How Many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Pin?

Ed Newman
2 min readOct 18, 2018

And what do the questions we ask say about us?

Light painting by the author.

Don’t know why I had this thought a few years ago, but I decided to see what I could find about the notion by doing a little Googling. Evidently, the roots of the question come from an effort by medieval thinkers to apply logic and rational analysis to heretofore “spiritual” questions. These efforts toward increasing specificity resulted in making a mockery of the subsequent discourse. Here are a few notes from my research about this important question:

“Scornful description of a tedious concern with irrelevant details; an allusion to religious controversies in the middle ages. In fact, the medieval argument was over how many angels could stand on the point of a pin.”
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. 2002

The question “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” is an example of an ontological argument — one which cannot be proven, as it has no basis in scientific fact. It has also been at times used as a trite dismissal: of medieval angelology in particular, of scholasticism in general, and of particular figures such as Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas. Another variety of the question is How Many Angels Can Sit On The Head Of A Pin?
Wikipedia, December 2007



Ed Newman

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon