Semantic Equivalence and the Language of Philosophical Analysis

Jorge J. E. Gracia
State University of New York, Buffalo
For many years I have maintained that I learned to philosophize by translating Francisco Suárez’s Metaphysical Disputation V from Latin into English. This surely is a claim that must sound extraordinary to the members of this audience or even to most twentieth century philosophers. Who reads Suárez these days? And what could I learn from a sixteenth century scholastic writer that would help me in the twentieth century? I would certainly be surprised if one were to find any references to some of Suárez’s works in any of the works of twentieth-century major philosophers. One of the reasons for my claim is the great difficulty I had in figuring out what Suárez’s text means and how to render it understandable to English readers. Translating the text forced me to think in ways that were quite different from those I was used to think in Spanish, my native tongue, or English, my adoptive tongue. In fact, the translation I produced after having completed many drafts continued, and still continues to this day, to appear to me unsatisfactory, and that dissatisfaction was the key to understanding things I had understood very differently before. I hope to make clear why in what follows. The thesis that I defend is that semantic equivalence between texts of philosophy in different languages is difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to achieve and, therefore, that it is a mistake to restrict doing analytic philosophy to English, as Gustavo Rodríguez-Pereyra argues we should do in a recent article (2013).
Keywords Translation  Semantic Equivalence
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