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Alan Montefiore has been continuously engaged in teaching, writing and promoting philosophy for over 50 years; and in this short memoir, he has given us a fascinating account (argued with the characteristically crisp precision one should expect from a philosopher) of how the problems of personal identity, and in particular of Jewish identity, with which he has been grappling all his life, have been sharpened and clarified by his own immersion in the philosophical controversies of his time, and in particular the vexed question of how a distinction between facts and values can be drawn.

What is immediately striking in this account is how far Montefiore, in spite of respectful acknowledgements to his former teachers, could be said to have outgrown the influence of the Oxford school of Anglo-Saxon philosophy in which he was brought up, and embraced instead what he describes as an anti-compartmentalising view of philosophy's proper role and purpose. Politely but firmly, he dismisses the Sisyphean efforts in which many of his peers were unproductively engaged, trying to show how the distinction between statements of facts and judgments of value could be made hard and fast; these various illusory "proofs", whether they relied on a logically self-consistent symbolic language that stood for real language, or sought a solution by analysing the differences between the logic of indicatives and that of imperatives, or between rules of inference and those of implication, all suffered from the same inherent defect: they presupposed a precision in the definition of terms, which cannot be inferred from the way such terms are used in real life. They relied in short on what Wittgenstein called the private language argument. Montefiore however insists that terms such as value, fact, norm and identity each have meanings that shift in accordance with the form of life, and provide the indispensable context in which such terms are used and understood.

The more interesting question then becomes: what happens when forms of life, each having their own way of framing a distinctive set of values, norms and obligations come into conflict with one another? Here Montefiore puts flesh on abstract philosophical bones by discussing in some detail his own struggles with the complex question of Jewish identity. Judaism is a strange hybrid: not quite a religion, because a Jew, born of a Jewish mother, can abandon his or her faith and practices and still remain a Jew, and not quite an ethnic group either, because a convert of any race can become a Jew by voluntarily submitting to "the yoke of Torah".

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