Philosophy | Modern Jewish Philosophy
P205 | 3496 | Morgan


As Judaism has changed, so have the attempts of Jewish thinkers to understand what
Judaism is and what Jewish existence is all about.  This course is about the challenges
Judaism has met in the modern world, from the 17th to the 20th century, and how Jewish
thinkers have come to understand Judaism as it has confronted these challenges.  We
shall start with Baruch Spinoza and his attempt to rethink religion and Judaism against
the background of new political ideas and the scientific revolution.  In order to
understand Spinoza's Theological PoliticalTreatise, we shall first consider the main
themes of Rabbinic Judaism and then certain features of Maimomides' Guide for the
Perplexed.

We turn next to the life and work of Moses Mendelssohn, the preeminent Enlightenment
Jewish philosopher, and his attempt in Jerusalem, to blend Judaism with the liberal,
rational ideals of the 18th century Enlightenment.  After examining certain texts and
themes from the work of Kant, Hegel, Marx, Kiekegaard, and Nietzsche, we shall briefly
discuss 19th century Jewish thought and the role of history in Judaism.  The course will
conclude with a detailed discussion of three great figures of the late 19th and early 20th
century.  Hermann Cohen, Martin Buber, and Franz Rosenzweig.  In their work, in the
years before and after World War I, an effort is made to revitalize Judaism in a modern,
technological, and urban setting and to locate ethics, revelation, history, and messianism
in modern thinking and modern life.

Requirements: Students will receive a detailed syllabus with reading assignments.  The
class will include lecture, discussion, and various classroom activities.  We shall
emphasize the careful examination of texts, from Maimonides' Guide and Spinoza's
Treatise to the works of Mendelssohn, Cohen, Buber, Rosenzweig, and the non-Jewish
philosophers whose influence on Jewish philosophy is so important.  Members of the
class will be expected to have studied and prepared for class; in addition they will be
evaluated on the basis of a short written assignment, a mid-term, a final examination, a
term essay, and several short in-class activities.  There will be optional discussions prior
to the mid-term and final exams; students will be encouraged to use email to discuss
issues and raise problems.