The Introduction part 1
Posted by Henric C. Jensen on July 24, 2007
The Introduction to the Book is written by Eliezer Goldman.
I admit that I have difficulties getting all the finer points in Goldman’s Introduction to the Thinking of Leibowitz – I am not too familiar with the thinking of Kant on factual and normative. But I understand the meaning of the words, thanks to Dictionary.com!
In philosophy, normative is usually contrasted with positive (i.e. descriptive) or explanatory when describing types of theories, beliefs, or propositions. Descriptive (or constative”) statements are falsifiable statements that attempt to describe reality. Normative statements, on the other hand, affirm how things should or ought to be, how to value them, which things are good or bad, which actions are right or wrong. It is only with David Hume in the 18th century that philosophers began to take cognizance of the logical difference between normative and descriptive statements and thinking, although Socrates had emphatically established it more than two thousand years before. There are several schools of thought regarding the status of normative statements and whether they can be rationally discussed or defended. Among these schools are the tradition of practical reason extending from Aristotle through Kant to Habermas, which asserts that they can, and the tradition of emotivism, which maintains that they are merely expressions of emotions and have no rational content. Normative statements and norms, as well as their meanings, are an integral part of human life. They are fundamental for prioritizing goals and organizing and planning thought, belief, emotion and action and are the basis of much ethical and political discourse.
You get that? I kind of do – normative is what we decide is the rule about something – regardless of whether it’s facts or not.
“Ultimately all normative obligations and value-imputations are dependent upon personal decision. A valuation may, of course, be justified in terms of already recognized values, but one’s ultimate values cannot be the subject of rational argument. Their validity for a person results from decision, not from recognition. Since Leibowitz regards religion as an exclusively normative domain and denies that Scripture was intended to be a body of information, this is as true of religious commitment as it is of all other basic life-values. Factual knowledge may be forced upon us by experience. There is nothing to compel one into acceptance of any ultimate value-commitments, including that of religious faith.” (introduction pp xiv-xv)
So religious faith is a choice. Well, I believed that already – though I wouldn’t have said it like that – I usually say it like this: “the existence of G-d cannot be proved nor disproved, so any belief based on the existence of G-d must be a matter of Faith.”
So what is religious faith according to Leibowitz? Leibowitz is Jewish (or was, as he died in 1994) so he is speaking about Judaism. To Leibowitz religious faith is the “Commitment to observance of Halakha as worshipful service of G-d”.
I like this – because it carries a thought I have had, often in discussion with more liberal Jews who complain about the rigidness of the Orthodox: “If it hadn’t been for the rigidness of the Orthodox there would have been no Judaism for you to claim!” Observance of the Mitzvot is the core of Judaism and what it means to be Jewish – in essence that is what makes one Jewish, and that observance is what has kept both the Jewish People and Judaism alive for more than 3000 years.