspect. The majority of the pious are idolaters." - Simone Weil

"Darwinian evolution may be the most truthful and powerful idea ever generated by Western Science, but if we continue to illustrate our conviction with an indefensible, unsupported, entirely speculative, and basically rather silly story, then we are clothing a thing of beauty in rags - and we should be ashamed, for the apparel oft proclaims the man." - Stephan Jay Gould

"As scientists, we understand the dangers of nuclear weapons and their devastating effects, and we are learning how human activities and technologies are affecting climate systems in ways that may forever change life on Earth. As citizens of the world, we have a duty to alert the public to the unnecessary risks that we live with every day, and to the perils we foresee if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change... There’s a realization that we are changing our climate for the worse. That would have catastrophic effects. Although the threat is not as dire as that of nuclear weapons right now, in the long term we are looking at a serious threat." - Stephen Hawking

"If you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don't throw it away." - Stephen Hawking

"The quantum theory of gravity has opened up a new possibility, in which there would be no boundary to space-time and so there would be no need to specify the behavior at the boundary. There would be no singularities at which the laws of science broke down and no edge of space-time at which one would have to appeal to God or some new law to set the boundary conditions for space-time. One could say: 'The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary.' The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE." - Stephen Hawking

"Over the years, I have watched with disappointment the continuing failure of most scientists and mathematicians to grasp the idea of doing computer experiments on the simplest possible systems… [Mathematicians] tend to add features to make their systems fit in with complicated and abstract ideas—often related to continuity—that exist in modern mathematics. …One might imagine that the best way to be certain about what could possibly happen in some particular system would be to prove a theorem… But in my experience… it is easy to end up making implicit assumptions that can be violated by circumstances one cannot foresee. And indeed, by now, I have come to trust the correctness of conclusions based on simple systematic computer experiments much more than I trust all but the simplest proofs." - Stephen Wolfram

"The thing that got me started on the science that I've been building now for about 20 years or so was the question of okay, if mathematical equations can't make progress in understanding complex phenomena in the natural world, how might we make progress?" - Stephen Wolfram

"I have been summoned to explore a desert area of man's heart in which explanations no longer suffice, and in which one learns that only experience counts." - Thomas Merton