10 October 2006

Never Say Never Again

Today I raise a question of translation. Jennifer Whiting claims that a certain translation, the usual translation of a passage in Aristotle, simply "cannot" be correct. But is the impossible possible--or even likely?

I'll give you a couple of days to ponder this. Here is Whiting's discussion and translation of the passage (in blue), followed by the Greek (in red).

Now, suppose Whiting is wrong (as I think she is). Her discussion raises the question: How is it that scholars can claim that certain things are impossible, when they really are so? How can it be that a scholar says that X "cannot be the correct reading", or that X is "obviously" wrong, when X is actually the preferable reading? (Indeed, one might wonder: when should a scholar ever say that an interpretation or rendering--especially that usually supported by scholars--is not merely wrong or unlikely, but impossible and obviously wrong?)

From pp. 282-3 of Whiting's contribution to the Kraut anthology, "The Nicomachean Account of Philia":

The defense [of extending the term 'philia' to all three forms of friendship] culminates at VIII.4.1157a20-33:

[A] And only the philia of good people is immune to slander. For it is not easy to trust someone who has not been tested by oneself for a long time. But trusting belongs among these [i.e. good people], and so does never doing injustice to one another, and whatever else people think worthy of true friendship. [B] And nothing prevents such things coming to be in the other [forms]. For since people apply the term "friends" both to those who [are friends] dia what is useful ... and to those who are fond of one another dia pleasure ... we should presumably say that such people are friends and that there are several forms of friendship, first and in the controlling sense, the friendship of good people insofar as they are good, and the remaining [forms] according to their similarity [to this].
Most English translators take the italicized "such things" as referring to the sort of "distrust" (Irwin), "slander" (Rowe), or "evils" (Ross) that Aristotle has just said arise in the other forms of philia. So they read the "nothing prevents ... " sentence as summing up the reasons against counting the others as genuine forms of philia. They then read the rest of (B) as saying that we should nevertheless continue to call the others forms of philia.

But it should be clear from (A) that this cannot be the correct reading. For "such things" obviously refers back to "trusting ... and ... never doing injustice ... and whatever else people think worthy of true friendship". Aristotle's point is that even though such things do not always in fact belong to friendships based on pleasure or utility, nothing prevents such things sometimes belonging (even if only accidentally) to such friendships. And his "nothing prevents..." sentence is surely better read as supplying an argument for his ostensible conclusion (i.e., that there are several forms of friendship) than as posing an obstacle to it.

kai\ mo&nh de\ h( tw~n a)gaqw~n fili/a a)dia&blhto&j e0stin: ou) ga_r r(a|&dion ou)deni\ pisteu~sai peri\tou~ e0n pollw|~ xro&nw| u(f' au(tou~ dedokimasme/nou: kai\ to_ pisteu&ein e0n tou&toij, kai\ to_ mhde/pot' a2n a)dikh~sai, kai\ o3sa a1lla e0n th|~ w(j a)lhqw~j fili/a| a)ciou~tai. e0n de\ tai=j e9te/raij ou)de\n kwlu&ei ta_ toiau~ta gi/nesqai. e0pei\ ga_r oi9 a1nqrwpoi le/gousi fi/louj kai\ tou_j dia_ to_ xrh&simon, w3sper ai9 po&leij (dokou~si ga_r ai9 summaxi/ai tai=j po&lesi gi/nesqai e3neka tou~ sumfe/rontoj), kai\ tou_j di' h(donh_n a)llh&louj ste/rgontaj, w3sper oi9 pai=dej, i1swj le/gein me\n dei= kai\ h(ma~j fi/louj tou_jtoiou&touj, ei1dh de\ th~j fili/aj plei/w, kai\ prw&twj me\n kai\ kuri/wj th_n tw~n a)gaqw~n h|{ a)gaqoi/, ta_j de\ loipa_j kaq' o(moio&thta: