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The Discipline of Philosophy and the Invention of Modern Jewish Thought

Willi Goetschel

Publication Year: 2012

Exploring the subject of Jewish philosophy as a controversial construction site of the project of modernity, this book examines the implications of the different and often conflicting notions that drive the debate on the question of what Jewish philosophy is or could be. The idea of Jewish philosophy begs the question of philosophy as such. But "Jewish philosophy" does not just reflect what "philosophy" lacks. Rather, it challenges the project of philosophy itself. Examining the thought of Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn, Heinrich Heine, Hermann Cohen Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, Margarete Susman, Hermann Levin Goldschmidt, and others, the book highlights how the most philosophic moments of their works are those in which specific concerns of their "Jewish questions" inform the rethinking of philosophy's disciplinarity in principal terms. The long overdue recognition of the modernity that informs the critical trajectories of Jewish philosophers from Spinoza and Mendelssohn to the present emancipates not just "Jewish philosophy" from an infelicitous pigeonhole these philosophers so pointedly sought to reject but, more important, emancipates philosophy from its false claims to universalism.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4


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pp. 5-6

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pp. vii-x

Jewish philosophy? If the question might sound Greek to you, this is no coincidence. But it certainly raises a host of questions, such as: In what language, what dialect, does philosophy speak? Can philosophy be translated from one dialect into another without loss—or, possibly, and more interestingly, with what kind...

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1. Introduction: Disciplining Philosophy and the Invention of Modern Jewish Thought

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pp. 1-20

This book explores a moment in the history of “disciplining” philosophy that played a crucial role in the formation of philosophy and that continues to inform its practice. As a consequence, this moment still determines the way we read and do philosophy, i.e., how we include and exclude authors, texts, and aspects of their thought. These...

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2. Hellenes, Nazarenes, and Other Jews: Heine the Fool

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pp. 21-38

The distinction between Greek and Hebrew thought and culture is lodged so profoundly in the Western imaginary that it has assumed quasi-ontological status. But it is not until the age of secularization and the waning of the social and political power of the various religious institutions that the distinction shifts from a religious...

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3. Jewish Philosophy? The Discourse of a Project

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pp. 39-57

If the critical thrust of Heine’s comedic take on the Hebrews and Hellenes and his play with Solomon as the paradigmatic figure of origin of multiple traditions seems to have largely gone unappreciated, the consequences his comedy had foreshadowed began to play no less of a cruel role, even as they were ignored. The issues that...

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4. Inside/Outside the University: Philosophy as Way and Problem in Cohen, Buber, and Rosenzweig

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pp. 58-82

Philosophy as a discipline as well as Jewish philosophers as individuals faced a particular set of challenges between 1871 and 1933. There were internal institutional pressures within the university, which during this period underwent a rapid process of growth, expansion, and disciplinary differentiation that had direct implications with...

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5. A House of One’s Own? University, Particularity, and the Jewish House of Learning

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pp. 83-96

With Mendelssohn, the idea of Bildung—the modern vision of meaningful education, formation, and individualization—assumed a central role in the discussion on emancipation, assimilation, and the foundation of civil society. As Mendelssohn gave the term critical currency, exponents of German culture from Goethe...

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6. Jewish Thought in the Wake of Auschwitz: Margarete Susman’s The Book of Job and the Destiny of the Jewish People

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pp. 97-113

With the developments that led to Auschwitz, the question of the historical contingency of philosophy and its consequences for reason’s claim to autonomy assumed new and intensified urgency. After the Shoah, all traditional wisdom seemed to collapse, and all that once seemed to have secured reason so unassailably had become questionable...

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7. Contradiction Set Free: Hermann Levin Goldschmidt’s Philosophy out of the Sources of Judaism

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pp. 114-132

Inspired by the groundbreaking assertion of Jewish thought by Cohen, Buber, and Rosenzweig, Hermann Levin Goldschmidt found confidence in reclaiming their projects of philosophy in the wake of the Shoah. He also met in Margarete Susman a mentor who combined an unwavering grounding in the continuity of German...

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8. Spinoza’s Smart Worm and the Interplay of Ethics, Politics, and Interpretation

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pp. 133-149

Goldschmidt’s approach to philosophy as dialogic and Susman’s reclaiming of the philosophic significance of the biblical traditions of the Jewish sources consciously built on the work of Cohen, Buber, and Rosenzweig. Their return to these thinkers is grounded in a deeper awareness of the profound significance of the roots of modern...

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9. Jewish Philosophers and the Enlightenment

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pp. 150-177

With Spinoza’s smart worm highlighting the dynamic relationship of part and whole and the interplay between ethics, politics, and interpretation, the interdependence of theory and practice had become recognized as a mutually constitutive process. Spinoza’s philosophy signaled a critical move that inspired Enlightenment...

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10. State, Sovereignty, and the Outside Within: Mendelssohn’s View from the “Jewish Colony”

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pp. 178-188

Spinoza had shown that in modernity a Jew could be a philosopher in his own right. Salomon Maimon had demonstrated that this was true even after Kant. Yet Jewish philosophy still seemed to be perceived as relating to philosophy much the way a colony is imagined to relate to its mother nation. If, however, the mother nation seemed...

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11. Mendelssohn and the State

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pp. 189-209

In some ways, Mendelssohn is the classic that modern Jewish philosophy never had. The case of his reception has paradigmatic significance for understanding the limits and challenges faced by philosophy, German studies, and Jewish studies. In particular, it raises the methodological question of how to address a body of work that has been...

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12. “An Experiment of How Coincidence May Produce Unanimity of Thoughts”: Enlightenment Trajectories in Kant and Mendelssohn

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pp. 210-229

This concluding chapter examines the question how the essays on the Enlightenment written and published by Moses Mendelssohn and Immanuel Kant in close vicinity in 1784 highlight and, upon closer examination, correspond to each other in a way that suggests a revision of the narrative on the Enlightenment. Curiously enough...

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pp. 230-232

While Kant recognized, if only for an instant, the importance of dialogue with Mendelssohn, philosophy, as the discipline has emerged over the last couple of centuries, has seen a series of missed opportunities when it came to the issue of recognizing the concerns of Jewish philosophers as genuine philosophic ones. Equally, when philosophers...


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pp. 233-265


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pp. 267-270

E-ISBN-13: 9780823250295
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823244966
Print-ISBN-10: 0823244962

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: Text