I am trying to find an exact source of the apothegm "Everything happens according to numbers"(Πάντα κατ' αριθμό γίγνονται) which is credited to Pythagoras. I haven't managed yet to find one so I wander if this is just an oral tradition used to represent the Pythagorean philosophy. Thank you(this is my first post :) )

  • 1
    Pythagoras wrote nothing, nor were there any detailed accounts of his thought written by contemporaries. Apr 9, 2017 at 14:36
  • There is e.g. Aristoxenus' (fl. 335 BCE) remark that “Pythagoras most of all seems to have honored and advanced the study concerned with numbers, having taken it away from the use of merchants and likening all things to numbers” Apr 9, 2017 at 14:41
  • See Aristotle, METAPHYSICS: Book I (985b23): "the Pythagoreans, as they are called, devoted themselves to mathematics; they were the first to advance this study, and having been brought up in it they thought its principles were the principles of all things." Apr 9, 2017 at 16:30
  • For the difficulties of finding original sources for ancient philosophers, check out this: plato.stanford.edu/entries/doxography-ancient
    – Frank
    Apr 9, 2017 at 17:37
  • Here is a page with quotes from Plato, Aristotle and other authors concerning Pythagoreans, this is as close to the original sources as we have. E.g. Aristotle writes "Pythagoreans say that things exist by imitation of numbers".
    – Conifold
    Apr 9, 2017 at 21:37

1 Answer 1


The first known written record of this is from Aristotle's Metaphysics:

"The assertion 'all is number' is absent from any Pythagorean philosopher, and it appears for the first time only in Aristotle." (Beatriz Bossi "Philolaus and Plato on method, measure and pleasure")

Here's the most relevant passage:

"[The Pythagoreans] hold that things themselves are numbers..." (Aristotle, Metaphysics 987b.30)

In light of this, the common quotation, «Πάντα κατ’ αριθμόν γίγνονται.» is most likely a made-up slogan attributed to Pythagoras and his school without any real source other than Aristotle's comments.

See also "'All Is Number'? Basic Doctrine of Pythagoreanism Reconsidered" by Leonid Ja. Zhmud'

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