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A Portrait of Spinoza as a Maimonidean WARREN ZEV HARVEY I IN WHAT FOLLOWS, I try to sketch a portrait of Spinoza as a Maimonidean, as the last major representative of a tradition that mightily dominated Jewish philosophy for almost five centuries following the appearance of the Guide of the Perplexed. The portrayal of Spinoza as a Maimonidean is admittedly controversial . To be sure, it is well known that as a young man Spinoza had been exposed to mediaeval Hebrew philosophic texts and that in particular he had studied Maimonides. It is also well known that one can rummage through Spinoza's writings and come up with a fair amount of Maimonidean borrowings. Indeed, ever since the pioneering researches of Manuel Jo~l more than a century ago, I much has been written on Spinoza's relationship to the mediaeval Jewish philosophers , the most prominent of whom was Maimonides. However, it generally has not been held that there was a distinctive Maimonidean influence on Spinoza 's philosophy. To my knowledge, the only modern scholar to argue systematically for a distinctive Maimonidean influence on Spinoza was Leon Roth in his Spinoza, Descartes, and Maimonides. 2 In this incisive little book, Roth presented Spinozism as a Maimonidean critique of Cartesianism and concluded: "Where Spinoza rejected the lead of Descartes, he not only followed that of Maimonides, but based his rejection on Maimonides' arguments, often, indeed, on his very words .... Maimonides and Spinoza speak throughout with one voice. ''3 The case for distinctive Maimonidean influence on Spinoza also may be reconstructed out of various writings of the eminent Maimonidean scholar Shlomo Pines.4 While Roth and Pines are the two scholars who have supplied the frame1 Spinozas theologisch-politischer Traktat auf seine Quellen gepri~ft (Breslau, 1870); Zur Genesis der Lehre Spinozas (Breslau, 1871); ef. his Don Chasdai Creskas' religionsphilosophische Lehren (Breslau, 1866). 2 (Oxford, 1924; New York, 1963). See also his Spinoza (London, 1929, 1954), and his The Guide for the Perplexed: Moses Maimonides (London, 1948). Cf. his contributions to Chronicon Spinozahum , I (1921), pp. 278-282; II (1922), pp. 54-56; and his "Jewish Thought in the Modern World," in E. R. Bevan and C. Singer, eds., The Legacy oflsreal (Oxford, 1927, 1965), pp. 433-472. 3 pp. 143-144. 4 See his "Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Maimonides and Kant," in Scripta Hiero- [151] 152 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY work for the present portrait of Spinoza as a Maimonidean, the notion of a distinctive Maimonidean influence on Spinoza also appears occasionally in the writings of other scholars. Mention, for example, may be made of Arthur Hyman , who developed concisely "some similarities in Maimonides' and Spinoza's philosophy of man and in their philosophy of the state."5 The prevalent view, however, has been that there was no distinctive Maimonidean influence on Spinoza's philosophy. Moreover, this view has been prevalent not only among the generality of Spinoza scholars, but also among those scholars who--not unlike Roth, Pines, and Hyman--came to Spinoza after having studied the mediaeval Jewish philosophers. It was, indeed, the view of the late Harry Austryn Wolfson, the distinguished Harvard Hebraist and historian of philosophy , whose approach to the problem of Spinoza's relationship to his mediaeval Jewish sources is today doubtless the best known and the most influential. Wolfson, it is true, counted Maimonides, together with Aristotle and Descartes , among the three philosophers who had "a dominant influence upon the philosophic training of Spinoza and.., guided him in the formation of his philosophy . ''6 However, seeing mediaeval philosophy as "homogeneous, ''7 Wolfson made it a methodological rule not to distinguish between the influences of individual mediaeval philosophers on Spinoza. s In discussing Spinoza's sources, he accordingly treated Maimonides not as a personality in his own fight, but as a representative of homogeneous mediaeval philosophy. As Wolfson saw it, mediaeval philosophy was "the common philosophy of the three religions with cognate Scriptures, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam." This "triple scriptural religious philosophy," according to his theory, had been "ushered in" by Philo of Alexandria, who revolutionized Greek philosophy by interpreting it in the light of Scripture; and it was "ushered out" by Spinoza, "the last of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 151-172
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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