Quotation for the week: Aristotle

A quotation this week from the great Greek philosopher Aristotle, with a sting in the tail concerning mathematicians who try to push their luck outwith mathematics:

… when the subject and the basis of a discussion consist of matters that hold good only as a general rule, but not always, the conclusions reached must be of the same order… For a well-schooled man is one who searches for that degree of precision in each kind of study which the nature of the subject at hand admits: it is obviously just as foolish to accept arguments of probability from a mathematician as to demand strict demonstrations from an orator.

(Book 1 of the Nicomachean Ethics 1094b24, tr. Martin Ostwald)

A severely mistranslated version of this quotation has been doing the rounds for a while, but this version mentions mathematicians so it’s clearly preferable. You might also like to consider what Aristotle might have had to say about the overconfidence of contemporary mathematical modellers


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