First, all translation is an interpretation. Translating complex philosophical texts is much, much harder than figuring out ‘gavagai.’ This is so, even if you have written the text yourself and are fluent in both languages. You should try translating some time; even if you are not a meaning holist, you’ll discover that a lot of philosophical jargon is not stable and uniform across cultural and temporal contexts. (Surprisingly enough, this is even true of works in the history of physics.) So, leaving aside honest mistakes, all translations involve non-trivial judgments and trade-offs with a complex interplay among style, content, jargon, sentence structure, and even argumentative structure (this list is not exhaustive).
In earlymoderntexts.org, Jonathan Bennett, who is one of the greatest historians of philosophy of his generation and who should be praised for his dedication to the field and pedagogy, is refreshingly forthright that in his translations the aim is to make “the original thought more accessible than it is on the original page.” He uses many more ‘tricks of the trade’* than any other translator known to me to achieve this and he is refreshingly and admirably transparent about how he deploys them.
Schliesser on the Use of Earlymoderntexts.org
August 15, 2014 by Lewis Powell