When someone says “A” you look for a reason he may really mean “B”.
Absolutely. “A” has no intrinsic meaning. “A” is defined only ever by a “B,” a “C,” a “D” and so on, backwards and forwards, to first principles, which, as it happens, in the case of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, are the same first principle
I was just reading the lines below in Religion of Reason (which, incidentally, lives up to the Straussian accolades – see sidebar for link), from the Talmud:
In that hour, in which man is led to judgment, it is said to him: did you execute your business in good faith? Did you appoint times for the study of the Torah? … Did you pursue your studies with wisdom? Did you make inferences on the basis of one sentence to another?
In quoting the passage, Hermann Cohen emphasizes that the word for “wisdom” also translates as “method.” He also notes that this emphasis on methodological knowledge – “inference of one sentence on the basis of another” – connects the Jewish to the Greek spirit (Jerusalem and Athens) as well as Judaism to its “daughter” Islam, the latter two having been “intimately” connected throughout the Middle Ages, their shared first principles residing in monotheism. Such intimate relationships – rather like real world mother-daughter relationships, or, in fuster’s example, arguments between brothers (or in the Bible between Cain and Abel) – can, of course, become all the more violent and perplexing because of their very intimacy.
The greatest impiety in the Western (Greek) tradition, the Judaic tradition, and the Islamic tradition would be the refusal to “make inferences on the basis of one sentence to another” – which refusal is the spirit of literalism, also the spirit of so-called “common sense” and the ridicule of intellectualism or mere “angel-counting.” A philosopher who placed himself self-consciously in the Christian tradition put it this way:
Since the man of common sense makes his appeal to feeling, to an oracle within his breast, he is finished and done with anyone who does not agree; he only has to explain that he has nothing more to say to anyone who does not find and feel the same in himself [!]. In other words, he tramples underfoot the roots of humanity. For it is the nature of humanity to press onward to agreement with others; human nature only really exists in an achieved community of minds. The anti-human, the merely animal, consists in staying within the sphere of feelings, and being able to communicate only at that level.
This is what I see too many calling for: A “common sense” rejection of a misunderstood, mis-defined collective other. It is the contradiction that pervades the Islamophobic right, and that recurs at every level of political discussion – a constant betrayal of what it is that the self-styled advocates of the Judeo-Christian West pretend to be defending. Yes, the alternative approach, the one rejected by literalists and common-sensicalists alike, is difficult, and puts many simple securities and habits of mind and feeling seemingly in jeopardy, but it’s what, to put it in religious terms, God demands of us, and, according to the Rabbis, will be demanded of us .
And if you can’t handle that, then I suppose I should be concerned for your soul, but I will continue to press on to agreement and a community of minds even with those whom tragic history, original sin, bad ideas, images, distorted facts, ignorance, and the Devil have put on the other side.
I’d say more, or, better, less, after careful refinement of the above, but I have some plutocratic gladiatoricals to watch now, and my stomach calls for lunch.