Jewish Philosophy as Minority Philosophy

In Yitzhak Y. Melamed & Paul Franks (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Jewish Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Jewish philosophy has seen better days. It has been quite a while since the discipline of Jewish philosophy enjoyed the respect of the wider philosophical community, and an obvious question is what are the reasons for this state of things? Providing a detailed and thorough answer to this question is beyond the scope of the current chapter. Still, I would like to contribute here a few ideas that might shed some light on the current predicament and its causes. Such an attempt is timely because the current moment in the development of Anglo-American philosophy is impregnated with a promise – which I hope is sincere – to turn the study of philosophy and the history of philosophy into an inclusive and genuinely universal field of inquiry, shared equally by all human beings, rather than an imposition of the prevalent beliefs of white Christian European males. A study of philosophy that is genuinely ecumenical could profit enormously from the encounter and dialogue with the philosophical thinking of minority cultures, since it is precisely this encounter with the philosophical thought of minority cultures that could expose the potentially numerous blind spots of the majority. If anything can heal Western philosophy from the prejudice that what one takes to be natural must be equally judged so by all rational human beings, it is only the encounter with non-Christian, or non-Western, philosophical thinking that could refute its illusory pretense of universality. Obviously, the real issue at stake is the sincerity of the attempt to understand foreign cultures and their philosophical thinking in their own terms. An identity politics that is merely interested in extending fig leaves would be far worse than the old, conservative state of things, insofar as the new and “inclusive” appearance would only provide the majority culture with a sense of self-satisfaction that would allow it to stick to its old and obstinate prejudicial practices. My aims in the current chapter are pretty modest and concrete. In the first two parts of the chapter, I will attempt to shed light on two blind spots related to perceptions of Jewish philosophy, from without and from within, respectively. These two parts will thus inquire into the nature of Jewish philosophy as minority philosophy. In the third and final part, I will turn to the rudimentary requirements of Jewish philosophy qua philosophy. In this part, I will suggest some fundamental desiderata which might – I hope – help the field flourish and achieve the recognition it deserves. Here too, my claims would be quite plain, as most of the desired characteristics I would argue for are pretty trivial, yet unfortunately still mostly lacking.

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Yitzhak Melamed
Johns Hopkins University


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