Although there are numerous methods for eliciting accurate transliteration of historical philosophers' intended meaning, two appear to be most prominent:

  1. Comparative analysis; where the author intersperses commentary on the philosopher's intended meaning with references to historical precedents such as 'this hypothesis seems to contain echoes from Aristotelian Logic' or 'this work appears to be a response to concerns over the methodology of the Scholastics'.

  2. Straightforward interpretation; where the author uses little or no referencing, allusions to others, or footnoting, and focuses almost exclusively on transliteration of the philosopher's intended meaning.

Which of these two methods is more effective and accurately representative of the work under consideration, and why?

  • Welcome to PSE ! I have to make a gentle criticism of your wording. 'Transliteration' is not the right word. To transliterate is to transfer a word from the alphabet of one language to that of another. So Classical Gk ψύχω transliterates into English as 'psyche' [or psuche]. You do not use 'transliteration' in this way. I suggest 'interpretation', 'reading', 'analysis'. But it is your text and you must decide. – Geoffrey Thomas Mar 27 '19 at 17:28
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    "Comments" in contemporary use are mainly a literature review on each aspect with the author's own arguments added, i.e. a book that contains all important views on all aspects of a given text. Each of your given possibilities sound rather like what is mostly called "Guide" these days and I think that at least for university level, one cannot be done without the other since otherwise, you end up with mere opinion. – Philip Klöcking Mar 27 '19 at 18:43
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    Thank you Philip, My take, which, of course was not in the question is that comparative analysis often tends to blur distinctions among various thinkers who may have had the same nomenclature but whose systems bear no resemblance to what they are being compared with. Also since philosophy is comprised of a quite settled set of topics a reader can come away thinking that the entire History consists in one long interconnected chain of thinking. Regards, CS – user37981 Mar 27 '19 at 18:59
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    I am not sure how "straightforward interpretation" is supposed to work. Meanings of words change over time, philosophers rely, consciously or not, on ones common to their time and current in its philosophy, i.e. inherited from the tradition. One would still have to get ideas about what the author meant from somewhere, so they will be relying on some interpretive information, just not explicitly or consciously perhaps. Even if to them it seems that they are "transliterating". What might result is unchecked reading-in of modern meanings and transliterator's biases into the text. – Conifold Mar 27 '19 at 20:07
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    Thanks, by "straightforward" interpretation" is meant using only the author's writings as the subject matter. Whether a competent rendering of the 'intended meaning' would also depend on those who read the interpretation and would therefore not be performed in a vacuum. – user37981 Mar 27 '19 at 22:15

On one level, we do not need to choose between intrinsic ("straightforward") and relative (comparative) analyses of a text. Rather, we need both. When we encounter a need for interpretation, we use whatever we can to solve the interpretive problem. Sometimes the key for a successful interpretation lies in the given text itself, and sometimes it lies in connections with the historical, biographical, or literary context. Texts are made up by all of these sources.

Having said that, on another level the intrinsic ("straightforward") analysis seems to me primary. If you haven't studied the text itself, read every word and every sentence, and got at least an initial overall understanding of the bulk of their syntactical and logical interconnections, you simply cannot be said to know the text. And that regardless of how much you know about the context, and how many comparisons and connections you are able to make from outside. And so, when we need to interpret a text, we need to look first for an interpretive solution inside the text. If a satisfactory solution is found, we may not need any comparative analyses. See here a short example of just such a case.

  • Really well considered and explicated response, I actually think I just learned something! Cheers, CS @Ram Tobolski – user37981 Mar 29 '19 at 20:50
  • @user37981 You're welcome – Ram Tobolski Mar 29 '19 at 21:32