Monday, August 8, 2016

Translation Comparison as Pedagogy

For the first day of my Classical Indian Philosophy of Language class, I am introducing the students to the challenges and rewards of reading Indian philosophy in translation. One of these challenges is that students often worry that the translation they have is an obstacle to the "true" text.

We're going to take this challenge head-on by looking at four English translations of Nyāyasūtra 1.1.1. Two of these translations are by the same person, which is intentional--I want them to consider why a translator might make different choices at different times and contexts. I thought it would be fun to post the versions here, just to see how they vary. Below I've also provided the Sanskrit text, though I don't for students.


Sanskritpramāṇaprameyasaṃśayaprayojanadṛṣṭāntasiddhāntāvayavatarkanirṇayavādajalpavitaṇḍāhetvābhāsacchalajātinigrahasthānānāṃ tattvajñānānniḥśreyasādhigamaḥ. 
Translation 1It is the knowledge of the real essence (or true character) of the following sixteen categories that leads to the attainment of the highest good: (1) the means of right cognition; (2) the objects of right cognition (3) doubt; (4) motive; (5) example; (6) theory; (7) factors of inference; (8) hypothetical reasoning; (9) demonstrated truth; (10) discussion; (11) disputation; (12) wrangling; (13) fallacious reason; (14) perversion; (15) casuistry; and (16) clinchers. 
Translation 2The highest goal in life is reached through knowledge about the nature of
[a] knowables, methods of knowing;
[b] doubt, purpose, public examples, settled opinions, the parts of a demonstration, suppositional reasoning, final decision;
[c] truth-directed debate, victory-directed debate, destructive debate, sophistical rejoinders, tricks, checks, defeat situations. 
Translation 3The highest good is reached through an understanding of the true nature of [the distinctions between] honest, dishonest and destructive debate, of false reasoning, tricks and checks in debate, of [the pattern of sound investigation, whose components are] doubt, purpose, examples, assumed principles, syllogisms, suppositional reasoning and decision, and [initially] of the ways of gaining knowledge and the knowables. 
Translation 4Supreme felicity is attained by the knowledge about the true nature of the sixteen categories, viz., right means of knowledge, object of right knowledge, doubt, purpose, familiar instance, established tenet, members, confutation, ascertainment, discussion, wrangling, cavil, fallacy, quibble, futility, and occasion for rebuke.
Translation 1:  Jha, Ganganatha, transl. The Nyāya-sūtras of Gautama with the Bhāṣya of Vātsyāyana and the Vārtika of Uddyotakara. Vol 1. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1984, p37.
Translation 2: Jonardon Ganeri, Identity as Reasoned Choice: A South Asian Perspective on the Reach and Resources of Public and Practical Reason in Shaping Individual Identities, New York: Continuum, 2012, p27.
Translation 3: Jonardon Ganeri, The Lost Age of Reason: Philosophy in Early Modern India 1450-1700, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, p122.
Translation 4: Madan Mohan Agrawal, Six Systems of Indian Philosophy, The Vrajajivan Indological Studies 8, Varanasi: Chowkhamba Vidyabhawan, 2010 (first reprint), p3.

At a recent APA (December 2015, I think), Stephen Harris at Leiden University gave a talk called "Lost in Translation" where he talked about how to use "uneasy translation" as a teaching opportunity. One of the things he talked about is how having an explicit conversation about the multiple ways terms can be translated can introduce students to philosophical concepts.

For instance, the translation of niḥśreyasa ranges from "highest good" to "highest goal" to "supreme felicity." Students might consider if the first two are definitionally equivalent--must the highest goal in life be a good? Further, what sense of "highest" is going on here? "Supreme" communicates a hierarchy of values, whereas perhaps "highest" is simply "ultimate" in the sense of being the thing at which all aims converge--assuming there is such a convergence. How do these different translational choices raise different questions about the relationship between what follows?

Students can also focus on the ways in which the translators group and number the padârtha-s (I tend to like "topics" rather than "categories" myself, so as not to confuse things with the Vaiśeṣika padârtha-s). Since this structuring of sūtra-s is one of the main tasks of commentators, it is good for them to see that even in translation, one is acting as a commentator in some sense (Ganeri 2012 and Ganeri 2011 reverses the order, Jha numbers each whereas Ganeri 2012 groups them, and Agrawal refrains from any numbers or grouping).