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176Philosophy and Literature happy endings. Borges, for example, to whom Girard refers, seems to regard him within broad strokes in such a manner. But whether we finally approve or disapprove the paths Girard follows or the conclusions to which he comes, few commentators have read Shakespeare in as serious and vital a manner, as if what this Renaissance writer says to us really matters, not onlywith regard to his own cultural situation, butwith regard to ours as well. What reader or writer could offer us more? Cornell UniversitySandor Goodhart fewish Philosophy in a Secular Age, by Kenneth Seeskin; ? & 246 pp. Albany: SUNY Press, 1990, $49.50 cloth, $16.95 paper. Kenneth Seeskin addresses his newest book to a field in which much work is needed. As discussion in literary and critical thinking in this country turns increasingly to ethics, a book promising an exploration of relations between Judaism and philosophy in the modern context would seem especially welcome. The result is confusing and disappointing. Advertised as a "dialogue" (p. ix), a "conversation" (p. 23), the book is in fact a defense of "the tradition which runs from Plato to [Hermann] Cohen" (p. 24). "My approach will be," Seeskin writes, ". . . to understand this tradition by seeing how people have tried to overthrow it" (p. 24)—among such people he lists "Aristode, Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Kierkegaard, Buber, the ethical intuidonists, and Fackenheim" (p. 24). Nine chapters lead us through "a discussion of selected issues in the philosophy of religion whose purpose is to carry this [Platonic] tradition forward" (pp. 2324 ). And in a final chapter (on the "conflict between those who stress the universal qualities ofJewish thought and those who stress cultural and religious particularity" [p. 213]), the author declares himself "on the side of those who stress universality" (p. 213). Putting aside, for the moment, whether it is possible to speak of a unitary tradition "from Plato to Cohen," and if so what it would mean to "overthrow" it or include "Aristotle" or "Descartes" among the rebels—and setting aside as well the defensiveness ofSeeskin's approach (it may even be—following Derrida, Rorty, and others Seeskin cites—that we may only defend, although it seems at least odd to defend against thinkers like Buber who are the architects of the dialogical position he invokes)—there is yet another problem. Reviews177 It is not at all clear, to begin with, that Seeskin's book has a subject matter. Is there a "Jewish philosophy" to speak of—"secular" or otherwise? Are the premises of Judaism and those of philosophy compatible? Seeskin for one is unsure. Quoting Isaac Husik's remark that "there are Jews now and there are philosophers, but there are noJewish philosophers and noJewish philosophy" (p. 1), Seeskin concludes that we must define Jewish philosophy in terms of its "orientation." The "price we pay . . . ," he adds, "is that we will no longer have anything labeled Jewish' philosophy" but "rather philosophy done in a Jewish way or . . . that contains ... a characteristic Jewish twist"; philosophy, that is to say, which is " Jewish' by virtue of transhistorical ideas that secular thought will sometimes arrive at on its own." Such "philosophy done in a Jewish way," Seeskin notes, invoking his teacher and mentor, Steven S. Schwarzchild, is characterized by "two theses": "(1) the Primacy of Practical Reason, and (2) the Transcendence of the Rational" (p. 4). What is Jewish about "transhistorical ideas"? Hegelian, okay. But Jewish? Moreover, while philosophy may adopt such theses (consider, for example, Kant), Judaism, I would offer, is committed to the primacy of Torah and the transcendence of Transcendence, in short, of ethics. And Seeskin's invocation of Schwarzchild would seem to backfire. In an entry on "Modern Jewish Philosophy " (1987), Schwarzchild has written: "The view held here ... is that philosophy is Jewish by virtue of a transhistorical primacy ofethics; non-Jewish thought will, of course, sometimes also arrive at such an ethical primacy by rational means to one degree or another, and Jewish philosophy, like Judaism at large, will then gratefully use or bend to its purpose its non-Jewish infusions" (A. Cohen and P. Mendes-Flohr, eds., ContemporaryJewish Religious Thought [New York: The Free Press, 1987], p. 629). Seeskin...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 176-178
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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