Category Archives: quotes
… es ist wahr, ein Mathematiker, der nicht etwas Poet ist, wird nimmer ein vollkommener Mathematiker sein.
… it is true that a mathematician who is not somewhat of a poet, will never be a perfect mathematician.
–Karl Weierstrass, letter to Sofia Kovalevskaya, August 27, 1883, as shared by Gösta Mittag-Leffler at the 2nd International Congress for Mathematicians in Paris. Compte rendu du deuxième Congrès international des mathematiciens tenu à Paris du 6 au 12 août 1900, Gauthier-Villars (Paris), 1902, page 149. Courtesy of Wikiquote.
To modern educated people, it seems obvious that matters of fact are to be ascertained by observation, not by consulting ancient authorities. But this is an entirely modern conception, which hardly existed before the seventeenth century. Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives’ mouths. He said also that children would be healthier if conceived when the wind is in the north. One gathers that the two Mrs. Aristotles both had to run out and look at the weathercock every evening before going to bed. He states that a man bitten by a mad dog will not go mad, but any other animal will (Hiss. Am., 704a); that the bite of the shrewmouse is dangerous to horses, especially if the mouse is pregnant (ibid., 604b); that elephants suffering from insomnia can be cured by rubbing their shoulders with salt, olive oil, and warm water (ibid., 605a); and so on and so on. Nevertheless, classical dons, who have never observed any animal except the cat and the dog, continue to praise Aristotle for his fidelity to observation.
–Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (1951), p. 7
Aristotle, as a philosopher, is in many ways very different from all his predecessors. He is the first to write like a professor: his treatises are systematic, his discussions are divided into heads, he is a professional teacher, not an inspired prophet. His work is critical, careful, pedestrian, without any trace of Bacchic enthusiasm. The Orphic elements in Plato are watered down in Aristotle, and mixed with a strong dose of common sense; where he is Platonic, one feels that his natural temperament has been overpowered by the teaching to which he has been subjected. He is not passionate, or in any profound sense religious. The errors of his predecessors were the glorious errors of youth attempting the impossible; his errors are those of age which cannot free itself of habitual prejudices. He is best in detail and in criticism; he fails in large construction, for lack of fundamental clarity and Titanic fire.
I actually like Aristotle all right, and I think his virtue ethics are still relevant. However, I think many of his ideas, especially as filtered through Scholasticism had a bad effect on Western Christianity and society at large. There are still some that want to defend his philosophy, or the Thomism that comes from it, even in places where modern science has shown it to be manifestly wrong, and I’ve been in on a couple such discussions of late. Thus, while I’m not intending to dismiss his importance or influence, or trying to argue that he was always wrong, I think it’s good to post some critical quotes.
Coming to the fair land of Cecropia
he piously founded an altar of holy friendship
for a man whom the wicked may not properly even praise;
he, alone or the first of mortals, showed clearly
by his own life and by the courses of his arguments
that a man becomes good and happy at the same time:
but now none can grasp this any more.
–Aristotle, Altar Elegy, in which he speaks of his mentor and teacher, Plato
I suggest that the men and women who have given up religion because of the impact on their minds of modern science and philosophy were never truly religious in the first place, but only superstitious. The prevalence and predominance of science in our culture has cured a great many of the superstitious beliefs that constituted their false religiosity. The increase of secularism and irreligion in our society does not reflect a decrease in the number of persons who are truly religious, but a decrease in the number of those who are falsely religious; that is, merely superstitious. There is no question but that science is the cure for superstition, and, if given half the chance with education, it will reduce the amount that exists. The truths of religion must be compatible with the truths of science and the truths of philosophy. As scientific knowledge advances, and as philosophical analysis improves, religion is progressively purified of the superstitions that accidentally attach themselves to it as parasites. That being so, it is easier in fact to be more truly religious today than ever before, precisely because of the advances that have been made in science and philosophy. That is to say, it is easier for those who will make the effort to think clearly in and about religion, not for those whose addiction to religion is nothing more than a slavish adherence to inherited superstition. Throughout the whole of the past, only a small number of men were ever truly religious. The vast majority who gave their epochs and their societies the appearance of being religious were primarily and essentially superstitious.
–Mortimer Adler, “Concerning God, Modern Man, and Religion”, Part 2
For the sake of humanity, it is devoutly to be wished that the manly employment of agriculture, and the humanizing benefit of commerce, would supersede the waste of war and the rage of conquest; that the swords might be turned into ploughshares, the spears into pruning-hooks, and, as the Scriptures express it, “the nations learn war no more.”
–George Washington, as quoted in Maxims of Washington : Political, Social, Moral and Religious (1854) John Frederick Schroeder, p. 131. Courtesy Wikiquote.
Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If, to-day, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, “I see no probability of the British invading us” but he will say to you, “Be silent; I see it, if you don’t.” The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.
Dopóki nie skorzystałem z Internetu, nie wiedziałem, że na świecie jest tylu idiotów.
“I hadn’t known there were so many idiots in the world until I started using the Internet.”
–Stanisław Lem, unsourced; courtesy of Wikiquote
In general, I dislike using unsourced quotes–there are way too many of them (usually bogus) out there in cyberspace. However, this one is too good to pass up. If anyone knows the actual source, please let me know; or if it is indeed bogus, I’d appreciate it if you let me know the true source. Whether it’s true Lem or not, it certainly sounds like him, and is, alas, all too true….
Faith is, at one and the same time, absolutely necessary and altogether impossible.
–Stanisław Lem, The Star Diaries (1976); courtesy of Wikiquote
For those unfamiliar with him, Lem is the author of a huge body of science fiction, most of the important works available in English translation. His best-known work in the West is the novel Solaris, filmed three times: the first, a made-for-Russian TV version, hard to find in the West; the second, considered a masterpiece of science fiction cinema, in Russian, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky; and the third (which I also liked), starring George Clooney and directed by Stephen Sonderbergh.
For a parallel to the lesson of atomic theory regarding the limited applicability of such customary idealizations, we must in fact turn to quite other branches of science, such as psychology, or even to that kind of epistemological problems with which already thinkers like Buddha and Lao Tzu have been confronted, when trying to harmonize our position as spectators and actors in the great drama of existence.
–Niels Bohr, Speech on quantum theory at Celebrazione del Secondo Centenario della Nascita di Luigi Galvani, Bologna, Italy (October 1937); courtesy Wikiquote