LINGUIST List 6.1137

Sun Aug 20 1995

Sum: Translation of philosophical texts, textual criticism

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Birgit Kellner, Summary: Translation of philosophical texts, textual criticism

Message 1: Summary: Translation of philosophical texts, textual criticism

Date: Sun, 20 Aug 1995 23:40:31 Summary: Translation of philosophical texts, textual criticism
From: Birgit Kellner <>
Subject: Summary: Translation of philosophical texts, textual criticism

The following list contains all references I got in the various, although
regrettably not too many, responses to my query concerning the application
of translational theory to philosophical texts and issues in textual criticism:

Aland, Aland 1987 - Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland: The Text of the New
Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and
Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, Trans. by Erroll F. Rhodes. Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Baker - Mona Baker: In other words. (a text for teaching translation,
including the teaching of the effect of context and discuourse analysis on

Hewson, Martin 1991 - ? Hewson, ? Martin: Redefining Translation: The
Variational Approach. Routledge. London.

Iser 1978 - ? Iser: The Act of Reading: A theory of Asthetic Response.
Johns Hopkins University Press; Baltimore.

Jauss 1982 - ? Jauss: Toward an Asthetic of Reception. Harvester Press;

Mc Carter 1986 - P. Kyle McCarter: Textual Criticism: Recovering the Text of
the Hebrew Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986)

Metzger 19?? - Bruce Metzger: The Text of the New Testament: Its
Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, OUP

Neubert, Shreve 1992 - ? Neubert, ?Shreve: Translation as Text. Kent State
University Press. Kent, Ohio.

Snell-Hornby 1988 - M. Snell-Hornby: Translation Studies: An integrated
Approach. John Benjamins; Amsterdam - see esp. pp 13-22 on the illusion of

West 1973 - Martin L. West: Textual criticism and editorial technique
applicable to Greek and Latin texts. B. G. Teubner, 1973.

Further information I gathered: I was told that what I called "textual
criticism" is, nowadays, more commonly referred to as "scholarly editing".
Another reference brought me to the Interpreting Ancient Manuscripts Web at, which is devoted to New
Testament textual criticism (and was very helpful, indeed).

Although I am confident that a thorough reading of at least some of the
above-given sources will no doubt broaden my horizon and deepen my
understanding immensely, my curiosity about the translation of philosophical
texts still remains largely unsatisfied for the moment. To clarify what this
curiosity is all about - here is what I consider to be peculiar to and
characteristic for the translation of philosophical texts, say, some
generalized observation from my specific situation as translating ancient
Indian and Tibetan philosophical texts.

- The "temptation of consistency". Once a text is acknowledged as being a
philosophical work, it is invariably presupposed that it is consistent,
coherent, and thoroughly rational. The author is not supposed to make
self-contradictory statements unless some assumptions of the philosophy in
question provide an explanation for these. While this presupposition is
necessary and adequate to a certain extent, it tends to yield rather
questionable results when uncritically combined with the "temptation of
evaluation", or the "temptation of justification". Especially when
translating philosophical texts from foreign, "exotic" cultures, the
translation does not only present itself as a translation, but also as an
argument why the text in question merits translation in the first place. In
other words: Because of the marginalization of "exotic" philosophy - in the
introductory classes of philosophy I got to hear at university, I was still
told that there is no philosophy to the east of Greece -, a translation has
to justify its appearance by justifying that the translated text contributes
to a presupposed universal philosophy in a relevant manner. This is highly
problematic for various reasons. The specific factor I have in mind,
however, is that, when a translator has decided upon translating an "exotic"
philosophical text, the value and content of the text are beyond questioning
- its philosophical character and quality are presupposed to an extent which
can severely damage and undermine the very project of translation.
"Mistakes" which the author made (statements which would render the text
less valuable for comparative philosophy) are tacitly "corrected" (read:
deleted), terminology is adjusted etc.

- This phenomenon itself is grounded in the personal union of translator and
historician, translator and interpreter, translator and commentator. While a
translation of a novel can be done by one person, who is a translator in a
more technical sense, and can be thoroughly researched in its historical
impact by somebody else, who is a literature-historian, this is not only
uncommon in the field of comparative philosophy (or the study of other
cultures' philosophies), but also hardly feasible - for in most cases, even
the philological constitution of the texts in question has to be informed by
the interpretation. This results in a quite difficult (and peculiar)
position of translation in the whole hermeneutical process - in most cases,
the translation will serve as a "second-language"-commentary to the
translated texts, not presenting an otherwise inaccessible philosophical
text in its own right to those who do not understand the source-language,
but a) justifying the constitution of the text, b) clarifying the
interpretation on part of the translator and c)(see above) justifying the
project of translation for those who not only do understand the
source-language, but who are already basically familiar with the historical
and philosophical environment. In this context, translation loses much of
its "mediating" function between two languages, but becomes a tool of
explanation, which, in some contexts, can even be dismissed with (I have
seen and heard many specialists in Indian philosophy whose explanations are
basically made up of Sanskrit terms, only vaguely connected by English
copula). While this can naturally be explained on account of different
target audiences (translations for specialists will be different from
translations for non-specialists), I find that this different function of
translation is not recognized within the "specialists'" group at all. In
other words: Criteria which would apply to judging a translation in a
broader context (e.g. a translation of a novel) are applied to translations
which are carried out in this specific context, without even considering a
possible difference in the pragmatic environment.

I would thoroughly appreciate any opinions on this,

Birgit Kellner
Institute for Indian Philosophy
University of Hiroshima
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