The Best Quotes on the Philosophy of Science (Real Quotes with References)

Lennox Johnson Quotes

This page features a selection of the best quotes on the philosophy of science. All of these quotes are real and references are given after each quote.

Here are the best quotes on the philosophy of science in no particular order:

The first principles of the universe are atoms and empty space. Everything else is merely thought to exist. The worlds are unlimited. They come into being and perish. Nothing can come into being from that which is not nor pass away into that which is not. Further, the atoms are unlimited in size and number, and they are borne along in the whole universe in a vortex, and thereby generate all composite things— fire, water, air, earth. For even these are conglomerations of given atoms. And it is because of their solidarity that these atoms are impassive and unalterable. The sun and the moon have been composed of such smooth and spherical masses [i.e. atoms], and so also the soul, which is identical with reason.

– Democritus, as quoted in Diogenes Laertius, Democritus, IX, 44

By doubting we come to enquiry, and through enquiry we perceive truth.

– Peter Abelard, Sic et Non, Preface

Those who have handled sciences have been either men of experiment or men of dogmas. The men of experiment are like the ant, they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes a middle course: it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and of the field, but transforms and digests it by a power of its own. Not unlike this is the true business of philosophy; for it neither relies solely or chiefly on the powers of the mind, nor does it take the matter which it gathers from natural history and mechanical experiments and lay it up in the memory whole, as it finds it, but lays it up in the understanding altered and digested.

– Francis Bacon, Novum Organon, bk.1, sect. 95

[The book of the universe] is written in mathematical language and its characters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without whose help … one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth.

– Galileo, The Assayer

It were far better never to think of investigating the truth at all, than to do so without a method. … Moreover by a method I mean certain and simple rules, such that, if a man observe them accurately, he shall never assume what is false as true, and will never spend his mental efforts to no purpose, but will always gradually increase his knowledge and so arrive at a true understanding of all that does not surpass his powers.

– René Descartes, Rules for the Direction of the Mind, IV

We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. … Nature is pleased with simplicity, and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.

– Isaac Newton, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, bk .3, sect. 1

We have no other notion of cause and effect, but that of certain objects, which have been always conjoined together, and which in all past instances have been found inseparable.

– David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, bk. 1, pt. 3, sect. 7

Thus the order and regularity in the appearances, which we entitle nature, we ourselves introduce.

– Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A 125

It is the nature of all positive philosophy to regard all phenomenon as subject to invariable natural laws, the discovery of which, and the reduction to the least possible number, is the aim and end of all our efforts, while causes, either first or final, are considered to be absolutely inaccessible, and the search for them meaningless.

– Auguste Comte, The Course in Positive Philosophy

It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

– Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, Intro.

The great tragedy of Science—the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.

– T. H. Huxley, Biogenesis and Abiogenesis

Science is built up of facts, as a house is built of stones; but an accumulation of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house.

– Henri Poincaré, Science and Hypothesis, pt. 4, ch. 9

It is often said that experiments should be made without preconceived ideas. That is impossible.

– Henri Poincaré, Science and Hypothesis, pt. 4, ch. 9

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

– Max Planck, A Scientific Autobiography

The history of science, like the history of all human ideas, is a history of irresponsible dreams, of obstinacy, and of error. But science is one of the very few human activities – perhaps the only one – in which errors are systematically criticized and fairly often, in time corrected. This is why we can say that, in science, we often learn from our mistakes, and why we can speak clearly and sensibly about making progress there.

– Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations

It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory— if we look for confirmations. Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions … A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice. Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or refute it.

– Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations

We can never make absolutely certain that our theory is not lost. All we can do is search for the falsity content of our best theory. We do so by trying to refute our theory; that is, by trying to test it severely in the light of all our objective knowledge and all our ingenuity. It is, of course, always possible that our theory may be false even if it passes all these tests; this is allowed for by our search for verisimilitude. But if it passes all these tests then we may have good reason to conjecture that our theory, which as we know has a greater truth content than its predecessor, may have no greater falsity content. And if we fail to refute the new theory, especially in fields in which its predecessor has been refuted, then we can claim this as one of the objective reasons for the conjecture that the new theory is a better approximation of truth than the old theory.

– Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge

In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable: and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.

– Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery

Nobody knows more than a tiny fragment of science well enough to judge its validity and value at first hand. For the rest he has to rely on views accepted at second hand on the authority of a community of people accredited as scientists. But this accrediting depends in its turn on a complex organization. For each member of the community can judge at first hand only a small number of his fellow members, and yet eventually each is accredited by all. What happens is that each recognizes as scientists a number of others by whom he is recognized as such in return, and these relations form chains which transmit these mutual recognitions at second hand through the whole community. This is how each member becomes directly or indirectly accredited by all. The system extends into the past. Its members recognize the same set of persons as their masters and derive from this allegiance a common tradition, of which each carries on a particular strand.

– Michael Polyani, Personal Knowledge

The amount of knowledge which we can justify from evidence directly available to us can never be large. The overwhelming proportion of our factual beliefs continue therefore to be held at second hand through trusting others, and in the great majority of cases our trust is placed in the authority of comparatively few people of widely acknowledged standing.

– Michael Polyani, Personal Knowledge

As in political revolutions, so in paradigm choice [scientific revolutions]—there is no standard higher than the assent of the relevant community … this issue of paradigm choice can never be unequivocally settled by logic and experiment alone.

– Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Scientific development depends in part on a process of non-incremental or revolutionary change. Some revolutions are large, like those associated with the names of Copernicus, Newton, or Darwin, but most are much smaller, like the discovery of oxygen or the planet Uranus. The usual prelude to changes of this sort is, I believed, the awareness of anomaly, of an occurrence or set of occurrences that does not fit existing ways of ordering phenomena. The changes that result therefore require ‘putting on a different kind of thinking- cap’, one that renders the anomalous lawlike but that, in the process, also transforms the order exhibited by some other phenomena, previously unproblematic.

– Thomas Kuhn, The Essential Tension

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A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations – Lennox Johnson

Publisher’s Description: A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.

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