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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index V > Rudolf Virchow Quotes > Life

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Rudolf Virchow
(13 Oct 1821 - 5 Sep 1902)

German pathologist and statesman who originated the concept that disease arises in the individual cells of a tissue and, with publication of his Cellular Pathology (1858), founded the science of cellular pathology.


Rudolf Virchow Quotes on Life (12 quotes)

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All of our experience indicates that life can manifest itself only in a concrete form, and that it is bound to certain substantial loci. These loci are cells and cell formations. But we are far from seeking the last and highest level of understanding in the morphology of these loci of life. Anatomy does not exclude physiology, but physiology certainly presupposes anatomy. The phenomena that the physiologist investigates occur in special organs with quite characteristic anatomical arrangements; the various morphological parts disclosed by the anatomist are the bearers of properties or, if you will, of forces probed by the physiologist; when the physiologist has established a law, whether through physical or chemical investigation, the anatomist can still proudly state: This is the structure in which the law becomes manifest.
— Rudolf Virchow
In 'Cellular-Pathologie', Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und fur klinische Medizin (1855), 8, 19, as translated in LellandJ. Rather, 'Cellular Pathology', Disease, Life, and Man: Selected Essays by Rudolf Virchow (1958), 84.
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Cellular pathology is not an end if one cannot see any alteration in the cell. Chemistry brings the clarification of living processes nearer than does anatomy. Each anatomical change must have been preceded by a chemical one.
— Rudolf Virchow
Attributed in H. Coper and H. Herken, Deutsche Medizini Wochenschrift (18 Oct 1963), 88, No. 42, 2035, in the original German, “Nach der Überlieferung durch His soll Virchow geäußert haben: ‘Die Zellular-pathologie ist nicht am Ende, wenn man an einer Zelle keine Veränderungen mehr sehen kann. Die Chemie steht der Erklärung der Lebensvorgänge näher als die Anatomie. Jede anatomische Verände-rung setzt notwendig eine chemische voraus.’” As translated in Angel Pentschew,'Morphology and morphogenesis of lead encephalopathy', Acta Neuropathologica (Sep 1965) 5, No. 2, 133-160, as cited in I. Arthur Michaelson and Mitchell W. Sauerhoff, 'Animal Models of Human Disease: Severe and Mild Lead Encephalopathy in the Neonatal Rat', Environmental Health Perspectives (May 1974), 7, 204 & 223 footnote. Note: Although given in quotation marks in the original German text, the subject quote is almost definitely NOT verbatim, but only a paraphrase of Virchow’s teachings. The German text introduces the subject quote with, “Nach der Überlieferung durch His soll Virchow geäußert haben:…” which means, “According to tradition Virchow is said to have expressed:…” (using Google translate). However, it is useful as a succinct statement to the effect of what Virchow might say to summarize his doctrine.
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Disease is not something personal and special, but only a manifestation of life under modified conditions, operating according to the same laws as apply to the living body at all times, from the first moment until death.
— Rudolf Virchow
In Ian F. McNeely, Medicine on a Grand Scale: Rudolf Virchow, Liberalism, and the Public Health (2002), 26.
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For if medicine is really to accomplish its great task, it must intervene in political and social life. It must point out the hindrances that impede the normal social functioning of vital processes, and effect their removal.
— Rudolf Virchow
In Die einheitsrebungen in der wissenschaftlichen medicin (1849), 48. As quoted and citefd in Paul Farmer, Pathologies of Power (2004), 323.
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I definitely deny that any pathological process, i.e. any life-process taking place under unfavourable circumstances, is able to call forth qualitatively new formations lying beyond the customary range of forms characteristic of the species. All pathological formations are either degenerations, transformations, or repetitions of typical physiological structures.
— Rudolf Virchow
In 'Cellular-Pathologie', Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und fur klinische Medizin (1855), 8, 13-14, as translated in LellandJ. Rather, 'Cellular Pathology', Disease, Life, and Man: Selected Essays by Rudolf Virchow (1958), 81.
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I uphold my own rights, and therefore I also recognize the rights of others. This is the principle I act upon in life, in politics and in science. We owe it to ourselves to defend our rights, for it is the only guarantee for our individual development, and for our influence upon the community at large. Such a defence is no act of vain ambition, and it involves no renunciation of purely scientific aims. For, if we would serve science, we must extend her limits, not only as far as our own knowledge is concerned, but in the estimation of others.
— Rudolf Virchow
Cellular Pathology, translated by Frank Chance (1860), x.
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Just as a tree constitutes a mass arranged in a definite manner, in which, in every single part, in the leaves as in the root, in the trunk as in the blossom, cells are discovered to be the ultimate elements, so is it also with the forms of animal life. Every animal presents itself as a sum of vital unities, every one of which manifests all the characteristics of life. The characteristics and unity of life cannot be limited to anyone particular spot in a highly developed organism (for example, to the brain of man), but are to be found only in the definite, constantly recurring structure, which every individual element displays. Hence it follows that the structural composition of a body of considerable size, a so-called individual, always represents a kind of social arrangement of parts, an arrangement of a social kind, in which a number of individual existences are mutually dependent, but in such a way, that every element has its own special action, and, even though it derive its stimulus to activity from other parts, yet alone effects the actual performance of its duties.
— Rudolf Virchow
In Lecture I, 'Cells and the Cellular Theory' (1858), Rudolf Virchow and Frank Chance (trans.) ,Cellular Pathology (1860), 13-14.
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Life itself is but the expression of a sum of phenomena, each of which follows the ordinary physical and chemical laws. (1845)
— Rudolf Virchow
In Jonathan Miller, Freud: the Man, his World, His Influence (1972), 25
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Life thus forms a long, unbroken chain of generations, in which the child becomes the mother, and the effect becomes the cause.
— Rudolf Virchow
In 'On the Mechanistic Interpretation of Life' (1858), Rudolf Virchow and Lelland J. Rather (trans.) , Disease, Life, and Man: Selected Essays by Rudolf Virchow (1958), 116.
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Medical statistics will be our standard of measurement: we will weigh life for life and see where the dead lie thicker, among the workers or among the privileged.
— Rudolf Virchow
Inaugurating his journal, Die Medizinische Reform (1848), 182, in which he asked scholars to collect medical statistics. (The Medical Reform.) As quoted in Paul Farmer, Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues (2001), 1. Cited in David L. Brunsma, Keri E. Iyall Smith and Brian K. Gran (eds.), Institutions Unbound: Social Worlds and Human Rights (2016), 10 & 207 footnote.
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No matter how we twist and turn we shall always come back to the cell. The eternal merit of Schwann does not lie in his cell theory that has occupied the foreground for so long, and perhaps will soon be given up, but in his description of the development of the various tissues, and in his demonstration that this development (hence all physiological activity) is in the end traceable back to the cell. Now if pathology is nothing but physiology with obstacles, and diseased life nothing but healthy life interfered with by all manner of external and internal influences then pathology too must be referred back to the cell.
— Rudolf Virchow
In 'Cellular-Pathologie', Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und fur klinische Medizin (1855), 8, 13-14, as translated in LellandJ. Rather, 'Cellular Pathology', Disease, Life, and Man: Selected Essays by Rudolf Virchow (1958), 81.
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Where a cell arises, there a cell must have previously existed (omnis cellula e cellula), just as an animal can spring only from an animal, a plant only from a plant. In this manner, although there are still a few spots in the body where absolute demonstration has not yet been afforded, the principle is nevertheless established, that in the whole series of living things, whether they be entire plants or animal organisms, or essential constituents of the same, an eternal law of continuous development prevails.
— Rudolf Virchow
In Lecture II 'Physiological Tissues' (17 Feb 1858), as translated by Frank Chance in Cellular Pathology: As Based Upon Physiological and Pathological Histology. Twenty Lectures Delivered in the Pathological Institute of Berlin During the Months of February, March and April, 1858 (1860), 27-28.
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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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