There is a wide spectrum of ideologies in today’s world, two of which being modern Western philosophy and Jewish philosophy. At the core of any philosophical discussion is humanity, the workings of the human mind. Through thinking, man attempts to make sense of himself, others, his environment, and his world. The Age of Enlightenment in Europe is where the basis for philosophical thought directly connected to reason and common sense was born, and the scientific method has spread to America and across the world (Spielvogel, 2008).
This is the basis of modern Western philosophy and gained momentum within a largely Christian society. Jewish philosophy was born in the ancient Middle East, as a direct result of man’s belief that he was being liberated from slavery by God (Samuelson, 2006). Through discussion about these two philosophies, centering on the rational scientific analysis of modern Western thought and the idea of liberation which is central to Jewish thinking, one is able to deduce the obvious conflict of interests between these two ideologies.
Modern Western Philosophy
It is the intention of modern Western philosophy to put everything to the test, to analyze how human beings, in relation to their environments, are able to prosper in the best and most scientifically accurate ways. Glatzer and Rosenwieg note how scientific inquiry is necessarily related to bettering the health of humanity and “frees the individual from his isolation; in relating himself to his fellow man, to the world around him, and to God, man’s life becomes meaningful” (1999, 27).
In discovering how man is related to other people and the world around him, he is necessary bound to others in interdependence and in inquiry of the dynamic relationships within the world. Buber simply and accurately states that human beings are essentially held together in the “primary word… the combination I-Thou” (2008, 3). This statement calls to attention the foundational relationship between man and others, including other people and other things in his environment.
In Jewish philosophy, there is the constant drive to attain liberty, to be freed from slavery. Ironically, since man can never be free of his interdependence with others, this striving necessarily creates a master-slave dichotomy, since absolute freedom means absolute separation, isolation, and rejection of others. In this philosophical system, there is less importance placed on social matters, including social justice, and more importance placed on individual survival with neglect of others.
The masters of this game are the winners, and the losers are the slaves. Levinas and Nemo aptly state that there can be no absolute liberty without absolute secrecy, as the move to liberate the individual automatically creates a schism between oneself and others (1985). In this way, striving for liberty creates social discord and a breakdown of the natural holism of society, leading to extreme classism, elitism and poverty, and the master-slave dichotomy. Patterson notes how freedom is associated with human autonomy, and is therefore a slave religion (2005). When the poor can no longer depend on the wealthy for social inclusion, the result is negative extremism and the unhealthy splitting of society.
There is an undoubtable conflict between modern Western thought and Jewish philosophy, and these ideologies cannot peacefully coexist. It is important to note that there is an unchanging interdependence between man and the universe, including other people, and that the healthiest human society is born from acknowledging the importance of serving one another through kind and thoughtful means. By use of scientific inquiry, man is able to make certain declarations about his world, and these declarations always point towards the importance of social .
Buber, M. (2008). I and Thou. Read Books.
Glatzer, N. & Rosenzweig, F. (1999). Understanding the sick and the healthy: a view of world, man, and God. Harvard University Press.
Levinas, E. & Nemo, P. (1985). Ethics and infinity. Duquesne University Press.
Patterson, D. (2005). Hebrew language and Jewish thought. Routledge.
Spielvogel, J. (2008). Western Civilization: Since 1500. Cengage Learning.
Samuelson, N. (2006). Jewish Philosophy: An Historical Introduction. Continuum International Publishing Group.