The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Orthodox Social Theory: Against the Fact–Value Dichotomy

This paper deals with various Orthodox attempts to overcome the fact-value dichotomy. This distinction underlies the project of secular social science as it assumes that the unenchanted reality is neutral and devoid of normative guidance; the project of science, in its turn, could not supply humans with clear directives regarding values, which ought to remain subjective and plural. Nonetheless, despite being proudly neutral, secular social science dictates the shape of the social realm in a negative manner. The latter, for example, is demanded to remain liberal and open to different subjective values that are left to the free choices of individuals and communities. In recent years, however, the crisis of liberalism has led different thinkers to contest the fact-value dichotomy and find normative guidance in the henceforth non-neutral reality. The paper goes to the earliest formulations of the fact-value distinctions formed in the german Werturteilsstreit (value-judgment controversy) during the 1910s. Whereas Max Weber had pronounced the inability of science to find "ethics of conviction," Isaac Breuer, one of the prominent ideologues of Agudath Israel, attempted to develop "science of truth" that would overcome the polytheism of values. Breuer`s position relates to his critique of secularism and attests to the profound occupation of Orthodox thinkers with the epistemological foundation of modernity. By illuminating Breuer`s polemics with the leading social theorists of his time, this article uncovers the foundations of Orthodox social theory.