Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Summa

The real world has been kicking my butt keeping me busy, so I haven't had much time for blogging.

As I said before, reading the Summa have been a long time brewing. I bought the 5-volume set about a year or so ago, but I have had Timothy McDermott’s “Concise Translation” for about ten years. If you don’t know already, the full text of the Summa is on the net. I have to tell you, McDermott’s translation makes it a lot more accessible. If you went through the Summa and condensed each article to a paragraph cutting out the “Objection 1….Objection 2…. On the contrary…I answer than…” format and summarizing it as a good student of philosophy would do and cutting out technical terms as much as possible, at the end, you would have McDermott’s Concise Translation. It is marked such that you can easily refer to the full text if you want to see the objections and responses etc, but if you want to cut to the chase, you have McDermott’s translation.

It still requires some straining of the brain, but it makes it much easier for the Peeping Thomist. It is well over my head, but I’m trying to practice what Mortimer J. Adler prescribes: “You do not understand the book perfectly. Let us even assume—what unhappily is not always true—that you understand enough to know that you do not understand it all. You know the book has more to say than you understand and hence that it contains something that can increase your understanding. [Doing the job of reading] is done in only one way. Without external help of an sort, you go to work on the book. With nothing but the power of your own mind, you operate on the symbols before you in such a way that you gradually lift yourself from a state of understanding less to one of understanding more. Such elevation, accomplished by the mind working on a book, is highly skilled reading, the kind of reading that a book which challenges your understanding deserves.”

Like I said, I’m trying. I have no guilt about consulting the glossary in Peter Kreeft’s Shorter Summa and the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy to make sure I understand the symbols. Anyway, all that being said, although I could have easily thrown in the towel already as in the first 90 pages (fifty-something pages of the translator/editor’s introduction and fourty-something pages of the Summa) I found multiple occasions to feel stupid, I keep going. I have four things to say to anyone thinking about reading the Summa: 1) You won’t feel any more stupid than I do reading it, 2) I recommend this translation as a starter—this coming from one who has made multiple attempts at reading the Summa—as it is doable 3) the moments of feeling stupid are balanced with moments when something else makes sense and provides a deeper understanding about something you’ve thought about before, and 4) This book like few others is worth the effort.

9 comments:

Rodak said...

Civis--
I wish you luck--or, more useful would be *perseverence*--in your project.
When you come across thought categories that you find particularly interesting, I hope that you will be posting on them.

Rodak said...

Civis--
Are you still with us?

Civis said...

Oh yeah. I've just been swamped. I guess balance is not part of my life. I know when I start blogging I can't quit!

Rodak said...

That's cool. The blogosphere is more than big enough to accommodate everybody's idiosyncratic rhythms.

Jared said...

Civis,

Did you finish this book?

Civis said...

Still plodding through.

Civis said...

Want to join me?

Jonathan said...

This is an encouraging post. I think I will go with McDermott's translation. The Dominican Fathers translation is simply too tough for me, so it's encouraging when you say that the McDermott translation "makes it a lot more accessible".

I like Adler's How To Read A Book. I also read Adler's Aristotle For Everybody in preparation for reading the Summa. I must say that Lear's Aristotle: The Desire To Understand is really good as well - I'm in the middle of that one.

Jonathan said...
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