Science Is Organized Knowledge. Wisdom Is Organized Life

Immanuel Kant? Herbert Spencer? Will Durant? Raoul Jossett? Anonymous?

organize08Dear Quote Investigator: There is a fascinating two-part adage about science and wisdom that is commonly attributed to the influential 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant:

Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.

I have attempted to find a convincing citation for this saying, but none of the websites or books that present these words have been helpful. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Immanuel Kant communicated in German, and QI believes that he probably did not write or speak a statement in German that corresponded to the English quotation above. Instead, QI believes that the first part of the expression was crafted by the influential philosopher and sociologist Herbert Spencer. In addition, QI conjectures that the popular historian Will Durant constructed the second part while he was attempting to explain the thoughts of Kant; Durant also combined the two parts.

Kant died in 1804, and the earliest evidence of the first phrase was published in an essay titled “The Art of Education” by Spencer in May 1854. Boldface has been added to excerpts. 1

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.

Further discussion of Spencer’s remark is presented in a separate website entry located here. This article will explore the full two-part expression.

In 1924 the historian Will Durant published a one-volume popular work titled “The Story of Philosophy” which included a section called “Kant and German Idealism”. During the following decades revised editions were released. The following passage appeared in the 1938 and 1943 editions. QI has not yet been able to examine the 1924 edition.

Durant explained Kant’s philosophical position by discussing a hierarchical sequence of interacting levels. The quotation under examination was part of Durant’s elucidation: 2 3

Sensation is unorganized stimulus, perception is organized sensation, conception is organized perception, science is organized knowledge, wisdom is organized life: each is a greater degree of order, and sequence, and unity. Whence this order, this sequence, this unity? Not from the things themselves; for they are known to us only by sensations that come through a thousand channels at once in disorderly multitude; it is our purpose that put order and sequence and unity upon this importunate lawlessness.

This passage reflected Durant’s conception of Kant’s ideas, and it was not directly translated from Kant’s German. Indeed, Durant remarked in a footnote that his discussion of the difficult philosopher employed few quotations: 4

A word about what to read. Kant himself is hardly intelligible to the beginner, because his thought is insulated with a bizarre and intricate terminology (hence the paucity of direct quotation in this chapter).

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1955 a newspaper in Lubbock, Texas printed an excerpt from a letter written by a Texas sculptor named Raoul Jossett. The text contained a reordered version of the quotation: 5

If wisdom is organized life and science organized knowledge, art is organized beauty.

In 1969 “The San Diego Union” of California printed a filler item under the title “Worth Repeating” that ascribed the quotation to Kant: 6

Science is organized knowledge; wisdom is organized life. —Immanuel Kant.

The ascription to Kant has continued to circulate for decades. For example, in 2009 a newspaper column titled “Psychologically Speaking” from the Cox News Service ascribed the saying to Kant. 7

In conclusion, Herbert Spencer should be credited with “Science is organized knowledge”. QI would tentatively ascribe the combined two-part adage to Will Durant who was inspired by a desire to transmit Kant’s philosophical ideas to readers.

Image Notes: Organization Chart from geralt on Pixabay. Lightbulb Brain from PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay. Picture of Immanuel Kant from Wikimedia Commons.

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


  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. 1938, The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant. New Revised Edition, Section: Kant and German Idealism, Sub-Section: Transcendental Analytic, Quote Page 295 and 296, Published by Garden City Publishing Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1943, The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant, Second Edition, (Footnote 13), Quote Page 201, Published by Garden City Publishing Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1938, The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant, New Revised Edition, Section: Kant and German Idealism, (Footnote 2), Quote Page 289, Published by Garden City Publishing Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1955 April 3, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Section V, Easter Holiday Taper Down Area Artistic Whirl (continuation title “Easter Holiday”), Start Page 4, Quote Page 5, Column 2, Lubbock, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1969 March 23, San Diego Union, (Filler item) Worth Repeating, Quote Page C2, Column 4, San Diego, California. (GenealogyBank)
  7. 2002 September 1, Indiana Gazette, Psychologically Speaking by Hap Lecrone (Cox News Service), Quote Page E4, Column 3, Indiana, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)