January 25, 2011

Dubium sapientiae initium

Recording also available at iPadio using this link.

Today's saying is Dubium sapientiae initium. In English: "Doubt is the beginning of wisdom."

I thought this saying would make a good pair with yesterday's proverb, Errando discitur, "We learn by making mistakes." Knowledge can emerge from a lack of knowledge; certainty can arise out of uncertainty. The Latin word dubium has as its root the word duo, two. Something that is dubium, a matter of doubt, is about possibilities, the existence of two or more things that make claims to be true. Wisdom is then the process of discerning among those possibilities. The saying Dubium sapientiae initium is famously attributed to the philosopher Renatus Cartesius, or, to use his French name, Rene Descartes. Descartes made doubt into a philosophical method, which is called "Cartesian doubt" in his honor. You can read more about the method of Cartesian doubt in this article at Wikipedia... and hey, if you have your doubts about Wikipedia, just remember that doubt is the beginning of wisdom! Dubium sapientiae initium.

In terms of Latin grammar, the trick again here is to recognize the division between subject and predicate. You have dubium on the one hand, and initium on the other - "a matter of doubt" and "beginning." You then have to decide where the genitive sapientiae belongs. Grammar cannot answer that question for you; it is a matter of meaning. The only solution that makes sense is to let dubium stand as the subject and sapientiae initium as the predicate: A matter of doubt is the beginning of wisdom.

For those of you who are fans of macrons, here is the Latin written with macrons - except there are no macrons; the single vowels are all short!

Dubium sapientiae initium.


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