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Skepticism, Belief, and the Modern: Maimonides to Nietzsche (Contestations) [Hardcover]

By Aryeh Botwinick (Author)
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Item Specifications...

Pages   249
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.32" Width: 6.25" Height: 0.88"
Weight:   1.19 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Nov 30, 1997
Publisher   Cornell University Press
ISBN  0801432081  
EAN  9780801432088  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
The traditional Western intellectual story posits a dramatic reversal in which secular self-understandings and modes of being in the world supplant a religious sensibility and outlook. Aryeh Botwinick proposes a radically revised understanding of the formation of the modern world view: the movement of Western thought is from inchoate and less self-conscious forms of skepticism to more fully explicit and articulated versions of skepticism. He shows that what is called modernity has been around at least from the time of Plato and is integral to the reception of Greek ideas in both the medieval and the post-medieval periods. Modernity is identified with the emergence of skepticism into full prominence, and Botwinick associates postmodernity, when the limitations of skepticism became apparent, with the development of an augmented self-consciousness. Drawing upon diverse disciplines--political theory, metaphysics, analytic philosophy, intellectual history, and Jewish studies--Botwinick calls into question some of the cherished boundaries of western thought, specifically those that isolate religion. In developing his argument, he applies deconstructionist approaches to such classic texts in the history of political thought as Plato's Republic, Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, and Hobbes's Leviathan.

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More About Aryeh Botwinick

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Aryeh Botwinick is professor of political science at Temple University. He is the author of "Skepticism, Belief, and the Modern"; "Postmodernism and Democratic Theory"; and "Skepticism and Political Participation."

Aryeh Botwinick has an academic affiliation as follows - Temple University, United States.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
A Unified History of Philosophy as Skepticism  Apr 17, 2006
This study can be understood as an unusually intelligent attempt to think through the proposition that the history of philosophy is the history of a set of problems. Those problems can perhaps best be subsumed under the rubric of skepticism. Beginning with an all-too-brief discussion of Plato, the central chapters (the `meat' of the book) are concerned with Maimonides and his purported `influence' on (or similarities with) Hobbes. Keep in mind that Botwinick doesn't insist on this influence as a matter of historical fact noting that any similarities could be ascribed to the later philosopher (i.e., Hobbes) reaching the same conclusions independently. This central discussion of Maimonides and Hobbes is followed by a brief discussion of the modern, premodern, and the postmodern which, in turn, is then followed by a concluding chapter on Nietzsche. Now, how many books do you know that study Maimonides and Nietzsche?

Briefly, Botwinick attempts to show that Plato "theorized the limitations of reason" long before it became fashionable to do so in our present postmodernism. Plato lays waste to the theory of Ideas in his `Parmenides' and shows, according to our author, that "there is no way to legitimately arrest the search for Forms at the level of the first Form that encompasses all the particulars that fall below it; but one must ground that Form itself in some still higher Form that grounds it and so on indefinitely." This futility, or so it here seems, will set the standard for Western philosophy. The grand Theories, which attempt to explain the `facts', end up as groundless as the brute facts themselves: "the groundlessness of fact is read back into the status of theory [...] so that each remains as uncertain as the other." This is the sort of thing that Botwinick will refer to as an `equivalence' throughout this book. They, facts and theories, "are equivalent in terms of what they exclude: unequivocal contact with a reality beyond our linguistic formulations."

So how (and indeed, why) does Botwinick drag poor Rabbi Maimonides into all this? The wedge he uses to acclimate us to a `skeptical' Maimonides is the so-called `negative theology' of Maimonides. Negative Theology, for those of you that don't know, is the insistence that "none of the adjectives, adverbs, and verbs monotheistic theological texts ascribe to God can be construed literally". According to Botwinick, negative theology "becomes the analytic tool that enable Maimonides to effect his equivalence between religion and philosophy." ...One wonders if Botwinick perhaps means to erect a `negative philosophy' too? Be that as it may, of this equivalence between `God's Word and philosophy' Botwinick says that this equivalence underscores "the exclusion of a common feature: the approximation to truth in a substantive sense."

But how does our hardheaded Thomas Hobbes -the English are so practical- get caught up in this? First our author establishes a political equivalence between authority and consent in the texts of Maimonides. Without Moses willingness (consent) to hear the Voice of God there would be no revelation at all. But there may be a deeper equivalence between these two Maimonidean equivalences: "Torah and philosophical truth and authority and consent. The first equivalence devolves upon the second, which in turn emphasizes the human taint in even the most grandiose metaphysical and conceptual constructions."...Or is this merely another kind of `Third Man' argument? In which, instead of Forms being continually supplanted by ever higher-level forms, we have equivalences subsumed by higher-order equivalences? ...Hmmm.

Where was I? Oh yes, Hobbes - now with the introduction of politics and the `human taint' we can now turn to Hobbes. ...But first, why Hobbes? Why not Machiavelli? One comes away suspecting that it is the relative `friendliness' of Hobbes to Revealed Religion. Machiavelli wants to restore the old (values of the) pagan religion. Hobbes texts do not seem to cry out for that. In any case, Hobbes adds to the above an "elaboration of an equivalence between reason and antireason." This is done by Hobbes showing that "reason serves as voice and adjunct to the passions." Botwinick argues that "the passions need to be understood as a vacuous, tautologous category bereft of a priori specification that gets filled in with content on the basis of the multiple and unpredictable ways in which human beings project and interact with "reality"." Thus Hobbes establishes an equivalence between reason and the passions, each is the others alibi.

Botwinick calls Nietzsche the "ultimate system builder of Western Thought. He seeks to invoke the category of power as the `category of categories' in an endless spinning of equivalences" Power is "not meant to explain or account for anything but to create a theoretically empty space to be filled in by later human intellectual and practical interventions." Thus Nietzsche's understanding of Power, according to our author, is the means that philosophers use to spin ever new equivalences and systems. Philosophical Theory, beneath the radar of non-philosophers, creates the space in which the future (or, if you prefer, the new) can emerge.

Briefly, I would say that the problem of skepticism is central to Botwinick. This skepticism, at bottom, causes philosophy to continuously create its comprehensive theories, but this same skepticism (or perhaps only an uncomprehending fate) eats away at these philosophical artifacts until they too, or so one suspects, need to be overturned by yet another creation. Thus ending this study of Maimonides and Hobbes with Nietzsche is really not very surprising at all. - Can you say Eternal Return of the Same? But in closing I want to add that the skepticism Botwinick here traces is but nihilism (as Hume quietly indicated so long ago) and, even though Botwinick is at great pains to argue that we can live with this skepticism, in my opinion, no one can live with that.

This is an exciting book, rich in detail, especially on Maimonides and Hobbes that deserves many more readers and repays careful re-readings. Know your Maimonides, Hobbes and Nietzsche and be prepared to work. I have, for the most part, merely summarized the introduction to this book because the richness of detail - especially on Maimonides and Hobbes - precludes anything else in the space this site offers. Highly recommended!
unique  Jan 31, 2000
For a unique, if challanging, reinterpretation of the whole of Western thought read Botwinick's insightful and creative book. You will never feel the same about the standard textbook interpretations of Western thought and philosophy again.
unique  Jan 31, 2000
For a unique, if challanging, reinterpretation of the whole of Western thought read Botwinick's insightful and creative book. You will never feel the same about the standard textbook interpretations of Western thought and philosophy again.
Brilliant  Jan 28, 2000
This book is reflects the thought of a prfound intellect who is a radical sceptic and at the same time deeply religious. In this work Botwinick demonstates how these two seemingly opposing world views are in fact complementary. Not only that, but that both faith and sceptism have been at the heart of Western thought from the Old Testement to the the Modern age.

Botwinick concludes that political liberty is a fucntion of this peculiarly Western worldview and that in abandoning it we abandon that which has made freedom possible. A brilliant and challenging work!


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