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All translation is interpretation of some sort; What is a good practical method(s) for seeing through the bias of translators and teachers to arrive at the best understanding of the original meaning and presumably lead toward truth?

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In general, it is a good idea to include a bit more context in your questions. One thing you'll see over and over on SE sites is that a good question is much harder to craft than a good answer. I answered based on what was here, but I have no doubt that my answer is not entirely satisfactory. For instance, I have no idea how this question connects to buddhism, the scientific method, or empiricism. –  Dennis Jan 12 '13 at 8:02
    
I specifically have the Buddha's suttas in mind, but tagged the question with scientific-method and such because I am curious how this is handled in general, say Einstein's original work on general relativity. I've read different translations of Sun Tzu's Art of War that seem to each be based on entirely different source texts. What criteria or method is at my disposal to determine the superior translation? Perhaps you can suggest better tags? –  alex Jan 12 '13 at 14:00
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The philosophy of interpretation is called Hermeneutics, and the canonical text in the field is Gadamer's Truth and Method.

Note that this applies also when reading in your native tongue; every act of reading is also an act of interpretation and translation.

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I like the reference to Hermes who is messenger, translator, as well as liar, thief, and trickster. Wikipedia gives only a broad outline of these ideas. I wonder if you could recommend and provide hyperlinked references? –  alex Jan 12 '13 at 14:55
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@Alex just in passing, Truth and Method is undoubtedly a first-class resource in this area. If you can't avail yourself of the text I might recommend looking at relevant SEP and maybe Wikipedia entries around this (hermeneutics, literary criticism, translation theory, etc.) –  Joseph Weissman Jan 12 '13 at 16:01
    
Would you recommend I pick up this work considering my focus is practical personal application with respect to other works, rather than the theory in general? –  alex Jan 12 '13 at 17:29
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Unfortunately, the only answer here is to learn the language and translate it yourself. You might go some of the way towards eliminating inaccuracies in translations by comparing a number of different translations.

As for eliminating the bias of teachers, this tends to be something you get better at the more you learn. When you become an expert in a subject matter, by, say, reading more of the primary texts, you will naturally begin to disagree with your teacher on various points of interpretation. Similarly, if you read the teachings of multiple people with divergent views you might be able to isolate the idiosyncrasies of each approach.

So, to sum up, it seems the best "method" is to not wed yourself to one particular translator/teacher and to compare what you're exposed to in order to isolate common themes and note idiosyncrasies.

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