Page 148 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research, serving
as its president in 1935-37; a Fellow of the American Oriental
Society and its president in 1957-58; in addition, he was a Fellow
of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, of the American
Philosophical Association, of the Mediaeval Academy of America
and other learned societies. In 1958 he received a prize from the
American Council of Learned Societies and he also received a
number of awards from Jewish cultural and communal agencies.
Among the academic institutions that awarded him honorary
degrees were Columbia, Chicago, and his alma mater, Harvard.
It would be appropriate to begin this appreciation with an
account of Professor Wolfson, the person, and with a tribute to
his many human qualities, but it is more within the spirit of his
life to pay tribute to the uniqueness of his scholarly accomplish­
ments and to the wide range of his contributions. Whereas many
historians of philosophy are limited to writings in one language
group, or at best, a few, Professor Wolfson possessed competence
in all the languages—classical, oriental, and modern—in which
Western philosophy was written. Other historians of philosophy
generally limit themselves to the writings of one period or to
one set of problems, but Wolfson investigated with consummate
skill a variety of problems discussed by philosophers from Plato
to Spinoza and beyond. Whether he discussed Crescas’ interpre­
tation and critique of concepts in Aristotelian physics and meta­
physics or traced the latent processes of Spinoza’s thought, wheth­
er he expounded Philo’s innovations or analyzed a subtle dis­
tinction in a Church Father, Wolfson showed himself the master
of analysis who could bring to bear the whole range of the
history of philosophy on his investigations. This scholarly erudi­
tion was combined with clarity of thought, felicity of style, and
conciseness of expression no reader of Wolfson’s writings will
readily forget.
Of the many aspects of Wolfson’s work, three will provide the
topics for this appreciation: (1) his conception of philosophic
thinking and writing, (2) his scholarly method, and (3) his
periodization of the history of philosophy and the resultant no­
tion of religious philosophy, or, as he preferred to call it, Philonic
philosophy.