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12/23/2019

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Malcolm Keating

While I agree with you about the practicalities of tenure and promotion, I would push back on the use of the term “original research,” which was rightly put in scare quotes in the original inquiry. Philosophical translations involve “original research” in the sense of the translator’s decisions about how to render difficult concepts into the target language, and how to understand them in the source language. It involves history of philosophy and understanding of philosophical conversations at the first-order level in the source and target contexts.

Conversely, single-authored monographs usually also involve interpretation of previous work, so that if the “original” part in “original research” is meant to distinguish work that is entirely new to the author, I imagine much philosophical work would not pass that test, either. If we can talk and think differently about these boundaries, perhaps eventually, tenure/promotion standards will shift.

In my field (Indian/South Asian Philosophy), I think translation is crucial, and I would second the academic commentary strategy, which is a direction I went with my recent book. I had an interpretive argument about an important but relatively little-known Sanskrit text, and drew connections between it and some contemporary philosophy, but without the translation of the text, these points were inaccessible to most readers. If only a handful of people have access to the text you’re translating, and only in the source language, if you write stand-alone papers on it, few people can appreciate the value of your philosophical contributions. However, just a translation on its own may only be of interest to those few already working on the topic (who already can read the text in the original, so why the need for a translation?).

I do think, though, that unless the translation project is clearly presented as philosophical, and you have other papers which are more recognisably single-author “original” research, focusing too much on translation may be unhelpful for an individual’s career, no matter how crucial such work is for philosophy as a whole.

Martin Shuster

As someone who has published a few translations, I would say: only do it if you are really excited about doing it. They're entirely thankless tasks, require an immense amount of effort, and are generally unappreciated. Nonetheless, I think they're important and if you are excited about translating something, then do it.

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