Josef Stern

Josef Stern
William H. Colvin Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus), The University of Chicago 

Joseph SternJosef Stern is the William H. Colvin Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, at the University of Chicago where he was Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Inaugural Director of the Joyce Z. and Jacob Greenberg Center for Jewish Studies (2009-2014). He was educated at Columbia University (B.A. 1972; Ph.D 1979) and at Yeshivat Kerem b’Yavneh (1967-70). Since 1990 he has been a Fellow in the Library at the Van Leer Institute Jerusalem. A member of Phi Beta Kappa and recipient of fellowships and grants from the Whiting Foundation (1977-78), American Council of Learned Societies (1988-89, 2007-08) , the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities (1996-97), Israel Science Foundation (2001-03), Franke Institute for Humanities at the University of Chicago (1991-92), Lady Davis Foundation (1984-85), Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture (1994-94, 2000-01), the Maimonides Center for Advanced Studies-Jewish Skepticism at the University of Hamburg (Germany) (2016-17), and a Marie Curie EURIAS (European Union Research Institutes for Advanced Studies) Senior Fellowship at the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (2018-19). He was also President (Honorary) of the Association for the Philosophy of Judaism (2013-14) and a Trustee of the Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies—Jewish Scepticism, University of Hamburg, Germany since 2015. In addition to the University of Chicago, Stern has been a Professor of Philosophy at Bar-Ilan University (2000-2002), Gruss Visiting Professor in the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania (2003, 2004), Lady Davis Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University (1996), Visiting Professor at Northwestern University (1993, 1998, 1999), Russell Berrie Visiting Professor at The Angelicum, Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome (2011, 2014), Mandel Visiting Professor at the Mandel School for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem (2019), Visiting Professor at the Gregorian Pontifical University, Rome (2020), and Joyce Z. Greenberg Visiting Professor at The University of Chicago (2021-22). 

Stern’s scholarship shuttles between contemporary philosophy of language and medieval philosophy, especially medieval Jewish philosophy and its Islamic background, but his broader philosophical interests range over topics in epistemology and metaphysics, philosophy of religion, the philosophy of David Hume, logic, and the philosophy of art. He is the author or editor of nine books and over 60 articles. In the philosophy of language his interests have focused on the role of context in semantic interpretation, including the semantics of demonstratives and indexicals; on non-literal versus literal meaning; on interactions between the language faculty and non-linguistic symbol skills, in particular pictorial competence; on meta-reference and quotation; and on the history of the reception of Quine’s Indeterminacy Thesis. His most recent book in the philosophy of language is Quotations as Pictures (MIT Press, 2022). In medieval Jewish philosophy, he has written extensively on Maimonides, his impact on Nahmanides, Saadia, and on the Ma‘aseh Efod of Profyat Duran (Efodi). His most recent book, The Matter and Form of Maimonides’ Guide, which was awarded the 2014 Book Prize for the best book on the history of philosophy by the Journal of the History of Philosophy, attempts a unified reading of the Guide by defending a skeptical interpretation of Maimonides’ argument and by exploring the relation between the parabolic form in which the Guide is written and various epistemological and metaphysical issues that arise from the tension between the human’s form, or intellect, and matter, or body. At present Stern is working on three monographs: one on the epistemology of prophecy; a second on providence and the problem of evil in the philosophical and exegetical works of Saadiah and Maimonides; and a third on Maimonides’ interpretation of the Aqedah as a critique of dying for God.

Stern is married to Cheryl Newman with whom he has three sons. After commuting between Israel and Chicago for 14 years, he made Aliyah upon retirement in 2016 and lives in Jerusalem.


Selected Publications

Problems and Parables of Law: Maimonides and Nahmanides on Reasons for the Commandments (Ta’amei Ha-Mitzvot) (Albany, New York, SUNY Press, Series in Judaica: Hermeneutics, Mysticism, and Religion, 1998)

Metaphor in Context (Cambridge, MA, M.I.T. Press/Bradford Books, 2000); paperback edition 2016.

The Matter and Form of Maimonides’ Guide (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2013)

Quotations and Pictures (forthcoming M.I.T. Press, 2019)

“Profayt Duran’s Ma‘aseh Efod: The Philosophical Grammar of a Converso,” forthcoming in S. Harvey and N. Germann, eds., The Origin and Nature of Language and Logic in Medieval Islamic, Jewish, and Christian Thought, Rencontres de philosophie médiévale, Brepols Publishers.

“Maimonides and his Predecessors on Dying for God as ‘Sanctification of the Name of God’,” forthcoming in Samuel Lebens, Dani Rabinowitz, and Aaron Segal, eds. Jewish Philosophy in the Age of Analysis (Oxford University Press)