wished to consolidate religion and philosophy by identifying moral with
intellectual virtues and prophecy with philosophy. In order to do this
it was necessary for him to identify, classify, and rank various prophetic
phenomena. The result of this classification and ranking is a rigorous
set of criteria for the office of prophet which is substantially identical
to the portrait of an ideal philosopher.
The Prophet and
the Philosopher as Intersecting Types in Maimonides
Among the "perplexities" whichMaimonides1 addressed himself to in his The Guide For The Perplexed was the
definition, nature of, and classification of prophecy and prophets. Given
the depth and esotericism of the text, one might wonder if it is safe to
say anything definite about the issues it raises. However in the case of
the requisites of prophecy it seems that Maimonides' criteria for the prophetic
office are reasonably exoteric and should be capable of elucidation from
a careful reading of the Guide. The problems are twofold. First, to use
a Maimonidean term of art, prophecy is a highly "homonymous" term
which calls for precise specification. The English words "prophet" and
"prophecy" like equivalent words in other languages
contain considerable ambiguity and range of meaning.2 They may refer to, at one extreme, the persons of and revelations granted
to the founders of world religions, and on the other extreme the people
who write astrology columns in daily newspapers and their works. The second
problem, apart from circumscribing a concept of prophecy, is the establishment
of criteria by which true prophets may be separated from false ones. The
two problems are interrelated and their solutions are mutually interdependent.
Maimonides' definition of Prophecy is as
Prophecy is, in truth and reality,
an emanation sent forth by the Divine Being through the medium of the Active
Intellect, in the first instance to man's rational faculty, and then to
his imaginative faculty. (Guide p.225)
This definition encompasses an identification
of the source, the medium and finally the receptive faculty of prophecy.
The source is divine. For Maimonides it is the One God, not any lesser
being. Since, according to the strict monotheism of Maimonides God's essence
is unknowable and no attributes can be legitimately ascribed to the deity,
it is neither possible nor pious to inquire into the nature of the source.
Human mental faculties are the receivers of prophecy while the medium is
the Active Intellect. Obviously the nature of this "Active Intellect" requires
technical explanation, this will be given below. Prior to this however
a general observation is in order regarding the relationship of philosophy
to the thought of Maimonides.
Obviously the definition given above is
strikingly philosophical in its formulation. In his theory of prophecy,
as elsewhere, Maimonides wishes both to appropriate from and define
himself against philosophy. One may legitimately ask "Why?" in both
cases. Or rather, what in his theory of prophecy is borrowed from philosophy
and how and why does he define his theory of prophecy against philosophy?
This requires some
understanding of what Maimonides means by the "Active Intellect". This
conception derives ultimately from the Aristotelian "active nous"
(nous = thought, reason, intellect) which received a pannoological
(universal mind) interpretation in systems of many neo-Aristotelian thinkers.3 Aristotle divides the mind into an active and a receptive part, along the
lines of his general distinction between efficient and formal cause. The
existence of thinking is analytically distinct from its cause. If the causal
element of the intellect is divine, and the receptive element is constituted
among the particular minds of human individuals, it would be accurate to
say that while people can have thoughts, that only God can create them.
If we consider the notion of an Active
Intellect imparting itself through prophecy together with all its implications,
it should be clear that prophecy is imparting to humanity not only its
standards of behavior but its organnon of thought as well. In this sensewe
can say that reason is not a human construction but is acquired through
the interface of the Active Intellect with the prophets and the philosophers.
Therefore, should we say, as some esotericists in the field of Maimonides
interpretation hint, that the category of "prophet" as it appears in the Guide is the narrator of a sort of Platonic myth?4 Is prophecy merely an allegorical allusion to philosophy? The Guide does
not seem to support such an interpretation. Although the categories prophet
and philosopher intersect, they are also distinguished and ranked. Moreover,
they are ranked at the expense of the philosopher. As Strauss, the founder
of the esoteric school himself states:
Since in the case
of prophecy, not only the intellect (as in the case of philosophical knowledge)
but also the power of imagination is influenced by the Active Intellect,
prophecy is, as directly following his definition of prophecy Maimonides
explains: "the highest stage of man and the most extreme perfection that
can be found in the human race." Even on this ground, the prophet is unconditionally superior to the philosopher, and all the more to other men. He is, however, also
superior to the philosopher in his own realm, as a knower. He can know directly,
without "premises and conclusions," what all other men can only know indirectly.
Accordingly he has commands over insights that the man who only knows philosophically
is not capable of reaching...In his philosophizing, the philosopher can
orient himself according to the prophet because the prophet has command
over insights that are not accessible to mere philosophical knowledge.
(Strauss, quoted in Fox p. 288)
For Maimonides the illumination of prophecy
exceeds even the brilliance of Aristotle.
knowledge is the most perfect that a human being can possess, aside from
those who, through divine illumination, have reached the level of prophecy,
the most sublime level that exists. (quoted in Heschel p. 25)
Why should this be the case? The key, I believe,
is that Maimonides wishes to retain the identification of moral and intellectual
virtues which had been lost in philosophy.
of Knowledge and Virtue
A key principle in the thought of Moses
Maimonides is the unity between the intellectual and moral virtues. This
principle goes a long way in explaining why Maimonides was so eager to
assimilate the functions of philosopher to the that of the prophet. If
Maimonides, as is commonly asserted, brought religion and philosophy into
near conjunction, it can only be assumed that he thought that they were
mutually complementary, the weaknesses of each being compensated for by
the strengths of the other. The point of conjunction for philosophy and
religion is in the figure of the prophet. But what is a "prophet"?
Maimonides notes in the Guide (II, 32,
pp.219-220) that there are three general opinions regarding prophecy 1)
the common view of the conventionally religious that it is an entirely
receptive faculty 2) the view of the "philosophers" to the effect that
it is the automatic result of attaining a certain state of perfection,
3) Maimonides own view that attaining a certain level of excellence is
a necessary but not sufficient condition to receive prophecy. Thus there
is in Maimonides' theory a tension between the activity and the objectivity
The terms of the problem assume that neither
religion nor philosophy is sufficient on their own. One might, of course,
question whether this was really true. After all, Kant spent his life laboring
in the opposite direction, attempting to separate the two so that they
could each pursue their own ends autonomously. However I think that Maimonides
approach, at the level of the prophetic problem,
is integralist rather than proto-Kantian. That is, he wishes to unify
the moral and intellectual dimensions. I say "at the level of prophecy"
advisedly, since Martin Fox has made out a strong case for interpreting
Maimonides as having a "noncognitive" approach to morality.5 However lets follow the logic of the Guide and see if there are
inadequacies in both the religious and philosophical spheres which could
be remedied by a redefinition of prophets and prophecy.
In the case of religion the problems are
obvious. It is a commonplace that the Guide was in large part directed
at members of Maimonides' community who held ignorant, superstitious, and
anthropomorphic opinions in religion. Maimonides didn't believe that "orthopraxy"
based on blind imitation was enough in matters of religion. He insisted
that every member of the community should have a clear understanding of
the basic philosophical premises of monotheism. Anything less was impiety
and an insult to God.
Maimonides attitude towards the problems
of philosophy is vastly more complex. I merely wish to highlight one major
dilemma within philosophy which I am sure preoccupied Maimonides, the lack
of a solution to which would have been sufficient to create an unbreachable
gap between the Jewish sage and his pagan and/or secular mentors.
I refer to the problem of "incontinence,"
the well attested phenomena of someone who's behavior is in direct opposition
to their intellectually held convictions. Aristotle speaks of this in the
sixth book of the Nichomachian Ethics:
The question may
be raised: What kind of right conception can a man have and yet be incontinent?
Some say that it is impossible for a man who knows, because it is
a shocking thing, as Socrates thought, that when a man actually has knowledge
in him that something else should overmaster it and 'drag it about like
a slave.' For Socrates was utterly opposed to this theory, on the ground
that there was no such thing as incontinence; because he said that nobody
acts consciously against what is best--only through ignorance. Now this
reasoning is glaringly inconsistent with observed facts... (Aristotle p.228)
As everyone is aware, scholars are not necessarily
saints, or even gentle men or women. Linkage between ethical standards
and fidelity to intellectual principles has ceased to bother the conscience
of secular scholarship in the West since the decline of the ancient schools
of ethical philosophy. Today, what is called philosophy is more often than
not word-play taking place in a moral vacuum. Today few reflect very seriously
on the question of "moral incontinence."
It was otherwise with Maimonides. As a
12th century rabbi and jurisconsultant, he could not tolerate any breach
between moral convictions and behavior. One illustration of this, although
it shows the rabbi's severe side and offends contemporary sensibilities,
is his willingness to resort to moral censure in argumentation. There is
plenty of evidence of this in the Guide itself. For example his
characterization of a unnamed antagonist who had dared question the orthodox
interpretation of the Fall as engrossed in "lusts and appetites."(I, 2).
More to the point is that for Maimonides
the criteria by which false prophecy is distinguished from true is essentially
Is the person who
proclaimed these laws the same perfect man that received them by prophetic
inspiration, or a plagiarist, who has stolen these ideas from a true prophet?
In order to be enabled to answer this question, we must examine the merits
of the person, obtain an accurate account of his actions, and consider
his character. (Guide II, 40)
This, of course, is an ad hominem criteria
which would not apply to a philosopher. Or rather, it would not apply to
a philosopher today. Keep in mind that when Maimonides refers to
"philosophy" he is usually setting up a ideal type. He is not referring
to classical skepticism with its decent into moral ambiguity. Still less
to modern subjectivism or the clouding of issues due to the dispute over
the primacy of theory or practice. Maimonides is taking a "philosophy"
what he understands to be its purest source and then holding up prophecy
as a method of attaining the ends which philosophy is unable to reach.
If one examines the historical implications
of the Aristotle's text on "incontinence" quoted above, it would appear
that Socrates set a standard of congruence between noetic and moral virtues
which was gradually abandoned in the post-Socratic period. For Socrates
"knowing" was apparently an illumination which conveyed apodeictic certainty
compelled obedience to the implications of that illumination. He was, in
short, "possessed" and a prophet. It was the fading away of this inspiration
which produced the mere scholar and the professional "philosopher" who
could think one thing and do the other.
Having mentioned "possession" in reference
to Socrates should alert us to another category of persons which Maimonides
eliminates in circumscribing his theory of prophecy. For, in addition to
incorporating what is beneficial in philosophy into the prophetic function,
the subrational elements which form a connotative penumbra around the concept
of prophecy are carefully excluded by him. He is careful to distinguish
the deportment and behavior of the prophets he recognizes as altogether
different from the ecstatic behavior characteristic of the general lot
of mediums and seers. After all it is immediately apparent that the type
of prophecy which Maimonides is talking about is orderly and decorous in
nature, in contrast to the "...ravings of the Sabeans..." (Guide II,39).
Maimonides uses the term Sabeans to sum up all non-monotheistic belief
systems. He censures them, not because they failed to accurately predict
future events or exercise influence over the material world, but on moral grounds.
With reference to the "Sabeans" he notes, "...because these theories were
then general, ignorance had spread, and the madness with which people adhered
to this kind of imaginations had increased in the world. When such opinions
were adopted among the Israelites, they had observers of clouds, enchanters,
witches, charmers, consulters with familiar spirits, wizards, and necromancers."(Guide III, 29) 6
In contrast any form of monotheism is preferable
to nonmonotheistic systems. Thus for him both Christianity and Islam are
"progressive" developments against the background of primeval superstition.
He notes, "And were it not that the theory of the Existence of God is at
present generally accepted, our days would have been darker than those
[pre-Abrahamitic] days."(Guide III, 29, pp. 318-319) Why? Because
idolatry impedes the "twofold perfection of man." (Guide ibid.)
The twofold perfection of man being the mutually interdependent moral and
intellectual spheres. In contrast the system of Jewish religious legislation
contains "...positive or negative precepts, which tend to improve the moral
or intellectual condition of mankind,..."(Guide III, 35, p.331)
It is a splitting of the moral/noetic unity which condemns pagan prophecy
and points towards monotheistic religious legislation.
It is often asked whether The Guide
for the Perplexed is a philosophical book or a Jewish book. Although
the question may be ineluctable, I would like to propose a third alternative.
Perhaps in the guide Maimonides is appearing as a representative of a theocentric
style of thinking which has a universal application which transcends religious
boundaries. Here I am considering Maimonides not only as a Jewish philosopher
but as a representative religious thinker of the 12th century (including
both the Islamic rationalists and the Christian scholastics) an age during
which philosophy was both incorporated into and subordinated to religion.
Maimonides was, of course, thoroughly Jewish
in his life and thinking. I take it as a given that for Maimonides the
content of morality is religious legislation in its specifically Jewish
form (i.e.. the Torah). For Maimonides
the Torah revealed on Sinai is unique both in time and place. He is not,
at least at the level of prophetic legislation, a believer in progressive
revelation. For Maimonides, Moses is the single member of a special class,
not to be compared with the non-Mosaic prophets. His siding with Philosophy
against the Mukallamiya, the apologists of Islam, must have been in part
motivated by a desire to vindicate this uniqueness.
Recognizing this, it is surprising that
the Guide has nothing to say, except by implication, about Moses.
Indeed, Maimonides deliberately excludes Moses from his account of prophecy
(Guide II, 35, p.224). Thus the prophets spoken of in the Guide
are not those who have delivered the content of legislation to the human
race. Rather, they are the wise. The archetype of the "prophet" in this
sense is not Moses but Abraham. In the Guide Abraham appears in
a somewhat different light from the conventional Biblical figure. Maimonides
portrays him as a profound thinker who, starting from scratch, discovered
all the important truths of theology through independent reasoning. "Independent"
but not unaided, since, as we have seen, a prophet is a philosopher who's
interface with the process and object of cognition is so intimate that
such may be considered the passive recipients of the action of the Active
Since the Active intellect is universal
and omnipresent it is difficult to imagine how its operation could be restricted
to any one time, place or ethnic group. Its all-inclusiveness would negate
any such "horizontal" distinctions. The only distinction that could possibly
be made would be in a vertical direction in which degrees of participation
would be ordered according to the capabilities of the recipients.
For this influence
[of the Active Intellect ] may reach a person only in a small measure,
and in exactly the same proportion would then be his intellectual condition,
whilst it may reach another person in such a measure that, in addition
to his own perfection, he can be the means of perfection for others. (Guide II, 37 p. 277)
The Andelusian philosopher would seem to be
leaving the door open for anyone who is among the "righteous" to prophesize.
Of course, for Maimonides himself the content of righteousness is dictated
by the Mosaic code. Never the less, it is interesting that Abraham, the
man who chose to be a monotheist, rather than receiving it through a tradition,
is taken as the representative of the prophetic type by Maimonides. Leaving
aside the "horizontal" dimension of prophecy, and whether or not moral
virtues are, or are not, entirely encompassed by the Mosaic code, let's
conclude our examination of Maimonidean prophetic theory by elucidating
its "vertical" dimension.
Maimonides' theory of prophecy contains
two elements 1) an explanation of what prophecy is, and 2) a ranking of
the various types of prophecy and prophecy-like phenomena. I think we can
use the ranking of prophecy implicate in Maimonides to substantiate our
thesis that the rationalism of Maimonides is essentially a moral rationalism.
In the forty-fifth chapter of the Guide,
Maimonides puts forth a ranking of prophetic modes which is outlined below:
Allegorical dream revelations
Auditory dream revelations
Audiovisual dream revelations/human speaker
Audiovisual dream revelations/angelic speaker
Audiovisual dream revelations/Divine speaker
Allegorical waking vision
Auditory waking revelation
Audiovisual waking revelation/human speaker
Audiovisual waking revelation/angelic speaker
The final stage in the perfection of prophecy
is not explicitly listed in the same chapter, however much attention is
focused on its implicit superiority to the penultimate stage in the above
series, and thus to all the prophetic and semi-prophetic modes listed above,
namely, 12) Audiovisual waking revelation/Divine
speaker. Again, this refers implicitly to Moses, who is being excluded
from direct consideration.
In this schema we notice a ranking of actions,
faculties, and persons which intersect to create a hierarchical prophetic
order. The most fundamental distinction is that between prophecy and mere
inspiration, here the criteria being authorship. Those cases where the
authorship of actions or words are merely human, albeit empowered by divine
sanction, do not attain the rank of prophecy. Maimonides gives the example
of David's psalms which are obviously David's in a sense that Isaiah's
prophecy are not Isaiah's. Note that the higher one ascends in level of
inspiration the less subjective the message becomes.
Within the merely inspired category there
is a ranking of speech over action. This privileged position given to language,
seemingly arbitrary in this first instance, continues at the prophetic
level where hearing is ranked over seeing. This is simply an acknowledgment
of the semiotic clarity of language over any other system of signification.
Only language is sufficient to express meanings at the noetic, as opposed
to the merely emotive or impressionistic, level. Although, at the terminological
level, Judaism does not speak of a "theology of the word" such as the Christian logos or
Islamic kalam, in fact the intimate linkage between language and
the noetic content of revelation is tacitly acknowledged as fundamental.
Unsurprisingly, we find this ranking of auditory over visual revelations
one of the primary criteria which, in intersection with others, ramify
to articulate the various degrees in the hierarchy of prophecy.
The next criterion is whether or not a
speaker appears to the receiver of the oracle or not, and, if so, the rank
of the speaker. The appearance of a speaker is ranked over a nonappearance.
The rankings of the speakers who appear, human, angelic, and divine, should
The final criteria is whether the revelation
was received in a dream or during a waking state. Naturally, waking experiences
are ranked over dreams. The intersection of these various criteria compounds
to establish the ranking of the twelve degrees of prophecy.
This systematization of the degrees of
prophecy seems logical and tidy enough, however Maimonides himself gives
several indications that it is not to be taken too seriously. First, Maimonides
indicates that he is, with the sole exception of Moses, somewhat skeptical
of the visions attributed to prophets. Even Abraham, who ranks second only
to Moses, is pictured as primarily a dream-prophet. If visions are excluded
from the legitimate inventory of prophetic channels, the number of prophetic
degrees contracts to eight.
Not only is the schema of prophetic degrees
provisional and elastic, but a strict sorting of prophets according to
rank seems to elude the system. In Guide II, 41 there is a ranking
of prophetic degrees which is quite different from the one above from II,
45. It is a quaternary rather than a duodenary classification, and is put
forth in surprisingly skeptical-sounding language.
There are four different
ways in which Scripture relates the fact that a divine communication was
made to the prophet. 1. The prophet relates that he heard the words of
an angel in a dream or vision; 2. He reports the words of the angel without
mentioning that they were perceived in a dream or vision, assuming that
it is well known that prophecy can only originate in one of the two ways,
"In a vision I will make myself known unto him, in a dream I will speak
to him"(Num. xii. 6). 3. The prophet does not mention the angel at all;
he says that God spoke to him, but he states that he received the message
in a dream or a vision. 4. He introduces his prophecy by stating that God
spoke to him, or told him to do a certain thing, or speak certain words,
but he does not explain that he received the message in a dream or vision,
because he assumes that it is well known, and has been established as a
principle that no prophecy or revelation originates otherwise than in a
dream or vision, and through an angel. (Guide II, 41)
Evidently we are not to take too seriously
what the prophets themselves say regarding the source of their oracles!
The weight of a prophecy is clearly not to be reliably assayed against
how spectacular or exalted were the conditions under which its delivery
took place. Again, Maimonides himself, in a different part of his treatise,
casts doubt on the utility of the schema in any ranking of persons according
to spiritual excellence. Thus he quotes approvingly from a midrash(Bereshit
To Abraham, whose
prophetic power was great, the angels appeared in the form of men; to Lot,
whose power was weak, they appeared as angels. This is an important
principle as regards Prophecy...(p.162)
The implication here being that the lucidity
of the revelation is in inverse relation to the spiritual potency of the
receiver, presumably as a benefit of divine compassion. Lot, an ambiguous
character to say the least, cannot be ranked above the patriarch Abraham
simply because he has experienced a more luminous revelation. Other considerations
What is at issue here? To the modern reader
of the Guide it would seem that Maimonides is setting out a rational
schema of prophetic experience based on epistemological criteria. Certainly
he is doing this, but this is not all that he is doing. Maimonides' interests
are not primarily epistemological but moral. He is, of course, a rationalist,
but his rationalism has a moral dimension which is far deeper than its
epistemic dimension. It is not the vividness or energistic magnitude
of the prophetic revelation which constitutes the criterion of prophetic
significance. Rather it is the moral status, first, of the contents of
prophecy itself and secondly, of the receiver of the revelation, which
From Maimonides' point
of view the higher one ascends in the noetic hierarchy the less one can
distinguish whether knowledge is discovered or received through
the grace of revelation. As an Aristotelian Maimonides does not recognize
the radical subject/object split which post-Kantian thinking has accustomed
itself to accept.7 Rather, knower, known, and the act of knowing increasingly fuse together
in an act of noetic participation. Thus the answer to the question of whether
this illuminatory knowledge is discovered (philosophy) or received (religion)
must be both. This illumination requires an openness ("passivity")
to truth which is the result of effort ("activity").The effort involved
is, of course, a moral effort, abridging any distinction between the moral
and dianoetic virtues.
Although Maimonides writes at length about
the mechanism of prophecy and the different media by which revelations
are received, this is not what really motivates his exposition of prophecy.
The legislative prophecy of Moses having been eliminated as a phenomena sui
generis, it is clear that access to the Active Intellect by ordinary
prophet/philosophers is graded according to the degree of moral perfection
attained by the candidates to prophetic office. Although it may be the
case that a perfectly prepared candidate may not be granted that office,
the moral requirements remain as a necessary, though not sufficient, criteria.
The rationalism of Maimonides, which is
in the first instance that of a falasifa expositing the mechanism
of revelation as the operation of the Active Intellect, is in the final
analysis the witness of a believer to the fact that rationality itself
is a product of obedience to divine ordinances. Although in his philosophical
anthropology Maimonides sees the imaginative and physical elements as inferior
to the intellect, philosophy itself is powerless without imaginative and
behavioral training. The absence of such obedient training is the reason
why secular philosophy lost its integrity. Only by following the example
of the religiously wise, those in whom the infusion of the Active Intellect
penetrated down to the imaginative and physical level, is there hope of
living a life of integrity. This is why Maimonides is so concerned to attest
to the intimate relationship between noetic and moral virtues.
For Maimonides there is no such thing as
a an adequate morality generated out of philosophical demonstration (the
natural law schools), political consensus (the Greek city-states), or the
ecstatic oracles of the pagan religions (the Sabaeans). The ethos of such
moral systems is either imperfectly rational, since philosophy is ultimately
dependent on prophecy, or out-and-out irrational, since the prophecies
of the "seers" emanate not from the universal mind (active nous)
but from the passionate soul (psyche) As I have endeavored to demonstrate,
for Maimonides both rationality and morality emanate from the Active Intellect.
Therefore morality is intrinsically rational, while rationality is intrinsically
moral. Philosophy can only grasp rationality at the noetic level, it is
powerless to overcome the passionate soul and thus, to use Socrates' phrase,
is overmastered by it and dragged about like a slave. In prophecy the infusion
of the Active Intellect is so strong that it overflows the rational faculty
and penetrates down to the imaginative level, thus reorganizing the passionate
soul in harmony with the dictates of reason. According to Maimonides, one
who is so influenced by the Active Intellect is indeed fit to be "the means
of perfection for others."
philosopher Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon) was an Andelusian Jew born into
a family of scholars at Cordoba in 1135 AD.. Due to the intolerance of
an Islamic sectarian movement he was forced to emigrate, ultimately to
Egypt, where he supported himself as a practicing physician while contributing
to the legal reform of his religious community, and where he died in 1204.
Today he is widely respected both inside and outside of the Jewish world,
and his philosophical maxims are generally considered in accord with orthodoxy.
The finer nuances of his philosophy remain extremely ambiguous and controversial,
whereas his legal works have never attained the status of a universally
accepted codification, as he had hoped. After eight-hundred years he remains
a controversial figure.
The Guide for the Perplexed,
to which I refer in this paper, is Maimonides' major philosophical work.
It was originally written in Arabic with the title Dalalat al-Harin.
I have used M. Friedlander's English translation, second edition, 1904.
As is conventional I use roman numerals to indicate sections and arabic
numerals to indicate chapters of the Guide.
Hebrew nebu'a for prophecy and nabi' for prophet. In Arabic nubuwwa and nabi.
Active Intellect is an Aristotelian concept which entered into the neo-Aristotelian
speculative philosophies of post-Hellenistic times. Originally it was construed
as a knowing substance which through permeation of both the knowing subject
and the known object established a relationship "knowledge" between them.
Most contemporary philosophers feel that Aristotle did not identify the
Active Intellect with the divine mind, although the historian and philosopher
W.K.C. Guthrie disagrees.
Whatever Aristotle's intentions
may have been, a school of thought following Alexander of Aphrodisia asserted
the divinity of the active intellect. Subsequently a synthesis of Aristotle's
psychology and astronomy was developed in which the active intellect was
identified as one of the Celestial Intelligences inhabiting and motivating
the heavenly spheres. The Active Intellect had become an angel, hence the
Maimonides largely concur with the philosophic world-view, using religious
language and imagery as a sort of "Platonic myth?" Or had he in fact discovered
in philosophy an honest justification of orthodoxy? This is where Maimonides
interpretation diverges, often very radically, however this problem falls
outside of the scope of this paper. That the notion that The Guide to
the Perplexed is a deeply esoteric work has in recent decades been
mooted about by those who follow the interpretation of Leo Strauss. It
should be noted that the impeccably pious life of Maimonides requires that
those who see him as a sort of proto-aufclarung are under the burden
of proving their case, and not the other way around.
Already in his Treatise
on Logic, written in his youth, he treats moral ideas as not falling
under the categories of truth and falsehood at all so this it is simply
a logical error to speak of moral rules as true or false. Instead he thinks
of moral behavior [i.e. apart from religious legislation: my note] as not
falling under the categories of truth or falsehood at all, so that it is
simply a logical error to speak of moral rules as true or false...In short,
Maimonides holds that moral claims are never open to rational argument
or demonstration. (Fox p.133)
This refers to the content of morality, whereas in this essay I am treating only the existential question
of to what extent the attainment of moral standards (whatever these
might be) is relevant to congnition.
are all value-free terms from the point of view of the modern sociology
of religion, but of course, not for Maimonides. This has bearing how prophecy,
in Maimonides sense, could be distinguished from divination. The natural
sciences of ethnology and sociology cannot make such a distinction, since
from the outset they do not recognize the sort of deontological premises
which are implicit in theism. Thus prophecy is equated with shamanism,
fortune-telling and other sorts of divinatory media. For Maimonides true
prophecy is the revelation of God's laws, wisdom, and teachings, not prognostication.