Friday, June 15, 2012

More Aquinas Translations

For Pre-order here:

My question:  Why?

We already have the old Dominican friars translation, the later translation contained in a million volumes with commentary, and Freddoso is publishing a new translation with Hackett. Sure, maybe they aren't facing Latin and English, but big deal: Aquinas' Latin is super easy.


Brandon said...

Well, for one, it is a sign of life; lack of competing translations, and thus the possibility of choice, is a weakness where primary texts are concerned, and a sign that the field in question is either brand new or doesn't have its priorities in order yet. And, frankly, you should be ashamed of yourself as a scholar for denigrating improvements in translation apparatus.

The actual good news here is the combination of ST with several of the Scriptural commentaries; there's a real need for an ST/commentary package governed by shared editorial standards.

Michael Sullivan said...

"a sign that the field in question is either brand new or doesn't have its priorities in order yet"

I suspect Faber's complaint is that the field is certainly not brand new and yet certainly doesn't have its priorities in order yet, when, there being three translations of the Summa already available and no translations at all of a huge number of important works - to name a couple, Bonaventure's commentary on the Sentences (except for the online one in progress), Scotus' Ordinatio, Ockham's, Thomas' own, Henry's Summa (there are snippets available), Godfrey's quodlibets, Henry's Quodlibets, etc etc - scholars are wasting their time on yet another translation of the Summa: a redundant one, and in fact a third redundant one, since the Dominican Fathers one is perfectly adequate for anyone who doesn't know latin. What's needed is not an asymptotically closer approach to the mind of Thomas, but greater access to the riches of medieval theology and philosophy as a whole.

Lee Faber said...

I admit I was briefly tempted by the Latin. But for some reason I thought the giant set of the Summa already as facing latin. Or is it giant because of the commentary?

In any case, I don't think scholars should concern themselves with translations at all, beyond the making of them if they are so inclined. Especially in the case of Aquinas, whose latin is so easy, it is shameful to rely on translations (at least if one claims to be a medieval scholar or Aquinas scholar).

Anonymous said...

If one takes the time to read their website, it is clear that The Aquinas Institute is focusing on publishing the entire works of Aquinas in Latin in well-done, yet not prohibitively expensive editions. It is additionally offering the works in Latin-English, for those who are not as scholarly inclined--and it would indeed be "shameful" to think that Aquinas's works are only meant for "medieval scholars." I think it's pretty clear that neither of these goals of The Aquinas Institute has ever been achieved by any publisher out there, and quite frankly, it seems rather petty to be criticizing one group's efforts to make St. Thomas Aquinas more accessible to others.

Brandon said...

I'm sorry about what's going to sound like a rant, but this is one of my pet peeves when talking to fellow academics. There is no such thing as 'wasting one's time' on a translation, nor is there any such thing as a 'redundant' translation. These are all nonsensical concepts, like saying that yet another paper on a topic is 'redundant' or that it's 'wasting one's time' to look again at a topic people have looked at before, simply because it's not new ground. Either it involves clearly false assumptions about what is beneficial for scholarly purposes, or it involves a denigration of translation as a scholarly practice, which, God knows, is the last thing we need to start going around.

Likewise, not all scholarly use of translation is 'relying on them', since translations are as much scholarly works of interpretation as anything in a journal article, and deserve to be respected as such; and in any case one doesn't do translations only for specialists in the field, and, in fact, while there will be occasions where one needs to focus on specialist needs above other things, it's shortsighted ever to do anything in one's scholarship only for specialists. You guys complain about people's misconceptions about Scotus, but here you are arguing on assumptions that are directly antithetical to the one and only thing that will actually make any dent in that in the long-term: getting more Scotus out there beyond those who are scholars in the field. I'm all for whapping people over the head for simplistic misunderstandings of a figure as important as Scotus, but this starts making you sound as bad as the Palamists, constantly lecturing people on not having read works that they rarely if ever bother to make more accessible.

Translation is a perfectly respectable scholarly practice, and in fact one of the most important since if done properly it is simultaneously research and teaching, and provides the connection between specialists and interested non-specialists. In any thriving field, there will be major new translations every few decades, and a steady stream of smaller translations. This (1) makes it easier for courses to assign texts; (2) makes it easier for interested non-specialists to find something that fits their tastes for whatever reason; and (3) serves as one of the best ways of summing up prior scholarship, trying out interpretive assumptions, and also as canaries in the coal mine for interpretive assumptions that are being made that perhaps shouldn't be. Further, since there are many different possible ways to approach translating a text, a diversity of translations is a sign of intellectual health, since (1) if people are only introduced through a very limited number of translations this increases the danger of locked-in assumptions; and (2) all translations date, yes, even the Dominican Fathers, which is not "perfectly adequate" for any number of uses; and (3) communication with the public is itself a vital activity of scholarship, even when older translations are still perfectly serviceable.

Do we need more Albert, Henry, Scotus, Godrey, Matthew of Aquasparta, etc.? Undeniably. Get me to the point where I can walk into Half Price Books and expect at least semi-regularly to see used translations of Bonaventure or Scotus on the shelf. And keep the Aquinas coming.

Lee Faber said...

Anonymous: Thanks for the clarification. I now approve of the project, for whatever that's worth.

Also, I never said Aquinas was only meant for medieval scholars, or scholars simpliciter. But those who call themselves Aquinas scholars should be reading him in Latin. Philosophers, theologians, educated laymen, perhaps not. But scholars, yes.

Brandon: So you are in favor of re-translating the Summa theologiae every few years? That just seems like a colossal waste of energy to me, though if it keeps someone from writing yet another article on the analogy of being then I might be sympathetic.

So obviously I don't agree with you there. I would say we have reached complete saturation on some topics, such as analogy. Perhaps if 'new shit came to light', it could be justified (such as Hochschilds' recent book on Cajetan: he attacked a popular scholarly error by means of new information. The new information was reading Scotus, which enabled him to recognize that Cajetan wasn't trying to give aquinas' views at all but respond to Scotus and contemporary scotists). Now if it's intended for a popular audience, that's fine, and I don't have a problem with finding different ways of presenting Aquinas or whatever in popular venues. But it does the scholarly world no good to have yet another conference on aquinas and analogy when there are gaping holes in our knowledge (such as the hundreds of unedited texts that languish in mss., or even a single study on the Scotist tradition on analogy).

Actually, I think the most important thing to be done for the long term in terms of scotus is to edit his Parisian works. And eventually someone may translate all of it, but the translation has to be based on a solid text. My co-blogger Michael and I have begun a translation of my Petrus Thomae treatise on the divine ideas, conceived as a general introduction to Scotist ways of thinking. I, at least think of this as a popular project and don't have a scholarly audience in mind at all for it. But perhaps I draw a false dichotomy between the popular and the scholarly.

Brandon said...

Every few decades, yes, sometimes more and sometimes less depending on factors like how widely the translation penetrated, how far the field has advanced, and what the weaknesses of the original translation -- because every translation has weaknesses -- were in the first place. If a work doesn't require re-translation, then that's a clear and definite sign that the field is essentially static, or if it has advanced, that it is not consolidating properly. Significant research will always have an effect on translation; if nothing could use a re-translation, that means any advances have been minor. Further, it's necessary to maintain a continual stream of new editions, for any number of reasons (newer editions are often easier, for a number of reasons, to use in classroom settings, are more likely to come to the attention of scholars outside the field, are more likely to be used by non-scholars), and newer editions can be more easily justified if they present something significantly new, like a new translation. And even if these weren't obviously the case, no translation will satisfy everyone, and reasonable scholars, instead of complaining about the translation, will bring out their own; translation is a natural activity of scholarship, and can no more be stopped, short of strangling research, than breathing. Any field in the history of philosophy that is not regularly translating works is either dead or filled with scholars who are brain-dead; translation is a sign of life, and lack of translation is a sign that the field is unable to do even the most basic work of introducing others to its most recent ideas, and is in danger of collapsing in on itself. And, as I noted before, competing translations are healthier than monopolistic ones.

Honestly, I am constantly defending people like you from people who make exactly the same absurd arguments you are giving here. Why do we need to waste so much time on obscure medieval figures, when we obviously need more work on Leibniz or Regis? What good does it do "the scholarly world"? I could a case that would seem much stronger to many, many more scholars, to take all your resources away so as to get an adequate grip on Leibniz, than you can here. It would be a tragedy, but, hey, you're 'wasting' resources that could be put to things that a lot of other scholars would find a lot more interesting. And, it doesn't take any deep look at the history of academic philosophy to realize that this sort of thinking has precisely been a weight around the neck of good medieval scholarship for long periods of time in the modern university.

But the answer, of course, is that this is just what the scholarly world is. Any conception of a 'scholarly world' that doesn't recognize it as precisely this interplay of archival research, textual analysis, interpretation, and translation according to research interests is making up something that doesn't exist. The scholarly world is not a planned economy; it's not even coherent to think of it as if it were. It is minds following their interests and acting accordingly.

Brandon said...

Actually, I think the most important thing to be done for the long term in terms of scotus is to edit his Parisian works. And eventually someone may translate all of it, but the translation has to be based on a solid text.

Also, on this point, while the first sentence is entirely true, I think Wolter himself has already shown that this second sentence is not quite right: there is a clear and profound need for transitional translations, and his transitional translations are the single most important factor guaranteeing the health of future Scotus scholarship, because whatever corrections they may eventually need, they have shown a great many people that Scotus is at least relevant to topics that interest them, increasing the chances of a steady stream of Scotus scholars, the respect for Scotus among non-Scotus scholars, and (at least slightly) the likelihood that non-scholars will have some better reference point for talking about Scotus (which they will) than what little they can find about him in the much more popular Thomistic works.

I'm not a medieval scholar of any form; I can read Aquinas -- I learned long ago how to do that not through any courses but by comparing Aquinas's Latin with different translations and then refining that -- and I can even manage Scotus for short stretches on a good day, but I don't have the time to devote to doing everything from scratch. The Thomists give me something to work with. I read every single new translation of Aquinas that comes out; when this new one comes out, I will at some point read it cover to cover, just to see if it sheds any new light on difficult passages, or has found a better of way of expressing some difficult-to-translate passage. Or, equally important to me, something more useful than the Dominican Fathers translation that I can give my intro courses. Even if it doesn't, the mere possibility of a fresh reading is exciting. And Lord have mercy, do you know how excited I would be at the prospect of a completely new translation of the De primo principio, just to see it from someone's different perspective and to be able to compare it with Wolter's?

Again, I apologize if any of this sounds rant-like. Both of you have my utmost respect. But I think your reasoning here shows that something has very much gone wrong.

DrDoctorDr said...

First, I'm not sure that this edition is indeed a new translation.

Second, from the preview PDF's, I see no translator or editor names.

This could be nothing more than a re-print of existing public-domain texts or previous translations under license.

For the simple fact that it promises to be a Latin-English edition in an affordable and durable format, I would buy it, even if it was a reprint and lacked all critical apparatus. If I needed that, the Leonine is online anyway.

I would find it useful to assign to my undergraduate students, and even lead them a bit into the Latin on the other column, without having to resort to printouts as I do now.

Eric said...

I'm with Brandon: more translations are always a good thing. I'm not convinced that simply repackaging old translations are helpful, though, unless the text in question is out-of-print, or poorly typeset, etc.

And on that note, there's already an affordable facing Latin/English edition of the Summa (well, the first 60% of it, at least, with the rest forthcoming) available with the Dominican Father's translation:

Prima Pars, qq. 1-64:

Prima Pars, qq. 65-119:

Prima Secunda, qq. 1-70:

Prima Secunda, qq. 71-114:

Secunda Secundae, qq. 1-56: