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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index S > Category: Self-Evident

Self-Evident Quotes (12 quotes)

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. [Caution: expressed in this wording, it is likely misattributed.]
Schopenhauer did write a different reflection with this theme, much less tersely, on how the acceptance of truth has “only one short victory celebration is granted between the two long periods where it is despised as paradox and condemned as trivial.” See the Introduction to The World as Will and Representation (1819), xvi. The “three stages” quote is included here so it may be found with this caution: it is questionable that Schopenhauer expressed this idea with this wording. Although widely repeated, Webmaster has not yet found any citation to a primary source for these words. (Schopenhauer was German, so any quote in English represents a translation.) According to Ralph Keys, diligent search by scholars has found no written source in German, either. The sentiment has been variously restated and attributed to other authors. A somewhat better-documented version of the “three stages of truth” is attributed to Louis Agassiz, though still with only second-person references. See Ralph Keyes, The Quote Verifier (2006), 225-226.
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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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Forty years ago the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead thought it self-evident that you would get a good government if you took power out of the hands of the acquisitive and gave it to the learned and the cultivated. At present, a child in kindergarten knows better than that.
In Before the Sabbath (1979), 40-41.
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It is admitted by all that a finished or even a competent reasoner is not the work of nature alone; the experience of every day makes it evident that education develops faculties which would otherwise never have manifested their existence. It is, therefore, as necessary to learn to reason before we can expect to be able to reason, as it is to learn to swim or fence, in order to attain either of those arts. Now, something must be reasoned upon, it matters not much what it is, provided it can be reasoned upon with certainty. The properties of mind or matter, or the study of languages, mathematics, or natural history, may be chosen for this purpose. Now of all these, it is desirable to choose the one which admits of the reasoning being verified, that is, in which we can find out by other means, such as measurement and ocular demonstration of all sorts, whether the results are true or not. When the guiding property of the loadstone was first ascertained, and it was necessary to learn how to use this new discovery, and to find out how far it might be relied on, it would have been thought advisable to make many passages between ports that were well known before attempting a voyage of discovery. So it is with our reasoning faculties: it is desirable that their powers should be exerted upon objects of such a nature, that we can tell by other means whether the results which we obtain are true or false, and this before it is safe to trust entirely to reason. Now the mathematics are peculiarly well adapted for this purpose, on the following grounds:
1. Every term is distinctly explained, and has but one meaning, and it is rarely that two words are employed to mean the same thing.
2. The first principles are self-evident, and, though derived from observation, do not require more of it than has been made by children in general.
3. The demonstration is strictly logical, taking nothing for granted except self-evident first principles, resting nothing upon probability, and entirely independent of authority and opinion.
4. When the conclusion is obtained by reasoning, its truth or falsehood can be ascertained, in geometry by actual measurement, in algebra by common arithmetical calculation. This gives confidence, and is absolutely necessary, if, as was said before, reason is not to be the instructor, but the pupil.
5. There are no words whose meanings are so much alike that the ideas which they stand for may be confounded. Between the meaning of terms there is no distinction, except a total distinction, and all adjectives and adverbs expressing difference of degrees are avoided.
In On the Study and Difficulties of Mathematics (1898), chap. 1.
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It seems plain and self-evident, yet it needs to be said: the isolated knowledge obtained by a group of specialists in a narrow field has in itself no value whatsoever, but only in its synthesis with all the rest of knowledge and only inasmuch as it really contributes in this synthesis toward answering the demand, ‘Who are we?’
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Mathematics in general is fundamentally the science of self-evident things.
In Anwendung der Differenlial-und Integralrechnung auf Geometric (1902), 26.
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One of the most self-evident principles … is that in science “You can’t vote on the truth.”
In Seeing Red: Redshifts, Cosmology and Academic Science (1998), 273.
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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 reasoning of mathematicians is founded on certain and infallible principles. Every word they use conveys a determinate idea, and by accurate definitions they excite the same ideas in the mind of the reader that were in the mind of the writer. When they have defined the terms they intend to make use of, they premise a few axioms, or self-evident principles, that every one must assent to as soon as proposed. They then take for granted certain postulates, that no one can deny them, such as, that a right line may be drawn from any given point to another, and from these plain, simple principles they have raised most astonishing speculations, and proved the extent of the human mind to be more spacious and capacious than any other science.
In Diary, Works (1850), Vol. 2, 21.
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This science, Geometry, is one of indispensable use and constant reference, for every student of the laws of nature; for the relations of space and number are the alphabet in which those laws are written. But besides the interest and importance of this kind which geometry possesses, it has a great and peculiar value for all who wish to understand the foundations of human knowledge, and the methods by which it is acquired. For the student of geometry acquires, with a degree of insight and clearness which the unmathematical reader can but feebly imagine, a conviction that there are necessary truths, many of them of a very complex and striking character; and that a few of the most simple and self-evident truths which it is possible for the mind of man to apprehend, may, by systematic deduction, lead to the most remote and unexpected results.
In The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences Part 1, Bk. 2, chap. 4, sect. 8 (1868).
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We hold these truths to be self-evident.
Franklin's edit to the assertion of religion in Thomas Jefferson's original wording, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable” in a draft of the Declaration of Independence changes it instead into an assertion of rationality. The scientific mind of Franklin drew on the scientific determinism of Isaac Newton and the analytic empiricism of David Hume and Gottfried Leibniz. In what became known as “Hume's Fork” the latters' theory distinguished between synthetic truths that describe matters of fact, and analytic truths that are self-evident by virtue of reason and definition.
As explained by Walter Isaacson in Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2004), 312.
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When puzzled, it never hurts to read the primary documents–a rather simple and self-evident principle that has, nonetheless, completely disappeared from large sectors of the American experience.
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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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