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History of Philosophy
Jewish Philosophy During the Middle Ages
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)


Authorities. In addition to Munk's Mélanges and Frank's La Cabbale, etc. (Paris, 1843), Max Doctor's Die Philosophie des Josef (ben) Zaddik (Münster, 5895), Baeumker's edition of Avicebrol's Fons Vitae (Münster, 1892), and Guttmann's Die Scholastik des XIII Jahrh. in ihren Beziehungen sum Judentum (Breslau, 1902) may be mentioned as authorities on the history of Jewish philosophy.

The Jews, before their contact with Arabian civilization, developed a system of mystic philosophy based upon the cabalistic Sephiroth, or mystic numbers. It was, however, after they had come in contact with the Arabians in the East and in the Moorish kingdom, that Greek learning passed from the mosque to the synagogue, and the systems of philosophy were developed which influenced the course of Christian thought during the thirteenth century.

Avicebrol (1020-1070) was born at Malaga. His real name was Salomon ben Gabirol, the name Avicebrol being the Latinized form of what was supposed to be an Arabian name. Indeed, it was only in recent times that the nationality of this philosopher was determined with certainty. His principal work, Fons Vitae, was probably composed in Arabic; Munk found a Hebrew copy of the work, and quite recently the Latin translation, made about the beginning of the twelfth century, has been published. [24]
[24] Avicebrolis Fons Vitae, ed. Baeumker (Münster, 5892).
Avicebrol's philosophy is a blending of Jewish religious doctrines with the doctrines of the Neo-Platonists. The importance attached to contemplation, and to a striving towards union with the divine, the doctrine of the preëxistence of the soul, of knowledge by means of reminiscence, of the eternity of matter, -- all these are evident signs of Neo-Platonic influence.

The most characteristic of Avicebrol's tenets is the doctrine ascribed to him by Albertus Magnus [25] and St. Thomas, [26] that all things finite, whether corporeal or incorporeal, are composed of matter and form; that matter is, consequently, the substratum of all finite existence. [27]
[25] Summa Totius Theologiae, I, 4, 22.

[26] Quaestio Disputata De Anima, Art. 6.

[27] Cf. Fons Vitae, V, 21.
González [28]calls attention to the similarity existing between Avicebrol's doctrine of universal matter and the doctrines of Duns Scotus regarding materia primo-prima. Indeed, all the first Franciscan masters maintained that matter is coextensive with finite being.
[28] Op. cit., II, 486.
Moses Maimanides (1135-1204), who was born at Cordova in 1135 and died at Cairo in 1204, was the greatest of the Jewish Aristotelians. His philosophical treatise, entitled Guide of the Doubting, is an exposition of Aristotelian philosophy combined with Jewish religious teaching: "Intentio hujus libri," he says, "est docere sapientiam legis secundum veritatem et ex fundamentis." [29]
[29] Preface to Guide.
Moses departs from the teaching of Aristotle whenever he considers that Jewish dogma is opposed to Peripatetic philosophy. He maintains, for instance, that the world is not eternal, except in the sense that it proceeds by natural necessity from its cause which is eternal. He is willing, however, to grant that the eternity of the world is possible, although he does not agree with the Aristotelians who hold that it is necessary. In treating of the immortality of the soul, he cites passages from the Bible, quotes the opinions of the Greek and Arabian commentators, distinguishes between the soul that is born with us, and the intellect which is acquired, and ends by asserting that only the souls of the just are immortal. [30] This doctrine of acquired immortality became one of the most distinctive doctrines of the Jewish school.
[30] Guide, etc., trans. by Munk, Vol. II, 205.
Historical Position. Although less original than Avicebrol, Maimonides was destined to exercise a more profound influence on succeeding generations of philosophers. To him may be traced the scientific movement which manifested itself among the Jews of the thirteenth and the two following centuries, and he is commonly regarded as the one who, of all the Jewish thinkers, contributed most to the system of Spinoza.

Anonymous Works. There were three works of doubtful authorship, which, on being translated from Arabic into Latin, became for the schoolmen common sources of information concerning Arabian, Jewish, and even Greek philosophy: (1) The Secretum Secretorum, a scientific miscellany, attributed to Aristotle; (2) Theologia Aristotelis, or De Secretiori AEgyptiorum Philosophia, which was sometimes attributed to Aristotle, but which is in reality a collection of excerpts from the Enneades of Plotinus; (3) Liber de Causis, which, under various titles, was ascribed to Aristotle, to St. Augustine, to Avempace, and to Gilbert de la Porrée. Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas decided against its Aristotelian authorship, the former ascribing it to a certain Jew named David, the latter judging it to be an Arabian compilation of a work by Proclus. [31] The preponderance of evidence is in favor of St. Thomas' opinion.
[31] Cf. Bardenhewer, Die pseudo-aristotelische Schrift über das reine Gute (Freiburg im B., 1882), p. 41.


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