Dubium sapientiae initium
Original post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2007
In English: Doubt is the beginning of wisdom.
I thought this would be a good follow-up to the recent proverbs I've posted about wise people and about wisdom. Today's proverb is a very simple proverb, the sort of thing you can probably include in the first week or a beginning Latin class, and it contains a message of profound importance for students. In order to really learn something and gain wisdom, you need to have some question in your mind, a question that you want to answer. That moment of doubt is the spur to your best learning.
There is a grammatically more complex version of this same saying: Dubitando ad veritatem pervenimus, "by means of doubt, we arrive at the truth." (I've seen this saying attributed to Cicero, although I am not sure in what work you will find it.)
In the Prologue to Abelard's Sic et Non, the process of learning by doubting is broken up into two distinct stages: Dubitando quippe ad inquisitionem venimus; inquirendo veritatem percipimus, "by doubt indeed we come to questioning; by questioning, we perceive the truth."
Abelard calls questioning the "key to wisdom," Haec quippe prima sapientiae clavis definitur assidua scilicet seu frequens interrogatio.
Abelard's Sic et Non treatise is a perfect example of the learning that can be provoked by doubt. As the title indicates, what Abelard does here is to arrange contradictory statements from the church fathers, putting them side by side, thus provoking all kinds of doubt and deliberation. There are 158 "doubtful" topics for you to ponder in this treatise, such as whether God is the cause of the son, or not (quod deus pater sit causa filii, et contra), whether God can do all things, or not (quod omnia possit deus et non), whether Adam is buried in the placed called Calvary, or not (quod Adam in loco Calvariae sepultus sit et non), whether all the apostles except for John had wives, or not (quod omnes apostoli excepto Iohanne uxores habuerint et contra), etc.
So much doubt - and so much wisdom to be gained as a result!
So, wishing you lots of questions on your road to truth, here is today's proverb read out loud:
134. Dubium sapientiae initium.
The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.
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