Category: Persons

Maimonides

Maimonides (1138-1204) formed a grand synthesis of peripatetic philosophy and Hebraic tradition through which he sought to point up the compatibility of Reason and Revelation.

Mosheh ben Maimon (1138-1204) is the most important representative of medieval Jewish philosophy. He was born in Spanish Cordoba and eventually settled in Cairo after moving to various places. His theological body of works, through which he systematised in exemplary fashion the rabbinic right, is still considered as a cornerstone of the Hebrew spiritual tradition. His central philosophical work is the monumental Dalalat al-Ha’irin or Guide for the Perplexed, which was written in Arabic. Maimonides' thought has had a significant impact on Western medieval and modern philosophy.

In his Guide for the Perplexed, which assumes the epistolary form of a series of letters to an advanced student of the Scriptures and Talmud, he grapples with a fundamental paradox: how is it possible for revealed religious truth to be at odds with the truth revealed by philosophical reasoning? According to Maimonides, this is a superficial discord the cause of which lies in the fact that the Bible meets with a literal interpretation when it should be comprehended symbolically. The revealed biblical God is rife with anthropomorphic characteristics, yet grasping the divine this way, argues Maimonides, constitutes a regression to idolatry. The Scriptures are then seen to develop the same theology, metaphysics and cosmology that philosophical Reason comes to reveal.

Maimonides appropriates Aristotle's arguments on the existence of God. The reasoning goes as follows: all material beings are finite, finite beings have finite powers, beings with finite powers can only bring forth finite movement. However, the movement of heavenly bodies is infinite / eternal. Consequently, to explain this infinite movement one must acknowledge the existence of an immaterial being with superior faculties, that is, God.

The whole issue of the movement of the heavenly bodies relates to the issue of world eternity. At this point, Maimonides distances himself from Aristotle and forms an argument that will subsequently be used by Thomas Aquinas. The ever-lasting nature of the world defies philosophical proof. Yet, the same applies to the opposite idea, namely that the world has a temporal beginning. This notion presupposes the dogma that proclaims the Creation of the world by God. Maimonides holds that, on this very issue, the Platonic teaching on a "creator"-organiser of inchoate primal matter lies closer to truth, albeit with Plato ultimately erring to the degree that he denies the Creation of the world ex nihilo.

Maimonides' philosophy is inextricably intertwined with a radical theology of an apophantic character which pushes fundamental neo-Platonic notions to their logical extreme. Being immaterial, God is invested in terms of absolute simplicity. The divine is not the outcome of any synthetic process. Yet for this reason, it eludes all attempts at determination. Definitions consist in the synthetic combination of a genus with a specific distinction. Furthermore, every attempt to even describe the divine is doomed to failure since every description consists in the synthetic combination of a subject with a predicate. God, the argument goes, is constitutively ineffable, which means that, concerning the divine, only silence is appropriate.

Author: Thanos Samartzis
  • Davies, D. Method and Metaphysics in Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed. Oxford, 2011.
  • Seeskin, K. ed. The Cambridge Companion to Maimonides. 2005.
  • Stern, J. The Matter and Form of Maimonides' Guide. Cambridge, Mass, 2013.
  • Stroumsa, S. Maimonides in His World. Princeton, 2009.
  • Μαϊμονίδης, Το Βιβλίο της γνώσης. Διώνη, 2006.
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