The General Philosophical Framework of Rosenzweig’s Thought

The unique framework of Franz Rosenzweig

The philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig is one of the most interesting and surprising innovations of modern thought, both general and Jewish. There exists a background of distinguished modern Jewish philosophers from Moses Mendelssohn, the first philosopher of modem thought who systematically defined the essence of Judaism, to Hermann Cohen and Martin Buber. However, Rosenzweig was the first to inject existential philosophy into Jewish thought and give it direction, both theologically Jewish and original.

Rosenzweig coined a terminological system whose terms were taken from Jewish usage. He provided its own guidelines and created a unique philosophical weave containing an interpretation of the struggle of Judaism with the other monotheistic religions.

Rosenzweig emphasizes a unique and orderly conception of life. In his epistle „On Education,“ he wrote: „The Judaism to which I refer is not ‚literary‘ and is not grasped by the writing or reading of books. Even – forgive me all modern thinkers – it is not to be ‚experienced‘ or ‚cultivated‘. One may only live it. And not even this – one is simply a Jew, and nothing more“ (His Life 159).

The Star of Redemption, Rosenzweig’s masterpiece, is written in a remarkable, ordered, dialectical singularity. In The Star of Redemption, Rosenzweig made one of the few attempts to formulate methodically religious existential philosophy (MiMytos 262-273), This attempt makes the book unconventional, an exceptional work among the philosophical works of our time.

Rosenzweig, contrary to the great classical philosopher, stresses the lack of identity between thought and reality. Instead, the book is based on three elements – God, the world and man – which preface all logical action and may be conceived only by means of faith The Star of Redemption also strays from the accepted line in the existential philosophy of Kierkegaard and Sartre, in that Rosenzweig attempts to prepare a philosophical method par excellence.

Rosenzweig’s life and personality also uniquely reflect his philosophy of life: „Man thinks that he philosophizes, but in actuality he writes his autobiography („From Revelation“ 162). Although raised in an assimilated environment, educated at the knees of the classical German idealism and philosophy of the Enlightenment so distant from that of religious belief, he suddenly turned sharply to faith. Author of the philosophical treatise Hegel and the State, Rosinzweig subsequently became the author of the theological book The Star of Redemption and translator of Hebrew poetry of the middle Ages and the Bible to German. He stood at the threshold of converting to Christianity and returned to Judaism to become one of its most profound thinkers. Intellectually acute, probing and exhilarating, his essays frequently contained irony and humor though written during the last eight years of his life while he was critically ill and in agony, paralyzed throughout his body and unable to speak (His Life).

Notwithstanding the uniqueness of the man and his method, Rosenzweig’s philosophy is a not a singular phenomenon, but is a total spiritual process which characterizes post-Hegelian philosophy. This process places in the center of thought not understanding or an abstract method but rather existential man, real, vital man, with all his existential problems, emotion and agonies of soul.

The philosophic path leading to Hegel

In the approximately two hundred years which preceded Hegel, a direction in philosophical thought had commenced and developed which led inexorably t Hegelian thought. Among the significant philosophers of this developmental period was Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the father of English empiricism, who maintained that the source of understanding o knowledge is the experience we acquire by means of our senses. Bacon developed the scientific method, which was adopted and adapted by, among others, political philosophers different one from the other as Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632-1701).

Man’s dependence on his perception developed from a scientific method to a philosophical concept. George Berkeley (1685-1753) set forth the rule: „to be“ is to „be perceived“ in the mind of man. He further asserted that the one thing, which exists for certain, is Spiritual reality, thought, the result at which the senses arrive. The skepticism of Berkeley was buttressed by David Hume (1711-1771), who denied the possibility to understand via our intellect any truth of reality. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) neither accepted the skepticism of Hume nor the earlier empiricism, and he suggested a synthesis, which transferred the center of gravity from the object to the „I.“ We know, claimed Kant, by means of our senses as shaped by our intellect and not by the world surrounding us.

Kant was not the only philosopher who nourished the „I“. René Descartes (1596-1650) based consciousness on one fundamental element „Cogito ergo Sum.“ Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz’s (1646-1716) theory of monadology strengthened the „I“ of Descartes, and the monism and natural determinism of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) found in the „I“ total unity of spirit and the entirely natural.

Thus, the broad spectrum of philosophical doctrines in the approximately two hundred years which preceded Hegel Began to emphasize deliberation on man’s place in the world. Following Hegel, there occurred significant and distinctive movement in philosophical thought, one which properly, as described by Rosinzweig, could be called „the new thinking.“

The immense significance of „the new thinking“ will become apparent following a brief review of the theories and teachings of Hegel.

Hegelian theory and reaction to it as background to „The New Thinking“

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) contributed to philosophy in the two following ways:

1. He established the history of philosophy as a central authority and integral part of philosophical education. The dialectic observes things in motion, flowing, and knows that not everything, which was true yesterday, will be true also tomorrow. By its nature, the dialectic is likely to accustom man to greater tolerance.

2. He made the initial determination that the previous various philosophical methods are expressed in terms of the development of cognition towards one idealistic philosophy, which strives towards an absolute and exclusive truth, that is, to the „worldly spirit“ – the divine orientation which aspires to bring the human world to complete fulfillment of spiritual freedom. Hegel saw in the history of philosophy a steady march towards „absolute knowledge“. Philosophy was not only a matter of understanding history but rather was the force and the best means to direct the course of history („die absalute Macht“ ), to make the cognitive path bring about events. However, the striving of Hegel towards one total and complete philosophy, the one philosophy, which strived for absolute truth, conflicted with the many philosophical doctrines of earlier philosophers.

Hegel solved this conflict with his dialectic. Philosophical conceptions based on theses, that is, On assumptions of only partial perception of verity of the concept. Become in the course of thought anti-theses. These anti-theses are also partial in their perception of the verity of the concept, however their fusion engenders mutual completion, synthesis, realization of one philosophical truth („die TatalitÓ“t“). In other words, one must recognize any philosophy only via its conflict with other philosophies, but one must recognize also its veritable elements.

Philosophy absorbs within it the fruits of the spirit of the earlier period, which opposes it, and that spirit completes and improves it and creates the Hegelian synthesis.

„That philosophy which is the last chronologically embodies the result of all the previous philosophies, and therefore it must contain the principles of all of them; thus, as philosophy, it is the most advanced, fertile and explicit“ (EnzyklopÓ“die, sec, 13, 47).Each philosopher, then, represents a specific stage of partial truth on the way to the entirety.

A similar idea was recently proposed by Natan Rotenstreich, born in 1914, approximately 150 years after Hegel ( Al Hakiyum 25-28). According to Rotenstreich, every person must feel himself a necessary link in the development of custom, which is the complex of connections, which are transferred in each and every generation. The consciousness senses that one is a participant in an enterprise of giants that will never be completed. The I-myself is turned, then, by one’s modest original contribution to a part of some infinite thing. Man is not the initiator of processes; he knows that the world does not begin with him. Similarly, he cannot put a to the enterprise with which he is associated, and he is, therefore, a part of it forever. Rotenstreich emphasizes the personal, subjective element, but there is no moment of philosophy perfecting itself, as there is according to Hegel.

Rosenzeig utilized the systematic and methodical concept of Hegel, perceiving him as „the great inheritor of two thousand years of the history o philosophy“ (Star 61), but did not conclude therefore that Hegel was the sole possessor of philosophical truth or that his predecessors propounded false conceptions. Hegel’s dialectic resolution was not a conclusion after which no advancement of thought, which opposes the essence of his dialectic vision, could be drawn. Philosophical weaponry of a fresh and innovative type was necessary to resolve philosophical problems as they continued to arise.

This yearning for a new type of philosophical thinking that will function in the real world perceived the existence of man as he is rather than in terms of Hegel’s „worldly spirit.“ This longing was expressed, for example, in Nietzsche’s „changing the scale of all values“ and in the materialistic philosophical thought of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach (1804-1872).

Not only was Hegel’s metaphysics being critically analyzed, his „philosophy of nature“ also was revealed as being false. His attempts to perceive the phenomena of nature from abstract assumptions and not from experimental science was mocked by expert researchers such as Carl Friedrich Gauss in his research on geometry and Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz in his work on the consciousness (Lectures).

Hegel observed the world from the aspect of the absolute spirit, the „perfect“ consciousness of abstract thought and did not consider the existence of real man as he is, living in the concrete world of his direct experiences and his real problems. Hegel perceived the world as consolidated and united, as an infinite ideal, forever unattainable by science, a world which does not bring man to concrete actuality at the depths of his soul.

Hegel enclosed man in a world of abstract concepts, seeing man as a world in miniature, which loses its connection with the true and vital reality and is forever incapable of finding it. Man became, instead, a part of the method, a part of a speculative, magical, worldly system – the world and man are „one flesh“ – united and linked one with the other. Consciousness does not bring one to true and real cognition, rather it results from the elemental and specific experience, maintained Hegel’s opponents.

Contrary to Hegel’s opinion, Hegelian thought was not complete. Bacon, who two hundred years earlier distrusted thought in and of itself and favored knowledge based on phenomena of nature and experiment, and Hans Vaihinger, who asserted two generations after Hegel that thought is unable to recognize the „absolute truth, “ were only two of many philosophers who disputed Hegel’s claim. There were also other doctrines, which were inconsistent with Hegelians thought. Among these doctrines are phenomenology, founded by Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), which currently dominates in Germany and France. Phenomenology seeks to light the true position of man’s consciousness by spiritual or external data („phenomena“) without any ontological- a priori determination.

Another dissident vis -á – visa Hegelian thought is Hermann Cohen (1842-1918), considered one of the fathers of the neo -Kantian „Marburg School.“ Cohen asserts that the „logic of the inception“ („Logik des Ursprungs“) or transcendental ontology seeks the „true reality“ or the final essence in thought, meaning that examination of the spiritual a priori creation, exposure of the data from the beginning as an infinite process, is that which determines the programmatic status of the consciousness of man. Cohen seeks to realize society organized on the principles of ethics and the safeguarding of man’s honor.

The philosophers who followed Hegel were dissatisfied with idealistic philosophy; they did not agree with Hegel that consciousness does not bring one to true and real cognition and began to develop philosophic thought that would not be restricted to the abstract and traditional method of Hegel. They sought, furthermore, to use philosophy to find resolutions to the problems bothering real people in the concrete world.

„The essential tendency of philosophic activity must bring the philosopher to man…the special symbol of recognition of man turns his independent essence to a unique personality which exists for itself…“ (Principles of the Philosophy 60). In his book The Essence of Christianity ( Das Wesen Der Christentums), Feuerbach maintains that the existential reality in the life of man is in his belief in human nature and in good deeds in this world. Marxian and Nietzschian thought similarly conflicted with that of Hegel on the essential point set forth by Feuerbach.

The difference, then, between Hegel and those who opposed his thought is in the view of the relationship of the man-philosopher and philosophy, Hegel considered each philosopher as an instrument of philosophy, a representative of partial truth at a certain stage of the development of philosophy, That idea about which the philosopher thinks becomes an idea, external to the philosopher, abstract and „perfect, “ on which the philosopher speculates and is not a part of him.

Form the perspective of his opponents, not only was there a new concept of philosophy; there was also a new brand of philosopher. Man is now the determining factor; he is no longer enclosed in a world of concepts, but is tied to vital. Concrete and direct, experiential reality. Man has, in the words of Rosenzweig, a „world view,“ he „takes a position “ (Star 143). He is not an instrument of philosophy; rather philosophy is an instrument of the philosopher, of man. „The philosopher lowers himself humbly to his experimental. Existing „I,“ and then his doctrine will be more veritable, concrete and closer to the truth“ (Dialogical Philosophy 173).

Another conflict with Hegelian thought was led by the non-rationalists, those philosophers who opposed a philosophy in which man acts according to the intellect alone, leaving no place for the demands of the heart and feeling. Søren Kierdegaard (1813-1855) claimed, for example, that Hegel changed religion to an absolute, conceptual-cognitive idealistic philosophy, which prevents man from attaining the possibility of direct connection with God. He declared that „truth is subjective and that the principal element in philosophy is ‚the subjective philosopher'“ (post-Scriptum, sec. 2).

Hegelian thought monistic idealism, which solves everything by one principle, the idea the „spirit“ – prevented man from making the connection of faith. The world is, Hegel claimed, only an idea of God without a theistic undertone; rather, it is pantheistic, since things are not created by the idea: they are the idea itself. Nature, science and the arts are all accomplishments of consciousness individual man also is the fulfillment of consciousness, and there is only the conscious, so the private „I“ has no place in this method. The „I“ is similar, as in the theory of Spinoza, to a „light wave rolling along the waves of the ocean.“ The object („substantia“) according to Spinoza is the spirit according to Hegel, each engulfing everything within it. Thus, the solitary „I“ cannot face God, as one who stands before God whether in prayer or as sinner or as a thinker.

The basic assumption of belief is that man can stand and present his essence before God, that God can speak with him and he can speak with God, or in the words of the German historian, Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886): „Here every age is really immediate to God“ (Star 225). Ranke depicts the events of the past „as they were when they occurred.“ That is, the events are depicted b means of the revelation of God in the metaphysical ideal image, which gave significance to the occurrences, and not by means of the intellect („The Significance“).

In refuting Hegel, the non-rationalist Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854) claimed that in rationalistic systems we can attain only knowledge of the possible and general laws knowledge of the real is always individualistic, it requires an act of the will which results from a personal need which can not be supplied by possibilities or general laws. Against the „negative“ rationalistic philosophy Schelling placed a „positive philosophy,“ based on faith and will, which philosophy created the powerful and innovative basis for existential, religious philosophy, from which philosophy Franz Rosenzweig was influenced greatly.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) raised the „will“ above „consciousness“ („ratio“) (The World). Schopenhauer claimed that the will resembles a thing which itself is outside our ken, beyond the ability of our consciousness to understand; the will is the singular reality in us and in the entire world. Man’s consciousness serves the power of blind will, which lacks purpose and proof and will never be satisfied (compare Star 47, 49 and 57). Nietzsche holds that only the will to govern and be powerful exists in all beings. Will is the active element in natural and human phenomena; our mental consciousness distorts and opposes life, and science is of value but is not veritable.

Among other non-rationalists who contested Hegel’s monastic idealism were Theodor Lessing (1872-1933) and Solomon Ludwig Steinheim (1789-1866). Lessing argued that truth is not revealed by consciousness, that it is hidden from consciousness and found among the silent forces, which activate and direct the consciousness in its action (Einmal). Steinheim (1789-1866) asserted that one does not reach religious truth (creation of the world, revelation) by mental deliberation since this truth is subject to revelation only. He „denies speculative philosophy because of its rationalistic nature and makes faith itself a type of consciousness, not identifying it with the rationalistic consciousness“ (Al Hakiyum2: 168).

Philosophy’s two separate paths

Rosenzweig’s thought has a special place among the thinking which disputed Hegel. Although he belongs to the non-rationalist stream of thought, continuing the line of Schelling, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer and Nietzche, Rosenzweig relies heavily on the anthropological motifs of Feuerbach which are „the first revelation of renewal of thought“ (Naharayim 232). However, there is also an interlacing of rationalism and anti-rationalism, as is evidenced by the following:

„Revelation remembers back to its past, while at the same time remaining of the present; it recognizes its past as part of a world passed by…for in the world of things it recognizes the substantive ground of its belief in the immovable factuality of a historical event“ (Star 215). „There is something in consciousness which is beyond consciousness…consciousness is the basis for reality, but consciousness in its very essence is also reality“ (Naharayim 207).

Thus, Rosenzweig’s philosophy follows two paths: One road philosophical theology chose for itself, in which the intellect is the nourishing factor. The philosophy of religion trekked the second path, revelation serving as its basis. These two paths, according to Rosenzweig, complement each other, one nourishing the other, and neither can exist independently. This conception is comparable to Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who also created a great synthesis between science or limited consciousness and the perfection of belief.

However, while Aquinas derived belief from Christian revelation (Basic Writings), Rosenzweig derived it from the soul of man, according to which the relationship between philosophy and theology is determined. Rosenzweig, contrary to Steinheim, noted that he was assisted by intellectual, philosophical means to prove its substance. Rosenzweig opposed forcefully any existence-belief doctrine, which is itself based on his conscious investigations. His anti-rationalist doctrine resulted from faith, but this faith was drawn from the rationalistic history of creation (Star 213), and in this aspect, his doctrine is not different from others constructed on logical, rationalistic concepts.

Rosenzweig opposed Hegel zealously. Instead of the dated abstract thought of Hegel came concrete „new thinking“ connected to words, men and real experiences.

Man is free – he is own master

The act of transferring the center of gravity from philosophy to the philosopher created not only a responsibility for man, but also emphasized that man is free. He is his own master; the entire responsibility for his existence rests on his shoulders alone. Man inhales his freedom from the will and imagination. He does not breathe freedom from the advancement and attainments of science as propounded by materialism, nor does he find it I the creative spirit of man as propounded by idealism nor from intellectual knowledge of the world pursuant to rationalism. Nietzsche, for example, perceived a new form through whose strength of will exposes the subjective values which condition thought and human conduct on the freedom of his choice.

Rosenzweig proclaims a „very personal type, a type of philosopher of world view, one who takes a position“ (Star 143), who rises and flourishes on the pedestals of freedom, responsibility and ability at the time of the meeting of man, God and the world and, in regard to a Jew, during his struggle with the Jewish way of life of practical commandments.

The philosophic „I“ of Kierkegaard and Rosenzweig is not the solitary „I“ of Immanuel Kant, an „I“ which knows nothing about the world, with which it has no contact. Similarly, Descartes, in stating „Cogito ergo Sum“ did not speak of his private „I“ but of the abstract thinking „I“. Yet Kant speaks incessantly about the „I.“ Which is the center of a methodical system, but as Kierkegaard says, insofar as one speaks persistently about the „I,“ that „I“ becomes thinner and thinner until it becomes ultimately the actual spirit of the dead (Dialogical Philosophy 17).

According to „the new thinking,“ freedom of choice is not a matter of obligation or compulsion which comes to man from without by command or decree. This freedom is man himself – existence – „existence for itself“ („Fürsichselbstsein“), according to the German philosopher, Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) or „being itself“ („sich zu eigenist“) in the words of Martin Heidegger. Therefore, he cannot flee from himself except by suicide and death.

Man has no choice but to be free. Thus, in every circumstance we are responsible, since responsibility rises from the ground of freedom (L’Existentialisme 64). One errs if he thinks he can pack and flee from himself via the Kantian Or Hegelian abstract dogma. Thus, man has two available courses: the way of favoring freedom and the way of opposing it. Life for the sake of freedom is true life, authentic life. One who utilizes freedom in order to fight it or to limit its domain in the world lives an insubstantial, inauthentic life. Such a life is not consistent with the nature of man (Portrait 75).

Man is free to create good and evil, truth and falsehood. He approves or negates the world and proclaims his presence and nothingness. Man who chose freedom chose well, and not only for himself but for all humanity (L’Etre 143). The individual is the source of freedom. There is no freedom other than the freedom of the individual. For this reason, each man must create and develop the truth of the test of the values as well as the values themselves. In respect of our lives and experiences, there is no world other than the world of man. Even values are nothing other than values as they relate to individual man. Thus, the individual must create values. Without the individual, they would not have arisen and there would be no values (L’Existentialisme 34-35). Man by nature is neither good nor evil. He is good or evil to the extent that he increases freedom in the world.

Freedom, then, is neither a priori nor objective. It is the being of man who lives it every day and every moment. It is the true existence since it exists for itself (L’Etre 641).

On the difficulties which gave birth to existentialism

Rosenzweig sought refuge from extreme subjectivism when he abandoned in 1913 the idealistic philosophy and the historicism of Friedrich Meinecke (1862-1954), his teacher (see Die Entstehung). He returned to theology, to the non-rational faith philosophy, while deliberating on „the clear brightness“ (Star 143) of subjectivism, which Heidegger rooted in his creation of pure subjectivist philosophy.

Rosenzweig’s explanation indicates the lack of clarity that existed in the world of philosophy. Each philosopher, religious or not, aspired frankly to nullify the being of man as object, desiring to see man as subject only. However, in perceiving the „I“ as subject alone and turning their back on the objective element in their philosophical thinking, these philosophers exposed themselves to significant difficulties. Nikolai Aleksandrovich Berdiaev (1874-1948) spoke of the decline of freedom, of freedoms lack of candor and man’s subordination to freedom. Jaspers saw in subjectivism a prison, comparable to the snail who builds its house and is forever tied to it. It is not surprising that in this attempt the real freedom withdrew upon the presentation of an imaginary freedom.

The freedom represented is abstract, a vague freedom. Indeed, there is no true freedom of choice since our options are always limited a d dependent on factors upon which we have no, or inconsequential, control. Man did not pray for simple, corporeal or metaphysical freedom. He wanted real freedom in thought, economics, religion and throughout his personal life. Man wanted freedom to lift stumbling blocks from the path of life, control disease and catastrophes, master the environment and improve generally that which exists. Such a freedom is expressed in action innovation, creation, and revelation of the clandestine and knowledge o the hidden. Existential freedom is not turned toward the external world of the real and vital meeting with God and the world; instead, it is turned to the abstract, to the intangible.

Freedom of choice, then, is minuscule. According to existentialist thinking, we are not free and independent people, but rather each of us is made gradually „a man of the multitude,“ one among many, one who lives by the doctrine of „sit and do not act.“:

1. The lack of knowledge.

We live our life without understanding it, without knowing anything about our purpose and what we must do. Even if man has a conscious nature, he cannot conceive reality. As a result, he cannot be at home in the world, and he is „thrown“ into an adversarial environment. This alienation is apparent in Sartre’s novels and plays, the dramatis personae being uprooted from their societal environment and removed from their past, each lacking internal spiritual unity. What determines the character of the confrontation of man with his world is not the intellect; instead it is a certain essence, which is described as nausea or anguish at the finality and fragmentation of human existence.

In respect of life and death, existence is nothing other than passing from nothing to nothing. Being, in its generality, is not understandable and cannot be known since it is connected, on the one hand, to human consciousness and, on the other, it is given to us forever fragmented so that man perceives always his limitations, the fragmentation of his being and consciousness. Franz Kafka (1883-1924) stresses that without knowledge, minuscule man is lost I the modern world, which is arranged with no way out. There is no other possible way for the hero of The Trial (Der Proze? ) other than to accept the judgment of death, though he does not know for what, why nor by whom he is accused, tried and sentenced.

Modern society is mysterious, a sort of blind and evil force which prevents the individual from exercising free choice and the joy of life, permitting him only to yield to his uncomprehended fate. Without knowledge, one can not know the expected, and the lack of this knowledge leads to fear of the unknown, and this fear leads to uncertainty, confusion and helplessness.

2. The fear of death.

Martin Heidegger, the extreme and heartless realist, presents an authentic being, founded o the possibility of a race toward (the fear of) death. One must live, Heidegger claims, though the sole reason for his life is his death. From the moment one enters the world, we accept the sentence of death. One has no choice in this matter. If so, how can man function with this ever-present active and tragic obsession? For fear is a strong emotional reaction with physiological consequences such as paleness, trembling, accelerated pulse and breathing and dryness of mouth which can ultimately result in the cessation of all hope and total paralysis of creation caused by the entire waste of one’s energy.

3. The lack of purpose.

Existentialism will never perceive purpose in man since man is not yet defined inexorably. The objective of a priori good disappeared since there is not now any compete and infinite consciousness that will calculate it. Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) wrote: „If God does not exist, then everything is permitted“ (The Brothers Karamazov). Sartre and Nietzsche ignored the existence of God, and Heidegger stated that all existence is man and nothing more. Man abandons the world of values and the a priori commandments, which can justify his behavior because he is unable to find something to rest upon his world has no purpose and therefore also no ethical values.

Such is the dismal condition of man. He is comparable to one who walks on a tightrope above the abyss whose bottom disappears from sight. Is there no exit from this fearful vision?

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