In Matthew Stewart’s very good account of Leibniz and Spinoza, The Courtier and the Heretic (Yale UP, 2005), there is a note in the bibliography that
The standard, reference edition of Leibniz’s collected works is that of the Berlin Akademie. The Akademie is expected to require another century or so to complete its edition, however, so the researcher must rely on a number of other editions of Leibniz’s work.
Now that additional century needs to be seen from the date that edition begun, which was in 1923! Now Leibniz does present a huge number of problems – he wrote on just about every topic imaginable, he wrote in Latin, French and German, and there is an estimate of “150,000 sheets in the archives in Hanover” (Stewart, p. 13). But even so…
Leibniz isn’t especially well-served in English translations either. There are several collections of philosophical writings (Loemker; Wiener; Ariew & Garber; Woolhouse & Francks; Strickland) but lots of overlap between them; the Political Writings which is very limited; and some individual works (Theodicy; the New Essays on Human Understanding), but a huge amount not translated. There is a new Yale UP series of bi-lingual editions, but that’s been going almost twenty years and not produced many volumes.
It got me thinking about the incomplete editions of different thinkers that I’ve worked with in the past. There were several editions of Nietzsche that were never completed (for financial, editorial and/or political reasons) until the Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari Kritische Gesamtausgabe Werke and Kritische Studienausgabe dealt with that, but it took many years to complete. There is no complete English translation. The Stanford series seems to have stalled after three volumes, with the last 11 years ago; Cambridge have translations of a number of works, as do Penguin and other publishers, but Hollingdale and Kaufmann translations are still the only ones for some works. Cambridge’s Writings from the Later Notebooks hasn’t yet replaced The Will to Power. Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe is still ongoing, but it isn’t close to being a critical edition. Theodore Kisiel was especially damning of it in the early days. Foucault has been well-served in French with the Dits et écrits collection of the shorter writings, but the English Essential Works was poorly done, with several texts reprinted from earlier collections (without ever quite replacing any of them) and many important texts missing. Complications with Lefebvre’s estate has produced problems with any new French editions of long out-of-print texts – after a flurry in the late 90s and early 2000s. (Some of his works are extremely difficult to find – some ended up on Nazi bonfires after the 1940 invasion, and some were censored by the PCF.) There is a new multi-volume of Eugen Fink’s writings in progress, but the volumes are extremely expensive. Much of his earlier work is out of print, and little is in English. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant in Translation is projected to be fifteen volumes in total, and will include all of the writings published in Kant’s lifetime, along with some of the unpublished lectures, correspondence and notes, but isn’t yet complete – the Natural Science volume, which will include the first English translation of the Physical Geography (albeit in the problematic Rink edition), is long delayed. The Kant Akademie Ausgabe isn’t finished either – though the stories Werner Stark has told about what was required for the editions of the Anthropologie and Geographie lectures give a good indication of the enormous work involved.
In part these thoughts are produced by a frustration out of how to reference works. If you reference simply to the volume and page number of the edition you use, then someone following up your references has to find the same edition to check it. If there is a standard way to reference – as there is, for example, with Plato and Aristotle – then any (decent) edition will do. Some works, especially classical texts, can be easily referenced by book, chapter, section, etc. Marginal pagination, to some agreed earlier edition, in translations or new editions can certainly help, but it can be frustrating. To take one example, Kant’s works (with the exception of the Critique of Pure Reason with the A/B pagination) are now frequently referenced to the Gesammelte Schriften in the Akademie Ausgabe by volume and page, and indeed the new Cambridge Kant translations have these in the margins. But because the Cambridge edition is thematically ordered in a different way to the AA (which is partly chronological), unless you know which volume of the Cambridge to go to you are seriously inconvenienced. As it stands, the Cambridge translations don’t even have volume numbers. So a concordance is needed, but could have easily been provided in the texts.
The examples could be multiplied. I haven’t even mentioned medieval writers…