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In the Beginning Is Philosophy

On Desire and the Good


Brayton Polka

Philosophy, when understood to embody the values that are fundamental to modernity, is biblical in origin, both historically and ontologically. Central to this idea is the question famously posed by Tertullian: What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? The answer – as based on a comprehensive and systematic discussion of the key texts and ideas of Spinoza, Vico, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche – is that we can overcome the conventional opposition between reason and faith, between philosophy and theology, and between the secular and the religious only if we learn to see that, as Spinoza shows us, both philosophy (reason) and theology (faith) are based on caritas: love – on the divine command to do unto others what you want others to do unto you. Provided throughout is a commentary on how fundamentally different philosophy is in the Greek and in the biblical traditions (in Athens and in Jerusalem). Whereas Socrates argues that (human) desire and the (divine) good are contradictory opposites, Spinoza shows that it is human desire that truly constitutes the divine good of all.
This book would be indispensable to courses (both undergraduate and graduate) in philosophy, religious studies, and the history of ideas – in interdisciplinary courses in the humanities, generally – that focus on the values that are central, both historically and ontologically, to modernity.
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2 History: What Do I Believe? In Beginning with History as Faith in the Absolute


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In this chapter I shall explore and hence advance—analyze—the paradox of history as the difference between the two beginnings that I discussed in my introductory Chapter 1. The difference of history, the difference that is history, the difference that history makes is the difference between paganism and the Bible and so, as we shall continue to discover, the difference between antiquity (as pagan) and modernity (as biblical). I use the term “biblical” to provide me with a concept that encompasses both Judaism (as the original covenant, which, in being historical, is always already new) and Christianity (as the original covenant, which, in being historical, is always already old). I shall more specifically address the relationship between the two covenants, Jewish and Christian, in Chapter 5 (on hermeneutics), although I shall find it necessary, from time to time, to comment on the “anxiety of influence” that, from the beginning, Christians experienced in relationship to Jews—as reflected in the distinction between the New and the Old Testaments—and that so often blinds Christians to the historical originality of Judaism (as it also blinds Jews to the historical originality of Christianity). I shall not directly discuss Islam as the last in time of the three historical religions of Abraham.

History marks the difference between the beginning of Adam and Eve in contradictory ignorance of good and evil “before” the Fall and their beginning in self-contradictory knowledge of good and evil “after” the Fall. But history...

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