Last modified on 2 November 2014, at 04:57

George Sarton

George Sarton (August 31, 1884March 22, 1956) is considered by some to be the "father" of the history of science, having established the history of science as a discipline in its own right.

QuotesEdit

  • … science is the most revolutionary force in the world.
    • George Sarton (1952). A guide to the history of science: a first guide for the study of the history of science, with introductory essays on science and tradition. Chronica Botanica Co.. p. 3. 
  • The chief requisite for the making of a good chicken pie is chicken; no amount of culinary legerdemain can make up for the lack of chicken. In the same way, the chief requisite for the history of science is intimate scientific knowledge; no amount of philosophic legerdemain can make up for its absence.
    • "The Teaching of the History of Science" Sci. Monthly 7, 193-211 (1918)

A History of Science Vol.1 Ancient Science Through the Golden Age of Greece (1952)Edit

  • As I grew older my lectures became simpler; I tried to say fewer things and to say them better, with more humanity. This book continues in a different way the same evolution, but it is not yet as simple as I would have liked to have made it.
    • Preface
  • The ability of nonintelligent people to understand the most complicated mechanisms and to use them has always been to me a cause of astonishment: their inability to understand simple questions is even more astonishing. The general acceptance of simple ideas is difficult and rare, and yet it is only when simple, fundamental, ideas have been accepted that further progress becomes possible on a higher level.
    • Preface
  • It is childish to assume that science began in Greece; the Greek "miracle" was prepared by millenia of work in Egypt, Mesopotamia and possibly in other regions. Greek science was less an invention than a revival.
    • Preface
  • Hellenic science is a victory of rationalism, which appears greater, not smaller, when one is made to realize that it had been won in spite of the irrational beliefs of the Greek people; all in all, it was a triumph of reason in the face of unreason. Some knowledge of Greek superstitions is needed not only for a proper appreciation of that triumph but also for the justification of occasional failures, such as the many Platonic aberrations.
    • Preface
  • Scientific achievements seem evanescent, because the very progress of science causes their supersedure; yet some of them are of so fundamental a nature that they are immortal in a deeper way.
    • Preface
  • From the humanistic point of view every human achievement is unforgettable and immortal in its essence, even if it is replaced by a "better" one.
    • Preface
  • Greek culture is pleasant to contemplate because of its great simplicity and naturalness, and because of the absence of gadgets, each of which is sooner or later a cause of servitude.
    • Preface
  • The rationalism of the creative minds was tempered by abundant fantasies, and the supreme beauty of the monuments was probably spoiled by the circumambient vanities and ugliness; in a few cases the Greeks came as close to perfection as it was possible to do, yet they were human and imperfect.
    • Preface
  • Our own culture, of Greek and Hebraic origin, is the one that interests us the most... We do not say that it is the best culture, but simply that it is ours. To claim that it of necessity superior would be wrong and evil. That attitude is the main source of international trouble in the world. ...Each nation prefers its own usages.
    • Preface
  • My main interest... is the love of truth, whether pleasant or not. Truth is self-sufficient, and there is nothing to which it can be subordinated without loss. When truth is made subservient to anything else, however great (say religion), it becomes impure and sordid.
    • Preface
  • Wisdom is not mathematical, nor astronomical, nor zoological; when it talks too much of any one thing it ceases to be itself. There are wise physicists, but wisdom is not physical; there are wise physicians, but wisdom is not medical.
    • Preface
  • The historical order is very interesting, but accidental and capricious; if we would to understand the growth of knowledge, we cannot be satisfied with accidents, we must explain how knowledge was gradually built up.
    • Preface
  • Some men are abstract-minded, and they naturally think first of unity and God, of wholeness, of infinity and other such concepts, while the minds of other men are concrete and they cogitate about health and disease, profit and loss. They invent gadgets and remedies; they are less interested in knowing anything than in applying whatever knowledge... to practical problems... The first are called dreamers; the second kind are recognized as practical and useful. History has often proved the shortsightedness of the practical men and vindicated the "lazy" dreamers; it has also proved that the dreamers are often mistaken.
    • Preface
  • There are two kinds of people in the world, whom we might dub the jobholders and the enthusiasts. ...The majority of the kings and emperors were jobholders and so were many of the popes. ...Most of the creators in the field of art and religion, and many of them in the field of science, were enthusiasts. Now economic conditions may deeply affect the jobs and the jobholders, but they make little impression on the enthusiasts. ...the jobholders ...keep things going with enough continuity and smoothness; they are the builders of usages and customs, the defenders of morality and justice. ...the enthusiasts ...are the main instruments of change and progress; they are the real creators and troublemakers. The enthusiasts are the salt of the earth, but man cannot live by salt alone.
    • Preface
  • The history of science should not be an instrument to defend any kind of social or philosophic theory; it should be used only for its own purpose, to illustrate impartially the working of reason against unreason, the gradual unfolding of truth, in all its forms, whether pleasant or unpleasant, useful of useless, welcome or unwelcome.
    • Preface
  • We can imagine that the Academy, which could be attended only by men of leisure, was a cradle of discontent. The author of the Laws was a disgruntled old man, full of political rancor, fearing and hating the crowd and above all their demagogues; his prejudices had crystallized and he had become an old doctrinaire, unable to see anything but the reflections of his own personality and to hear anything but the echoes of his own thoughts. The worst of it was that he, a noble Athenian, admired the very Spartans who had defeated and humiliated his fatherland. Plato was witnessing a social revolution (even as we are) and he could not bear it at all. His main concern was: how could one stop it.
    • Ch.16 "Plato and the Academy" p. 409

A History of Science Vol.2 Hellenistic Science and Culture in the Last Three Centuries B.C. (1959)Edit

  • The Hellenistic world was international to a degree, polyglot and inspired by many religious faiths. ...the Greek ideals were pagan and the Hellenistic age witnessed their death struggle against Asiatic and Egyptian mysteries, on the one side, and against Judaism, on the other.
    • Preface
  • The intensity of a national culture should be represented by... the general education level and... the exceptional merit of a small elite of pioneers.
    • Preface
  • In ancient times there was no public education, except that of the forum, the theater, and the street, and the general degree of illiteracy was very high. ...the early men of science were left very much to themselves and such a phrase as "the scientific culture of Alexandria in the third century B.C." does not cover any reality. In a sense, this is still true today; the real pioneers are so far ahead of the crowd (even a very literate crowd) that they remain almost alone...
    • Preface
  • The whole past and the whole world are alive in my heart, and I shall do my part to communicate their presence to my readers.
    • Preface
  • A deed happens in a definite place at a definite time, but if it be sufficiently great and pregnant, its virtue radiates everywhere in time and space.
    • Preface
  • If we are generous enough, we can stretch our souls everywhere and everywhen else. If we succeed in doing so, we shall discover that our present embraces the past and the future and that the whole world is our province.
    • Preface
  • All men are our brothers. As far as the discovery of the truth is concerned, they are all working for the same purpose; they may be separated by the accidents of space and time, and by the exigencies of race, religion, nationality, and other groupings; from the point of view of eternity they are working together.
    • Preface
  • Men of science have made abundant mistakes of every kind; their knowledge has improved only because of their gradual abandonment of ancient errors, poor approximations, and premature conclusions.
    • Preface
  • Superstitions... are nothing but persistent errors, foolish beliefs, and irrational fears. Superstitions are infinite in number and scope... It would not do to ignore them altogether, only if we should never forget the weakness and fragility of our minds. The consciousness that superstitions are rife in our own society is a healthy shock to our self-conceit and a warning. ...it lets us judge ancient superstitions with more indulgence and with a sense of humor. We could not overlook them without falsifying the general picture nor judge them too severely without hypocrisy.
    • Preface
  • I am obliged to deal with hundreds of men and to make them live without killing the reader.
    • Preface
  • Ancient portraits are symbolic images without any immediate relation to the individuals represented; they are not portraits as we understand them. ...It is remarkable that philologists who are capable of carrying accuracy to the extremes in the case of words are as credulous as babies when it comes to "images," and yet an image is so full of information that ten thousands words would not add up to it.
    • Preface
  • The whole iconography of ancient science is simply the fruit of wishful thinking.
    • Preface
  • Some forty years of experience in my field as a scholar and as a teacher have given me great confidence mixed with greater humility.
    • Preface
  • My gratitude to them [my first teachers] grows as I myself grow older.
    • Preface

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