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Further to fathom Aquinas on this matter, however, it is useful to remember that, when he explains what goodness is, he typically says that to be good is, quite generally, the same as being desirable. (On Evil, introduction, by Brian Davies)

I think there is ambiguity in this sentence. I can understand "further" to mean "furthermore". Also "further" can be seen as tightly following "fathom". More probably, I think the author means "to fathom further...". If so, I think the word order better remains to be "to fathom further.."

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I read it as Furthermore, to fathom Aquinas on this matter, it is useful to remember... It looks like an editing error to me where both further[more] and however remained where one should have been chosen, –  James Webster Oct 12 '13 at 16:31
    
Yes, it looks like it should be To further fathom. It is a clumsy sentence however you look at it though. –  terdon Oct 12 '13 at 16:37
    
It would be [For indef] to remember [that ... Aquinas₁ typically says [that ... desirable]] is useful in order [for indef] to fathom Aquinas₁ further [than some previous standard], except that some rules (like extraposition, adverb fronting, indefinite subject deletion, pronominalization, and in order deletion) have applied. Probably ill-advisedly. –  John Lawler Oct 12 '13 at 16:52
    
+ What James Webster, terdon, and John Lawler have said; and I think this is a misuse of fathom - plumb would be better. –  StoneyB Oct 12 '13 at 17:21
    
I suspect the author didn't write to further fathom because he had been instructed that one should not split infinitives. I think it's ambiguous, and could mean either furthermore, to fathom or to further fathom. This sentence shows why splitting infinitives is a useful grammatical construction in English. –  Peter Shor Oct 12 '13 at 17:55

1 Answer 1

There's no ambiguity, it's not an editing error, further should not be replaced by furthermore, and it's not a misuse of the verb fathom. Apart from that, the comments above were quite accurate.

Yes, the sentence structure is a little strange. "Further to fathom" just means "In order to comprehend more deeply".

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I quite agree. The adverb placement is not very felicitous, but there is only ambiguity in the sentence if we start assuming editorial errors and such things. As it stands, the opening words can only be understood to mean “to further fathom”. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 17 '13 at 11:15
    
I think that what gives so many readers a sense of unease about this sentence is the accumulation of dross it contains—everything from the opening seven-word preamble to the eminently dispensable "it is useful to remember that" to the gratuitously mismatched parallelism of "to be good" and "being desirable." Does the original 35-word sentence say anything of substance that the following 14-word sentence omits? I don't think so. "Nevertheless, in explaining what goodness is, he generally equates being good with being desirable." –  Sven Yargs Oct 17 '13 at 21:47

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