A Short History of Jewish Ethics: Conduct and Character in the Context of Covenant

A Short History of Jewish Ethics: Conduct and Character in the Context of Covenant

A Short History of Jewish Ethics: Conduct and Character in the Context of Covenant

A Short History of Jewish Ethics: Conduct and Character in the Context of Covenant

Synopsis

A Short History of Jewish Ethics traces the development of Jewish moral concepts and ethical reflection from its Biblical roots to the present day.
  • Offers an engaging and thoughtful account of Jewish ethics
  • Brings together and discusses a broad range of historical sources covering two millennia of writings and conversations
  • Combines current scholarship with original insights
  • Written by a major internationally recognized scholar of Jewish philosophy and ethics

Excerpt

When I was in graduate school, many years ago, I had the good fortune to come upon Alasdair MacIntyre’s A Short History of Ethics. I found this book insightful and useful; I still consult it with profit today, even though MacIntyre has distanced himself from the sort of study the book represents. More of that in a moment. I wondered back then whether a similar study could be written on Jewish ethics. This book is an attempt to respond to my decades-old query.

There are a number of formidable problems in thinking about Jewish ethics as a conceptual category, let alone in organizing a presentation of Jewish ethics along historical lines. I will try to work through some of these problems in the pages that follow.

As mentioned, MacIntyre himself repudiated the kind of historical presentation of Western moral thought he achieved in his Short History of Ethics. He abandoned the view that each of the great moral philosophers whom he treated was talking about the same kind of thing such that one could see them as existing within a single, ongoing tradition. He came to the view that Western moral thought – down to the most fundamental issues of what morality can be said to include – is so irreducibly variegated that it cannot be held to constitute a single tradition. Rather, there is a congeries of traditions of “moral enquiry.” Criticizing a famous nineteenthcentury Victorian predecessor in the business of writing histories of ethics, MacIntyre writes:

Sidgwick’s falsifying history thus projected back into the past the conceptual
structuring of the author’s present and thereby suggested that Plato and Aristotle,

A Short History of Jewish Ethics: Conduct and Character in the Context of Covenant,

First Edition. Alan L. Mittleman.

© 2012 Alan L. Mittleman. Published 2012 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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