The Discipline of Philosophy and the Invention of Modern Jewish Thought

The Discipline of Philosophy and the Invention of Modern Jewish Thought

Willi Goetschel
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Discipline of Philosophy and the Invention of Modern Jewish Thought
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5029-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. ONE Introduction: Disciplining Philosophy and the Invention of Modern Jewish Thought
    (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 choices, however, are historically contingent. By exploring the subject of Jewish philosophy as a controversial construction site in the project of modernity, this book examines the implications of the different and often conflicting notions at stake in the debate on the question of what...

  5. TWO Hellenes, Nazarenes, and Other Jews: Heine the Fool
    (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 to a cultural distinction. While its function prior to this shift was limited to a religious or, better, a theological-political function, the conversion into a predominantly secular distinction transformed it into one that would inform the modern concept of culture in profound ways.¹ As a result of...

  6. THREE Jewish Philosophy? The Discourse of a Project
    (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 Heine’s exposure of the theological-political complex had highlighted continue to define the problems of the discourse of Jewish philosophy. While Heine had humorously dressed the issues in terms of a masquerade of self and other, his performance captures the issues that could no longer...

  7. FOUR Inside/Outside the University: Philosophy as Way and Problem in Cohen, Buber, and Rosenzweig
    (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 regard to the repositioning of philosophy and its role within the institution. Once a leading discipline, philosophy had become during that time subject to a renegotiation of its academic and social standing. At the same time, the German university witnessed a significant increase in the enrollment of Jewish students, the maturing of...

  8. FIVE A House of One’s Own? University, Particularity, and the Jewish House of Learning
    (pp. 83-96)

    With Mendelssohn, the idea ofBildung—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 to the Humboldt brothers enthusiastically embraced it, making it a central moment of bourgeois aspirations. For Mendelssohn and his period,Bildungcarries the promise of liberation, self-empowerment, and emancipation underpinned by a theory of a psychodynamic economy of the affects as the engine that provides the power to set the individual free to determine him- or...

  9. SIX Jewish Thought in the Wake of Auschwitz: Margarete Susman’s The Book of Job and the Destiny of the Jewish People
    (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. Auschwitz challenged the basic claims of philosophy and reason in such radical and unforgiving ways that there seemed little hope for them to survive the nagging force of doubt. The challenge, if not sheer impossibility, of thinking the Shoah and its metonymic placeholder Auschwitz continues to pose a fundamental...

  10. SEVEN Contradiction Set Free: Hermann Levin Goldschmidt’s Philosophy out of the Sources of Judaism
    (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 and Jewish tradition, which otherwise had been lost, with a strong and self-conscious faith of looking forward into the future. Born in 1914 in Berlin, Goldschmidt had left Berlin in 1938, in the nick of time. In Zurich he found a new home. His dissertation, published in 1941,Der Nihilismus im Lichte...

  11. EIGHT Spinoza’s Smart Worm and the Interplay of Ethics, Politics, and Interpretation
    (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 Jewish thought in Spinoza and Mendelssohn. Both Spinoza and Mendelssohn play a central role in Goldschmidt’s view of the legacy of German Jewry and the importance of this legacy for the project of philosophy. With her essays on Spinoza and Mendelssohn, Susman accentuated the continuity of the line of...

  12. NINE Jewish Philosophers and the Enlightenment
    (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 philosophers throughout Europe. But his thought played a particularly important role in the eyes of Jewish Enlightenment philosophers. To them, Spinoza’s thought represented a successful example of how a philosopher’s particular Jewish concerns could serve as the very moment to enable philosophy’s universal scope. It was Spinoza’s Jewish sensibility that allowed him to challenge the dominant forms...

  13. TEN State, Sovereignty, and the Outside Within: Mendelssohn’s View from the “Jewish Colony”
    (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 to dictate the terms of the political contract, Mendelssohn argued that careful examination would suggest the situation to be more complicated. Mendelssohn’s first intervention in the arena of politics is, however, not only circumspectly political but reflects at the same time critically...

  14. ELEVEN Mendelssohn and the State
    (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 systematically marginalized and whose critical significance, rendered largely invisible by traditional scholarship, still awaits recognition. The critical study of Mendelssohn therefore also presents us with the task of recovering, reexamining, and rethinking what research and scholarship have so effectively eclipsed. As the critical edition of Mendelssohn’s complete...

  15. TWELVE “An Experiment of How Coincidence May Produce Unanimity of Thoughts”: Enlightenment Trajectories in Kant and Mendelssohn
    (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 and despite repeated attempts at reading the two essays together, little critical attention has been directed to the question of how these two admittedly key programmatic statements on the Enlightenment communicate with each other. The standard reading of the essays denies any affinity between them, although two studies, which figure...

  16. Coda
    (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 are identified as Jewish philosophers, more often than not the accent is on “Jewish,” suggesting that their claim to philosophy remains qualified in some particular way. Construed as particular, “Jewish” has thus become reduced to a category at odds with the kind of universalism philosophy likes to...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 233-266)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 267-270)