Bringing clarity to contemporary beliefs

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Samuel Fleischacker

Samuel Fleischacker: “The point of philosophy is to stop and try to probe what we think.” Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

Moral and political philosopher Samuel Fleischacker examines the evolution of ideas to bring clarity to contemporary beliefs.

“The point of philosophy is to stop and try to probe what we think, and look for its grounds and its sources,” said Fleischacker, professor of philosophy in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Trying to figure out more clearly what we believe and what we should believe. That’s what I really love.”

Personal reflection on his Jewish faith inspired Divine Teaching and the Way of the World, a 2011 book where Fleischacker explores the philosophy of revealed religion — faiths that regard a certain text or oral teaching as sacred, as authoritative over one’s life — and its compatibility with modern liberal, moral and political views.

The book has been described by leading scholars as “brilliant” and “a major contribution to contemporary philosophy of religion.”

“I feel like I get greater clarity about my own beliefs as I do my research,” he said. “I’m hoping if I have achieved that, then I’ll be able to help other people who are in a similar position.

Fleischacker, who arrived at UIC in 1999, studied social justice and notions of liberty and liberalism, while gaining acclaim as a leading scholar of philosopher and economist Adam Smith.

Among his earlier publications are the award-winning On Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations’: A Philosophical Companion (2004), A Short History of Distributive Justice (2004), and The Ethics of Culture (1994).

His research has led to fellowships at Yale, Princeton, University of Edinburgh and Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, where he is currently examining a series of philosophical issues raised by the Israel/Palestine conflict.

The project explores the notion of “peoplehood” and the question of whether states should represent or foster a people’s identity.

“I also look at the conflict between the Jewish and Palestinian peoples over territory, and see what kinds of claims each side makes about each other,” he said.

“My hope is that we can get a better look at these claims with a combination of philosophical and historical tools.”