Philosophy | Topics in Philosophy of Judaism
P305 | 26253 | Morgan
Note: This is an intensive writing section
Jewish Philosophy occurs when a Jewish thinker seeks to clarify what
Jewish existence means and does so in terms of the Western
philosophical tradition. This course will explore ways in which
such an attempt today might examine themes in contemporary Anglo-
American philosophy that speak to central issues in Judaism. The
themes we shall discuss are ones that emerged in the twentieth
century as especially significant and continue to challenge Jewish
thinkers in the early twenty-first century.
One set of themes concerns the question of the search for meaning
and the objectivity of value. How does Judaism seek to ground the
meaning of human existence in transcendence? How does Judaism
confront the challenges of skepticism about such an absolute
ground? How does it speak to the threats of relativism,
historicism, and nihilism?
In the twentieth century, the traditional Jewish idea of revelation
and the relationship between revelation and the interpretive
tradition expressed in Jewish texts – Bible, Midrash, Talmud, and
more – has become the place where Jewish thinkers try to clarify how
Jews have articulated what the life of Torah means and how access to
it manifests itself in Jewish life and belief. Revelation concerns
distinctive modes of human experience and the role of language and
writings as ways of responding to such experiences and understanding
what they mean.
Finally, Jewish life, lived in terms of a sense of transcendence and
the meaning it grounds, has many features. Of special importance is
the way ethics takes its place at its core, where ethics means life
in community with others, social and political relationships, and
the hopes for coping with the suffering and injustices that plague
our world. Here the themes of the objectivity of meaning and value
and the revelation and interpretive network that is the Jew’s link
to it merge with the notion of Messianism, of the human task in
redeeming the world and of hope for the future.
In this course, we shall approach these themes philosophically, to
see what resources are available to Jewish philosophy and what
challenges face it from the world of contemporary philosophy. We
shall read and discuss the work of a variety of philosophers,
including Stanley Cavell, Hilary Putnam, Charles Taylor, John
McDowell, Donald Davidson, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Richard Rorty.
Our focus will be on questions about objectivity, meaning and
language, ethics and community, the nature of tradition, the sources
of normativity and the ethical, and much else.
No prior experience in philosophy, Jewish philosophy or Jewish
Studies is required for the course. But the readings and topics are
demanding. Students should be prepared for serious thinking and
several short written assignments. There will be no examinations.