When asked for his philosophical outlook, Einstein always referred to Spinoza, the seventeenth-century Jewish iconoclast. Spinoza’s vision of reality and the kind of explanations it demanded resonated deeply with the twentieth century’s own scientific iconoclast, whose relativity theory helped topple classical physics along with our most fundamental intuitions about space and time. Spinoza died before physics really came into its own with the publication of Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, so his influence on Einstein is all the more surprising. What were the intuitions that both thinkers shared—and are they in any way connected with Jewish texts and ideas?
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein is a philosopher and novelist with a particular interest in how philosophical and religious ideas pervade our lives. A former MacArthur fellow and recipient of the National Humanities Medal, she has published seven works of fiction, the latest of which was 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction; and three of non-fiction, including Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity, which won the Koret International Jewish Book Award in Jewish Thought, and most recently Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away. She has also received numerous other awards and distinctions, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and designation as a Humanist Laureate by the International Academy of Humanism. In 2011, she was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association and Freethought Heroine by the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
This program is made possible by the generous support of the Josephine Cohen Foundation. The Josephine Cohen Memorial Lecture is given by a preeminent scholar with a demonstrated ability to engage non-academic audiences.
Cosponsored by Penn’s Jewish Studies Program and Department of Philosophy.
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