How to express the that a scenario just mentioned is probably too-optimistic and unlikely to happen (and might merely reflect the hopes of one, rather than being grounded on evidence).

phantasia comes up as a possible candidate, but I doubt it can be used well in the context referred above. also it feels like being too far in the scale towards imagination and unlikeliness.

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    Do you know how the same is expressed in other modern languages? Sampling a few might give some insights into how one can go about expressing this idea.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 22 at 21:53
  • @JoonasIlmavirta, unfortunately, no. But if someone knows, let the question be edited.
    – d_e
    May 22 at 21:58
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    The German is Wunschdenken ('wish-thinking'). The Italian phrase that I learned is pio desiderio ('devout wish'), obviously from Latin pium desiderium. According to the Oxford dictionaries installed on my Mac, one of the other possible Italian expressions – and also a possible Spanish expression – uses a descendant of Latin illusio; though it doesn't appear that illusio was itself ever used in a remotely similar way – at least not in antiquity.
    – cnread
    May 23 at 6:51
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    @cnread You can also say frommer Wunsch (pious wish) in German; the difference being that someone who has a pious wish is typically under no illusion that it is a wish only. Wunschdenken (which is a loan translation of "wishful thinking" originating in the 1950s) indicates a degree of self-delusion like, I believe, the English. Therefore I suspect the Italian translation is not quite spot on. May 23 at 17:33
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    @SebastianKoppehel, Interesting about frommer Wunsch vs. Wunschdenken, and the origin of the latter. You could be correct about Italian pio desiderio; or perhaps it covers a broader range of meanings than the direct German equivalent (encompassing both Wunschdenken and frommer Wunsch). Maybe a native Italian speaker will chime in on this. As I said, that's the expression that I learned. I'm not sure the English phrase necessarily involves self-delusion; after all, the phrase is often used when wishful thinkers themselves openly acknowledge that their thinking may be wishful.
    – cnread
    May 23 at 18:35

An excellent medieval Latin word, which captures the sense of "wishful thinking" almost exactly, is velleitas, from which we get the (somewhat uncommon) English word "velleity."

Thomas Aquinas uses the word 12 times in his corpus, but his best explanation is in the Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 13, a. 5, ad 1:

Ad primum ergo dicendum quod voluntas media est inter intellectum et exteriorem operationem, nam intellectus proponit voluntati suum obiectum, et ipsa voluntas causat exteriorem actionem. Sic igitur principium motus voluntatis consideratur ex parte intellectus, qui apprehendit aliquid ut bonum in universali, sed terminatio, seu perfectio actus voluntatis attenditur secundum ordinem ad operationem, per quam aliquis tendit ad consecutionem rei; nam motus voluntatis est ab anima ad rem. Et ideo perfectio actus voluntatis attenditur secundum hoc quod est aliquid bonum alicui ad agendum. Hoc autem est possibile. Et ideo voluntas completa non est nisi de possibili, quod est bonum volenti. Sed voluntas incompleta est de impossibili, quae secundum quosdam velleitas dicitur, quia scilicet aliquis vellet illud, si esset possibile. Electio autem nominat actum voluntatis iam determinatum ad id quod est huic agendum. Et ideo nullo modo est nisi possibilium.

Here's my translation of the relevant part (in bold above):

And therefore a complete will [voluntas] is only about a possible thing that is is good for the one willing. But an incomplete will is about something that is impossible, and is called by some a velleity, since someone would will [vellet] that thing if it were possible.

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    +1. Here is the Latin text (need to scroll down, or search first for "Quaestio 13", then for "Articulus 5"), and here is a translation into English, which also uses the term "velleity". May 23 at 16:13

Any sort of word with the idea of hope/expectation/desire would really do, depending on the context. So, for example, Rackham translates the following of Cicero:

Optare hoc quidem est, non disputare.

This is wishful thinking (lit. to desire, to wish for), not investigation.

Wishful thinking, after all, is just "wishfulness" without logically thinking it out, which is the point of Cicero's contrast.

We see it with spes, too:

Ac primo humani ingenii vitio spei suae indulgens, Abisaren belli socium—et ita convenerat—adventare credebat.

And at first, by that defect of the human mind which indulges wishful thinking, he believed that Abisares, his ally in the war, was coming, for so it had been agreed. (Curtius Rufus 8.14, Trans. Rolfe)

In Seneca's De Tranquilitate, we find the phrase spes inepta:

Canus Iulius, uir in primis magnus, cuius admirationi ne hoc quidem obstat quod nostro saeculo natus est, cum Gaio diu altercatus, postquam abeunti Phalaris ille dixit 'ne forte inepta spe tibi blandiaris, duci te iussi', 'gratias' inquit 'ago, optime princeps.'

Julius Kanus, a man of peculiar greatness, whom even the fact of his having been born in this century does not prevent our admiring, had a long dispute with Gaius, and when as he was going away that Phalaris of a man said to him, "That you may not delude yourself with any foolish hopes, I have ordered you to be executed," he answered, "I thank you, most excellent prince." (trans. Stewart 1900)

Cicero has stulte sperasse, but the context indicates a more malicious reading of spes than "wishful thinking" implies, so that's not really comparable, I think, but Ovid (Fasti 3.686) uses stultam spes to be more "foolish expectation."

illa deum promisso ludit inani,
et stultam dubia spem trahit usque mora.

She tricked the god with empty promises.
And led him on, in foolish hope, with false delays.

Tacitus (Histories 1.12) uses stulta spe to mean "foolish desire," which is perhaps just a bit stronger than "wishful thinking."


I would reply to this with utinam, and if it was necessary to concisely refer back to it as a communicative event, I would substantivise it: dē istō utinam tuō.

Apart from that, somnium is fitting as expressing an idle wish, day-dream, idle fancy that the doer has no intent on realising whether it be theoretically possible or not. Thus, somniās! would very nearly mean the same as "bah! that's wishful thinking!", although it seems to be normally used to deny the truth of some allegation - I suspect context and especially the intonation would determine the interpretation.

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    Translating, "de isto utinam tuo" = "Concerning your thing (dream), if only (it could be).", is this the best interpretation?
    – tony
    May 23 at 11:30
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    @tony The utinam is substantivized in that phrase. The closest equivalent would be, "Concerning your 'if only'"
    – brianpck
    May 23 at 14:50

It seems arcessitus (L&S II) might be a good candidate. Naturally, a 'wishfully-thought' scenario is indeed usually sought, forced and far-fetched. L&S brings this:

cavendum est, ne arcessitum dictum putetur (that an expression may not appear forced, far-fetched).

For the time being, I could not find examples of arcessitus (or accersitus) being used as to describe a thought or a scenario, but I believe it can.

Spero ut hoc responsum non arcessitum putetur

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