Arnold Davidson

Davidson image
Robert O. Anderson Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus
Harvard University PhD (1981)
Teaching at UChicago since 1986
Research Interests: Contemporary European Philosophy, Moral and Political Philosophy, Human Sciences, Philosophy of Religion, History and Philosophy of Judaism

Arnold I. Davidson is currently Distinguished Professor of Humanities at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He teaches in several departments, principally in the Department of Jewish Thought and the Department of Romance Studies.

He is also the Robert O. Anderson Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Comparative Literature, the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, the Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, the Divinity School, and the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge. He has served as European Editor of Critical Inquiry, and he has also been a director of the France-Chicago Center. His major fields of research and teaching are the philosophy of Judaism, the history of contemporary European philosophy, the history of moral and political philosophy, the history of the human sciences, the history and philosophy of religion, and literature as a form of philosophical expression.

In 2021, the French government promoted Davidson to the rank of Commandeur--the highest rank--in the order of knighthood of which he is a member, the Ordre des Palmes Académiques. This honor was conferred for his exceptional contribution to the teaching and promotion of French thought and culture.

He has been a visiting professor at many French institutions (including the Collège de France, the École Normale Supérieure, the University of Paris I and the University of Paris VII) and has also been Professor of the History of Political Philosophy at the University of Pisa and Professor of the Philosophy of Cultures at the University Ca'Foscari Venice, where he has been named an honorary member of the faculty.  In addition, he has been the jazz critic for the Sunday cultural supplement, "Domenica," of the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

His current projects revolve around figures as diverse as Pierre Hadot, Joseph Soloveitchik, Michel Foucault, and Primo Levi, and around themes that range from the history of spiritual exercises and practices of self-transformation to the relation between Talmudic and philosophical argumentation, and the aesthetics, ethics and politics of improvisation. He is also currently working on a critical edition of the manuscripts of Zalmen Gradowski. Gradowski was assigned to the Sonderkommando in Auschwitz---he managed to write one of the most singular and powerful accounts of the Shoah, from both an historical and a literary point of view, composed during the time of the events themselves. His manuscripts were buried under the ashes of Birkenau and discovered after the war. This edition (under contract with the University of Chicago Press) will be the first complete critical edition in English. Davidson's main publications are in French, Italian, and Spanish, as well as in English.

Selected Publications


Gli esercizi spirituali della musica. Improvvisazione e creazione. Mimesis Edizioni, 2020.

Series editor of the English translation of the courses of Michel Foucault at the Collège de France. Palgrave Macmillan, UK/USA. (This series will result in thirteen volumes.)

Co-author of Reflexões sobre o nacional-socialismo. Editora Âyiné, 2017.

Editor of Pierre Hadot, Studi di filosofia antica. Edizioni ETS, 2014.

Religión, razón y espiritualidad. Ediciones Alpha Decay, Barcelona, 2014.

Editor of Primo Levi, Vivir para contar. Escribir tras Auschwitz. Ediciones Alpha Decay, Barcelona, 2010.

Editor of La vacanza morale del fascismo. Intorno a Primo Levi. Edizioni ETS, 2009.

Co-editor of Michel Foucault. Philosophie. Gallimard, 2004 (an anthology of the writings of Michel Foucault).

The Emergence of Sexuality: Historical Epistemology and the Formation of Concepts. Harvard University Press, 2001. (Translation into Portugese, Italian, Spanish and French with a new preface).

Editor of Pierre Hadot. Exercices spirituels et philosophie antique.Albin Michel, 2002. (Translation into approximately ten languages, with a new preface in the Italian Edition.)

Editor of Foucault and His Interlocutors. The University of Chicago Press, 1997.

La philosophie comme manière de vivre (Co-authored with Pierre Hadot and Jeannie Carlier). Albin Michel, 2001. (Translated into approximately ten languages) - English translation: The Present Alone is Our Happiness: Conversations with Jeannier Carlier and Arnold I. Davidson (translated by Marc Djaballah), Stanford University Press, 2009.

Editor of Pierre Hadot. Philosophy As a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. Basil Blackwell Press, 1995.


“Spiritual Exercises, Improvisation, and Moral Perfectionism: With Special Reference to Sonny Rollins,” in Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies. Edited by George E. Lewis and Benjamin Piekut. Oxford University Press, 2016.


Arnold Davidson's recorded lectures & interviews

Recent Courses

PHIL 53361 The Philosophy of Modern Orthodox Judaism: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein

(DVPR 53361, HIJD 53361)

The thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik is the philosophical foundation of Modern Orthodox Judaism. In this course, we will examine R. Soloveitchik's conception of halakhic method, his elaboration of the notion of masorah (tradition), and his idea of halakhic morality. The most significant subsequent development of the philosophy of Modern Orthodox Judaism can be found in the writings of Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein. Among other topics, we may consider R. Lichtenstein's views on the relation between religion and morality, his discussion of character refinement, his conception of serving God and his analysis of the meaning of "mitzvah" as well his response to critiques of Modern Orthodox Judaism.

The course will aim to provide a detailed philosophical and theological characterization of Modern Orthodox Judaism, and we will draw some contrasts with both Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Reform Judaism.

All students interested in enrolling in this course should send an application to by 12/11/2020. Applications should be no longer than one page and should include name, email address, phone number, and department or committee. Applicants should briefly describe their background and explain their interest in, and their reasons for applying to, this course. Advanced undergraduates may also apply.

2020-2021 Winter

For full list of Arnold Davidson's courses back to the 2012-13 academic year, see our searchable course database.

Arnold Davidson