Philosophy and Practice in Translational Hermeneutics

2018

Philosophy and Practice in Translational Hermeneutics

George Heffernan
Pages 47-75

Understanding Husserl’s Language of Essences: Hermeneutical Observations on Translation in Phenomenology

Husserl describes phenomenology as an eidetic science (Wesenswissenschaft), whose practitioners experience intuitions of essences or eidetic intuitions (Wesenserschauungen), establish eidetic knowledge or knowledge of essences (Wesenserkenntnisse), and express judgments about essences or eidetic judgments (Wesensurteile). There are two different ways of translating the technical terms here, substantivally with essence and adjectivally with eidetic. The substantival approach indicates that phenomenology focuses on essences as its thematic objects; the adjectival approach intimates that phenomenology articulates eidetic aspects of objects. In Husserl’s major work, Ideas on a Pure Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy I, the language of essences sometimes dominates, and the eidetic vocabulary sometimes prevails. The nuanced duality is reflected in the classic work on specialized translation in phenomenology, Dorion Cairns’s Guide for Translating Husserl. This paper focuses on a hermeneutical aspect of the problem and shows that the translator of a specialized language is faced with a series of translational decisions on how to render the technical terms involved, that is, decisions on the best transition from the source text to the target text, on the relationships between earlier and later translations, on the authority and authorization of the author of the source text for the target text, and on over-determination (consistency) and under-determination (ingenuity). It suggests that in phenomenology how one translates is a function of how one understands, and that how one understands is a function of how one translates. It proposes that the two ways of translating and understanding are not mutually exclusive but that it is possible to accommodate both of them. A failure to grasp the distinction generates misunderstanding of Husserl’s eidetic science and doctrine of essences.