Science and beliefs (was: the gods)

bpj at bpj at
Tue May 27 09:15:13 UTC 1997

At 02:23 27.5.1997 +0100, Hrid at wrote:
>In a message dated 5/26/97 3:32:39 PM, reimann at (Luis
>Gonzalez-Reimann) wrote:
>>With all due respect, Howard, how does your professed concern for scholarly
>>"neutrality" (if I understand you correctly) square with the following
>>words, from the introduction to:
>>Harvard Oriental Series, Opera Minora, vol. 1.  "Translating, Translations,
>>Translators, From India to the West."  Edited by Enrica Garzilli, 1996.
>Dear Luis,
>        Thank you for your inquiry. The concern I expressed in this discussion
>for a clear distinction between claims made as an academic scholar, and
>claims made as a metaphysician. I did not mean to imply that academic claims
>are a priori superior or inferior to metaphysical claims. Dr. Garzilli, in
>her preface to my article in the Harvard Oriental Series publication,
>mentions that I translated and published several works from a Vaishnava
>religious perspective. In those volumes, which I completed over a decade ago,
>I made no pretense of speaking from a "neutral" academic perspective. I am
>arguing here for a clear distinction between academic and religious speech. I
>believe that in the works cited by Garzilli, I maintained such a distinction.
>Thanks again, and with best wishes,

Dear Howard,

While I have no difficulty in following your argument wrt the duty of
science and academic study not to pass judgments of value on its subject of
study I have some points (two major ones and one quite minor!) where I
can't quite follow you:

First: science is not value-neutral, but constitutes itself a value-system
and a world-view operating under a set of premises that are agreed-upon
rather than 'given', that may or may not be in conflict with other systems
of world-explanation.

Second: I don't see how my role as a _translator_ would differ
substantially depending on whether I identify myself as the upaasaka
'Ngawang Dyiynba (Vaagiishvaradaana in Skt.) or as the scholar Philip
Jonsson. The translator's task is to communicate the intentions and
connotations of the author of the source text as accurately as possible
into the words of the target language, regardless of how he himself values
the content of the text. Some degree of scholarship is always needed to
capture the range of meanings, connotations and associations of the words
and expressions used. Sometimes a translator has to elaborate, either
within the text itself or in notes, in order to get the meaning of the text
across to the target-language audience, according to what he deems can be
expected as "common knowledge" among the audience community, but always the
goal must be to represent the original author as accurately as possible.
The choice between building these elaborations into the text or giving them
in notes is largely one of style, since it is desirable that a translation
adheres as closely as possible to a stylistic register as closely
corresponding to that of the original as possible. It is clearly the case
that a text which in the original is encoded in a style of scholarly or
philosophical prose is more amenable to elaboration within the text than a
text that is poetic, gnomic or dramatic in form.

Things are of course different when acting as a _commentator_. Here I must
be aware of and clearly signal where I speak from a scholarly point of view
and where I speak from a philosophical religious point of view. I don't
think that a total separation is entirely feasible, not least since the
scientific views of the scholar and the religious views of the upaasaka are
likely to be informed and influenced by one another (and as a Buddhist I
may feel like dedicating whatever merit a purely scholarly work of mine may
achieve!) But honesty to those who share my beliefs and those who don't
alike makes it imperative to clearly state and signal, even physically
separate, what is scholarly motivated notes on the text and what is
ideologically motivated commentary.

Syaat tubhyam sarvam mangalam!!


              _        _    .             _ _
|| Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha ||

*  B.Philip Jonsson <bpj at>               *
*  Editor, Translator (English <-> Swedish),    *
*  Scholarly font-designer, Web-book designer   *

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