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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index R > Bertrand Russell Quotes > Law

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Bertrand Russell
(18 May 1872 - 2 Feb 1970)

Welsh mathematician, logician and philosopher known for his work in mathematical logic, but was also active in social and political campaigns, advocating pacifism and nuclear disarmament.



But it is just this characteristic of simplicity in the laws of nature hitherto discovered which it would be fallacious to generalize, for it is obvious that simplicity has been a part cause of their discovery, and can, therefore, give no ground for the supposition that other undiscovered laws are equally simple.
— Bertrand Russell
From Herbert Spencer lecture delivered at Oxford (1914) 'On Scientific Method in Philosophy', collected in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1919), 102.
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Man is a part of nature, not something contrasted with nature. His thoughts and his bodily movements follow the same laws that describe the motions of stars and atoms.
— Bertrand Russell
Opening of What I Believe (1925), 1.
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One of the main purposes of scientific inference is to justify beliefs which we entertain already; but as a rule they are justified with a difference. Our pre-scientific general beliefs are hardly ever without exceptions; in science, a law with exceptions can only be tolerated as a makeshift. Scientific laws, when we have reason to think them accurate, are different in form from the common-sense rules which have exceptions: they are always, at least in physics, either differential equations, or statistical averages. It might be thought that a statistical average is not very different from a rule with exceptions, but this would be a mistake. Statistics, ideally, are accurate laws about large groups; they differ from other laws only in being about groups, not about individuals. Statistical laws are inferred by induction from particular statistics, just as other laws are inferred from particular single occurrences.
— Bertrand Russell
The Analysis of Matter (1927), 191.
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Physical science is thus approaching the stage when it will be complete, and therefore uninteresting. Given the laws governing the motions of electrons and protons, the rest is merely geography—a collection of particular facts.
— Bertrand Russell
In What I Believe (1925), 2.
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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.
— Bertrand Russell
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 38.
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Scientific method, although in its more refined forms it may seem complicated, is in essence remarkably simply. It consists in observing such facts as will enable the observer to discover general laws governing facts of the kind in question. The two stages, first of observation, and second of inference to a law, are both essential, and each is susceptible of almost indefinite refinement. (1931)
— Bertrand Russell
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 3.
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Sir Arthur Eddington deduces religion from the fact that atoms do not obey the laws of mathematics. Sir James Jeans deduces it from the fact that they do.
— Bertrand Russell
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 77.
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The first man who said “fire burns” was employing scientific method, at any rate if he had allowed himself to be burnt several times. This man had already passed through the two stages of observation and generalization. He had not, however, what scientific technique demands—a careful choice of significant facts on the one hand, and, on the other hand, various means of arriving at laws otherwise than my mere generalization. (1931)
— Bertrand Russell
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 3.
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The significance of a fact is relative to [the general body of scientific] knowledge. To say that a fact is significant in science, is to say that it helps to establish or refute some general law; for science, though it starts from observation of the particular, is not concerned essentially with the particular, but with the general. A fact, in science, is not a mere fact, but an instance. In this the scientist differs from the artist, who, if he deigns to notice facts at all, is likely to notice them in all their particularity.
— Bertrand Russell
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 38.
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See also:
  • 18 May - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Russell's birth.
  • Bertrand Russell - context of quote “A process which led from the amoeba to man” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Bertrand Russell - context of quote “A process which led from the amoeba to man” - Large image (800 x 600 px)

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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- 70 -
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