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Most readable translation of the Critique of Pure Reason?
June 19, 2008 5:10 PM   Subscribe

What is the most readable translation of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason?

So, I'm just about done with the Prolegomena, and I think I might be ready for the Critique. The problem is that I have difficulty concentrating, so I know that this is going to be a tough battle. So I am willing to sacrifice a bit of accuracy for the sake of readability.

I figure that if I find the Critique is compelling, I will eventually slave through the German anyway, and if I don't, it wouldn't be so horrible to have an imprecise understanding of it.

If possible, I'd also like an edition with clear print, bright pages and broad margins.
posted by limon to Religion & Philosophy (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This review on Amazon includes a good discussion of the various English translations.

The reviews of the Pluhar version are good, though this translation is not discussed in the aforementioned review. I will say that the "look inside" feature suggests that the Pluhar version has wide margins and clear printing, at least.
posted by jedicus at 5:22 PM on June 19, 2008

Norman Kemp Smith's was the standard when I was in grad school, and it has established a lot of the standard terminology for the debate that subsequent translations are "overcoming." I'd advise at least having a look at that one, just so that you know where some of the terms originate. I don't think it's as readable as some more recent ones, but on the upside, it's available free online.
posted by el_lupino at 5:50 PM on June 19, 2008

The Cambridge edition, edited by Paul Guyer and Allen Wood, is IMO a very readable translation. They attempt to maintain fidelity to the German by having uniform translations for key terms, which I found extremely helpful while going through the Critique. There are some situations where their attempt to translate terms uniformly means that they misrepresent a nuance of the term in a particular context (e.g., they always translate Vorstellung as representation, which is a bit formal for some contexts), but if you will be eventually looking at the German it's not a dealbreaker. The margins are a little bit on the narrow side, however.

I would advise against Norman Kemp Smith's translation, as it is fairly free in rendering the German without doing much to make the sentences into digestible English. Pluhar's translation is relatively better at being decent English, but I still find the translation too free for my tastes.
posted by philosophygeek at 6:34 PM on June 19, 2008

Are you reading this for yourself, or academically?
I had a CoPR seminar in college, and I had a translation I found to be quite readable and understandable, but everyone else in the class had bought whatever other translation was the default/approved translation from the college bookstore. Whenever there were arguments over "what did those last three pages actually mean?!", I would lose; while I thought I had a perfectly good understanding of the point being made, since I had the non-standard text, my view could't possibly be correct. There are many cases where there's a canonical work AND a canonical translation of it; if you didn't read the right translation, you "haven't really read it".
But if you're just reading it for your own edification, try the Wolfgang Schwartz translation.
posted by bartleby at 6:43 PM on June 19, 2008

My professor told us that native-speaking German students will go out of their way to read Norman Kemp Smith's translation rather than the original German because it's so much more readable. Not that that's saying a lot.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:28 PM on June 19, 2008

IANAKian, but I've used the Cambridge edition (Guyer and Wood) in a class and a seminar I took. The professor seemed to really like that edition (although he stuck with the Kemp-Smith because he knew his way around it better)
posted by chndrcks at 9:17 PM on June 19, 2008

Pluhar was relatively easy (in terms of Kant) for me to work through, but I can't comment on its fidelity to the German. My Kant-scholar professor picked it over any other, though, so there's that.
posted by Rallon at 9:42 PM on June 19, 2008

I found Kemp-Smith very readable and, after some effort, felt I had a pretty good handle on CPR. But I must own to not knowing the other editions and not having sufficient German to comment on the quality of the translation.
posted by Dan Brilliant at 2:38 PM on June 20, 2008

I don't speak a word of German, so I don't know about accuracy, but I read the Pluhar translation in college and found it quite readable, for Kant (more readable than the parts of Kemp-Smith that I looked at). It's published by Hackett, and they tend to have good quality translations.

Also can't resist pointing out: this translation of the transcendental deduction isn't quite as literal as others, but does have a much catchier tune.
posted by moss at 4:10 AM on June 21, 2008

Unless you are a Kant scholar, and probably even if you are, you should use Werner Pluhar's version because it is easiest for novices to read and that's an insanely huge accomplishment. In any just world Werner would be a billionaire from the royalties.

I read Kemp Smith as an undergraduate and Guyer as a graduate student and I will side with Pluhar every time unless I am writing an article, (which coincidentally I'm doing right now) and then I pull out the German and use Pluhar and Guyer to follow along because my German is execrable.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:54 PM on June 22, 2008

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