Problem Of Philosophical Translation In Russian Humanitarian Discourse


The paper discusses the problem of philosophical translation. The author expresses the idea that this problem has epistemological nature, that is, it is designed to solve the issue of cognitive attitudes of consciousness. The solution to the problem is considered in three main aspects: semiotic, hermeneutic and pragmatic. The semiotic aspect expresses the problem of translation as the transfer of cultural senses and meanings. The hermeneutic aspect considers the translation of a text as part of the process of interpretation. The pragmatic aspect of translation is associated with applied issues of translation activities and some aspects of intercultural communication. The paper summarizes the experience and research results of Russian humanities; a comparative analysis of their concepts is performed. As a result of the research, a number of statements are proposed that express the problem of philosophical translation in Russia. They are as follows: philosophical translation should be interdisciplinary in nature; the problem of the fundamental untranslatability of a philosophical text has no solution; philosophical translation is an interpretation, that is, an open dialogue with text and tradition; philosophical translation helps to solve some issues of intercultural communication while preserving philosophy in national language.



The epistemological situation in the Russian humanitarian discourse imposes new requirements on the nature of texts and the quality of their translations. The relaxation of "epistemological claims" on the part of philosophy leads not only to the destruction of the consolidation of professional positions, but also requires a rethinking of unjustified expectations from the humanities in the "race for truth" (Kurennoy, 2004, p. 15).

These epistemological obstacles relate to the entire European philosophy. However, the specificity of Russian philosophical discourse is determined by the complexity of the socio-cultural and institutional situation in which the Russian humanitarian science was forced. We agree with the opinion of Avtonomova (2012) that the condition of knowledge in any social and humanitarian field is translation (especially philosophical translation) as a mediator in intercultural exchange and communication. Therefore, the approach to “knowledge as translation and translation as knowledge” becomes relevant (p. 8).

Another well-known Russian researcher Kasavin (2010) speaks about the epistemological aspect of dialogue in modern humanities, pointing out the impossibility of "radical translation" and therefore insisting on the importance of the open nature of scientific communication and the fundamental "interdisciplinarity" of modern humanitarian studies (p. 65). Mironov (2019), who stressed the need to expand the “interpretive field” of philosophy in a broad historical and humanitarian context (p. 15), also recognizes the decisive role of philosophical translation in the dialogue of cultures.

Problem Statement

It is possible to overcome the epistemological crisis of Russian humanitarian discourse through the development of the theory and practice of philosophical translation. Since it is assumed that it is the philosophical discourse (and its methods of working with a text) that acts as a connecting link in a wide range of humanitarian studies that can solve the problem of intercultural communication in Russia.

Research Questions

The problem of philosophical translation in modern Russian humanitarian discourse can be considered in three main aspects: (1) semiotic, (2) hermeneutic and (3) pragmatic.

Semiotic aspect

The semiotic aspect of philosophical translation focuses on the procedure for transferring the meaning of a text, since translation is always the birth of a “new meaning” during transmission of a message and expansion of the “epistemological field” of knowledge (Goncharenko & Goncharenko, 2019; Smirnov, 2012). Some researchers also associate the transmission of meaning in the semiotic aspect with the personality of a translator and those social, historical, cultural contexts that accompany the translation (Mishkurov, 2009). According to Nesterova (2009), meaning is only true object of translation, and it must be interpreted "phenomenologically", that is, taking into account the intentional modality of the consciousness of a subject perceiving the text (p. 84).

Moreover, the semiotic aspect of translation actualizes the philosophical problem of “behind-text” reality. If behind any text there is a certain reality, which is expressed in this text to one degree or another, then behind the translation there is not just a certain reality, but also another text, a real text in another language. In this sense, the “behind-text” reality is considered by modern researchers either in the ontological aspect, as a part of the “theory of secondary texts” (Dymant & Knyazheva, 2014, p. 90), or as a special “metatext” created by a translator-commentator (Papulova, 2015, p. 41), or even as part of a certain “metacommunication of a translator” as the most important part of his or her professional activity (Kashkin & Ostapenko, 2011, p. 74).

Hermeneutic aspect

The hermeneutic aspect of philosophical translation is the most significant component of the research problem. In this regard, the efforts of researchers are concentrated around the following issues: (a) the peculiarities of translation of philosophical terms and concepts; (b) the role of metaphor in a philosophical text; (c) translation as interpretation of a text.

(a) Some philosophers associate the peculiarities of the translation of philosophical concepts with the “homonymy” of philosophical language (Akhutin, 2012, p. 355) or with the “hyperdeterminacy” of philosophical terms (Vdovina, 2013, p. 310); other researchers talk about the uniqueness of the practices of philosophical translation themselves during the search for “terminological equivalence” (Bednárová-Gibová & Zákutná, 2018, p. 426).

(b) A number of modern researchers recognize the role of metaphor in a philosophical text as a key problem in understanding a philosophical text. Paul Ricœur made the greatest contribution to the solution of this problem. He developed the concept of “living metaphor” in the space of philosophical discourse (Ricœur, 2013, p. 110; Ricœur, 2014, p. 208). In general, a skeptical attitude towards metaphor is recognized within the framework of analytical philosophy (Ankin, 2011; Makhaev, 2015), however, metaphor is an integral part of the unique (idiolective) style of thinking in philosophy, according to other authors (Galieva & Nagumanova, 2016).

(c) Modern humanitarians, who believe that translation is, first, the interpretation of the text show strong interest in philosophical texts (Mironov, 2008; Medvedev, 2018). This state of affairs is associated with the development of hermeneutics as a philosophical theory started by Gadamer (Nesterova, 2006; Ryabko, 2019; Vorotova, 2011). At the same time, a number of Western researchers speak of the “varieties” of hermeneutics necessary for philosophical translation (Launay, 2011; Ozeki-Despres, 2011), while Russian analysts believe that this is generally a “hermeneutic turn” in modern theory and methodology of translation (Mishkurov, 2013).

Pragmatic aspect

The pragmatic aspect of philosophical translation is also associated with the solution of several particular issues of important theoretical nature. Firstly, this is the question of the fundamental translatability or intranslatability of a philosophical text (Avtonomova, 2012; Alekseeva, 2014; Alekseeva, 2016; Isaev, 2012). Secondly, these are the practical issues of translation studies of: the “pragmatic equivalence of translation” (Karpovskaya, 2010, p. 61; Karpovskaya, 2011, p. 100), the tasks of philosophical translation (Gondek, 2011), the prospects for the development of translation studies in modern humanitarian discourse (Sdobnikov, 2019). Thirdly, this is the question of the possibility of philosophy in national language in the context of the problem of translation (Avtonomova, 2019; Derrida, 2011; Rorty, 2018).

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this research is to describe the main problems of philosophical translation in Russian humanitarian discourse. In order to achieve this goal, it is planned to solve several tasks. The ate as follows: to give a general description of Russian humanitarian discourse; to outline the main institutional problems; to describe the main aspects of philosophical translation as a relevant area of humanitarian research; to outline the prospects of modern Russian translation studies in the aspect of research of a philosophical text.

Research Methods

The specifics of this problem determine the methodological approaches to the study of the problem of philosophical translation. The methodological approaches refer to the field of interdisciplinary research (Kasavin, 2010). Here, the interaction of the following methodological approaches is meant: semiotics of philosophical translation (Goncharenko & Goncharenko, 2019; Nesterova, 2009; Smirnov, 2012), hermeneutics of philosophical text and translation (Launay, 2011; Mironov, 2008; Mishkurov, 2013; Medvedev, 2018; Mironov, 2019; Ozeki-Despres, 2011; Ryabko, 2019; Vorotova, 2011), as well as pragmatics of modern translation (Alekseeva, 2014; Alekseeva, 2016; Gondek, 2011; Sdobnikov, 2019). In addition, the method of “topological analytics” is used (Danilova & Enikeev, 2019; Enikeev et al., 2019), which allows determining the role and place of a philosophical text (and translation) in the space of modern humanitarian discourse, as well as outlining the prospects for intercultural communication in Russia.


The problem of philosophical translation in the context of the development of Russian humanitarian discourse has a number of research questions that have not been fully studied despite the existing developments in this direction. The most interesting are the following: (6.1) the question of fundamental translatability or intranslatability of a philosophical text; (6.2) the role of philosophical concepts and metaphors in the process of translation; (6.3) the features of intercultural communication in modern humanities.

The issue of philosophical intranslatability

Translatability and intranslatability as a research question has two aspects: general theoretical (philosophical) and practical (pragmatic). From the point of view of the philosophy of translation, any text is unique and unrepeatable. Moreover, it is located in a wide cultural context. Therefore, translation is a process of intercultural communication, providing a discursive interaction between different semiotic systems (Avtonomova, 2012).

In this context, we agree with the opinion of Avtonomova (2012) that the problem of translation is the problem of the knowability or unknowability of another culture, language and way of thinking. Therefore, we can only talk here about a partial "penetration" into the cultural codes of other philosophical texts. Since there is no “correct” translation, their plurality is necessary. This is what Avtonomova considers as the task of a translator. According to Alekseeva (2016), the very situation of “intranslatability” is a challenge for a translator and forms a special ontological reality, work with which allows constant “return to the text” (p. 52).

The difficulties in translation are inevitable and are part of the philosophical work of translating a text, as evidenced by numerous discussions, both in Russian humanitarian discourse and in European context. The applied (practical) aspect of the problem of intranslatability of a philosophical text is understood through terminological complexity as a part of the process of “language development” of translation [30]. In this sense, translation is always interpretation, including translation from the everyday language of understanding into the language of philosophy and vice versa. In this regard, a philosophical translation inevitably finds itself in the broad humanitarian context of “working with the text” (Mironov, 2008; Mishkurov, 2013; Medvedev, 2018; Mironov, 2019; Isaev, 2012).

The role of philosophical concepts and metaphors in translation

The role of philosophical concepts and metaphors is also a topical issue of philosophical translation, far from a final decision. Translation of philosophical terms has not only linguistic, but also philosophical difficulty according to some modern researchers who speak about the "homonymy" of \ philosophical language (Akhutin, 2012, p. 353). Even if a certain term (translation variant) is satisfactory from the point of view of language, it may be far from "ideal" from the point of view of philosophy. The solution to the problem is to borrow a word or a term, which is common for philosophy, but then the problem of translation turns into a different plane – the plane of intercultural communication and another problem is being solved – the preservation of the national language of philosophizing.

Other researchers believe that borrowing the term (from Latin or Greek) solves the problem of semantic uncertainty or "hyperdeterminacy" of a philosophical text (Vdovina, 2013, p. 311). The other side of this decision is the situation of increasing number of comments necessary for the existence of a particular term, which in turn are loaded with a large volume of cultural contexts and translation practices.

The situation of philosophical translation becomes more complicated when it comes to the translation of philosophical metaphors. Researchers divide the problem of metaphor in philosophical discourse into two areas: logical and rhetorical. On the one hand, a metaphor is an expression of the "personal style" of philosophizing of this or that thinker (Galieva & Nagumanova, 2016, p. 42), and on the other hand, it is a feature of philosophical discourse itself (Ricœur, 2013; Ricœur, 2014). If Ricoeur believes that, a metaphor is a deliberate “categorical error” with its own heuristic potential, then for the representatives of analytical philosophy there is no “metaphorical truth” and therefore the metaphor only complicates the process of translation and understanding of a philosophical text (Ankin, 2011; Makhaev, 2015).

It is possible to say that a metaphor in philosophy is a challenge for a translator who is forced to solve a whole range of correlated problems, both logical or rhetorical and ideological.

The peculiarities of intercultural communication

The third group of issues is related to the peculiarities of intercultural communication in modern humanities and the problem of translation. As Sdobnikov notes, the evolution of modern translation studies took place through a series of shifts, the most significant of which was the “cultural shift” (Sdobnikov, 2019), which showed the limitations of a purely linguistic approach to a text and assumed a wide cultural context of modern translation. In this regard, Sdobnikov rightly points to one important modern problem of “translation and localization” of a text, which emphasizes the importance of “topological descriptors” for understanding a philosophical text, determining its place in humanitarian culture of our time (Danilova & Enikeev, 2019, p. 4; Enikeev et al., 2019).

However, at the same time, the problem of “localization” is associated with the problem of “machine translation”. Some modern researchers emphasize the relevance of the development of it (Sukhoverkhov et al., 2019, p. 133). Thus, “localization” solves both linguistic, cultural and technical problems of translation according to Sdobnikov. According to a number of modern authors, translation is always the interpretation of a text. Therefore, a philosophical text is a part of the “dialogue of cultures” (Avtonomova, 2012, p. 9; Medvedev, 2018; Mironov, 2019). It is obvious that this dialogue should go beyond the limits of a narrow philosophical discourse into the field of interdisciplinary research (Kasavin, 2010). In this regard, a translator acts as an intermediary and even a “co-author” of such communication, since he creates his own special “metatext” (Kashkin & Ostapenko, 2011, p. 75; Papulova, 2015, p. 43).


In conclusion, it is necessary to note that the problem of philosophical translation in Russian humanitarian discourse is solved from using the interdisciplinary approach. The philosophy of a text, linguistics, translation studies and the theory of intercultural communication make the greatest contribution. Since the disciplinary approaches and methodological attitudes of these research areas are different to some extent, it is necessary to name common “meeting points” that help to see the perspective of research in this direction.

Firstly, the problem of understanding translation as interpretation allows philosophy and philology to interact closely in the search for “terminological equivalence” of a philosophical text in the process of translation.

Secondly, the solution of a number of methodological issues (semiotic, hermeneutical, pragmatic) allows solving both a number of theoretical (general philosophical) issues and purely practical (applied) aspects of translation activity.

Thirdly, the Russian and European context of the translation of a philosophical text allows providing intercultural communication, which is an important parameter for the development of modern humanitarian discourse. In our opinion, the most promising directions are the studies in the field of philosophy of translation and intercultural communication, as well as the development of new forms of representation of a philosophical text in the context of the development of modern information society.


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Enikeev, A. A. (2021). Problem Of Philosophical Translation In Russian Humanitarian Discourse. In & I. Savchenko (Ed.), National Interest, National Identity and National Security, vol 102. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 222-229). European Publisher.