From another version of this book I know the clause in boldface can be reworded as "It's certain". I searched the phase "past doubt" in Google but few related results were returned. So I wonder if this usage is a very old-fashioned.

In a word, however useful medicine well administered may be to us who live in a state of society, it is still past doubt, that if, on the one hand, the sick savage destitute of help, has nothing to hope from nature, on the other, he has nothing to fear but from his disease; a circumstance, which often renders his situation preferable to ours.

-- from Rousseau's “Discourse on Inequality”

  • Wow, that's a terrible translation, IMHO.
    – Jim
    Dec 13, 2013 at 6:36
  • @Jim Which version do you recommend? Dec 13, 2013 at 9:13
  • I don't have a specific version in mind, I just know enough French to know that's not how I would have translated that passage.
    – Jim
    Dec 13, 2013 at 14:50

1 Answer 1


The original sentence (p.23):

Enfin, quelque utile que puisse être parmi nous la médecine bien administrée, il est toujours certain que si le sauvage malade abandonné à lui-même n'a rien à espérer que de la nature, en revanche il n'a rien à craindre que de son mal, ce qui rend souvent sa situation préférable à la nôtre.

In this case, "il est toujours certain" is translated "it is still past doubt". Judging by COHA and Google's Ngram Viewer the version with past was never popular, but what results I can find for it were mostly in the early 1800s. I suppose you could call it archaic.

In any case, "past doubt" could be replaced with the more common "beyond doubt", which is a relatively common phrase meaning "certain to be true". Dictionary.com lists beyond doubt as an idiom meaning "with certainty; definitely".

  • There's also the fact that certain and certain are clearly cognates, so I find it odd that any translation wouldn't simply have kept the word as it was! At any rate, +1 :)
    – WendiKidd
    Dec 15, 2013 at 2:50

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