ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

221. Avicebron. Maimonides. -- SALOMON BEN GEBIROL (AVICEBRON or AVICEBROL, Latinized forms of his supposed Arabian name, 1020-1070), born at Malaga, is one of the leading Jewish philosophers. He displays much originality of thought, although considerably under the influence of Arabian Neo-Platonism. God, the Supreme Being, one and unknowable (Plotinus), is the incorruptible source of all reality. He first produces the cosmic spirit, composed of matter and form. This cosmic matter and cosmic form are two universal principles, joined in indissoluble union by the will of God and shared by every finite creature. From the unchangeable generating power of the cosmic matter and form spring all other beings, spiritual and corporeal, through an orderly series of intermediaries; and each of these finite beings bears in itself not only the common cosmic matter and form, but also proper matters and forms peculiar to itself and constitutive of its own specific and individual perfections. Thus there are in man, besides the cosmic matter and form, principles of corporeity and spirituality, and, notably, three distinct souls as principles of vegetative, sentient and intellectual life. All beings tend towards God or the Supreme Good, as their last end. These two ideas, pantheistic emanation and plurality of matters and forms in individual beings, are the guiding principles of Avicebron's metaphysics. The system is expounded in his monumental work, the Fons Vitae, the only work of his that was known to the thirteenth-century scholastics, and one that exercised a far-reaching influence on many of their speculations.

With the name of Avicebron we may link that of JOSEPH BEN ZADDIK (fl. 1149). His Microcosmos marks the transition from the religious science with which the Motakallimin opposed philosophy, to the Jewish Aristotelianism as propounded by Moses Maimonides.

MOSES MAIMONIDES (1135-1204), in his Guide of the Doubting, attempts a reconciliation of Aristotle with Judaism. The true knowledge of God is the ultimate object towards which both religion and science should converge. While avoiding the excesses of the extreme allegorical method, Moses Maimonides qualifies the use of literal exegesis by the contention that the Bible text ought to be so interpreted as not to conflict with scientific truths that have been established with certitude:{1} a principle that aroused animated controversies in the Jewish schools. Maimonides wished to establish the philosophy of Aristotle; but his Aristotle was the Aristotle of Averroës: with the latter's teaching indeed the system of Maimonides presents many parallels. Of God, we may say that He is not, rather than that He is. A hierarchy of spheres connects Him with the beings of this sublunary world. The eternity of matter is not affirmed. The human intellect, however, is one and separate: only the acquired intellect is multiplied numerically in individual men. A higher illumination of this torch of truth -- to which every man may aspire -- brings about the prophetic state, which consists in the highest knowledge and happiness.

Maimonides is the last great representative of Jewish philosophy. The tinge of rationalism in his religious system aroused the opposition of the more conservative theologians and led to long controversies in the Jewish schools of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

{1} POLLAK, op. cit. (Arch. Gesch. Philos., 1904, p. 453).

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