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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index A > Aristotle Quotes > Nature

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Aristotle
(384 B.C. - c. 322 B.C.)

Greek philosopher who presented his thoughts on weather in a book, Meteorologica, which while often wrong, did establish meteorolgy as a distinct discipline for study.

Aristotle Quotes on Nature (33 quotes)

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… if the consequences are the same it is always better to assume the more limited antecedent, since in things of nature the limited, as being better, is sure to be found, wherever possible, rather than the unlimited.
— Aristotle
In Physics.
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Medicus curat, Natura sanat morbus.
The physician heals, Nature makes well.
— Aristotle
In Jehiel Keeler Hoyt and Kate Louise Roberts Hoyt's New Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations (1922), 502:1. (It is attributed therein to Aristotle as 'Idea in Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. VII. 15. 7. Oxford text.' However, a search by this webmaster found the specified reference did not match the quote.)
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Natura nihil agit frustra.
Nature does nothing in vain.
— Aristotle
The idea that nature does nothing in vain can be found in many texts by Aristotle: De Caelo 271a 33, 291b 13-14; De Anima 432b 21, 434a 41; P.A. 661b 24, 691b 4-5, 694a 15, 695b 19-20; G.A. 739b 19, 741b 4, 744a 37-8. The original Greek over the centuries was repeatedly hand-copied and variously translated. The quote as shown above is none-the-less ascribed to “Anonymous” in James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 290:9. For comparison, in De Caelo translated by J.L.Stocks (1922), the last sentence of 291a is given as “But God and nature create nothing that has not its use,” and 291b as “Nature is no wanton or random creator.” In De Anima, 432b, J.A. Smith translates Aristotle’s words as “Nature never makes anything without a purpose,” whereas R.D. Hicks wrote a translation (1907), giving the same quote as “Nature does nothing in vain,” on p.149.
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All men by nature desire knowledge.
— Aristotle
…...
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All men by nature desire to know.
— Aristotle
Metaphysics, 980a, 21. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 2, 1552.
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Among natural bodies some have, and some have not, life; and by life we mean the faculties of self-nourishment, self-growth and self-decay. Thus every natural body partaking of life may be regarded as an essential existence; … but then it is an existence only in combination. … And since the organism is such a combination, being possessed of life, it cannot be the Vital Principle. Therefore it follows that the Vital Principle most be an essence, as being the form of a natural body, holding life in potentiality; but essence is a reality (entetechie). The Vital Principle is the original reality of a natural body endowed with potential life; this, however, is to be understood only of a body which may be organized. Thus the parts even of plants are organs, but they are organs that are altogether simple; as the leaf which is the covering of the pericarp, the pericarp of the fruit. If, then, there be any general formula for every kind of Vital Principle, it is—tthe primary reality of an organism.
— Aristotle
In George Henry Lewes, Aristotle (1864), 231.
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Among the sea-fishes many stories are told about the dolphin, indicative of his gentle and kindly nature…. It appears to be the fleetest of all animals, marine and terrestrial, and it can leap over the masts of large vessels.
— Aristotle
In 'The History of Animals' (350 BC), Great Books of the Western World (1952), Vol. 9, 156.
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Animals generally seem naturally disposed to … intercourse at about the same period of the year, and that is when winter is changing into summer…. In the human species, the male experiences more under sexual excitement in winter, and the female in summer.
— Aristotle
In The Works of Aristotle: Historia Animalium (350 BC), (The History of Animals), Book V, Part 8, 542a20 translated in William David Ross and John Alexander Smith (eds.), D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (trans.), (1910), Vol. 4, 27-28
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At first he who invented any art that went beyond the common perceptions of man was naturally admired by men, not only because there was something useful in the inventions, but because he was thought wise and superior to the rest. But as more arts were invented, and some were directed to the necessities of life, others to its recreation, the inventors of the latter were always regarded as wiser than the inventors of the former, because their branches of knowledge did not aim at utility.
— Aristotle
Metaphysics, 981b, 13-20. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 2, 1553.
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But nature flies from the infinite; for the infinite is imperfect, and nature always seeks an end.
— Aristotle
Generation of Animals, 715b, 114-6. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. I, 1112.
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Conscientious and careful physicians allocate causes of disease to natural laws, while the ablest scientists go back to medicine for their first principles.
— Aristotle
Attributed.
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Everything that depends on the action of nature is by nature as good as it can be.
— Aristotle
Nicomachean Ethics, 1099b, 21-22. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 2, 1738.
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Everything which comes to be, comes to be out of, and everything which passes away passes away into, its opposite or something in between. And the things in between come out of the opposites—thus colors come out of pale and dark. So the things which come to be naturally all are or are out of opposites.
— Aristotle
In 'Physics', Book 1, Chapter 2, 188b22, as translated by William Charlton, Physics: Books I and II (1983), 12.
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For even they who compose treatises of medicine or natural philosophy in verse are denominated Poets: yet Homer and Empedocles have nothing in common except their metre; the former, therefore, justly merits the name of the Poet; while the other should rather be called a Physiologist than a Poet.
— Aristotle
Aristotle’s Treatise on Poetry, I:2, trans. Thomas Twining (1957), 103
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For it is the nature of that which is the same and remains in the same state always to produce the same effects, so either there will always be coming to be or perishing.
— Aristotle
From 'On Generation and Corruption', Natural Philosophy, Book 2, Chap. 10, 336a27. As translated by Inna Kupreeva, Ancient Commentators on Aristotle: Philoponus: On Aristotle on Coming-to-be and Perishing 2.5-11 (2014), 84.
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For nature by the same cause, provided it remain in the same condition, always produces the same effect, so that either coming-to-be or passing-away will always result.
— Aristotle
On Generation and Corruption, 336a, 27-9. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. I, 551.
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For ourselves, we may take as a basic assumption, clear from a survey of particular cases, that natural things are some or all of them subject to change.
— Aristotle
In 'Physics', Book 1, Chapter 2, 185a13, as translated by William Charlton, Physics: Books I and II (1983), 2.
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If any person thinks the examination of the rest of the animal kingdom an unworthy task, he must hold in like disesteem the study of man. For no one can look at the primordia of the human frame—blood, flesh, bones, vessels, and the like—without much repugnance. Moreover, in every inquiry, the examination of material elements and instruments is not to be regarded as final, but as ancillary to the conception of the total form. Thus, the true object of architecture is not bricks, mortar or timber, but the house; and so the principal object of natural philosophy is not the material elements, but their composition, and the totality of the form to which they are subservient, and independently of which they have no existence.
— Aristotle
On Parts of Animals, Book 1, Chap 5, 645a, 26-36. In W. Ogle (trans.), Aristotle on the Parts of Animals (1882), 17. Alternate translations: “primodia” = “elements”; “Moreover ... Thus” = “Moreover, when anyone of the parts or structures, be it which it may, is under discussion, it must not be supposed that it is its material composition to which attention is being directed or which is the object of the discussion, but rather the total form. Similarly”; “form ... subservient, and” = “totality of the substance.” See alternate translation in Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 1, 1004.
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If one way be better than another, that you may be sure is Nature’s way.
— Aristotle
In Nichomachean Ethics (4th century B.C.).
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In all disciplines in which there is systematic knowledge of things with principles, causes, or elements, it arises from a grasp of those: we think we have knowledge of a thing when we have found its primary causes and principles, and followed it back to its elements. Clearly, then, systematic knowledge of nature must start with an attempt to settle questions about principles.
— Aristotle
In Physics Book 1, Chap 1, as translated in J.L. Ackrill, A New Aristotle Reader (1988), 81.
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Let us follow the natural order and begin with the primary facts.
— Aristotle
In Ingram Bywater (trans.), Aristotle, On the Art of Poetry (1909), 3.
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Nature does nothing without a purpose. In children may be observed the traces and seeds of what will one day be settled psychological habits, though psychologically a child hardly differs for the time being from an animal.
— Aristotle
In D. W. Thompson (trans.), Historia Animalium, VIII, 1. Another translation of the first sentence is, “Nature does nothing uselessly.”
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Nature proceeds little by little from things lifeless to animal life in such a way that it is impossible to determine the exact line of demarcation, nor on which side thereof an intermediate form should lie. Thus, next after lifeless things comes the plant, and of plants one will differ from another as to its amount of apparent vitality; and, in a word, the whole genus of plants, whilst it is devoid of life as compared with an animal, is endowed with life as compared with other corporeal entities. Indeed, as we just remarked, there is observed in plants a continuous scale of ascent towards the animal. So, in the sea, there are certain objects concerning which one would be at a loss to determine whether they be animal or vegetable. For instance, certain of these objects are fairly rooted, and in several cases perish if detached.
— Aristotle
History of Animals, 588b, 4-14. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.) The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 1, 922.
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Nature produces those things which, being continually moved by a certain principle contained in themselves, arrive at a certain end.
— Aristotle
In 'Physics' as quoted by Henry Fairfield Osborn in Address (29 Dec 1925) for the Opening of the new Peabody Museum of Yale University, 'The Origin of Species 1859-1925', The Scientific Monthly (Mar 1926), Vol. 22, 190.
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Now, the causes being four, it is the business of the student of nature to know about them all, and if he refers his problems back to all of them, he will assign the “why” in the way proper to his science—the matter, the form, the mover, that for the sake of which.
— Aristotle
Physics, 198a, 22-4. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. I, 338.
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Our treatment of this science will be adequate, if it achieves the amount of precision which belongs to its subject matter.
— Aristotle
In Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, Chap 3. In Harris Rackham (trans.), Aristotle’s Ethics for English Readers (1943), 14.
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Plainly, then, these are the causes, and this is how many they are. They are four, and the student of nature should know them all, and it will be his method, when stating on account of what, to get back to them all: the matter, the form, the thing which effects the change, and what the thing is for.
— Aristotle
From Physics, Book II, Part 7, 198a21-26. As quoted in Stephen Everson, 'Aristotle on the Foundations of the State', Political Studies (1988), 36, 89-101. Reprinted in Lloyd P. Gerson (ed.), Aristotle: Politics, Rhetoric and Aesthetics (1999), 74.
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Salt water when it turns into vapour becomes sweet, and the vapour does not form salt water when it condenses again. This I know by experiment. The same thing is true in every case of the kind: wine and all fluids that evaporate and condense back into a liquid state become water. They all are water modified by a certain admixture, the nature of which determines their flavour.
[Aristotle describing his distillation experiment.]
— Aristotle
Meteorology (350 B.C.), Book II, translated by E. W. Webster. Internet Classics Archive, (classics.mit.edu).
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The fire at Lipara, Xenophanes says, ceased once for sixteen years, and came back in the seventeenth. And he says that the lavastream from Aetna is neither of the nature of fire, nor is it continuous, but it appears at intervals of many years.
— Aristotle
De mirac. oscult. 38; 833 a 16. Quoted in Arthur Fairbanks (ed. And trans.), The First Philosophers of Greece (1898), 79.
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The investigation of the truth is in one way hard, in another easy. An indication of this is found in the fact that no one is able to attain the truth adequately, while, on the other hand, no one fails entirely, but every one says something true about the nature of things, and while individually they contribute little or nothing to the truth, by the union of all a considerable amount is amassed. Therefore, since the truth seems to be like the proverbial door, which no one can fail to hit, in this way it is easy, but the fact that we can have a whole truth and not the particular part we aim at shows the difficulty of it. Perhaps, as difficulties are of two kinds, the cause of the present difficulty is not in the facts but in us.
— Aristotle
Metaphysics, 993a, 30-993b, 9. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 2, 1569-70.
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The sun, moving as it does, sets up processes of change and becoming and decay, and by its agency the finest and sweetest water is every day carried up and is dissolved into vapour and rises to the upper region, where it is condensed again by the cold and so returns to the earth. This, as we have said before, is the regular course of nature.
— Aristotle
Meteorology (350 B.C.), Book II, translated by E. W. Webster. Internet Classics Archive, (classics.mit.edu).
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There is a science which investigates being as being and the attributes which belong to this in virtue of its own nature. Now this is not the same as any of the so-called special sciences; for none of these treats universally of being as being. They cut off a part of being and investigate the attribute of this part; this is what the mathematical sciences for instance do. Now since we are seeking the first principles and the highest causes, clearly there must be some thing to which these belong in virtue of its own nature. If then those who sought the elements of existing things were seeking these same principles, it is necessary that the elements must be elements of being not by accident but just because it is being. Therefore it is of being as being that we also must grasp the first causes.
— Aristotle
'Book Gamma (1003a17-1011b23' in Metaphysics, trans. W.D. Ross (1924). Excerpt 'Being Qua Being', in Joseph Margolis and Jacques Catudal, The Quarrel between Invariance and Flux (2001), 18-19.
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We, on the other hand, must take for granted that the things that exist by nature are, either all or some of them, in motion.
— Aristotle
Physics, 185a, 12-3. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. I, 316.
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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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- 90 -
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- 70 -
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- 40 -
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