Maimonides the Rationalist

BookMaimonides the Rationalist

Maimonides the Rationalist

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


April 30th, 2011

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'Not surprisingly, this book is a major contribution to Maimonidean studies and to the history of medieval Jewish philosophy generally.'
'Davidson contributes much to the understanding of Maimonides ... recommended for all students of Maimonides and religious thought.'
Stephen D. Benin, Religious Studies Review

Maimonides was not the first rabbinic scholar to take an interest in philosophy, but he was unique in being a towering figure in both areas. His law code, the Mishneh torah, stands with Rashi's commentary on the Babylonian Talmud as one of the two most intensely studied rabbinic works coming out of the Middle Ages, while his Guide of the Perplexed is the most influential and widely read Jewish philosophical work ever written.

Admirers and critics have arrived at wildly divergent perceptions of the man. We have Maimonides the atheist or agnostic, Maimonides the sceptic, Maimonides the deist, Maimonides the Aristotelian, the Averroist, or proto-Kantian. We have a Maimonides seduced by the blandishments of 'accursed philosophy'; a Maimonides who sowed the seeds that led to Spanish Jews' loss of faith and mass apostasy and who was therefore responsible for the demise of Spanish Jewry; a Maimonides who incorporated philosophical elements into his rabbinic works and wrote the Guide of the Perplexed not to propagate doctrines to which he was personally committed but in order to rescue errant souls seduced by philosophy; a Maimonides who was the defender of the faith and defined the articles of Jewish belief for all time.

In his own estimation, Maimonides was neither exclusively a dedicated philosopher nor exclusively a devoted rabbinist: he saw philosophy and the Written and Oral Torahs as a single, harmonious domain, and he believed that this view was similarly fundamental to the lives of the prophets and rabbis of old. In this book, Herbert Davidson examines Maimonides’ efforts to reconstitute this all-embracing, rationalist worldview that he felt had been lost during the millennium-long exile.

Author Information

Herbert A. Davidson was Professor of Hebrew Emeritus and Research Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was the author of 'The Philosophy of Abraham Shalom', 'Proofs for Eternity, Creation, and the Existence of God in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Philosophy', 'Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes on Intellect', and 'Moses Maimonides, The Man and His Work', and editor of a medieval Hebrew translation of Averroes' 'Middle Commentary on the Isagoge and Categories' (and translator of the English edition of this).

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Publisher’s Note on Transliteration14
Abbreviations and Note on Sources16
1. The Study of Philosophy as a Religious Obligation18
2. The First Two Positive Divine Commandments32
1. The 613 Commandments32
2. FourWriters on the Commandments Prior to Maimonides39
3. Maimonides51
4.What Followed56
3. Maimonides’ Knowledge of the Philosophical Literature in his Rabbinic Period70
1. Background70
2. Neoplatonism72
3. Kalam76
4. Aristotle79
5. The Arabic Aristotelians99
6. Summary100
4. Maimonides’ Shemonah perakim and Alfarabi’s Fusûl Muntaza>a102
5. Maimonides’ Knowledge of the Philosophical Literature in his Later Period116
1. Kalam116
2. Aristotle121
3. The Commentators on Aristotle161
4. Other Greek Philosophers176
5. The Arabic Philosophers182
6. Medieval Jewish Thinkers186
7. Summary188
6. Maimonides on Metaphysical Knowledge190
1. Introduction190
2. Alfarabi’s Lost Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics193
3. Ibn Bâjja’s Position on Metaphysical Knowledge200
4. The Moreh nevukhim on Metaphysical Knowledge206
5. The Active Intellect as the Form that the Human Intellect Thinks; Conjunction with the Active Intellect218
6. The MannerWhereby Metaphysical Knowledge Can Be Acquired223
7. Summary227
7. A Problematic Sentence in Moreh nevukhim, ii. 24229
1. The Setting229
2. The Problematic Sentence234
3. Ibn Tibbon’s Emendation238
4. Other Proposed Solutions243
5. The Solution249
8. Maimonides’ Ethical Systems252
1. Commentary on the Mishnah; Shemonah perakim252
2. The Mishneh torah259
3. Moreh nevukhim264
4. Possible Explanations272
5. The Closing Paragraphs of the Moreh nevukhim280
6. Summary283
9. Maimonides the Rationalist285
1. Rationalist Exegesis of Scripture289
2. Rationalist Exegesis of Aggadah295
3. Rationalism and Halakhah299
4. Monotheism and History309
5. IntellectualWorship of God311
Works Cited316