Science Is Organized Knowledge

Immanuel Kant? Herbert Spencer? Thomas Henry Huxley? R. Strachey?

tree10Dear Quote Investigator: The following two part adage is usually attributed to the famous 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant:

Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.

I have not seen any citation in German or English showing that Kant ever wrote or said this. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: This entry examines only the first sentence of this two sentence quotation, and a separate entry explores the full quotation.

Immanuel Kant died in 1804, and the earliest evidence found by QI appeared many years later. In May 1854 the prominent English philosopher and sociologist Herbert Spencer published an essay titled “The Art of Education” in “The North British Review” which included the adage. Boldface has been added to excerpts. 1

A leading phenomenon in human progress is, that every science is evolved out of its corresponding art. It results from the necessity we are under, both individually and as a race, of reaching the abstract by way of the concrete, that there must be practice and an accruing experience with its empirical generalizations, before there can be science. Science is organized knowledge; and before knowledge can be organized, some of it must first be possessed. Every study, therefore, should have a purely experimental introduction; and only after an ample fund of observations has been accumulated, should reasoning begin.

QI believes that Spencer should be credited with this definitional phrase. The statement has been ascribed to him in multiple reference works, e.g., “A New Dictionary of Quotations” compiled by H. L. Mencken 2 and the “FPA Book of Quotations” selected by Franklin Pierce Adams. 3

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In July 1854 Spencer published an essay titled “The Genesis of Science” in “The British Quarterly Review” in which he noted that the epigrammatic statement about science was not complete and definitive. Additional thought and analysis would be required to construct a superior definition for science, and the full essay presented his complex ideas on the definition of science: 4

If we say that science is organized knowledge, we are met by the truth that all knowledge is organized in a greater or less degree—that the commonest actions of the household and the field presuppose facts colligated, inferences drawn, results expected—and that the general success of these actions proves the data by which they were guided to have been correctly put together.

In July 1854 the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley delivered a lecture that included an interesting partially matching remark about science: 5

Science is, I believe, nothing but trained and organized common sense, differing from the latter only as a veteran may differ from a raw recruit: and its methods differ from those of common sense only so far as the guardsman’s cut and thrust differ from the manner in which a savage wields his club.

In 1861 Spencer published a popular collection of four essays under the title “Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical”. The essay in chapter two was called “Intellectual Education”, and it was reprinted from the May 1954 issue of “The North British Review” mentioned previously. Most reference works point to the later publication in 1861 when presenting a citation for the quotation. 6

In 1872 “The English Mechanic and World of Science” printed remarks spoken by a person named Dr. Cobbold who employed a compressed version of the statement made by Huxley: 7

The method of science is in itself attractive, simple, and grand; there is nothing difficult in science. You ask for a definition of it, and you have Professor Huxley’s “Science is organised common sense,” or Sir J. Herschel’s “Science is the knowledge of the many, orderly and methodically-arranged, so as to become comprehended by one.”

In 1875 an address by Lieut.-General R. Strachey was printed in the important journal “Nature”. An instance of the saying was included, but no attribution was provided: 8

In its broadest sense science is organised knowledge, and its methods consist of the observation and classification of the phenomena of which we become conscious through our senses, and the investigation of the causes of which these are the effects.

In 1903 Spencer’s statement was placed in “A Dictionary of Quotations” by Colonel Philip Hugh Dalbiac: 9

“Science is organised knowledge.”
Herbert Spencer. Education, Ch. II.

In 1968 the quotation compiler Evan Esar attributed an entertaining but inaccurately phrased composite statement to Huxley: 10

Science is organized common sense where many a beautiful theory is killed by an ugly fact.
– Thomas H. Huxley

In conclusion, Herbert Spencer coined “Science is organized knowledge”. Thomas Henry Huxley should be credited with “Science is nothing but trained and organized common sense”.

Image Notes: Phylogenetic Tree from NASA Astrobiology Institute via Wikimedia Commons. Picture of Herbert Spencer via Wikimedia Commons.

(Great thanks to Lois McEwan whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. The inquiry also led to the exploration of the next entry which is titled “Science Is Organized Knowledge. Wisdom Is Organized Life”.)


  1. 1854 May, The North British Review, Article 5: The Art of Education by Herbert Spencer, Start Page 137, Quote Page 152, Published by W. P. Kennedy, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1942, A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources, Selected and Edited by H. L. Mencken (Henry Louis Mencken), Topic: Science, Quote Page 1065, Column 1, Alfred A. Knopf. New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1952, FPA Book of Quotations, Selected by Franklin Pierce Adams, Section: Science, Quote Page 703, Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. 1854 July 1, The British Quarterly Review, Volume 20, Article IV: The Genesis of Science by Herbert Spencer, (Book Review of “History of the Inductive Sciences from the earliest to the present times” and three other books), Start Page 108, Quote Page 108, Published by Jackson & Walford, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1854, On the Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences by Thomas H. Huxley (Thomas Henry Huxley), (The text contains the substance of a Lecture delivered at St Martin’s Hall on July 22, 1854 by T. H. Huxley), Quote Page 12, Published by John Van Voorst, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  6. 1861, Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical by Herbert Spencer, Chapter 2: Intellectual Education, (Reprinted from North British Review, May 1854), Start Page 56, Quote Page 77, Published by Williams and Norgate, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  7. 1872 June 21, The English Mechanic and World of Science, Volume 15, Science and Education, (Remarks by Dr. Cobbold F.R.S.), Quote Page 356, Column 2, Published at the Office of The English Mechanic, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  8. 1875 September 9, Nature, Volume 12, Section E: Geography, (Address by Lieut.-General R. Strachey, R.E., C.S.I., F.R.S., President), Start Page 419, Quote Page 420, Column 1, Published by Macmillan and Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  9. 1903, A Dictionary of Quotations by Colonel Philip Hugh Dalbiac, Quote Page 219, Published by Swan Sonnenschein & Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  10. 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes by Evan Esar, Quote Page 807, Column 1, Section: Theory and Fact, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)