Page 150 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Novelty in philosophy is often a matter of daring rather than
of invention. In thought, as in nature, there is no creation from
absolute nothing, nor are there any leaps. Often what appears to
be new and original is nothing but the establishment of a long-
envisaged truth by the intrepidity of someone who dared to face
the consequences of his reasoning . . .
Lest we think that these citations reflect a view which Wolfson
abandoned in his later writings, we find the same opinion in an
essay “The Philonic God of Revelation and His Latter-Day
Deniers,” which appeared in 1960, twenty-six years after
Spinoza.
Taking issue with modern philosophers who considered their
exposition of the concept of God novel, Wolfson writes:
The speculation about God in modern philosophy, ever since the
seventeenth century, is still a process of putting old wine into new
bottles. There is only the following difference: the wine is no longer
of the old vintage of the revelational theology of Scripture; it is of
the old vintage of the natural or verbal theology of Greek philoso­
phy. Sometimes, however, even the bottles are not new; it is only
the labels that are new—and one begins to wonder how many of
the latter-day philosophies of religion would not prove to be only
philosophies of labels.
The scholarly world is in Wolfson’s debt for his emphasis on
the tradition-centeredness of philosophy at a time when many
philosophers have denied it. With his
Spinoza
he stands in the
forefront of those scholars who, in recent years, have shown con­
vincingly the continuity of philosophic ideas and of the history
of philosophy. In stressing the importance of tradition, Wolfson
challenges Descartes’ point (which forms much of the basis of
modern philosophy) that a philosopher must forget whatever he
has learned and begin his speculations without regard to the
past. There could be no more brilliant attack on Descartes’
methodological assumption than Wolfson’s study of Spinoza. No
one who has read Wolfson’s book can fail to be convinced that
(he break between medieval and modern philosophy was a good
deal less severe than we have been led to believe.
The systematic nature of philosophic thought is ably demon­
strated by Wolfson in his
Spinoza.
But Spinoza is the easy case,
for if there ever was a philosopher who lent himself to syste­
matic exposition, it was Spinoza. Wolfson does not rest his case
here, but tests his thesis on the less obvious Philo, who composed