The Greek Background

Kenneth R Seeskin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

Loosely speaking, every culture has a philosophy, worldview, or outlook on life. What distinguishes Greek philosophy from others is the systematic way in which it is expressed. The phenomena we observe are orderly and can be understood by identifying causes or principles from which they follow. These principles are universal and invariant. If rain results from condensation, the same explanation applies whether there is a flood or a sprinkle, a catastrophe or a welcome relief from drought. In this context, the job of the philosopher is not just to make interesting remarks about the meaning of life but to identify principles and subject them to critique. In the hands of the Greek philosophers, systematization affected everything from the way people view the weather to the way they conceive of divinity. If all of reality can be explained in terms of basic principles, then God is subject to them, the source of them, or a principle himself. The Greek philosophers challenged the gods and goddesses of mythology not by instituting a commandment against idol worship but by making anthropomorphism look ridiculous. For Jews this presents a problem. The Bible describes a world in which other nations might have stronger armies or larger economies than Israel, but these advantages are offset by the fact that their views of divinity are grossly inferior. The same could be said of ancient Greece if we stick to popular religion. Suppose, however, that we ignore popular religion and focus on the theology of the philosophers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Jewish Philosophy
Subtitle of host publicationFrom Antiquity Through the Seventeenth Century
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages17-38
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781139055956
ISBN (Print)9780521843232
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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