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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index H > James Hutton Quotes

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James Hutton
(3 Jun 1726 - 26 Mar 1797)

Scottish geologist who founded modern geology when he initiated the principle of uniformitarianism, that geological processes examined in the present time explain the formation of older rocks.

Science Quotes by James Hutton (15 quotes)

Portrait of James Hutton - seated, beside a table, full body (source)
A rock or stone is not a subject that, of itself, may interest a philosopher to study; but, when he comes to see the necessity of those hard bodies, in the constitution of this earth, or for the permanency of the land on which we dwell, and when he finds that there are means wisely provided for the renovation of this necessary decaying part, as well as that of every other, he then, with pleasure, contemplates this manifestation of design, and thus connects the mineral system of this earth with that by which the heavenly bodies are made to move perpetually in their orbits.
— James Hutton
Theory of the Earth, with Proofs and l1lustrations, Vol. 1 (1795), 276.
Science quotes on:  |  Body (155)  |  Decay (23)  |  Earth (370)  |  Geology (175)  |  Land (49)  |  Mineral (32)  |  Necessity (109)  |  Orbit (48)  |  Philosopher (103)  |  Planet (128)  |  Rock (82)  |  Study (268)

A soil adapted to the growth of plants, is necessarily prepared and carefully preserved; and, in the necessary waste of land which is inhabited, the foundation is laid for future continents, in order to support the system of the living world.
— James Hutton
In 'Concerning and System of the Earth, its Duration and Stability', a Dissertation presented to the Royal Society of Edinburgh (Mar-Apr 1785). The surviving Abstract is excerpted in Frank H. T. Rhodes, Richard O. Stone and Bruce D. Malamud (eds.), Language of the Earth: A Literary Anthology (2002, 2nd. ed. 2008), 110.
Science quotes on:  |  Adapt (10)  |  Carefully (7)  |  Continent (33)  |  Foundation (56)  |  Future (157)  |  Growth (95)  |  Land (49)  |  Necessary (54)  |  Plant (141)  |  Prepared (3)  |  Preserved (2)  |  Soil (44)  |  Waste (44)

As there is not in human observation proper means for measuring the waste of land upon the globe, it is hence inferred, that we cannot estimate the duration of what we see at present, nor calculate the period at which it had begun; so that, with respect to human observation, this world has neither a beginning nor an end.
— James Hutton
Abstract of a Dissertation... Concerning the System of the Earth, its Duration, and Stability (1785), 28.
Science quotes on:  |  Age Of The Earth (10)  |  Measurement (140)  |  Observation (360)

Error, never can be consistent, nor can truth fail of having support from the accurate examination of every circumstance.
— James Hutton
'Theory of the Earth', Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1788), 1, 259.
Science quotes on:  |  Error (194)  |  Observation (360)  |  Truth (620)

In matters of science, curiosity gratified begets not indolence, but new desires.
— James Hutton
Theory of the Earth, with Proofs and Illustrations, Vol. 3, ed. Archibald Geikie (1899), 16.
Science quotes on:  |  Curiosity (73)  |  Desire (75)  |  Indolence (5)  |  Science (1249)

Man is made for science; he reasons from effects to causes, and from causes to effects; but he does not always reason without error. In reasoning, therefore, from appearances which are particular, care must be taken how we generalize; we should be cautious not to attribute to nature, laws which may perhaps be only of our own invention.
— James Hutton
'Theory of the Earth', Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1788, 1, 273.
Science quotes on:  |  Cause (181)  |  Effect (106)  |  Error (194)  |  Generalize (7)  |  Law (353)  |  Man (314)  |  Nature (794)  |  Reason (235)  |  Science (1249)

Nature, everywhere the most amazingly and outstandingly remarkable producer of living bodies, being most carefully arranged according to physical, mechanical, and chemical laws, does not give even the smallest hint of its extraordinary and tireless workings and quite clearly points to its work as being alone worthy of a benign and omnipotent God; and it carries this bright quality in all of its traces, in that, just as all of its general mechanisms rejoice, so also do all of their various smallest component parts rejoice in the depth of wisdom, in the height of perfection, and in the lofty arrangement of forms and qualities, which lie far beyond every investigation of the human mind.
— James Hutton
'Inaugural Physico-Medical Dissertation on the Blood and the Circulation of the Microcosm' (1749). Trans. Arthur Donovan and Joseph Prentiss, James Hutton's Medical Dissertation (1980), 29.
Science quotes on:  |  Body (155)  |  Law (353)  |  Life (670)  |  Nature (794)

The globe of this earth … [is] … not just a machine but also a organised body as it has a regenerative power.
— James Hutton
'Theory of the Earth', Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1788), as quoted in Keith S. Thomson, 'Vestiges of James Hutton', American Scientist (May-Jun 2001), 89, No. 3, 213.
Science quotes on:  |  Body (155)  |  Earth (370)  |  Globe (29)  |  Machine (89)  |  Plate Tectonics (20)  |  Power (194)

Time, which measures everything in our idea, and is often deficient to our schemes, is to nature endless and as nothing; it cannot limit that by which alone it had existence; and as the natural course of time, which to us seems infinite, cannot be bounded by any operation that may have an end, the progress of things upon this globe, that is, the course of nature, cannot be limited by time, which must proceed in a continual succession.
— James Hutton
'Theory of the Earth', Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1788), 1, 215.
Science quotes on:  |  Existence (195)  |  Infinite (67)  |  Measurement (140)  |  Time (296)

We are not to suppose, that there is any violent exertion of power, such as is required in order to produce a great event in little time; in nature, we find no deficiency in respect of time, nor any limitation with regard to power. But time is not made to flow in vain; nor does there ever appear the exertion of superfluous power, or the manifestation of design, not calculated in wisdom to effect some general end.
— James Hutton
'Theory of the Earth', Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1788, 1, 294.
Science quotes on:  |  Earth (370)  |  Effect (106)  |  Geology (175)  |  Nature (794)  |  Origin Of Earth (7)  |  Power (194)  |  Time (296)  |  Wisdom (122)

We have the satisfaction to find, that in nature there is wisdom, system and consistency. For having, in the natural history of this earth, seen a succession of worlds, we may from this conclude that, there is a system in nature; in like manner as, from seeing revolutions of the planets, it is concluded, that there is a system by which they are intended to continue those revolutions. But if the succession of worlds is established in the system of nature, it is vain to look for anything higher in the origin of the earth. The result, therefore, of our present enquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning,-no prospect of an end.
— James Hutton
'Theory of the Earth', Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1788, 1, 304.
Science quotes on:  |  Beginning (103)  |  End (88)  |  Nature (794)  |  Orbit (48)  |  Origin Of Earth (7)  |  Planet (128)  |  System (97)  |  Theory (483)

What clearer evidence could we have had of the different formation of these rocks, and of the long interval which separated their formation, had we actually seen them emerging from the bosom of the deep? … The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time.
— James Hutton
As quoted in Dennis R. Dean, James Hutton and the History of Geology (1992), 122.
Science quotes on:  |  Abyss (17)  |  Bosom (6)  |  Clear (29)  |  Deep (37)  |  Different (40)  |  Emerge (7)  |  Evidence (119)  |  Far (20)  |  Formation (49)  |  Geology (175)  |  Grow (34)  |  Interval (6)  |  Long (37)  |  Mind (400)  |  Rock (82)  |  Seem (23)  |  Separate (31)  |  Time (296)

When we trace the part of which this terrestrial system is composed, and when we view the general connection of those several parts, the whole presents a machine of a peculiar construction by which it is adapted to a certain end. We perceive a fabric, erected in wisdom, to obtain a purpose worthy of the power that is apparent in the production of it.
— James Hutton
'Theory of the Earth', Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1788), 1, 209.
Science quotes on:  |  Earth (370)  |  Geology (175)

With such wisdom has nature ordered things in the economy of this world, that the destruction of one continent is not brought about without the renovation of the earth in the production of another.
— James Hutton
Theory of the Earth, with Proofs and Illustrations, Vol. 1 (1795), 183.
Science quotes on:  |  Continent (33)  |  Origin Of Earth (7)  |  Plate Tectonics (20)

[It] is the little causes, long continued, which are considered as bringing about the greatest changes of the earth.
— James Hutton
Theory of the Earth, with Proofs and Illustrations, Vol. 2 (1795), 205.
Science quotes on:  |  Change (217)  |  Earth (370)  |  Time (296)

Quotes by others about James Hutton (5)

According to the conclusion of Dr. Hutton, and of many other geologists, our continents are of definite antiquity, they have been peopled we know not how, and mankind are wholly unacquainted with their origin. According to my conclusions drawn from the same source, that of facts, our continents are of such small antiquity, that the memory of the revolution which gave them birth must still be preserved among men; and thus we are led to seek in the book of Genesis the record of the history of the human race from its origin. Can any object of importance superior to this be found throughout the circle of natural science?
An Elementary Treatise on Geology (1809), 82.
Science quotes on:  |  Continent (33)  |  Fact (470)  |  Genesis (10)  |  Geology (175)

[To] explain the phenomena of the mineral kingdom ... systems are usually reduced to two classes, according as they refer to the origin of terrestrial bodies to FIRE or to WATER; and ... their followers have of late been distinguished by the fanciful names of Vulcanists and Neptunists. To the former of these Dr HUTTON belongs much more than to the latter; though, as he employs the agency both of fire and water in his system, he cannot, in strict propriety, be arranged with either.
Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth (1802) collected in The Works of John Playfair (1822), Vol. 1, 21
Science quotes on:  |  Fire (92)  |  Geology (175)  |  Water (197)

The ridge of the Lammer-muir hills... consists of primary micaceous schistus, and extends from St Abb's head westward... The sea-coast affords a transverse section of this alpine tract at its eastern extremity, and exhibits the change from the primary to the secondary strata... Dr HUTTON wished particularly to examine the latter of these, and on this occasion Sir JAMES HALL and I had the pleasure to accompany him. We sailed in a boat from Dunglass ... We made for a high rocky point or head-land, the SICCAR ... On landing at this point, we found that we actually trode [sic] on the primeval rock... It is here a micaceous schistus, in beds nearly vertical, highly indurated, and stretching from S.E. to N. W. The surface of this rock... has thin covering of red horizontal sandstone laid over it, ... Here, therefore, the immediate contact of the two rocks is not only visible, but is curiously dissected and laid open by the action of the waves... On us who saw these phenomena for the first time, the impression will not easily be forgotten. The palpable evidence presented to us, of one of the most extraordinary and important facts in the natural history of the earth, gave a reality and substance to those theoretical speculations, which, however probable had never till now been directly authenticated by the testimony of the senses... What clearer evidence could we have had of the different formation of these rocks, and of the long interval which separated their formation, had we actually seen them emerging from the bosom of the deep? ... The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time; and while we listened with earnestness and admiration to the philosopher who was now unfolding to us the order and series of these wonderful events, we became sensible how much farther reason may sometimes go than imagination can venture to follow.
'Biographical Account of the Late Dr James Hutton, F.R.S. Edin.' (read 1803), Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1805), 5, 71-3.
Science quotes on:  |  Accompany (14)  |  Action (98)  |  Contact (16)  |  Earth (370)  |  Evidence (119)  |  Formation (49)  |  Rock (82)  |  Sea (106)  |  Stratum (6)  |  Surface (54)  |  Wave (46)

Half a century ago Oswald (1910) distinguished classicists and romanticists among the scientific investigators: the former being inclined to design schemes and to use consistently the deductions from working hypotheses; the latter being more fit for intuitive discoveries of functional relations between phenomena and therefore more able to open up new fields of study. Examples of both character types are Werner and Hutton. Werner was a real classicist. At the end of the eighteenth century he postulated the theory of “neptunism,” according to which all rocks including granites, were deposited in primeval seas. It was an artificial scheme, but, as a classification system, it worked quite satisfactorily at the time. Hutton, his contemporary and opponent, was more a romanticist. His concept of “plutonism” supposed continually recurrent circuits of matter, which like gigantic paddle wheels raise material from various depths of the earth and carry it off again. This is a very flexible system which opens the mind to accept the possible occurrence in the course of time of a great variety of interrelated plutonic and tectonic processes.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 456-7.
Science quotes on:  |  18th Century (16)  |  Artificial (21)  |  Carry (19)  |  Circuit (11)  |  Classicist (2)  |  Classification (74)  |  Concept (61)  |  Consistently (2)  |  Contemporary (12)  |  Deduction (46)  |  Deposit (8)  |  Depth (20)  |  Design (69)  |  Discovery (509)  |  Distinguish (16)  |  Earth (370)  |  Field (99)  |  Flexible (3)  |  Functional (4)  |  Granite (5)  |  Hypothesis (198)  |  Inclination (16)  |  Intuition (32)  |  Investigator (25)  |  Matter (208)  |  Opponent (7)  |  Wilhelm Ostwald (5)  |  Phenomenon (173)  |  Primeval (7)  |  Process (158)  |  Raise (9)  |  Relation (71)  |  Rock (82)  |  Satisfactory (6)  |  Scheme (11)  |  Scientist (341)  |  Sea (106)  |  Study (268)  |  Suppose (17)  |  System (97)  |  Variety (42)  |  Abraham Werner (4)  |  Working (19)

It was one thing to declare that we had not yet discovered the traces of a beginning, and another to deny that the earth ever had a beginning.
As quoted in Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology: Being an Attempt to Explain the Former Changes of the Earth’s Surface (1833), Vol. 3, 383. The quote is Playfair’s comment on Hutton’s conclusion: “The result, therefore of our present inquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.” In defence of Hutton, Playfair was pointing out that the doctrine of Hutton was not opposed to the belief of a creation. Hutton’s conclusion is in Dissertation on the Theory of the Earth (1795)
Science quotes on:  |  Beginning (103)  |  Declare (10)  |  Deny (15)  |  Discover (63)  |  Earth (370)  |  Trace (20)

See also:
  • 3 Jun - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Hutton's birth.
  • The Man Who Found Time: James Hutton and the Discovery of Earth's Antiquity, by Jack Repcheck. - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for James Hutton.

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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