Justifying one's practices : two models of Jewish philosophy
Judaism is a religion that emphasises the importance of a set of practical commandments and in the history of Jewish philosophy various attempts have been made to rationalise or justify these commandments. In this thesis I try to establish a general model for the justification of practices through a critical examination of two such attempted rationalisations. However, the study is framed within the more general question of whether or not there can be such a thing as Jewish Philosophy as a genuinely substantive discipline. Thus, I take the particular topic of rationalising the commandments as a 'case study' in order to see whether we can do substantive Jewish philosophy at least in the practical sphere. In the main body of the thesis I look at the methods of rationalisation of Moses Maimonides and Joseph Soloveitchik and argue that despite being based on very different scientific models they share a central methodological presumption that I term the Priority of Theory (PoT). I outline the main features of this PoT approach to justification and offer a critique of it based primarily on the argument from uncodifiability. I then offer an alternative method of justifying practices - the Priority of Practice approach (PoP) - based on an analysis of the Judaic concept of faith and certain remarks by Soloveitchik that are in tension with his main model of rationalisation discussed earlier. This PoP method stresses the limits of propositional approaches to the justification of practices and the need for a more pragmatic approach. In conclusion I consider again the framing question concerning Jewish philosophy, concluding that if we accept the meta-philosophical conclusions reached regarding practical justifications, the sense in which we can do practical Jewish philosophy is restricted more by the limits of philosophy in the practical sphere than by those of Judaism.