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persuaderi in Descartes Meditations

Latin after CDLXXVI

persuaderi in Descartes Meditations

Postby hlawson38 » Sun Apr 29, 2018 1:31 pm

Context: Descartes explains why he is taking up this particular philosophical enquiry.

2. Semper existimavi duas quaestiones, de Deo & de Animâ, praecipuas esse ex iis quae Philosophiae potius quàm Theologiae ope sunt demonstrandae: nam quamvis nobis fidelibus animam humanam cum corpore non interire, Deumque existere, fide credere sufficiat, certe infidelibus nulla religio, nec fere etiam ulla moralis virtus, videtur posse persuaderi, nisi prius illis ista duo ratione naturali probentur


My translation (Descartes speaking in his own voice): I have always thought two principles, [the existence of ] God and the soul, stand out among those that ought to be proven by the work of philosophy rather than theology: although we Christian believers find faith adequate to establish that the human soul outlives the body, and that God exists, to infidels no religion, and almost no moral truth, seems to be believable, unless these two ideas have been first proven by natural reason.

My question: I'm troubled by my translation of videtur posse persuaderi as "seems to be believable". While the English meaning seems faithful, I'm rendering persuaderi by brute force of necessity, rather than by my knowledge of the Latin word.
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Re: persuaderi in Descartes Meditations

Postby mwh » Sun Apr 29, 2018 5:42 pm

It’s tricky to explain, but the construction is regular enough. alicui aliquid persuadere is to persuade someone of something, to induce acceptance of something in someone, to induce someone to accept the truth of something, and this carries over into the passive, to have acceptance of something (nom.) induced in someone (dat.).
So your “believable” almost works, but the statement is stronger than that. Lit. “To those without faith no religio seems able to be made-persuaded-of” (rather than merely believable). We could translate “It seems impossible for those without faith to be induced to accept any religio.”
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Re: persuaderi in Descartes Meditations

Postby hlawson38 » Sun Apr 29, 2018 6:23 pm

mwh wrote:It’s tricky to explain, but the construction is regular enough. alicui aliquid persuadere is to persuade someone of something, to induce acceptance of something in someone, to induce someone to accept the truth of something, and this carries over into the passive, to have acceptance of something (nom.) induced in someone (dat.).
So your “believable” almost works, but the statement is stronger than that. Lit. “To those without faith no religio seems able to be made-persuaded-of” (rather than merely believable). We could translate “It seems impossible for those without faith to be induced to accept any religio.”


Thank you mwh for that explanation. I had tried some variations, but couldn't find one that met the need. You helped me see the force of this use of the passive infinitive.
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Re: persuaderi in Descartes Meditations

Postby RandyGibbons » Sun Apr 29, 2018 8:30 pm

Hugh, does this mean perhaps that you have finished with 'Folly'? And if so, what's your over all take on it, since you did such an admirably deep dive into it?

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Re: persuaderi in Descartes Meditations

Postby hlawson38 » Mon Apr 30, 2018 11:31 am

RandyGibbons wrote:Hugh, does this mean perhaps that you have finished with 'Folly'? And if so, what's your over all take on it, since you did such an admirably deep dive into it?

Randy


Yes, I read all the way through it. I started with Erasmus's dedicatory letter to Thomas More, and went line-by-line through the whole thing. Erasmus, as far as I can tell, is a wonderful prose stylist, marvelously clear and genial. I'd like to read something else of his, and have looked around for a legible copy of his Colloquies. The reading encouraged me to attempt another Renaissance Latin work, Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy, which I have just taken up. From my first Western Civ course long ago in a galaxy far away, I have heard of Erasmus and Descartes, and it's interesting to read something in Latin by them.

The piece, in form an oration, presents the problem of the "unreliable narrator", for Folly the orator is by her own confession an exponent of Stupidity, but the piece is written by a man of surpassing intelligence and good will--as I see Erasmus. Hence the reader is constantly confronted with the question, just how should I take what Folly is saying? Since, as I have read, all of Erasmus's works ended up on the Index, it seems likely the church authorities read him with "suspicious minds." This makes me want to read an analysis by an able critic on how Praise of Folly ought to be read. Can a case be made out of just what Erasmus means, when we "read between the lines", in the phrase of Leo Strauss in "Persecution and the Art of Writing"?

I am awed and humbled by Erasmus's active command of Latin. I'd like to read some of his Latin instructional books, both to see how he worked on a teaching problem, and in hope that he'd teach me some Latin.

Thanks for asking, Randy.
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Re: persuaderi in Descartes Meditations

Postby RandyGibbons » Mon Apr 30, 2018 2:08 pm

Well, then, congratulations are in order!

If I was just told that somebody wrote a work called "In Praise of Folly," I would be immediately interested, being a proponent (or should I say living example) of Stupidity myself. I know next to nothing about Erasmus, but I have always been drawn by instinct to those qualities of his that you articulate so nicely. Anyway, as you know, your acute textual questions as you progressed drew me into the work and inspired me to go ahead and get the ASD edition, and should I be blessed (or cursed) with a second or fifth or sixth life, I hope to carve out the time to actually read it.

You say you'd like to read some of Erasmus' Latin instructional books. I don't know enough about Erasmus to make recommendations, but for what it's worth, the only other work of Erasmus I possess is his De duplici copia verborum et rerum (often known as simply De copia). The work is famous for, among other things, its tour-de-force 195 variations on the phrase Tuae litterae me magnopere delectarunt. Again, I have the ASD edition (I-6 in their Erasmi Opera Omnia series), whose (English) commentary I find indispensable. Unfortunately, these editions are quite expensive (and come with shamelessly flimsy binding).

Another random thought. Erasmus' own writings on Latin were heavily influenced by Lorenzo Valla's Elegantiae linguae latinae (1471), which you can find on Google Books. It's close to 800 pages in length and not something many of us would be interested in reading in its entirety, but I have sampled the beginning of it, and it, along with Erasmus' Copia, are interesting examples of the attempt at that time to rescue Latin from its own "Dark Ages" and restore Latin composition to the elegance or purity of its classical exemplars.

Another potentially interesting work of Valla's is his oration On the Donation of Constantine, "in which Valla uses new philological methods to attack the authenticity of the most important document justifying the papacy's claim to temporal rule." The quote is from the dust jacket of G.W. Bowersock's edition with original text and opposite page English translation. I always thought it would be interesting to see how someone's Latin was good enough to expose an ancient work as a fraud. But I have to confess, this is another book I own but can't say I've really read!
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Re: persuaderi in Descartes Meditations

Postby Barry Hofstetter » Mon Apr 30, 2018 3:43 pm

Another individual from roughly the same time period (and whose work is readily accessible) is Calvin, whose Latinity is also excellent. Love or hate his theology, reading him in Latin is very rewarding (and reading Calvin is a very different experience from reading about Calvin either by his supporters or detractors).
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
The Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
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Re: persuaderi in Descartes Meditations

Postby hlawson38 » Tue May 01, 2018 1:44 pm

Many thanks to Randy and Barry for the information about texts to read. I'm going to toil away on Descartes for a while, alternating between him and Augustine's Civitas Dei.

Another thought about persuaderi, the passive infinitive of persuadeo. I have thought through the English verb persuade, and for me it focuses attention on a person changing the mind of another person, and how the persuader does it, by fair means or foul. This English meaning "bewitched" my mind to the point that I had trouble seeing a passive possibility for the idea being transmitted for the Latin verb persuadeo.

So I imagined a different Englishing of persuadeo: "to communicate convincingly". We can imagine an idea that *cannot* be communicated convincingly, for example two plus two equals five. After thinking about this, it was easier to banish the bewitchment, all thanks to the good teaching of mwh.
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