The Tragedy of Optimism

Writings on Hermann Cohen

By Steven S. Schwarzschild
Edited by George Y. Kohler

Subjects: Jewish Studies, Jewish Philosophy, Philosophy, Religion
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary Jewish Thought
Hardcover : 9781438468358, 334 pages, February 2018
Paperback : 9781438468365, 334 pages, January 2019

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Table of contents

George Y. Kohler

George Y. Kohler

1. The Democratic Socialism of Hermann Cohen (1956)
2. To Recast Rationalism (1962/1970)
3. Truth: The Connection between Logic and Ethics (1966)
4. The Day of Atonement (1968)
5. Franz Rosenzweig's Anecdotes about Hermann Cohen (1970)
6. The Torah Radicalizes on Many Levels (1972)
7. Historical Excursus: On Cohen's Infinitesimal-Methode
8. Applications of the Infinitesimalistic Theory in "the System"
9. The Tenability of Herman Cohen's Construction of the Self (1975)
10. "Germanism and Judaism" — Hermann Cohen's Normative Paradigm of the German-Jewish Symbiosis (1979)
11. Ethics of the Pure Will – Introduction (1981)
12. The Title of Hermann Cohen's Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism (1986)
13. History of the Religion of Reason: (Part II of the Introduction)
14. The Theologico-Political Basis of Liberal Christian-Jewish Relations in Modernity (1986)
15. The Religious Stake in Modern Philosophy of Infinity (1987)
16. Book Reviews
Samuel Atlas, From Critical to Speculative Idealism: The Philosophy of Salomon Maimon (1966)
William Kluback, Hermann Cohen - The Challenge of a Religion of Reason (1987)
Mechthild Dreyer, Die Idee Gottes im Werk Hermann Cohens (1989)
Epilogue: Entry on 'Cohen, Hermann' in the Encyclopedia of Religion (ed. M. Eliade) (1987)
Index of Names

Complete collection of Schwarzschild’s essays on the neo-Kantian Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen.


Steven S. Schwarzschild (1924–1989) was arguably the leading expositor of German-Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen (1842–1918), undertaking a lifelong effort to reintroduce Cohen's thought into contemporary philosophical discourse. In The Tragedy of Optimism, George Y. Kohler brings together all of Schwarzschild's work on Cohen for the first time. Schwarzschild's readings of Cohen are unique and profound; he was conversant with both worlds that shaped Cohen's thought, neo-Kantian German idealism and Jewish theology. The collection covers a wide range of subjects, from ethics, socialism, the concept of human selfhood, and the mathematics of the infinite to more explicitly Jewish themes. This volume includes two of Schwarzschild's previously unpublished manuscripts and a scholarly introduction by Kohler. Schwarzschild shows that despite its seeming defeat by events of the twentieth century, Cohen's optimism about human progress is a rational, indeed necessary, path to peace.

George Y. Kohler is Director of the Joseph Carlebach Institute and Senior Lecturer of Jewish Philosophy at Bar Ilan University, Israel. He is the author of Reading Maimonides' Philosophy in 19th Century Germany: The Guide to Religious Reform.


"The Tragedy of Optimism gives us excellent—perhaps unparalleled—insight into the thought of Hermann Cohen. Although Cohen was one of the most important thinkers in the history of Jewish philosophy, he is often misread or simply ignored. Schwarzschild shows in painstaking fashion why the standard criticisms of Cohen miss the point. What emerges is a picture of Cohen as a more sophisticated thinker than what we usually get in histories of the period. " — Kenneth Seeskin, author of Autonomy in Jewish Philosophy