Page 151 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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HYMAN
I
HARRY AUSTRYN WOLFSON
141
philosophical homilies on Scripture rather than systematic works.
Most scholars prior to Wolfson had considered Philo an eclectic
who drew on a variety of philosophic notions to mold from
them his Scriptural interpretations. E. R. Dodds serves as a
spokesman for this view when he characterizes Philo’s eclecticism
as that of “a jackdaw, rather than of a philosopher.” Wolfson
takes issue with this evaluation by holding that in spite of their
unsystematic appearance, Philo’s works contain a philosophic
system. In the previously mentioned essay, Wolfson writes:
. . . while we may deny Philo t'he honorific title of philosopher, . . .
we can not deny him the humbler and more modest title of religious
philosopher. As such, Philo was the first who tried to reduce the
narratives and laws and exhortations of Scripture to a coherent and
closely knit' system of thought and thereby produce what may be
called scriptural philosophy in contradistinction to pagan Greek
philosophy.
Similarly, in the introduction to his
Philo,
Wolfson defines his
own task as “an attempt to build of innuendos a systematic struc­
ture of his [Philo’s] thought.”
Wolfson’s contention that philosophy proceeds by hints, allu­
sions, and innuendos rather than by explicit statments may be
paraphrased by saying that, for him, philosophic writing is like
an iceberg, only a small portion of which is visible, while the
major portion remains invisibly submerged. In somewhat differ­
ent fashion, Wolfson describes philosophic language as “sym­
bolic.” By this he seems to mean that instead of manifesting
literal meaning, philosophic statements are instruments for sug­
gesting a nexus of ideas. Wolfson elaborates this contention when
lie writes in his
Spinoza
that Spinoza (and one may presume
other philosophers) use language
. . . not as a means of expression, but as a system of mnemonic sym­
bols. Words do not stand for simple ideas but for complicated trains
of thought. Arguments are not' fully unfolded but are merely hinted
at by suggestion. Statement's are not significant for what they actually
affirm, but for the denials which they imply.
HIS SCHOLARLY M ETHOD
Wolfson’s scholarly method follows from his conception of philo­
sophic thinking and writing. If philosophy is tradition-centered,