Commentary on the translation of
“Immaterial aspects of thought”,

J. F. Ross

James Francis Ross (1931–2010) was an American philosopher who engaged with a wide range of academic disciplines, such as philosophy of religion, law, metaphysics and philosophy of mind. Likewise, he managed to combine philosophical traditions from different eras in his works and assess each of them with admirable acuteness. Suffice it to note on the following work how he takes a crucial tenet of the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions, the immateriality of the mind, but presenting clearly contemporary arguments, based on 20th century Analytic philosophy.

Virtually unknown in the Spanish-speaking world, as I read some of his papers I was struck to find a thinker —new to me— with an outstanding academic formation, and some quite interesting and innovative insights whom, perhaps because of holding views contrary to many philosophers’ in vogue within mainstream contemporary academia, has not yet been afforded the attention and study he deserves. However, I was even more impressed to find that, as far as I know, none of his works had yet been translated into Spanish. I must admit that reading Immaterial Aspects of Thought was one of the first events that made me consider launching this blog and wishing to spread previously unknown texts through the tool at my disposal: translation.

Immaterial Aspects of Thought is a text which evinces a scholarly sophisticated author. Its style is somewhat daunting for those who ignore the specific terminology or lack a minimal knowledge of the issues discussed, and it may be harsh even for those familiar with them. Nevertheless, we could also say that the use of jargon, understood within the context, brings conciseness and precision to the discourse and makes of the paper a solid argument.

When translating, this style can be both a difficulty and a solution. The difficulty appears certainly in the phase of understanding the text, owing to its seeming impregnability and the fact that the logical structure of the sentences (so complex!) requires a cumbersome use of syntax, even in short sentences, which makes it necessary to read them more than once. The solution, on the other hand, lies in the phase of rewriting, since the technical language precludes in many cases possible ambiguities and leaves the way open to an equally compelling and precise version as the original text. In this sense, it also becomes necessary to keep the cumbersome syntax —even though the stylist in us would prefer not—, because not doing so would undermine the logical structure of the proposition.

In regards to the neologisms, e.g., the concepts of Nelson Goodman’s “grue” or Saul Kripke’s “quaddition”, I chose not to make any explanation beyond those offered by the author. In the original document, the footnotes are quite extensive and the text itself explains the relevant information. The respective authors’ works can be consulted as well. As for the orthotypography of such neologisms, I decided to preserve the author’s choices. While concepts like “quus” are, to say the least, exotic and would merit the use of quotes each time, I deemed that Kripke’s argument of indeterminacy is strengthened by equating a thoroughly acceptable and common formal function, such as addition, with a “fictional” formal function, like “quaddition”. I reckoned, then, that the best way to represent this levelling of real and imaginary functions would be to present both concepts with the same orthotypographical criterion (which may have also been what the author intended), even though common use would prescribe otherwise. In any case, I took the original text acted as a reference.

To conclude, the difficulties in this text by the thinker James Ross do not lie so much in translation itself, but in reading it, for it deals with a complex content which requires constant attention and fully understanding each step in the argument before proceeding to the following. The technical language and the dry, inelegant style, pose an initial barrier; yet, once crossed, its use is justified by the precision and the strength of the arguments. The latter characteristics should certainly become an example for any scholar who claims to be a “philosopher”, a title Ross managed to merit. Let the choice of this work as the first to be published in my blog become an expression of my goals and wishes for this site.

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