In Spinoza's Ethics we see:

nihil in natura clarius quam quod unumquodque ens sub aliquo attributo debeat concipi

I know meaning of the sentence. My question is about debeat. Why is this verb subjunctive? I can somehow justify it's mood for myself but I want to know that a subjunctive verb in this structure exactly belongs to which class of using subjunctive.

2 Answers 2


(First of all, here's how I'm interpreting the text: comment if this is significantly different from yours.)

nihil in natura clarius quam quod unumquodque ens sub aliquo attributo debeat concipi
Nothing in nature is clearer than the fact that every individual essence should be imagined as underlying some attribute.

The explanation is actually surprisingly simple! In mediaeval Latin, quod often takes the subjunctive.

This question quotes Harrington and Pucci:

Greek ὅτι is followed by the indicative. Quia and quod may be followed by either the indicative or the subjunctive; quod tends to take the subjunctive, quia the indicative.

Though this answer to that question notes:

I believe the generic medieval Latin primer advice that quia takes the indicative and quod takes the subjunctive is misleading if taken as a general prescription. This is not a hard and steadfast rule

While quod + subjunctive isn't universal, it definitely happens quite a lot in later Latin. It tends to be used in place of the older accusative-cum-infinitive construction in later Latin. In the Romance languages it's pretty much won out entirely, so I'm guessing it was part of Vulgar Latin all the way back to Classical times.

  • 2
    Your answer is substantially correct (+1), but this isn't indirect discourse, since there isn't anything being summarized or reported. Rather, it's a substantive clause, i.e., a clause occupying a syntactical function (subject, object) that could be expressed by a simple substantive. Here, the quod clause is the subject of the quam clause, parallel with nihil. In classical Latin, this would be quod w/ indicative (A&G 572). Commented May 25, 2019 at 23:53
  • @Kingshorsey Isn't it still called indirect discourse even when there's no discourse? For example in Classical I'd guess that this would be "…clarius quam entem debere concipi sub…" with an acc+inf?
    – Draconis
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 0:47
  • 1
    See A&G 572. This is what is sometimes called a "fact clause," which is a subset of substantival clauses. It takes quod, not AcI. Also, not every AcI is indirect discourse. Indirect discourse (oratio obliqua) is one use of the AcI construction. Commented May 26, 2019 at 1:08
  • @Kingshorsey Edited, ty
    – Draconis
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 1:14
  • 1
    @AliNikzad Allen & Greenough is one of the standard English reference works on grammar and syntax. dcc.dickinson.edu/grammar/latin/alphabet Commented May 27, 2019 at 12:50

Draconis's answer is very educational, I had not known that about mediaeval Latin. Many thanks!

But I have to wonder whether there is an answer that Plautus would have understood, namely whether there is an indirect question hidden or understood in this statement.

Q. Estne quod unumquodque ens sub aliquo attributo debeat concipi?

A. Nihil in natura clarius.

Indirect questions usually take the subjunctive in classical Latin, and they are especially hidden in statements of knowledge, perception, or realization. This statement might fit the bill.

Another possibility is that Spinoza is maintaining a certain contemplative distance from the statement, and not necessarily asserting it as a fact yet. (Cf. Woodcock #179)

Without reading the Spinoza with some care, I can't really say whether either of my guesses are relevant. What do you think, Ali Nikzad?

  • Excuse me. I'm a beginner in Latin and I can't answer your question.
    – Ali Nikzad
    Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 16:55

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