[lit-ideas] "Raison D'Etre" (Was: "Ratio Essendi")

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 3 Sep 2004 11:17:44 EDT

In a message dated 9/3/2004 12:16:07 AM Eastern Standard Time,  
JimKandJulieB@xxxxxxx writes:
You  people on this list have a raison d'etre.  
You are the escapism which  keeps me sane.  Feel better now?

Mmm. Interesting.
I wonder why the English language sometimes uses _French_ expressions (of  
all languages). I suppose the French are prone to seeing things in a 'raison  
d'etre' perspective. It could be that the literal translation (as given by the  
OED, "reason of being") is too _crude_? 
Interestingly, the thing may have originated with Leibnitz (a German  
philosopher), who distinguished between ratio essendi (reason d'etre) and ratio 
cognoscendi (reason de connaitre) -- reason to be and reason to know or 
This dichotomy seems artificial to me: why not reason to _love_, too, reason 
to  sing, reason to act (ratio agendi) ...
From the OED
raison d'etre: -- 'reason of beingâ??; rational ground for existence. 

1864 J S  Mill Let. 18 Mar. (1910) II. 3 
Modes of speech  which have a real raison d'être. 
1867 MORLEY Burke 208 
Plunder in three  forms..was the very raison d'être of the power of the [East 
India]  Company. 
1880 Standard 29 Nov., 
The Royal Society  has almost ceased to have a raison d'être. 
1889 A. JAMES  Diary 14 Dec. (1964) 67 
The French ladies of  the 18th century..whose whole raison d'être was the 
graceful, and the  light. 
1927 C. CONNOLLY Let. 5 May in Romantic  Friendship (1975) 301 
With Desmond gone I  have no raison d'être. 
1959 J BRAINE Vodi vii. 102 
There were a few  trees and fields, and even a small colony of expensive 
privately-built houses,  which was rare for a place for which the raison 
now was Rimelby Main  [colliery]. 
1975 J G EVANS Environment  Early Man Brit. Isles v. 104 
A possible raison  d'être for these sites was the chert, a desirable raw 


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