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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: September 2007

15 - Revelation, Language, and Commentary: From Buber to Derrida


The turn to language in twentieth-century philosophy is well known. Despite the profound methodological differences and ultimate philosophical disagreements between them, many if not most Anglo-American and Continental-European philosophers continue to emphasize philosophical reason’s intimate relation to, if not dependence on, language. But there is of course an enormous difference between the more minimalist thesis that reason is expressed in language and the more maximalist statement that reason depends on language. This difference goes to the heart of the question of what “philosophy” actually is and does. Can and should philosophy stand above our particular language games and articulate some deeper truth behind the cultural and historical contexts in which all human life is embedded? And what are the scientific, ethical, and indeed the theological implications of how we might answer this question?

While suggesting that these questions are philosophically and historically tied to modern philosophical discussions about the relations between reason and revelation, this chapter explores twentieth-century Jewish philosophical approaches to language. For a number of Jewish philosophers, the turn to language is a turn away from the historically implicit Christian assumptions of much of Western philosophy. As many have observed, the linguistic turn brought philosophy much closer to some of the central concerns of the Jewish historical tradition, and Jewish thinkers were quick to pursue their work in this new area of overlap. To appreciate these Jewish philosophical arguments, and their similarities to and differences from each other as well as to twentieth-century philosophies of language generally, this chapter has been laid out in four parts. Part I describes briefly how the linguistic turn in philosophy redefines the notions of both “philosophy” and “revelation.”

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