Maimonides and England

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The subject of this paper, which deals with the influence of the writings of Moses Maimonides on English civilization during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, is so vast and the time at my disposal so short that I cannot attempt more than a general outline of the problems involved. A brief summary of the principles of Maimonides5 philosophy seems, however, to be indispensable for the purpose.

It is generally assumed that Maimonides5 philosophy is the result of an endeavour to harmonize the rationalistic doctrines of Aristotle with the religious ideas and moral teachings of the Bible. In fact, Maimonides rejects both the main metaphysical preconceptions of Aristotle and the theory of emanation which Arabic philosophers had evolved by combining astronomy with Neoplatonic and Aristotelian meta? physics ; he further disposes effectively of the claim that the concepts employed in Aristotelian physics are an adequate means of explaining the universe as a whole. Indeed, the salient characteristics of Maimonides5 philosophy are a dissatisfaction with Aristotelian physics and metaphysics and a predilection for the biological processes of life as the proper object of philosophical and religious inquiry.

The core of Maimonides5 philosophical system is the notion of God as the source of all processes of growth and development in the universe, that is, of all creative processes. The universe itself is the result of such a process ; for Maimonides understands the creation of the world as taught in the Bible to mean that the present constituted and fixed Being of the world is the result of a phase in which the universe was involved in a process of Becoming, of creative evolution. This is an eminently modern concept and a clear sign of the originality of Maimonides5 thought. But Maimonides stops, as it were, half-way : he applies the concept of evolution only to the phase of the universe preceding the actually constituted and formed universe which, apparently according to him, is no longer involved in the process of evolution. The dead weight of the ancient philosophy, which had no notion of true evolution, was too great for Maimonides and he was unable to overcome it.

Maimonides5 approach to the study of living beings is again modern. He equates Nature, the inner dynamic power which produces and maintains the entire scale of forms and degrees of life, with God, the Creator. The wisdom and design of the Creator are, indeed, manifest in the organization of the living body, with its co-ordination of organs and functions, and in the phenomena of growth from embryonic life to full development, in which the perfect adaptation of the changing living organism to the different conditions of environment and food can be observed. But the terms " wisdom and design 55 as predicated of God, the Creator, have, as Maimonides states with a deep and original insight, quite a different meaning from that given to them in ordinary usage. The reality of God and of His creation, namely the process of Life, cannot, according to Maimonides, be properly expressed

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