"Cogito, ergo sum" - why is "I think therefore I am" often quoted in Latin when Descartes was French?
Question:René Descartes said "je pense, donc je suis" which in english translates to "I think, therefore I am". Why, considering Descartes is French, is it often quoted in the Latin "Cogito, ergo sum"? These days the French are incredibly protective of their language - did they respect Latin more highly in the 17th Century?
No,,, but Latin was the international language of that time. The language every educated man was able to speak and write. The same way English has that same status right now.
Well it's a lot more grammatical and it rolls of your tounge a lot more easily.
Descartes was an idiot in any language.
I found a very interesting article that covers this topic. Here's the pertinent excerpt:
If Descartes wrote in French, and we read him in English, why bother having the Latin at all? Two possibilities exist, and likely the full answer is a combination of both.
First, philosophy is a field of traditions. Unlike other sciences that are overturned with paradigm shift after paradigm shift, philosophy continually relies on the beginning. Plato is as relevant now as he was two millennia ago. And traditionally, particularly in the Catholic world Descartes lived in, Latin was the primary tongue of the educated. It was older, more established, and also served to cross borders (while only the French spoke French, any educated man in the West could decipher Latin). Whether Descartes personally wrote in Latin or not I am unaware of, but any translations hoping to leave his homeland would be most accessible in Latin and were probably distributed in this manner.
Another reason is that Descartes had a predecessor in his thoughts, rarely mentioned. Before Descartes made the groundbreaking assertion that thought proved existence, another man had already said the same thing. Centuries before, Saint Augustine had written in his book “City of God” the following: “Ac proinde haec cognitio, ego cogito, ergo sum, est omnium prima et certissima etc.” In English translation, he stated:
“I am certain that I am, that I know that I am, and that I love to be and to know. In the face of these truths, the quibbles of the skeptics lose their force. If they say: “What if you are mistaken?–well, if I am mistaken, I am. For, if one does not exist, he can by no means be mistaken. Therefore, I am, if I am mistaken. Because, therefore, I am, if I am mistaken, how can I be mistaken that I am, since it is certain that I am, if I am mistaken? And because, if I could be mistaken, I would have to be the one who is mistaken, therefore, I am most certainly not mistaken in knowing that I am. Nor, as a consequence, am I mistaken in knowing that I know. For, just as I know that I am, I also know that I know. And when I love both to be and to know, then I add to the things I know a third and equally important knowledge, the fact that I love. Nor am I mistaken that I love, since I am not mistaken concerning the objects of my love. For, even though these objects were false, it would still be true that I loved illusions.”
Astonishingly, Descartes had never come across this passage - so similar to his own observations - until they were presented to him in 1640 by the Dutch minister Adres Covius, well after he had written his “Meditations on First Philosophy”.
Could Descartes be commonly quoted in Latin because another man had already stated precisely that same thing - in Latin?
OK, slightly off topic-
Descartes walks into a bar, and sits at the counter...
barkeep walks over and asks,"Can I get you a beer?"
Descartes replies "No, I think not." And disappears.
Well; interesting: Descartes wrote the entire volume in Latin and had at best a small role in the first French translation three years later. His role was in clarification of some parts of his writing.
So, every study of his works has to got to the original Latin offering. This is your "why'
Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings -
by René Descartes - 1998 - 212 pages
NOTE ON THE TEXT The first edition of this text was published in Latin by Elzevier, Amsterdam, in 1644 under the ... : Lee principes de Ia philosophie, ...
Les Principes de la philosophie (en latin, 1644) reprennent l'essentiel de son Monde, exposé en quatre parties fort inégales.
One of the reasons is that Latin was then a key academic language, next to Greek. Comparatively speaking, if some scholars want to study any southeast Asian language or Buddhism, they should study Sanskrit or Pali to deepen their understanding or 'light' even though the first is a dead language.
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