Saturday, May 29, 2004

On Throwing Latin, and a Jab at the 'Analysts'

If you are going to throw Latin, then you ought to try to get it right. One of my correspondents sent me an offprint of a paper of his which had been published in American Philosophical Quarterly, a very good philosophical journal. The title read, Creation Ex Deus. The author's purpose was to develop a notion of creation out of God, as opposed to the traditional notion of creation out of nothing (ex nihilo). He knew that 'God' translates as Deus, and that 'out of' is rendered by ex. Hence, ex Deus. But this is bad Latin, since the preposition ex takes the ablative case. Deus being a second declension masculine noun, its ablative form is Deo. Ex Deo would have been correct. Mistakes like this are not as rare as they ought to be, and we can expect more of them in the future.

It says something that the error just mentioned was caught neither by the author, nor by the editor, nor by the referees, nor by the proofreader. It says something in particular about 'analytic' philosophers. I am sorry to report that many of them are ignoramuses (indeed, ignorabimuses) wholly innocent of foreign languages, knowledge of history (both 'real' history and the history of ideas), and of high culture generally. One name analyst implied in print that the music of John Lennon was on the level of that of Mozart. There are Ph.D.s in philosophy who have never read a Platonic dialogue, and whose dissertations are based solely on the latest ephemera in the journals. Here, as elsewhere, ignorance breeds arrogance. They think they know what they don't know. They think they know what key theses in Kant and Brentano and Meinong mean when they have never studied their texts. And, not knowing foreign languages, they cannot determine whether or not the available translations are accurate. Not knowing the sense of these theses, they read into them contemporary notions. And if you told them that this amounts to eisegesis, they wouldn't know what you are talking about.

Not all analytic philosophers are ignoramuses, of course. Hector-Neri Castaneda, for example, had a grounding in classics. When he founded Nous, a top analytic journal, he placed Nihil philosophicum a nobis alienum putamus on the masthead. It is a take-off on Terence, philosophicum replacing humanum. It is telling that the Latin motto was removed by Castaneda's successors after his untimely death. Princeton University, I understand, removed the language requirement for the Ph.D. in philosophy in 1980. An appalling development. It has been said that if you don't know a foreign language, you don't know your own.

The fact that many analytic philosophers lack historical sense, knowledge of foreign languages, and broad culture is of course no excuse to jump over to the opposite camp, that of the 'Continental' philosophers. For lack of historical sense, they substitute historicism, which is just as bad. For lack of linguistic competence, they substitute a bizarre linguisticism in which the world dissolves into a text, a text susceptible of endless interpretation and re-interpretation. For lack of broad culture, they substitute a super-sophistication that empties into a miasma of sophistry and relativism. Worse, much of Continental philosophy, especially much of what is written in French, is just plain bullshit. Indeed, to cop a line from John Searle, one he applied to Jacques Derrida, it gives bullshit a bad name. I'll get around to substantiating this charge later. It is therefore no surprise that the Continental types jump to embrace every loony idea that emanates from the Left.

You can see that I am warming to my theme. I am also brushing in very broad strokes. But details and documentation are readily supplied -- later.

What inspired this post was a query of a correspondent. He wanted to know how to render 'seize the world' into Latin. Well, we know that 'seize the day' goes into Latin as carpe diem. And we should have picked up by now that 'world' is mundus. 'Seize' takes the accusative, and since mundus is a second declension masculine noun, we get: Carpe mundum. If I am wrong about this, Michael Gilleland will correct me.

And another thing. I find it appalling that so many people nowadays, college 'educated' people, are completely innocent of grammatical terminology. Words like 'genitive,' 'dative,' 'ablative,' etc. elicit a blank stare. Grammar being a propaedeutic to logic, it is no wonder that there are so many illogical people adrift in the world.