03.05.08, Pasnau, Cambridge Translations of Medieval Philosophical Texts, Vol. 3

Main Article Content

Christopher Schabel

The Medieval Review baj9928.0305.008


Pasnau, Robert, ed.. The Cambridge Translations of Medieval Philosophical Texts: Volume 3: Mind and Knowledge. The Cambridge Translations of Medieval Philosophical Texts, Vol. 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. x, 374. ISBN: 0-521-79356-4.
ISBN: 0-521-79795-0.

Reviewed by:
Christopher Schabel
University of Cyprus

Over the past few years Robert Pasnau has established himself as one of the leaders of the new generation of scholars of western medieval thought, particularly on the issues of Mind and Knowledge. He has complemented his books Theories of Cognition in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1997) and Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature (Cambridge, 2002) with three volumes of translations: Aquinas' A Commentary on De Anima (New Haven, 1999), Aquinas' The Treatise on Human Nature: Summa Theologiae 1a 75-89 (New York, 2002), and the work under review here. To a lesser extent Pasnau has even engaged in the critical editing of the original Latin texts (see on Olivi below). Thus Pasnau sees his task in more global terms than most scholars: to fulfill the need for more critical editions for specialists and translations for non-specialists, in part to prove "why medieval scholarship is an enterprise worth supporting" (1). Pasnau's lucid collection of translated texts, Mind and Knowledge, is certainly an effective tool for supporting this enterprise.

The Cambridge Translations of Medieval Philosophical Texts are neither large works of individual authors nor dense collections of writings by different authors on narrow topics, but rather anthologies of representative texts on broad philosophical fields: Logic and the Philosophy of Language, Ethics and Political Philosophy, Metaphysics, Philosophical Theology, and Pasnau's Mind and Knowledge. Therefore the choice of which texts to include, a dozen in all, is of great importance. The contents are as follows:

1. Anonymous Arts Master, Paris, ca. 1225: Treatise on the Soul and Its Powers

2. Anonymous Arts Master, Paris, ca. 1270: Questions on De Anima I-II

3. Bonaventure, OFM (Paris, ca. 1260s): Sermon "Christ Our One Teacher"

4. Henry of Ghent (Paris, ca. 1270s): Summa of Ordinary Questions, a. 1, q. 1

5. Henry of Ghent (Paris, ca. 1270s) : Summa of Ordinary Questions, a. 1, q. 2

6. Peter John Olivi, OFM, Paris, early 1280s: from Lecture on the Gospel of John, c. 1

7. William of Alnwick, OFM (ca. 1320): Disputed Questions on Intelligible Being, q. 1

8. Peter Auriol, OFM (Toulouse, ca. 1315): Scriptum on the Sentences, prologue, q. 2

9. William of Ockham, OFM (Oxford, early 1320s): Ordinatio (Sentences), I, d. 27, q. 3

10. William Crathorn, OP, Oxford, 1330-31: from Questions on the Sentences, I, q. 1

11. Robert Holcot, OP, Oxford, ca. 1333: Quodlibet I, q. 6

12. Adam Wodeham, OFM, Oxford, ca. 1330: Lectura Secunda on the Sentences, I, d. I, q. 1

Although Pasnau considers himself a philosopher, his selection demonstrates a deep knowledge of the historical context. He chooses twelve texts composed in the Latin West between 1225 and the 1330s, in order to "display the tremendous growth of philosophy" in this era. In the beginning we see the first attempts to synthesize the newly available Latin translations of Aristotle's works and the commentaries of Averroes, and by the end of this period we witness a truly independent and critical spirit. I know many people who will cheer when they read that, "Regardless of what the art historians may tell us, this was the true renaissance of Western thought" (4). Earlier western writings are not included because the new translations changed the terms of the debate drastically and put it on a higher level. Readers looking for earlier authors should understand Pasnau's goal of reaching a wider audience interested in medieval philosophy as philosophy: "The twelve selections were chosen both for their significance within the medieval context, and for their relevance to contemporary philosophy" (1). This would not be true to such a degree for western thinkers before 1225, although Pasnau does admit that this does not apply to Muslim and Jewish authors whom he was not able to include (1).

Pasnau has also chosen from a wide range of genres, as he himself states (1): a separate treatise on the soul, a De Anima commentary, Sentences commentaries, a Biblical commentary, Quodlibetal questions, Ordinary questions, Disputed questions, and a sermon. The fact that ten of the twelve texts are by theologians in theological genres demonstrates to the general reader how the medieval Church did not necessarily stifle intellectual debate or creativity and indeed how some of the best philosophy of the era is to be found in still underexploited theological works. That the last four works are by Oxford scholars in the 1320s and early 1330s stems in part from the fact that we are much more aware of what went on there than in Paris in those same years and we are well supplied with critical editions. Conversely, if half of the texts are by Franciscans, this may be because Thomas Aquinas and other Dominicans have already been given so much attention elsewhere. If one's favorite texts from this general era are not present, this could be because Pasnau wishes to present the ideas of authors whose works are generally unavailable in English -- sometimes not even in reliable Latin editions. Besides, authors like Peter Auriol and Robert Holcot, who are relatively little known today, were giants in their time. As a consolation, Pasnau provides a handy bibliography of English Translations of important related texts in chronological order (364-7). All things considered, Pasnau's choice is understandable and excellent.

After a very brief General Introduction (1-8), Pasnau presents the texts in roughly chronological order. Each text is preceded by a useful but brief doctrinal and historical introduction (one to two pages) with suggestions for further reading. Pasnau's style is refreshingly informal, stemming from his confident control of the material. Dates for the composition of the texts are not always provided, but otherwise the introductions are just right. In the texts themselves, with the exception of the first, the notes giving the author's sources have been kept to a minimum. Some of these writings, by the way, are classics, such as the two selections from Henry of Ghent defending divine illumination and those of Peter Auriol and William of Ockham (the latter text also includes a huge quotation from Auriol on 222-6 in a small font). At the end of the volume we have Pasnau's Textual Emendations (353-9) to the Latin editions, a Bibliography, and an Index.

Since no one is in a better position than Robert Pasnau to choose texts on this subject for their historical and philosophical importance, rather than provide a general summary of the texts themselves, this review will focus on the translation. It should be stated at the outset that the English reads smoothly and one gains a clear understanding of some complicated philosophy. Occasionally terminology may seem a little awkward, and Pasnau himself admits that after years of reading the technical Latin he has become used to employing cognates in English, as "cognition" for the Latin cognitio, "voluble" for volubile, and even "mode" for modus, when "way" would do just fine. Other than this, the reader will have absolutely no trouble.

In order to evaluate the translation for accuracy, I examined carefully two texts for which I had easy access to the Latin, but which are also representative: the excerpt from Peter John Olivi's Biblical commentary and article one of the question from Peter Auriol's Sentences commentary. These texts, together amounting to about 10 percent of the philosophical material in the book, are from vastly different genres, and the authors have very differing styles. Pasnau conveniently ranks the texts from easiest to hardest (2), and Olivi's is one of the easiest (no. 3), Auriol's one of the most difficult (no. 10). Pasnau not only translated but also critically edited the Olivi piece, while the Auriol translation was a collaboration between Pasnau and Charles Bolyard based on a mediocre diplomatic edition by Eligius Buytaert. Having said that this is a good, solid volume in all respects, I shall follow with remarks that should properly be considered nitpicking.

Pasnau sets out his methods and problems clearly in the beginning, and once one has read this, few problems are encountered. It is, nevertheless, especially difficult to review a translation because there are often many things that the reviewer would have rendered differently. This is also one of the most difficult aspects of translation: being at the same time free from and constrained by the original language. I will take the first page of the Auriol text (179-80) simply to show how much latitude there actually is, how many liberties a translator from the Latin takes -- and often must take -- and, thankfully, how little difference it really makes for good translators like Pasnau and Bolyard. The first sentence begins in Latin: Et quia Magister in praesenti particula iactat suam fiduciam in divino auxilio, ideo merito quaeri potest.... The translation: "In the present section, since Master Lombard puts his trust in divine help, the question can therefore be rightly asked..." Strictly speaking, "Lombard" is not in the Latin, but rather than explain to the general reader who "the Master" is in a footnote, the translators decided to add the information in the text. It could have been put in square brackets as [Lombard], but following this procedure would have cluttered the text. Indeed "question" would have had to be put in brackets too. Again strictly speaking, "in the present section" refers more to Lombard's text rather than to Auriol's, so "Since Master Lombard puts his trust in divine help in the present section, the question..." would be more accurate. At the end of the sentence, scientifice cognoscantur is given as "demonstratively known (scientifice cognoscantur)" and then in the next sentence the same Latin is translated as "cognized as knowledge." In the third sentence, tale ("such a") is left out of the translation, probably intentionally. In the third and fourth sentences omnis passiva scibilitas is modified to "everything passively knowable," but at the end of the latter sentence it is also rendered as "passive knowability," which is what the Latin actually says. At the end of paragraphs 6 and 7 the future indicative cognoscentur and the present subjunctive cognoscantur, respectively, are both translated as present indicatives. Paragraph 7 begins: "Moreover, between species maximally distant from one another, God can produce an intermediary." In Latin we read the feminine adjective mediam referring to an intermediary species, but the correct English translation does not explain what kind of intermediary is meant. The translators were free to add "species" or "[species]," or even "one." Finally, in paragraph 8, audiens ab astrologo eclipsim tali die et hora futuram is rendered "when one hears from an astronomer that a future eclipse will occur at a certain day and hour," thus using the one futuram both as a verb and as an adjective. Despite the apparent disparity between the English and the original Latin, it is fairly clear that each of the above translation decisions was made consciously, and that in no case can one say that an error has been made. The reader is not led astray, and so the translation can be trusted and evaluated on the merit of its English, which is just fine.

Perhaps the only instance of a translation error, or unfortunate translation decision, where the meaning is significantly affected, is in paragraph 10 of the Auriol text (181). Auriol presents the following argument: "Moreover, knowing whether something is possible in God is the same as knowing whether it is necessary. For in the case of divine truths, whatever is possible is entirely necessary, since God is a necessary being to the highest degree...Therefore, since God can perfectly provide these kinds of knowledge, he can also provide a light with which one would refute every syllogism proving that the truths we believe are impossible. Indeed, by this light one will as a consequence know these truths to be possible. Therefore, by the same light, scientur necessariae et impossibiles aliter se habere."

Pasnau and Bolyard translate the last phrase as "one will know how to separate what is necessary from what is impossible." But the argument clearly calls for the translation "one will know these truths to be necessary (necessariae veritates) and impossible to be otherwise." That is, the argument maintains that if you know possible truths about the divine, then you know necessary truths about the divine, and impossibiles aliter se habere is simply in apposition to necessary: "impossible to be otherwise."

There are, inevitably, minor errors that do not make an important difference in sense. Pasnau himself edited the Olivi text, which he claims is rather easy going, so not surprisingly I found nothing that looks like a true error as opposed to a justifiable expression of Pasnau's freedom as translator. The Auriol text, however, is more difficult. In paragraph 11 (181), Pasnau and Bolyard render lumen fidei altius as "the light of the highest faith" rather than the correct "the higher light of faith." In paragraph 38 (187), ponentur opiniones oppositae duorum doctorum is translated as "I will present views opposed to those of two doctors" rather than "I will present the opposing views of two doctors," i.e. the doctors oppose each other. Thus Henry of Ghent's opinion is presented, followed by Godfrey of Fontaines' opposing view. In paragraph 49 (192), near the end of article one, qui forte resilirent propter illa dubia is put as "who on account of such doubts strongly resist [the faith]," which is too forceful, putting the verb in the indicative and confusing forte ("perhaps") with fortiter ("strongly"). I suggest: "who on account of such doubts would perhaps draw back."

Two insignificant errors may stem from the translators' emphasis on philosophy at the expense of theology in their training. In paragraph 16 (182), Sed ex intuitione deitatis, quam habuit Paulus in raptu, fuit derelicta in eius intellectu memoria deitatis quam viderat in raptu is given as "But from the intuition of the deity that Saint Paul suddenly had, the memory of deity, as suddenly seen, remained in his intellect." Thus the adverb raptim ("suddenly") is confused with the etymologically related noun raptus ("a carrying off"), sometimes referred to as "Paul's rapture": "But from the intuition of the deity that Paul had in his rapture/when carried off, there remained in his intellect the memory of the deity he had seen in his rapture/when carried off." Similarly, in paragraph 43 (190), quod antichristus erit Domino revelante is rendered "that at the Second Coming the Antichrist will appear." Here Domino revelante, "the Lord revealing," the translators simply misread as Domino relevante, "the Lord rising again," which explains the reference to the Second Coming.

For thirteen pages of dense and philosophically difficult Latin, these are few errors indeed. One should also remember that Pasnau and Bolyard are in a difficult position to begin with, because the edition they use, that of Buytaert, is quite untrustworthy. Pasnau has taken great pains to establish good Latin texts before doing his translations. This is praiseworthy, although his remarks about other editors sometimes sound a little harsh. "Extremely unreliable editions" (8) are attributed to some of the leading scholars in the field. Since Pasnau includes typographical errors from these editions in his emendations section (353-9) (e.g. he includes reading similibus rather than similibis and intelligibile instead of inteiligibile), one can be forgiven for presuming that his lists of errors are exhaustive. If so, then the lists are perhaps not so extensive as to warrant the editions' being called "extremely unreliable." I find myself almost hoping that he never translates any of my editions!

In fact, however, Pasnau has missed a few errors. In his own edition of Olivi, for example, I cannot see the point of the quod in line 251 (perhaps quia or quoniam would be better), and in line 440 de genera should probably read de genere, although it is translated correctly. Pasnau's edition is still excellent, especially in comparison to Buytaert's edition of Auriol. Pasnau states (ix) that he obtained a copy of the manuscript Buytaert used (Vatican, Borghese 329), and on this basis he made a number of corrections to the edition (see 355-6), seven for the section I inspected (although I fail to see the reason for the first correction for 188). One unfortunate thing that the translation misses is Auriol's explicit attribution of opinions in the rubrics of the manuscript. Indeed, this is one of the interesting features of Auriol's text: he names his opponents. Thus the heading before paragraph 16 (182), "Arguments for This Light as an Abstractive Cognition" should be "Arguments for [This Light as] Scotus' Abstractive Cognition"; before paragraph 23 (184) "Arguments against Knowledge by Illumination" is really "Godfrey's Arguments against Henry's Knowledge by Illumination"; and so on.

In other cases Pasnau just did not catch error affecting sense (ignoring Buytaert's additional typographical errors). In paragraph 17 (182), the Latin reads sed actus, quo Deus cognoscitur et respectus ad Deum cognitum possunt cognosci abstractive, cum sint pure creatae. The translators simply put the last phrase as "because these are wholly created," but what are "these"? There are no feminine plural nouns to which pure creatae might refer. The manuscript in fact has pure creature, classicized as purae creaturae: the act and the relationship are "simple creatures." In paragraph 40 (188), the Latin has Deus utique dare potest in maximo gradu, quam et per naturale ingenium et studium theologicum potest in gradu aliquo comparari. The translation: "God certainly can provide it to the greatest degree, beyond what can be provided to some degree through both natural ingenuity and the study of theology." But in maximo gradu, quam makes no grammatical sense, and one would suspect either the comparative maiori instead of maximo or something other than quam. In fact the manuscript has the abbreviation for quoniam, which makes perfect sense: "God certainly can provide it to the greatest degree, since it can be obtained in some degree even through natural genius and the study of theology." In paragraph 42 (189), two instances of the odd concluderunt are inadvertently translated correctly from what the manuscript actually has: concluderent and concluderetur.

I make these comments because there is nothing of substance to complain about. Pasnau has done a real service to the profession by providing such a carefully planned and executed book as an advertisement to the philosophically oriented public. Unfortunately, this may be the last we see of Pasnau the translator for a while, for he wishes to devote more time to being a philosopher and -- more particularly, judging from the picture of philosopher and son on his web page -- a father (ix). I suspect, however, that this simply means a volume every three years rather than his pace up until now.

Article Details

Author Biography

Christopher Schabel

University of Cyprus