Friday, January 19, 2007

Jewish thinkers and the philosophy of history

Sometime in late 2003 I was walking around Jerusalem and wandered in to the old used book store near Machne Yehuda. I picked up a few books that were somehow very tangentially related to stuff I was interested in for my own research. They were books about the positivist account of history, historical laws, and historical explanations - they were from the 1950's. I bought them, and I only noticed when I got home that two of them were well marked up, and they had the signature of "Emil Fackenheim" on the inside cover. He had just died, so I guess someone sold off his library. Fackenheim was a formidable philosopher. He is most known for his "11th commandment post-holocaust" philosophy.

I then began to notice that there was a lot of interest in the philosophy of history at the time that Fackenheim was writing. He himself wrote a lot about Jews and their place in History, and things like that. What is more interesting though is that there were a whole lot of Jews at that time worrying about the same thing. Morris Raphael Cohen, another important Jewish intellectual at City College wrote a book on the philosophy of history - a book he thought was his most important. Berkovitz too was interested in the role Jews play in history.

This is something that I clearly don't have time to research, but there was an interesting moment in Jewish intellectual history where the most influential philosophical Jewish minds were concentrating on the same problem. I wonder why. Clearly many might have been thinking post-holocaust thoughts. Fackenheim and Berkovits were deeply interested in this. The question of Jewish existence and their role in the bigger scheme would have interested them. I suppose there was something of that question in the general intellectual zeitgeist when people like Dray and Gardinier were thinking about these things.

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