Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rebecca Goldstein (February 23, 1950)

Rebecca Goldstein, a novelist and philosopher, writes novels of complex Jewish identity, intertwining many ideas and both secular Jewish and religious themes. She herself is a secular Jew, though she was raised Orthodox. 36 Arguments for the Existence of God is an especially good example with its description of Public Intellectuals and egocentric academic types alongside Hassidim, who also struggle to create their identity. Besides her novels, I loved her memoir Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (2006).

A recent review of philosopher-novelists described Goldstein thus:
Goldstein, whose latest novel is “36 Arguments for the Existence of God,” treats philosophical questions with unabashed directness in her fiction, often featuring debates or dialogues among characters who are themselves philosophers or physicists or mathematicians. Still, she says that part of her empathizes with [Iris] Murdoch’s wish to keep the loose subjectivity of the novel at a safe remove from the philosopher’s search for hard truth. It’s a “huge source of inner conflict,” she told me. “I come from a hard-core analytic background: philosophy of science, mathematical logic. I believe in the ideal of objectivity.” But she has become convinced over the years of what you might call the psychology of philosophy: that how we tackle intellectual problems depends critically on who we are as individuals, and is as much a function of temperament as cognition. Embedding a philosophical debate in richly imagined human stories conveys a key aspect of intellectual life. You don’t just understand a conceptual problem, she says: “You feel the problem.” The Philosophical Novel by James Ryerson

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