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Translational Hermeneutics

2015

Translational Hermeneutics

George Heffernan
Pages 359-388
DOI: 10.5840/zeta-translational201514

Translating Augustine and Interpreting the Academicians: An Application of Übersetzungshermeneutik to the Questionable Relation between an Inaccurate Translation and an Inadequate Interpretation

According to the most recent and most read English edition/translation of the work, namely, that of Peter King, Augustine’s Contra Academicos/Against the Academicians (386/387) is “a manifesto written by a former skeptic presenting himself for the f rst time as a platonist and a Christian”. On this interpretation, Augustine for a time “despaired of finding the truth and went through a period of being a skeptic”. During this time, he also “defended the view of the Academicians”, “did so publicly”, and “did so” by “peddling” it with the use of their skeptical notions of the “plausible” (probabile) and the “truthlike” (veri simile). Thus Augustine was “more than sympathetic” to the Academicians and it is wrong for scholars “to minimize his attachment” to them. The argument of this paper, on the other hand, is that the notion that Augustine once defended Academic skepticism is not a demonstrable fact but an untenable interpretation. The reason is that it can be proven, for example, that King’s interpretation is inadequate because it rests on an inaccurate translation. In addition, it is shown that there is no evidence that would convince a judicious scholar beyond a reasonable doubt that Augustine ever assented to Academic skepticism. Finally, it is suggested that the attempt to argue that Augustine was once an Academic skeptic obfuscates the legitimate issue of whether he may have been a skeptic in a different, philosophically more significant, sense. The result is a hermeneutical case study of the questionable relation between an inaccurate translation and an inadequate interpretation.

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