Reasons, Commandments, and the Common Project

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Abstract: The currents of thought characterized as ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Athens’ have some significant affinities. Even giving due weight to the differences between wisdom and worship, between reason and revelation, and between understanding and faith, there are still respects in which philosophy and Judaism, or at least important currents within them, are alike in regard to the fundamental human aspiration. Jerusalem sees this as the loving cognition of God and Athens sees it as delight in excellent activity informed by knowledge of the true and the good. They share the conception of reality as normative for thought, and the conception of our perfection as an elevating knowledge of the real. To be sure, there are other ways of characterizing both philosophy and Judaism, but there is a strong basis for this rendering. The likenesses at issue are especially evident in medieval thought. While elements of the medieval understanding of the world are untenable, medieval thought suggests some central and enduring formulations of what is common to the intellectual and moral projects of Athens and Jerusalem. The issue of ascertaining ‘the reasons of the commandments’ is explored as a way of illustrating the main claims.

Biography: Jonathan Jacobs is a professor of philosophy at Colgate University in New York. He is author of several books including Choosing Character: Responsibility for Virtue and Vice (Cornell, 2001), Dimensions of Moral Theory: An Introduction to Metaethics and Moral Psychology (Blackwell, 2002), and Aristotle’s Virtues: Nature, Knowledge, and Human Good (Peter Lang, 2004). He has written widely on moral psychology and metaethics, as well as on topics and figures in medieval philosophy (chiefly Maimonides and Aquinas). He has served as director of the Division of the Humanities at Colgate University and he is a life member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. He has been John MacMurray Visiting Professor at the University of Edinburgh, and a visiting fellow at the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs at the University of St. Andrews.

Volume 3, Number 3 (Summer 2008) pp. 290