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Proposition Quotes (123 quotes)


... there is an external world which can in principle be exhaustively described in scientific language. The scientist, as both observer and language-user, can capture the external facts of the world in prepositions that are true if they correspond to the facts and false if they do not. Science is ideally a linguistic system in which true propositions are in one-to-one relation to facts, including facts that are not directly observed because they involve hidden entities or properties, or past events or far distant events. These hidden events are described in theories, and theories can be inferred from observation, that is the hidden explanatory mechnism of the world can be discovered from what is open to observation. Man as scientist is regarded as standing apart from the world and able to experiment and theorize about it objectively and dispassionately.
'Introduction', Revolutions and Reconstructions in the Philosophy of Science (1981), xii. In John Templeton and Robert L. Herrmann, Is God the Only Reality (1994), 11-12.
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...it would be a simple way of solving the goiter problem. And in addition to that it would be the biggest thing in a medical proposition to be carried out in the state of Michigan, and Michigan is a large place. And as I thought of the thing the more convinced I became that this oughtn't to be a personal thing, This ought to be something done by the Michigan State Medical Society as a body.
Recommending the addition of a trace of iodine to table salt.
Opening address to the Medical Department of the University of Michigan, Sep 1914. Quoted by Howard Markel in 'When it Rains it Pours' : Endemic Goiter, Iodized Salt, and David Murray Cowie, M.D. American Journal of Public Health, Feb 1987, vol.77, No.2, page 222.
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...reality is a system, completely ordered and fully intelligible, with which thought in its advance is more and more identifying itself. We may look at the growth of knowledge … as an attempt by our mind to return to union with things as they are in their ordered wholeness…. and if we take this view, our notion of truth is marked out for us. Truth is the approximation of thought to reality … Its measure is the distance thought has travelled … toward that intelligible system … The degree of truth of a particular proposition is to be judged in the first instance by its coherence with experience as a whole, ultimately by its coherence with that further whole, all comprehensive and fully articulated, in which thought can come to rest.
The Nature of Thought (1939), Vol II, 264. Quoted in Erhard Scheibe and Brigitte Falkenburg (ed), Between Rationalism and Empiricism: Selected Papers in the Philosophy of Physics (2001), 233
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That the Sun will not rise Tomorrow is no less intelligible a Proposition and implies no more contradiction than the Affirmation that it will rise. We should in vain, therefore, attempt to demonstrate its falsehood.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), 48.
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Truth then seems to me, in the proper import of the Word, to signifie nothing but the joining or separating of Signs, as the Things signified by them do agree or disagree one with another; which way of joining or separating of Signs, we call Proposition. So that Truth properly belongs only to Propositions: whereof there are two sorts, viz. Mental and Verbal; as there are two sorts of Signs commonly made use of, viz. Ideas and Words.
In 'Truth in General', Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), book 4, ch. 5, sec. 2, 289.
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A great part of its [higher arithmetic] theories derives an additional charm from the peculiarity that important propositions, with the impress of simplicity on them, are often easily discovered by induction, and yet are of so profound a character that we cannot find the demonstrations till after many vain attempts; and even then, when we do succeed, it is often by some tedious and artificial process, while the simple methods may long remain concealed.
Quoted in H. Eves, Mathematical Circles (1977) .
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A mathematical science is any body of propositions which is capable of an abstract formulation and arrangement in such a way that every proposition of the set after a certain one is a formal logical consequence of some or all the preceding propositions. Mathematics consists of all such mathematical sciences.
In Lectures on Fundamental Concepts of Algebra and Geometry (1911), 222.
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A natural science is one whose propositions on limited domains of nature can have only a correspondingly limited validity; and that science is not a philosophy developing a world-view of nature as a whole or about the essence of things.
In The Physicist’s Conception of Nature (1958), 152. Translated by Arnold J. Pomerans from Das Naturbild der Heutigen Physik (1955).
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Absolute space, that is to say, the mark to which it would be necessary to refer the earth to know whether it really moves, has no objective existence…. The two propositions: “The earth turns round” and “it is more convenient to suppose the earth turns round” have the same meaning; there is nothing more in the one than in the other.
From La Science et l’Hypothèse (1908), 141, as translated by George Bruce Halsted in Science and Hypothesis (1905), 85-86. From the original French, “L’espace absolu, c’est-à-dire le repère auquel il faudrait rapporter la terre pour savoir si réellement elle tourne, n’a aucune existence objective. … Ces deux propositions: ‘la terre tourne’, et: ‘il est plus commode de supposer que la terre tourne’, ont un seul et même sens; il n’y a rien de plus dans l’une que dans l’autre.”
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Accordingly, we find Euler and D'Alembert devoting their talent and their patience to the establishment of the laws of rotation of the solid bodies. Lagrange has incorporated his own analysis of the problem with his general treatment of mechanics, and since his time M. Poinsôt has brought the subject under the power of a more searching analysis than that of the calculus, in which ideas take the place of symbols, and intelligent propositions supersede equations.
J. C. Maxwell on Louis Poinsôt (1777-1859) in 'On a Dynamical Top' (1857). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 1, 248.
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After that, I thought about what a proposition generally needs in order to be true and certain because, since I had just found one that I knew was such, I thought I should also know what this certainty consists in. Having noticed that there is nothing at all in the proposition “I think, therefore I am” [cogito ergo sum] which convinces me that I speak the truth, apart from the fact that I see very clearly that one has to exist in order to think, I judged that I could adopt as a general rule that those things we conceive very clearly and distinctly are all true. The only outstanding difficulty is in recognizing which ones we conceive distinctly.
Discourse on Method in Discourse on Method and Related Writings (1637), trans. Desmond M. Clarke, Penguin edition (1999), Part 4, 25.
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Among the minor, yet striking characteristics of mathematics, may be mentioned the fleshless and skeletal build of its propositions; the peculiar difficulty, complication, and stress of its reasonings; the perfect exactitude of its results; their broad universality; their practical infallibility.
In Charles S. Peirce, ‎Charles Hartshorne (ed.), ‎Paul Weiss (ed.), Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (1931), Vol. 4, 197.
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An infinity of these tiny animals defoliate our plants, our trees, our fruits... they attack our houses, our fabrics, our furniture, our clothing, our furs ... He who in studying all the different species of insects that are injurious to us, would seek means of preventing them from harming us, would seek to cause them to perish, proposes for his goal important tasks indeed.
In J. B. Gough, 'Rene-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur', in Charles Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1975), Vol. 11, 332.
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At the age of eleven, I began Euclid, with my brother as my tutor. ... I had not imagined that there was anything so delicious in the world. After I had learned the fifth proposition, my brother told me that it was generally considered difficult, but I had found no difficulty whatsoever. This was the first time it had dawned on me that I might have some intelligence.
In Autobiography: 1872-1914 (1967), Vol. 1, 37-38.
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But, you might say, “none of this shakes my belief that 2 and 2 are 4.” You are quite right, except in marginal cases—and it is only in marginal cases that you are doubtful whether a certain animal is a dog or a certain length is less than a meter. Two must be two of something, and the proposition “2 and 2 are 4” is useless unless it can be applied. Two dogs and two dogs are certainly four dogs, but cases arise in which you are doubtful whether two of them are dogs. “Well, at any rate there are four animals,” you may say. But there are microorganisms concerning which it is doubtful whether they are animals or plants. “Well, then living organisms,” you say. But there are things of which it is doubtful whether they are living organisms or not. You will be driven into saying: “Two entities and two entities are four entities.” When you have told me what you mean by “entity,” we will resume the argument.
In Basic Writings, 1903-1959 (1961), 108.
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By this we may understand, there be two sorts of knowledge, whereof the one is nothing else but sense, or knowledge original (as I have said at the beginning of the second chapter), and remembrance of the same; the other is called science or knowledge of the truth of propositions, and how things are called, and is derived from understanding.
The Elements of Law: Natural and Politic (1640), Ferdinand Tonnies edn. (1928), Part 1, Chapter 6, 18-9.
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Deduction, which takes us from the general proposition to facts again—teaches us, if I may so say, to anticipate from the ticket what is inside the bundle.
'On the Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences' (1854). In Collected Essays (1893), Vol. 3, 52.
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Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science, and should be treated in the same cold unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces the same effect as if you worked a love-story into the fifth proposition of Euclid.
By Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson, fictional characters in The Sign of Four (1890), 6.
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Every proposition which we can understand must be composed wholly of constituents with which we are acquainted.
From 'Knowledge by Acquaintance', in Mysticism and Logic: And Other Essays (1918), 219.
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Everything is like a purse—there may be money in it, and we can generally say by the feel of it whether there is or is not. Sometimes, however, we must turn it inside out before we can be quite sure whether there is anything in it or no. When I have turned a proposition inside out, put it to stand on its head, and shaken it, I have often been surprised to find how much came out of it.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 222.
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First of all, we ought to observe, that mathematical propositions, properly so called, are always judgments a priori, and not empirical, because they carry along with them necessity, which can never be deduced from experience. If people should object to this, I am quite willing to confine my statements to pure mathematics, the very concept of which implies that it does not contain empirical, but only pure knowledge a priori.
In Critique of Pure Reason (1900), 720.
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For the saving the long progression of the thoughts to remote and first principles in every case, the mind should provide itself several stages; that is to say, intermediate principles, which it might have recourse to in the examining those positions that come in its way. These, though they are not self-evident principles, yet, if they have been made out from them by a wary and unquestionable deduction, may be depended on as certain and infallible truths, and serve as unquestionable truths to prove other points depending upon them, by a nearer and shorter view than remote and general maxims. … And thus mathematicians do, who do not in every new problem run it back to the first axioms through all the whole train of intermediate propositions. Certain theorems that they have settled to themselves upon sure demonstration, serve to resolve to them multitudes of propositions which depend on them, and are as firmly made out from thence as if the mind went afresh over every link of the whole chain that tie them to first self-evident principles.
In The Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 21.
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Generality of points of view and of methods, precision and elegance in presentation, have become, since Lagrange, the common property of all who would lay claim to the rank of scientific mathematicians. And, even if this generality leads at times to abstruseness at the expense of intuition and applicability, so that general theorems are formulated which fail to apply to a single special case, if furthermore precision at times degenerates into a studied brevity which makes it more difficult to read an article than it was to write it; if, finally, elegance of form has well-nigh become in our day the criterion of the worth or worthlessness of a proposition,—yet are these conditions of the highest importance to a wholesome development, in that they keep the scientific material within the limits which are necessary both intrinsically and extrinsically if mathematics is not to spend itself in trivialities or smother in profusion.
In Die Entwickdung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1884), 14-15.
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He was 40 yeares old before he looked on Geometry; which happened accidentally. Being in a Gentleman's Library, Euclid's Elements lay open, and 'twas the 47 El. Libri 1 [Pythagoras' Theorem]. He read the proposition. By G-, sayd he (he would now and then sweare an emphaticall Oath by way of emphasis) this is impossible! So he reads the Demonstration of it, which referred him back to such a Proposition; which proposition he read. That referred him back to another, which he also read. Et sic deinceps [and so on] that at last he was demonstratively convinced of that trueth. This made him in love with Geometry .
Of Thomas Hobbes, in 1629.
Brief Lives (1680), edited by Oliver Lawson Dick (1949), 150.
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He [Sylvester] had one remarkable peculiarity. He seldom remembered theorems, propositions, etc., but had always to deduce them when he wished to use them. In this he was the very antithesis of Cayley, who was thoroughly conversant with everything that had been done in every branch of mathematics.
I remember once submitting to Sylvester some investigations that I had been engaged on, and he immediately denied my first statement, saying that such a proposition had never been heard of, let alone proved. To his astonishment, I showed him a paper of his own in which he had proved the proposition; in fact, I believe the object of his paper had been the very proof which was so strange to him.
As quoted by Florian Cajori, in Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 268.
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I confess that Fermat’s Theorem as an isolated proposition has very little interest for me, because I could easily lay down a multitude of such propositions, which one could neither prove nor dispose of.
From Letter (Mar 1816), replying to Olbers’ attempt to entice him to work on Fermat’s Theorem. In James R. Newman (ed.) The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 1, 312-313.
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I confess that Fermat’s Theorem as an isolated proposition has very little interest for me, for a multitude of such theorems can easily be set up, which one could neither prove nor disprove. But I have been stimulated by it to bring our again several old ideas for a great extension of the theory of numbers. Of course, this theory belongs to the things where one cannot predict to what extent one will succeed in reaching obscurely hovering distant goals. A happy star must also rule, and my situation and so manifold distracting affairs of course do not permit me to pursue such meditations as in the happy years 1796-1798 when I created the principal topics of my Disquisitiones arithmeticae. But I am convinced that if good fortune should do more than I expect, and make me successful in some advances in that theory, even the Fermat theorem will appear in it only as one of the least interesting corollaries.
In reply to Olbers' attempt in 1816 to entice him to work on Fermat's Theorem. The hope Gauss expressed for his success was never realised.
Letter to Heinrich Olbers (21 Mar 1816). Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 413.
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I have often noticed that when people come to understand a mathematical proposition in some other way than that of the ordinary demonstration, they promptly say, “Oh, I see. That’s how it must be.” This is a sign that they explain it to themselves from within their own system.
Lichtenberg: A Doctrine of Scattered Occasions: Reconstructed From: Reconstructed From His Aphorisms and Reflections (1959), 291.
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I know well there are those who would have the Study of Nature restrained wholly to Observations; without ever proceeding further. But due Consideration, and a deeper Insight into Things, would soon have undeceived and made them sensible of their error. Assuredly, that man who should spend his whole life in amassing together stone, timber, and other materials for building, without ever at the making any use, or raising any fabrick out of them, might well be reputed very fantastic and extravagant. And a like censure would be his due, who should be perpetually heaping up of natural collections without design. building a structure of philosophy out of them, or advancing some propositions that might turn to the benefit and advantage of the world. This is in reality the true and only proper end of collections, of observations, and natural history: and they are of no manner of use or value without it.
In An Attempt Toward a Natural History of the Fossils of England (1729), xiii-xiv.
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I propose to provide proof... that just as always an alcoholic ferment, the yeast of beer, is found where sugar is converted into alcohol and carbonic acid, so always a special ferment, a lactic yeast, is found where sugar is transformed into lactic acid. And, furthermore, when any plastic nitrogenated substance is able to transform sugar into that acid, the reason is that it is a suitable nutrient for the growth of the [lactic] ferment.
Comptes Rendus (1857), 45, 913.
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I was just going to say, when I was interrupted, that one of the many ways of classifying minds is under the heads of arithmetical and algebraical intellects. All economical and practical wisdom is an extension or variation of the following arithmetical formula: 2+2=4. Every philosophical proposition has the more general character of the expression a+b=c. We are mere operatives, empirics, and egotists, until we learn to think in letters instead of figures.
The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858), 1.
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If it were always necessary to reduce everything to intuitive knowledge, demonstration would often be insufferably prolix. This is why mathematicians have had the cleverness to divide the difficulties and to demonstrate separately the intervening propositions. And there is art also in this; for as the mediate truths (which are called lemmas, since they appear to be a digression) may be assigned in many ways, it is well, in order to aid the understanding and memory, to choose of them those which greatly shorten the process, and appear memorable and worthy in themselves of being demonstrated. But there is another obstacle, viz.: that it is not easy to demonstrate all the axioms, and to reduce demonstrations wholly to intuitive knowledge. And if we had chosen to wait for that, perhaps we should not yet have the science of geometry.
In Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz and Alfred Gideon Langley (trans.), New Essays Concerning Human Understanding (1896), 413-414.
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In Euclid each proposition stands by itself; its connection with others is never indicated; the leading ideas contained in its proof are not stated; general principles do not exist. In modern methods, on the other hand, the greatest importance is attached to the leading thoughts which pervade the whole; and general principles, which bring whole groups of theorems under one aspect, are given rather than separate propositions. The whole tendency is toward generalization. A straight line is considered as given in its entirety, extending both ways to infinity, while Euclid is very careful never to admit anything but finite quantities. The treatment of the infinite is in fact another fundamental difference between the two methods. Euclid avoids it, in modern mathematics it is systematically introduced, for only thus is generality obtained.
In 'Geometry', Encyclopedia Britannica (9th edition).
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In experimental philosophy, propositions gathered from phenomena by induction should be considered either exactly or very nearly true notwithstanding any contrary hypotheses, until yet other phenomena make such propositions either more exact or liable to exceptions.
The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687),3rd edition (1726), trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (1999), Book 3, Rules of Reasoning in Philosophy, Rule 4, 796.
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In geometry, as in most sciences, it is very rare that an isolated proposition is of immediate utility. But the theories most powerful in practice are formed of propositions which curiosity alone brought to light, and which long remained useless without its being able to divine in what way they should one day cease to be so. In this sense it may be said, that in real science, no theory, no research, is in effect useless.
In 'Geometry', A Philosophical Dictionary, (1881), Vol. l, 374.
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In order to translate a sentence from English into French two things are necessary. First, we must understand thoroughly the English sentence. Second, we must be familiar with the forms of expression peculiar to the French language. The situation is very similar when we attempt to express in mathematical symbols a condition proposed in words. First, we must understand thoroughly the condition. Second, we must be familiar with the forms of mathematical expression.
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 174.
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Induction may be defined, the operation of discovering and proving general propositions.
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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Infectious disease is one of the few genuine adventures left in the world. The dragons are all dead and the lance grows rusty in the chimney corner. ... About the only sporting proposition that remains unimpaired by the relentless domestication of a once free-living human species is the war against those ferocious little fellow creatures, which lurk in dark corners and stalk us in the bodies of rats, mice and all kinds of domestic animals; which fly and crawl with the insects, and waylay us in our food and drink and even in our love
Rats, Lice and History (1935)
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It has been asserted … that the power of observation is not developed by mathematical studies; while the truth is, that; from the most elementary mathematical notion that arises in the mind of a child to the farthest verge to which mathematical investigation has been pushed and applied, this power is in constant exercise. By observation, as here used, can only be meant the fixing of the attention upon objects (physical or mental) so as to note distinctive peculiarities—to recognize resemblances, differences, and other relations. Now the first mental act of the child recognizing the distinction between one and more than one, between one and two, two and three, etc., is exactly this. So, again, the first geometrical notions are as pure an exercise of this power as can be given. To know a straight line, to distinguish it from a curve; to recognize a triangle and distinguish the several forms—what are these, and all perception of form, but a series of observations? Nor is it alone in securing these fundamental conceptions of number and form that observation plays so important a part. The very genius of the common geometry as a method of reasoning—a system of investigation—is, that it is but a series of observations. The figure being before the eye in actual representation, or before the mind in conception, is so closely scrutinized, that all its distinctive features are perceived; auxiliary lines are drawn (the imagination leading in this), and a new series of inspections is made; and thus, by means of direct, simple observations, the investigation proceeds. So characteristic of common geometry is this method of investigation, that Comte, perhaps the ablest of all writers upon the philosophy of mathematics, is disposed to class geometry, as to its method, with the natural sciences, being based upon observation. Moreover, when we consider applied mathematics, we need only to notice that the exercise of this faculty is so essential, that the basis of all such reasoning, the very material with which we build, have received the name observations. Thus we might proceed to consider the whole range of the human faculties, and find for the most of them ample scope for exercise in mathematical studies. Certainly, the memory will not be found to be neglected. The very first steps in number—counting, the multiplication table, etc., make heavy demands on this power; while the higher branches require the memorizing of formulas which are simply appalling to the uninitiated. So the imagination, the creative faculty of the mind, has constant exercise in all original mathematical investigations, from the solution of the simplest problems to the discovery of the most recondite principle; for it is not by sure, consecutive steps, as many suppose, that we advance from the known to the unknown. The imagination, not the logical faculty, leads in this advance. In fact, practical observation is often in advance of logical exposition. Thus, in the discovery of truth, the imagination habitually presents hypotheses, and observation supplies facts, which it may require ages for the tardy reason to connect logically with the known. Of this truth, mathematics, as well as all other sciences, affords abundant illustrations. So remarkably true is this, that today it is seriously questioned by the majority of thinkers, whether the sublimest branch of mathematics,—the infinitesimal calculus—has anything more than an empirical foundation, mathematicians themselves not being agreed as to its logical basis. That the imagination, and not the logical faculty, leads in all original investigation, no one who has ever succeeded in producing an original demonstration of one of the simpler propositions of geometry, can have any doubt. Nor are induction, analogy, the scrutinization of premises or the search for them, or the balancing of probabilities, spheres of mental operations foreign to mathematics. No one, indeed, can claim preeminence for mathematical studies in all these departments of intellectual culture, but it may, perhaps, be claimed that scarcely any department of science affords discipline to so great a number of faculties, and that none presents so complete a gradation in the exercise of these faculties, from the first principles of the science to the farthest extent of its applications, as mathematics.
In 'Mathematics', in Henry Kiddle and Alexander J. Schem, The Cyclopedia of Education, (1877.) As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 27-29.
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It has been pointed out already that no knowledge of probabilities, less in degree than certainty, helps us to know what conclusions are true, and that there is no direct relation between the truth of a proposition and its probability. Probability begins and ends with probability. That a scientific investigation pursued on account of its probability will generally lead to truth, rather than falsehood, is at the best only probable.
In A Treatise on Probability (1921), 322.
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It is as easy to count atomies as to resolve the propositions of a lover.
As You Like It (1599), III, ii.
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It is curious to reflect on how history repeats itself the world over. Why, I remember the same thing was done when I was a boy on the Mississippi River. There was a proposition in a township there to discontinue public schools because they were too expensive. An old farmer spoke up and said if they stopped the schools they would not save anything, because every time a school was closed a jail had to be built.
It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. He'll never get fat. I believe it is better to support schools than jails.
Address at a meeting of the Berkeley Lyceum, New York (23 Nov 1900). Mark Twain's Speeches (2006), 69-70.
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It is difficult even to attach a precise meaning to the term “scientific truth.” So different is the meaning of the word “truth” according to whether we are dealing with a fact of experience, a mathematical proposition or a scientific theory. “Religious truth” conveys nothing clear to me at all.
From 'Scientific Truth' in Essays in Science (1934, 2004), 11.
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It is going to be necessary that everything that happens in a finite volume of space and time would have to be analyzable with a finite number of logical operations. The present theory of physics is not that way, apparently. It allows space to go down into infinitesimal distances, wavelengths to get infinitely great, terms to be summed in infinite order, and so forth; and therefore, if this proposition [that physics is computer-simulatable] is right, physical law is wrong.
International Journal of Theoretical Physics (1982), 21 Nos. 6-7, 468. Quoted in Brian Rotman, Mathematics as Sign (2000), 82.
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It is more important that a proposition be interesting than it be true. … But of course a true proposition is more apt to be interesting than a false one.
In Adventures of Ideas (1933, 1967), 244.
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It is rigid dogma that destroys truth; and, please notice, my emphasis is not on the dogma, but on the rigidity. When men say of any question, “This is all there is to be known or said of the subject; investigation ends here,” that is death. It may be that the mischief comes not from the thinker but for the use made of his thinking by late-comers. Aristotle, for example, gave us our scientific technique … yet his logical propositions, his instruction in sound reasoning which was bequeathed to Europe, are valid only within the limited framework of formal logic, and, as used in Europe, they stultified the minds of whole generations of mediaeval Schoolmen. Aristotle invented science, but destroyed philosophy.
Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead, as recorded by Lucien Price (1954, 2001), 165.
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It is sometimes asserted that a surgical operation is or should be a work of art … fit to rank with those of the painter or sculptor. … That proposition does not admit of discussion. It is a product of the intellectual innocence which I think we surgeons may fairly claim to possess, and which is happily not inconsistent with a quite adequate worldly wisdom.
Address, opening of 1932-3 session of U.C.H. Medical School (4 Oct 1932), 'Art and Science in Medicine', The Collected Papers of Wilfred Trotter, FRS (1941), 93.
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It is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it to be true.
In Sceptical Essays (1928), ii.
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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.
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), 122.
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It would be a mistake to suppose that a science consists entirely of strictly proved theses, and it would be unjust to require this. Only a disposition with a passion for authority will raise such a demand, someone with a craving to replace his religious catechism by another, though it is a scientific one. Science has only a few apodeictic propositions in its catechism: the rest are assertions promoted by it to some particular degree of probability. It is actually a sign of a scientific mode of thought to find satisfaction in these approximations to certainty and to be able to pursue constructive work further in spite of the absence of final confirmation.
In Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1916-17).
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It [analysis] lacks at this point such plan and unity that it is really amazing that it can be studied by so many people. The worst is that it has not at all been treated with rigor. There are only a few propositions in higher analysis that have been demonstrated with complete rigor. Everywhere one finds the unfortunate manner of reasoning from the particular to the general, and it is very unusual that with such a method one finds, in spite of everything, only a few of what many be called paradoxes. It is really very interesting to seek the reason.
In my opinion that arises from the fact that the functions with which analysis has until now been occupied can, for the most part, be expressed by means of powers. As soon as others appear, something that, it is true, does not often happen, this no longer works and from false conclusions there flow a mass of incorrect propositions.
From a letter to his professor Hansteen in Christiania, Oslo in Correspondence (1902), 23 . In Umberto Bottazzini and Warren Van Egmond, The Higher Calculus (1986), 87-88.
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Let us now declare the means whereby our understanding can rise to knowledge without fear of error. There are two such means: intuition and deduction. By intuition I mean not the varying testimony of the senses, nor the deductive judgment of imagination naturally extravagant, but the conception of an attentive mind so distinct and so clear that no doubt remains to it with regard to that which it comprehends; or, what amounts to the same thing, the self-evidencing conception of a sound and attentive mind, a conception which springs from the light of reason alone, and is more certain, because more simple, than deduction itself. …
It may perhaps be asked why to intuition we add this other mode of knowing, by deduction, that is to say, the process which, from something of which we have certain knowledge, draws consequences which necessarily follow therefrom. But we are obliged to admit this second step; for there are a great many things which, without being evident of themselves, nevertheless bear the marks of certainty if only they are deduced from true and incontestable principles by a continuous and uninterrupted movement of thought, with distinct intuition of each thing; just as we know that the last link of a long chain holds to the first, although we can not take in with one glance of the eye the intermediate links, provided that, after having run over them in succession, we can recall them all, each as being joined to its fellows, from the first up to the last. Thus we distinguish intuition from deduction, inasmuch as in the latter case there is conceived a certain progress or succession, while it is not so in the former; … whence it follows that primary propositions, derived immediately from principles, may be said to be known, according to the way we view them, now by intuition, now by deduction; although the principles themselves can be known only by intuition, the remote consequences only by deduction.
In Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Philosophy of Descartes. [Torrey] (1892), 64-65.
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Man is full of desires: he loves only those who can satisfy them all. “This man is a good mathematician,” someone will say. But I have no concern for mathematics; he would take me for a proposition. “That one is a good soldier.” He would take me for a besieged town. I need, that is to say, a decent man who can accommodate himself to all my desires in a general sort of way.
From Pensées (1670), Sect. 6, Aphorism 18. As translated in W.H. Auden and L. Kronenberger (eds.) The Viking Book of Aphorisms (1966), 199. From the original French, “L’homme est plein de besoins: il n’aime que ceux qui peuvent les remplir tous. ‘C’est un bon mathématicien,’ dira-t-on. Mais je n’ai que faire de mathématiques; il me prendroit pour une proposition. ‘C’est un bon guerrier.’ Il me prendroit pour une place assiégée. Il faut donc un honnête homme qui puisse s’accommoder à tous mes besoins généralement,” in Oeuvres Complètes de Blaise Pascal (1858), Vol. 1, 276.
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Mathematics as a science commenced when first someone, probably a Greek, proved propositions about any things or about some things, without specification of definite particular things. These propositions were first enunciated by the Greeks for geometry; and, accordingly, geometry was the great Greek mathematical science.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 15.
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Mathematics is a logical method … Mathematical propositions express no thoughts. In life it is never a mathematical proposition which we need, but we use mathematical propositions only in order to infer from propositions which do not belong to mathematics to others which equally do not belong to mathematics.
In Tractatus Logico Philosophicus (1922), 169 (statements 6.2-6.211).
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My Design in this Book is not to explain the Properties of Light by Hypotheses, but to propose and prove them by Reason and Experiments: In order to which, I shall premise the following Definitions and Axioms.
Opticks (1704), Book 1, Part 1, Introduction, 1.
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Nothing is less applicable to life than mathematical reasoning. A proposition in mathematics is decidedly false or true. Everywhere else the true is mingled with the false.
Quoted, without citation, in David Eugene Smith, The Teaching of Elementary Mathematics (1904), 170.
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Now this establishment of correspondence between two aggregates and investigation of the propositions that are carried over by the correspondence may be called the central idea of modern mathematics.
In 'Philosophy of the Pure Sciences', Lectures and Essays (1901), Vol. 1, 402.
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Now, we propose in the first place to show, that this law of organic progress is the law of all progress. Whether it be in the development of the Earth, in the development in Life upon its surface, in the development of Society, of Government, of Manufactures, of Commerce, of Language, Literature, Science, Art, this same evolution of the simple into the complex, through a process of continuous differentiation, holds throughout. From the earliest traceable cosmical changes down to the latest results of civilization, we shall find that the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous is that in which Progress essentially consists.
'Progress: Its Law and Cause', Westminster Review (1857), 67, 446-7.
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One can be deluded in favor of a proposition as well as against it. Reasons are often and for the most part only expositions of pretensions designed to give a coloring of legitimacy and rationality to something we would have done in any case.
Aphorism 50 in Notebook C (1772-1773), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 41.
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One feature which will probably most impress the mathematician accustomed to the rapidity and directness secured by the generality of modern methods is the deliberation with which Archimedes approaches the solution of any one of his main problems. Yet this very characteristic, with its incidental effects, is calculated to excite the more admiration because the method suggests the tactics of some great strategist who foresees everything, eliminates everything not immediately conducive to the execution of his plan, masters every position in its order, and then suddenly (when the very elaboration of the scheme has almost obscured, in the mind of the spectator, its ultimate object) strikes the final blow. Thus we read in Archimedes proposition after proposition the bearing of which is not immediately obvious but which we find infallibly used later on; and we are led by such easy stages that the difficulties of the original problem, as presented at the outset, are scarcely appreciated. As Plutarch says: “It is not possible to find in geometry more difficult and troublesome questions, or more simple and lucid explanations.” But it is decidedly a rhetorical exaggeration when Plutarch goes on to say that we are deceived by the easiness of the successive steps into the belief that anyone could have discovered them for himself. On the contrary, the studied simplicity and the perfect finish of the treatises involve at the same time an element of mystery. Though each step depends on the preceding ones, we are left in the dark as to how they were suggested to Archimedes. There is, in fact, much truth in a remark by Wallis to the effect that he seems “as it were of set purpose to have covered up the traces of his investigation as if he had grudged posterity the secret of his method of inquiry while he wished to extort from them assent to his results.” Wallis adds with equal reason that not only Archimedes but nearly all the ancients so hid away from posterity their method of Analysis (though it is certain that they had one) that more modern mathematicians found it easier to invent a new Analysis than to seek out the old.
In The Works of Archimedes (1897), Preface, vi.
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One striking peculiarity of mathematics is its unlimited power of evolving examples and problems. A student may read a book of Euclid, or a few chapters of Algebra, and within that limited range of knowledge it is possible to set him exercises as real and as interesting as the propositions themselves which he has studied; deductions which might have pleased the Greek geometers, and algebraic propositions which Pascal and Fermat would not have disdained to investigate.
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 82.
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Our ideals. laws and customs should he based on the proposition that each, in turn, becomes the custodian rather than the absolute owner of our resources and each generation has the obligation to pass this inheritance on to the future.
…...
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Our present work sets forth mathematical principles of philosophy. For the basic problem of philosophy seems to be to discover the forces of nature from the phenomena of motions and then to demonstrate the other phenomena from these forces. It is to these ends that the general propositions in books 1 and 2 are directed, while in book 3 our explanation of the system of the world illustrates these propositions.
The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687), 3rd edition (1726), trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (1999), Preface to the first edition, 382.
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Plasticity, then, in the wide sense of the word, means the possession of a structure weak enough to yield to an influence, but strong enough not to yield all at once. Each relatively stable phase of equilibrium in such a structure is marked by what we may call a new set of habits. Organic matter, especially nervous tissue, seems endowed with a very extraordinary degree of plasticity of this sort ; so that we may without hesitation lay down as our first proposition the following, that the phenomena of habit in living beings are due to plasticity of the organic materials of which their bodies are composed.
'The Laws of Habit', The Popular Science Monthly (Feb 1887), 434.
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Pope has elegantly said a perfect woman's but a softer man. And if we take in the consideration, that there can be but one rule of moral excellence for beings made of the same materials, organized after the same manner, and subjected to similar laws of Nature, we must either agree with Mr. Pope, or we must reverse the proposition, and say, that a perfect man is a woman formed after a coarser mold.
Letter XXII. 'No Characteristic Difference in Sex'. In Letters on Education with Observations on Religious and Metaphysical Subjects (1790), 128.
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Propose theories which can be criticized. Think about possible decisive falsifying experiments—crucial experiments. But do not give up your theories too easily—not, at any rate, before you have critically examined your criticism.
'The Problem of Demarcation' (1974). Collected in David Miller (ed.) Popper Selections (1985), 126-127.
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Proposition IX. Radiant light consists in Undulations of the Luminiferous Ether.
'On the Theory of Light and Colours' (read in 1801), Philosophical Transactions (1802), 92, 44.
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Proposition VIII. When two Undulations, from different Origins, coincide either perfectly or very nearly in Direction, their joint effect is a Combination of the Motions belonging to each.
'On the Theory of Light and Colours' (read in 1801), Philosophical Transactions (1802), 92, 34.
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Pure mathematics consists entirely of such asseverations as that, if such and such is a proposition is true of anything, then such and such another propositions is true of that thing. It is essential not to discuss whether the first proposition is really true, and not to mention what the anything is of which it is supposed to be true. Both these points would belong to applied mathematics. … If our hypothesis is about anything and not about some one or more particular things, then our deductions constitute mathematics. Thus mathematics may be defined as the the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, not whether what we are saying is true. People who have been puzzled by the beginnings of mathematics will, I hope, find comfort in this definition, and will probably agree that it is accurate.
In 'Recent Work on the Principles of Mathematics', International Monthly (1901), 4, 84.
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Pure Mathematics is the class of all propositions of the form “p implies q,” where p and q are propositions containing one or more variables, the same in the two propositions, and neither p nor q contains any constants except logical constants. And logical constants are all notions definable in terms of the following: Implication, the relation of a term to a class of which it is a member, the notion of such that, the notion of relation, and such further notions as may be involved in the general notion of propositions of the above form. In addition to these, mathematics uses a notion which is not a constituent of the propositions which it considers, namely the notion of truth.
In 'Definition of Pure Mathematics', Principles of Mathematics (1903), 3.
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Reason must approach nature with the view, indeed, of receiving information from it, not, however, in the character of a pupil, who listens to all that his master chooses to tell him, but in that of a judge, who compels the witnesses to reply to those questions which he himself thinks fit to propose. To this single idea must the revolution be ascribed, by which, after groping in the dark for so many centuries, natural science was at length conducted into the path of certain progress.
Critique of Pure Reason, translated by J.M.D. Meiklejohn (1855), Preface to the Second Edition, xxvii.
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Science is often regarded as the most objective and truth-directed of human enterprises, and since direct observation is supposed to be the favored route to factuality, many people equate respectable science with visual scrutiny–just the facts ma’am, and palpably before my eyes. But science is a battery of observational and inferential methods, all directed to the testing of propositions that can, in principle, be definitely proven false ... At all scales, from smallest to largest, quickest to slowest, many well-documented conclusions of science lie beyond the strictly limited domain of direct observation. No one has ever seen an electron or a black hole, the events of a picosecond or a geological eon.
…...
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Science would have us believe that such accuracy, leading to certainty, is the only criterion of knowledge, would make the trial of Galileo the paradigm of the two points of view which aspire to truth, would suggest, that is, that the cardinals represent only superstition and repression, while Galileo represents freedom. But there is another criterion which is systematically neglected in this elevation of science. Man does not now—and will not ever—live by the bread of scientific method alone. He must deal with life and death, with love and cruelty and despair, and so must make conjectures of great importance which may or may not be true and which do not lend themselves to experimentation: It is better to give than to receive; Love thy neighbor as thyself; Better to risk slavery through non-violence than to defend freedom with murder. We must deal with such propositions, must decide whether they are true, whether to believe them, whether to act on them—and scientific method is no help for by their nature these matters lie forever beyond the realm of science.
In The End of the Modern Age (1973), 89.
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Science, in its ultimate ideal, consists of a set of propositions arranged in a hierarchy, the lowest level of the hierarchy being concerned with particular facts, and the highest with some general law, governing everything in the universe. The various levels in the hierarchy have a two-fold logical connection, travelling one up, one down; the upward connection proceeds by induction, the downward by deduction.
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 38.
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Scientific discovery, or the formulation of scientific theory, starts in with the unvarnished and unembroidered evidence of the senses. It starts with simple observation—simple, unbiased, unprejudiced, naive, or innocent observation—and out of this sensory evidence, embodied in the form of simple propositions or declarations of fact, generalizations will grow up and take shape, almost as if some process of crystallization or condensation were taking place. Out of a disorderly array of facts, an orderly theory, an orderly general statement, will somehow emerge.
In 'Is the Scientific Paper Fraudulent?', The Saturday Review (1 Aug 1964), 42.
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Secondly, the study of mathematics would show them the necessity there is in reasoning, to separate all the distinct ideas, and to see the habitudes that all those concerned in the present inquiry have to one another, and to lay by those which relate not to the proposition in hand, and wholly to leave them out of the reckoning. This is that which, in other respects besides quantity is absolutely requisite to just reasoning, though in them it is not so easily observed and so carefully practised. In those parts of knowledge where it is thought demonstration has nothing to do, men reason as it were in a lump; and if upon a summary and confused view, or upon a partial consideration, they can raise the appearance of a probability, they usually rest content; especially if it be in a dispute where every little straw is laid hold on, and everything that can but be drawn in any way to give color to the argument is advanced with ostentation. But that mind is not in a posture to find truth that does not distinctly take all the parts asunder, and, omitting what is not at all to the point, draws a conclusion from the result of all the particulars which in any way influence it.
In Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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Someone who had begun to read geometry with Euclid, when he had learned the first proposition, asked Euclid, “But what shall I get by learning these things?” whereupon Euclid called his slave and said, “Give him three-pence, since he must make gain out of what he learns.”
As quoted in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath's Quotation-Book (1914), 152-153, citing Stobaeus, Edition Wachsmuth (1884), Ecl. II.
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Strictly speaking, it is really scandalous that science has not yet clarified the nature of number. It might be excusable that there is still no generally accepted definition of number, if at least there were general agreement on the matter itself. However, science has not even decided on whether number is an assemblage of things, or a figure drawn on the blackboard by the hand of man; whether it is something psychical, about whose generation psychology must give information, or whether it is a logical structure; whether it is created and can vanish, or whether it is eternal. It is not known whether the propositions of arithmetic deal with those structures composed of calcium carbonate [chalk] or with non-physical entities. There is as little agreement in this matter as there is regarding the meaning of the word “equal” and the equality sign. Therefore, science does not know the thought content which is attached to its propositions; it does not know what it deals with; it is completely in the dark regarding their proper nature. Isn’t this scandalous?
From opening paragraph of 'Vorwort', Über die Zahlen des Herrn H. Schubert (1899), iii. ('Foreword', On the Numbers of Mr. H. Schubert). Translated by Theodore J. Benac in Friedrich Waismann, Introduction to Mathematical Thinking: The Formation of Concepts in Modern Mathematics (1959, 2003), 107. Webmaster added “[chalk]”.
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Such propositions are therefore called Eternal Truths, not because they are Eternal Truths, not because they are External Propositions actually formed, and antecedent to the Understanding, that at any time makes them; nor because they are imprinted on the Mind from any patterns, that are any where out of the mind, and existed before: But because, being once made, about abstract Ideas, so as to be true, they will, whenever they can be supposed to be made again at any time, past or to come, by a Mind having those Ideas, always actually be true. For names being supposed to stand perpetually for the same ideas, and the same ideas having immutably the same habitudes one to another, Propositions concerning any abstract Ideas that are once true, must needs be eternal Verities.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 4, Chapter 11, Section 14, 638-9.
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Suppose then I want to give myself a little training in the art of reasoning; suppose I want to get out of the region of conjecture and probability, free myself from the difficult task of weighing evidence, and putting instances together to arrive at general propositions, and simply desire to know how to deal with my general propositions when I get them, and how to deduce right inferences from them; it is clear that I shall obtain this sort of discipline best in those departments of thought in which the first principles are unquestionably true. For in all our thinking, if we come to erroneous conclusions, we come to them either by accepting false premises to start with—in which case our reasoning, however good, will not save us from error; or by reasoning badly, in which case the data we start from may be perfectly sound, and yet our conclusions may be false. But in the mathematical or pure sciences,—geometry, arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, the calculus of variations or of curves,— we know at least that there is not, and cannot be, error in our first principles, and we may therefore fasten our whole attention upon the processes. As mere exercises in logic, therefore, these sciences, based as they all are on primary truths relating to space and number, have always been supposed to furnish the most exact discipline. When Plato wrote over the portal of his school. “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here,” he did not mean that questions relating to lines and surfaces would be discussed by his disciples. On the contrary, the topics to which he directed their attention were some of the deepest problems,— social, political, moral,—on which the mind could exercise itself. Plato and his followers tried to think out together conclusions respecting the being, the duty, and the destiny of man, and the relation in which he stood to the gods and to the unseen world. What had geometry to do with these things? Simply this: That a man whose mind has not undergone a rigorous training in systematic thinking, and in the art of drawing legitimate inferences from premises, was unfitted to enter on the discussion of these high topics; and that the sort of logical discipline which he needed was most likely to be obtained from geometry—the only mathematical science which in Plato’s time had been formulated and reduced to a system. And we in this country [England] have long acted on the same principle. Our future lawyers, clergy, and statesmen are expected at the University to learn a good deal about curves, and angles, and numbers and proportions; not because these subjects have the smallest relation to the needs of their lives, but because in the very act of learning them they are likely to acquire that habit of steadfast and accurate thinking, which is indispensable to success in all the pursuits of life.
In Lectures on Teaching (1906), 891-92.
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Symbolism is useful because it makes things difficult. Now in the beginning everything is self-evident, and it is hard to see whether one self-evident proposition follows from another or not. Obviousness is always the enemy to correctness. Hence we must invent a new and difficult symbolism in which nothing is obvious. … Thus the whole of Arithmetic and Algebra has been shown to require three indefinable notions and five indemonstrable propositions.
In International Monthly (1901), 4, 85-86.
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Take note, theologians, that in your desire to make matters of faith out of propositions relating to the fixity of sun and earth you run the risk of eventually having to condemn as heretics those who would declare the earth to stand still and the sun to change position—eventually, I say, at such a time as it might be physically or logically proved that the earth moves and the sun stands still.
Note added by Galileo in the preliminary leaves of his copy of Dialogue on the Great World Systems (1632).
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The ancients devoted a lifetime to the study of arithmetic; it required days to extract a square root or to multiply two numbers together. Is there any harm in skipping all that, in letting the school boy learn multiplication sums, and in starting his more abstract reasoning at a more advanced point? Where would be the harm in letting the boy assume the truth of many propositions of the first four books of Euclid, letting him assume their truth partly by faith, partly by trial? Giving him the whole fifth book of Euclid by simple algebra? Letting him assume the sixth as axiomatic? Letting him, in fact, begin his severer studies where he is now in the habit of leaving off? We do much less orthodox things. Every here and there in one’s mathematical studies one makes exceedingly large assumptions, because the methodical study would be ridiculous even in the eyes of the most pedantic of teachers. I can imagine a whole year devoted to the philosophical study of many things that a student now takes in his stride without trouble. The present method of training the mind of a mathematical teacher causes it to strain at gnats and to swallow camels. Such gnats are most of the propositions of the sixth book of Euclid; propositions generally about incommensurables; the use of arithmetic in geometry; the parallelogram of forces, etc., decimals.
In Teaching of Mathematics (1904), 12.
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The chief art of learning, as Locke has observed, is to attempt but little at a time. The widest excursions of the mind are made by short flights frequently repeated; the most lofty fabrics of science are formed by the continued accumulation of single propositions.
'The Need For General Knowledge,' Rambler No. 137 (9 Jul 1751). In Samuel Johnson, Donald Greene (ed.), Samuel Johnson (1984), 223.
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The combination of such characters, some, as the sacral ones, altogether peculiar among Reptiles, others borrowed, as it were, from groups now distinct from each other, and all manifested by creatures far surpassing in size the largest of existing reptiles, will, it is presumed, be deemed sufficient ground for establishing a distinct tribe or sub-order of Saurian Reptiles, for which I would propose the name of Dinosauria.
'Report on British Fossil Reptiles', Report of the Eleventh Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1842), 103.
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The critical mathematician has abandoned the search for truth. He no longer flatters himself that his propositions are or can be known to him or to any other human being to be true; and he contents himself with aiming at the correct, or the consistent. The distinction is not annulled nor even blurred by the reflection that consistency contains immanently a kind of truth. He is not absolutely certain, but he believes profoundly that it is possible to find various sets of a few propositions each such that the propositions of each set are compatible, that the propositions of each such set imply other propositions, and that the latter can be deduced from the former with certainty. That is to say, he believes that there are systems of coherent or consistent propositions, and he regards it his business to discover such systems. Any such system is a branch of mathematics.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 94. Also in Science (1912), New Series, 35, 107.
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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.
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1843), Vol. 2, Book 4, Chapter 7, 302-3.
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The Excellence of Modern Geometry is in nothing more evident, than in those full and adequate Solutions it gives to Problems; representing all possible Cases in one view, and in one general Theorem many times comprehending whole Sciences; which deduced at length into Propositions, and demonstrated after the manner of the Ancients, might well become the subjects of large Treatises: For whatsoever Theorem solves the most complicated Problem of the kind, does with a due Reduction reach all the subordinate Cases.
In 'An Instance of the Excellence of Modern Algebra, etc', Philosophical Transactions, 1694, 960.
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The first acquaintance which most people have with mathematics is through arithmetic. That two and two make four is usually taken as the type of a simple mathematical proposition which everyone will have heard of. … The first noticeable fact about arithmetic is that it applies to everything, to tastes and to sounds, to apples and to angels, to the ideas of the mind and to the bones of the body.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 9.
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The first effect of the mind growing cultivated is that processes once multiple get to be performed in a single act. Lazarus has called this the progressive “condensation” of thought. ... Steps really sink from sight. An advanced thinker sees the relations of his topics is such masses and so instantaneously that when he comes to explain to younger minds it is often hard ... Bowditch, who translated and annotated Laplace's Méchanique Céleste, said that whenever his author prefaced a proposition by the words “it is evident,” he knew that many hours of hard study lay before him.
In The Principles of Psychology (1918), Vol. 2, 369-370.
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The following general conclusions are drawn from the propositions stated above, and known facts with reference to the mechanics of animal and vegetable bodies:—
There is at present in the material world a universal tendency to the dissipation of mechanical energy.
Any restoration of mechanical energy, without more than an equivalent of dissipation, is impossible in inanimate material processes, and is probably never effected by means of organized matter, either endowed with vegetable life, or subjected to the will of an animated creature.
Within a finite period of time past the earth must have been, and within a finite period of time to come the earth must again be, unfit for the habitation of man as at present constituted, unless operations have been, or are to be performed, which are impossible under the laws to which the known operations going on at present in the material world are subject.
In 'On a Universal Tendency in Nature to the Dissipation of Mechanical Energy', Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1852, 3, 141-142. In Mathematical and Physical Papers (1882-1911), Vol. 1, 513-514.
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The Greeks in the first vigour of their pursuit of mathematical truth, at the time of Plato and soon after, had by no means confined themselves to those propositions which had a visible bearing on the phenomena of nature; but had followed out many beautiful trains of research concerning various kinds of figures, for the sake of their beauty alone; as for instance in their doctrine of Conic Sections, of which curves they had discovered all the principal properties. But it is curious to remark, that these investigations, thus pursued at first as mere matters of curiosity and intellectual gratification, were destined, two thousand years later, to play a very important part in establishing that system of celestial motions which succeeded the Platonic scheme of cycles and epicycles. If the properties of conic sections had not been demonstrated by the Greeks and thus rendered familiar to the mathematicians of succeeding ages, Kepler would probably not have been able to discover those laws respecting the orbits and motions of planets which were the occasion of the greatest revolution that ever happened in the history of science.
In History of Scientific Ideas, Bk. 9, chap. 14, sect. 3.
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The heterosexuality or homosexuality of many individuals is not an all-or-none proposition.
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948), 638.
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The learning of true propositions, dogmatically delivered, is not science.
In Suggestions on Academical Organisation with Especial Reference to Oxford (1868), 301.
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The mathematician starts with a few propositions, the proof of which is so obvious that they are called self-evident, and the rest of his work consists of subtle deductions from them. The teaching of languages, at any rate as ordinarily practised, is of the same general nature authority and tradition furnish the data, and the mental operations are deductive.
In 'Scientific Education: Notes of an After-Dinner Speech' (Delivered to Liverpool Philomathic Society, Apr 1869), published in Macmillan’s Magazine (Jun 1869), 20, No. 116, 177. Collected in Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (1871), Chap 4, 66.
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The most abstract statements or propositions in science are to be regarded as bundles of hypothetical maxims packed into a portable shape and size. Every scientific fact is a short-hand expression for a vast number of practical directions: if you want so-and-so, do so-and-so.
In 'On The Scientific Basis of Morals', Contemporary Review (Sep 1875), collected in Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock (eds.), Lectures and Essays: By the Late William Kingdon Clifford, F.R.S. (1886), 289.
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The principles of logic and mathematics are true universally simply because we never allow them to be anything else. And the reason for this is that we cannot abandon them without contradicting ourselves, without sinning against the rules which govern the use of language, and so making our utterances self-stultifying. In other words, the truths of logic and mathematics are analytic propositions or tautologies.
Language, Truth and Logic (1960), 77.
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The proposition that the meek (that is the adaptable and serviceable), inherit the earth is not merely a wishful sentiment of religion, but an iron law of evolution.
The Organizational Revolution (1953), 252.
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The propositions of mathematics have, therefore, the same unquestionable certainty which is typical of such propositions as “All bachelors are unmarried,” but they also share the complete lack of empirical content which is associated with that certainty: The propositions of mathematics are devoid of all factual content; they convey no information whatever on any empirical subject matter.
From 'On the Nature of Mathematical Truth', collected in Carl Hempel and James H. Fetzer (ed.), The Philosophy of Carl G. Hempel: Studies in Science, Explanation, and Rationality (2001), Chap. 1, 13. Also Carl Hempel, 'On the Nature of Mathematical Truth', collected in J.R. Newman (ed.), The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 3, 1631.
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The Reason of making Experiments is, for the Discovery of the Method of Nature, in its Progress and Operations. Whosoever, therefore doth rightly make Experiments, doth design to enquire into some of these Operations; and, in order thereunto, doth consider what Circumstances and Effects, in the Experiment, will be material and instructive in that Enquiry, whether for the confirming or destroying of any preconceived Notion, or for the Limitation and Bounding thereof, either to this or that Part of the Hypothesis, by allowing a greater Latitude and Extent to one Part, and by diminishing or restraining another Part within narrower Bounds than were at first imagin'd, or hypothetically supposed. The Method therefore of making Experiments by the Royal Society I conceive should be this.
First, To propound the Design and Aim of the Curator in his present Enquiry.
Secondly, To make the Experiment, or Experiments, leisurely, and with Care and Exactness.
Thirdly, To be diligent, accurate, and curious, in taking Notice of, and shewing to the Assembly of Spectators, such Circumstances and Effects therein occurring, as are material, or at least, as he conceives such, in order to his Theory .
Fourthly, After finishing the Experiment, to discourse, argue, defend, and further explain, such Circumstances and Effects in the preceding Experiments, as may seem dubious or difficult: And to propound what new Difficulties and Queries do occur, that require other Trials and Experiments to be made, in order to their clearing and answering: And farther, to raise such Axioms and Propositions, as are thereby plainly demonstrated and proved.
Fifthly, To register the whole Process of the Proposal, Design, Experiment, Success, or Failure; the Objections and Objectors, the Explanation and Explainers, the Proposals and Propounders of new and farther Trials; the Theories and Axioms, and their Authors; and, in a Word the history of every Thing and Person, that is material and circumstantial in the whole Entertainment of the said Society; which shall be prepared and made ready, fairly written in a bound Book, to be read at the Beginning of the Sitting of the Society: The next Day of their Meeting, then to be read over and further discoursed, augmented or diminished, as the Matter shall require, and then to be sign'd by a certain Number of the Persons present, who have been present, and Witnesses of all the said Proceedings, who, by Subscribing their names, will prove undoubted testimony to Posterity of the whole History.
'Dr Hooke's Method of Making Experiments' (1664-5). In W. Derham (ed.), Philosophical Experiments and Observations Of the Late Eminent Dr. Robert Hooke, F.R.S. And Geom. Prof. Gresh. and Other Eminent Virtuoso's in his Time (1726), 26-8.
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The speculative propositions of mathematics do not relate to facts; … all that we are convinced of by any demonstration in the science, is of a necessary connection subsisting between certain suppositions and certain conclusions. When we find these suppositions actually take place in a particular instance, the demonstration forces us to apply the conclusion. Thus, if I could form a triangle, the three sides of which were accurately mathematical lines, I might affirm of this individual figure, that its three angles are equal to two right angles; but, as the imperfection of my senses puts it out of my power to be, in any case, certain of the exact correspondence of the diagram which I delineate, with the definitions given in the elements of geometry, I never can apply with confidence to a particular figure, a mathematical theorem. On the other hand, it appears from the daily testimony of our senses that the speculative truths of geometry may be applied to material objects with a degree of accuracy sufficient for the purposes of life; and from such applications of them, advantages of the most important kind have been gained to society.
In Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1827), Vol. 3, Chap. 1, Sec. 3, 180.
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The Syllogism consists of propositions, propositions consist of words, words are symbols of notions. Therefore if the notions themselves (which is the root of the matter) are confused and over-hastily abstracted from the facts, there can be no firmness in the superstructure. Our only hope therefore lies in a true induction.
From Novum Organum (1620), Book 1, Aphorism 14. Translated as The New Organon: Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man), collected in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1857), Vol. 4, 49.
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The treatises [of Archimedes] are without exception, monuments of mathematical exposition; the gradual revelation of the plan of attack, the masterly ordering of the propositions, the stern elimination of everything not immediately relevant to the purpose, the finish of the whole, are so impressive in their perfection as to create a feeling akin to awe in the mind of the reader.
In A History of Greek Mathematics (1921), Vol. 1, 20.
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The truth of a proposition has nothing to do with its credibility. And vice versa.
In Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long (1973), 265.
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The validity of mathematical propositions is independent of the actual world—the world of existing subject-matters—is logically prior to it, and would remain unaffected were it to vanish from being. Mathematical propositions, if true, are eternal verities.
In The Pastures of Wonder: The Realm of Mathematics and the Realm of Science (1929), 99.
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The whole theory of the motive power of heat is founded on the two following propositions, due respectively to Joule, and to Carnot and Clausius.
PROP. I. Joule).—When equal quantities of mechanical effect are produced by any means whatever from purely thermal sources, or lost in purely thermal effects, equal quantities of heat are put out of existence or are generated.
PROP. II. (Carnot and Clausius).—If an engine be such that, when it is worked backwards, the physical and mechanical agencies in every part of its motions are all reversed, it produces as much mechanical effect as can be produced by any thermo-dynamic engine, with the same temperatures of source and refrigerator, from a given quantity of heat.
In 'On the Dynamical Theory of Heat, with Numerical Results Deduced from Mr Joule's Equivalent of a Thermal Unit, and M. Regnault's Observations on Steam' (1851). In Mathematical and Physical Papers (1882), Vol. 1, 178.
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The world is to me my proposition of it; and so is the pig’s world, the pig’s proposition of it; or, to use a common saying, “the pig sees with pig’s eyes.”
In Sir William Withey Gull and Theodore Dyke Acland (ed.), A Collection of the Published Writings of William Withey Gull (1896), xlviii.
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They [mathematicians] only take those things into consideration, of which they have clear and distinct ideas, designating them by proper, adequate, and invariable names, and premising only a few axioms which are most noted and certain to investigate their affections and draw conclusions from them, and agreeably laying down a very few hypotheses, such as are in the highest degree consonant with reason and not to be denied by anyone in his right mind. In like manner they assign generations or causes easy to be understood and readily admitted by all, they preserve a most accurate order, every proposition immediately following from what is supposed and proved before, and reject all things howsoever specious and probable which can not be inferred and deduced after the same manner.
In Mathematical Lectures (1734), 65-66.
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This relation logical implication is probably the most rigorous and powerful of all the intellectual enterprises of man. From a properly selected set of the vast number of prepositional functions a set can be selected from which an infinitude of prepositional functions can be implied. In this sense all postulational thinking is mathematics. It can be shown that doctrines in the sciences, natural and social, in history, in jurisprudence and in ethics are constructed on the postulational thinking scheme and to that extent are mathematical. Together the proper enterprise of Science and the enterprise of Mathematics embrace the whole knowledge-seeking activity of mankind, whereby “knowledge” is meant the kind of knowledge that admits of being made articulate in the form of propositions.
In Mathematics as a Culture Clue: And Other Essays (1947), 127.
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This whole theory of electrostatics constitutes a group of abstract ideas and general propositions, formulated in the clear and precise language of geometry and algebra, and connected with one another by the rules of strict logic. This whole fully satisfies the reason of a French physicist and his taste for clarity, simplicity and order. The same does not hold for the Englishman. These abstract notions of material points, force, line of force, and equipotential surface do not satisfy his need to imagine concrete, material, visible, and tangible things. 'So long as we cling to this mode of representation,' says an English physicist, 'we cannot form a mental representation of the phenomena which are really happening.' It is to satisfy the need that he goes and creates a model.
The French or German physicist conceives, in the space separating two conductors, abstract lines of force having no thickness or real existence; the English physicist materializes these lines and thickens them to the dimensions of a tube which he will fill with vulcanised rubber. In place of a family of lines of ideal forces, conceivable only by reason, he will have a bundle of elastic strings, visible and tangible, firmly glued at both ends to the surfaces of the two conductors, and, when stretched, trying both to contact and to expand. When the two conductors approach each other, he sees the elastic strings drawing closer together; then he sees each of them bunch up and grow large. Such is the famous model of electrostatic action imagined by Faraday and admired as a work of genius by Maxwell and the whole English school.
The employment of similar mechanical models, recalling by certain more or less rough analogies the particular features of the theory being expounded, is a regular feature of the English treatises on physics. Here is a book* [by Oliver Lodge] intended to expound the modern theories of electricity and to expound a new theory. In it are nothing but strings which move around pulleys, which roll around drums, which go through pearl beads, which carry weights; and tubes which pump water while others swell and contract; toothed wheels which are geared to one another and engage hooks. We thought we were entering the tranquil and neatly ordered abode of reason, but we find ourselves in a factory.
*Footnote: O. Lodge, Les Théories Modernes (Modern Views on Electricity) (1889), 16.
The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1906), 2nd edition (1914), trans. Philip P. Wiener (1954), 70-1.
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We know that there exist true propositions which we can never formally prove. What about propositions whose proofs require arguments beyond our capabilities? What about propositions whose proofs require millions of pages? Or a million, million pages? Are there proofs that are possible, but beyond us?
Mathematical Mysteries (1999), 295.
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We reverence ancient Greece as the cradle of western science. Here for the first time the world witnessed the miracle of a logical system which proceeded from step to step with such precision that every single one of its propositions was absolutely indubitable—I refer to Euclid’s geometry. This admirable triumph of reasoning gave the human intellect the necessary confidence in itself for its subsequent achievements. If Euclid failed to kindle your youthful enthusiasm, then you were not born to be a scientific thinker.
From 'On the Method of Theoretical Physics', in Essays in Science (1934, 2004), 13.
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When first I applied my mind to Mathematics I read straight away most of what is usually given by the mathematical writers, and I paid special attention to Arithmetic and Geometry because they were said to be the simplest and so to speak the way to all the rest. But in neither case did I then meet with authors who fully satisfied me. I did indeed learn in their works many propositions about numbers which I found on calculation to be true. As to figures, they in a sense exhibited to my eyes a great number of truths and drew conclusions from certain consequences. But they did not seem to make it sufficiently plain to the mind itself why these things are so, and how they discovered them. Consequently I was not surprised that many people, even of talent and scholarship, should, after glancing at these sciences, have either given them up as being empty and childish or, taking them to be very difficult and intricate, been deterred at the very outset from learning them. … But when I afterwards bethought myself how it could be that the earliest pioneers of Philosophy in bygone ages refused to admit to the study of wisdom any one who was not versed in Mathematics … I was confirmed in my suspicion that they had knowledge of a species of Mathematics very different from that which passes current in our time.
In Elizabeth S. Haldane (trans.) and G.R.T. Ross (trans.), 'Rules for the Direction of the Mind', The Philosophical Works of Descartes (1911, 1973), Vol. 1, Rule 4, 11.
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When it was first proposed to establish laboratories at Cambridge, Todhunter, the mathematician, objected that it was unnecessary for students to see experiments performed, since the results could be vouched for by their teachers, all of them of the highest character, and many of them clergymen of the Church of England.
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 49.
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When someone says “I am thinking, therefore I am, or I exist,” he does not deduce existence from thought by means of a syllogism, but recognises it as something self-evident by a simple intuition of the mind. This is clear from the fact that if he were deducing it by means of a syllogism, he would have to have had previous knowledge of the major premiss 'Everything which thinks is, or exists'; yet in fact he learns it from experiencing in his own case that it is impossible that he should think without existing. It is in the nature of our mind to construct general propositions on the basis of our knowledge of particular ones.
Author's Replies to the Second set of Objections to Meditations on the First Philosophy (1641), in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes (1985), trans. J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff and D. Murdoch, Vol. 2, 100.
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When the mathematician says that such and such a proposition is true of one thing, it may be interesting, and it is surely safe. But when he tries to extend his proposition to everything, though it is much more interesting, it is also much more dangerous. In the transition from one to all, from the specific to the general, mathematics has made its greatest progress, and suffered its most serious setbacks, of which the logical paradoxes constitute the most important part. For, if mathematics is to advance securely and confidently, it must first set its affairs in order at home.
With co-author James R. Newman, in Mathematics and the Imagination (1940), 219.
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Whenever … a controversy arises in mathematics, the issue is not whether a thing is true or not, but whether the proof might not be conducted more simply in some other way, or whether the proposition demonstrated is sufficiently important for the advancement of the science as to deserve especial enunciation and emphasis, or finally, whether the proposition is not a special case of some other and more general truth which is as easily discovered.
In Mathematical Essays and Recreations (1898), 88.
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While the Mathematician is busy with deductions from general propositions, the Biologist is more especially occupied with observation, comparison, and those processes which lead to general propositions.
In 'On the Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences', Science and Education: Essays (1894), 57.
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[Experimental Physicist] Phys. I know that it is often a help to represent pressure and volume as height and width on paper; and so geometry may have applications to the theory of gases. But is it not going rather far to say that geometry can deal directly with these things and is not necessarily concerned with lengths in space?
[Mathematician] Math. No. Geometry is nowadays largely analytical, so that in form as well as in effect, it deals with variables of an unknown nature. …It is literally true that I do not want to know the significance of the variables x, y, z, t that I am discussing. …
Phys. Yours is a strange subject. You told us at the beginning that you are not concerned as to whether your propositions are true, and now you tell us you do not even care to know what you are talking about.
Math. That is an excellent description of Pure Mathematics, which has already been given by an eminent mathematician [Bertrand Russell].
In Space, Time and Gravitation: An Outline of the General Relativity Theory (1920, 1921), 14.
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[In mathematics] we behold the conscious logical activity of the human mind in its purest and most perfect form. Here we learn to realize the laborious nature of the process, the great care with which it must proceed, the accuracy which is necessary to determine the exact extent of the general propositions arrived at, the difficulty of forming and comprehending abstract concepts; but here we learn also to place confidence in the certainty, scope and fruitfulness of such intellectual activity.
In Ueber das Verhältnis der Naturwissenschaften zur Gesammtheit der Wissenschaft, Vorträge und Reden (1896), Bd. 1, 176. Also seen translated as “In mathematics we see the conscious logical activity of our mind in its purest and most perfect form; here is made manifest to us all the labor and the great care with which it progresses, the precision which is necessary to determine exactly the source of the established general theorems, and the difficulty with which we form and comprehend abstract conceptions; but we also learn here to have confidence in the certainty, breadth, and fruitfulness of such intellectual labor”, in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 20. From the original German, “Hier sehen wir die bewusste logische Thätigkeit unseres Geistes in ihrer reinsten und vollendetsten Form; wir können hier die ganze Mühe derselben kennen lernen, die grosse Vorsicht, mit der sie vorschreiten muss, die Genauigkeit, welche nöthig ist, um den Umfang der gewonnenen allgemeinen Sätze genau zu bestimmen, die Schwierigkeit, abstracte Begriffe zu bilden und zu verstehen; aber ebenso auch Vertrauen fassen lernen in die Sicherheit, Tragweite und Fruchtbarkeit solcher Gedankenarbeit.”
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[Relativist] Rel. There is a well-known proposition of Euclid which states that “Any two sides of a triangle are together greater than the third side.” Can either of you tell me whether nowadays there is good reason to believe that this proposition is true?
[Pure Mathematician] Math. For my part, I am quite unable to say whether the proposition is true or not. I can deduce it by trustworthy reasoning from certain other propositions or axioms, which are supposed to be still more elementary. If these axioms are true, the proposition is true; if the axioms are not true, the proposition is not true universally. Whether the axioms are true or not I cannot say, and it is outside my province to consider.
In Space, Time and Gravitation: An Outline of the General Relativity Theory (1920, 1921), 1.
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[T]he 47th proposition in Euclid might now be voted down with as much ease as any proposition in politics; and therefore if Lord Hawkesbury hates the abstract truths of science as much as he hates concrete truth in human affairs, now is his time for getting rid of the multiplication table, and passing a vote of censure upon the pretensions of the hypotenuse.
In 'Peter Plymley's Letters', Essays Social and Political (1877), 530.
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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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- 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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