Friday, May 15, 2009

Rambam The Rationalist

Apparently there has been some confusion going around about whether Rambam was a mystic or a rationalist. So other than the numerous amounts of times that the Rambam uses scientific knowledge in The Guide for the Perplexed to prove things and says explicitly that his scientific knowledge was greater than that of the sages of the talmud I am going to bring some proofs, from the people that quote the Rambam himself, that prove he is a rationalist. I think quoting a third party's opinion that is not backed up by sources would be disingenuous. So here we go:

First off, here is a great article about this topic that I thought I posted a link to at freelance kiruv maniacs blog, but for some reason the right link did not appear. Here it is: Here are some excerpts from the article that bring proofs to Rambam being a rationalist:

"As Isadore Twersky has shown, Maimonides was also not averse to introducing scientific knowledge into his formulations of Jewish law, not only 'to integrate science, to relate a scientific vocabulary and axiology to rabbinic law, but also to recognize its autonomy and not to superimpose it on the structure and fabric of the halakha [Jewish law].' (See Twersky, 'Aspects of Maimonidean Epistemology: Halakha and Science,' in Neusner et al., eds., From Ancient Israel to Modern Judaism.)

Recognizing the legitimacy of knowledge outside Judaism is one thing; allowing it to contradict positions articulated by the rabbis is another. In one of the sciences, namely astronomy, Maimonides allowed the more recent knowledge of the scientists to supersede that of the rabbis.

He first acknowledged this possibility in commenting on a famous incident recorded in the Talmud (Pesahim 94b) of the rabbinic sages preferring the opinion of Gentile scholars on an astronomical matter (Guide of the Perplexed, 2:8)."

and the next part of the essay:

"Later, commenting on astronomical distances recorded in rabbinic literature, he was even more explicit: 'Do not ask of me to show that everything they [the rabbis] have said concerning astronomical matters conforms to the way things really are. For at that time mathematics was imperfect. They did not speak about this as transmitters of dicta of the prophets, but rather because in those times they were men of knowledge in these fields or because they had heard these dicta from the men of knowledge who lived in those times' (Guide of the Perplexed, 3:14)

He thus concluded that 'whenever it is possible to interpret the words of an individual [rabbi] in such a manner that they conform to a being whose existence has been demonstrated'--that is, that they conform to the scientific truth, as in the case of astronomical distances--it is fitting to do so. But if they cannot be so interpreted, rabbinic statements should be regarded as only individual opinions, not the halakhah, and therefore may be rejected (Ibid).

Maimonides' view that contemporary astronomical knowledge was superior to that found in the Talmud and should be accepted even when it contradicted the views of the rabbis was revolutionary. That he appears to limit its applicability to astronomy should be considered together with his epistemological stance vis-a-vis celestial physics and metaphysics."

Read the article, it is really good. Again, the link is listed above and is the correct link.

Also, at this link Eric Grossman points out an interesting argument between the Rambam and the Ramban: He says,

"Rambam, according to the methodology he sets forth in the Guide II:25 looks to Reason to determine that magic cannot be true: if the Torah seems to suggest otherwise, we must be misreading scripture, for Torah cannot deny Truth. In response, Ramban does not deny Reason, but avers instead that reality trumps Reason: even if logic would suggest that augury cannot exist, experience tells us that it does. In the Ramban’s own words, “... we cannot deny what has been demonstrated before the eyes!” The argument between the sages is therefore not reason versus tradition or even rationalism verses mysticism, but rationalism versus empiricism: Do we trust our minds to deduce reality, or do we trust our senses to induce Truth?"

This argument clearly reveals that the Rambam looked to reason for answers. Clearly the work of a rationalist. If not, then why would he choose reason over all else?

There are more proofs, but why bring an exhaustive list. All I am trying to do is point people in the right direction. To reveal that Rambam is not a mystic and that he is, in fact, a rationalist.

No comments: