Peculiarly Interesting Disinterestedness

Nadav S. Berman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article reconsiders a specific mishnah - Avot 5:16 - which praises a disinterested love, while denouncing expressions of interested love. By referring to the alleged "love"of Amnon and Tamar, Avot 5:16 equates sexuality and interestedness with incest and rape. This exegetical choice is surprising, given the pro-natal and "carnal"trajectory of biblical and talmudic traditions, which can be described as proto-pragmatist in this regard. The paper opens by defining pragmatic interestedness vis-à-vis disinterestedness, while reviewing the prevalence of disinterestedness in modern philosophy. Section 2 examines mishnah Avot 5:16 and its advocacy of disinterested ethic, while suggesting its ideational affiliation with Platonic love and with the Christian Agape. Section 3 argues that within normative-laden Jewish tradition, as well as in classical American pragmatism, we find an embodied and integrative philosophical anthropology (or pragmatic interestedness), which deeply challenges the disinterestedness paradigm of Avot 5:16. Section 4 concludes with some reflections on the relevance of this study for the research of Jewish thought and the Humanities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-86
Number of pages45
JournalJournal of Jewish Ethics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • Mishnah Avot 5:16
  • agape vs. eros
  • classical American pragmatism
  • interestedness
  • isinterestedness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy


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