The works constituting the Old Testament touch upon various problems that are discussed in philosophical texts, and the literary forms of some of these works, for instance that of the dialogue in the book of Job and that of Ecclesiastes, bear some similarity to those found in certain philosophical writings. However, a conception of philosophy that included biblical wisdom would lose in clarity and definiteness of outline what it would gain in comprehensiveness. Accordingly, there seems to be a certain amount of justification for considering, as is often done, that the history of Jewish philosophy commences in Alexandria around the beginning of the Christian era, when the first noteworthy attempt was made to use Greek philosophical concepts and methods to come to terms with facts that in the philosophical view are most peculiar, namely, Jewish history as interpreted in religious tradition and biblical revelation.
The attempt to apply Greek philosophical concepts to Jewish doctrines was made by Philo Judaeus (fl. 20 BCE–40 CE), a prominent member of the Jewish community of Alexandria—he was a member of a delegation sent by this community in the year 39/40, when he was in his own view an old man, to the Roman Emperor Caligula to complain of persecution. Philo, a scholar who combined Greek and Jewish learning, was a most elusive thinker. The immense difficulties that beset any inquiry into Philo's basic conception of the world spring from a variety of sources. Some of the difficulties result from our ignorance of the Greek philosophical authors belonging to Philo's time, for we have only secondhand knowledge of them. Also insufficient is our information about postbiblical Jewish beliefs and speculations, which may be supposed to have shaped Philo's outlook—at least in part and perhaps decisively. However, Philo seems to have had some acquaintance with the oral law, which was being evolved in his time, mainly by the Pharisees in Palestine, and which much later was set down in writing in the Mishnah and in other works belonging to the Talmudic literature. He also knew of the Essenes, whom he praised highly. Some of the sect's theological doctrines, its ethical lore, and its pseudepigraphic literature may have been adapted by Philo to his own purposes.
In a sense Philo's main life's work was hermeneutic. On the one hand, he provided Jewish conceptions with the hallmark of intellectual (or cultural) respectability by stating them in Greek philosophical terms; on the other, he showed that from the point of view of Judaism many Greek notions were unexceptionable—they could be regarded as consonant with Philo's own Jewish doctrine and with the allegorical sense of biblical texts. The homiletic character of most of his writings gave him full scope for his labor of interpretation. He had two schemes of reference—Jewish religious tradition and Greek philosophy—and the fact that he took care to stress the primacy of the former may have been more than mere lip service. In many of Philo's religious speculations the Jewish tradition in the particular form he adopted was not interpreted and explained away—as it was by most of the medieval Aristotelians—as being a mere rehash of philosophical doctrines in a language suited to the limited intellectual capacity of most people. It may be argued with a certain amount of plausibility that in central points of his thought, such as his conception of the Logos, Philo used philosophical notions as trappings for an originally nonphilosophical belief.
A main function of the Logos as conceived by Philo is to serve as an intermediary between the transcendent, unknowable God and the world, a view that probably has a close connection with the view of his Jewish contemporaries concerning the Word (Logos) of God, by means of which he accomplishes his designs. It is significant that the Logos of God is said by Philo to be the place occupied by the world of Ideas: This world is also called by Philo the intelligible world (kosmos noetos ). The conception of Idea intended here is clearly the Platonic one, conceived of as having been "thought out" by God. The expression used by Philo may indicate that in his time Platonistic philosophers already tended, as the Middle Platonists and the Neoplatonists later did—to place Ideas in the mind of God.
Above philosophical and theological speculations Philo placed mystic ecstasy, of which he may have had a personal experience, "when, … as at noon-tide God shines around the soul, and the light of the mind fills it through and through and the shadows are driven from it by the rays which pour all around it" ("On Abraham," in Philo, 10 vols., translated by F. H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1929–1937; Vol. VI, p. 63).
Philo's approach, his method of interpretation, and his way of thinking, as well as some of his conceptions, primarily that of the Logos, exerted a considerable influence on early Christian thought, but not to any comparable extent upon Jewish thought. Later, in the Middle Ages, knowledge of Philo among Jews was either very slight or, in the majority of cases, nonexistent.
Most Hellenized Jews were no doubt absorbed into the Christian communities. On the other hand, such historical catastrophes as the destruction of the Temple and the crushing of the various Jewish insurrections by the Romans may have brought about a spiritual withdrawal of the Jews from the circumambient Greco-Roman civilization, a stressing of their separateness. Moreover, as a result of these disasters the spiritual center of Jewry shifted to Iraq, a country that was part of the Persian Empire and less permeated by Greek culture than the regions belonging to the Imperium Romanum.
Some traces of a knowledge of popular, mainly Stoic, philosophy may be found in the Mishnah, a codification of the oral law composed in Palestine in the second century of the Christian era, and in the subsequent Talmudic literature set down in writing in Palestine and Iraq. On the whole, these traces are rather slight. Nevertheless, some scholars believe that the influence of Greek philosophy on Palestinian Jewry was far-reaching, but the case, to say the least, is not proven.
Jewish theological and cosmological speculations occur in the Midrashim, which, under the guise of interpreting biblical verses, propound allegorical interpretations, legends, and myths, and in the Book of Creation (Sefer ha-Yeṣīra ), a work attributed to Abraham, which is a combination of a cosmogony and a grammar. There is no clear evidence of the period in which it was written; both the third century and the sixth or seventh century have been suggested.
Hayuye (usually called Hivi) al-Balkhī, who appears to have lived in the ninth century in Muslim central Asia, seems to have been a Jewish representative of a brand of free thought also known in Islam, one that under dualistic influence criticized the God of the Bible, who, in view of the prevalence of evil and the fact of his omnipotence, cannot be just. Al-Balkhī seems to have favored Manichaeism—which at that time had a number of adepts—or at least to have been suspected of this heresy; this inference can be made from a preserved fragment of a polemical work directed against him by Saadya in the tenth century. According to Saadya, "the Lord" of al-Balkhī is being eaten, drunk, burnt, and commingled (v. 54 of Saʾadia Refutatum ), a description that fits the primeval man of Manichaean mythology and the elements belonging to him.
In the ninth and tenth centuries, after a very long hiatus, systematic philosophy and ideology reappeared among Jews, a phenomenon indicative of their accession to Islamic civilization. There is undoubtedly a correlation between this rebirth of philosophy and theology and the social trends of that period, which produced Jewish financiers—some of whom were patrons of learning and who in fact, although perhaps not in theory, were members of the ruling class of the Islamic state—and Jewish physicians who associated on equal terms with Muslim and Christian intellectuals. The evolution of Islam in the ninth and tenth centuries showed that Greek scientific and philosophic lore could be separated at least to some extent from its pagan associations, could be transposed into another language and another culture; it also tended to show—and many Jewish thinkers learned the lesson—that a culture of which the sciences and philosophy and/or theology were an indispensable part could be based upon a monotheistic, prophetic religion that in all relevant essentials was closely akin to Judaism. The question whether philosophy is compatible with religious law (the answer being sometimes negative) constituted the main theme of the foremost medieval Jewish thinkers.
Approximately from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries, Jewish philosophical and theological thought participated in the evolution of Islamic philosophy and theology and manifested only in a limited sense a continuity of its own. Jewish philosophers showed no particular preference for philosophic texts written by Jewish authors over those composed by Muslims, and in many cases the significant works of Jewish thinkers constitute a reply or a reaction to the ideas of non-Jewish predecessors. Arabic was the main language of Jewish philosophic and scientific writings.
There was little regular teaching of philosophy in the religious universities of Islam (though some taught a brand of Kalām approved by the government) and none in the Jewish schools. Many Jewish philosophers seem to have earned their living or a part of it by practicing medicine, a fact that sometimes influenced their thought. A certain number (among them some physicians) were teachers of and authorities in religious law and active in community matters.
Iraq, a very important center of Jewish thought in the ninth and tenth centuries, counted several Jews among its intellectuals steeped in Greek philosophy. However, by far the most productive and influential Jewish thinkers of this period represented a very different tendency, that of the Muʿtazilite Kalām. Kalām (literally, "speech") is an Arabic term used both in Islamic and in Jewish vocabulary to designate several theological schools that were ostensibly opposed to Greek, particularly to Aristotelian, philosophy; the Aristotelians, both Islamic and Jewish, regarded Kalām theologians (called the Mutukallimūn) with a certain contempt, holding them to be mere apologists, watchdogs of religion, and indifferent to truth. Herein they did not do justice to their adversaries.
The Muʿtazilite school formed in the eighth century appears to have had, at certain periods, representatives actuated by a genuine theoretical impulse. Its theology, forged in disputes with the Zoroastrians, the Manichaeans, and the Christians, claimed to be based on reason. This belief in reason, as well as most of the tenets of Muʿtazilite theology, were taken over by Saadya ben Joseph (882–942). He prepared an Arabic translation of the books of the Bible provided with commentaries and composed a number of legal and polemical treatises.
Saadya's main theological work, whose Arabic title, Kitāb al-Amānāt waʿlʾi tiqādāt, may be translated "The Book of Beliefs and Creeds," is modeled to a considerable extent on similar Muʿtazilite treatises and on a Muʿtazilite classification of theological subject matter known as the "Five Principles." Like many Muʿtazilite authors, Saadya starts out by setting forth in his introduction a list and theory of the various sources of knowledge. It may be noted that in beginning systematic theological treatises in this way the Jewish and Islamic adherents of Kalām approximated not Greek philosophical practice but the custom of Indian philosophical writings, which also normally begin by propounding a doctrine of the sources of knowledge (pramānāh ). The Organon and the expositions of logical disciplines stemming from it that in the Corpus Aristotelicum and in the treatises of the medieval Aristotelians precede the disquisitions on the natural sciences and metaphysics are very different from these analyses of the sources of knowledge.
Saadya distinguished four sources of knowledge: (1) The five senses, (2) the intellect, or reason, (3) necessary inferences, and (4) reliable information given by trustworthy persons. Concerning the first source, he was aware of the doubts expressed by skeptics about the truth of the sense data but rejected these doubts. He held that as a rule a healthy man, one without disabilities, may trust his senses. Exceptional cases do not carry the weight attributed to them by the Skeptics. In Saadya's sense of the word, intellect or reason (al-ʿaql ) means first and foremost an immediate a priori cognition. In "The Book of Beliefs and Creeds" the intellect is characterized as having immediate ethical cognitions, that is, as discerning what is good and what is evil. However, in his commentary on the book of Proverbs, Saadya also attributes to it the cognition of simple mathematical truths. The third source of knowledge concerns inferences that, if we may judge by the examples given by Saadya, are of the type "if there is smoke, there is fire." These inferences are based on data furnished by the first two sources of knowledge. The fourth source of knowledge is meant to validate the teachings of Scripture and of the religious tradition. Teachings of Scripture must be held to be true because of the trustworthiness of the men who propounded them. One of the main purposes of the work is to show that the knowledge deriving from the fourth source concords with that discovered by means of the other three, or, in other words, that religion and human reason agree.
Saadya's "intellect," postulated as the second source of knowledge, has a function quite different from that of the intellect of the medieval Aristotelians, who did not regard even the most general ethical rules as being a priori cognitions. According to them these rules are accepted as true in virtue of a universal consensus; because of this, validity, unlike that of a priori intellectual truths, can be questioned.
In discussing the third source of knowledge, Saadya does not refer to the Aristotelian theory of the syllogism, but this may be because of ignorance; such knowledge of Greek thought as he possessed was derived mainly from compendiums of doxographers translated into Arabic or adapted by Arabic authors. However, unlike the Muʿtazilites and the Karaites, who were atomists, Saadya adopted a number of doctrines resembling Aristotle's physical views. Nevertheless, he had no use for the conception of an eternal order of nature. This position does not necessarily deny all validity to the theory of genera and species, which is a main concern of the Aristotelian syllogistic, but it certainly tends to limit, or in some cases to negate, the relevance of this theory to the actually existing world.
Saadya did not merely deny the eternity of the world but held, in common with other, less eclectic partisans of the Muʿtazilite Kalām that the demonstration of the temporal creation of the world must precede and pave the way for the proof of the existence of God the Creator. Of the four arguments which he brought forward in favor of temporal creation, the last is the most noteworthy: Creation in time is an inference from the impossibility of supposing that the past (the whole of time which has elapsed up to the present moment) is of infinite duration—for its infinitude would preclude its coming to an end; the present would never arrive.
Given the demonstrated truth that the world has a beginning in time, it can be proved that it could have been produced only through the action of a Creator. It can further be proved that there can have been only one Creator. God's unity means that he is not a body. It also means, according to a conception taken over from the Muʿtazilites, that he has no attributes superadded to his essence. This applies also to the three attributes that Saadya singled out, perhaps rather inconsistently, as belonging to the Creator: He must be held to be living, possessed of power, and possessed of knowledge.
Justice and free will
The theology of Saadya, like that of the Muʿtazilites, hinges on two principles, of which the unity of God is one; the other is the principle of justice, whose formulation in Islam may have been influenced by attacks of dualists similar to those of Hayuye al-Balkhī (see above), who contended that in view of the existence of evil, an omnipotent God cannot be regarded as just.
This principle takes issue with the view (widespread in Islam and present also in Judaism) that the definition of what is just and what is good depends solely on God's will, to which none of the moral criteria found among men is applicable; according to this view a revelation from God can convert an action now generally recognized as evil into a good action. Against this way of thinking, Saadya and the Muʿtazilites believed that being good and just or evil and unjust are intrinsic characteristics of human actions and cannot be changed by divine decree. The notions of justice and of the good as conceived by man are binding on God himself. In the words of a later thinker, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, he can act only sub specie boni. Since, according to Saadya, man has a priori knowledge of good and evil, just and unjust, the fact that human ethical judgments are valid for God means that man's ethical cognitions are also those of the Deity.
This point of view cannot be accorded with strict determinism if one believes, as Saadya professed to do, that men are rewarded for good and punished for evil deeds. It would be contrary to divine justice to condemn or to recompense them for something they cannot help doing; hence, man must be a free agent. For sharing this doctrine with Saadya, the Muʿtazilites were accused of being the dualists of Islam; because of it, they could not regard God as the sole Doer. In Judaism the doctrine of man's free will and free action had very respectable antecedents, and Saadya's position on this point does not seem to have aroused antagonism.
Saadya's simple solution to the problem of reconciling free will with divine prescience seems to be in accord with traditional religious formulas. God has foreknowledge of all the actions that men will perform in the future, but this knowledge does not interfere with human freedom, which enables men to do whatever they wish, both good and evil.
The function of religious law is to impose on man the accomplishment of good actions and to prohibit bad ones. Because Saadya believed that man has a priori knowledge of good and evil and that this knowledge coincides with the principles underlying the most important portions of the revealed law, he was forced to ask the question whether this law is not supererogatory. He could, however, point out that whereas the human intellect recognizes that certain actions—for instance, murder or theft—are evil, it cannot by itself discover the best possible definition of what constitutes a particular transgression; nor can it, if it has no other guidance than its own reflections, determine the punishment appropriate for a transgression. On both points the commandments of religious law give the best possible answers.
The commandments of religious law that accord with the behests of the human intellect were designated by Saadya as the "intellectual," or "rational," commandments, According to him they include the duty of manifesting gratitude to the Creator for the benefits he has bestowed upon man. Saadya recognized that a considerable number of commandments, for instance those dealing with the prohibition of work on the Sabbath, do not belong to this category. He held, however, that the obligation to obey them may be derived from the "rational" commandment that makes it incumbent upon man to be grateful to God, for such gratitude entails obedience to his orders.
Saadya's adoption of the "rational" Muʿtazilite theology was a part of his overall activity, directed toward the consolidation of rabbinical Judaism, which was being attacked by the Karaites. This Jewish sect, which was founded by Anan ben David in the eighth century and which seems to have had some connection or some affinity with earlier Jewish sects of the period of the Second Temple, rejected the authority of the oral Law, that is, of the Mishnah and the Talmud. In the tenth century and after, the Karaites accepted as their guides the Bible and human reason in the Muʿtazilite sense of the word. Their professed freedom from any involvement with postbiblical Jewish religious tradition obviously facilitated a "rational" approach to theological doctrine. This approach led the Karaite authors to criticize their opponents, the rabbinical Jews, for holding anthropomorphic beliefs based, in part at least, on texts of the Talmudic period. In formulating his theology Saadya had in mind the need to disprove this enlightened criticism.
The Karaites themselves adopted wholesale Muʿtazilite Kalām, including its atomism. The atomism of the Karaite theologians has only a very slight similarity to what is known of the theories of Democritus and Epicurus, although Epicurus's hypothesis concerning minima, about which we are ill informed, does bear some resemblance to an important point in Islamic and Jewish doctrines. These doctrines appear to have a certain similarity to a Greek mathematical atomism, about which we possess very scanty information. It may derive from the theories of the Pythagoreans and of Xenocrates. Furthermore—and it is a significant point—Muʿtazilite and Karaite atomism in important points are reminiscent of Indian atomistic theories, those of Buddhism and that of the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika; a historical connection is not wholly impossible.
The Muʿtazilite atomists, followed by the Karaites, held that everything that exists consists of discrete parts. This applies not only to bodies but also to space, to time, to motion, and to the "accidents"—that is, qualities—which the Islamic and Jewish atomists regarded as being joined to the corporeal atoms (but not determined by them, as had been believed by the Greek atomists). An instant of time or a unit of motion does not continue the preceding instant or unit. All apparent processes are discontinuous, and there is no causal connection between their successive units of change. The fact that cotton put into fire generally burns does not mean that fire is a cause of burning; rather, it may be explained as a "habit," signifying that this sequence of what is often wrongly held to be cause and effect has no character of necessity. God's free will, which is not bound by the nonexistent laws of nature, is the only agent of everything that occurs, with the exception of one category. Man's actions are causes that produce effects—for instance, a man who throws a stone at another man, who is then killed, directly brings about the latter's death. This inconsistency on the part of the theologians was necessitated by the principle of justice, for it would be unjust to punish a man for a murder that was a result not of his action but of God's. This grudging admission that causality exists in certain strictly defined and circumscribed cases was occasioned by moral, not physical, considerations. It may be added that because of the opposition it aroused, the Kalām's denial of the existence of a necessary succession of events seems to have strengthened the conviction of the Muslim and Jewish Aristotelians that such order exists and that it is immutable.
Outside Iraq, philosophical studies were pursued by Jews in the ninth and tenth centuries in Egypt and in the Maghreb. Here the outstanding figure is Isaac ben Solomon Israeli, who died in the beginning of the second half of the tenth century—when he was over a hundred years old, if we are to believe his biographers.
Israeli, a famed physician, was the propagator of a type of philosophy that did not satisfy the exigencies of the strict Aristotelians of a later period; Maimonides denied his being a philosopher, saying that "he was only a physician."
In his philosophical works, such as the "Book of Elements" and the "Book of Five Substances," he drew largely upon the Muslim popularizer of Greek philosophy Abū-Yūsuf Yaʿqūb ibn al-Kindī and also in all probability upon a lost pseudo-Aristotelian text. The peculiar form of Neoplatonic doctrine that seems to have been set forth in this text had, directly and indirectly, a considerable influence on medieval Jewish philosophy.
According to Israeli, God creates through his will and power. This reference to two aspects of the Deity has been compared to certain passages in Plotinus and in Arabic texts that in a considerable measure derive from Plotinus. It may be noted in addition that power and will are singled out for mention as attributes of God in some Christian texts (see, for instance, Ignatius's Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, in The Apostolic Fathers, edited by Kirsopp Lake, Vol. I, London, 1959, p. 253, and "Isaac ex Judaeo, Liber Fidei, in Patrologia Graeca, edited by J. P. Migne, Paris, 1857–1866, Vol. XXXIII, Col. 1543). The two things that were created first are form, identified with wisdom, and matter, which is designated as the genus of genera and which is the substratum of everything, not only of bodies, as was the opinion of the Aristotelians, but also of incorporeal substances. This conception of matter seems to derive from the Greek Neoplatonists Plotinus and Proclus, particularly from the latter. In Proclus's opinion, generality was one of the main criteria for determining the ontological priority of an entity. Matter, because of its indeterminacy, obviously has a high degree of generality; consequently, it figures among the entities having ontological priority. According to the Neoplatonic view, which Israeli seems to have adopted, the conjunction of matter and form gives rise to the intellect. A light sent forth from the intellect produces the rational soul. The animal soul is an emanation of the rational soul, and in its turn it gives rise to the vegetative soul.
As far as Jewish philosophy is concerned, Israeli's doctrine of prophecy seems to be the earliest theory attributing prophecy to the influence of the intellect on the imaginative faculty. According to Israeli this faculty receives from the intellect spiritual forms that are intermediate between corporeality and spirituality. This explanation implies that these forms "with which the prophets armed themselves" are inferior to purely intellectual cognitions.
In essentials the schema of creation and emanation propounded by Isaac Israeli and his Neoplatonic source or sources was taken over by Solomon Ben Judah ibn Gabirol, a celebrated Hebrew poet of the eleventh century, who seems to have been the earliest Jewish philosopher of Spain.
Ibn Gabirol's chief philosophical work, "The Source of Life" (or The Fountain of Life ), written in Arabic, has been preserved in full only in a twelfth-century Latin translation titled Fons Vitae.
Fons Vitae makes no reference to Judaism or to specifically Jewish doctrines; it is a nonironical dialogue between a disciple and the master who teaches him true philosophical knowledge. In the Middle Ages it was criticized with some reason for its prolixity; it is also full of contradictions. Nevertheless, it is a strangely impressive work. Few medieval texts so effectively communicate the Neoplatonic conception of the existence of a number of planes of being that differ according to their ontological priority, the derivative and inferior ones constituting a reflection in a grosser mode of existence of those which are prior and superior.
A central conception in Ibn Gabirol's philosophy is concerned with the divine will, which appears to be both part of and separate from the divine essence. Infinite according to its essence, the will is finite in its action. It is described as pervading everything that exists and as being the intermediary between the divine essence and matter and form. Will was one of a number of traditional appellations applied in various, mainly negative, theologies to the entity intermediate between the transcendent Deity and the world or, according to another, not necessarily incompatible interpretation, to the aspect of the Deity involved in creation. According to a statement in Fons Vitae, matter derives from the divine essence, whereas form derives from the divine will. This suggests that the difference between matter and form has some counterpart in the godhead and also that universal matter is superior to universal form. Some of Ibn Gabirol's statements seem to bear out the latter impression; other passages, however, appear to imply a superiority of universal form. The apparent contradiction seems to result from two conflicting approaches: the Aristotelian, which assumes that form (which is held to be in actu ) is superior to matter (which per se exists only potentially), and the Neoplatonic, which in at least one of its manifestations consistently professed the superiority of matter, which, being indeterminate, could be held to be of a more universal, all-encompassing nature than form.
Form and matter, whether they be universal or particular, exist only in conjunction. All things, with the sole exception of God, are constituted through the union of the two; the intellect no less than the corporeal substance. In fact, the intellect is the first being in which universal matter and form are conjoined. In other words, Ibn Gabirol considered—in accord with Israeli—that the intellect is not one simple substance, as was thought by the faithful disciples of Aristotle; in his view its unity proceeds from a duality. The intellect contains and encompasses all things. It is through the grasp of the various planes of being, through ascending in knowledge to the world of the intellect and cognizing what is above it—the divine will and the world of the Deity—that man may "escape death" and reach "the source of life."
In the twelfth century Ibn Gabirol's system seems to have enjoyed a certain vogue among Jewish intellectuals living in Spain. Thus, Joseph Ben Jacob ibn Zaddik (d. 1149) and Abraham ibn Ezra (c. 1092–1167) were at least to some extent disciples of his. Ibn Zaddik was the author of the Microcosm, a work written in Arabic but extant only in a Hebrew translation, which draws a parallel between man and the microcosm. However, Abraham ibn Daʾud (see below) criticized Ibn Gabirol at length, denouncing the feebleness of his argumentation and the incorrect (that is, non-Aristotelian) conception of matter.
Yehuda Halevi (c. 1075–1141), also of Spain, who, like Ibn Gabirol, was a Hebrew poet, has the distinction of being the earliest and the most outstanding medieval Jewish thinker whose theology or philosophy (he would have repudiated the latter term) does not merely take Judaism in its stride, as was largely true of Saadya and the Karaites, to mention only two, but is consciously and consistently based upon arguments drawn from Jewish history.
His views are set forth in an Arabic dialogue whose full title is translated as "The Book of Proof and Demonstration in Aid of the Despised Religion." According to a custom that finds some justification in one of Halevi's letters, this work is usually referred to as the "Kuzari," the Hebrew name of the king of the Khazars who is one of the two protagonists of the dialogue.
Basing his narrative on the historical fact that the Khazars were converted to Judaism, Halevi relates that their king, a pious man who did not belong to any of the great monotheistic religions, dreamed of an angel who said to him, "Your intentions are pleasing to the Creator, but your works are not." To find the correct way of pleasing God, the king seeks the guidance of a philosopher, of a Christian, of a Muslim, and, finally, after hesitating to have recourse to a representative of a people degraded by its historical misfortune, of a Jewish scholar, who converts him to Judaism.
The words of the angel heard in a dream may, in accordance with both religious and philosophical doctrine, be regarded as an (inferior) species of revelation. The use of this element of the story enabled Halevi to suggest that it is not the spontaneous activity of human reason that impels man to undertake the quest for the true religion; for this one needs the gift of prophecy, or at least a touch of the prophetic faculty (or a knowledge of the revelations of the past).
The argument of the philosopher whose advice is sought by the king brings this point home. This disquisition is a brilliant piece of writing, for it lays bare the essential differences—which the medieval philosophers often endeavored to dissimulate by means of circumlocution and double talk—between the Aristotelian God, who is totally ignorant of and consequently wholly indifferent to human individuals, and the God of religion.
Within the framework of philosophical doctrine, the angel's words are quite meaningless. Not only is the God of the philosophers, who is a pure intellect, not concerned with man's works, but the (cultural) activities, involving both mind and body, to which the angel clearly referred, cannot from the philosophical point of view either help or hinder man in the pursuance of the philosophers' supreme goal, the attainment of union with the Active Intellect. This union was supposed to confer knowledge of all the intelligibles. Thus, man's supreme goal was supposed to be of a purely intellectual nature.
In opposition to the philosopher's faith, the religion of Halevi's Jewish scholar is based upon the fact that God may have a close, direct relationship with man, who is not conceived primarily as a being endowed with intellect. The postulate that God can have intercourse with a creature made of the disgusting materials that go into the composition of the human body is scandalous to the king and prevents his acceptance of the doctrine concerning prophecy expounded by the Muslim sage (just as the extraordinary nature of the Christological dogmas deters him from adopting Christianity). It may be noted that the opposition on this point between the king and the philosopher on the one hand and the Jew and the Muslim on the other reflects one of the main points of controversy between pagan authors and the Church Fathers (and some Gnostics in the first centuries of the Christian era). The moot point is whether a superior kind of man or, as many pagans believed, the souls or spirits ruling the heavenly bodies are the proper intermediaries between God, humankind, and the teachers of the arts and sciences. An echo of this controversy is found in Arabic literature, and Halevi, in developing his point of view, had probably adapted to some extent an older, non-Jewish source, at the same time making extensive use of Jewish religious tradition.
His position is that it is contemplation not of the cosmos but of Jewish history that procures knowledge of God. Halevi was aware of the odium attaching to the doctrine of the superiority of one particular nation; he held, however, that only this doctrine explains God's dealing with humankind, which like many other things, reason is unable to grasp. The controversies of the philosophers serve as proof of the failure of human intelligence to find valid solutions to the most important problems. Halevi's description of the specific Jewish position has also exercised a certain fascination upon several modern Jewish philosophers, such as Franz Rosenzweig.
As a speculative author Halevi was by no means an isolated phenomenon. During the period comprising the second half of the eleventh century and the first half of the twelfth century a number of Jewish thinkers appeared in Spain.
In this period Bahya ben Joseph ibn Paquda (second half of the eleventh century) wrote one of the most popular books of Jewish "spiritual" literature, the "Commandments of the Heart," which combines a theology influenced by although not identical with that of Saadya with a moderate mysticism inspired by the teachings of the Muslim Sufis. The commandments of the heart—that is, those relating to men's thoughts and sentiments—are contrasted with the commandments of the limbs—that is, the Mosaic commandments enjoining or prohibiting certain actions. Bahya maintained that both sets of commandments should be observed, thus rejecting the antinomistic position. However, he made clear that first and foremost he was interested in the commandments of the heart.
Abraham bar Hiyya (first half of the twelfth century), an outstanding mathematician, an astrologer, and a philosopher, outlined in Megillat ha-Megalleh a view of Jewish history which in some particulars is rather reminiscent of that of Yehuda Halevi but which does not emphasize to the same degree the uniqueness of that history and is set forth in much less impressive fashion. Living in Barcelona under Christian rule, bar Hiyya wrote his scientific and philosophical treatises not in Arabic but in Hebrew.
Hebrew was also used by Abraham ibn Ezra, a native of Spain, who traveled extensively in Christian Europe. His commentaries on the Bible contributed to the diffusion among the Jews of Greek philosophical thought, to which Ibn Ezra made many, although as a rule disjointed, references.
The last outstanding Jewish philosopher of the Islamic East, Abuʾl-Barakāt al-Baghdādī (died as a very old man after 1164), sometimes called Abuʾl-Barakāt ibn Malkā, also belongs to this period. Being a borderline case he illustrates a certain indeterminacy in the definition of a Jewish thinker.
Abuʾl-Barakāt al-Baghdādī, an inhabitant of Iraq, was converted to Islam in his old age (for reasons of expediency, according to his biographers). His philosophy appears to have had a very strong impact on Islamic thought, whereas its influence upon Jewish philosophy and theology is very hard to pin down and may be practically nonexistent. His chief philosophical work, Kitāb al-Muʿtabar, a title that according to Abuʾl-Barakāt's own interpretation means "The Book of That Which Has Been Established by Personal Reflection," has very few references to Jewish texts or topics. His theory appears mainly to represent a kind of dialectic development of Avicenna's doctrine concerning the existence of the soul; it is a radicalization that plays havoc with the greater part of Avicenna's psychology and theology. On the other hand, another important work of his, a philosophical commentary on Ecclesiastes, attests his knowledge of and interest in Jewish tradition.
Ibn Kammūna, who lived in the second half of the thirteenth century, may be regarded as the last Jewish philosopher of the Islamic East. There is a possibility that he too was converted to Islam. He wrote a curious treatise, Tanqīh al-abhāth biʾl-mabhath ʿan al-milal al-thalāth, dealing, ostensibly impartially, with the three monotheistic religions—Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. His philosophical doctrine seems to derive from Avicenna and his thirteenth-century disciple Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī.
With regard to the adoption of Aristotelianism (including such systems as that of Avicenna, which in many essentials stems from, but profoundly modifies, the pure Peripatetic doctrine) there is a considerable time lag between the Islamic East in the one hand and Muslim Spain and the Maghreb on the other.
Abraham ibn Daʾud (died in the second half of the twelfth century), who is regarded as the first Jewish Aristotelian of Spain, was primarily a disciple of Avicenna. According to a not unlikely hypothesis, he may have translated or helped to translate some of Avicenna's works into Latin, for Ibn Daʾud lived under Christian rule in Toledo, a town that in the twelfth century was a center for translators. His historical treatises, written in Hebrew, manifest his desire to familiarize his coreligionists with the historical tradition of the Latin world, which at that time was alien to most of them. But his philosophical work, Sefer ha-Emunah ha-Ramah (The book of sublime religion), written in 1161 in Arabic, shows few, if any, signs of Christian influence.
The doctrine of emanation set forth in Sefer ha-Emunah ha-Ramah describes in the manner of Avicenna the procession of the ten incorporeal intellects, the first of which derives from God. This intellect produces the second intellect, and so on. Ibn Daʾud questioned in a fairly explicit manner Avicenna's views on the way the second intellect is produced; his discipleship did not by any means spell total adherence.
Ibn Daʾud's psychology was also, and more distinctively, derived from Avicenna. The argumentation leading to a proof that the rational faculty is not corporeal attempts to derive the nature of the soul from the fact of immediate self-awareness. Like Avicenna, Ibn Daʾud tended to found psychology on a theory of consciousness.
Concerning "practical" philosophy, that is, ethics and political theory, Ibn Daʾud was of the opinion that all that Aristotle discovered in this field of inquiry can be found in the Torah in a more perfect manner.
Sefer ha-Emunah ha-Ramah was said by its author to have been written in response to a question concerning free will and determinism. Obviously, this problem is closely bound up with the problem of God's knowledge. According to Ibn Daʾud events in this world are in part predetermined by necessity and in part contingent. Insofar as they are contingent, their occurrence or failure to occur may depend on man's actions. The necessary events are known by God as necessary, and the contingent as contingent. With regard to contingent events, he has no certain knowledge of whether they will come about in the future.
Ibn Daʾud often referred to the accord that, in his view, existed between philosophy and religious tradition. As he remarked, Sefer ha-Emunah ha-Ramah was not meant to be read either by readers who, in their simplicity, are satisfied with what they know of religious tradition or by those who have a thorough knowledge of philosophy. It was intended for readers of one type only, those who, being on the one hand acquainted with the religious tradition and having on the other some rudiments of philosophy, are "perplexed." It was for the same kind of people that Maimonides wrote his Guide of the Perplexed.
Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon, 1135–1204), a native of Spain, is incontestably the greatest name in Jewish medieval philosophy, but it is not because of outstanding originality in philosophical thought, in the proper sense of the term, that his reputation is deserved. Rather, the distinction of Maimonides, who is also the most eminent codifier of Jewish religious law, is to be found in the vast scope of his attempt in the Guide of the Perplexed to safeguard both the religious law and philosophy (whose divulgation is, as he was aware, destructive of the law), without suppressing the issues and without trying to impose, on the theoretical plane, a final, universally binding solution of the conflict.
As Maimonides made clear in his introduction to the Guide, he regarded his self-imposed task as perilous, and he therefore had recourse to a whole system of precautions destined to conceal his true meaning from the people who, lacking the necessary qualifications, were liable to misread the book and abandon observance of the law. According to Maimonides' explicit statement, these precautions include deliberately contradictory statements meant to mislead the undiscerning reader. It clearly follows that there is no possibility of propounding an interpretation of Maimonides' doctrine which would not be disproved or seem to be disproved by some passage or other of the Guide. Nevertheless, a consideration of the system as a coherent whole and of certain indications found in this work appears to suggest that Maimonides' true opinions on certain capital points are not beyond conjecture.
Conception of God
The apparent or real contradictions that may be encountered in the Guide are perhaps most flagrant in Maimonides' doctrine concerning God. There seems to be no plausible hypothesis capable of explaining away the differences between the following three views:
(1) God has an eternal will that is not bound by natural laws. Through an act of his will he created the world in time and imposed on it the order of nature. This creation is the greatest of miracles; if and only if it is admitted can other miracles, such as God's interventions, which interfere with the causally determined concatenation of events, be regarded as possible. The philosophers' God who is not free to cut the wings of a fly is to be rejected. This conception is in keeping with the traditional religious view of God and is adopted by Maimonides, if a statement of his is to be taken at its face value, because failure to do so would undermine religion.
(2) Man is incapable of having any positive knowledge concerning God. The ascription to God of the so-called divine attributes—wisdom or life, for instance—should not be regarded as an assertion that God is endowed with a positive quality designated as wisdom or life because it is similar to the corresponding quality found in created beings, for the fact is that their being homonyms is the only resemblance between human and divine wisdom or, for that matter, between man's and God's existence. Contrary to the attributes predicated of created beings, the divine attributes are strictly negative; they state what God is not ; for instance, he is not not-wise, which, as Maimonides believed, is not a positive assertion.
Negative theology of a similar kind may be found in the writings of Islamic philosophers, such as Avicenna, who are known to have had some influence on Maimonides, but they put much less emphasis on this aspect of their doctrine concerning God. Maimonides used it, inter alia, to justify the statement that the only positive knowledge of God possible is that which is known through his acts, identified in the Guide as the sometimes beneficent and sometimes destructive operations of the natural order. In other words, human knowledge of God is assimilated into the knowledge of the two sciences that treat of this order, physics and metaphysics.
(3) In accordance with the doctrine of Aristotle, God is an intellect. The formula current among medieval philosophers which maintains that in him the cognizing subject, the cognized object, and the act of intellectual cognition are identical derives from Aristotle's thesis that God cognizes only himself. Maimonides, however, in adopting the formula interpreted it in the light of human psychology and epistemology, pointing out that according to a theory of Aristotle the act of human (not only of divine) cognition brings about an identity of the cognizing subject and cognized object. The parallel drawn by Maimonides between the human and the divine intellect quite evidently implies a certain similarity between the two; in other words, it is incompatible with the negative theology of other passages of the Guide. Maimonides' interpretation also implies that God knows not only himself (if the reflexive pronoun is taken to refer to his transcendent essence only) but also objects of cognition, that is, intelligibles held to be outside himself; however, in virtue of the eternal act of cognition, the objects of cognition—which should perhaps be assimilated into the intelligible structure of the world—are identical with God himself.
In view of the relation that it implies between God and the world, the conception of God as an intellect can scarcely be reconciled with Maimonides' negative theology; nor can it be reconciled with his theological doctrine, which is centered on God's will and which asserts that the structure of the world (created in time) came into being through the action of his will.
The enigma of the Guide would be nonexistent if Maimonides could be held to have believed that truth can be discovered in a suprarational way, through revelations vouchsafed to the prophets. This, however, is not the case. Maimonides held that the prophets (with the exception of Moses) combine great intellectual abilities, which qualify them to be philosophers, with a powerful imagination. As he put it, the intellectual faculty of the philosophers and the prophets receives an "overflow" from the Active Intellect. In the case of the prophets this "overflow" not only brings about intellectual activity but also passes over into the imaginative faculty, giving rise to visions and dreams. The fact that prophets have a strong imagination gives them no superiority in knowledge over philosophers, who do not have it. Moses, who belonged to a higher category than the other prophets, did not have recourse to imagination. According to another text of Maimonides, his commentary on the Mishnah, the prophets achieve union with the Active Intellect; hence, they are the supreme philosophers.
The laws and religion as instituted by Moses are intended not only to ensure the bodily welfare and safety of the members of the community but also to facilitate the attainment of intellectual truths by individuals gifted enough to uncover the various hints embodied in religious laws and practices. This does not mean that all the beliefs inculcated by Judaism are true. Some indeed express philosophical truths, although in an inaccurate way, in a language suited to the intellectual capacity of the common people, who in general cannot grasp the import of the dogmas they are required to profess. Other beliefs, however, are false, but "necessary" for the preservation of a public order upholding justice. Such is the belief that God is angry with wrongdoers.
As far as the law—that is, the religious commandments—is concerned, two aspects of Maimonides' position may be distinguished. On the one hand, he had to maintain that it is unique in its excellence; there is no basis of comparison between Moses, who promulgated this law, and any other prophet (or any other man) who existed in the past or who may appear in the future and, consequently, the law is valid for all time. This profession of faith, at least with regard to its assumptions about the future, lacked philosophical justification; however, in view of the Muslim polemics and perhaps also in view of incipient tendencies among the "perplexed" to neglect the observance of the commandments, it could be regarded as necessary for the survival of Judaism.
In its second aspect Maimonides' position is characterized by his awareness of the role of historical contingencies in the institution of the commandments. He insisted time and again that Moses had to fulfill two requirements: His law had to be different, but it could not be too different from the customs and ordinances of the pagans among whom the children of Israel lived. The people could not have borne too sharp a break with the way of life to which they were accustomed. For instance, the commandments concerning sacrifice arise from this awareness of the necessities of a specific historic situation. Like nature, which uses many complicated devices in forming a viable organism, the political leader, who must fashion his community, is sometimes compelled to have recourse to a "ruse" or a roundabout method.
Like Aristotle, Maimonides held that the "theoretical life" constitutes the highest perfection possible to man. But he believed (partly under the influence of the Platonic political doctrine adopted by al-Farabi and others) that certain individuals, for example, the Patriarchs and Moses, are capable of combining contemplation with a life of action. In its supreme manifestation the activity of the prophet-lawgiver imitates that of God or nature.
the thirteenth century
For four or five centuries (and in certain regions for an even longer time), the Guide of the Perplexed exercised a very strong influence in the European centers of Jewish thought; in the thirteenth century, when the Guide was twice translated into Hebrew, these centers were Spain, the south of France, and Italy. Rather paradoxically, in view of the unsystematic character of Maimonides' exposition, it was used as a standard textbook of philosophy—and condemned as such when the teaching of philosophy came under attack. The performance of this function by the Guide was rendered possible or at least facilitated by the fact that from the thirteenth century onward the history of Jewish philosophy in European countries acquired a continuity it had never had before. First and foremost, this development seems to have resulted from a linguistic factor: In Spain, where the Christian reconquest was destroying piecemeal the power of Islam, Jewish philosophers abandoned the use of Arabic as the language of philosophical exposition. The Jews did not, however, switch to Latin, the language of Christian philosophy. They and their coreligionists in other European countries wrote in Hebrew, and they read original and translated texts extant in Hebrew, which were much less numerous and less diverse than those found in Arabic philosophical literature. Owing to the existence of a common and relatively homogeneous philosophical background and to the fact that Jewish philosophers reading and writing in Hebrew naturally read the works of their contemporaries and immediate predecessors, something like a dialogue can be discerned. In striking contrast to the immediately preceding period, European Jewish philosophers in the thirteenth century and after frequently devoted a very considerable part of their treatises to discussions of the opinions of other Jewish philosophers. That many of the Jewish philosophers in question wrote commentaries on the Guide undoubtedly furthered this tendency.
The influence of Maimonides' contemporary Averroes, many of whose commentaries and treatises were translated into Hebrew, was second only to that of Maimonides. Indeed, it may be argued that for philosophers, as distinct from the general reading public, it often came first. In certain cases, commentators on the Guide tend, in spite of the frequent divergences between the two philosophers, to quote Averroes's opinions in order to clarify those of Maimonides.
The influence of Christian scholastic thought on Jewish philosophy was in very many cases not openly acknowledged in the period beginning with the thirteenth century, but it seems to have been of great significance. Samuel ibn Tibbon, one of the translators of the Guide into Hebrew and a philosopher in his own right, remarked on the fact that the philosophical sciences were more widely known among Christians than among Muslims. Somewhat later, at the end of the thirteenth century and after, Jewish scholars in Italy (Hillel of Verona and others) translated into Hebrew texts of Thomas Aquinas and other Scholastics; not infrequently, although by no means always, some of them acknowledged the debt they owed their Christian masters.
In Spain and in the south of France a different convention seems to have prevailed up to the second half of the fifteenth century. Whereas Jewish philosophers of these countries felt no reluctance about referring by name to Greek, Arabic, and of course other Jewish philosophers, as a rule they refrained from citing Christian thinkers whose views had, in all probability, influenced them. In the case of certain Jewish thinkers this absence of reference to the Christian Scholastics served to disguise the fact that in many essentials they were representative of the philosophical trends, such as Latin Averroism, that were current among the Christian Scholastics of their time.
Quite evident is the resemblance between certain views professed by the Latin Averroists and the parallel opinions of Isaac Albalag, a Jewish philosopher who lived in the second half of the thirteenth century, probably in Catalonia, Spain, and who wrote a commentary in Hebrew on the "Intentions of the Philosophers," an exposition of Avicenna's doctrine written by the Muslim philosopher Mohammad al-Ghazali. No serious attempt at interpreting Albalag's assertion that both the teachings of the Bible and the truths demonstrated by reason must be believed even if they are contradictory can fail to pose the question whether some historical connections exists between this view and the Latin Averroist doctrine that there are two sets of truths, the religious and the philosophical, and that these are not necessarily in accord.
In most other points Albalag was a consistent follower of the system of Averroes himself (although a few of Albalag's doctrines appear to be in closer accord with Ibn Sīnā). This philosophical position may be exemplified by his rejection of the view that the world was created in time. He professed, it is true, to believe in what he called "absolute creation in time." However, this expression merely signifies that at any given moment the continued existence of the world depends on God's existence, an opinion which is essentially in harmony with Averroes.
Yedaʿya Hapnini Bedersi, of Béziers in the south of France, who lived from the end of the thirteenth century to the beginning of the fourteenth century, appears to have been influenced by the teaching of John Duns Scotus, for he believed in the existence of what he called individual forms, which seem by and large to correspond to the haecceitas of the Scotists.
One of Bedersi's contemporaries, Joseph Kaspi, a prolific philosopher and exegetical commentator, maintained a somewhat unsystematic philosophical position that seems to have been influenced by Averroes. He expressed the opinion that knowledge of the future, with that of God himself, is like that possessed by experienced people concerning the way in which business transactions or marriages may be expected to turn out—that is, such knowledge is of a probabilistic nature. The prescience of the prophets is of the same nature. It is more than likely that Kaspi's interest in this problem had some connection with the debate about future contingents in which Christian Scholastics were engaged at that time.
Kaspi also held that in view of the vicissitudes of history the return of the Jews to Palestine may on probabilistic grounds be considered likely. As a result he rejected the distinction—which for Yehuda Halevi, for instance, had been a basic one—between sacred and profane history, the first being the history of the people of Israel and the second that of other nations.
Late Medieval Period
One of the most urgent problems with which Jewish philosophers were faced in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was that of the attitude to be adopted toward the Kabbalah (literally, "tradition"), a body of mystic and Gnostic doctrines, part of which was being elaborated in that period in the countries in which the philosophers lived.
Many of the Kabbalists incorporated philosophical doctrines in their writings and claimed Maimonides as a Kabbalist but at the same time regarded philosophy as such as an inferior kind of science. This disdainful attitude was reciprocated by some philosophers. Nonetheless, attempts were made to effect a reconciliation between philosophy and Kabbalah. Such an attempt was made by Joseph ibn Wāqār, a fourteenth-century philosopher of Toledo, who wrote "The Treatise Which Reconciles Philosophy and Religious Law" in Arabic (which in that period and country was atypical for a Jewish philosopher). According to Ibn Wāqār, the opinions of the philosophers are founded on reason, whereas those of the Kabbalists owe their validity solely to their having been transmitted by a tradition whose authority guarantees their truth. Although recognizing in theory the superiority of the Kabbalistic doctrine to the teachings of philosophy, Ibn Wāqār endeavored to show the basic similarity, masked by a difference of terminology, of the two systems of thought. He also affirmed that knowledge of philosophy increases the aptitude to apprehend the mystic doctrine of the Kabbalah.
Moses of Narbonne, or Moses Narboni, who lived in the south of France in the fourteenth century, was, like many other Jewish writers of this period, mainly a writer of commentaries. He wrote commentaries on biblical books, on treatises of Averroes, apocryphal treatises, and on Maimonides' Guide. In his commentary on the Guide, Narboni often interprets the earlier Jewish philosopher's opinions by recourse to Averroes's views. Narboni also expounded and gave radical interpretations to certain conceptions that he understood as implied in the Guide.
According to Narboni, God participates in all things because he is the measure of all substances. From another point of view all things exist in God, "the Agent being the essence of the patient." God is the form of the world. In Narboni's interpretation (which, not quite correctly, he opposed to that of Maimonides) this formula means that God is a form which, although it is not in a body, is "with a body": God's existence appears to be bound up with that of the world, to which he has a relation analogous to that existing between a soul and its body (a comparison already made in the Guide ). As the form of the world, God also determines the fact that the extension of the world is limited. It may be added that, according to a conception of Narboni that runs counter to the views of many Aristotelian philosophers, prime matter has its place in the thought of God. Narboni seems to have been a consistent (and on the whole unusually outspoken) adherent of the Aristotelian tradition that crystallized in the Arabic period of Jewish philosophy.
Gersonides (Levi ben Gerson, 1288–1344), another fourteenth-century Jewish philosopher born in the south of France, wrote the systematic philosophical work Milhamot Adonai (The wars of the Lord) as well as many philosophical commentaries. As an astronomer he enjoyed a certain fame among Christian scholars. Gersonides apparently never explicitly mentioned Christian scholastic philosophers; he cited Greek, Arabic, and Jewish thinkers only, and in many ways his system appears to have stemmed from the doctrines of Maimonides or Averroes, regardless of whether he agreed with them. For example, he explicitly rejected Maimonides' doctrine of negative theology. However, a comparison of his opinions and of the particular problems that engaged his attention with the views and debates found in scholastic writings of his period suggest that he was also influenced by the Latins on certain points.
Gersonides disagreed both with the Aristotelian philosophers who maintained the eternity of the world and with the partisans of the religious who believed in the creation of the world in time out of nothing. He maintained that God created the world in time out of a preexistent body lacking all form. As conceived by Gersonides this body seems to be similar to primal matter. According to the Aristotelian conception, the "now" separates the past from the future; because of this function its existence at any moment of time entails the existence of a past. Hence, an absolute beginning is impossible, which means that the world is eternal. Gersonides rejected this argument because he believed that it is possible for a "now" to be restricted to the function of beginning or terminating an interval of time. Hence, there is no difficulty in supposing that the existence of a "now" at the instant of the creation of the world in time did not entail the existence of a past. This argument was discussed prior to Gersonides in a Latin Averroistic treatise whose author is unknown, and Gersonides may have been influenced by Latin Scholasticism on this point.
Free will and divine omniscience
The problem of human freedom of action and a particular version of the problem of God's knowledge of future contingents form an important part of Gersonides' doctrine. Gersonides—who, unlike the great Jewish and Muslim Aristotelians, believed in astrology—held that all happenings in the world except human actions are governed by a strict determinism. God's knowledge does not, however, extend to the individual human acts that actually occur. It embraces the general order of things that exist; it grasps the laws of the universal determinism but is incapable of apprehending events resulting from man's freedom. Thus, the object of God's knowledge is an ideal world order, which differs from the "real" world insofar as the latter is in some measure formed according to man's free will.
In political and social doctrine there is a fundamental difference between Maimonides and Gersonides. Gersonides does not appear to have assigned to the prophets any political function; according to him their role consists in the prediction of future events. The providence exercised by the heavenly bodies ensures the existence in a given political society of men having an aptitude for and exercising the handicrafts and professions necessary for the survival of the community. He remarked that in this way the various human activities are distributed in a manner superior to that outlined in Plato's Republic. Thus, he rejected explicitly Plato's political philosophy, which, having been adapted to a society ruled through the laws promulgated by a prophet, had been an important element of Jewish philosophy in the Arabic period.
Gersonides' deviations from this philosophical tradition may have involved various factors, such as the influence of Thomas Aquinas (whose conception of human freedom, to mention but this example, resembles that of Gersonides) or Gersonides' belief in astrology or his pronounced predilection for personal speculation. These deviations did not, however, affect his fundamental allegiance to medieval Aristotelianism.
Both Hasdai Crescas (1340–1410), a Spanish Jewish thinker, and Gersonides had thorough knowledge of Jewish philosophy and partial knowledge of Islamic philosophy, and both seem to have been influenced by scholastic thought; moreover, in certain important respects Crescas was influenced by Gersonides himself. However, in Crescas's main work, Or Adonai (The light of the Lord), one of his objectives, quite contrary to Gersonides, was to expose the weakness and insufficiency of Aristotelian philosophy. This attitude may be placed in the wider context of the return to religion itself as opposed to the Aristotelian rationalization of religion and the vogue of Kabbalah, characteristic features of Spanish Jewry in Crescas's time. This change in attitude has been regarded as a reaction to the increasing precariousness of the position of the Jewish community in Spain.
The low estimation of the certainties and the rationalistic arrogance of the medieval Aristotelians coincided chronologically with a certain disintegration of and disaffection toward what may be called the classical Aristotelian Scholasticism. Relevant to this decline were the so-called voluntarism of Duns Scotus, the nominalism of William of Ockham and other Scholastics, and the development, in the fourteenth century and after, of the anti-Aristotelian terminist physics at the University of Paris and elsewhere. It is significant that there is a pronounced resemblance between Crescas's views and two of these trends, Scotism and the "new" physics.
Crescas accepted Gersonides' view that divine attributes cannot be negative, but unlike his predecessor he centered his explanation of the difference between the attributes of God and those of created existents on the antithesis between an infinite being and finite beings. It is through infinitude that God's essential attributes—wisdom, for instance—differ from the corresponding and otherwise similar attributes found in created beings. In Crescas's as in Benedict Spinoza's doctrine, God's attributes are also infinite in number. The central place assigned to the thesis of God's infinity in Crescas's system suggests the influence of Duns Scotus's theology, which is similarly founded upon the concept of divine infinity.
The problem of the infinite approached from an altogether different angle was one of the main themes of Crescas's critique of Maimonides' twenty-five propositions; these propositions, concerned mainly with Aristotelian physical doctrines, had been set forth in the Guide as the basis of Maimonides' proofs for the existence of God. Crescas's declared purpose in criticizing and rejecting several of these propositions was to show that the traditional Aristotelian proofs (founded in the first place on physical doctrines) were not valid.
In the course of his critique Crescas attempted to disprove the Aristotelian thesis that the existence of an actual infinite is impossible. He held that space is not a limit but a tridimensional extension, that it is infinite, and that, contrary to Aristotle, the existence of a vacuum and of more worlds than one is possible. He also criticized as being impossible the thesis of the Aristotelian philosophers that there exists an infinite number of causes and effects, which have order and gradation. This thesis refers not to a temporal succession of causes and effects which have a similar ontological status but to a vertical series, descending from God to the lowest rung in creation. His attacks were likewise directed against the Aristotelians' conception of time and of matter.
The physical doctrines that emerged in Crescas's critique resemble the "new," mainly "terminist" physics, which was being worked out in the fourteenth century at the University of Paris and other Christian seats of learning and which had a considerable influence on the classical physical theories of Galileo Galilei and others. There is no difficulty in supposing that Crescas was acquainted with some of the terminist theses. Crescas may on the whole be regarded as an outstanding representative of the medieval "new physics."
Ascendancy of soul over intellect
Crescas's fundamental opposition to Aristotelianism is perhaps most evident in his rejection of the conception of intellectual activity as the supreme state of being for man and for God. Crescas's God is not first and foremost an intellect, and the supreme goal to which man can aspire is to love God with a love corresponding as far as possible to the infinite greatness of its object and to rejoice in the observance of his commandments. God too loves man, and his love, in spite of the lowliness of its object, is proportionate to his infinity.
Crescas attacked the separation of the intellect from the soul as conceived by the Aristotelians and attempted, perhaps under the influence of Yehuda Halevi, to refute the Peripatetic doctrine that the actualized intellect, in contradistinction to the soul, survives the death of the body. According to Crescas the soul is a substance in its own right and can be separated from the body; it continues to subsist after the body's death.
Crescas's depreciation of the intellect did not lead to an emphasis on man's freedom of action. Crescas's view concords with that of Avicenna: There is no such freedom; everything in the world is subject to a strict determinism. Man's actions are as predetermined as all other happenings; they depend on his makeup and conditioning and on his reactions to stimuli from the external world. Crescas did not deny man's freedom only with regard to the domain of external action, for he pointed out that a man's beliefs and knowledge are not within his power.
Whereas Crescas unmistakably regarded the Aristotelian philosophers as adversaries to be criticized or combated, the attitude of Joseph Albo (c. 1380–1444), who regarded Crescas as his teacher, is much less clearly defined. Albo did not eschew self-contradiction, apparently considering it a legitimate precaution on the part of a philosophical or theological author; indeed, he indulged in it in a much more obvious way than did Maimonides. But whereas the latter's fundamental philosophical position is fairly clear, the problem being how far he was prepared to deviate from Aristotelian doctrine in the interests of religion, there may be valid doubt whether Crescas and the Jewish religious tradition or Maimonides and Averroes were Albo's true masters. Mainly because of this perhaps deliberate failure to explain to the reader where he really stood, Albo has often been dismissed as an eclectic. He was strongly influenced not only by the authors just mentioned but also by Saadya. He seems to have had a considerable knowledge of Christian theology, even adopting for his own purposes certain scholastic doctrines. He differs from Crescas and to some extent resembles Maimonides in having had a marked interest in political theory.
The proclaimed theme of Albo's magnum opus, Sefer ha-Ikkarim (The Book of Principles ), is the investigation of the theory of Jewish religious dogmas, whose number Maimonides, in a nonphilosophical work, had set at thirteen, whereas Albo, following a doctrine that in the last analysis seems to go back to Averroes, would limit them to three: existence of God, providence in reward and punishment, and the Torah as a divine revelation. One section, usually including the philosophical and the traditional religious interpretations side by side, is devoted to each of these dogmas. However, as far as Jewish philosophy is concerned, Albo's principal relatively novel (although in view of the likelihood of a Christian influence, probably not original) contribution to doctrinal evolution is the classification, in his introduction, of natural, conventional, and divine law. Natural law is necessary because man, being political by nature, must belong to a community, which may be restricted in size to one town or may extend over the whole earth. Natural law preserves society by promoting right and repressing injustice; thus, it restrains men from stealing, robbing, and murdering. The concept of "natural law" may have been taken over by Albo from the Christian Scholastics; the term is rarely used in philosophical works written in Arabic, and when it occurs it has an altogether different meaning. Albo did not mention whether natural law accords with human nature; he accounted for the need for and acceptance of natural law on purely utilitarian grounds. He did, however, believe that natural law is the same among all people, at all times, and in all places.
The positive laws instituted by wise men take into account the particular nature of the people for whose benefit they are instituted, as well as other circumstances. This means that they differ from the natural law in not being universally applicable. However, neither natural law nor the more elaborate conventional laws lead men toward true spiritual happiness; this is the function of divine laws instituted by a prophet, which teach men true theoretical opinions.
Contrary to Maimonides, but in agreement with the Scholastics and to some extent with Saadya, Albo believed that men are capable of establishing an orderly society by their own efforts, without the help of prophets.
Whereas Maimonides maintained that Judaism was the only divine law promulgated by a true prophet, Albo considered that the commandments given to Noah also constitute divine law, which ensures, although to a lesser degree than does Judaism, the happiness of its adherents. This position justifies a certain universalism; in accordance with a Talmudic saying, Albo believed that the pious among the non-Jews—that is, those who observe Noah's laws—have a share in the world to come. But he rejected the pretensions of Christianity and Islam to be divine laws.
In the last few decades before their expulsion (1492), the Spanish Jews seem to have freely acknowledged the influence of the Christian Scholastics. A tribute to Christian thought was made not only by Habilla, a translator of several scholastic texts into Hebrew, but also by Isaac Arama and Isaac Abravanel, both of whom immigrated to Italy after the expulsion. Both are critical in various degrees of Aristotelians. Some of the views of Arama (who seems to have influenced Abravanel) mark a return to Yehuda Halevi. Abravanel's political doctrine is of some interest because it refers to and bestows praise on the regimes of the Italian republics of the period.
The son of Isaac Abravanel, Judah Abravanel, better known as Leone Ebreo (1460–c. 1521), was the author of Dialoghi d'amore and as such is one of the outstanding representatives of Platonism in Italy. He is perhaps the first example in postmedieval times of an important Jewish thinker who does not belong primarily to the history of Jewish philosophy (for the conception of Jewish philosophy presupposed in this assertion, see below).
Elijah del Medigo (c. 1460–1493), who was born in Crete, was a Jewish Averroist and a companion of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. In his Hebrew treatise Beḥinat Hadat (The testing of religion) he opposed the trend among Jewish philosophers to read philosophical meanings into biblical texts by means of allegorical interpretations. Del Medigo, like Averroes, did not countenance any attempt to amalgamate religious law and philosophy. The Jewish philosophers who had such an amalgam in mind—it is pretty clear that Maimonides is the foremost object of these strictures—are neither (true) philosophers nor (true) professors of religious law.
Modern and Contemporary Periods
The expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal produced a new center of Jewish thought, Holland, where many of the exiled Jews found a new and safer domicile; the tolerance of the regime seemed to provide guarantees against external persecution. This did not prevent, and indeed may have furthered, the establishment of an oppressive orthodoxy that was prepared to chastise rebellious members of its community.
Both Uriel da Costa, or Acosta (1585–1640), and Spinoza (1632–1677) rebelled against Jewish orthodoxy. Uriel da Costa came to Amsterdam from Portugal, where, belonging to a family of Marranos (Jews who had converted to escape the Spanish Inquisition), he had been brought up in the Catholic faith; his philosophical position was to a great extent determined by his antagonism to the orthodox Judaism (the Judaism of "the Pharisees," to use his term) that he encountered in Amsterdam. He was struck by the fact that the commandments as interpreted by his contemporaries did not conform to the text of the Torah, and he formulated a number of theses to prove his point. His growing estrangement from generally accepted Jewish doctrine is attested by his Portuguese treatise Sobre a Mortalidade da Alma (On the mortality of the soul). Apparently under the influence of Michael Servetus, he came to the conclusion that the soul is the vital spirit located in the blood and that it dies with the death of the body, there being no difference in this respect between the human and the animal soul. He considered that the belief in the immortality of the soul has had many evil effects, for it impels men to choose an ascetic way of life and even to seek death. According to him nothing has tormented men more than the belief in an eternal good and evil. God tolerates this opinion merely to torture the conscience of those who have abandoned his truth. At this stage da Costa affirmed the authority of the Bible from which, according to him, the mortality of the soul can be proved.
In his autobiography, written in Latin and titled Exemplar Humanae Vitae (An example of human life), he takes a more radical position. He proclaims the supreme excellency of the natural moral law (which, when arguing before the Jews, he seems to identify with the divine commandments to Noah—a comparison may be made with the view of Albo). Accordingly, he denies the validity of the argument that natural law is inferior to Judaism and Christianity, because he believes that both these religions teach the love of one's enemies, a precept which is not a part of natural law. According to da Costa, no good can come of demanding a manifest impossibility.
Although medieval philosophers of Jewish origin for whom Judaism does not constitute a primary philosophical theme are thought of as belonging to the history of Jewish philosophy, a classification of this kind applied to such modern philosophers of Jewish origin as Salomon Maimon, Henri Bergson, Edmund Husserl, and L. I. Shestov might lead to some significant conclusions but would nevertheless seem inappropriate. It would certainly not be in keeping with the intentions of the philosophers themselves, and their views would be taken out of their natural contexts.
These considerations, however, may not, for the following reasons, be quite so valid with respect to Spinoza: (1) It was through the study of Jewish philosophical texts that Spinoza was first initiated into philosophy. (2) It may be argued with some reason that at least in part (if one abstracts the influence of René Descartes and of seventeenth-century physics and certain other constitutive elements), Spinoza's system is a radicalization or perhaps a logical corollary to medieval doctrines; although its importance may be contested, the impact of Maimonides and of Crescas is evident. (3) A considerable portion of Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-politicus deals with problems related to Judaism. Reference to some of the views set forth in the Tractatus and to their connection with medieval Jewish doctrines may not be out of place here.
As the first chapters of the Tractatus show, the doctrine of prophecy is of central importance to Spinoza's explanation of Judaism. These chapters can also provide proof that, as far as this subject is concerned, Spinoza to a large extent used Maimonides' categories, although he applied them to different people or groups of people. In fact, the relationship of Spinoza to Maimonides—although antagonistic—is much closer than that of most of the fifteenth-century Jewish philosophers who did not break with Judaism.
Maimonides held that the prophets combined intellectual perfection, which made them philosophers, with perfection of the imaginative faculty. He also referred to a category of people endowed with a strong imagination but possessing no extraordinary intellectual gifts; this category includes, for example, lawgivers and statesmen. Spinoza took over this last category but applied it to the prophets, whom he described as possessing vivid imaginations but as not necessarily having outstanding intellectual capacities. He denied that the biblical prophets were philosophers and used a philosophical and historical approach to the Scriptures to show that the contrary assertion is not borne out by the texts.
Spinoza also denied Maimonides' assertion that the prophecy of Moses was essentially different from that of the other prophets and that this was largely because Moses, in prophesying, had no recourse to the imaginative faculty. According to Spinoza the distinctive fact about Moses' prophecy was that he heard the voice of God in a prophetic vision—that is, in a state in which his imagination was active. In this assertion Spinoza employed one of Maimonides' categories of prophecy, differentiated in the Guide according to certain characteristics of prophetic dreams and visions. However, Maimonides thought it improbable that the voice of God was ever heard in prophetic vision; he held that this category is purely hypothetical. It seems evident that in his classification of Moses, Spinoza was concerned not with what really happened in history but with pigeonholing the evidence culled from the Bible into Maimonides' theoretical framework in such a way that it fit in with his theologicopolitical purpose.
This purpose made it imperative to propound in the Tractatus a theory concerning Jesus, whom Spinoza designates as Christus. The category and the status assigned to Jesus are by and large similar to those that Maimonides attributed to Moses. Thus, Jesus is referred to in the Tractatus as a religious teacher who makes recourse not to the imaginative faculty but solely to the intellect. However, in following up this hypothesis Spinoza was guilty of an inconsistency. Whereas in the case of the Old Testament prophets he rejected allegorical interpretations predicated on the supposition that the prophets adapted their discourses to the understanding of the general public, in the case of Jesus he adopted this interpretation because he wished to explain away those of Jesus' sayings that he regarded as incompatible with true philosophical doctrine. Both Maimonides' Moses and Spinoza's Jesus are absolutely unique personalities; there is, however, an important difference between them. In the opinion both of Maimonides and of Spinoza, Moses' legislation created the Jewish community and state, whereas Jesus as conceived by Spinoza was not a lawgiver and, as far as his direct activity was concerned, not a statesman, though within Spinoza's blueprint for an ideal State, he is assigned a political function: His authority may be used to institute and strengthen the religion Spinoza called religio catholica, which has little or nothing in common with any of the major manifestations of historic Christianity.
Critique of Judaism
The difference between Judaism and Spinoza's religio catholica corresponds to the difference between Moses and Jesus. After leaving Egypt the Jews found themselves, in Spinoza's view, in the position of people who had no allegiance to any positive law; they had, as it were, reverted to a state of nature and were faced with the need to enter into a social pact. They were also an ignorant people and very prone to superstition. Moses, a man of outstanding ability, made use of the situation and characteristics of the people in order to make them accept a social pact and a state founded upon it, which, contrary to Spinoza's schema for his ideal communities, were not based first and foremost upon utilitarian—that is, reasonable—consideration of the advantages of life in society over the state of nature.
The social pact concluded by the children of Israel in the desert was based upon a superstitious view of God as "King" and "Judge," to whom the children of Israel owed whatever political and military successes they obtained. It was to God rather than to the representatives of the popular will that the children of Israel transferred political sovereignty. In due course political sovereignty was vested in Moses, God's representative, and in his successors. It should be added that in spite of Spinoza's insistence on the superstitious foundations of the state of the children of Israel in ancient times, his account of its regime was not wholly unsympathetic. He did, however, believe that it contained the seeds of its own destruction and that with the extinction of this state the social pact devised by Moses had lapsed and all the political and religious obligations incumbent upon the Jews become null and void.
It could be argued that because the state conceived by Spinoza is based not on superstitious faith but on a social contract originating in rational, utilitarian considerations it does not necessarily need to have its authority safeguarded and stabilized by means of religion. However, Spinoza appears to have held the view—perhaps derived from a purely empirical knowledge of the behavior of the common run of men—that there is a need for religion. In order to fulfill the need for some religion and to obviate the danger of harmful religions, he devised his religio catholica, the universal religion, which has the following distinctive traits: (1) Its main purpose, a practical one (which is furthered by recourse to the authority of Jesus), is to impel men to act in accordance with justice and charity. Such conduct is tantamount to obedience to the laws of the state and to the orders of the magistrates, in whom sovereignty is vested. For disobedience—even if it springs from compassionate motives—weakens the social pact, which safeguards the welfare of all the members of the community; in consequence, its evil effects outweigh whatever good it may produce. (2) Although religion, according to Spinoza, is not concerned with theoretical truth, in order to be effective the religio catholica requires dogmas, which he set forth in the Tractatus. These dogmas are formulated there in terms that can be interpreted in accordance both with the philosophical conception of God that Spinoza regarded as true and with the superstitious ideas of ordinary people. It follows that if they are accepted as constituting by themselves the only creed that everybody is obliged to profess, people cannot be persecuted on account of their beliefs; Spinoza held that such a persecution is liable to lead to civil war and may thus destroy the state. Philosophers are free to engage in the pursuit of truth and to attain, if they can, the supreme goal of man, freedom grounded in knowledge. There can be little doubt that the furtherance of the cause of tolerance for philosophical opinions was one of Spinoza's main objects in writing the Tractatus.
Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786) opens what may be called the German period of Jewish philosophy. This period, in which a considerable number of works on Jewish philosophy were written in German and often under the influence of German philosophy, is also marked by the emancipation of the Jews (that is, by the abrogation of discriminatory laws directed against them) and by their partial or complete assimilation. In this period in particular, it appears indicated to apply the term "Jewish philosophy" first and foremost to works whose main purpose or one of whose main purposes consists in proposing a definition of Judaism and a justification of its existence. The second task is often conceived as necessitating a confrontation of Judaism with Christianity rather than with philosophy, which served as a point of comparison for many medieval philosophers. This change seems to have been a result of the demarcation of the sphere of religion in such a way that, at least in the opinion of the philosophers, possible points of collision no longer existed between it and philosophy.
This demarcation was largely furthered by the doctrine of Spinoza—from whom Mendelssohn and others took over and adopted for their own purposes certain fundamental ideas concerning Judaism. Like Spinoza, Mendelssohn held (according to his treatise Jerusalem and other writings) that it is not the task of Judaism to teach rational truths, although they may be referred to in the Bible. Contrary to what he called Athanasian Christianity (that is, the doctrine set forth in the Athanasian creed), Judaism has no binding dogmas; it is centered on inculcating belief in certain historical events and on action—that is, observance of religious law (including the ceremonial commandments). Such observance is supposed to lead to happiness in this world and in the afterlife. Mendelssohn did not reject this view offhand, as Spinoza would have done; indeed, he seems to have been prepared to accept it—God's mysteries being inscrutable, and the radicalism and what may be called the consistency of Spinoza being the complete antithesis of Mendelssohn's apologetics. Non-Jews were supposed by Mendelssohn to owe allegiance to the law of nature. He did not affirm the superiority of Judaism over this law and was prepared to regard Jesus as a great prophet. He declared his belief that the differences between the various religions are not eternal and that when the whole earth is united in the knowledge of God, the Jews will be permitted to abandon their peculiar rites and ceremonies. But that time has not yet arrived.
Mendelssohn was well grounded in medieval Jewish philosophy and referred quite frequently to the writings of Maimonides and of other Jewish thinkers of the Middle Ages. The three principles on which he held Judaism to be based call to mind those propounded by Albo. They are God, providence, and the divine law.
Whereas Mendelssohn continued the medieval tradition, at least to some extent, or adopted Spinoza's doctrine for his purposes, the Jewish philosophers of the first half of the nineteenth century (except, at least in a certain measure, Solomon Steinheim) may be regarded as disciples of the philosophers of their own time. In Die Religion des Geistes (The religion of the spirit), Solomon Formstecher (1808–1889) was greatly influenced by Friedrich Schelling in his conception of nature and spirit as manifestations of the divine. There are types of religions that correspond to these manifestations: (1) the religion of nature in which God is conceived as the principle of nature or as the world soul, and (2) the religion of the Spirit which conceives of God as an ethical being. According to the religion of the Spirit, God has produced the world as his manifestation in full freedom and not, as the religion of nature tends to profess, because the world was necessary for his own existence.
The religion of the Spirit, which corresponds to absolute religious truth, was first manifested in the Jewish people. The religious history of the world may be understood as a process of universalization of the Jewish religion. Thus, Christianity propagated Jewish conceptions among the nations; however, it combined them with pagan ideas. The pagan element is gradually being eliminated—Protestantism, for instance, in this respect marks considerable progress. When at long last the Jewish element in Christianity is victorious, the Jews will be right to give up their isolation. The process that will bring about this final religious union is already under way.
The main philosophical work of Samuel Hirsch (1815–1889), titled Die Religionsphilosophie der Juden (The philosophy of religion of the Jews) was decisively influenced by G. W. F. Hegel. This influence is most evident in Hirsch's method and in the task that he assigned to the philosophy of religion—the transformation of religious consciousness into conceptual truth. However, contrary to Hegel, he did not consider religious truth to be inadequate as compared to philosophical truth.
Hirsch believed that man's awareness of himself as an ego is identical with his awareness of his freedom. This freedom is, however, abstract; it became concrete in the various historical religions. Man may renounce this freedom and believe that he is dominated by his senses. This means recognizing the absolute sovereignty of nature regarded as a divine principle, which is the point of departure of the pagan passive religions. If, however, he subordinates his nature to his freedom, his freedom becomes concrete. God is conceived not only as the giver of abstract freedom but as willing man's concrete freedom. This is the principle of Judaism. Christianity, was conceived by Hirsch as it was by Formstecher, as being intermediate between Judaism and paganism.
God revealed himself in the first stages of Jewish history by means of miracles and of prophecy. At present he manifests himself in the miracle that is constituted by the existence of the Jewish people. At its beginning in the time of Jesus, Christianity was identical with Judaism. The decisive break between the two religions was caused by Paul. According to Hirsch, when the Pauline elements are eliminated from Christianity, it will be in all essentials in agreement with Judaism, which, however, will preserve its separate existence.
Nachman Krochmal (1785–1840), a native of Galicia (at that time part of Austria), was the author of Moreh Nebukhei ha-Zman (Guide of the perplexed for our time), a treatise in Hebrew on philosophy of history and on Jewish history, which had a considerable influence.
Krochmal, like Hirsch, was influenced by Hegel and perhaps also by other German philosophers approximately of Hegel's period, such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Krochmal's philosophical thought was centered on the notion of "spirit," Krochmal being mainly concerned with the "national spirit," the particular "spirit" that is proper to each people and that accounts for the peculiar characteristics differentiating one people from another in every domain of human activity.
The national "spirits" of all peoples except the Jewish are, according to Krochmal, essentially particular. Hence, the national spirit either becomes extinct with the extinction of the nation or, if it is a powerful spirit, is assimilated by some other nation. The Jewish people has a special relation to the Universal Spirit, who is the God of Israel. This relation accounts for the perpetuity of the Jewish people.
Solomon Ludwig Steinheim (1789–1866), the author of Die Offenbarung nach dem Lehrbegriff der Synagoge, (Revelation according to the doctrine of the synagogue), was apparently influenced by the antirationalism of Friedrich Jacobi.
His criticism of science is based on Jacobi's criticism, but he did not agree with Jacobi in opposing discursive reason to our intuitive knowledge of God—Steinheim contrasted human reason to divine revelation. The main point on which the revelation vouchsafed to the prophets of Israel is opposed to reason is to be found in the fact that the God posited by reason is subject to necessity, that he can act only in accordance with laws. Moreover, reason affirms that nothing can come from nothing. Accordingly, God is free to create not a good world but only the best possible world. Revealed religion, on the other hand, affirms the freedom of God and the creation of the world out of nothing.
There seems to be little connection between the Jewish philosophers of the first half or two-thirds of the nineteenth century and Hermann Cohen (1842–1918), the head of the Marburg Neo-Kantian school. In a certain sense Cohen may be regarded as a rather unusual case among the philosophers of Judaism of his and the preceding generations, because of the two aspects of his philosophical thought—the general and the Jewish—and the uneasy equilibrium between them. Judaism was by no means the only important theme of his philosophical system; it was one of several and not even his point of departure. There is no doubt that for most of his life Cohen was wholly committed to his brand of Kantianism, in the elaboration of which he displayed considerable originality—it has been maintained with some justification that his doctrine manifests a certain (unintentional) kinship with Hegel's. However, Cohen's idea of God derives from an analysis and a development of certain conceptions of Immanuel Kant.
In Cohen's view, reason requires that nature be conceived of as conforming to one rational plan and that harmony exist between the domains of natural and of moral teleology. These two requirements in turn necessitate the adoption of the idea of God—the word idea being used in the Kantian sense, which means that no assertion is made about the metaphysical reality of God. Cohen's theory of ethics stemmed to a considerable extent from Kant's, but he held that the most important ethical principles were discovered by the prophets of Israel, who freed religion from its entanglement with mythology. A harmony also exists between the Messianic notion of the Jewish prophets and the exigency of ethics that the task of coming ever closer to moral perfection be pursued unceasingly. This goal will never be wholly attained. Messianism, too, is an idea in the Kantian sense of the word.
Cohen seems to have changed his attitude in the last years of his life; at least, although he did not explicitly renounce his previous positions, a considerable shift of emphasis can be discerned in his doctrines. The notion of the human individual—an individual who is weak and full of sin—comes to the fore, as well as the conception of a correlation, a relationship between God and the individual. This relationship is one of love, the love of God for man and the love of man for God. It is difficult to reconcile the conception of God expounded in Cohen's works of his last period with his Kantian or Neo-Kantian attitude toward metaphysics.
The conceptions of God and the individual and cognate conceptions are set forth in Cohen's posthumously published book Die Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums (Religion of reason from the sources of Judaism) and in a series of articles reprinted in his Jüdische Schriften.
Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929) published his main philosophical work, Der Stern der Erlösung (The star of redemption), in 1921. This work begins with a rejection of the traditional philosophical attitude that denies the fear of death, maintaining, instead, that this fear is the beginning of the cognition of the All. Man should continue to fear death, despite the indifference of philosophy and its predilection for accepting death. Traditional philosophy is interested exclusively in the universal, and it is monistic—its aim is to discover one principle from which everything can be derived. However, this tendency of philosophy denatures human experience, which knows not one but three separate domains (which Kant had referred to in a different context), namely, God, the world, and man.
According to Rosenzweig, God (like the world and like man) is known through experience (the experience of revelation). In Greek paganism, the most perfect manifestation of paganism in general, every one of these domains subsists by itself: the gods, the cosmos, and man as the tragic, solitary, silent hero. The biblical religion is concerned with the relation between the three: the relation between God and the world, which is creation; the relation between God and man, which is revelation; and the relation between man and the world, which leads to salvation. The philosophy that renounces the ambition to find one principle for everything that exists and that follows biblical religion in centering on the connections between the three domains and between the words and acts that bring about and develop these connections Rosenzweig termed the "narrative" philosophy; the term and the concept were taken over from Schelling, whose influence Rosenzweig repeatedly emphasized.
The biblical faith brought forth two valid religions, Christianity and Judaism. The first is described by Rosenzweig as the eternal way: The Christian peoples seek in the vicissitudes of time and history the way to salvation. In contradistinction to them the existence of the stateless Jewish people is not concerned with time and history; it is—notwithstanding the hope for final salvation—already an eternal life, renewed again and again according to the rhythm of the liturgical Jewish year. Thus, Rosenzweig did not, like Yehuda Halevi (many of whose poems he had translated and who was very much in his thoughts) oppose the sacred history of the Jewish people to the profane history of the rest of the world but rather to what he considered as the historical existence of the Jews, their involvement in the history of the other nations.
Since the early years of the twentieth century, Martin Buber (1878–1965) has exercised a powerful influence on both Jews and non-Jews. His theology, centered on the I and Thou relationship, on the conception of a dialogical life, and on the primal importance of the category of "encounter" are discussed in the entry on Buber.
In recent years new works dealing with the history of Jewish thought in one of its aspects or in one of its periods appear on the whole to have been more significant than purely philosophical or purely theological Jewish works; in certain cases scholarly works give expression to a personal attitude toward Judaism or toward religion in general. These remarks apply to the two main centers of Jewish philosophical, theological, and scholarly activities, the United States and Israel, as well as to such other countries as France and England. However, it may be too early to attempt to give a definitive summing-up of the tendencies and achievements of a period that verges upon the present.
See also Albo, Joseph; al-Ghazālī, Muhammad; al-Kindī, Abū-Yūsuf Yaʿqūb ibn Isḥā; Aristotelianism; Averroes; Avicenna; Baḥya ben Joseph ibn Paquda; Bergson, Henri; Buber, Martin; Cohen, Hermann; Costa, Uriel da; Crescas, Hasdai; Descartes, René; Duns Scotus, John; Enlightenment, Jewish; Epicurus; Galileo Galilei; Gersonides; Halevi, Yehuda; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Husserl, Edmund; Ibn Gabirol, Solomon ben Judah; Ibn Zaddik, Joseph ben Jacob; Israeli, Isaac ben Solomon; Jacobi, Friedrich Heinrich; Jewish Averroism; Kabbalah; Kant, Immanuel; Logic, Traditional; Maimon, Salomon; Maimonides; Mendelssohn, Moses; Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī; Neo-Kantianism; Philo Judaeus; Pico della Mirandola, Count Giovanni; Renaissance; Rosenzweig, Franz; Saadya; Servetus, Michael; Shestov, Lev Isaakovich; Spinoza, Benedict (Baruch) de; Thomas Aquinas, St.
Guttman, Julius. Philosophies of Judaism. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964. Contains extensive bibliography.
Husik, Isaac. A History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy. Philadelphia: Macmillan, 1916.
Munk, Salomon. Mélanges de philosophie juive et arabe. Paris: J. Gamber, 1859.
Strauss, Leo. Persecution and the Art of Writing. Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1952.
Strauss, Leo. Philosophie und Gesetz. Berlin: Schocken, 1935.
Vajda, G. Jüdische Philosophie. Bern: A. Francke, 1950.
For the works of individual philosophers other than those listed here, see the bibliographies to the articles devoted to them.
Abravanel, Isaac. Perush l'Moreh Nebukhim. Vilna, Poland, 1904.
Bar Hiyya, Abraham. Hegyon ha-Nefesh o Sefer ha-Musar. Edited by Y. I. Freiman. Leipzig, 1860.
Bar Hiyya, Abraham. Megillath ha-Megalleh. Edited by A. S. Poznanski. Berlin, 1924.
Cohen, Hermann. Die Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums. Leipzig, 1919; 2nd ed., Frankfurt am Main: J. Kauffmann, 1929.
Cohen, Hermann. Jüdische Schriften. Edited by B. Strauss, 3 vols. Berlin: C.A. Schwetschke, 1924. Introduction by Franz Rosenzweig.
Del Medigo, Elijah. Sefer Behinat ha-Dat. Vienna, 1833. Contains commentary and notes by I. S. Reggio.
Ebreo, Leone. Dialoghi d'amore. Edited by Carl Gebhardt. Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1929.
Formstecher, Solomon. Die Religion des Geistes. Frankfurt am Main: J.C. Hermann, 1841.
Heller-Vilensky, S. Yitzhaq ʿArama ve-Mishnato. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1956.
Hirsch, Samuel. Das System der religiösen Anschauung der Juden und sein Verhältnis zum Heidentum, Christentum und zur absoluten Philosophie. Vol. I, Die Religionsphilosophie der Juden. Leipzig, 1842.
Ibn Daʾud, Abraham. Sefer ha-Emunah ha-Ramah. Edited with a German translation by Samson Weill. Frankfurt, 1852.
Ibn Ezra, Abraham. Yesod Morah vʾSod Torah. Edited by Samuel Waxman. Jerusalem, 1931.
Kaspi, Joseph. Amuday Kesef u-Maskiyot Kesef. Edited by S. Werbluner. Frankfurt, 1848. Contains two commentaries on Maimonides' Guide.
Krochmal, Nachman. Writings. Edited by Simon Rawidowicz. Waltham, MA, 1961.
Narboni, Moses. Commentary to the Guide of the Perplexed. Edited by Goldenthal. Vienna, 1852.
Pines, Shlomo. Nouvelles Études sur Abuʾl Barakāt al-Baghdādī. Paris, 1955.
Saadya ben Joseph. Polemic against Hiwi al-Balkhi. Edited by Israel Davidson. New York, 1915.
Steinheim, Solomon. Die Offenbarung nach dem Lehrbegriff der Synagoge. 4 vols. Frankfurt am Main: S. Schmerber, 1835–1865.
Strauss, Leo. Die Religionskritik Spinozas als Grundlage seiner Bibelwissenschaft. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1930.
Vajda, G. Isaac Albalag, averroïste juif. Paris: J. Vrin, 1960.
Shlomo Pines (1967)
"Jewish Philosophy." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 22, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/jewish-philosophy
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