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Jewish philosophy in the early 19th century

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-J037-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Although Jewish philosophy flourished in the Middle Ages, it underwent a serious decline in 1492, when the Jews were expelled from Spain. The period following Kant and Mendelssohn witnessed an attempt to reintegrate Jewish philosophy into the mainstream of Western culture. The strategy of reintegration consisted of two elements: (1) showing that there is more to Judaism than the study of Scripture and (2) arguing that some of the ideas that won favour in the Enlightenment were anticipated by Jews centuries earlier.

The most central idea that Jewish thinkers claimed as their own is a shift in focus from theoretical issues to practical ones. As important features of the medieval worldview fell into disrepute, many philosophers began to ask whether there are limits to what human reason can know. Can it really prove that God exists or that the soul is immortal? One response was to argue that even if no proof can be found, there are still grounds for believing, particularly if our understanding of ourselves as moral agents makes no sense without them.

But it did not take long for people to argue that moral agency requires not just a God but a free and transcendent God capable of issuing commands to free agents created in the divine image. Here too, Jewish thinkers claimed that the idea of a God who is not limited by nature and insists on mercy and justice for all people was an integral part of monotheism as understood by the Hebrew prophets.

Citing this article:
Seeskin, Kenneth. Jewish philosophy in the early 19th century, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-J037-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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