By Dr Kenneth Seeskin PH.D.
Sincerely written, traditionally refined, Jewish Philosophy in an earthly Age provides a working 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 each one factor, the writer units the phrases of the talk and works towards a positive answer.
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Plato and Kant are suspicious of any morality derived from sense experience. At best, the senses can tell us what the world is, not what it could be or ought to be. For the person with a vision of a different world, there must be a way of Page 21 giving content to ethical judgments without relying on descriptive claims. Thus Callicles tells Socrates in the Gorgias (481b): "Are you serious or just having fun? " How could Socrates convince people that the world is upside down and the overwhelming majority of Athenians wrong about what they believe?
It is hardly surprising, then, that people do not know whether to call it Jewish philosophy, Jewish theology, Jewish thought, or philosophy done in a Jewish way. To return to Schwarzschild, if there is disagreement on what counts as philosophy, there will be disagreement on what counts as philosophy done in a Jewish way. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that Jewish thinkers did not have to wait for the latter part of the twentieth century to take seriously the goals of interpretation and critique.
The reply is, once again, that Cohen's religion of reason is neither a description of Judaism nor a glorification. In some cases, for example, claims of ethnicity, it is as sharp a criticism of Jewish attitudes as Plato's Republic was of Athenian. In fact, Cohen's writing is unabashedly messianic. It is in the concept of messianism that Cohen thinks idealistic philosophy and biblical religion come together. Note, for example, that Callicles' remarks to Socrates could just as easily have been directed to Amos or Jeremiah.
Jewish philosophy in a secular age by Dr Kenneth Seeskin PH.D.