I'm reading a book in which there's a quotation like this:

I cannot adequately express in words the extent of the loss which his early death has inflicted not merely on his personal friends, on the University of Cambridge, on the whole scientific world, but also, and most especially, on the cause of common sense, of true science, and of religion itself, in these days of much vain-babbling, pseudo-science, and materialism. But men of his stamp never live in vain; and in one sense at least they cannot die. The spirit of Clerk Maxwell still lives with us in his imperishable writings, and will speak to the next generation by the lips of those who have caught inspiration from his teachings and example

What does it mean by "on the cause of common sense" here? Or is it "on the cause of common sense of true science"?

Please explain to me. Thanks.

  • 3
    It's recommended that you tell us which book (presumably a biography of James Clerk Maxwell?). Oct 5, 2022 at 7:55
  • @KateBunting Closest I could find was a mention in this article: "His friend since schooldays, Peter Tait, wrote of him in Nature at the end of a summary of Maxwell’s work [...]" - followed by part of the above quote. Oct 5, 2022 at 20:45
  • @Trequartista What is meant by "on the cause of common sense" here? Or "on the cause of common sense of true science"? Is the book passage merely 'like' that, or are they identical? How could '… on the cause of common sense' or '… common sense of true science" have a useful meaning? What does "… on the cause of common sense" mean here? What about "… common sense of true science"? Here in English Language Learners no '… cause of common sense…' could ever mean anything useful. Might this Question be better served somewhere like English Language Users? Oct 6, 2022 at 21:48

2 Answers 2


In this, "cause" means a principle and its supporters. He supported common sense, true science, and religion itself so effectually that his early death was a great loss to those causes, and to his fellow supporters.


“Cause” means in this sense an important aim or principle that people believe in.

I have to say that the quotation seems to me fairly nonsensical. It may be that common sense is an aim or principle, or that true science is an aim or principle, or that religion is a principle, but that all three of those can seriously be grouped as a single principle strikes me as dubious.

  • The author isn't trying to group them into a single principle. Perhaps writing "causes" instead of "cause" would be a tiny bit clearer but the quotation makes perfect sense.
    – Thierry
    Oct 6, 2022 at 0:39
  • Perhaps I am less sanguine about the ideas that common sense is anyone’s cause or that the causes of true science and of religion are not antithetical. Oct 6, 2022 at 15:53
  • I think the author is trying to group them into a single principle. It seems to me highly plausible that a "professor of natural philosophy" of the Victorian era would have regarded science as simply the logical iteration of common sense; and would have regarded (his own, clearly correct) religion as just as True as either of those.
    – AakashM
    Oct 7, 2022 at 12:37
  • Perhaps that was the author’s meaning although Victorian Britain’s religious reaction against Darwin does not persuade me that such an assumption is highly plausible. Even if that was the author’s intent, the intended meaning does not make much sense. Maxwell’s coupled partial differential equations are not simply common sense. Oct 7, 2022 at 14:37

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