I have come across this sentence in a mechanics book:

mechanics is not an abstract or even a pure science; it is an applied science

I did not know that there is a difference between abstract science and pure science and I usually used them interchangeably.

  • Anecdote: I've considered myself a scientist my whole life. And then one day I began working in a biology lab. At some point in a conversation in that lab, someone was using many technical terms which I didn't understand, and when they realised it, they said, genuinely and without any malice: "Oh, I forgot you were a mathematician, not a scientist".
    – Stef
    Sep 11, 2023 at 9:44

2 Answers 2


I would tend to agree with you. I think this a redundant repetition for rhetorical purposes.

The dictionaries (Cambridge) says that abstract means "general and not based on particular examples" and pure (in this context) means "used to refer to an area of study that is studied only for the purpose of developing theories about it, not for the purpose of using those theories in a practical way". So the dictionary suggests that "Abstract" means not based on the Real World. and "Pure" means not applied to the Real World.

But here I think the author is just using two words with similar meanings to emphasise what "mechanics" is not. And so Mechanics is based on particular examples. It is for use in a practical way.

  • 3
    Contextually there might be a slight difference: 'Math' is considered an abstract science, while 'Chemistry' is pure science but not abstract.
    – Rakib
    Sep 10, 2023 at 20:38
  • But then you have "pure maths" and "applied maths", and I've seen "abstract chemistry" described somewhere. And I've seen "concrete maths" so really all these terms overlap and there isn't much significant difference.
    – James K
    Sep 10, 2023 at 21:25
  • Sometimes we say "fundamental maths" instead of "pure maths", to avoid implying that applied maths are impure.
    – Stef
    Sep 11, 2023 at 9:46
  • "Fundamental maths" would seem to refer to something different. I teach a maths course that is 2/3 Pure, 1/6 Mechanics and 1/6 Statistics. The pure course is algebra, calculus, coordinate geometry,
    – James K
    Sep 11, 2023 at 17:52

I believe 'abstract' is used in the sense of "not applied or practical" (third definition here), and 'pure' in the sense of "theoretical", as 'science' is, in essence, and thus purely, "a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws".

The author opposes mechanics to the theory-based sciences.
They also just use these words as adjectives for 'science', and are not implying there are specific fields using these labels.

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