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ARABIC-JEWISH PHILOSOPHY, General View of:

Mosaism a System of Mandates.

So thoroughly were the writings of Arabic-speaking Jews influenced by what may be termed Mosaism, that it is necessary to bear this constantly in mind when considering the peculiar contribution of these Jews to the history of philosophy. Mosaism from its outset could scarcely claim to be called a philosophy. It was, in the most pointed sense of the word, a religion of law. If, as is quite reasonable, the Decalogue be accepted as the oldest portion of the Biblical canon—as the religious backbone, so to speak, of Mosaism—it becomes evident at once that a moral Will speaks therein with the "categorical imperative." The Mosaic religious system was therefore neither the product of cold intellect like the Greek religiousphilosophy, nor an ardent emotional evolution like Brahmanism or Buddhism; nor was it the result of over-subtle cogitation like the teachings of Confucius and Zoroaster. It consisted of the imperative commands of an Omnipotent Will speaking in mandatory accents. The religions of intellect addressed their followers in the subjunctive; emotional religions in the optative; Mosaism, a Willor Law-religion, admonished its believers in terse, unconditional imperatives.

The sacred writings of no other of the great religions contain so little speculative reflection as the Old Testament; and if it be true that all religion is but imperfect philosophy—that is, philosophy in the guise of sentiment (Schleiermacher), and never in the form of the concept (Hegel)—then Mosaism affords a most imperfect system of metaphysics. History (Genesis as an attempt at the history of the world; Exodus as a national history, etc.), poetry (Deborah's Song, the Psalms, and the Prophetical writings), together with jurisprudence (Leviticus)—these are the vital elements in Mosaism. There is no room for philosophy. The philosophical tinge in the two books of the canon, Job and Ecclesiastes, is distinctly due to foreign influences: the former plunges immediately into the angelology and demonology of Parseeism, and the latter is dyed in the somber hues of the Hellenism of Alexandria.

Position of Philo.

Still more practical evidence of the aversion of Mosaism to philosophy is afforded by the fact that, when Jewish Hellenism in Alexandria evolved not only such fitful stars of small magnitude as Aristæus and Aristobulus, but also a great and enduring luminary like Philo, it was rudimentary Christianity that blossomed forth in response to the Jewish-Hellenic doctrine of the Logos: Judaism remained entirely uninfluenced by the Philonic philosophy. This accounts for the fact that Maimonides—the sole Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages with a full appreciation of the historical sequence of his faith—knew as little of the existence of Philo as of the works of Josephus. Indeed, all medieval Judaism may be said to have remained in ignorance of Philo, the only philosopher produced by ancient Judaism, and the greatest one down to the present time, Spinoza alone excepted—a circumstance all the more significant when contrasted with the assiduous development of the historical sense in other fields. Even with Philo himself philosophy was not indigenous: it was a product imported from other climes; for Philo was absolutely dependent upon Plato, just as Maimonides and all Arabic-Jewish philosophers, with the exception of Ibn Gabirol, were upon Aristotle.

Authoritative Nature of Mosaism.

The explanation of this remarkable phenomenon—the cold and almost hostile attitude of Judaism, as a religion, toward philosophy—may perhaps be found in the fact that every religion based upon law is thereby necessarily authoritative in its utterances. The Jews did not need to speculate upon the origin of all things. The Babylonian legend of the creation was presented to them in Genesis as a dogma, as an unquestionable article of faith. All other religious systems had to think out for themselves a foundation for the world; in Judaism one was ready to hand. Thus, what elsewhere was the aim and object of all speculative philosophy—the account of the origin of the universe—was in Judaism posited at the very beginning of the Bible.

Optimistic Character of Mosaism.

One other fact remains to be mentioned; namely, that of all ancient religions Mosaism was the only optimistic one. All the others glorified death; Mosaism was alone in extolling life: , "Choose life" (Deut. xxx. 19); "keep my statutes . . . which if a man do, he shall live in them" (Lev. xviii. 5). While pessimistic religions proclaimed as their watchword, "Choose death, choose non-existence" (Nirvana), Mosaism, on the contrary, never ceased to enjoin, "Choose life." "Serve the Lord with gladness, come before His presence with singing," joyously exhorts the Psalmist (Ps. c. 2); "I shall not die, but live," he exults in the delirium of happy existence (Ps. cxviii. 17). Buddhism was a religion of commiseration; Mosaism, one that shared the happiness and joy of all living creatures. Such a religion, whose God surveyed all creation with satisfaction, and emphasized each successive stage with the exclamation "It is good," "It is very good," needed no philosophy, and therefore produced none. All philosophy originates either in a puzzled incomprehensibility of things (ἐπὶ τὸ θαυμάζειν, as Aristotle says) or in a deep dissatisfaction with the existing arrangement of the world. Neither of these motives obtained with the Jews; for them there was neither theoretical impulse nor practical inducement. For them, acknowledging revelation as they did, there existed no mystery as to the origin of the universe; nor was there anything in its government crying out for improvement. Their faith, on the one hand, and their exemplary fortitude in life, on the other—in short, their native optimism—sealed for them all the sources of philosophy. Thus there was never an original Jewish philosophy, but only, as with Philo, a HellenoJewish, or, as in the Middle Ages, an Arabic-Jewish, philosophical system.

In the Arabic-Jewish philosophy four distinct types or tendencies may be discerned, all, however, dependent upon Greek models.

Tendencies of the Philosophy.
  • (1) The first of these is the rabbinical Kalâm (theology or science of the word), appearing first with Saadia, attaining its highest point with Maimonides in literary development, and with Ḥasdai Crescas in speculative attainment, and sinking with Joseph Albo to the level of mere pulpit-rhetoric. The scientific models for this school were, among Arabian philosophers, the Motazilites (who denied all limiting attributes of the Deity, and were champions, therefore, of His unity and justice); and, among Greeks, Porphyry and the so-called Aristotelian theology, that is, Plotinus' "Enneads." But as soon as Aristotle's actual writings became known, first through the medium of Arabic versions, and later through Hebrew translations, this Neoplatonic dilution of true Aristotelianism began gradually to give way, and approach was made to a purer form of it. As Boethius among Christian scholastic philosophers was alluded to as "the author," so Aristotle came to be termed, the philosopher par excellence among Arabic and Jewish thinkers. This tendency toward Aristotle was no less marked in the Byzantine and Latin-Christian scholasticism than in the Arabian and Jewish systems, the last of which conformed to the Arabic. Among the Arabs there was a continual and gradual ascent through Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, and Ibn Roshd toward an ever purer and exacter presentation of the genuine Aristotle; in the last the ascent was through Saadia, BaḦya ben Joseph Ibn Paḳuda, Judah ha-Levi, Abraham ibn Daud, Maimonides, Gersonides, and Crescas. Throughout this school Aristotle remained the model and arbiter.
  • (2) The second school was that of the Karaite disciples of the Kalâm. An analogous development is discernible with them. While David ben Merwan al-Moḳammeẓ (about 900), and especially Joseph alBasri, found their system exclusively upon the Motazilite Kalâm, the latest straggler of them all, the philosophizing Karaite, Aaron ben Elijah of Nicomedia (fourteenth century), reverts, in his '"Ez Ḥayyim," to Aristotle.
  • (3) A place by himself must be assigned to Avicebron (A vicebrol), long venerated as an authority by Christian scholasticism, but proved by Munk to be identical with the Jewish poet—philosopher Solomon ibn Gabirol (died about 1070). Gabirol was influenced by Plato exactly as Maimonides was by Aristotle. In Gabirol's work Plato is the only philosopher referred to by name; while in Maimonides' "Moreh Nebukim," Plato is quoted only four times in the whole course of the book—once from the "Timæus" (II. ch. xiii.; Munk, II. ch. cix.), probably the only Platonic work with which Maimonides was acquainted. Aristotle, on the contrary, whom Maimonides knows so thoroughly, is named at the outset (I. ch. v.) as. ("The Chief of Philosophers"), and in II. ch. xvii. (Munk, II. ch. xxii. 179) occurs the unqualified declaration that "everything that Aristotle teaches of sublunary matters is the unconditioned truth" (see also book II. ch. xix. and xxiv.).
Gabirol's Conception of Intermediary Beings.

Ibn Gabirol's relation to Plato is similar to that of Philo, and that without his suspecting even the existence of the Alexandrian thinker. Characteristic of the philosophy of both is the conception of a Middle Being between God and the world, between species and individual. Aristotle had already formulated the objection to the Platonic theory of Ideas, that it lacked an intermediary or third being (τρίτος ἄνθρωπος) between God and the universe, between form and matter. This "third man," this link between incorporeal substances (ideas) and idealess bodies (matter, the μὴ ὄν), is, with Philo, the "Logos"; with Gabirol it is the divine will. Philo gives the problem an intellectual aspect; while Gabirol conceives it as a matter of volition, approximating thus to such modern thinkers as Schopenhauer and Wundt. For the rest, Gabirol suffered precisely the same fate as his predecessor, Philo; his philosophy made not the slightest impression on Judaism. Among Jews he is esteemed as a poet; while Christian scholasticism, in the persons of its two chief representatives, Albertus Magnus and his pupil, Thomas Aquinas, defers to him quite as frequently and gratefully as in their time the Gnostics and the Church Fathers—particularly Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Ambrose—did to the Logos doctrine of Philo.

Jewish Mysticism and the Cabala.
  • (4) Cabala, or the Jewish mysticism. This "secret lore" has always claimed descent from ages of hoary antiquity. There is some slight warrant for this assertion, since faint traces of cabalistic modes of thought have been detected by Frankel and by Munk among the Essenes. Nor may it be denied that the work that is at the foundation of the Zohar, namely "Sefer Yeẓirah," the so-called "Book of Creation" (see article), contains material reaching back to an older tradition.
The Cabala and Number-Symbolism.

In sequence of thought, the Cabala is as completely dominated by Pythagoras—or rather by the Neopythagorean school—as Jewish Hellenism was by Plato, or the Arabic-Jewish Philosophy by the sage of Stagira. It matters really little whether the rise of the Jewish Cabala and of Christian mysticism, the Μυστικὴθεολογία of Dionysius the Areopagite, be dated a few centuries back or forward; its vital elements are always the Pythagorean number-symbolism on the one hand, and the Neoplatonic emanation-theory on the other. Its distinguishing feature is the combination of both elements. The Cabala also looks for "middle beings," exactly as Philo and Gabirol do, upon whom it may be dependent. But while Philo found these intermediaries in the divine Logos, and Gabirol in the divine will, the Cabala sought them in fantastic arithmetic. The Unlimited ("En Sof"), or God, is the originally undifferentiated unity of the cosmos, entirely identical with the Indian Nirvana and the Πάντα ὁμοῦ of the Greeks. Differentiation began with the archetypal Man (Adam Ḳadmon) compounded of ten light-circles, spheres, or intelligences (Sefirot: to wit, Keter, Ḥokmah, Binah, Ḥesed, Din, Tiferet, NeẓaḦ, Hod, Yesod, Malkut). God dissolves Himself into attributes. This feature is peculiar to the whole of the Middle Ages. Natural forces are transformed into attributes of God; and attributive thought takes the place of substantive. While in antiquity every natural force was a divinity, and while Monotheism condensed all these divinities into one personality, recourse was now had to the expedient of degrading the forces of nature into attributes of God. Trinity, Tritheism, Logos-doctrine, and Sefirot are the stammering utterances of ancient and medieval thought, endeavoring to explain the relation of multiplicity to unity, of natural forces to nature itself, of the attributes of God to God Himself.

Arabic Suited to Philosophical Terminology.

The cabalists, however, occupied a proportionately small space in the history of Arabic-Jewish Philosophy. They were far more numerous in southern France or Languedoc than in Moorish Spain. There are no independent cabalistic works written in Arabic, though the philosophical works of the Arabic-Jewish philosophers were written in Arabic, the vernacular of every-day life in Moorish Spain. There seems to have been a certain system in the employmentof Hebrew and Arabic. For halakic decisions (Saadia Gaon and Maimonides), for religious poetry (Ha-Levi and Gabirol), and especially for Biblical exegesis (Ibn Daud, Gersonides, Ibn Ezra, and Abravanel) the Hebrew language was used; while for philosophic writings the Arabic idiom was currently employed. The vulgar tongue seemed most appropriate for things profane; possessing as it did the advantage of a finely developed philosophical vocabulary, which the Hebrew acquired only after the school of the Tibbonides had accomplished their labors of translation.

A fundamental difference between the cabalists and the exponents of pure philosophy in the conception of the philosophical problem may be found in the position assigned by either to human Reason. The former rejected the authority of the conclusions of Reason, and relied upon tradition, inspiration, and intuition. Those thinkers, on the other hand, who based upon Reason considered inspiration and "intellectual intuition" as pertaining to prophets only; for themselves and ordinary human beings Reason was the prior requisite for all perception and knowledge.

Reason and Tradition.

Saadia (892-942) in his "Emunot we-De'ot" (The Principles of Faith and Knowledge) posits the rationality of the Jewish faith with the restriction that Reason must capitulate wherever it contradicts tradition. Dogma must take precedence of Reason. Thus, for example, in the question concerning the eternity of the world, Reason teaches since Aristotle, that the world is without beginning; that it was not created; Dogma asserts a creation out of nothing. Again, Reason insists—also since the time of Aristotle—upon only a general immortality; Dogma, on the contrary, maintains the immortality of the individual. Reason, therefore, must give way.

The "Cuzari."

While BaḦya ben Joseph (eleventh century) in his "Ḥobot ha-Lebabot" (Duties of the Heart)—a book still popular among Eastern Jews—maintained an almost hostile attitude toward rationalistic thought and was satisfied with mere pulpit-moralizing, the poet-philosopher Judah ha-Levi (twelfth century) in his religio—philosophical work "Cuzari" took the field with strenuous arguments against all philosophizing. He became thus the Jewish Algazali, whose "Destructio Philosophorum" was the model for the "Cuzari." Against Mohammedanism and Christianity his antagonism is somewhat milder than against Peripatetic philosophy: he inclines rather toward Sufi's skeptical mysticism. Human reason does not count for much with him; inward illumination, emotional vision, is everything. The "Cuzari" is interesting as a literary type. It describes representatives of the different religions and of philosophy disputing before the king of the Khazars concerning the respective merits of the systems they stand for, the palm of course being ultimately awarded to Judaism. Herein is the germ of those comparative studies of religion which the Frenchman, Jean Bodin (1530-96), developed in his "Heptaplomeres" (partially translated into German by Guhrauer, 1841), and which has been still further continued in our age as the science of comparative religion.

Gersonides and Ḥasdai Crescas.

But not even a Judah ha-Levi could bar the progress of Aristotelianism among the Arabic-writing Jews. As among the Arabs, Ibn Sina and Ibn Roshd leaned more and more on Aristotle, so among the Jews did Abraham ibn Daud and Moses Maimonides, whose "Moreh Nebukim" has remained the text-book for Arabian-Jewish Aristotelianism. The commentaries on the "Guide for the Perplexed" are always in Hebrew (by Falaquera, Ibn Caspi, Moses Narboni, and Isaac Abravanel), and are beyond the scope of an article dealing with Arabian-Jewish philosophers; these thinkers do not belong to Moorish Spain, but to Provence or Portugal. For similar reasons, the Aristotelian, Levi b. Gershon (RaLBaG) (1288-1345) who wrote "MilḦamot Adonai" (Wars of the Lord), can not be discussed here: he was a denizen of Bagnols, in southern France, and wrote in Hebrew. Among scholastics, Levi b. Gershon (Gersonides) was by far the most advanced; for he, and he only, had the courage to place reason above tradition, or, to express it differently, to oppose the theory of creation out of nothing. Similarly, Ḥasdai Crescas (13401410), another writer in Hebrew, combated another dogma of Judaism, the freedom of the will, so energetically that he may be considered a rara avis among Jews; and so valiantly did he break a lance for fatalism that he enjoyed the honor of being appreciatively quoted by Spinoza. His "Or Adonai" (Light of the Lord) is one of the most original and independent works of scholasticism in general and not of Jewish scholasticism alone. Apart from its hardihood in openly and unreservedly attacking Maimonides' claims of infallibility for Aristotle in all matters pertaining to the sublunary world, it has the merit of projecting the problem of causes into the very foreground of philosophical thought. The mental heights of Crescas were by no means maintained by his pupil Joseph Albo, the last Jewish scholastic in the Spanish peninsula. In his '"Iḳḳarim" (Fundamental Doctrines) he sinks to the level of an ordinary philosophizing rhetorician and moralist. It is difficult perhaps to penetrate the depth of thought and deft language of Crescas; but it is just as difficult to work one's way through the pitiful shallows of Albo's unctuous commonplaces. These lastnamed philosophers wrote in Hebrew, and therefore can hardly be reckoned among Arabic-Jewish philosophers. The chief representative of Arabic-Jewish scholasticism, Maimonides, must now receive attention.

Maimonides the Chief Scholastic.

Maimonides holds tenaciously, as against Aristotle, to the doctrine of creation out of nothing. God is not only the prime mover, the original form, as with Aristotle, but is as well the creator of matter. Herein Maimonides approaches more closely the Platonic "Timæus" than the Stagirite. Of God, the All-One, no positive attributes can be predicated. The number of His attributes would seem to prejudice the unity of God. In order to preserve this doctrine undiminished, all anthropomorphic attributes,such as existence, life, power, will, knowledge, —the usual positive attributes of God in the Kalâm —must be avoided in speaking of Him. Between the attributes of God and those of man there is no other similarity than one of words (homonymy), no similarity of essence ("Moreh," i. 35, 56). The negative attributes imply that nothing can be known concerning the true being of God, which is what Maimonides really means. Just as Kant declares the Thing-in-itself to be unknowable, so Maimonides declares that of God it can only be said that He is, not what He is.

Finally, it may be stated that in the question of universals—the chief problem of scholasticism—Maimonides takes strict Aristotelian ground ("Moreh," i. 51, iii. 18; treatise on "Logic," ch. 10), in so far as he denies reality to the human species, but admits its true essence to exist only in the individual (according to the formula "Universalia in re"). In his "Ethics" (as systematized by D. Rosin, 1876) he follows the Stagirite in consistently insisting upon the "fitting mean" (μεδóτης) as well as in the elevation of the intellectual virtues over the ethical. Thus, the Arabic-Jewish philosophy presents the same endeavor as the contemporary Arabian, Byzantine, and Latin-Christian scholasticism, namely, to bring about from the standpoint of the knowledge of the day a reconciliation between religion and science.

Position in the History of Thought.

However insignificant, compared with the fund of our present knowledge, this Arabic-Jewish philosophy may appear in its attitude toward the various problems and their solutions, two things must not be overlooked. In the first place, modern pride of culture should not prevent the confession that not a single step taken since the days of Maimonides has brought the solution of such problems any nearer. And, in the second place, it must not be forgotten that the scholastics preserved the continuity of philosophical thought. Without the activity of these Arabic-Jewish philosophers, especially of those Jewish translators of whose work Steinschneider has treated so exhaustively, the mental culture of the Western world could scarcely have taken the direction it has, and certainly not at the rapid rate which was made possible through the agency of the Humanists and of the Renaissance. The Arabic-Jewish philosophers were the Humanists, the agents of culture, of the Middle Ages. They established and maintained the bond of union between the Arabic philosophers, physicians, and poets on the one hand, and the Latin-Christian world on the other. Gabirol, Maimonides, and Crescas are of eminent importance in the continuity of philosophy, for they not only illumined those giants of Christian scholasticism, Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, but their light has penetrated deeply into the philosophy of modern times. Leibnitz speaks with no little respect of Maimonides, as does Spinoza of Crescas. Moses Mendelssohn and Solomon Maimon, the two Jewish friends of Immanuel Kant, took their point of departure from the Arabic-Jewish philosophy, as Baruch Spinoza had done. Sufficiently indicative of the bond of intellectual continuity is the fact that the same Solomon Maimon, who assumed the name Maimon simply out of reverence for Maimonides, was gratefully described by Kant in a letter to Marcus Herz as the critic who understood him best, and who had penetrated most deeply into his "Critique of Pure Reason."

Jews play merely a secondary rôle in the history of philosophy: they are transmitters of thought, apostles of culture, typical representatives of the intellectual continuity of the human race. The first Jew who was a real philosopher of prime magnitude, Spinoza, evolved his system not as a Jew; no more than Descartes framed his as a Frenchman and Catholic, or Leibnitz his as a Protestant and German. Philosophy has divested itself, more and more decisively, of all narrowing restraints of sectarianism and nationalism, and, like science itself, has become more and more cosmopolitan. The Arabic-Jewish philosophy was the last that could be designated Jewish. To-day there are still Jews who philosophize; but there are no Jewish philosophers.

Bibliography:
  • There is a mine of information in the annotations to Solomon Munk's Guide des Égarés;
  • as also in Steinschneider's monumental Hebr. Uebers. Berlin, 1893.
  • General treatises upon Arabic-Jewish philosophy exist only in the form of sketches, such as that of Munk, already mentioned, and in the manuals of the history of medieval philosophy by Ritter and Stöckl;
  • Lasswitz, Gesch. der Atomistik;
  • Prantl, Gesch. d. Logik; also in the Encyclopedias of Ersch-Gruber, Herzog, and Encyc. Britannica.
  • Useful for the literary history is the Ueberweg-Heinze Grundriss der Gesch. d. Philosophie, 8th ed., 1898, ii. 237-253.
  • The sketch of I. S. Spiegler, Gesch. d. Philosophie d. Judenthums, 1881, is of little practical value.
  • Much that is valuable may be found in the larger histories of Jost, Graetz, and David Cassel.
  • The essay on Jewish-religious philosophy by Philip Bloch in Winter-Wünsche, Jüd. Lit. 1894, ii. 699-793, is thoroughly reliable, as is also G. Karpeles, Gesch. d. Jüd. Lit. 1886, pp. 419 et seq. Of monographs may be mentioned: On the Cabala, Ad. Franck, Système de la Kabbale, 1843, 2d ed., 1889 (German by A. Jellinek, 1844);
  • D. H. Joël, Die Religionsphilosophie des Sohar, 1849.
  • Among works dealing with special problems and individual exponents of Arabic-Jewish philosophy, the most important are M. Joël, Beiträge zur Gesch. d. Philosophie, 1876, and David Kaufmann, Gesch. d. Attributenlehre in d. Jüd. Religionsphilosophie, 1877.
  • See also the studies by Moritz Eisler and A. Schmiedl.
  • Optimism and pessimism in Jewish religious philosophy have been treated by H. Goitein, 1890;
  • the doctrine of the Freedom of the Will, by L. Knoller, Das Problem der Willensfreiheit, 1884, and by L. Stein, Die Freiheit des Willens, 1882.
  • J. Guttmann has furnished excellent monographs upon Saadia, Ibn Gabirol, and Ibn Daud.
  • A conclusive monograph upon Maimonides' philosophy has not yet been written;
  • but his "Ethics" has been luminously treated by Jaraczewsky, Zeitschrift für Philosophie, 1865, and by D. Rosin, 1876.
K. L. S.
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