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A Philosophical Retrospective

A Philosophical Retrospective: Facts, Values, and Jewish Identity

Alan Montefiore
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    A Philosophical Retrospective
    Book Description:

    As a young lecturer in philosophy and the eldest son of a prominent Jewish family, Alan Montefiore faced two very different understandings of his identity: the more traditional view that an identity such as his carried with it, as a matter of given fact, certain duties and obligations, and an opposing view, emphasized by his studies in philosophy, according to which there can be no rationally compelling move from statements of fact-whatever the alleged facts may be-to "judgments of value." According to this second view, individuals must in the end take responsibility for determining their own values and obligations.

    In this book, Montefiore looks back on his attempts to understand the nature of this conflict and the misunderstandings it may engender. In the process, he illustrates through personal experience the practical implications of a characteristically philosophical issue. Montefiore finally settles on the following: while everyone has to accept that facts, including those of their own situation, are whatever they may be, both the "traditional" assumption that individuals must recognize certain values and obligations as rooted in those very facts, and the contrary view that individuals are ultimately responsible for determining their own values, are deeply embedded in differing conceptions of society and its relation to its members.

    Montefiore then examines the misunderstandings between those for whom identity constitutes in effect a conceptual bridge connecting the facts of who and what a person may be to the value commitments incumbent upon them, and those for whom the very idea of such a bridge can be nothing but a confusion. Using key examples from the notoriously vexed case of Jewish identity and from his own encounters with its conflicting meanings and implications, Montefiore depicts the practical significance of the differences between these worldviews, particularly for those who hove to negotiate them.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52679-1
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xiv)

    This book has as its primary concern a reconsideration of two apparently quite distinct topics. The first is the question of whether the “facts” of who and what one is—if to take them simply as facts is indeed the proper way of thinking of them, the “facts” of one’s identity, in other words, do not constitute some sort of rationally compelling passage from statements of fact to certain value judgments and the second is the endlessly contentious subject of the nature of Jewish identity. There is, as may, I hope, become apparent, some small degree of genuine overlap between...

    (pp. 1-7)

    A fact, we may say, is something that presents itself as a feature of the world within which one finds oneself, some aspect of one’s given reality, something that has to be accepted whether one likes it or not;¹ a statement of fact presents itself as a proposition or, qua speech act, as an assertion that claims acceptance on similar terms. This is emphatically not to say that there is, or could ever be, just one uniquely appropriate way of articulating any given state of affairs, just one way of conceptualizing the way things are and, by so doing, of...

    (pp. 8-55)

    Different members of the same community, both of its older and of its younger generations, may agree, then, as on a matter of generally accepted fact, that within the community certain individuals are marked out by tradition as occupying given roles within it simply by virtue of their family position and/or by that family’s position within the community at large, yet they may strongly disagree in giving very different contemporary weight to the obligations attached to such roles as traditionally conceived. All may readily admit the undeniable possibility of countervailing considerations of sufficient weight to outweigh that which they would...

    (pp. 56-78)

    Although I have some reservations about his use of the phrase “the real problem,” I have a great deal of instinctive sympathy with Avishai Margalit’s view as expressed in the epigraph to this chapter. In my own case, for instance, having been brought up in a context of essentially Reform Judaism at home, but having been to schools with only a mere scattering of other Jewish boys until the age of about fourteen, I remember very well my perplexity on then becoming a junior member of “Polacks,” the Jewish house at Clifton, an otherwise fairly typical English public school, and...

    (pp. 79-101)

    We were still left at the end of the last chapter with the question of what might be at the basis of that sense of Jewish identity that we seem to take for granted when asking with Avishai Margalit whose values, views, and qualities should Jews adopt as their own and with which should they identify. In coming back to this question, however, we should look more closely at the ways in which Jewish identity may be tied to the paradoxically mutual dependence and tension between the particular and the universal. This is a topic with which I have, in...

    (pp. 102-115)

    The Posen Foundation, responsible for the organization of the conference at which Dr. Baron was a participant, is dedicated to making available a thoroughgoing program of education in what it calls secular Judaism. Felix Posen has given his own personal account of his motivations in establishing his foundation in an interview with Ruthie Blum Leibowitz when he attended the Fifteenth World Congress of Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem:

    The approach adopted by the Posen Foundation, then, “views a cultural perception of Judaism as one of several possibilities available to the modern secular Jew, along with outlooks such...

    (pp. 116-142)

    The main guiding threads of the preceding chapters—those which, however disparate appearances may be, hold them (more or less) together—have been 1. the continuation of a long-time pursuit of a better understanding of the distinction and relations between value judgments and statements of fact and 2. a quasi-autobiographical concern to see where I stand now in relation to what, whether I was fully aware of it at the time or not, must have been one of the main questions to which I was seeking an answer when starting out in philosophy—a need, one might say, to establish...

    (pp. 143-172)

    In my attempted retelling of this story a number of other themes of long-standing philosophical puzzlement have either made some brief appearance or have remained lurking not very far in the wings. To have brought them out further onto the stage of discussion in their own right would have involved the distractions of too many fairly substantial digressions. Some are, nevertheless, of sufficient relevance to the main story as to merit further brief elaboration on their own account. Indeed, the very relevance of that relevance makes it more appropriate to gather them together in a final, as it were, postscriptorial...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 173-188)
  12. Index
    (pp. 189-201)