No philosophical tradition is an island: philosophy is an inherently multicultural and multilingual discipline. Many philosophers have had (or deliberately acquired) the linguistic equipment to understand philosophical texts written in languages other than their own, but in most cases the reception of foreign-language philosophy has depended on translations.

This chapter addresses some of the specific questions associated with the translation of philosophical texts. The first half gives an overview of the history of key translations since antiquity which have changed the course of the development of philosophy. Examples analysed range chronologically from Roman philosophy (Lucretius, Cicero) through translations of Aristotle into Arabic and Latin in the Middle Ages, to translations into and between vernacular languages since the Renaissance. Significant translation exchanges between Western philosophy and Chinese and Indian thought are also discussed.

The second half of the chapter discusses critical issues and topics by responding to three specific questions: ‘why translate philosophy?’, ‘who translates philosophy?’ and ‘how to translate philosophy?’. Five different purposes for philosophy translation are set out: cultural exchange (including ideological manipulations), textual interpretation (including creative misreadings and misinterpretations), linguistic enrichment, founding or furthering an indigenous philosophical tradition, and the philosophical development of the individual translator. Although many of the most significant philosophy translations in history have been carried out by gifted amateurs, nowadays the task is increasingly falling to professional academic philosophers, of whom a steadily increasing number are women. It has been widely recognised that philosophical texts pose a particular challenge to the translator, comparable to translating scripture or poetry, and philosophy’s conceptual language has regularly been considered ‘untranslatable’, but equally regularly philosophical texts have been translated (and retranslated). The difficulties posed for the translator by conceptual and figurative language are considered, and the relative creativity of some of the responses.

A concluding section addresses Lawrence Venuti’s call for a more experimental style in philosophy translation. It argues that although most philosophical material may not be amenable to being translated experimentally, flamboyantly foreignising translations are not required in order to counteract the neglect of translatedness within the history of the reception of translated philosophy.