Method and Metaphysics in Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed

Method and Metaphysics in Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed

Method and Metaphysics in Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed

Method and Metaphysics in Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed

Synopsis

Maimonides'Guide for the Perplexedis one of the most discussed books in Jewish history. More than 800 years after the author's death it remains hotly debated, with readers seeking secret philosophical messages behind its explicit teachings, a quest fueled partly by Maimonides' own statement that certain parts of the Guideare based upon ideas that conflict with other parts. Through close readings of Maimonides' work, Daniel Davies addresses the major debates surrounding its secret doctrine. He argues that perceived contradictions in Maimonides' accounts of creation and divine attributes can be squared by paying attention to the various ways in which he presented his arguments.

Davies shows how a coherent theological view can emerge from the many layers of the Guide. However, Maimonides' clear declaration that certain matters must be hidden from the masses cannot be ignored, and the kind of inconsistency that is peculiar to the Guide requires another explanation. It is found in the purpose Maimonides assigns to the Guide: scriptural exegesis. Davies offers a detailed exposition of Maimonides' interpretation, the deepest "secret of the Torah" which, in Maimonides' works, shares its name with metaphysics. By connecting the secret with currents in the Islamic world, the chapters show how Maimonides devised a new method of presentation in order to imitate scripture's multi-layered manner of communication. He updated what he took to be the correct interpretation of scripture by writing it in a work appropriate for his own time and to do so he had to keep the Torah's most hidden secrets.

Excerpt

Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed is often considered the high point of medieval Jewish Aristotelianism. Its influence was so great that post-Maimonidean medieval Jewish philosophy was almost always written with reference to the “Master of the Guide,” whether the later author supported or opposed his views. Ever since the Guide appeared toward the end of the twelfth century, there have been competing interpretations of its meaning. The work abounds with unnamed references and allusions, inchoate ideas, and laconic explanations. Apparent or real contradictions confront the reader in numerous places, and solutions to the many difficulties in interpreting the work are still debated today. Such debates are apparent in the scholarly discussions of Maimonides’ true metaphysical opinions. Metaphysics encompasses several themes that are central to the Guide, but there is no consensus about what Maimonides’ real beliefs about them were or about how he expressed them. The overarching theme of this book is Maimonides’ multiple methods of communication, which I consider through novel readings of key issues in the Guide: creation, God’s existence, God’s attributes, divine knowledge, biblical exegesis. In studies of Maimonides, these topics are often considered in isolation from one another. I argue that they are interrelated and that in order to understand Maimonides’ arguments, we must consider them together, within the context of the Guide as a whole. Doing so throws light on the way in which Maimonides wrote the Guide and on the arguments he advances.

One of the terms commonly used to refer to metaphysics is “divine science” (‘ilm al-ilāhi), a name that reflects its perceived exalted status among the different branches of philosophy. Rational thought builds toward metaphysics and there reaches its peak. For various reasons, though, it is not the subject that Maimonides, or, indeed, other medieval thinkers, would have used to introduce philosophy. There are preparatory sciences that train the prospective . . .

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