What Is the Good?

"We know the good but do not practice it."

These two unusually interesting collections of studies are in sharp contrast to the contemporary Anglo-Saxon style of academic scholarship. Both authors take seriously the pertinence of classical thought to contemporary discussions of the good. Strauss is even less professorial than Gadamer in that he takes the central issue of our time to be the quarrel between philosophy and religion, a quarrel that is for him of the deepest political significance.

Strauss formulates the political question in "Jerusalem and Athens," the seventh (a significant number!) of his 15 studies. Speaking of the German-Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen, who attempted to give a Kantian or rationalist interpretation of modern Judaism, Strauss says: "He had a greater faith in the power of modern Western culture to mold the fate of mankind than seems to be warranted now. The worst things that he experienced were the Dreyfus scandal and the pogroms instigated by Czarist Russia: he did not experience Communist Russia and Hitler Germany. More disillusioned regarding modern culture than Cohen was, we wonder whether the two ingredients of modern culture, of the modern synthesis, are not more solid than the synthesis."

Gadamer's scope is much narrower, but the connection between his analyses of Plato and Aristotle...

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