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The Matter and Form of Maimonides' Guide

The Matter and Form of Maimonides' Guide

Josef Stern
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    The Matter and Form of Maimonides' Guide
    Book Description:

    Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed is generally read as an attempt either to harmonize reason and revelation or to show that they are irreconcilable. Moving beyond these familiar debates, Josef Stern argues that the perplexity addressed in this famously enigmatic work is the tension between human matter and form: the body and intellect.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-07594-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Editions and Abbreviations of Frequently Cited Primary Sources
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Matter and Form
    (pp. 1-17)

    The words “matter” and “form” in the title of this book each have two meanings. In one sense, they refer to the philosophical notions of matter (Arab.: mādda, Hebrew: homer, golem) and form (Arab.: ṣura, Hebrew: tzurah) as they are employed in Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed. In a second, they signify the singular form of composition of the Guide and its philosophical subject matter. The aim of this book is to show that these two pairs of notions are connected and how, through their interplay, it is possible to give a unified reading of the Guide.

    Let me sketch...

  5. 2 Maimonides’ Theory of the Parable
    (pp. 18-63)

    From his earliest account of the parable in Heleq to his most mature presentation in the Guide, Maimonides distinguishes three classes of readers of rabbinic midrashim, whom he describes in similar terms. The first class believes that midrashim have only one meaning, their literal or external meaning (ẓāhir), which, however absurd, its members uncritically accept as absolutely authoritative. The second class also believes that midrashim have only their external meaning but, precisely because it is absurd and contrary to reason, they ridicule their authors. The third class of readers regard the authors of the midrashim as philosophers who “knew as...

  6. 3 The Parable of Adamic Perfection
    (pp. 64-96)

    Maimonides opens and closes the Guide with mirroring, chiasmic sets of chapters that reflect its two expressed purposes. Its first two chapters are devoted to the dis/ambiguating interpretation of a term (or two) and the parabolic interpretation of a scriptural text. Its last four chapters are divided into two chapters (III:51–52) framed by a parable of Maimonides’ own creation, and then two chapters (III:53–54) devoted to the interpretation of four terms. In this chapter I will work through the first two chapters of the Guide; in Chapters 7–9 I will address various aspects of chapters III:51–54....

  7. 4 Physical Matter and Its Limitations on Intellects
    (pp. 97-131)

    We turn now from Maimonides’ hermeneutics to his epistemology, his arguments against human knowledge of metaphysics and cosmology, arguments that derive from the tension between the human’s matter and form, body and intellect. In this chapter I address physical or biological limitations on the human intellect. In Chapters 5 and 6, I turn to two epistemological arguments, one based on criteria of understanding, the second on our representational powers in intellectual apprehension. To place these arguments in context, I begin with background about the general conception of matter and form in Maimonides’ physics, their native ground.

    Not surprisingly, Maimonides gives...

  8. 5 Maimonidean Skepticism I
    (pp. 132-190)

    The physical or biological limitations on a person’s intellectual capacity apply to any subject he seeks to know, from physics to metaphysics. Maimonides also gives two epistemological arguments for skepticism about human scientific knowledge specifically of metaphysics and cosmology. (Henceforth, for brevity’s sake I will use the term “knowledge” as short for “scientific knowledge,” suppressing the modifier “scientific.”¹) The first of these arguments, which I discuss in this chapter, shows that there exist limitations on human knowledge of these domains, given standards that must be met for knowledge. The second argument, discussed in Chapter 6, shows that it is impossible...

  9. 6 Maimonidean Skepticism II
    (pp. 191-249)

    The second set of Maimonidean skeptical arguments show that it is humanly impossible to have propositional knowledge about the deity in particular. The arguments rest on the premise that in order to have knowledge of something, the subject must form a representation of it. To coin a motto: No Cognition without Representation. So, in order to have knowledge about the one, simple, incomposite, and indivisible deity, we must form a propositional representation about Him. But any propositional representation about the deity will have the logical form of a predication to a subject, thereby representing Him as something composite, a subject...

  10. 7 In the Inner Chamber of the Ruler’s Palace: The Critique of the Theory of Separate Intellects
    (pp. 250-305)

    Just as the scriptural parable of Adam in Eden opens the Guide, so Maimonides’ own parable of the palace closes it. Both parables express the idea that human perfection is intellectual rather than practical, a function neither of moral virtue nor of performance of the Mosaic commandments. The two parables are also read by dogmatic interpreters to support their position that human beings can achieve intellectual perfection by acquiring knowledge of metaphysics, including knowledge about God and the separate intellects. In Chapter 3 we argued to the contrary that, according to its inner meaning, the parable of Adam in Eden...

  11. 8 The Embodied Life of an Intellect
    (pp. 306-349)

    This chapter, like Guide III:51, is “a kind of conclusion.” It draws out implications of previous chapters of this book for our understanding of “the worship (al-‘ibāda) peculiar to the one who has apprehended the true realities—after he has apprehended what he is.” The best-known of these implications is that drawn by Shlomo Pines, who concludes from Maimonides’ view of the severe limitations on human knowledge of metaphysics, which make intellectual perfection impossible, that he also held that the greatest perfection available to man is practical, civic, or political:

    The only positive knowledge [about God] of which man is...

  12. 9 Excrement and Exegesis, or Shame over Matter
    (pp. 350-394)

    Chapter 8 focused on various Mosaic commandments that Maimonides “reinvents” as spiritual exercises that either inculcate the skill of concentration that is necessary for worshipful intellectual apprehension, train us to minimize our bodily appetites, sentiments, and emotions, or free us from this-worldly concerns. We now turn to one of Maimonides’ most important commandment-exercises, whose aim is to cultivate the intellectual emotion of shame as one essential attitude with which the human should react to his matter, or body, and the limitations it places on his form or intellect. Maimonides’ presentation of this theme is, as we would expect by now,...

  13. References
    (pp. 395-420)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 421-424)
  15. Index
    (pp. 425-431)