27 February 2008

Comparison of Translations

Today, a comparison of Rowe's translation with another recent one, that of C.C.W. Taylor in his Clarendon Aristotle volume. I add also the revised Ross translation as a baseline for the comparison.

I'm thinking that tomorrow I'll comment on these sections one-by-one, maybe starting only with the first. For today I add some notes for you to consider, not comprehensive at all, but 'starters' I hope.

[Corrigendum, March1: The discussion has so far been carried out in Diminishing Fleas.]

τὸ δ' ὄνομα τῆς ἀκολασίας καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς παιδικὰς ἁμαρτίας φέρομεν· ἔχουσι γάρ τινα ὁμοιότητα. πότερον δ' ἀπὸ ποτέρου καλεῖται, οὐθὲν πρὸς τὰ νῦν διαφέρει, δῆλον δ' ὅτι τὸ ὕστερον ἀπὸ τοῦ προτέρου.

(Rowe) The term 'indulgence' is one we also apply to the ways children go wrong, for these have a certain resemblance to self-indulgence. Which is called after which makes no difference for present purposes, but clearly the later is called after the earlier.

(Taylor) Now we also apply the term akolasia to the naughtinesses of children, as they have a certain resemblance. It makes no difference for the present purpose which is called after the other, but it is clear that the posterior is called after the prior.

(Ross/Urmson) The name self-indulgence is applied also to childish faults; for they bear a certain resemblance to what we have been considering. Which is called after which, makes no difference to our present purpose; plainly, however, the later is called after the earlier.

1. There's a difficulty in finding a pair of English words which (i) match the opposition between akolasia and kekolosmenos (roughly, ‘undisciplined’ vs. ‘disciplined’); and (ii) which can be applied both to a child and to an adult with a bad trait. (If you pick ‘self-indulgence’ for akolasia, you have to use a different word, ‘indulged’, for the child.)

2. Do you think that Aristotle is making up his mind here about which is called after which? If so, should the translation bring that out?

οὐ κακῶς δ' ἔοικε μετενηνέχθαι· κεκολάσθαι γὰρ δεῖ τὸ τῶν αἰσχρῶν ὀρεγόμενον καὶ πολλὴν αὔξησιν ἔχον, τοιοῦτον δὲ μάλιστα ἡ ἐπιθυμία καὶ ὁ παῖς· κατ' ἐπιθυμίαν γὰρ ζῶσι καὶ τὰ παιδία, καὶ μάλιστα ἐν τούτοις ἡ τοῦ ἡδέος ὄρεξις. εἰ οὖν μὴ ἔσται εὐπειθὲς καὶ ὑπὸ τὸ ἄρχον, ἐπὶ πολὺ ἥξει·

(Rowe) Nor does the transfer of usage seem inappropriate; for least to be indulged is the part of us that not only desires shameful things but can become big, and this characteristic belongs to appetite, and to the child, above all--since children too live according to appetite, and the desire for the pleasant is strongest in them. If, then, whatever desires shameful things is not ready to obey and under the control of the ruling element, it will grow and grow, ...

(Taylor) The transferred application seems not a bad one; for something which has an appetite for shameful things and a capacity for considerable growth requires to be disciplined, and bodily desire on the one hand and children on the other seem particularly to be things of that kind. Children live in accordance with bodily desire, and the appetite for pleasure is particularly strong in them; so if it is not made submissive and subject to some control, it will grow to a large extent.

(Ross/Urmson) The transferrence of the name seems not a bad one; for that which desires what is base and which develops quickly ought to be kept in a chastened condition, and these characteristics belong above all to appetite and to the child, since children in fact live at the beck and call of appetite, and it is in them that the desire for what is pleasant is strongest. If, then, it is not going to be obedient and subject to the ruling principle, it will go to great lengths; ...

1. Note the difficulty in rendering epithumia. ‘Appetite’ is misleading (in English it refers usually to hunger only). ‘Bodily desire’ is strange and, besides, doesn’t match what Aristotle means to be talking about (he had said earlier that the virtue and vice deal with only a subclass of somatikai epithumiai, viz. those involving touch and, indirectly, taste).

ἄπληστος γὰρ ἡ τοῦ ἡδέος ὄρεξις καὶ πανταχόθεν τῷ ἀνοήτῳ, καὶ ἡ τῆς ἐπιθυμίας ἐνέργεια αὔξει τὸ συγγενές, κἂν μεγάλαι καὶ σφοδραὶ ὦσι, καὶ τὸν λογισμὸν ἐκκρούουσιν.

(Rowe) ... for the desire for the pleasant is insatiable and indiscriminate, in a mindless person, and the activity of his appetite augments his congenital tendency; and if his appetites are strong and vigorous, they knock out his capacity for rational calculation as well.

(Taylor) The appetite for pleasure is insatiable and attacks the thoughtless person from all sides, and the actual occurrence of bodily desires increases that aspect of our nature, especially if they are strong and intense, and if they drive out rational thought.

(Ross/Urmson) ... for in an irrational being the desire for pleasure is insatiable and tries every source of gratification, and the exercise of appetite increases its innate force, and if appetites are strong and violent they even expel the power of calculation.
1. It seems that some distinction between epithumia and orexis needs to be preserved in the translation; it's at least a relation as between specific and more general. The alternatives above are: appetite/desire; and bodily desire/appetite. But neither seems satisfactory.

2. What exactly is Aristotle's thought here? Are you happy with these ways of rendering τῷ ἀνοήτῳ?
διὸ δεῖ μετρίας εἶναι αὐτὰς καὶ ὀλίγας, καὶ τῷ λόγῳ μηθὲν ἐναντιοῦσθαι – τὸ δὲ τοιοῦτον εὐπειθὲς λέγομεν καὶ κεκολασμένον – ὥσπερ δὲ τὸν παῖδα δεῖ κατὰ τὸ πρόσταγμα τοῦ παιδαγωγοῦ ζῆν, οὕτω καὶ τὸ ἐπιθυμητικὸν κατὰ τὸν λόγον.

(Rowe) This is why they should be moderate and few, and offer no opposition to rational prescription (which is the sort of thing we mean by 'ready to obey' and 'not indulged'); for [a note says: 'Reading σπερ γρ τν παδα '] just as a child should conduct himself in accordance with what the slave in charge of him tells him to do, so too the appetitive in us should conduct itself in accordance with what reason prescribes.

(Taylor) So they ought to be moderate and few, and ought not to oppose reason in any way--we call something like that submissive and disciplined. Just as the child ought to live in accordance with the instructions of its tutor, so the desiderative part ought to be in accordance with reason.

(Ross/Urmson) Hence they should be moderate and few, and should in no way oppose reason--and this is what we call an obedient and chastened state--and as the child should live according to the direction of his tutor, so the appetitive element should live according to reason.
1. Now how does Rowe's opting for gar seem? What's the structure of the argument?

2. Tutors don't direct childrens' lives now -- I think 'guardian' is best. But what weight should be given to the thing said by way of direction, and how much to the person giving the direction? Rowe wishes to emphasize the former, Ross the latter.
διὸ δεῖ τοῦ σώφρονος τὸ ἐπιθυμητικὸν συμφωνεῖν τῷ λόγῳ· σκοπὸς γὰρ ἀμφοῖν τὸ καλόν, καὶ ἐπιθυμεῖ ὁ σώφρων ὧν δεῖ καὶ ὡς δεῖ καὶ ὅτε· οὕτω δὲ τάττει καὶ ὁ λόγος.

(Rowe) Hence in the moderate person the appetitive should be in harmony with reason; for the fine is goal for both, and the moderate person has appetite for the things one should, in the way one should, and when--which is what the rational prescription also lays down. Let this, then, be our account of moderation.

(Taylor) That is why the desiderative part of the temperate person ought to be in agreement with his reason; for the goal of both is the fine, and the temperate person desires the things he should and as he should and when; and that is what reason prescribes for its part.

(Ross/Urmson) Hence the appetitive element in a temperate man should harmonize with reason; for the noble is the mark at which both aim, and the temperate man craves for the things he ought, as he ought, and when he ought; and this is what reason does.
1. By to epithumetikon does Aristotle mean what might be called a faculty? (Strangely, Rowe's phrase, 'the appetite', suggests this even more than Ross' 'appetitive element'.) But the correspondence with epithumia is obscured in Taylor (clearly bodily desiderative part won't do.)
2. Is it that the epithumetikon needs to agree with reason, or does Aristotle implicitly mean a reciprocal relationship, and reason needs to agree with the epithumetikon as well (i.e. they 'are in agreement with each other')?
3. Is there no way of putting to kalon into ordinary and natural English?
4. Why 'craving' now in Ross/Urmson?


senn said...

Here is my shot at translating the text. I've tried to be fairly literal. I don't know whether it's necessarily best, in translating philosophical text, always or generally to strive for "ordinary English". Sometimes when something's put in ordinary English, it can obscure or make impotent some important and novel way the original author had of expressing a point. Brackets indicate what is arguably not literally in the very words of the text, but what may reasonably be inferred. I have departed from the usual way of rendering logos as "reason"; "reason" can suggest that Aristotle means the faculty of reason, which sometimes he may, but more often he means rather the product of reasoning or reckoning or some bit of reasoning or reckoning. Logos is of course often personified, as it had often been since Heraclitus. (My view about logos is thanks to James Adam and John Burnet, though "Logic" is specifically my choice.) I think "appetite" is perfectly appropriate for Aristotle's epithumia; surely it often refers to hunger, but its connotations are surely more general; see http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/appetite

{1119a33} The word "unrestrained" we apply also to the errings of children; for they have {1119b1} some similarity [to adult errings]. (Now which is named after which makes no difference regarding the things now [at hand]; but it's clear that the later [is named] after the earlier.) And [the word] seems not to have been badly transferred [to the case of adults]; for what longs for the shameful things and can increase much needs to be restrained, {1119b5} and the appetite and the child are most [of all] of that sort. For children too live according to appetite, and in them most [of all] is the longing for what's pleasant. If, therefore, [a child or appetite] is not obedient—and [not obedient] to the ruling [entity]—then it will go too far; for, in the one who lacks understanding, the longing for what's pleasant is unfulfillable—unfulfillable even [if filled] from every [source]; and the actualization of the appetite increases what is inborn, {1119b10} and if [the appetites] are great and vehement, they will drive out even reasoning. Wherefore they need to be measured and few and in no way contrary to Logic—and the [condition] of that sort we say is "obedient" and "restrained". And just as the child needs to live according to the order of the supervisor, so too the appetitive [aspect needs to live] according to {1119b15} Logic. Wherefore the appetitive [aspect] of the moderate person needs to be consonant with Logic; for what's admirable [i.e., the admirable action] is [the] target for both [the appetitive aspect and Logic], and the moderate person has an appetite for the needed things, and in the needed way, and when [it's needed]; and that's the way Logic orders too. Let those things, then, be said, for our part, concerning moderation.

Michael Pakaluk said...

I can't agree with your idea that a translation into English needn't be English.

But otherwise, some thoughts:
(1)"Unrestrained" is an adjective, the word for akolasia is a noun.
(2) Surely "the errings of children" makes no sense in English.
(3) "they" (for you also) ends up being ambiguous--the children or the errings?
(4) Presumably ἐπὶ πολὺ ἥξει is explained by the subsequent gar clause, but your "it will go too far" doesn't seem to capture Aristotle's worry.
(5) "in the one who lacks understanding" seems strange to me, since what's at issue is, rather, that the person lacks discipline;
(6)"unfulfillable even [if filled] from every [source]"--that seems a big stretch;
(7) I like your recognition of emphasis in "they will drive out even reasoning". It's not "even expel", as in Ross/Urmson.
(8) Why "the [condition] of that sort" when it τὸ τῶν αἰσχρῶν ὀρεγόμενον looks like the antecedent?
(9)"according to Logic" and "consonstant with Logic"--I myself can't find an interpretation for these phrases which makes sense.
(10) Whatever formulation one uses for ὧν δεῖ καὶ ὡς δεῖ καὶ ὅτε has to make sense for the other virtues also, because the formula recurs, and, although it's not completely unreasonable to say that a virtuous person desires bodily pleasure only insofar as such pleasure is necessary, it isn't very reasonable to say (e.g.) that a brave person fears "the things needed", etc.

senn said...

My idea is not that an English translation needn't be English, but rather that an English translation of ancient philosophical text needn't always or generally be ordinary English.

I have responses to some of your numbered comments:
(1) You're right of course. I should have put "lack of restraint", not "unrestrained".
(2) Surely it goes too far to say "errings of children" makes no sense? Try googling the phrase "errings of"; it's not used frequently, but English writers seem to find sense in it.
(3) Perhaps I could have put "childlike errings" to free the next clause of the ambiguity.
(5) You're right that Aristotle's own view is that the presence of understanding isn't by itself sufficient for virtue. But surely he believes its absence is sufficient for vice?
(8) I think you have a point here; it should rather be "what is of that sort".
(9) Maybe you are thinking of the technical meaning of "logic" often used by modern philosophers, rather than how it's often used in ordinary English, i.e. to mean rational thinking.
(10) Maybe. But it may well be reasonable to say (e.g.) that a brave person fears "the things one needs to fear".

Thanks for the helpful feedback, Michael. It'll be interesting to see your translation.

senn said...

Michael, you were right about your comment #6 too: I should now rather translate: "...the longing for what's pleasant is unfulfillable and [reaches out] for [absolutely] every [pleasant thing]..." (cf. Eudemian Ethics circa 1221a20).

Anonymous said...

This is a really interesting discussion. I'll have a crack at the passage. I like Michael's challenge of finding some way of putting it into more or less normal English, which I agree is the only way of translating accurately. First, here's my overview of what Aristotle is saying. Above all he's suggesting an analogy between badly behaved children and the badly behaved desires of adults who are akolastoi. IN detail, he's saying:

(1) Unruly people (akolastoi) have desires that aren’t under any control; their desires are like little children who aren’t under control, and who are in need of being disciplined (kekolasmenon). That’s why we also talk about ‘unruly’ children, and that may explain the term akolasia. It perhaps literally means ‘state of not being disciplined’ which in adults refers to their desires, in children to the children themselves.
(2) It can be said of both desires and children that “they want shameful things and tend to grow rapidly”.
(3) Children live purely by desire; they are raw desire in action. Thus they are a kind of embodiment of the adult faculty of desire.
(4) Both desire and children have to do as their told and be under a ruling element (reason in one case, parents in the other).
(5) Children lack sense. That’s why their desires (unless controlled by parents) run amok. But the faculty of desire likewise, in itself by definition lacks sense; so unless it is controlled by some other faculty, it too will run amok in much the same way. Thus anoeton (‘a thing lacking sense’) is referring to both child and faculty of desire. It does not mean ‘in a mindless man’.
(6) If a man exercises his desire a lot, his desire will grow, rather as a child grows, and become larger — even to the point of overpowering reason (as an uncontrolled child might grow so large as to overpower his parents).
(7) Conversely, desire in agreement with reason is like an obedient, disciplined child.
(8) The child follows instructions of adults; in a moderate man desire follows the instruction of reason.

OK, so here's a first draft of a version:

We also use the term “unruliness” of bad behavior in little children, because that’s a somewhat similar thing. It doesn’t matter for our purposes which use of the term comes from which, although it’s clear that we the later one comes from the earlier one. And the transfer of the term seems to makes good sense, because what’s [“unruly,” i.e.,] in need of discipline [in both cases] is something that (a) wants shameful things and (b) tends to grow rapidly. That very nicely describes both desire and a child. (Children live by their desires, and wanting pleasure is a typically childish thing.) So [in either case] unless it does as it’s told and is under the ruling element it will run amok, because desire for pleasure, in a thing without sense, is insatiable and is set off by anything. Also, the exercising of desire [in adults] will cause its connate [faculty] to grow, and when desires are big and extreme they even knock out deliberation. So a man should have only a few, measured desires, and they mustn’t go against reason in any way at all (which is just what it means for something to be obedient and disciplined) and just as a child has to live by the instructions of its minder, desire has to follow reason. That’s why we say that in a moderate man desire has to ‘be in harmony’ with reason: his desire and reason both aim at what’s honorable. A moderate man desires what he should, the way he should, when he should, just as reason also instructs him to do.


Michael Pakaluk said...


Once again (if you are Adam Beresford) you’ve won my admiration with something exceedingly apt and elegant.

By the way, I like very much the way you first determine Aristotle’s thought, and then translate so as to express the thought clearly. When one proceeds in that way, I find, then what might look like an unjustifiable liberty if one were beginning with the form of the Greek words only, instead looks to be entirely suitable and an appropriate analogue in English, for instance your “is a typically childish thing” or “which is just what it means for something to be”. Yes, those phrases are good guesses at how we would say pretty much the same thing.

Some remarks:
b3-4, Perhaps “Discipline is needed for anything that (a) wants shameful things” etc. is just as natural in English and requires no brackets.
b4-5, “That very nicely describes” – I like this; no reason why toiouton can’t be schematic and, as it were, asking us to fill in the blank with the description just given.
b5-6, Your taking this to be a parenthetical remark is entirely convincing.
b7, I wonder if brackets are even needed here, since I think your ‘in either case’ captures the function of oun. It’s not drawing an inference, so much as resuming a point. Also, ‘does as it’s told’ is brilliant for eupeithes, but can you improve upon ‘under the ruling element’?
b8-10, I would parse this differently from you. As I understand it, Aristotle is giving four distinct reasons why sense-desire tends to grow, in both child and ‘unruly’ adult, and these are:
(i) it’s unsatiable;
(ii) it’s set off by anything (in something directionless and itself 'unguided', anoeton);
(iii) it’s subject to an overflow principle, viz. the stimulation or excitement of one desire activates those associated with it;
(iv) when it gets strong enough, it pushes aside supervision coming from the rational principle, which might otherwise work to dampen it.
b16, perhaps ‘take aim at’ for skopos even more than simply ‘aim at’.

senn said...

Adam's translation is certainly readable (except perhaps for "connate faculty"). Perhaps deceptively so: I'm a bit troubled that it doesn't distinguish between epithumia (b9 & twice at b5) and epithumētikon (b14, 15). We are evidently to take these as synonymous.

And just as Adam's translation makes no distinction in cases where Aristotle does, so too it makes distinctions where Aristotle makes none; consider:
(i) akolasia = "unruliness", but kekolasthai = "discipline" and kekolasmenon = "disciplined".
(ii) estai eupeithes = "does as it's told", but eupeithes (b12) = "obedient".
(iii) kat' epithumian = "by desire" and kata to prostagma = "by the instructions", but kata ton logon (b14-15) = "follow reason".
(iv) dei (b3) = "is in need of", but dei (b11 and b17) = "should" and dei (b13 & b15) = "has to".

Such variations may make for easier and/or more colorful reading, but it can obscure what's really going on in the text, unless one is able and ready to compare the original. I suppose many readers of this blog are able and ready; but, then, why bother translating at all?

Michael Pakaluk said...

Dear Senn,

I puzzle over what a translation is for. I suppose there are different uses. One kind of translation is the analogue of what is known as a 'study Bible' and, although it aims to be English, it is not natural or ordinary English, because it wishes to incorporate a kind of 'code' for figuring out the original language given the English.

Another kind of translation gives up on trying to provide such a code, and the translator renders different words similarly or similar words differently when, he thinks, the sense requires it. In such cases the reader's relying on the judgment of the translator implies a trade-off: the reader is not in a position to appeal (via any code) to the Greek to second-guess the translator's constructions, yet the reader potentially gains much greater clarity about the meaning expressed in the text.

I think it's fair to say that your translation was more of the first kind and Adam's of the second.

Someone might say that the first kind is to be favored over the second, because starting from the first kind of translation the reader is in principle capable of arriving at any understanding of the meaning which would be expressed in a translation of the second kind.

But I think that this is in practice difficult for a reader to do or perhaps even impossible, since often the greater 'literalness' of the first kind of translation inadvertently misleads the reader or closes off paths of interpretation that would need to be taken to find the right meaning.

Also, the first kind of translation almost arbitrarily places restrictions on the extent to which the translator's insight into Aristotle's intentions (acquired on may presume by much training and effort) can inform the translation.

So my own (tentative) view is that in the end no translation can substitute for familiarity with the original language, and that, given that that is so, it's best for translators to aim to express the meaning exactly in natural English, and then anyone who wishes to second-guess should regard himself as obliged to learn enough of the original language so as to be in a position to do so.

As regards your particular comments:
(i) This is a genuine problem. But do we want the rendering of this passage to dictate how akolasia is elsewhere rendered? Perhaps 'undisciplined' or 'unrestrained' would do. The truth is that we seem to have no English word that does the service of akolasia.
(ii) maybe 'well-behaved' then for both occurrences?
(iii) I'm not bothered by the first variation you signal, because I don't think Aristotle is intending the expressions to be parallel, but someone might agree that 'follow reason' goes too far.
(iv) Likewise I'm not troubled by this variation, because I think dei has all the shades of meaning represented by those different English terms (and more), and Adam's judgment about how it varies seems basically right.

If we understand your comments and mine as friendly, I wonder how Adam would wish to reply to them.

Anonymous said...

Dear Senn & Michael,

Thanks for your very kind remarks on my version, Michael, and for your very thoughtful criticisms, Senn. I’m in agreement with Michael in his broader claims about translation, I think, and he pretty much said what I might have said — or more — in reply to most of Senn’s points, as well as his general worry. I’d like to say that I’m a pluralist on this issue. I believe that there are many contexts where the first kind of translation Michael describes (and like Senn’s version of the passage) is extremely valuable and useful. There can be strong pedagogical reasons, for example, for needing a version in that style. But I think that’s a separate issue from the question of which method gets us to something more accurate. We don’t always want an accurate translation, just as we don’t always want a translation.

I was surprised by Senn’s comment that a translation in normal English runs the risk of only being usable by people who already have an advanced knowledge of Greek (which would defeat the purpose of it). I think that’s a really good worry to have, but I think Senn’s got the argument backwards. The whole point of a translation in normal English is that you don’t need to be familiar with Greek to make sense of it. The other style of translation, by contrast, precisely does call upon the reader to grapple with Greek vocabulary, Greek idioms and non-standard (because Greek) syntax. So you have to be very familiar with Greek to make sense of them.

It’s true that a plain-English version will inevitably hide “things that are going on in the text” — but what things? Details of Greek vocabulary, idiom, and grammar, for sure. But a version that mimics those details and ends up being really hard to understand (as it will) will frequently conceal what it means. Isn’t the meaning also something that’s “going on in the text”? If we retain details of the Greek language, but lose the meaning of the thing, aren't we keeping the bath water and throwing out the baby?

Also, even if the reader wants to check on the details with a version like mine (i.e., find out whether Aristotle used word A or word B), then contrary to Senn’s worry, that really doesn’t require much linguistic knowledge, and can be done very easily by complete novices. You just have to know the Greek alphabet and have the text to hand. But a version that actually imports Greek vocabulary or idiom requires you to know how to make sense of them — i.e., to actually learn a lot of Greek — before you can read the translation.

So I agree with Senn strongly on that point but it seems to me to cut both ways, and much more the other way.

On a different note: I think Senn’s version — which I like very much — is much more colorful than mine.

That’s only a trivial point, but a more serious one is this: we should dispense with the idea that readability is merely an aesthetic feature of a translation. Frankly, I have no direct interest in the aesthetic qualities of a translation of Aristotle, whatsoever. A passage of English is readable simply if it is clear. That’s really all we mean by ‘readable’. And it’s hard to read if it is not clear. Again, that’s all we mean. Now, if you want to convey the meaning of the original accurately, you have to start by conveying some meaning or other clearly. If you aren’t conveying any meaning clearly, then a fortiori you certainly aren’t conveying the meaning accurately. It follows that any accurate translation must be readable (i.e., clear) and that no translation that is unclear (i.e., not readable) has any chance of being accurate — unless of course the original conveys no clear meaning in exactly the same way as your translation; but I don’t think the latter condition ever holds for Aristotle.

Leaving these broader issues to one side, here are a few details regarding our actual passage:

(1) I am still very puzzled by to suggenes in b10. What does it refer to? (Senn’s right to pick me up on “connate faculty” which is very poor.) I assumed that it referred only to the faculty of desire, which is the faculty that is “kin” with desire. But does it also refer to some aspect of the child? Aristotle seems to have a slight problem here. He’s clearly saying that if you exercise desire a lot, then that part of you will grow — your desires will get bigger and bigger. But the child analogy breaks down there. A child doesn’t grow if exercised or grow more quickly if exercised. How can a child be exercised? Children just grow anyway. He might mean children’s desires grow. But the analogy was between adult desires and children, not adult desires and children’s desires.
(2) The reason I said “follows reason” for kata logon is this. Aristotle has just aid that children live according to the instruction of minders. But he can’t mean that desires live according to reason. He is too careful to claim that desires live. So he must have some other verb (or none in particular) in mind at that point: desires have to be exercised according to reason. In the other versions, we find “live”, “conduct themselves” and “be”, but I didn’t want to fill that verb in, because Aristotle doesn’t, because he isn’t sure what to say there. So I just ducked the problem and said “follow reason” which I thought was basically right.
(3) Senn’s point about epithumia, epithumetikon is a good one, but I did have Michael’s defense in mind. The English word “desire” can refer to a desire, and to the feeling, desire, and to the faculty desire. Strictly, I did not translate the two Greek terms the same way; rather, I was using one sense of desire for one term, and another sense for the other. That seems to me OK.

Adam (yes, Beresford)

Anonymous said...

I wonder whether Adam's view on clarity in translation can account for actual ambiguities in the original language? What should a translator do with these? Try to resolve the ambiguity and produce a translation clearer than the original? Or strive to capture the same ambiguity in the translation that one finds in the original?

[I also doubt whether clarity fails to be an aesthetic quality of writing, but I take your general point.]

My final worry is this: philosophical language is just never 'ordinary' language; philosophers notoriously strive for a precision that exceeds ordinary language, and so regularly invent new words, use them in special ways, and so on. Insisting on keeping translation in 'ordinary' language when something more awkward will be more precise seems like a bad idea. And I think 'kalon' provides a good example -- there just is no English word I can think of that people ordinarily use to mean what Aristotle and Plato seem to mean by 'kalon.' Or is there?

Michael Pakaluk said...

By 'actual ambiguities in the original language', do you mean (i) a deliberate ambiguity; (ii) an expression which was intended to have a definite sense, and which in the context did; or (iii)an expression which was intended to have a definite sense, but which even in its original context perhaps failed to have a definite sense, because of imperfect expression; or something else?

The first two are uncontroversial:

(i) A deliberate ambiguity, and also a multiple definite meaning, should be preserved if possible, in prose as in verse, although this is very rare in Aristotle.

Also, it seems:

(ii) A translator should take his best shot at guessing the sense of an expression which (it seems) was meant to have a single definite meaning, and did have it.

It's (iii) that gives problems and leads to a rephrasing of your question: "Should a translator perfect the expression and produce a translation less open to mis-interpretation (of what the author meant to express) than the original? Or strive to capture the same imperfection of expression that one finds in the original?" And I think we do need to speak of 'mis-interpretation' here, not simply 'variety of interpretation', because we are presuming that the author did mean to express a single definite sense.

I think cases of (iii) are also very rare; most which seem to be (iii) are actually (ii).

But for those few cases, why wouldn't Adam's principle of pluralism hold -- a translation might go as a policy one direction or the other?

As regards ordinary language -- I agree with you that there's no in principle no difficulty in rendering a technical expression by an artificial equivalent in English (even Austin chose 'equinumerous' for gleichzahlig).

Still there are problems. If we coin a new technical term, it is so far unintelligible; if we use an ordinary term as a technical term, we risk fostering mistunderstanding; and if we use an appropriate technical term used also technically by other philosophers, we risk introducing perhaps alien conceptual structure (e.g. rendering to epithumetikon as 'concupiscible faculty').

senn said...

The proper way to treat ambiguities of type (ii) is far from "uncontroversial". The problem with a translator making an educated guess as to which sense of an expression was meant is just what Michael recognized above (01 March): that "the reader is not in a position to appeal...to the Greek to second-guess the translator's constructions". If instead the translator resists educated guesses at the meaning of ambiguous2 expressions and (in the words of 06 March Anon) "strive[s] to capture the same ambiguity in the translation that one finds in the original", then the Greekless reader is in a position to interpret the text for her/himself and form insights unanticipated by the translator. This mode of translating can (and has been) done without the use of "codes"; often there is an English expression that has the same, or practically the same, range of meanings as the Greek expression. It may sometimes result in translations that are aesthetically unpleasing and even in translations that are somewhat more challenging to read than everyday English texts. But, as a serious student, one cannot and should not expect the translator to do one's work for one, or to make the text seems easier to understand than it really is. Whatever one thinks of Allan Bloom, he had some sound (if not uncontroversial) advice for translators: "The translator should conceive of himself as a medium between a master whose depths he has not plumbed and an audience of potential students of that master who may be much better endowed than is the translator. His greatest vice is to believe he has adequately grasped the teaching of his author" (preface to Bloom's 1968 translation of Plato's Republic). I think that the method Michael favors, much more than Bloom's, "closes off paths of interpretation that would need to be taken to find the right meaning".