Comments on Freddoso's Translation of the Summa's Treatise on Human Nature

Alfred Freddoso’s recent translation for St. Augustine’s Press of qq. 75-102 of the prima pars of the Summa Theologiae might be of interest to people who are looking for Aquinas texts in English for undergraduate (or possibly graduate) philosophical anthropology classes.

Looking at a few articles, Freddoso does seem to have made a faithful translation and the English is readable. A nice touch is that for certain key phrases, or points in the text where some might want to consult the Latin, or where the translation is not strictly literal, Freddoso inserts the Latin in parentheses.

There have been other single volume English editions of Aquinas’s treatment of human nature. In 1962 James Anderson published a translation for Prentice-Hall of Aquinas’s treatise on human nature from the Summa entitled Treatise on Man. In 1999 Thomas Hibbs put together an anthology for Hackett of Aquinas’s texts called On Human Nature. There are important differences between these three volumes.

Anderson’s volume only covers qq. 75-89 of the Summa’s Prima Pars while Freddoso’s translation also includes qq. 90-102. It could be argued that Aquinas understood this discussion of man in the Summa to include all of the questions between 75 and 102. It all depends on how you interpret the remarks he makes prior to q. 75, a. 1. There Aquinas tells the reader:

Post considerationem creaturae spiritualis et corporalis, considerandum est de homine, qui ex spirituali et corporali substantia componitur. Et primo, de natura ipsius hominis; secundo, de eius productione.

I translate this as:

After the consideration of spiritual and corporeal creatures, there is the consideration of man who is composed of a spiritual and corporeal substance. And first we consider the nature itself of man; second his production.

When Aquinas says that he will first consider the nature of man and then his production, he clearly has qq. 75-89 in mind for man’s nature and qq. 90-102 for his production. And Freddoso acknowledges this by putting the respective question numbers in parentheses after the phrase about man’s nature and the phrase about his production in his translation. Obviously, Freddoso thinks that when Aquinas talks about the “consideration of man” and then divides this up into the consideration of his nature and the consideration of his production, this gives us the complete content of the Summa’s “Treatise on Human Nature.”

Just as obviously, Anderson thinks differently. In his introduction to his translation of qq. 75-89 Anderson says that qq. 44-119 are divided into six treatises: The Angels, The Work of the Six Days, on Man, on The First Man, and on The Divine Government. The fifth treatise, “The First Man,” corresponds to qq. 90-102. So, Anderson does not regard the “consideration of man” as constituting a single unified treatise but two distinct treatises. After all, Aquinas does plainly distinguish between man’s nature and his production. But on the back cover of Freddoso’s translation we read: “This translation, moreover, is the only complete edition of all the material St. Thomas envisaged as being part of the Treatise.” Has Anderson misunderstood Aquinas or has Freddoso? Is there another possibility? You can decide for yourself.

It is less controversial to note in what way Freddoso’s volume differs from Hibbs’s. Freddoso presents one block of texts from the Summa while Hibbs puts together texts from various parts of the Summa with texts from Aquinas’s commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima. Both volumes form coherent wholes: Freddoso’s forms a whole that Aquinas himself intended (and, even granting possible Andersonian objections, qq. 90-102 were at least meant to follow systematically in the overall design of the Summa) and Hibbs’s forms a reconstructed speculative whole that Aquinas may or may not have intended. (Of course, this is not to say anything against the Hibbs volume. I’ve made profitable use of it in my undergrad classes. The point was only to specify further in what way it differs from Freddoso’s offering. Incidentally, Freddoso is among those whom Hibbs thanks for commenting on his introduction to On Human Nature.)

For readers who are not immediately familiar with content of the questions that Freddoso presents in his translation, let me give a brief outline: qq. 75-76 deal with the relationship between the body and soul in man; qq. 77-89 deal with the various powers of man’s soul and their operations but the intellect and the will are the main interest, and of these two the intellect gets the lengthier treatment; qq. 90-102 handle God’s production of the first human beings and their general condition prior to the Fall. Many of the articles in qq. 90-102 touch on issues that are of direct relevance to human nature generally and not just in its prelapsarian state. For example, q. 90, a. 2 asks whether the human soul is produced directly by God; q. 91, a. 3, asks whether the human body is appropriately constituted (e.g., given man’s nature, whether horns or hooves would be fitting for him); q. 93, q. 1 asks whether the image of God exists in man. Given these inquiries, one can see why it was not unreasonable for Freddoso to include qq. 90-102 in this volume.

As translated by Freddoso, qq. 75-102  come out to 339 pages, so if you used it in a class together with other texts and you like your students to read carefully, you will have to count on them spending a large portion of the semester getting through it, unless you only use certain sections.

I would have liked a substantive introduction and explanatory notes in this volume. Four brief paragraphs on the back cover are all that we get for an introduction (and it is not specified who their author is) and explanatory notes are completely absent. Neither is absolutely necessary but they are a nice bonus for works of this kind, at least in my opinion. A thorough topical index is included. This is certainly a benefit.