What Can Judaism Learn from Analytic Philosophy?

Analytic philosophy—which since World War II has dominated the discipline in British and American universities—focuses on logic, mathematics, the meaning of words, and the construction of valid arguments. While many of its foremost practitioners rejected religion, along with all claims not grounded in empirical proof, a group of scholars have recently produced a volume that tries to apply analytic thinking to Judaism.

Thus one author seeks to elucidate arguments among medieval commentators over a thorny talmudic legal discussion. In his review, Cole Aronson contends that yeshiva students studying this passage would benefit from this essay. “To ignore tools that explicate a key text or conceptual problem just because those tools were forged outside the tradition would be to miss an opportunity,” writes Aronson.

In another essay, Tyron Goldschmidt, drawing on an argument made by the 12th-century philosopher and poet Judah Halevi, makes an analytical case for the historicity of the Exodus. Aronson comments:

Whether you love or hate (or are pareve about) Goldschmidt’s argument, consider what it represents—a renaissance of Jewish philosophical theology in an analytic mode. Together with his collaborator Samuel Lebens—who’s penned a brilliant article in this collection about midrashic views about meaning in language—Aaron Segal, and others in and out of this volume, Goldschmidt is doing something that to my knowledge hasn’t been attempted by philosophers in English: defending a key empirical thesis of Judaism. Also, Goldschmidt, along with most of the other contributors to this volume, writes like a regular person rather than a member of a clandestine order.

Physicists, historians, psychologists, and linguists may not always (or ever) thank philosophers for their interest, but philosophy has a proud record of learning from and spurring advances in other disciplines. I suspect the same will be true for Jewish thought and analytic philosophy.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Jewish Philosophy, Judah Halevi, Judaism, Philosophy


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus