Page 152 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
systematic, and proceeds by allusion, a method must be found for
discovering the traditions on which a given philosophy rests, the
systematic structure that it exhibits, and the meaning its lan­
guage implies. Wolfson finds this method in what he calls the
hypothetico-deductive method of textual study. On the one hand,
this method is akin to that used by rabbinic scholars in discover­
ing the meaning of Scriptural and rabbinic texts; on the other
hand, it is similar to that used by modern scientists in their
investigation of nature.
The hypothetico-deductive method rests on two assumptions:
(1) any authoritative text, religious or secular, which is worthy
of serious study “is written with such care and precision that
every term, expression, generalization or exception is significant
not so much for what it states as for what it implies”; and (2)
the thought of any authoritative writer is internally consistent.
From the first of these assumptions it follows that the hypothet­
ico-deductive method is designed to discover what a philosopher
meant, rather than what he said; from the second, that all con­
tradictions in a philosopher’s thought are only apparent and can
be resolved by harmonistic interpretation.
How the hypothetico-deductive method functions is already
described by Wolfson in his first book,
Crescas’ Critique of
Aristotle,
when he writes:
Confronted wit'h a statement on any subject the Talmudic student
[and, as Wolfson shows subsequently, the student of philosophic
texts] will proceed to raise a series of questions before he satisfies
himself of having understood its full meaning. If the statement isn’t'
clear enough, he will ask, ‘What does the author intend to say here?’
If it is too obvious, he will again ask, ‘It is too clear, why then
expressly say it'?’ Statements apparently contradictory to each other
will be reconciled by the discovery of some subtle distinction, and
statements apparently irrelevant to each other will be subtly
analyzed into their ultimate element's and shown to contain some
common underlying principle. The harmonization of apparent
contradictions and the interlinking of apparent irrelevancies are
two characteristic methods of the Talmudic met'hod of text study.
Besides its logical implications, the hypothetico-deductive
method also has a psychological dimension which is indicated
by the phrase that the study of a philosopher’s thought unfolds
the latent processes of his reasoning. This implies that a philo­