PHIL 418 A: Jewish Philosophy

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm
SAV 132
Joint Sections: 
JEW ST 418 A
Michael A. Rosenthal

Syllabus Description:

PHIL 418A/ JSIS B 418A Modern Jewish Philosophy (Spring 2019)
Tu Th 10:30am-12:20pm (TBD)
Prof. Michael Rosenthal
Office: Savery M382
Phone: (206) 685-2655

Office Hours: Tu 2-3pm; W 1-2pm; and by appointment.
Home Web Page:
Canvas Course Web Page:

Course Description

This course will consider philosophical reflections on the extreme circumstances that Jews endured in the twentieth century: exile, statelessness, totalitarianism, anti-Semitism, and genocide. The philosophers we shall read did not think that these tribulations were arbitrary. Rather, they sought to articulate the logic of the historical conditions that led to them. The suffering of the Jews exemplify many of the trials of modernity. We will consider the writings of a group of European Jewish writers and philosophers, including Theodor Adorno, Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, and Emmanuel Levinas. We will also read two novels by Franz Kafka—The Trial and The Castle—which several of these thinkers considered to be emblematic of these themes. To supplement these primary texts, we will look at some contemporary commentators in the tradition of critical theory, such as Seyla Benhabib and Michael Löwy. Although Jews were the particular victims of these forms of persecution, we can learn some general, even universal lessons from these philosophical reflections on their experience.

Course Requirements

Participation: There are several basic skills involved in philosophy, including reading critically, writing argumentatively, listening carefully, and talking constructively about ideas. If you do not attend class regularly you will not be able to participate and develop some of these skills, especially listening and talking. Lack of participation may affect your final grade in a variety of ways. If you miss class you will have less time to prepare your assignments. You will be less prepared to write your discussion response and papers. It is in your interest both in terms of your grade and your education to participate regularly in class.

Discussion Questions: Each week there will be a set of discussion questions and you are required to type a response to two of them, one due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, the other at the beginning of class on Thursday. The questions for the following week will be available immediately after class on the course Canvas assignment page. There will be ten sets of questions and nineteen responses. Any answer that is deposited in the drop box after the start of class will be awarded a maximum of 2 points. Each satisfactory response received by the deadline is worth 5 points. The first time a response is judged unsatisfactory it will be given 4 points. Each time thereafter it will be worth 2 points. A satisfactory response shows an understanding of the question, some comprehension of the texts, and an effort to engage in critical analysis and discussion of the question and texts. If you do not turn in a response you will be given 0 points. I will award one point (up to a total of five points for the quarter) of extra credit for each response I judge to be excellent. This assignment is worth a total of 100 points. You need a total of 53 points to pass this assignment.

Midterm Exam: You are required to complete a take-home midterm examination. The questions will be distributed in class on Thursday, May 2nd, and your answers will be due before the beginning of class on Tuesday, May 7th in the relevant course Canvas assignment page. The exam will be worth a total of 150 points. You need a minimum of 80 points to pass this assignment.

Final Exam: You are required to complete a take-home final examination. The questions will be distributed in class on Thursday, June 6th, and your answers will be due at noon on Wednesday, June 12th in the relevant course Canvas assignment page. The exam will be worth a total of 150 points. You need a minimum of 80 points to pass this assignment.

Final Paper Option: Undergraduates are allowed with instructor permission and graduate students are required to write a final 10-12 page paper instead of writing the final exam. All students must ask permission from the instructor at least three weeks before the end of the quarter. Students who are given permission are required to submit a topic, abstract, and annotated bibliography at least two weeks before the end of the quarter and receive instructor’s permission to proceed to the final draft. The paper will be due at the same time as the final exam would be due, i.e., at noon on Wednesday, June 12th in the relevant course Canvas assignment page. The paper will be worth a total of 150 points. You need a minimum of 80 points to pass this assignment.

Final Grade: Your final grade will be computed on the basis of the assignments you have turned in. There is a total possible point score of 400 points. You will find a conversion table (in Excel format) in the “Files” section of the course Canvas page. (Please note that while I will use this table as a basis for the final grades in the course I reserve the right to make adjustments to it in the service of fairness.)

Nota Bene: (1) In order to pass this course students are required to: a) have enough total points (i.e., at least 212 points); and also b) pass (i.e., receive at least 53 points in the discussion questions and 80 points for the exams) in two of the three components of the course (i.e., the discussion questions, the midterm exam, and the final exam). If you have enough total points to pass but do not pass two of the three components you will fail the course. Absolutely no exceptions will be made to this policy.

(2) In some cases, when I calculate the final grade, I will also consider such factors as improvement and class participation.

(3) This course will follow the policies established by the Jackson School as listed and explained in the attached handout. If you have any questions regarding these policies, please do not hesitate to contact the instructor.


The following books are required. You can either purchase them at the University Bookstore or check them out from the reserve collection at Odegaard Library:

Theodore W. Adorno, Can One Live After Auschwitz? A Philosophical Reader, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, Stanford University Press, 2003 (pbk: 978-0804731447)

Hannah Arendt, The Portable Hannah Arendt, Penguin Books, 2003 (pbk: 978-0142437568)

Hannah Arendt, The Jewish Writings, Schocken Books, 2008 (pbk: 978-0805211948)

Seyla Benhabib, Exile, Statelessness, and Migration, 2018, Princeton University Press (pbk: 978-0691167251)

Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, edited by Hannah Arendt, Mariner Books, 2019 (pbk: 978-1328470232)

Franz Kafka, The Castle, translated by Anthea Bell, Oxford University Press, 2009 (pbk: 978-0199238286)

Franz Kafka, The Trial, translated by Mike Mitchell, Oxford University Press, 2009 (pbk: 978-0199238293)

Emmanuel Levinas, Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism, translated by Seán Hand, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997 (pbk: 978-0801857836)

The following book is recommended reading for the course and is also available at the University Bookstore and on reserve at Odegaard library:

Michael Löwy, Franz Kafka: Subversive Dreamer, translated by Inez Hedges, University of Michigan Press, 2016 (pbk: 978-0472053094)

Reading and Discussion Schedule

The following is a weekly guide to the discussion themes and reading assignment. While I will generally stay on track, I reserve the right to move more quickly or more slowly or even change the assignments as the quarter progresses. [Please note that this is a draft of the syllabus and I might make some changes to it up to the first day of class.]

Week 1: The Trial of Jewish Modernity

Tu 4/2 – Introduction; Adorno, “The Meaning of Working Through the Past” (3-18)
Recommended: Benhabib, chapter 1 “Intertwined Lives and Themes Among Jewish Exiles” (1-8)

Th 4/4 – Kafka, The Trial
Recommended: Löwy, chapter 3

Week 2: Walter Benjamin: Kafka and History

Tu 4/9 – Benjamin, Illuminations, “Franz Kafka” (111-140), “Some Reflections on Kafka” (141-146), “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (217-252).

Th 4/11 – Benjamin, Illuminations, “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (253-264).

Week 3: Hannah Arendt on Stateless Persons

Tu 4/16 – Section II of Portable Hannah Arendt (25-74);
“The Jew as Pariah” (JW, 275-297)

Th 4/18 – NO CLASS (Instructor will be at a professional conference.)

Week 4: Adorno on the Ethical Life in Exile – Minima Moralia

Tu 4/23 – Selections from Minima Moralia (37-90)

Th 4/25 – Selections from Minima Moralia (37-90)

Week 5: Hannah Arendt on the Origins of Totalitarianism

Tu 4/30 – Section III of Portable Hannah Arendt (75-166)

Th 5/2 – Section III of Portable Hannah Arendt (75-166)
[Midterm Exam Distributed]

Week 6: Kafka, The Castle

Tu 5/7 – Kafka, The Castle
[Midterm Exam Due]

Th 5/9 – Kafka, The Castle; Arendt, “Franz Kafka, Appreciated Anew” (Xerox).
Recommended: Löwy, chapter 5

Week 7: Adorno on Kafka and Anti-Semitism

Tu 5/14 – Adorno, “Notes on Kafka” (Philosophical Reader, 211-239)

Th 5/16 – Adorno, “Elements of Anti-Semitism: The Limits of Enlightenment” (391-426)

Week 8: Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem

Tu 5/21 – Arendt, Section V of Portable Hannah Arendt (313-388)

Th 5/23 – Arendt, Section IV of The Jewish Writings (465-495);
Gershom Scholem, “Letter to Hannah Arendt” (Xerox)

Recommended: Benhabib, chapter 4: “Whose Trial? Adolf Eichmann’s or Hannah Arendt’s? The Eichmann Controversy Revisited” (61-79)

Week 9: Levinas’ Response to the Holocaust

Tu 5/28 – Selections from Difficult Freedom

Th 5/30 – Selections from Difficult Freedom

Week 10: Seyla Benhabib and Contemporary Critical Theory

Tu 6/4 – Chapter 3, “The Elusiveness of the Particular: Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor Adorno” (34-60)

Th 6/6 – Either: Chapter 6, “From the ‘Right to Have Rights’ to the ‘Critique of Humanitarian Reason” (101-125) or Conclusion, “The Universal and the Particular: Then and Now” (185-196)
[Final Exam Distributed]

We 6/12 – [Final Exam due at Noon in Canvas Assignment page]


Plagiarism is defined as the use of creations, ideas or words of publicly available work without formally acknowledging the author or source through appropriate use of quotation marks, references, and the like. Plagiarizing is presenting someone else’s work as one’s own original work or thought. This constitutes plagiarism whether it is intentional or unintentional. The University of Washington takes plagiarism very seriously. Plagiarism may lead to disciplinary action by the University against the student who submitted the work. Any student who is uncertain whether his or her use of the work of others constitutes plagiarism should consult the course instructor for guidance before formally submitting the course work involved. (Sources: UW Graduate School Style Manual; UW Bothell Catalog; UW Student Conduct Code)
An incomplete is given only when the student has been in attendance and has done satisfactory work until within two weeks of the end of the quarter and has furnished proof satisfactory to the instructor that the work cannot be completed because of illness or other circumstances beyond the student’s control. (Source: UW General Catalog Online, “Student Guide/Grading”)
Grade Appeal Procedure
A student who believes he or she has been improperly graded must first discuss the matter with the instructor. If the student is not satisfied with the instructor’s explanation, the student may submit a written appeal to the chair of the Department of Philosophy with a copy of the appeal also sent to the instructor. The chair consults with the instructor to ensure that the evaluation of the student’s performance has not been arbitrary or capricious. Should the chair believe the instructor’s conduct to be arbitrary or capricious and the instructor declines to revise the grade, the chair, with the approval of the voting members of his or her faculty, shall appoint an appropriate member, or members, of the faculty of the Department of Philosophy to evaluate the performance of the student and assign a grade. The Dean and Provost should be informed of this action. Once a student submits a written appeal, this document and all subsequent actions on this appeal are recorded in written form for deposit in a School file. (Source: UW General Catalog Online, “Student Guide/Grading”)
Concerns About a Course, an Instructor, or a Teaching Assistant
If you have any concerns about a Philosophy course or your instructor, please see the instructor about these concerns as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with the instructor or not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the chair of the program offering the course (names available from the Department of Philosophy, 361 Savery Hall).

If you have any concerns about a teaching assistant, please see the teaching assistant about these concerns as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with the teaching assistant or not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the instructor in charge of the course. If you are still not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the chair of the program offering the course (names available from the Department of Philosophy, 361 Savery Hall), or the Graduate School at G-1 Communications Building (543-5900).

For your reference, these procedures are posted on a Philosophy bulletin board outside the Department of Philosophy main office on the 3rd floor of Savery Hall.

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If you believe that you are being harassed, seek help—the earlier the better. You may speak with your instructor, your teaching assistant, the undergraduate advisor (363 Savery Hall), graduate program assistant (366 Savery Hall), or the chair of the Philosophy Department (364 Savery Hall). In addition, you should be aware that the University has designated special people to help you. They are: University Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Sexual Harassment (for complaints involving faculty members and teaching assistants) Susan Neff, 301 Student Union (HUB), 543-6028; and the University Complaint Investigation and Resolution Office, 616-2028. (Sources: UW Graduate School, CIDR, Office of the President)
Office of Scholarly Integrity
The Office of Scholarly Integrity is housed in the Office of the Vice-Provost. The Office of Scholarly Integrity assumes responsibility for investigating and resolving allegations of scientific and scholarly misconduct by faculty, students, and staff of the University of Washington. The Office of Scholarly Integrity coordinates, in consultation and cooperation with the Schools and Colleges, inquiries and investigations into allegations of scientific and scholarly misconduct. The Office of Scholarly Integrity is responsible for compliance with reporting requirements established by various Federal and other funding agencies in matters of scientific or scholarly misconduct. The Office of Scholarly Integrity maintains all records resulting from inquiries and investigations of such allegations. University rules (Handbook, Vol. II, Section 25-51, Executive Order #61) define scientific and scholarly misconduct to include the following forms of inappropriate activities: intentional misrepresentation of credentials; falsification of data; plagiarism; abuse of confidentiality; deliberate violation of regulations applicable to research. Students can report cases of scientific or scholarly misconduct either to the Office of Scholarly Integrity, to their faculty adviser, or the department chair. The student should report such problems to whomever he or she feels most comfortable. (Sources: UW web page (; minutes of Grad School Executive Staff and Division Heads meeting, 7/23/98)

Catalog Description: 
Introduces the central concepts and themes of Jewish philosophy. Focuses either on debates within a particular historical period - e.g., medieval or modern; or on a topic - e.g., reactions to the Enlightenment or to the Holocaust. Offered: jointly with JEW ST 418.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 23, 2019 - 11:01pm