Dialogue on the Threshold

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Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The decay of learning

The abolition of Latin as the universal learned language, and the introduction in its place of the parochialism of national literatures, has been a real misfortune for science and learning in Europe, in the first place because it was only through the medium of the Latin language that a universal European learned public existed at all, to the totality of which every book that appeared directed itself; and in all Europe the number of heads capable of thinking and forming judgements is moreover already so small that if their forum is broken up and kept asunder by language barriers their beneficial effect is infinitely weakened. (...) A vile practice appearing with more impudent blatantness every day which deserves special reproof is that in scholarly books and in specifically learned journals, even those published by academies, passages from Greek and even (proh pudor) from Latin authors are cited in German translation. Devil take it! Are you writing for tailors and cobblers? If this is what it has come to, then farewell humanity, noble taste and cultivation! Barbarism is returning, despite railways, electricity and flying balloons. (...) It should here be remarked in passing that patriotism, when it wants to make itself felt in the domain of learning, is a dirty fellow who should be thrown out of doors. For what could be more impertinent than, where the purely and universally human is the only concern, and where truth, clarity and beauty should alone be of any account, to presume to put into the scales one's preference for the country to which one's own valued person happens to belong, and then, with that in view, do violence to truth and commit injustice against the great minds of other nations in order to puff up the lesser minds of one's own?

Arthur Schopenhauer, "Ueber Gelehrsamkeit unde Gelehrte", Kap. XXI,  
Parerga und Paralipomena. Kleine philosophische Schriften. Zweiter Band: Vereinzelte, jedoch systematisch geordnete Gedanken über vielerlei Gegenstände, Berlin, 1851.
(Essays and Aphorisms, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, Harmondsworth, 1970, pp. 227-229)