Hegel's Terminology in English

Let us now look into classical challenges a translator of creative non-fiction is facing all the time. Of course, I mean terminological patterns used by any great thinker. As an example of such patterns, I shall use Hegel’s particular notion in his Introduction (Einleitung) to the Phenomenology of Spirit (Phänomenologie des Geistes), namely “a natural representation” (eine natürliche Vorstellung).

The very first sentence of Introduction commences as follows:

“Es ist eine natürliche Vorstellung, daß…”

A. V. Miller, the Englisch translator of Hegel’s book, translated this beginning in such a way:

“It is a natural assumption that…”

However, the very same notion – Vorstellung – Miller translated differently as “idea” and “representation” in the following paragraphs of Introduction. Even though Hegel did not change its meaning at all.

Two points should be born in mind here.

The first is that the German word “Vorstellung” used by Hegel does not mean “assumption” or “supposition” (it would be Annahme or Voraussetzung in German). It is rather a representation since Hegel refers to two basic natural (i.e., non-philosophic) representations of our knowledge (Erkenntnis). He does not make any assumptions about knowledge but describes basic models of it. According to Hegel, these two models are misleading and should be replaced by his philosophy.

The second is that whenever he applies the notion “Vorstellung,” he is talking about the same thing. Unfortunately, it is utterly difficult to comprehend in Miller’s translation. Strangely enough, when Hegel uses the word “eine Annahme,” Miller renders it correctly as “an assumption,” which makes it impossible to understand Hegel’s argument correctly for the English reader who has no German.

I do not think that it was the strategy of the translator to deceive the readers. Rather, it is the lack of appreciation of the author’s terminological patterns, which makes it very hard (if not impossible) to understand Hegel’s complex argument.

WORDLIX might be used as a tool that can help to build such patterns.

Ukrainian version