Saturday, February 11, 2006

Relevance of Rambam's philosophy nowadays - part 2

I read this Shabbos several excellent articles by Isaac Franck (A philosopher's Harvest - The philosophical papers of Isaac Franck - Georgetown U. Press ). One of them entitled Rambam's Philosophy Today made a point that I found very interesting as it clarifies a piece in the moreh. In 1:50 Rambam defines Emmunah "Not merely that which is uttered by the lips, but also that which is apprehended by the soul, the conviction that the object (of belief) is exactly as it is apprehended." Further on Rambam states how he views the relationship between Reason and Faith "If in addition to this we are convinced that the thing cannot be different in any way from what we believe it to be, and that no reasonable argument can be found for the rejection of this belief or for the admission of any deviation from it, then the belief is true".
In religion, as opposed to pure philosophy, one starts with Belief - after all we accept revelation and prophecy. However it is now man's duty to verify that the Belief does not conflict with Reason. If it does conflict it has to be revised or rejected. If on the other hand it agrees with Reason or is such that logic and science break down and cease to be relevant to the belief under consideration, "only then may we hold on to our belief with a clear conscience even though we cannot supply any logical proof of its truth."

Rambam in 2:25 argues that we cannot prove whether the world was created Yesh meayin - ab nihilo- Even if one were to accept Plato's position that matter is eternal, it would not conflict with Torah as the difficult Psukim could be exegetically explained. However as the Torah, in its simple reading, states that Creation was ab nihilo- and it is something that will never be provable scientifically - we are forced to accept the Torah position over Plato's. There are things that cannot be proven a priori and should be looked at from the point of view of revelation as long as it survives critical analysis.

When I discuss theological issues with people who are skeptics, they usually will sniff when I use (revelation) Belief in God / Faith (courtesy of B.Spinoza) as the starting point. They want to look at things a priori and find that if one accepts and starts from revelation it is apologetics. If the discussion was pure philosophy, physics or science they would be right. However when theology is discussed, revelation is part of it, and should be the starting point, critically analysed and accepted if it survives objective scrutiny.


  1. >However when theology is discussed, revelation is part of it, and should be the starting point

    First of all, you should say when jewish/christian theology is discussed, because other religions don't necessarily start with revelation.

    second of all, the starting point is God, not revelation, because without some kind of God there can be no revelation

  2. B. Spinoza - you are right on both points. Re the second I should have said Faith/Belief is the starting point.

  3. thirdly, You have not given any reason why a skeptic should accept your theology in the first place. That's probably what bothers the "skeptics" more than anything else

  4. By your comment I see that I was not clear enough. My point was that when dealing with theology, a priori proof is not the starting point. One starts from a position that this is what I believe, based on either relvelation if that is what is acceptable, tradition,cultural or as I pointed out in one of my earlier posts (GH) because respected figures in the past told us that they experienced God. It is Na'aseh venishma.

    That differentiates theology from philosophy.

  5. the title should read the relevance of Rambam's theology, not philosophy. As you yourself state we are not talking about pure philosophy. This is probably what bothered Spinoza, the fact that Rambam mixed theology and philosophy together.

    You'll notice that no where in the Torah does it discuss philosophy or science. The only thing it talks about is obedience to God and treating each other people properly. The ancient Isralites/Jews were not interested in these things. It was the Greeks who first started to be interested in these topics

  6. Agreed. Rambam never calls his book philosophy although it was so described by his contemporaries. I also agree that the title should be changed but enough concessions - I already credited you with one.(smiling face - how do you get one?)

  7. That was quick :)

    >(smiling face - how do you get one?)

    : + )

  8. I guess that didn't work :(

  9. >That differentiates theology from philosophy.

    yes, I know that. But in modern times people don't like accepting ideas without reasons behind them, at least that's how I feel. Being born into a culture is not a good enough reason for me to believe in something. Because I know that cultures and people make lots of mistakes, so I am skeptical of ideas without reasons, especially if they seem to be such fantastic claims

  10. >But in modern times people don't like accepting ideas without reasons behind them,

    I think te way Rambam goes about it is first prove that God exists. He does that although he defines God in negative terms. Basically his concept of God is as the First Cause not necessarily First as in time but First as the principle (cause and effect). He then explains revelation, which the human ability to connect with the sechel Hapoel, another abstract concept that is the underlying science for all that exists. At the higher levels of this connection prophecy exists where one sees the reality very clearly. That is revelation and Moshe was the highest possible practitioner. This where faith starts playing a role and this where one sets off revelation against science and truth.

    I am sure I confused you by now. I will post on this as we go along taking each piece separately.The most interesting is the Sechel Hapoel and the m,ost challenging in modern terms. I found a way of understanding it reading Popper.

  11. I like to start a debate with a skeptic by asking him what his reasons are to believe that he isn't adopted.
    That usually brings the discussion down to how much you trust the information about the world that you are given by various sources. He can't demonstrate that he himself has clear unequivocal reasons for believing everything he "knows" is true.
    Revelation by God at Sinai to all our ancestors is like knowing you aren't adopted.

  12. I disagree with you. I think GH wrote a great post Sunday and that is closer to my way of thinking. Faith (in its simple form)per se is a non starter for me. It is Christian influence on Judaism. A jew has to prove things to himself either through experience or through knowledge and hakirah.

  13. If you will take a broad survey of our sources, you will find that emuna means trusting that the Mesorah we have about the truth of the Torah- is accurate. Not Chakirah (ivory tower philosophy) on the one hand, and not Blind Faith (Christian) on the other.
    But this trust in the accuracy of the Mesorah is itself subject to rational argumentation and evidence in favor. I think this is what GH's post is all about. The empirical results lead you to TRUST the integrity of the system as a whole.

  14. I posted on GH about the meaning of trusting and learning from past Greats.It is not trust based on some childish notion but because we see that these great people who were searching for God told us that they found Him through following derech hashem. Lema'an asher yetzaveh etc..(by Avrohom). That is not the same as not trusting one's experience. If you would try to be mekarev me with that argument I would laugh you out of the room. Maybe those you can convince with it are better off where they are.

  15. You're right. The experience side of GH's equation is too subjective.
    I was referring to the historical evidence of the remarkable aspects of the Jewish People, beliefs and survival.

  16. I find lots of religious stories from different cultures inspiring not only Judaism.

    For example, the story of Buddha, how this spoiled man/boy one day decided to give up his life of wealth and pleasure in search for truth and good. And how he eventually finds it and teaches the whole eastern world about it. I think we can all learn and gain from this story.

    The story of Yeshua (Jesus) is also great, if you read the mystical/nonsense parts as myth/moshel.

    My point is, that while we can and should appreciate our own culture, there is a lot to learn from the rest of the world too in regards to spiritual growth.