A Latin phrase meaning "it is solved by walking
", whose origin and whose original meaning are, apparently, not clearly known. It is normally attributed to Saint Augustine of Hippo
, but if it was him who first said it, no-one on the Web has a definite citation from the Confessions
or any other work of Augustine's.
It is normally assumed to refer to a solution to Zeno's Paradox: the problem of motion that Zeno poses, particularly in the formulation of the arrow that infinitely often has to traverse the first half of the previous distance, seems to show that it is impossible even to begin to move.
There is a story that another philosopher in Zeno's class was listening to him explain this, and at this point got up and left. Zeno, taken aback at this rudeness, asked him what he was doing. "Refuting you."
If it was Augustine of Hippo some eight hundred years later who coined the Latin aphorism, then he was either retelling this story or at least re-offering this solution. You can dispose of a problem with words by experiment, by actually going out and doing something instead of endlessly turning over the words. A millennium and a half later, Samuel Johnson proposed another similarly practical solution to a knotty intellectual curiosity, Bishop Berkeley's idealism, by kicking a large stone and exclaiming "I refute him thus!"
Lewis Carroll had his Achilles use this expression "solvitur ambulando" in this refutatory sense in his humorous logical dialogue "What the Tortoise Said to Achilles".
Searching without luck for a more definite origin, I find that many of the uses of this phrase on the Internet relate to the pleasures of walking. Reasonably enough: walking is a good way to relax, and to loosen problems that you're stuck with at your desk. It is even possible that Augustine (or whoever) meant it in this quite different sense.
I found another use, in amidst a lot of Christian argumentation (Moule 1890), where the writer said solvitur ambulando cum Deo, "it is solved by walking with God"; but no precedent was given, so I don't know if he was just expanding it off his own bat or had a genuine precedent for this expansion. This is quite another meaning: walking in the path of righteousness, putting yourself in God's hands, and so on. Nothing to do with Zeno's problem of motion, or the refreshment of the outdoors. Probably unlikely to be the true meaning of the original phrase, but where that has been lost, piled up under long centuries of re-quotation and re-application, it's hard to know.
Moule, 1890, Outline of Christian Doctrine, at www.anglicanlibrary.org/moule_h/outlines/chrdoc03.htm