By Dr Kenneth Seeskin PH.D.
Essentially written, traditionally refined, Jewish Philosophy in a mundane Age provides a operating discussion among a rationalist knowing of faith and its many critics, starting from Descartes and Hume to Kierkegaard, Buber, and Fackenheim. the writer confronts such classical difficulties as divine attributes, construction, revelation, suspension of the moral, ethics and secular philosophy, the matter of evil, and the significance of the Holocaust. On every one factor, the writer units the phrases of the controversy and works towards a positive answer.
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The issues which concern him are the standard philosophic fare: meaning, truth, disembodied subjects, the status of scientific knowledge, representation. Granted he is not trading one theory for another but calling into question the need to theorize about such things in the first place; still, he speaks as if traditional philosophy and metaphysics are the same thing. In reading him, one gets the impression that the Enlightenment thinkers had a lot to say about meaning and truth, but only a few scattered remarks about values and institutions.
To some philosophers, this conclusion will seem profoundly unsettling. Take away demonstration and you take away the heart and soul of philosophy. To those like Gadamer, Habermas, and Toulmin, however, the move from demonstration to interpretation and critique is all for the good. To see this, we need turn no further than Maimonides. Contrary to what some people expect to find when they open the Guide, Maimonides does not offer a systematic treatise in metaphysics. There is no formal discussion of axioms and postulates, no mention of being qua being, no attempt to reconstruct human knowledge from the ground up.
Still, the fact of independent discovery has to be taken seriously. If some gentile thinkers stand to Jewish philosophy as Marx stands to French, there is no basis for insisting on a tight, ethnic characterization of the former. Whether one argues that such thinkers are "Jewish" in their outlook or that Jewish philosophy is part of a wider tradition of intellectual development is immaterial. The fact is that there is a natural progression from Plato to Maimonides, from Maimonides to Kant, and from Kant to Cohen.