The New York Times

Confronting Philosophy's Anti-Semitism

SHOULD WE CONTINUE TO TEACH THINKERS LIKE KANT, VOLTAIRE AND HUME WITHOUT MENTION OF THE HARMFUL PREJUDICES THEY HELPED LEGITIMIZE?

We commonly assume that anti-Semitism and related attitudes are a product of ignorance and fear, or fanatical beliefs, or some other irrational force. But it is by now well known that some of the most accomplished thinkers in modern societies have defended anti-Semitic views. For instance, several of the major Enlightenment philosophers — including Hume, Voltaire and Kant — developed elaborate justifications for anti-Semitic views. One common thread running through the work of these philosophers is an attempt to diminish the influence of Judaism or the Jewish people on European history.

In “The Philosophical Bases of Modern Racism,” wrote: “David Hume apparently accepted a polygenetic view of man’s origin, since in his ‘Natural History of Religion’ he made no effort to trace a linear development of man from the ancient Jews to the modern world, and presented practically no historical connection between Judaism and Christianity (which he saw more as emerging from pagan polytheism).” Popkin wrote that Voltaire challenged the biblical account of human history by asserting that only the Jews were descendants of Adam, and “everybody else pre-Adamites, though the non-European ones were degenerate or inferior to the European ones. Voltaire saw the Adamites as a major menace to European civilization, since they kept infecting it with what he considered the horrible immorality of the Bible. Voltaire therefore insisted that Europe should separate itself from the Adamites, and seek its roots and heritage and ideals in the best of the pre-Adamite world — for him, the Hellenic world.”

This article originally appeared in .

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The New York Times

The New York Times4 min read
He Lifted All Readers in His Path
With his prodigious memory and ardor for literature, the uncompromising highbrow Harold Bloom sought to hoist his readers up to the level of what he saw as the greatest books.
The New York Times4 min readSelf-Improvement
Stress Can Make You Sick. Take Steps to Reduce It.
In his new book, “The Stress Solution,” Dr. Rangan Chatterjee offers advice on countering the damaging effects of chronic stress.
The New York Times3 min read
You Will Be Shocked by This Article
The two biggest companies behind an internet subgenre — the “chumbox ad” — have joined forces to form a company that will generate $2 billion a year.