Posted by Dennis » 2 Comments »
In the news: The Boston Marathon gives a professor a chance to repeat an oft-repeated absurdity:
“As my old Latin professor used to say, ‘If it weren’t for Marathon, it’s highly likely we’d all be speaking Farsi,”‘ said Matthew Gonzales, a classics professor at Saint Anselm College and contributor to a History Channel feature on the battle.
Then why are we not speaking Greek?
But here’s what I really think of this tired claim:
Moving along, that bastion of uncritical thought, the HuffPo (see headlines like ‘How Scientific is Modern Medicine Really?’), gives us the dynamic mind of ‘omnifaith spiritual expert’ (?!) Susan Corso, who has this to say:
“Generosity is the habit of giving.” Philanthropy is the habit of giving to others. The OED says that generosity comes from the Latin word genus which means kind, as in ilk not nicety. Thus, giving to our own kind. Any one of us could be in need at any time. Generosity means that we reach out to those we recognize as of our own kind.
So what is our kind? Everyone. In the whole world. No exceptions.
Actually, no. Latin generosus comes from genus in the sense of descent or ‘stock.’ There’s an implied epithet, like ‘good’. It’s perfectly analogous to the English word ‘breeding’ as it was once used, e.g., ‘he’s a man of breeding.’ A person of breeding or a generosus person is supposed to have certain favored qualities lacking in others. They do not give to their own kind, but giving may be one of those favored qualities. Very little thought is required to see that there is not ‘giving’ in the root, and evidently even less thought went into Corso’s explanation.
That’s all for now.
Posted by Dennis » 7 Comments »
This may be news to many readers of the blog, as I haven’t blogged about skepticism (except perhaps in my post on chiropractic, Herodotus: the father of handiwork) but I am a longtime skeptic. (Brian Dunning’s concise statement, What is Skepticism?, will give you a good idea of what I mean when I use the term.)
For my money, the one thing students need above all else is the ability to develop critical thinking skills, which encompasses such things as knowing how to assess information and being aware of common pitfalls to understanding (e.g., logical fallacies, emotional appeals, etc.). Too often my own students show a willingness to believe whatever I tell them, a tendency I exploit on a regular basis with humor in an effort to promote more critical thinking.
I don’t want to say much more right now, though I’m sure my position will be clear in the poll options below, but I’m interested to hear from others on the issue of critical thinking in the humanities, its relationship with the sciences, and potentially those in the humanities who are sympathetic to or interested in the skeptical viewpoint.
So without further ado, my (admittedly) awkward poll:
Results after the fold.
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Posted by Dennis » 9 Comments »
‘Everyone loves you on your deathbed’ (omnes te moriturum amant), or so says the inscription on the fictional Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, seen just before the closing credits of tonight’s episode of House on Fox.
As my wife pointed out, this bears an uncanny resemblance to that familiar gladiatorial phrase, morituri te salutamus. (EDIT: Keen readers have pointed toward the correct form: ‘have imperator, morituri te salutant,’ which comes from Suetonius, 5. 21.)
We think director/star Hugh Laurie was having a bit of a laugh.
UPDATE: My wife tells me that a commenter at the AV Club claimed this to be the motto of the Cambridge Footlights, but the internet tells me their motto is ‘ars celare artem est’, a version of a common theme (compare Quintilian, Inst. Or. 1.10, ‘ea prima [ars] est, ne ars esse videatur’).
Searching today, I’m delighted to see that my translation ‘everyone loves you on your deathbed,’ has cropped up in a few places around the web.
Does anyone have any real insight on the phrase’s inclusion in the show?
INTERPRETATION: Now that I reckon most people have seen the episode I’ll tell you what I think. This is House, and so we should be a little cynical in our reading. TE MORITVRVM means (literally) ‘you being about to die,’ and while my translation (‘on your deathbed’) was called poetic on Wikipedia, all translation should be. The ultimate judge in translation should be sense wedded with style. How do you say in English what the Latin said, in the way the Latin said it? I gave a colloquial translation, but what does the context of the episode tell us about sense?
Throughout the episode various of the characters derived great pleasure from tormenting others. House and the dying Classics professor from Princeton trading barbs and cutting insights, Taub and Foreman digging into one another’s pasts or trading physical blows, Wilson and 13 extracting ‘truths’ and issuing humiliating dares, the boy pinching his baby sister. I think much of this depends on the English idiom which I suspect is behind the phrase, namely the metaphorical use of ‘dying’ and ‘killing’. Everyone takes pleasure when you are on the verge of death, metaphorically or not. They enjoy watching you squirm.
That was the entertainment, and the common theme. But in the literal sense, and seen in the episode’s more serious counterpoint, House connected with the dying Classics professor, and though he maintained his shell for much of the exchange, showed his humanity, encouraged him to express his love—however distantly— to his estranged daughter, opened his own soul, and apologized for not taking his case. He connected with him, eased his pain, and waited with him while he died.
If House is capable of doing that, everyone is. Death humanizes all of us. And when the missing baby, feared dead, was reunited with her family by Dr. Cuddy, there never was a more perfect image of joy.