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  • Socrates and Socratic Philosophy in Judah Halevi's Kuzari
  • Yehuda Halper

I

Socrates cannot be considered a major figure in Judah Halevi's Kuzari by quantitative measures. In all the numerous and diverse topics discussed in Halevi's dialogue, Socrates' name appears only four times; it is mentioned once by the Philosopher at the beginning of the book and three times by the Haver later in the work.1 Furthermore, there is no sign that the King of the Khazars, despite his sustained interest in philosophy throughout the dialogue, is at all concerned with Socrates or Socratic philosophy. Yet, while the Philosopher uses Socrates generically in a list of five exemplary philosophers, the Haver mentions Socrates to suggest an account of philosophy distinct from both the Ibn Bajjan philosophy of the Philosopher in the first book of the Kuzari and the Avicennian philosophy critiqued by the Haver later in the work. Indeed, the Haver presents Socrates as a kind of metaphysical skeptic. This Socratic philosophy presented by Halevi's Haver is coherent and consistent and, most importantly, not subject to specific critique in the dialogue. Indeed, the Haver's denigrations of philosophy, which treat it at best as a faulty science in need of replacement by a Jewish science,2 and at worst as a form of heresy doomed to [End Page 447] apocalyptic destruction at the end of days,3 do not seem apply to a Socratic philosophy that is skeptical of metaphysics. While the Haver certainly does not endorse Socratic philosophy or the way of life that goes with it, he is apparently more open to it than to other forms of philosophy, or at least he does not consider it a threat to Judaism.

The first mention of Socrates occurs in the Philosopher's description of Socrates and includes him among those philosophers who have successfully conjoined with the Active Intellect.4 Drawing on Ibn Bājjah's Letter on Conjunction,5 the Philosopher relates how the soul of the perfect person conjoins and becomes one with the active intellect as well as with all the other human intellects who have attained this degree of conjunction. Such a perfect person joins "the group of Hermes, Asclepius, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle." Membership in this group is, according to the Philosopher, fulfillment of "God's Will" and "true knowledge of things." Far from being a skeptic, the Philosopher claims knowledge of the divine will. Moreover, the philosopher's Socrates, along with Hermes, Asclepius, Plato, and Aristotle, also know and fulfill the divine will.

The Philosopher includes only Greeks in his list of perfect people. Indeed, no non-Greek philosophers are explicitly named anywhere in the Kuzari. Words or views of Islamic thinkers such as Avicenna,6 Ibn [End Page 448] Bājjah,7 and Al-Ghazali8 appear without attribution in the mouths of either the Philosopher or the Haver.9 Halevi apparently wants his readers to look to the Greeks, rather than more contemporary Islamic thinkers, as exemplars of philosophy. Like the Philosopher, the Haver also mentions five Greek thinkers. Four of these—Pythagoras, Empedocles, Plato, and Aristotle—appear in a twice-repeated list10 and Socrates appears on his own.11 The lists of the Philosopher and the Haver differ in their accounts of the earliest philosophers, namely, in what they see as pre-Socratic philosophy, or perhaps in their accounts of the origins of philosophy. Neither the Philosopher nor the Haver tells us any details about the thought or works of any of these pre-Socratic thinkers, and it thus seems that Halevi is relying on his readers' outside knowledge. The Philosopher's pre-Socratics are apparently Hermetic figures, Hermes and Asclepius.12 The Haver, it would seem, sees the origins of philosophy in those whom Western thinkers more typically deem pre-Socratic, namely, Pythagoras and Empedocles. While we cannot know precisely which sources Halevi read, the characters of Hermes, Asclepius, Pythagoras, and Empedocles are developed enough in medieval Arabic literature to suggest reasons for their adoption in these lists. In general, the literature about these thinkers, and about Socrates as well, probably came from numerous, often fantastical legends, fragments quoted by other thinkers, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-0604
Print ISSN
0021-6682
Pages
pp. 447-475
Launched on MUSE
2017-12-05
Open Access
No
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