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Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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John Stuart Mill
(20 May 1806 - 8 May 1873)

English philosopher and economist who wrote A System of Logic (1843) which gives an analysis of logic, mathematics and scientific explanation, and concludes with a brief distinction between science and morality. He defended a secular, utilitarian moral philosophy.

Science Quotes by John Stuart Mill (46 quotes)

... the besetting danger is not so much of embracing falsehood for truth, as of mistaking a part of the truth for the whole.
— John Stuart Mill
'Coleridge', essay in Dissertations and Discussions: Political, Philosophical, and Historical (1864), Vol. 2, 11.
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All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.
— John Stuart Mill
In On Liberty (1859), 34.
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Besides accustoming the student to demand, complete proof, and to know when he has not obtained it, mathematical studies are of immense benefit to his education by habituating him to precision. It is one of the peculiar excellencies of mathematical discipline, that the mathematician is never satisfied with à peu près. He requires the exact truth. Hardly any of the non-mathematical sciences, except chemistry, has this advantage. One of the commonest modes of loose thought, and sources of error both in opinion and in practice, is to overlook the importance of quantities. Mathematicians and chemists are taught by the whole course of their studies, that the most fundamental difference of quality depends on some very slight difference in proportional quantity; and that from the qualities of the influencing elements, without careful attention to their quantities, false expectation would constantly be formed as to the very nature and essential character of the result produced.
— John Stuart Mill
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1878), 611. [The French phrase, à peu près means “approximately”. —Webmaster]
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Descartes is the completest type which history presents of the purely mathematical type of mind—that in which the tendencies produced by mathematical cultivation reign unbalanced and supreme.
— John Stuart Mill
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1878), 626.
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Even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds
— John Stuart Mill
On Liberty (1859), 95.
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Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing.
— John Stuart Mill
From On Liberty (1859), 107.
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I could wish that it [instruction in moral philosophy] were more expository, less polemical, and above all less dogmatic.
— John Stuart Mill
In Inaugural Address: Delivered to the University of St. Andrews, Feb. 1st, 1867 (1867), 25.
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If two or more instances of the phenomenon under investigation have only one circumstance in common, the circumstance in which alone all the instances agree is the cause (or effect) of the given phenomenon.
— John Stuart Mill
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), 224.
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Induction may be defined, the operation of discovering and proving general propositions.
— John Stuart Mill
In A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive: Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence, and the Methods of Scientific Investigation (1843), Vol. 1, 347.
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Induction, then, is that operation of the mind by which we infer that what we know to be true in a particular case or cases, will be true in all cases which resemble the former in certain assignable respects. In other words, induction is the process by which we conclude that what is true of certain individuals of a class is true of the whole class, or that what is true at certain times will be true in similar circumstances at all times.
— John Stuart Mill
In A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive: Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence, and the Methods of Scientific Investigation (1843), Vol. 1, 352.
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It appears, then, to be a condition of a genuinely scientific hypothesis, that it be not destined always to remain an hypothesis, but be certain to be either proved or disproved by.. .comparison with observed facts.
— John Stuart Mill
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), 293.
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It has long been a complaint against mathematicians that they are hard to convince: but it is a far greater disqualification both for philosophy, and for the affairs of life, to be too easily convinced; to have too low a standard of proof. The only sound intellects are those which, in the first instance, set their standards of proof high. Practice in concrete affairs soon teaches them to make the necessary abatement: but they retain the consciousness, without which there is no sound practical reasoning, that in accepting inferior evidence because there is no better to be had, they do not by that acceptance raise it to completeness.
— John Stuart Mill
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1878), 611.
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It is a law, that every event depends on the same law.
— John Stuart Mill
A System of Logic; Ratiocinative and Inductive (1843), Vol. 1, Book 2, Chapter 5, 396.
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It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.
— John Stuart Mill
Utilitarianism (1861), 212.
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It must be granted that in every syllogism, considered as an argument to prove the conclusion, there is a petitio principii. When we say, All men are mortal Socrates is a man therefore Socrates is mortal; it is unanswerably urged by the adversaries of the syllogistic theory, that the proposition, Socrates is mortal.
— John Stuart Mill
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), 122.
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It would appear that Deductive and Demonstrative Sciences are all, without exception, Inductive Sciences: that their evidence is that of experience, but that they are also, in virtue of the peculiar character of one indispensable portion of the general formulae according to which their inductions are made, Hypothetical Sciences. Their conclusions are true only upon certain suppositions, which are, or ought to be, approximations to the truth, but are seldom, if ever, exactly true; and to this hypothetical character is to be ascribed the peculiar certainty, which is supposed to be inherent in demonstration.
— John Stuart Mill
In System of Logic, Bk. 2, chap. 6, 1.
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It would be difficult to name a man more remarkable for the greatness and the universality of his intellectual powers than Leibnitz.
— John Stuart Mill
In System of Logic, Bk. 2, chap. 5, sect. 6.
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Logic does not pretend to teach the surgeon what are the symptoms which indicate a violent death. This he must learn from his own experience and observation, or from that of others, his predecessors in his peculiar science. But logic sits in judgment on the sufficiency of that observation and experience to justify his rules, and on the sufficiency of his rules to justify his conduct. It does not give him proofs, but teaches him what makes them proofs, and how he is to judge of them.
— John Stuart Mill
In A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive: Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence, and the Methods of Scientific Investigation (1843), Vol. 1, 11.
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Of all many-sided subjects, [education] is the one which has the greatest number of sides.
— John Stuart Mill
Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of St. Andrews, Feb. 1st, 1867 (1867), 3.
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So true is it that unnatural generally means only uncustomary, and that everything which is usual appears natural. The subjection of women to men being a universal custom, any departure from it quite naturally appears unnatural.
— John Stuart Mill
The Subjection of Women (1869), 270.
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Solitude in the presence of natural beauty and grandeur is the cradle of thought and aspirations which are not only good for the individual, but which society can ill do without.
— John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill and Sir William James Ashley (ed.), Principles of Political Economy (1848, 1917), 750.
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That mathematics “do not cultivate the power of generalization,”; … will be admitted by no person of competent knowledge, except in a very qualified sense. The generalizations of mathematics, are, no doubt, a different thing from the generalizations of physical science; but in the difficulty of seizing them, and the mental tension they require, they are no contemptible preparation for the most arduous efforts of the scientific mind. Even the fundamental notions of the higher mathematics, from those of the differential calculus upwards are products of a very high abstraction. … To perceive the mathematical laws common to the results of many mathematical operations, even in so simple a case as that of the binomial theorem, involves a vigorous exercise of the same faculty which gave us Kepler’s laws, and rose through those laws to the theory of universal gravitation. Every process of what has been called Universal Geometry—the great creation of Descartes and his successors, in which a single train of reasoning solves whole classes of problems at once, and others common to large groups of them—is a practical lesson in the management of wide generalizations, and abstraction of the points of agreement from those of difference among objects of great and confusing diversity, to which the purely inductive sciences cannot furnish many superior. Even so elementary an operation as that of abstracting from the particular configuration of the triangles or other figures, and the relative situation of the particular lines or points, in the diagram which aids the apprehension of a common geometrical demonstration, is a very useful, and far from being always an easy, exercise of the faculty of generalization so strangely imagined to have no place or part in the processes of mathematics.
— John Stuart Mill
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1878), 612-13.
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That so few now dare to eccentric, marks the chief danger of our time.
— John Stuart Mill
From On Liberty (1859), 121.
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The application of algebra to geometry…, far more than any of his metaphysical speculations, immortalized the name of Descartes, and constitutes the greatest single step ever made in the progress of the exact sciences.
— John Stuart Mill
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1865), 531.
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The cause, then, philosophically speaking, is the sum total of the conditions, positive and negative, taken together; the whole of the contingencies of every description, which being realized, the consequent invariably follows.
— John Stuart Mill
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), 200.
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The distinction is, that the science or knowledge of the particular subject-matter furnishes the evidence, while logic furnishes the principles and rules of the estimation of evidence.
— John Stuart Mill
In A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive: Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence, and the Methods of Scientific Investigation (1843), Vol. 1, 11.
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The doctrine called Philosophical Necessity is simply this: that, given the motives which are present to an individual’s mind, and given likewise the character and disposition of the individual, the manner in which he will act might be unerringly inferred: that if we knew the person thoroughly, and knew all the inducements which are acting upon him, we could foretell his conduct with as much certainty as we can predict any physical event.
— John Stuart Mill
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), 522.
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The ends of scientific classification are best answered, when the objects are formed into groups respecting which a greater number of general propositions can be made, and those propositions more important, than could be made respecting any other groups into which the same things could be distributed. ... A classification thus formed is properly scientific or philosophical, and is commonly called a Natural, in contradistinction to a Technical or Artificial, classification or arrangement.
— John Stuart Mill
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1843), Vol. 2, Book 4, Chapter 7, 302-3.
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The existence of an extensive Science of Mathematics, requiring the highest scientific genius in those who contributed to its creation, and calling for the most continued and vigorous exertion of intellect in order to appreciate it when created, etc.
— John Stuart Mill
In System of Logic, Bk. 2, chap. 4, sect. 4.
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The Law of Causation, the recognition of which is the main pillar of inductive science, is but the familiar truth that invariability of succession is found by observation to obtain between every fact in nature and some other fact which has preceded it.
— John Stuart Mill
In 'On the Law of Universal Causation', A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive: Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence and the Methods of Scientific Investigation, (1846), 197.
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The laws and conditions of the production of wealth partake of the character of physical truths. There is nothing optional or arbitrary in them ... It is not so with the Distribution of Wealth. That is a matter of human institution solely. The things once there, mankind, individually or collectively, can do with them as they like.
— John Stuart Mill
Principles of Political Economy (1848), Book 2, 199.
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The maxim is, that whatever can be affirmed (or denied) of a class, may be affirmed (or denied) of everything included in the class. This axiom, supposed to be the basis of the syllogistic theory, is termed by logicians the dictum de omni et nullo.
— John Stuart Mill
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), 117.
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The observer is not he who merely sees the thing which is before his eyes, but he who sees what parts the thing is composed of. To do this well is a rare talent. One person, from inattention, or attending only in the wrong place, overlooks half of what he sees; another sets down much more than he sees, confounding it with what he imagines, or with what he infers; another takes note of the kind of all the circumstances, but being inexpert in estimating their degree, leaves the quantity of each vague and uncertain; another sees indeed the whole, but makes such an awkward division of it into parts, throwing into one mass things which require to be separated, and separating others which might more conveniently be considered as one, that the result is much the same, sometimes even worse than if no analysis had been attempted at all.
— John Stuart Mill
In A System of Logic Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), 216.
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The opening of a foreign trade, by making them acquainted with new objects, or tempting them by the easier acquisition of things which they had not previously thought attainable, sometimes works a sort of industrial revolution in a country whose resources were previously undeveloped for want of energy and ambition in the people; inducing those who were satisfied with scanty comforts and little work to work harder for the gratification of their new tastes, and even to save, and accumulate capital, for the still more complete satisfaction of those tastes at a future time.
— John Stuart Mill
In Principles of Political Economy, with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy Vol. 1 (1873), Vol. 1, 351.
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The process of tracing regularity in any complicated, and at first sight confused, set of appearances, is necessarily tentative; we begin by making any supposition, even a false one, to see what consequences will follow from it ; and by observing how these differ from the real phenomena, we learn what corrections to make in our assumption.
— John Stuart Mill
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), 295.
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The study of science teaches young men to think, while study of the classics teaches them to express thought.
— John Stuart Mill
In Tryon Edwards. A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908), 506.
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The validity of all the Inductive Methods depends on the assumption that every event, or the beginning of every phenomenon, must have some cause; some antecedent, upon the existence of which it is invariably and unconditionally consequent.
— John Stuart Mill
A System of Logic: Ratiocinative and Inductive (1843), Vol. 2, 107.
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The value of mathematical instruction as a preparation for those more difficult investigations, consists in the applicability not of its doctrines but of its methods. Mathematics will ever remain the past perfect type of the deductive method in general; and the applications of mathematics to the simpler branches of physics furnish the only school in which philosophers can effectually learn the most difficult and important of their art, the employment of the laws of simpler phenomena for explaining and predicting those of the more complex. These grounds are quite sufficient for deeming mathematical training an indispensable basis of real scientific education, and regarding with Plato, one who is … as wanting in one of the most essential qualifications for the successful cultivation of the higher branches of philosophy
— John Stuart Mill
In System of Logic, Bk. 3, chap. 24, sect. 9.
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There is a tolerably general agreement about what a university is not. It is not a place of professional education.
— John Stuart Mill
Address (Feb 1867) to the University of St. Andrews upon inauguration as Rector. The Living Age (16 Mar 1867), 92, 643.
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This is what writers mean when they say that the notion of cause involves the idea of necessity. If there be any meaning which confessedly belongs to the term necessity, it is unconditionalness. That which is necessary, that which must be, means that which will be, whatever supposition we may make in regard to all other things.
— John Stuart Mill
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), 203.
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To find fault with our ancestors for not having annual parliaments, universal suffrage, and vote by ballot, would be like quarrelling with the Greeks and Romans for not using steam navigation, when we know it is so safe and expeditious; which would be, in short, simply finding fault with the third century before Christ for not being the eighteenth century after. It was necessary that many other things should be thought and done, before, according to the laws of human affairs, it was possible that steam navigation should be thought of. Human nature must proceed step by step, in politics as well as in physics.
— John Stuart Mill
The Spirit of the Age (1831). Ed. Frederick A. von Hayek (1942), 48.
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Truths are known to us in two ways: some are known directly, and of themselves; some through the medium of other truths. The former are the subject of Intuition, or Consciousness; the latter, of Inference; the latter of Inference. The truths known by Intuition are the original premisses, from which all others are inferred.
— John Stuart Mill
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), 3.
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Whatever phenomenon varies in any manner whenever another phenomenon varies in some particular manner, is either a cause or an effect of that phenomenon, or is connected with it through some fact of causation.
— John Stuart Mill
Fifth Canon of Induction (the Method of Concomitant Variations). In A System of Logic: Ratiocinative and Inductive; Being a Connected View of Principles of Evidence and the Methods of Scientific Investigation (1850), 233.
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Whether moral and social phenomena are really exceptions to the general certainty and uniformity of the course of nature; and how far the methods, by which so many of the laws of the physical world have been numbered among truths irrevocably acquired and universally assented to, can be made instrumental to the gradual formation of a similar body of received doctrine in moral and political science.
— John Stuart Mill
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), v.
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[Comte] may truly be said to have created the philosophy of higher mathematics.
— John Stuart Mill
In System of Logic (1846), 369.
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[The famous attack of Sir William Hamilton on the tendency of mathematical studies] affords the most express evidence of those fatal lacunae in the circle of his knowledge, which unfitted him for taking a comprehensive or even an accurate view of the processes of the human mind in the establishment of truth. If there is any pre-requisite which all must see to be indispensable in one who attempts to give laws to the human intellect, it is a thorough acquaintance with the modes by which human intellect has proceeded, in the case where, by universal acknowledgment, grounded on subsequent direct verification, it has succeeded in ascertaining the greatest number of important and recondite truths. This requisite Sir W. Hamilton had not, in any tolerable degree, fulfilled. Even of pure mathematics he apparently knew little but the rudiments. Of mathematics as applied to investigating the laws of physical nature; of the mode in which the properties of number, extension, and figure, are made instrumental to the ascertainment of truths other than arithmetical or geometrical—it is too much to say that he had even a superficial knowledge: there is not a line in his works which shows him to have had any knowledge at all.
— John Stuart Mill
In Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (1878), 607.
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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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Sophie Germain
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Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



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