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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index A > Saint Thomas Aquinas Quotes

Saint Thomas Aquinas
(c. 1225 - 7 Mar 1274)

Italian theologian who wrote commentaries on Aristotle's investigations of the natural world and applied the analytical method to theology.


Science Quotes by Saint Thomas Aquinas (11 quotes)

For it is necessary in every practical science to proceed in a composite (i.e. deductive) manner. On the contrary in speculative science, it is necessary to proceed in an analytical manner by breaking down the complex into elementary principles.
— Saint Thomas Aquinas
Sententia libri Ethicorum (Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics) [127 I], Book I, lecture 3, section 35, trans. C. I. Litzinger (1993), 12.
Science quotes on:  |  Scientific Method (156)

If man were by nature a solitary animal, the passions of the soul by which he was conformed to things so as to have knowledge of them would be sufficient for him; but since he is by nature a political and social animal it was necessary that his conceptions be made known to others. This he does through vocal sound. Therefore there had to be significant vocal sounds in order that men might live together. Whence those who speak different languages find it difficult to live together in social unity.
— Saint Thomas Aquinas
As quoted in Jeffrey J. Maciejewski, Thomas Aquinas on Persuasion: Action, Ends, and Natural Rhetoric (2013), 36.
Science quotes on:  |  Language (161)  |  Linguistics (24)  |  Social (95)  |  Solitary (13)  |  Soul (151)  |  Voice (42)

If there were some solitary or feral man, the passions of the soul would be sufficient for him; by them he would be conformed to things in order that he might have knowledge of them. But because man is naturally political and social, there is need for one man to make his conceptions known to others, which is done with speech. So significant speech was needed if men were to live together. Which is why those of different tongues do not easily live together.
— Saint Thomas Aquinas
Sententia super libri Perihermeneias (Commentary on Aristotle’s On Interpretation) [1270-1271], Book I, lesson 2, number 2, trans. R. McInerny, quoted in R. McInerny (ed.) Thomas Aquinas, Selected Writings (1998), 460.
Science quotes on:  |  Communication (62)

It must be understood that prime matter, and form as well, is neither generated nor corrupted, because every generation is from something to something. Now that from which generation proceeds is matter, and that to which it proceeds is form. So that, if matter or form were generated, there would be a matter for matter and a form for form, endlessly. Whence, there is generation only of the composite, properly speaking.
— Saint Thomas Aquinas
De Principiis Naturae (On the Principles of Nature) [before 1256], Chap. 2, Sec. 12, trans. J. Bobik, Aquinas on Nature and Form and the Elements: A Translation and Interpretation of the de Principiis Naturae and the De Mixtione Elementorum of St. Thomas Aquinas (1998), 29. Alternate translation: “We should note that prime matter, and even form, are neither generated nor corrupted, inasmuch as every generation is from something to something. That from which generation arises is matter; that to which it proceeds is form. If, therefore, matter and form were generated, there would have to be a matter of matter and a form of form ad infinitum. Hence, properly speaking, only composites are generated.” In Forrest E. Baird and Walter Arnold Kaufmann, Philosophic Classics: Volume II: Medieval Philosophy (1997), 398.
Science quotes on:  |  Matter (288)

Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses.
Nihil est in intellectu quod non sit prius in sensu.
— Saint Thomas Aquinas
Original Latin in Quaestiones Disputatae de Veritate, q. 2 a. 3 arg. 19. Also seen translated as “There is nothing in the mind that has not been previously in the senses.” In plain language, it means that the knowledge (or understanding) of outward objects “is conveyed to the mind through the senses,” as given in William Sullivan and George Barrell Emerson, The Political Class Book: Intended to Instruct the Higher Classes in Schools (1831), 9.
Science quotes on:  |  First (214)  |  Intellect (158)  |  Mind (576)  |  Nothing (302)  |  Observation (421)  |  Research (530)  |  Sense (258)  |  Understanding (322)

Practical sciences proceed by building up; theoretical sciences by resolving into components.
— Saint Thomas Aquinas
Sententia libri Ethicorum (Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics) [1271], Book I, chapter 3, number 4, trans. C. I. Litzinger (1993).
Science quotes on:  |  Scientific Method (156)

Reason may be employed in two ways to establish a point: first for the purpose of furnishing sufficient proof of some principle, as in natural science, where sufficient proof can be brought to show that the movement of the heavens is always of uniform velocity. Reason is employed in another way, not as furnishing a sufficient proof of a principle, but as confirming an already established principle, by showing the congruity of its results, as in astrology the theory of eccentrics and epicycles is considered as established because thereby the sensible appearances of the heavenly movements can be explained; not, however, as if this reason were sufficient, since some other theory might explain them.
— Saint Thomas Aquinas
Summa Theologica [1266-1273], Part I, question 32, article 2 (reply to objection 2), trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (i.e. L. Shapeote), revised D. J. Sullivan (1952), Vol. I, 177.
Science quotes on:  |  Scientific Method (156)

There are certain things which can exist but do not, and others which do exist. Those which can be are said to exist in potency, whereas those which are, are said to exist in act.
— Saint Thomas Aquinas
First sentence of Chapter I in Selected Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas (1965), 7.
Science quotes on:  |  Exist (105)  |  Natural Law (27)  |  Potency (5)

Wonder was the motive that led people to philosophy ... wonder is a kind of desire in knowledge. It is the cause of delight because it carries with it the hope of discovery.
— Saint Thomas Aquinas
In a summarized form, from Summa Theologiae (1266-73), I-II, Q.32.a.8.
Science quotes on:  |  Discovery (601)  |  Knowledge (1148)

Wonder [admiratio astonishment, marvel] is a kind of desire for knowledge. The situation arises when one sees an effect and does not know its cause, or when the cause of the particular effect is one that exceeds his power of understanding. Hence, wonder is a cause of pleasure insofar as there is annexed the hope of attaining understanding of that which one wants to know. ... For desire is especially aroused by the awareness of ignorance, and consequently a man takes the greatest pleasure in those things which he discovers for himself or learns from the ground up.
— Saint Thomas Aquinas
From Summa Theologiae Question 32, 'The Causes of Pleasure,' Article 8, 'Is Pleasure Caused by Wondering.'(1a2ae 32.8). As translated in James Vincent Cunningham, Tragic Effect and Tragic Process in Some Plays of Shakespeare (1945). Also in The Collected Essays of J.V. Cunningham (1976), 72-73.
Science quotes on:  |  Arouse (8)  |  Astonishment (20)  |  Attainment (37)  |  Awareness (25)  |  Cause (242)  |  Desire (114)  |  Discovery (601)  |  Effect (140)  |  Greatest (55)  |  Hope (146)  |  Ignorance (194)  |  Kind (111)  |  Know (394)  |  Knowledge (1148)  |  Learn (193)  |  Marvel (24)  |  Pleasure (106)  |  Understanding (322)  |  Want (139)  |  Wonder (152)

Wonder [admiratio astonishment, marvel] is a kind of desire for knowledge. The situation arises when one sees an effect and does not know its cause, or when the cause of the particular effect is one that exceeds his power of understanding. Hence, wonder is a cause of pleasure insofar as there is annexed the hope of attaining understanding of that which one wants to know. ... For desire is especially aroused by the awareness of ignorance, and consequently a man takes the greatest pleasure in those things which he discovers for himself or learns from the ground up.
— Saint Thomas Aquinas
From Summa Theologiae Question 32, 'The Causes of Pleasure,' Article 8, 'Is Pleasure Caused by Wondering.'(1a2ae 32.8). As translated in James Vincent Cunningham, Tragic Effect and Tragic Process in Some Plays of Shakespeare (1945). Also in The Collected Essays of J.V. Cunningham (1976), 72-73.



Quotes by others about Saint Thomas Aquinas (4)

For between true Science, and erroneous Doctrines, Ignorance is in the middle. Naturall sense and imagination, are not subject to absurdity. Nature it selfe cannot erre: and as men abound in copiousnesses of language; so they become more wise, or more mad than ordinary. Nor is it possible without Letters for any man to become either excellently wise, or (unless his memory be hurt by disease, or ill constitution of organs) excellently foolish. For words are wise men's counters, they do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools that value them by the authority of an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas, or any other Doctor whatsoever, if but a man.
Leviathan (1651), ed. C. B. Macpherson (1968), Part 1, Chapter 4, 106.
Science quotes on:  |  Aristotle (146)  |  Marcus Tullius Cicero (32)  |  Ignorance (194)  |  Science (1741)  |  Wisdom (161)

I was there when Abbe Georges Lemaξtre first proposed this [Big Bang] theory. ... There is no rational reason to doubt that the universe has existed indefinitely, for an infinite time. .... It is only myth that attempts to say how the universe came to be, either four thousand or twenty billion years ago.
[Expressing his belief that the Big Bang is a myth devised to explain creation. He said he heard Lemaξtre (who was, at the time both a member of the Catholic hierarchy and an accomplished scientist) say in private that this theory was a way to reconcile science with St. Thomas Aquinas' theological dictum of creatio ex nihilo—creation out of nothing.]
Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988),196.
Science quotes on:  |  Attempt (95)  |  Big Bang (38)  |  Creatio Ex Nihilo (2)  |  Creation (216)  |  Dictum (5)  |  Doubt (125)  |  Exist (105)  |  Indefinitely (9)  |  Infinite (95)  |  Monsignor Georges Lemaξtre (5)  |  Myth (43)  |  Rational (44)  |  Reason (343)  |  Theology (37)  |  Theory (585)  |  Time (491)  |  Universe (615)

Most Mens Learning is nothing but History duly taken up. If I quote Thomas Aquinas for some Tenet, and believe it, because the School-Men say so, that is but History. Few men make themselves Masters of the things they write or speak.
In John Selden, Richard Milward (ed.), 'Learning', Table-Talk of John Selden (1689, 1856), 85.
Science quotes on:  |  Belief (421)  |  History (314)  |  Learning (174)  |  Master (61)  |  Nothing (302)  |  Quote (15)  |  Say (160)  |  Scholar (31)  |  Speak (60)  |  Write (93)

From Pythagoras (ca. 550 BC) to Boethius (ca AD 480-524), when pure mathematics consisted of arithmetic and geometry while applied mathematics consisted of music and astronomy, mathematics could be characterized as the deductive study of “such abstractions as quantities and their consequences, namely figures and so forth” (Aquinas ca. 1260). But since the emergence of abstract algebra it has become increasingly difficult to formulate a definition to cover the whole of the rich, complex and expanding domain of mathematics.
In 100 Years of Mathematics: a Personal Viewpoint (1981), 2.
Science quotes on:  |  Abstraction (30)  |  Applied Mathematics (10)  |  Arithmetic (70)  |  Astronomy (180)  |  Deduction (51)  |  Definition (154)  |  Difficult (73)  |  Domain (21)  |  Geometry (100)  |  Music (75)  |  Pure Mathematics (27)  |  Pythagoras (27)


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  • 7 Mar - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Aquinas's death.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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