“Wir müssen wissen, wir werden wissen.” — David Hilbert

“We need to know, we will know.” — David Hilbert

I was trying to translate this quote into Latin while preserving the parallelism between the two parts but I couldn't come with something satisfying.

Indeed, the future is usually translated with only one word while the necessity isn't.

  • Any decent translation should surely preserve the parallelism with Emil du Bois-Reymond's maxim "ignoramus et ignorabimus", to which Hilbert's remark was a direct response. Dec 2 '21 at 16:54

Here is an attempt for increased parallelism:

Sciendum est, scitum erit.
≈ "It has to be known, it will be known."

Latin typically uses the future perfect thing for an action completed in the future, whereas English often goes with a mere future as in my translation. The choice of tense also makes the statement strong: knowing will be complete.

I like the syntactical parallelism of having just a participle with a form of esse on both sides, and the subject of both clauses is the implicit thing to be known. (I take the liberty to classify the gerundive as a participle.) The parallelism falls apart in the active voice.

  • 1
    I wouldn't have thought of it, you lose the repetition of the German sounds but it's probably the best one can do. Thank you very much!
    – user10176
    Nov 30 '21 at 19:01

You can express the necessity by means of a gerund: that which must be known, or cognoscendum. We shall know what must be known then becomes

Cognoscendum cognoscemus.

  • 1
    The meaning is slightly different but that's really interesting
    – user10176
    Nov 30 '21 at 13:04
  • 4
    +1. One can consider using also gerundive n. pl. which seems to be a little better. cf. Cavebo quae sunt cavenda (Cic.)
    – d_e
    Nov 30 '21 at 13:44

I would say:

Oportet scire, sciemus igitur.

It is needful to know, and so we shall know.

I chose scire, because, according to Döderlein's Hand-Book of Latin Synonymes:

scientia, together with scire, involves spontaneous activity, and a perception of truth.

I also added igitur (hence, and so, accordingly) to help balance it out. And this is also an example of chiasmus, which was a somewhat poetic way of expressing things in Latin.


Here is another suggestion trying to preserve the parallelism:

Sciendum est
Scituri sumus

It is actually a relatively literal translation.


I'm astonished - didn't Hilbert said it in Latin anyway, as an answer to the "Ignorabimus!" cry of duBois-Raymond? "Nescimus, sed sciemus!" (Note that what can't be googled does not exist, the phrase return is astonishingly poor. My reference is Meschkowski, "Denkweisen großer Mathematiker", who attributes it to a talk of Hilbert in Berlin, short before his death around the end of war. Google Books, in German)

  • The epitaph on his tombstone in Göttingen is in German, I don't know if he ever said it in Latin but this is the first time I've heard it. I'll do some research.
    – user10176
    Dec 1 '21 at 9:50
  • 1
    But he did say it in German! It is quoted right at the start of the chapter on Hilbert in the book you linked. He may also have said Nescimus, sed sciemus, but that is not quite the same, is it? Dec 1 '21 at 21:31
  • He said it in German, correct. The question is if he said it in Latin too, and if he considered it as the fitting translation. ("müssen" is far more "urgent" than "nescimus") My opinion is yes on both but I lack convincing primary sources. Dec 3 '21 at 12:14

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