Necessity is the mother of invention

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...let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet a true creator is necessity, which is the mother of our invention.[1]

The Republic, Book II, 369c, Plato

Necessity is the mother of invention is an English proverb meaning that difficult or impossible scenarios prompt inventions aimed at reducing the difficulty.[2]


Need to communicate led to the discoveries of different communication devices– this is a prime example of the expression– Necessity is the mother of invention
  • In Oxford Dictionary the proverb has been defined as– when the need for something becomes imperative, you are forced to find ways of getting or achieving it.[3]
  • According to Cambridge Dictionary, this really needs to do something, (s)he will think of a way of doing it.[4]
  • Longman dictionary has defined the proverb as– "if someone really needs to do something, they will find a way of doing it."[5]


The author of this proverb is not known but, sometimes, the proverb is ascribed to an Indian philosopher by the name Sachin Ananth Navale. This phrase was familiar in England, but in Latin, not in English. In 1519, headmaster of Winchester and Eton, William Horma used the Latin phrase "Mater artium necessitas" in his book "Vulgaria". In 1545 Roger Ascham used a close English version of "Necessitie, the inuentour of all goodnesse" in his book "Toxophilus". In 1608, George Chapman also, in his two-part play "The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron" used a very similar phrase– "The great Mother, Of all productions (graue Necessity)." But, the earliest actual usage of the proverb "Necessity is the mother of invention" is sometimes ascribed to Richard Franck who used it in his book "Northern Memoirs, calculated for the meridian of Scotland (1658) .[2]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In 1964 an American rock band was created named– The Mothers of Invention.[6]
  • Danish economist Ester Boserup's believed "necessity is the mother of invention"[7] and this was a major point in her book The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure.
  • The headquarters of Project Freelancer in the web series Red vs. Blue is a spaceship called the "Mother of Invention," referencing the Director of Project Freelancer using any means he thinks are necessary to ensure the survival and advancement of humanity.


In an address to the Mathematical Association of England on the importance of education in 1917, Alfred North Whitehead argued that "the basis of invention is science, and science is almost wholly the outgrowth of pleasurable intellectual curiosity." and in contrast to the old proverb "Necessity is the mother of futile dodges" is much nearer to the truth.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Barry Woods Johnston (19 March 2012). As We Sow: Why the Great Divide. AuthorHouse. pp. 285–. ISBN 978-1-4685-4629-3. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "Necessity is the mother of invention". Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  3. ^ "Necessity". Oxford dictionaries. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  4. ^ "Necessity is the mother of invention". Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  5. ^ "Necessity Longman". Longman dictionaries. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  6. ^ "The Mothers of Invention". BBC Music. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  7. ^ Peter P. Rogers; Kazi F. Jalal; John A. Boyd (2008). An Introduction To Sustainable Development. Earthscan. pp. 20–. ISBN 978-1-84407-521-8. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  8. ^ Plato; Julius A. Sigler (1 December 1996). Education: Ends and Means. University Press of America. pp. 140–. ISBN 978-0-7618-0452-9. Retrieved 15 July 2012.