Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Rambam's religion -Man serves God by emulating Him.

Finally, Technician takes us to Rambam: [again my comments in brackets]


P1 – There is a fixed Aristotelian natural order. God at the minimum is Aristotle’s first cause.

P2 – this natural order is the best of all possible worlds.

P3 – we see that the natural order is ethical.

[Rambam holds that the universe as we know it has a logic and system to it. Even what we may perceive as random is in reality orderly. We do not really know everything about science. Eventually humanity may, and at that time, we will understand that everything is orderly, logical and is the best way things could be. Thus as everything observable and that we know is contingent (dependent on each other) there must be one non-contingent entity. That entity we call God. As everything is perfect, meaning that it is here for eternity at least from now on (a parte post), that Entity, the First Cause (“First” does not mean temporal but hierarchical), the Non-Contingent Entity, must be perfect too. Perfection or what we call “good” is existence, “very good – Tov Me’od” is eternal existence, while Evil is destruction of existence or non-existence. If we look at our existence in a Macro, we see that everything is self-perpetuating. Even calamities and tragedies, they affect the individual of a group or species, but ultimately helps the whole to survive and sometimes even thrive. Looking at the natural order, we can therefore learn from it how to be “good”, how to partake in that system that ensures eternity and existence. Existence is the ethics we see in nature. That translates into actions that emulate God, the non-contingent, First Cause, the cause of everything that we now understand as ethical. Which leads us to the next three premises:]

P4 – this ethic is labeled “God’s attributes of Action”.

P5 – acting ethically imitates God – meaning the attributes of action in the natural order.

P6 – Our goal is to create a virtuous society based on reason.

P7 According to Ibn Tibon, Radak, Shem Tov, Herman Cohen, and even Isadore Twersky – this is for creating a virtuous society through ethics not ritual. Ritual Mitzvot are for the betterment of society – tikkun haguf – tikkun hamedinah- not to imitate God.

[If we can learn from the natural order what is the purpose of the Mitzvot? Why revelation if we can learn everything from observing the natural order? The answer is that we need to live in a society that allows man to spend time on studying and understanding his surroundings. We need a society that allows one to live without spending all his time on physical survival. The Mitzvot that deal with societal issues have as a goal to create that perfect society that will allow for man to focus on understanding the sciences and thus know God’s actions and thus how to emulate Him. Man being a material entity has urges and preferences. To properly judge and translate into action, the observations about the natural and ethical order, man has to control those urges otherwise he will be misled and act selfishly and narcissistically. His natural urges will make him do self-righteous things as long as they satisfy his own personal preferences. He may see objectivity where there is subjectivity. This may affect his interaction with society too working against this perfect society that is so necessary. Therefore, Mitzvot are there to bring discipline, train us in self-control, thinking of the other, acting beyond immediate self-gratification and also to remind us to think about God and existence. Mitzvot have no intrinsic value other than to train us. According to this school of thought, there are other ways of reaching the goal of emulating God, Torah and Mitzvot being one and we believe the best.]

P8– Meiri, Soloveitchik, Fox, Hartman and other Halachik thinkers connect the Mitzvot to intimating [imitating] God.

[This school agrees with the basic premises of the Tibon school, however goes one-step beyond arguing that Mitzvot, being revelatory and from God, are also a blueprint of how to translate what we learn from the natural order of the universe into human action. The Mitzvot start out as training tools. Once we understand them properly, we then realize that they are also in complete agreement with the ethical natural order. They are therefore the blueprint for how to emulate God. ]

Conclusion1 - therefore the epicureans are wrong about the world as random science, Sa’adyah is wrong because Mitzvot have a this worldly reward, religious ethics that are not natural are wrong.

Conclusion2: Mitzvot are the means to create a virtuous society.

Conclusion3: Providence is part of the natural order.

[I have written and will expand and write much more about P7, P8 and the conclusions over time as they are at the core of Judaism as I see it. ]

Personal note: The approach to religion Rambam teaches us, and there are many variations that developed over time based on his way of thinking, makes Judaism stand out from the religions of our contemporary society. Most of the religions I know, including some Jewish even orthodox schools of thought, have as their goal to make man live better materially and psychically. They see religion and ultimately God in the service of man. Rambam teaches us that man is here to serve God by emulating Him and partaking with Him in creation and existence. By doing that man will come as close as humanly possible to understand God. It is this process of melding with the eternal and becoming one with it that we become immortal. That immortality is Olam Haba which is Yediat Hashem. It is a personal experience which is why it cannot be understood and shared with anyone else. (See Hilchot Teshuvah chapters 8 through 10 with this in mind and it will be a “revelation”.) In this context, man is both a small entity among many with the ability to become an integral part of existence and eternity. Not only can he be an integral part but also an important player in that great scheme of things. To me that is an exhilarating thought and a worthwhile endeavor. It gives meaning to life.

I thank Technician for his contribution. I believe he has presented a cogent and clear description of the different approaches to religion.


  1. Blogger- But wait – all this stuff is still dogmatically medieval and incorrect science.

    Answer- even Maimonides limited knowledge to what was epistemologically provable and therefore the metaphysical aspects of science and God’s essence are unknowable. We only know God’s existence through his actions in the material world, not his essence or the scientific proofs for creation. It is already a non-dogmatic position of a liberal theist.

    Blogger – no this is still medieval. You can’t prove God and science works without God.

    Premise 1- we acknowledge that Hume formally disproved the proofs for God.
    Then, in the Enlightenment - Voltaire, Thomas Paine, and Diderot destroyed them in public. Only a tyro or a charlatan would take the permission to deceive by ignoring Hume.

    Premise 2 – Leibnitz and others reformulated the arguments without the medieval elements. Then, Kant formulated a moral argument.

    P3 – Nihilists, materialists, and positivists in Germany socially destroyed the arguments again.

    P4 - At the turn of the 20th century, Hermann Cohen reformulated the arguments as postulates of reason. It is not proof but a logical postulate to avoid the other approach of P3- the nihilists and materialists. We accept God as the giving reason and moral order to creation; Man’s role is to hear the moral call from God and act to make the world a better place.

    P5 – as a Jew and former reform seminary student, Cohen formulates his approach using Maimonides and not Aquinas. Maimonides in the 20th century automatically means through the lens of Cohen. Leibowitz, Soloveitchik, Leo Baeck, Ken Seeskin, and most others formulate their approaches to Maimonides using Cohen.

    Conclusion – When we say Maimonides we are already non-dogmatic and use this as shorthand for a general approach. Especially since we are more concerned with fighting superstition and creating a moral order than with epistemology.


  2. Blogger- Isn’t epistemology the most question so that you don’t delude yourself into a false religion?

    Answer: No, at this point it is already a choice among sophisticated liberal theologies. And saying that one is a Maimonidean already is shorthand for denying the dogmatic approach.

    And if you do not have answers, then aren’t you as dogmatic as those claiming mesorah?

    P1 – Herman Cohen as above is my starting point

    P2 Bertrand Russell et al created an Anglo tradition of philosophy shorn of the social sciences and focusing on logic and verification. Cohen is wrong. All German philosophy is just misguided mysticism. Laws of science are only verified induction without proof.

    P3 – Everyone from Einstein to Copleston wrote responses to this new approach. Einstein “God does not play dice with the universe”

    Conclusion – There is no formal proof on each side and it is acceptable to choose either. Tayku

    P4 Read the debate of Copelston and Russell. Copelston makes argument from causality, moral order, and the need for a synthetic a-priori, pace Kant and Cohen. Russell rejecting Kant’s denies the need for any of the three.

    P5 Russell is a strong agnostic knowing that he cannot prove his position, and follows Occam’s razor. Copelston is a weak agnostic choosing to return to Kant.

    P6 Neither position is dogmatic, irrational, or relying on tradition. To follow, Kant, the Neo-Thomists, or Neo- Maimonides is a liberal non-dogmatic approach. The debate turns over the ability to accept a synthetic a priori- in this case causality.

    P7 Russell’s position also undercuts science because without a synthetic a priori, then laws of science are only induction not real laws like in Newtonian physics. Yet, on the engineering level every day we work as if Newton is true.

    Conclusion- it is acceptable to work with religion and Maimonides even if no proofs or laws.

    Conclusion – Maimonides is more useful than Copelston or other defenses of metaphysics because of his rational Judaism. I am sorry if that was not clear and it seemed that accepting Maimonides was dogmatic. My beloved Soloveitchik, Leibowitz and Faur and others are already within the limits of Kantian thought.

    Blogger What of Dennett, Harris, Dawkins and all the other skeptics?

    P1 – In the last 25 years evangelicals and yeshivish Jews take the permission to deceive and write dogmatic non-liberal proofs for God. Most of these are based on false dichotomies, the God of the gaps, if I find a fault with science then religion is true, or bad versions fo the medieval arguments. In all of them they write as if Hume never wrote.

    P2 – Scientists and atheists are mad at this and respond by rejecting religion entirely.

    Conclusion – Blogger only knows P4 and P5. Maimonides is red flag of P4 dogmatism with pre-determined conclusion. Blogger naively speaks about science as if it too could not be disproved, not by atheists but by philosophers of science.


  3. Delete the word P4 from last conclusion


  4. Thanks Technician. And I thought I was finished!

    I will post this and comment if necessary.

    As you notice the skeptics have been quiet. Surprisingly so have the fundamentalist. What gives?

  5. I glean some content from Technician but I am totally confused by the format of his comments!!!

  6. > "Perfection or what we call “good” is existence, “very good – Tov Me’od” is eternal existence, while Evil is destruction of existence or non-existence."
    If that Perfection is called God-how is that different from Spinoza's Pantheism-God & nature are identical,there is no God separate from nature?
    The Rambam says that in order to have existence you must have destruction.He writes that one should expect diseases,natural calamities,because that the nature of things.without destruction ther would be no existence(acc.to Rambam). So why do you call destruction 'evil'? It's the same as saying existence is evil!
    Looking at the natural order, we can therefore learn from it how to be “good”, how to partake in that system that ensures eternity and existence. Existence is the ethics we see in nature. That translates into actions that emulate God, the non-contingent, First Cause, the cause of everything that we now understand as ethical."

    All that we can learn from Nature is that the strongest & fitest survive.It most certainly doesn't point to a merciful loving ethical G-d.That's just your own subjective wishful thinking,forcing it upon an imaginary notion of a God,of which you know absolutely nothing about It.

    >" As you notice the skeptics have been quiet."
    It's a waste of time arguing against nonsense.

  7. >If that Perfection is called God-

    Who said "that" perfection I ma talking about here is God? You don't even know how to think and read clearly - Tach Einechem Mere'ot. Read again and think carefully.

    >So why do you call destruction 'evil'? It's the same as saying existence is evil!

    I am not sure what the question is. Evil does not exist. Evil is the removal of existence - which is good. If there is existence there is good and we understand it to be contingent on FC. Thus FC is good. If there is no existence there is nothing - "we" see it as evil it is truly nonbeing.

    >All that we can learn from Nature is that the strongest & fitest survive.

    That is one part of it. What about non sentient beings? If you look at the macro you see that it is geared to self preservation and continued existence of the whole. Ethics therefore is working tiowards the existence of the whole. We see that individuals are sacrificed for the good of the whole - we too therefore have to think beyond ourselves when we decide to act. We see that undesrerving, at least to our understanding. entoities exist and survive . We too have to therefore help even undesrving things or people or entities to survive. An orderly logical universe does teach ethics if one knows how to look at it. Torah is opne way for us to open our eyes, minds and hearts and see things in a proper light.

    >It's a waste of time arguing against nonsense.

    You are proving my point.

    ז אִישׁ-בַּעַר, לֹא יֵדָע; וּכְסִיל, לֹא-יָבִין אֶת-זֹאת. 7 A brutish man knoweth not, neither doth a fool understand this.

    The arrogance astounds me. If your mind cannot grasp it it is nonsense.