From proportion to balance: The background to symmetry in science

Giora Hon, Bernard R. Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We call attention to the historical fact that the meaning of symmetry in antiquity - As it appears in Vitruvius's De architectura - Is entirely different from the modern concept. This leads us to the question, what is the evidence for the changes in the meaning of the term symmetry, and what were the different meanings attached to it? We show that the meaning of the term in an aesthetic sense gradually shifted in the context of architecture before the image of the balance was attached to the term in the middle of the 18th century and well before the first modern scientific usage by Legendre in 1794.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
One of us [G. H.] is grateful to Hans-Jörg Rheinberger of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, for the warm and generous hospitality, and to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for financial support, during a sojourn at the Institute.


  • Balance in architecture
  • Charles-Louis de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu
  • Claude Perrault
  • Symmetry
  • Vitruvius

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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