are not so wise as to need no assistance

SuprunP

Senior Member
Ukrainian & Russian
[...] and, among the ministers of princes, there are none that are not so wise as to need no assistance, or at least, that do not think themselves so wise that they imagine they need none [...]
(Utopia; Thomas More)

I believe (yes, 'I believe' rather than 'I think' or even 'I am sure'; I'm baffled by what seems to me to be 'a triple negation') that the part in bold means that every minister needs some assistance.

1) there are none that are not so wise as to need no assistance (the original one)
2) there are none that are so wise as to need no assistance

Do they mean the same?

Thanks.
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hi SuprunP

    It's a brain-teaser, all right!:D

    I think the meaning is that all ministers of princes are so wise that they need no assistance - or at least all ministers of princes think they are so wise that they need no assistance.

    It's easier if you focus first on the first two negatives and translate them to a positive....
     
    Last edited:

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Triple negations are basically unprocessable. Usually they turn out to mean the same as the double negation. The spare negation might be in there by mistake, or as some kind of negative agreement, but whatever the reason, it rarely works as a negation. It's interesting that this goes as far back as More. Language Log maintains a looong list of posts on what it calls overnegation: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1925
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    So More is teasingly criticising the hubris of ministers of state:

    They are all too wise to need help. The second part of the quote makes explicit that this is the opinion they have of themselves.

    It's hard to forget that More was himself a minister.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Triple negations are basically unprocessable. Usually they turn out to mean the same as the double negation. The spare negation might be in there by mistake, or as some kind of negative agreement, but whatever the reason, it rarely works as a negation. It's interesting that this goes as far back as More. Language Log maintains a looong list of posts on what it calls overnegation: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1925
    I agree, Entangledbank. I seem to recall your having made this point before in some long-ago thread. Three negatives in a row are simply too confusing to warrant any place in clear writing.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Shakespeare sometimes got lost in negatives; I don't think More would be guilty of such a mistake. I wonder how this sentence stood in the original Latin. This may be the fault of Suprun's translator.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I see that Loob and I agree for once. Confirmation of our view comes from the following sentence in the text:

    And if they do seek any advice, it is only from the prince’s personal favorites, on whom they fawn and flatter as a way of promoting their own interests. . .
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Shakespeare sometimes got lost in negatives; I don't think More would be guilty of such a mistake. I wonder how this sentence stood in the original Latin. This may be the fault of Suprun's translator.
    Here's a more modern translation of the same sentence:

    Moreover, the counsellors of kings are so wise already that they don't need to accept or approve advice from anyone else - or at least they have that opinion of themselves.


    Much easier to process!:D
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    It is, indeed, unprocessable. I chewed on it continuously for the past half an hour until my processor melted and my hard drive ground to a halt :D

    I finally managed to come up with a formula that, I think, leads me to Loob's interpretation:

    There are none that are not so wise as to need no assistance.
    There are none that are not idiots. = All are idiots.
    then I go back to the initial words and replace them in the new sentence:
    All are so wise as to need to assistance.

    But it takes a lot of time and effort. And I suspect I could have come up with a different interpretation.


    Hail to Loob who arrived at it so fast. :)
     
    Last edited:

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Here's a more modern translation of the same sentence:

    Moreover, the counsellors of kings are so wise already that they don't need to accept or approve advice from anyone else - or at least they have that opinion of themselves.


    Much easier to process!:D
    That version is like a breath of fresh air, Loob. If you'd translate the rest of Utopia, future generations of political science undergraduates would probably be grateful. :)
     

    SuprunP

    Senior Member
    Ukrainian & Russian
    Thank you everyone!

    (Yes, that modern translation is much, much easier, but where would I get my innumerable questions from if I switched to it? :))
     

    lorelord

    Senior Member
    UK - english
    I disagree with Loob who says: " I think the meaning is that all ministers of princes are so wise that they need no assistance I think the meaning is that all ministers of princes are so wise that they need no assistance"

    Actually it means None of the ministers are wise enough to be without assistance. It is deliberately round about and awkward - perhaps to let him off the hook if taken offence to and needed to be defended in court. It is a mistake to treat negatives as logic or boolean algebra, sometimes they negate, sometimes they emphasize.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    The question of More's intention really depends on the Latin text, which was not translated until after his death and which in my opinion does not contain a triple negation.
    Neither of the versions quoted above seems accurate to me, for reasons explained in the Latin forum, where I suggest the following version:

    Besides, all those who are counsellors to kings either are really so wise that they do not need to give any credit to the opinion of others, or else consider themselves so wise that they are unwilling to do so: except so far as they agree with and praise even the most absurd statements of those who are most in favour with the ruler, in order to oblige them by flattery.
     
    Last edited:

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    To put it in context, More has suggested to Hythloday that he is wise and experienced enough to contribute good advice in a king's council. Hythloday replies that royal counsellors would not give him credit for his advice, either because they are really so wise that they would not need to, or because they are so conceited that they would not want to.
     
    Last edited:
    < Previous | Next >
    Top