The Principle of Reason [31-32]

Let us pause for a bit, if we may: the principle of reason-the ground/reason of the principle. Here something turns in on itself. Here something coils in on itself but does not close itself, for it uncoils itself at the same time. Here is a coil, a living coil, like a snake. Here something catches [fängt] itself at [an] its own end. Here is a commencement [Anfang] that is already completion.

The principle of reason as the ground/reason of the principle-this odd relationship confuses our ordinary cognition. This should not surprise us, given that the confusion now surfacing has a genuine origin. One could of course doubt this and suggest that the confusion springs from our playing with the words Grund [ground, reason] and Satz [principle] which make up the title: the Grundsatz [fundamental principle] of reason. Yet the word game immediately comes to an end if we refer to the Latin formulation of the principle of reason. It reads: Nihil est sine ratione. But how does the corresponding Latin title read? Leibniz names the principle of reason the principium rationis. What principium means here can best be learned through the succinct definition that the most industrious student of Leibniz, Christian Wolff, gives in his Ontology. There he says: principium dicitur id, quod in se continet rationem alterius.7 According to this, a principium is what contains in itself the ratio for something else. Hence the principium is nothing other than the ratio rationis: the reason of reason. The Latin title of the principle of reason also plunges us into the same confused tangle: the reason of reason; reason turns back upon itself just as it did when the principle of reason declared itself the ground/reason of the principle. So it is not because of the wording of the principle—neither in the Gennan nor the Latin—that we cannot proceed in a straight line along the principle of reason but are immediately drawn into a coiling movement . Yet we must still consider the fact that the German title Der Satz vom Grund [the principle of reason] is anything but the literal translation of the Latin tide principium rationis, even when we more appropriately say Grundsatz des Grund ["fundamental principle of reason") instead of Satz vom Grund ["principle of reason,] . For neither is the word Grund the literal translation of the word ratio (raison), nor is the word Grundsatz the literal translation of the word principium. That the principle and the Principle confuse us already by the mere title, without our giving a thought to content, is exactly what belongs to the enigma of the principle of reason as principium rationis. The enigma does not lie in the title, as though we were playing an empty game with words. The enigma of the principle of reason lies in the fact that the principle under discussion is the principle which has the rank and role of a Principle.

The translation of the Latin principium with the newly coined word Grundsatz first came into use [in German] at the beginning of the eighteenth century—only an insignificant event in linguistic history, or so it seems. Commonplace [German] words such as Absicht for intentio, Ausdruck for expressio, Gegenstand for objectum, Dasein for praesentia were also first coined in rhe eighteenth century.