Translator’s Note by Norman Denny

The Future of Mankind
by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Translator’s Note by Norman Denny

Like every thinker exploring new fields of thought, Père Teilhard de Chardin was faced by the problem of the limitations of language. He solved it, or got round it, in the way philosophers and scientists have always been obliged to do -- by the use of neologisms and, at times, of elaborate, allusive formulations of words which make considerable demands on the reader if their full meaning and implications are to be grasped.

The difficulties confronting his translator need not be stressed. Limitations differ from language to language. There are things calling for laborious exposition in French, which can be said more clearly and simply in English; and the reverse is equally true. The problems have to be solved as best they can, often in an arbitrary way. I must cite one instance, which may otherwise puzzle the reader of this book. This is the word Reflection, which is also spelt Reflexion where the context seems to require it.

In Teilhard’s philosophy, to which it is vital, the word represents two distinct things, which, however, are so intimately connected as to be in effect different aspects of the same thing. Reflection is the power of conscious thought which distinguishes Man from all other living creatures (the animal that not only knows but knows that it knows). But the species Man also differs biologically, in Teilhard’s view, from all other species (or phyla) in that, instead of spreading out fanwise, breaking into sub-species and falling eventually into stagnation, it coils inward upon itself and thus generates new (spiritual) energies and a new form of growth -- a process of Reflexion which is part and parcel of the phenomenon of Reflection. I have varied the spelling according to which aspect appears more important in terms of the immediate argument.

The aim of this translation is twofold. First, and obviously, to convey Teilhard’s meaning as clearly as possible. Second, and no less importantly, to catch the sound of his voice: to convey something of the nature of the man himself as it emerges from his writings, his warmth and humanity, his eager, wide-ranging, wonderfully lucid and penetrating mind, and above all, his passionate desire to impart what he had to say to everyone who will trouble to listen. Its success in achieving these aims can, at the best, be only relative. There never has been, nor ever will be, a ‘total’ translation -- anyway, of any sentence longer than half-a-dozen words.

I am most grateful to Mrs. Helen Suggett, who scrutinized my text with meticulous care, drew attention to many shortcomings and made many helpful suggestions.

Norman Denny

The definitive collection of essays by the famous Christian mystic, revealing Teilhard's concepts of "social heredity" and progress, "the planetization of mankind," and the Noosphere -- a biological interpretation of human history.