Descartes book question?

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Reply Wed 31 Dec, 2008 05:50 pm
I just recently picked up on reading some Descartes and I opted for the not so expensive translation. I got the Barnes & Nobles Library of Essential Reading (which I usually never buy) version of Principles of Philosophy. It's translation is by John Veitch. I'm just wondering if this is a heavily interpolated and misconstrued version of what the original work really is. I'm asking because I'm finding myself a little disappointed in Descartes' logic, and I'm hoping it's simply because I got a shoddy translation.:Not-Impressed:
Reply Wed 31 Dec, 2008 11:02 pm
John Veitch (1829-1894) taught philosophy at Glasgow, and also translated Descartes' Meditations and Discourse on Method. His translations are listed in several Stanford Encylopedia articles without derogatory comment, and can be found on-line at Project Gutenburg.
It may be that his Victorian prose style is not to everyone's liking, and that more modern translations have the added benefit of Cartesian studies since the death of Queen Victoria, but I cannot find discussions that would lead one to completely avoid his translations.

I would think that one could better understand Descartes and perhaps better appreciate his importance by reading the Meditations and the Discourse than by spending much time on the Principles.
Reply Thu 1 Jan, 2009 12:42 am
I am not familiar with the John Veitch translation of Principles of Philosophy, but like jgweed said, his translations are most likely very well done. The translation part that may trouble you is rightly placed. Aside from MeditationsPrinciples. There is such a wide degree of difference in any text when it is translated to Latin for some reason. I have three copies of Aristotle's Metaphysics that are in no way the same in syntactical translation.

As for any comment on the translation of Principles, I can provide a comparison for you to judge for yourself. I have a copy of Readings in Modern Philosophy by Ariew and Watkins. I have always referred to this particular text because it is very well written, both in translation (from as much as I am aware) and composition (text,font,etc.) That being said, it is very accessible to any reader. Here is an excerpt from Principles of Philosophy, Part 1, Sect. 43 verbatim from the book;

"43. We cannot err if we give our assent only to what we clearly and distinctly perceive. But it is certain that we will never take the false for the true if we give our assent only to what we perceive clearly and distinctly. Because God is no deceiver, the faculty of knowledge he has given us cannot incline toward the false, nor can the faculty of assenting, as long we do not extend it beyond those things we clearly perceive. And even if this could not be rationally demonstrated, we are by nature so disposed to give our assent to what we clearly perceive that we cannot possibly doubt its truth" (Principals, pp.89)

I would also note that if the translation is greatly different, you need to make sure you get the accompanying texts translated by the same author to avoid any possible confusion. PP,P1,#43 is a key point in the Meditations, and it can be really misleading to have different terms from different related texts. For example, "God" can be mixed up with "deceiver," the hypothetical in Meditations 1, but can also be translated (as I have come across in different texts of Meditations) as "Malign Genius," which could be taken as the active mind of God or the even the notion of God the being, like how Romans worshiped the "genius" of Augustus who was very apprehensive about being worshiped as a god but allowed the practice in the eastern parts of the empire but the worship of the "genius" of Augustus in the west, which is basically the concept or idea of Augustus. There is also "Malign Genie" which I would suppose is a french translation or just a bad translation. I even saw one translation (which I did not care for) refer to Descartes deceiving god as "The deceiver" (note the capitol T), which in effect means Satan, which is certainly not the case.
Reply Thu 1 Jan, 2009 05:38 pm
Thank you both your replies were very helpful. It seems the version is close enough to satisfy validity.

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