Latin and Greek for Philosophers
The following definitions have been prepared to help you understand the meaning of the Latin and Greek words and phrases you will encounter in your study of philosophy. But first a word of caution: it would be a mistake to suppose that in mastering these definitions you will have acquired a sufficient grounding in these language to employ these termssuccessfully in your own work. Here H. W. Fowler offers some good advice: ‘Those who use words or phrases belonging to languages with which they have little or no acquaintance do so at their peril. Even in e.g., i.e., and et cetera, there lurk unsuspected possibilities of exhibiting ignorance’ (Modern English Usage, p. 207). Use these definitions as an aid to understanding the Latin and Greek terms andphrases you encounter, but resist the temptation to begin sprinkling them about in your own writings and conversations.
Latin for Philosophers
Latin prepositions used in the following definitions:
a or ab: ‘from’ ad: ‘to’ or ‘toward’ de: ‘from’ or ‘concerning’
ex: ‘from’ or ‘out of’ per: ‘through’ or ‘by’ in: ‘in’ or ‘on’
sub: ‘under’ post: ‘after’ pro: ‘for’ or ‘in exchangefor’ propter: ‘because of’
A fortiori: preposition + the ablative neuter singular of the comparative adjective fortior/fortius (literally: ‘from the stronger thing’): arguing to a conclusion from an already established stronger statement (e.g. ‘All animals are mortal, a fortiori all human beings are mortal’).
A posteriori: preposition + the ablative neuter singular of the comparativeadjective posterior/posteriorus (literally: ‘from the later thing’): things known a posteriori are known on the basis of experience (e.g. ‘We can know only a posteriori that all swans are white’).
A priori: preposition + the ablative neuter singular of the comparative adjective prior/prius (literally: ‘from the earlier thing’): what is known to be true a priori can be known independently of (or priorto) empirical investigation or confirmation (e.g. ‘Kant held that we can know a priori that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points.’)
Ad hoc: preposition + the accusative neuter singular of the pronoun hic/haec/hoc (literally: ‘to this thing’): a proposed solution lacking in independent justification (e.g. ‘Aristotle’s view that nous is the kind of knowledge we have of thefirst principles seems entirely ad hoc.’)
Amicus Plato sed magis amica veritas: ‘Plato is a friend but truth is a greater friend’, based loosely on Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1096a.
Argumentum ad hominem: the nominative neuter noun argumentum/argumenti + plus preposition + the accusative masculine singular of the noun homo/hominis (literally: ‘argument toward the man’): an argumentattacking the person rather than addressing the question.
Barbara: A name employed as part of a mnemonic system devised by medieval students to remember the valid forms of the syllogism (‘Barbara’, ‘Celarent’, ‘Darii’, etc.). Since one of these syllogism consisted of three universal-affirmative (or ‘a’) propositions it was associated with a woman’s name containing three a’s). Aristotle held thatBarbara was the most appropriate argument form for presenting a scientific explanation.
Causa sine qua non: the nominative feminine singular of causa/causae + preposition + the ablative feminine singular of the pronoun qui/quae/quod + adverb (literally: ‘a cause without which not’): an indispensable cause.
Causa sui: the nominative feminine singular of causa/causae + the genitive singular ofthe pronoun sui, sibi, se, se: ‘self caused’ or ‘cause of itself’. Associated with the view proposed by Spinoza and others that the reason for God’s existence lies in its essence (thus sometimes associated with the Ontological Argument).
Ceteris paribus: the ablative neuter plural of the adjective ceter-a-um + plus the ablative neuter plural of the adjective par-paris, an ablative absolute...
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