A History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy
by Isaac Husik
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We have already referred more than once to the Talmudic expressions "Maase Bereshit" (Work of Creation) and "Maase Merkaba" (Work of the Chariot). Maimonides says definitely that the former denotes the science of physics, i. e., the fundamental notions of nature as treated in Aristotle's Physics, and the latter signifies metaphysics or theology, as represented in Aristotle's Metaphysics. The creation chapters in Genesis contain beneath their simple exterior of a generally intelligible narrative, appealing to young and old alike, women as well as children, a treatment of philosophical physics. And similarly in the obscure phraseology of the vision of Ezekiel in the first and tenth chapters of that prophet's book, are contained allusions to the most profound ideas of metaphysics and theology, concerning God and the separate Intelligences and the celestial spheres. As the Rabbis forbid teaching these profound doctrines except to one or two worthy persons at a time, and as the authors of those chapters in the Bible clearly intended to conceal the esoteric contents from the gaze of the vulgar, Maimonides with all his eagerness to spread abroad the light of reason and knowledge hesitates to violate the spirit of Bible and Talmud. His interpretations of these mystic passages are therefore expressed in allusions and half-concealed revelations. The diligent student of the "Guide," who is familiar with the philosophy of Aristotle as taught by the Arabs Alfarabi and Avicenna will be able without much difficulty to solve Maimonides's allusions, the casual reader will not. Without going into details it will suffice for our purpose to say that in the creation story Maimonides finds the Aristotelian doctrines of matter and form, of the four elements, of potentiality and actuality, of the different powers of the soul, of logical and ethical distinctions (the true and the false on one hand, the good and the bad on the other), and so on.[300] In the Vision of Ezekiel he sees the Peripatetic ideas of the celestial spheres, of their various motions, of their souls, their intellects and the separate Intelligences, of the Active Intellect, of the influence of the heavenly bodies on the changes in the sublunar world, of the fifth element (the ether) and so on.[301] Don Isaac Abarbanel has already criticized this attempt of Maimonides by justly arguing that if the meaning of the mysterious vision of Ezekiel is what Maimonides thinks it is, there was no occasion to wrap it in such obscurity, since the matter is plainly taught in all schools of philosophy.[302] We might, however, reply that no less a man than Plato expresses himself in the Timus in similarly obscure terms concerning the origin and formation of the world. Be this as it may, Munk is certainly right when he says that if, as is not improbable, Ezekiel's vision does contain cosmological speculations, they have nothing to do with the Aristotelian cosmology, but must be related to Babylonian theories.[303]

Another favorite book of the Bible for the exegesis of philosophers was the book of Job. In this Maimonides sees reflected the several views concerning Providence, divine knowledge and human freedom, which he enumerates (p. 290 ff.).[304]

The influence of Maimonides upon his contemporaries and immediate successors was indeed very great, and it was not confined to Judaism. Christian Scholastics and Mohammedan theologians studied and used the Guide of the Perplexed. Maimonides himself, it seems, though he wrote his "Guide" in the Arabic language, did not desire to make it accessible to the Mohammedans, fearing possibly that some of his doctrines concerning prophecy might be offensive to them. Hence he is said to have instructed his friends and disciples not to transliterate the Hebrew characters, which he in accordance with general Jewish usage employed in writing Arabic, into Arabic characters. But he was powerless to enforce his desire and there is no doubt that such transcriptions were in use. Samuel Tibbon himself, the Hebrew translator of the "Guide," made use of manuscript copies written in Arabic letters. We are told that in the Mohammedan schools in the city of Fez in Morocco, Jews were appointed to teach Maimonides's philosophy, and there is extant in Hebrew translation a commentary by a Mohammedan theologian on the twenty-five philosophical propositions laid down by Maimonides as the basis of his proof of the existence of God (p. 254).[305]

The influence of Maimonides on Christian scholasticism is still greater. We have already said (p. 199 f.) that the philosophical renaissance in Latin Europe during the thirteenth century was due to the introduction of the complete works of Aristotle in Latin translation. These translations were made partly from the Arabic versions of the Mohammedans, partly from the Greek originals, which became accessible after the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1207.[306] Before this time the scope of philosophical research and investigation in Christian Europe was limited, and its basis was the Platonism of St. Augustine and fragments of Aristotle's logic. In general Platonism was favorable to Christian dogma. Plato according to Augustine came nearest to Christianity of all the ancient Greek philosophers.[307] And the dangers to Church doctrine which lurked in philosophical discussion before the thirteenth century were a tendency to Pantheism on the part of thinkers imbued with the Neo-Platonic mode of thought, and an undue emphasis either on the unity of God as opposed to the Trinity (Ablard), or on the Trinity at the expense of the unity (Roscellinus of Compigne)—conclusions resulting from the attitudes of the thinkers in question on the nature of universals.

In the early part of the thirteenth century for the first time, the horizon of the Latin schoolmen was suddenly enlarged and brilliantly illumined by the advent of the complete Aristotle in his severe, exacting and rigorous panoply. All science and philosophy opened before the impoverished schoolmen, famished for want of new ideas. And they threw themselves with zeal and enthusiasm into the study of the new philosophy. The Church took alarm because the new Aristotle constituted a danger to accepted dogma. He taught the eternity of the world, the uniformity of natural law, the unity of the human intellect, denying by implication Providence and freedom and individual immortality. Some of these doctrines were not precisely those of Aristotle but they could be derived from Aristotelian principles if interpreted in a certain way; and the Arab intermediators between Aristotle and his Christian students had so interpreted him. Averroes in particular, who gained the distinction of being the commentator par excellence of Aristotle, was responsible for this mode of interpretation; and he had his followers among the Masters of Arts in the University of Paris. These and similar tendencies the Church was striving to prevent, and it attempted to do this at first crudely by prohibiting the study and teaching of the Physical and Metaphysical works of Aristotle. Failing in this the Papacy commissioned three representatives of the Dominican order to expurgate Aristotle in order to render him harmless. You might as well think of expurgating a book on geometry! The task was never carried out. But instead something more valuable for the welfare of the Church was accomplished in a different way. Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas undertook the study of Aristotle and the interpretation of his works with a view to harmonizing his teachings with the dogmas of Christianity. Albertus Magnus began the task, Thomas Aquinas, his greater disciple, the Maimonides of Christian philosophy, completed it. And in this undertaking Maimonides was Thomas Aquinas's model.[308]

The Guide of the Perplexed was translated into Latin not long after its composition.[309] Before Albertus Magnus, Alexander of Hales, the Franciscan leader, and William of Auvergne, the Bishop of Paris, had read and made use of Maimonides's philosophical masterpiece. Albertus Magnus was still more diligent in his adoption of Maimonidean views, or in taking account of them, where he is opposed to their adoption. But it remained for Thomas Aquinas, who made the most systematic attempt in the medival schools to harmonize the philosophy of Aristotle with the doctrine of the Church, to use Maimonides as his guide and model. Like Maimonides he employs Aristotelian proofs for the existence of God, proofs based on the eternity of motion; and like him Aquinas argues that if motion is not eternal and the world was made in time, the existence of God is still more readily evident. In his discussion of the divine attributes, of angels, of Providence, of Prophecy, of free will, of the ceremonial laws in the Pentateuch, Thomas Aquinas constantly takes account of Maimonides's views, whether he agrees with them or not. It is no doubt an exaggeration to say that there would have been no Aquinas if Maimonides had not preceded him. For Aquinas had access to the works of Aristotle and his Arabian commentators, the former of whom he studied more diligently than Maimonides himself. But there is no doubt that the method of harmonizing Aristotelian doctrine with traditional teaching so far as the common elements of Judaism and Christianity were concerned was suggested to Aquinas by his Jewish predecessor. It is not our province here to go into details of the system of Aquinas to show wherein he agrees or disagrees with Maimonides, nor is it possible to do more than mention the fact that after Aquinas also, Duns Scotus, the head of the Franciscan school, had the "Guide" before him, and in comparatively modern times, such celebrities as Scaliger and Leibnitz speak of the Jewish philosopher with admiration and respect.[310]

That Maimonides's influence upon Jewish theology and thought was deep and lasting is a truism. The attitude of the prominent theologians and philosophers who succeeded him will appear in the sequel in connection with our treatment of the post-Maimonidean writers. Here a word must be said of the general effect of Maimonides's teaching upon Jews and Judaism throughout the dispersion. His fame as the greatest Jew of his time—great as a Talmudical authority, which appealed to all classes of Jewish students, great as a physician with the added glory of being a favorite at court, great as the head of the Jewish community in the East, and finally great as a philosopher and scientist—all these qualifications, never before or after united in the same way in any other man, served to make him the cynosure of all eyes and to make his word an object of notice and attention throughout the Jewish diaspora. What he said or wrote could not be ignored whether people liked it or not. They could afford to ignore a Gabirol even, or an Ibn Daud. But Maimonides must be reckoned with. The greater the man, the greater the alertness of lesser, though not less independent, spirits, to guard against the enslavement of all Judaism to one authority, no matter how great. And in particular where this authority erred in boldly adopting views in disagreement with Jewish tradition, as it seemed to many, and in setting up a new source of truth alongside of, or even above, the revelation of the Torah and the authority of tradition, to which these latter must be bent whether they will or no—his errors must be strenuously opposed and condemned without fear or favor. This was the view of the traditionalists, whose sole authorities in all matters of theology and related topics were the words of Scripture and Rabbinic literature as tradition had interpreted them. On the other hand, the rationalistic development during the past three centuries, which we have traced thus far, and the climax of that progress as capped by Maimonides was not without its influence on another class of the Jewish community, particularly in Spain and southern France; and these regarded Maimonides as the greatest teacher that ever lived. Their admiration was unbounded for his personality as well as his method and his conclusions. His opponents were regarded as obscurantists, who, rather than the object of their attack, were endangering Judaism. All Jewry was divided into two camps, the Maimunists and the anti-Maimunists; and the polemic and the struggle between them was long and bitter. Anathema and counter anathema, excommunication and counter excommunication was the least of the matter. The arm of the Church Inquisition was invoked, and the altar of a Parisian Church furnished the torch which set on flame the pages of Maimonides's "Guide" in the French capital. More tragic even was the punishment meted out to the Jewish informers who betrayed their people to the enemy. The men responsible had their tongues cut out.

The details of the Maimunist controversy belong to the general historian.[311] Our purpose here is to indicate in brief outline the general effect which the teaching of Maimonides had upon his and subsequent ages. The thirteenth century produced no great men in philosophy at all comparable to Moses Ben Maimon or his famous predecessors. The persecutions of the Jews in Spain led many of them to emigrate to neighboring countries, which put an end to the glorious era inaugurated three centuries before by Hasdai Ibn Shaprut. The centre of Jewish liberal studies was transferred to south France, but the literary activities there were a pale shadow compared with those which made Jewish Spain famous. Philosophical thought had reached its perigee in Maimonides, and what followed after was an attempt on the part of his lesser disciples and successors to follow in the steps of their master, to extend his teachings, to make them more widespread and more popular. With the transference of the literary centre from Spain to Provence went the gradual disuse of Arabic as the medium of philosophic and scientific culture, and the age of translation made its appearance. Prior to, and including, Maimonides all the Jewish thinkers whom we have considered, with the exception of Abraham Bar Hiyya and Abraham Ibn Ezra, wrote their works in Arabic. After Maimonides Hebrew takes the place of Arabic, and in addition to the new works composed, the commentaries on the "Guide" which were now written in plenty and the philosophico-exegetical works on the Bible in the Maimonidean spirit, the ancient classics of Saadia, Bahya, Gabirol, Halevi, Ibn Zaddik, Ibn Daud and Maimonides himself had to be translated from Arabic into Hebrew. In addition to these religio-philosophical works, it was necessary to translate those writings which contained the purely scientific and philosophical branches that were preliminary to the study of religious philosophy. This included logic, the various branches of mathematics and astronomy, medical treatises and some of the books of the Aristotelian corpus with the Arabic compendia and commentaries thereon. The grammatical and lexical treatises of Hayyuj and Ibn Janah were also translated. The most famous of the host of translators, which the need of the times brought forth, were the three Tibbonides, Judah (1120-1190), Samuel (1150-1230) and Moses (fl. 1240-1283), Jacob Anatoli (fl. 1194-1256), Shemtob Falaquera (1225-1290), Jacob Ben Machir (1236-1304), Moses of Narbonne (d. after 1362), and others. Some of these wrote original works besides. Samuel Ibn Tibbon wrote a philosophical treatise, "Ma'amar Yikkawu ha-Mayim,"[312] and commentaries in the Maimonidean vein on Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. His greater fame rests on his translation of the "Guide of the Perplexed." He translated besides Maimonides's "Letter on Resurrection," the "Eight Chapters," and other Arabic writings on science and philosophy. Moses Ibn Tibbon was prolific as an original writer as well as a translator. Joseph Ibn Aknin (1160-1226), the favorite pupil of Maimonides, for whom the latter wrote his "Guide," is the author of treatises on philosophical topics, and of exegetical works on certain books of the Bible and on the Mishnic treatise, the "Ethics of the Fathers."[312a] Jacob Anatoli, in addition to translating Ptolemy's Almagest and Averroes's commentaries on Aristotle's logic, wrote a work, "Malmad ha-Talmidim," on philosophical homiletics in the form of a commentary on the Pentateuch.[313] Shemtob Falaquera, the translator of portions of Gabirol's "Fons Vit,"[314] is the author of a commentary on the "Guide," entitled "Moreh ha-Moreh,"[315] and of a number of ethical and psychological works.[316] Jacob Ben Machir translated a number of scientific and philosophical works, particularly on astronomy, and is likewise the author of two original works on astronomy. Joseph Ibn Caspi (1297-1340) was a very prolific writer, having twenty-nine works to his credit, most of them exegetical, and among them a commentary on the "Guide."[317] Moses of Narbonne wrote an important commentary on the "Guide,"[318] and is likewise the author of a number of works on the philosophy of Averroes, of whom he was a great admirer. The translations of Judah Ibn Tibbon, the father of translators as he has been called, go back indeed to the latter half of the twelfth century, and Abraham Ibn Ezra translated an astronomical work as early as 1160. But the bulk of the work of translation is the product of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The result of these translations was that scientific and philosophical works became accessible to all those who knew Hebrew instead of being confined to the lands of Arabian culture. Another effect was the enlargement of the Hebrew language and the development of a new Hebrew dialect with a philosophical and scientific terminology. These translations so far as they relate to pure science and philosophy were neglected in the closing centuries of the middle ages, when conditions among the Jews were such as precluded them from taking an interest in any but purely religious studies. Continuous persecutions, the establishment of the Ghettoes, the rise of the Kabbala and the opposition of the pietists and mystics to the rationalism of the philosophers all tended to the neglect of scientific study and to the concentration of all attention upon the Biblical, Rabbinic and mystical literature. The Jews at the close of the middle ages and the beginning of modern times withdrew into their shell, and the science and learning of the outside had little effect on them. Hence, and also for the reason that with the beginning of modern times all that was medival was, in the secular world, relegated, figuratively speaking, to the ash-heap, or literally speaking to the mouldering dust of the library shelves—for both of these reasons the very large number of the translations above mentioned were never printed, and they are still buried on the shelves of the great European libraries, notably of the British Museum, the national library of Paris, the Bodleian of Oxford, the royal library of Munich, and others. The reader who wishes to have an idea of the translating and commenting activity of the Jews in the thirteenth and following centuries in the domains of logic, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, medicine and folklore is referred to the monumental work of the late Moritz Steinschneider, the prince of Hebrew Bibliographers, "Die Hebrischen Uebersetzungen des Mittelalters und die Juden als Dolmetscher," (The Hebrew translations of the middle ages, and the Jews as dragomen) Berlin, 1893, containing 1077 pages of lexicon octavo size devoted to brief enumerations and descriptions of extant editions and manuscripts of the translations referred to.[319]



In the post-Maimonidean age all philosophical thinking is in the nature of a commentary on Maimonides whether avowedly or not. The circle of speculation and reflection is complete. It is fixed by the "Guide of the Perplexed," and the efforts of those who followed Maimonides are to elaborate in his spirit certain special topics which are treated in his masterpiece in a summary way. In the case of the more independent thinkers like Levi ben Gerson we find the further attempt to carry out more boldly the implications of the philosophical point of view, which, as the latter thought, Maimonides left implicit by reason of his predisposition in favor of tradition. Hasdai Crescas went still farther and entirely repudiated the authority of Aristotle, substituting will and emotion for rationalism and logical inference. Not knowledge of God as logically demonstrated is the highest aim of man, but love of God. But even in his opposition Crescas leans on Maimonides's principles, which he takes up one by one and refutes. Maimonides was thus the point of departure for his more rigorous followers as well as for his opponents. In the matter of external sources philosophical reflection after Maimonides was enriched in respect to details by the works of Averroes on the Arabic side and those of the chief Christian scholastics among the Latin writers. Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas furnished some material to men like Hillel of Verona in the thirteenth century and Don Isaac Abarbanel in the fifteenth. Maimonides was limited to the Aristotelian expositions of Alfarabi and Avicenna. The works of Averroes, his contemporary, he did not read until toward the end of his life. After his death Averroes gained in prestige and influence until he succeeded in putting into the shade his Arabian predecessors and was regarded by Jew and Christian alike as the Commentator of Aristotle par excellence. His works were rapidly translated into Hebrew and Latin, and the Jewish writers learned their Aristotle from Averroes. The knowledge of the Arabic language was gradually disappearing among the Jews of Europe, and they were indebted for their knowledge of science and philosophy to the works translated. Philosophy was declining among the Arabs themselves owing to the disfavor of the powers that be, and many of the scientific writings of the Arabs owe their survival to the Hebrew translations or transcriptions in Hebrew characters which escaped the proscription of the Mohammedan authorities.

The one problem that came to the front as a result of Averroes's teaching, and which by the solution he gave it formed an important subject of debate in the Parisian schools of the thirteenth century, was that of the intellect in man, whether every individual had his own immortal mind which would continue as an individual entity after the death of the body, or whether a person's individuality lasted only as long as he was alive, and with his death the one human intellect alone survived. This was discussed in connection with the general theory of the intellect and the three kinds of intellect that were distinguished by the Arabian Aristotelians, the material, the acquired and the active. The problem goes back to Aristotle's psychology, who distinguishes two intellects in man, passive and active (above, p. xxxvi). But the treatment there is so fragmentary and vague that it gave rise to widely varying interpretations by the Greek commentators of Aristotle, Alexander of Aphrodisias and Themistius, as well as among the Arabs, Alfarabi, Avicenna and Averroes. The latter insisted on the unity of the intellect for the human race, thereby destroying individual immortality, and this Averroistic doctrine, adopted by some Masters of Arts at the University of Paris, was condemned among other heresies, and refuted in the writings of Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas. Maimonides does not discuss these problems in detail in his "Guide." He drops a remark incidentally here and there, and it would appear that for him too, as for Averroes, the intellect when in separation from the body is not subject to individual distinction, that there cannot be several human intellects, since matter is the principle of individuation and the immaterial cannot embrace a number of individuals of the same species.[320] The problem of immortality he does not treat ex professo in the "Guide." Hence this was a matter taken up by his successors. Hillel ben Samuel as well as Levi ben Gerson discuss this question in detail.

Hillel ben Samuel does not tower as a giant in medival Jewish literature. His importance is local, as being the first devotee of Jewish learning and philosophy in Italy in the middle of the thirteenth century, at the close of a period of comparative ignorance. The Italian Jews before his time contributed little to knowledge and learning despite their external circumstances, which were more favorable than in some other countries. Hillel ben Samuel (1220-1295) was a strong admirer of Maimonides and undertook to comment on the "Guide of the Perplexed." He defended Maimonides against the aspersions of his opponents, and was so confident in the truth of his master's teachings that he proposed a conference of the learned men of Jewry to judge the works and doctrines of Maimonides and to decide whether the "Guide" should be allowed to live or should be destroyed. Another interest attaching to Hillel ben Samuel is that he was among the first, if not the first Jew who by his knowledge of Latin had access to the writings of the scholastics, to whom he refers in his "Tagmule ha-Nefesh" (The Rewards of the Soul) as the "wise men of the nations." He was also active as a translator from the Latin.

His chief work, which entitles him to brief notice here, is the "Tagmule ha-Nefesh" just mentioned.[321] He does not offer us a system of philosophy, but only a treatment of certain questions relating to the nature of the soul, its immortality and the manner of its existence after the death of the body, questions which Maimonides passes over lightly. With the exception of the discussion relating to the three kinds of intellect and the question of the unity of the acquired intellect for all mankind, there is not much that is new or remarkable in the discussion, and we can afford to pass it by with a brief notice.

Men of science know, he tells us in the introduction, that the valuable possession of man is the soul, and the happiness thereof is the final purpose of man's existence. And yet the number of those who take pains to investigate the nature of the soul is very small, not even one in a hundred. And even the few who do undertake to examine this subject are hindered by various circumstances from arriving at the truth. The matter itself is difficult and requires long preparation and preliminary knowledge. Then the vicissitudes of life and the shortness of its duration, coupled with the natural indolence of man when it comes to study, completely account for the lack of true knowledge on this most important topic.

Induced by these considerations Hillel ben Samuel undertook to collect the scattered notices in the extensive works of the philosophers and arranged and expounded them briefly so as not to discourage those who are in search of wisdom. His purpose is the knowledge of truth, which is an end in itself. He desires to explain the existence of the soul, its nature and reward. The soul is that which makes man man, hence we should know the nature of that which makes us intelligent creatures, else we do not deserve the name.

Another reason for the importance of knowing the nature of the soul is that error in this matter may lead to more serious mistakes in other departments of knowledge and belief. Thus if a man who calls himself pious assumes that the soul after parting from the body is subject to corporeal reward and punishment, as appears from a literal rendering of passages in Bible and Talmud, he will be led to think that the soul itself is corporeal. And since the soul, it is believed, comes from on high, the upper world must have bodies and definite places, and hence the angels too are bodies. But since the angels are emanations from the divine splendor, God too is body! Thus you see how serious are the consequences of a belief, in itself perhaps not so dangerous, as that of the corporeality of the soul.[322]

We must first prove the existence of the soul. This can be shown in various ways. We see that of natural bodies some take food, grow, propagate their like, while others, like stones, do not do these things. This shows that the powers and functions mentioned cannot be due to the corporeal part of the objects performing them, else stones, too, would have those powers, as they are also corporeal like the rest. There must therefore be a different principle, not body, which is responsible for those activities. We call it soul.

As all existents are divided into substance and accident, the soul must be either the one or the other. Now an accident, according to Aristotle, is that which may be or not be without causing the being or destruction of the object in which it is. But the body cannot be a living body without the soul. Hence the soul is not an accident; it is therefore a substance. Substance may be corporeal or incorporeal. The soul cannot be a corporeal substance, for all body is divisible, and subject to motion and change, whereas the soul, as will be shown later, is not movable, not changeable and not divisible. It might seem that the soul is subject to motion, since it descends into the body and rises again when it leaves the body. But this is not so. Descent and ascent when thus applied to the soul are metaphorical. The union of soul and body is not a spatial relation. The upper world from which the soul comes is not corporeal, hence there is no such thing as place there, nor anything limited by space. Hence the coming of the soul from the spiritual world and its return thither are not motions at all. The relation of the soul to the body is as that of form to matter, as Aristotle says.

Granted that the soul's union with and separation from the body are not motions, is not the soul subject to motion while in the body? Hillel's answer is that it is not, and he proves his point in the prescribed fashion by making use of Aristotle's classification of motion into (1) genesis and (2) decay, (3) increase and (4) diminution, (5) qualitative change and (6) motion proper, or motion of translation. He then undertakes to show that the soul can have none of the kinds of motion here enumerated. The arguments offer nothing striking or interesting, and we can afford to omit them. It is worth while, however, to refer to his interpretation of emotion. The passage of the soul from joy to grief, from anger to favor, might seem to be a kind of motion. Hillel answers this objection by saying that these emotions do not pertain to the soul as such. Their primary cause is the state of mixture of the humors in the body, which affects certain corporeal powers in certain ways; and the soul shares in these affections only so far as it is united with the body. In its own nature the soul has no emotions.

We can also prove that the soul is not divisible. For a divisible thing must have parts. Now if the soul is divided or divisible, this means either that every part of the soul, no matter how small, has the same powers as the whole, or that the powers of the soul are the resultant of the union of the parts. The first alternative is impossible, for it leads us to the absurd conclusion that instead of one soul every person has an infinite number of souls, or at least a great number of souls. The second alternative implies that while the soul is not actually divided, since its powers are the summation of the parts, which form a unit, it is potentially divisible. But this signifies that at some time this potential divisibility will be realized (or potentiality would be vain and meaningless) and we are brought back to the absurdity of a multiplicity of souls in the human body.

Having shown that the soul is not movable, changeable or divisible, we are certain of its incorporeality, and we are ready to give a definition of the soul. Hillel accordingly defines the soul as "a stage of emanation, consisting of a formal substance, which subsists through its own perfection, and occupies the fourth place in the emanatory process, next to the Active Intellect. Its ultimate source is God himself, who is the ultimate perfection and the Good, and it emanates from him indirectly through the mediation of the separate Powers standing above it in the scale of emanation. The soul constitutes the first entelechy of a natural body."[323]

The above definition is interesting. It shows that Hillel did not clearly distinguish the Aristotelian standpoint from the Neo-Platonic, for in the definition just quoted, the two points of view are combined. That all medival Aristotelianism was tinged with Neo-Platonism, especially in the doctrine of the Active Intellect, is well known. But in Hillel's definition of the soul we have an extreme form of this peculiar combination, and it represents a step backward to the standpoint of Pseudo-Bahya and Ibn Zaddik. The work of Ibn Daud and Maimonides in the interest of a purer Aristotelianism seems not to have enlightened Hillel. The Neo-Platonic emanation theory is clearly enunciated in Hillel's definition. The soul stands fourth in the series. The order he has in mind is probably (1) God, (2) Separate Intelligences, (3) Active Intellect, (4) Soul. We know that Hillel was a student of the Neo-Platonic "Liber de Causis" (cf. above, p. xx), having translated some of it into Hebrew, and he might have imbibed his Neo-Platonism from that Proclean book.

Continuing the description of the soul in man, he says that the noblest part of matter, viz., the human body, is endowed with the rational soul, and becomes the subject of the powers of the latter. Thereby it becomes a man, i. e., a rational animal, distinguished from all other animals, and similar to the nature of the angels.

The Active Intellect causes its light to emanate upon the rational soul, thus bringing its powers out into actuality. The Active Intellect, which is one of the ten degrees of angels, is related to the rational power in man as the sun to the power of sight. The sun gives light, which changes the potentially seeing power into actually seeing, and the potentially visible object into the actually visible. Moreover, this same light enables the sight to see the sun itself, which is the cause of the actualization in the sight. So the Active Intellect gives something to the rational power which is related to it as light to the sight; and by means of this something the rational soul can see or understand the Active Intellect itself. Also the potentially intelligible objects become through this influence actually intelligible, and the man who was potentially intelligent becomes thereby actually intelligent.

Intellect ("sekel") in man is distinguished from wisdom ("hokmah"). By the former power is meant an immediate understanding of abstract principles. The latter is mediate understanding. Wisdom denotes speculation about universals through inference from particulars. Intellect applies directly to the universals and to their influence upon the particulars.[324]

Hillel next discusses the live topic of the day, made popular by Averroes, namely, whether there are in essence as many individual souls as there are human bodies, or, as Averroes thought, there is only one universal soul, and that its individualizations in different men are only passing incidents, due to the association of the universal soul with the human body, and disappear when the body dies. The "sages of the Gentiles," Hillel tells us, regard Averroes's notion as heretical, and leading besides to the absurd conclusion that the same soul is both rewarded and punished; a view which upsets all religion. Averroes employs a number of arguments to prove his point, among them being the following. If there are many souls, they are either all existing from eternity or they are created with the body. The first is impossible, for since the soul is a form of the body, we should have actually an infinite number of forms, and this would necessitate the actual existence of an infinite number of bodies also; else the existence of these souls for the purpose of joining the bodies would be in vain. But it is absurd to suppose that there has been from eternity an infinite number of bodies created like the number of souls, and yet they have not become real bodies with souls until now.

The second alternative is also impossible. For if there are many souls which came into being with the bodies, they either came from nothing or from something. From nothing is impossible, for nothing comes from nothing except by way of creation, which is a miracle; and we do not believe in miracles unless we have to. That they came from something is also impossible; for this something can be neither matter nor form. It cannot be matter, for form, the actual and superior, cannot come from the potential and inferior. It cannot be form, for then form would proceed from form by way of genesis and dissolution, which is not true. Matter is the cause of generation and dissolution, not form. We are thus forced to the conclusion that the soul is one and eternal, one in substance and number; and that it becomes many only per accidens, by virtue of the multiplicity of its receiving subjects, comparable to the light of the one sun, which divides into many rays.

The Bible cannot help us to decide this question, for its expressions can be interpreted either way. Hillel then undertakes to adjudicate between the contending views by striking a compromise. He feels that he is contributing to the solution of an important problem by an original suggestion, which he says is to be found nowhere else expressed with such clearness and brevity.

Here again Hillel's Neo-Platonic tendencies are in evidence. For he assumes both a universal soul and a great number of individual souls emanating from it in a descending series. The objection that forms cannot come from other forms by way of generation and dissolution, Hillel says, is not valid, for no such process is here involved. Generation and dissolution is peculiar to the action of body upon body, which is by contact. A spiritual form acts upon other forms not through contact, because it is not limited by time or place. We know concerning the Intelligences that each comes from the one previous to it by way of emanation, and the same thing applies to the issue of many human souls from the one universal soul. After death the rational part of every soul remains; that part which every soul receives from the Active Intellect through the help of the possible or material intellect, and which becomes identified with the Active and separate Intellect. This is the part which receives reward and punishment, whereas the one universal soul from which they all emanate is a divine emanation, and is not rewarded or punished.[325]

We must now discuss further the nature of the three grades of intellect. For this it will be necessary to lay down three preliminary propositions.

1. There must be an intellect whose relation to the material intellect is the same as that of the object of sense perception is to the sense. This means that just as there must be a real and actual object to arouse the sense faculty to perceive, so there must be an actual intelligible object to stir the rational power to comprehend.

2. It follows from 1 that as the material sense has the power of perceiving the sensible object, so the material intellect has the power of perceiving this other intellect.

3. If it has this power, this must at some time be realized in actu. Therefore at some time the material intellect is identified with the other intellect, which is the Active Intellect.

We must now prove 1. This is done as follows: We all know that we are potentially intelligent, and it takes effort and pains and study to become actually intelligent. In fact the process of intellection has to pass several stages from sense perception through imagination. Now our intellect cannot make itself pass from potentiality to actuality. Hence there must be something else as agent producing this change; and this agent must be actually what it induces in us. Hence it is an active intellect.

The material intellect has certain aspects in common with the sense faculty, and in certain aspects it differs. It is similar to it in being receptive and not active. But the mode of receptivity is different in the two. As the intellect understands all forms, it cannot be a power residing in a body in the sense of extending through it and being divided with the division of the body, as we see in some of the powers of sense. This we can prove as follows:

1. If the intellect were receptive in the same manner as the senses, it would receive only a definite kind of form, as for example the sense of sight does not receive taste.

2. If the intellect were a power in body and had a special form, it could not receive that form, just as for example if the eye were colored, it could not perceive colors.

3. If the intellect were a corporeal power, it would be affected by its object and injured by a powerful stimulus, as is the case in the senses of sight and hearing. A dazzling light injures the eye, a deafening noise injures the ear, so that thereafter neither sense can perform its normal function properly. This is not true with the intellect. An unusually difficult subject of thought does not injure the intellect.

4. If the intellect were similar in its activity to sense perception, it would not be self-conscious, as the sense faculties cannot perceive themselves.

5. The intellect, if it were like sense, would not be able to comprehend a thing and its opposite at the same time, or it would do so in a confused manner, as is the case in the powers of sense.

6. The intellect perceives universals; the sense, particulars.

This being the case, there is a difference of opinion as to the nature of the material intellect. Some say that it has no definite nature in itself except that of possibility and capacity, though it is different from other possibilities in this respect that it is not resident in, and dependent upon a material subject like the others. That is why Aristotle says that the material intellect is not anything before it intellects; that it is in its essence potential with reference to the intelligibilia, and becomes actual when it understands them actually.

Themistius says it is not any of the existents actually, but a potential essence receiving material forms. Its nature is analogous to that of prime matter; hence it is called material intellect. It is best to call it possible intellect. Being a potential existent it is not subject to generation and dissolution any more than prime matter.

Alexander of Aphrodisias thinks the material intellect is only a capacity, i. e., a power in the soul, and appears when the soul enters the body, hence is not eternal a parte ante.

Averroes holds that the possible intellect is a separate substance, and that the capacity is something it has by virtue of its being connected with the body as its subject. Hence this capacity is neither entirely distinct from it nor is it identical with it. According to him the possible intellect is not a part of the soul.

Which of these views is correct, says Hillel, requires discussion, but it is clear that whichever of these we adopt there is no reason opposing the conjunction of the possible intellect with the Active. For if it is an eternal substance, potential in its nature, like primary matter, then it becomes actual when it understands the intelligible objects. The same is true if it is a capacity residing in the soul.

Hillel is thus of the opinion in this other question debated in those days, whether the intellect of man is capable of conjunction during life with the angelic Active Intellect, that it is. The Active Intellect, he says, in actualizing the material intellect influences it not in the manner of one body acting upon another, i. e., in the manner of an efficient or material cause, but rather as its formal or final cause, leading it to perfection. It is like the influence which the separate Intelligences receive from one another, the influence of emanation, and not a material influence comparable to generation. This reception of influence from the Active Intellect on the part of the potential is itself conjunction. It means that the agent and the thing acted upon become one, and the same substance and species. The material intellect becomes a separate substance when it can understand itself.[326]

Before taking up the more theological problem of reward and punishment, he devotes the last section of the theoretical part of his book to a discussion of the relation of the possible or material intellect to the rest of the human soul. This problem also arose from Averroes's interpretation of the Aristotelian psychology, and is closely related to the other one of the unity of the human intellect. It is needless for us to enter into the technical details which are a weariness to the flesh of the modern student, but it is worth while to state briefly the motives underlying the opposing views. Averroes, who had no theological scruples, interpreted Aristotle to mean that the part of the soul which was intimately associated with the body as its form, constituting an indissoluble organism in conjunction with it, embraced its lower faculties of sense, imagination and the more concrete types of judgment. These are so intimately bound up with the life of the body that they die with its death. The reason on the other hand, which has to do with immaterial ideas, or intelligibles as they called them, is eternal and is not the form of the body. It is a unitary immaterial substance and is not affected by the life or death of the body. To be sure it comes in contact with the human soul during the life of the body, thus bringing into existence an individualized human reason as a passing episode. But this individualized phase of the intellect's life is dependent upon the body and ceases when the body dies, or is reabsorbed in the universal intellect.

The theological implications of this view were that if there is any reward and punishment after death, it would either have to be administered to the lower faculties of the soul, which would have to be made immortal for the purpose, or if the rational soul is the subject of retribution, this cannot affect the individual, as there is no individual rational soul. Hence the Christian opponents of Averroes, like Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas (Hillel speaks of them here as the "Religionists," or the "Sages who believe in religion"), endeavored to vindicate for the Aristotelian definition of the soul as the form of the body, also the rational part, thus maintaining the view that the reason too has an individual existence both during life and after death. Thomas Aquinas, as a truer interpreter of Aristotle, goes so far as to maintain that the Active Intellect itself is also a part of the human soul, and not one of the angelic separate Intelligences. Neither Maimonides nor Hillel ben Samuel, nor any other Jewish philosopher was able to depart so widely from their Arabian masters or to undertake an independent study of Aristotle's text, as to come to a similar conclusion. Hence the Active Intellect in Jewish Philosophy is unanimously held to be the last of the Angelic substances, and the proximate inspirer of the prophet. The discussion therefore in Hillel's work concerns the possible intellect, and here he ventures to disagree with Averroes and decides in favor of the possible intellect as a part of the soul and the subject of reward and punishment.[327]

Concerning the nature of reward and punishment after death opinions are divided. Some think that both reward and punishment are corporeal. Some say reward is spiritual, punishment is corporeal; while a small number are of the opinion that both are spiritual. Hillel naturally agrees with the latter and gives reasons for his opinion. If the soul, as was shown before, is incorporeal, immaterial and a formal substance, it cannot be influenced by corporeal treatment. For corporeal influence implies motion on the part of agent and patient, and the pervasion of the influence of the former through the parts of the latter; whereas a spiritual substance has no parts. Besides, if reward and punishment are corporeal, and Paradise is to be taken literally, then why separate the soul from the body, why not reward the living person with eternal life and give him the enjoyment of paradise while on earth? The effect would be much greater upon the rest of mankind, who would see how the righteous fare and the wicked. The objection that this would make people mercenary does not hold, for they are mercenary in any case, since they expect reward; whether in this life or in the next makes no difference. Reward must therefore be spiritual, and so must punishment, since the two go together.[328]

When God in his kindness favored the human race by giving them a soul, which he united with the body, he also gave them the possibility of attaining eternal happiness. For this purpose he arranged three grades of ascent, viz., the three intellects spoken of above, the material or possible intellect, the acquired intellect (this is the actual functioning of the possible intellect and the result thereof) and the active intellect. The second intellect is partly speculative or theoretical and partly practical. The theoretical intellect studies and contemplates all intelligible existents which are separate from matter. There is nothing practical in this contemplation, it is just the knowledge of existents and their causes. This is called the science of truth, and is the most important part of philosophy.

The practical intellect is again divided into the cogitative and the technological. The former decides whether a thing should be done or not, and discriminates between the proper and the improper in human actions and qualities. It is important as a guide to the happiness of the soul because it instructs the appetitive power in reference to those things which are subject to the will, and directs it to aim at the good and to reject the evil.

The technological intellect is that by which man learns arts and trades. The practical intellect is also theoretical in the sense that it has to think in order to discriminate between the proper and the improper, and between the beneficial and injurious in all things pertaining to practice. The difference between the speculative and practical intellects is in the respective objects of their comprehension, and hence is accidental and not essential. The objects of the theoretical intellect are the true and the false; of the practical, the good and the bad. The acquired intellect gives these intelligibles to the soul through the possible intellect, and is intermediate between the latter and the Active Intellect, which is one of the separate Intelligences above soul. The Active Intellect watches over the rational animal that he may attain to the happiness which his nature permits.

Men differ according to their temperamental composition and their human conduct. This leads to differences in the power of understanding and in the amount of influence received from the Active Intellect. Hillel quotes Maimonides in support of his view that the prophetic stage is an emanation of glory from God through the medium of the Active Intellect, which exerts its influence upon the rational power and upon the imagination, so that the prophet sees his vision objectified extra animam. The three conditions requisite for prophecy are perfection in theory, perfection in imagination and perfection in morals. The first without the second and third produces a philosopher; the second without the first and third gives rise to a statesman or magician.

It is important to know, he tells us, that the cultivation of the reason and imagination alone is not sufficient. Practice of the commandments is very important. Hence a man must guide properly the two powers of sense perception and desire, which are instruments of the rational power. For, as Maimonides says in his commentary on Aboth (cf. p. 282), all observance and violation of the commandments, good and bad qualities depend upon those two powers. Without a proper training of these the influence of the active intellect upon the reason and imagination may lead to evil.

Beginning with sense perception a man must train all his five senses to attend only to what is good and to turn away from evil. When he satisfies his sensuous desires, he must do this in order to preserve his body that he may be enabled to serve God in the best possible way.

The same applies to the power of desire. This is the power which directs one to pursue the agreeable and shun the disagreeable. From it proceed also courage, confidence, anger, good will, joy, sorrow, humility, pride. All these qualities must be used in the service of God. If a man do this, he will attain the grade of an angelic being even during life, and will be able to perform miracles like the prophets and the sages of the Talmud.

After death the souls of such men reach even a higher degree than they had before entering the body, as a reward for not allowing themselves to be degraded by their corporeal desires, but on the contrary directing these to higher aims.[329]

As for the nature of reward and punishment more particularly, we may say that the soul of the wicked loses all the glory promised to her and descends to a position lower than was hers originally. She is expelled from the land of life and remains in darkness forever, without returning to her original station. Knowing what she has lost, she will feel continuous distress, sorrow and fear, for the power of imagination remains with the soul after death. But there is no physical burning with fire. On the other hand, the soul of the righteous will return to God.

The doctrine of the resurrection and the explanation for it are a further proof that the soul after death is not punished corporeally. The motive of the resurrection is that the soul and body may receive their compensation together as in life. If then the retribution of the soul is corporeal, there is no need of resurrection.[330]

Hillel then proceeds to show that the words of the Rabbis which seem to speak for corporeal retribution are not to be taken literally. In this connection it is worth while to reproduce his classification of the contents of the Talmud and his attitude toward them. He enumerates six classes.

1. Passages in the Talmudic and Midrashic literature which must be taken literally. These are the discussions of the Halaka (the legal and ceremonial portions). To pervert these from their literal meaning, or to maintain that the intention of the law is the important thing and not the practice of the ceremony, is heresy and infidelity; though it is meritorious to seek for an explanation of every law, as the Rabbis themselves do in many instances.

2. Passages which should be understood as parables and allegories with a deeper meaning. These are the peculiar Haggadahs, or the strange interpretations of Biblical verses where no ceremonial precept is involved.

3. Statements similar to those of the Prophetical books of the Bible, which were the result of the influence of the Active Intellect and came to the sages in a dream or in the waking state, speaking of the future in an allegorical manner. These are the extraordinary tales found in the Talmud, which cannot be understood literally, as they involve a violation of the order of nature; and no miracle must be believed unless for a very important reason.

4. The homilies addressed to the people on the occasion of holidays for the purpose of exhorting them to divine worship and observance of the Law. Many of these are hyperbolical in their expression, especially in the promises concerning the future blessings in store for the people. These were in the nature of encouragement to the people to make their burdens easier to bear. Here belong also unusual interpretations of Biblical verses, explanations which do not give the original meaning of the verse in question, but are suggested in order to interest the people. We must add, too, stories of the good things that came to pious people in return for their piety. These must be taken for the most part literally, unless they are clearly improbable.

5. Jokes and jests by way of relief from the strain of study. Hyperboles belong here.

6. Narratives of miracles done for pious people, such as reviving the dead, punishing with death by means of a word, bringing down rain, and so on. All these must be taken literally. To disbelieve is heresy. This is true only where the alleged miracles were done for a high purpose, otherwise we need not believe them.

The reason the Bible and the Talmud express themselves in corporeal terms concerning reward and punishment is in order to frighten the people and to impress them with the terrible punishment consequent upon wrongdoing. The people do not understand any reward and punishment unless it is physical and corporeal. In reality spiritual existence is more real than physical.[331]



Among the men who devoted themselves to philosophical investigation in the century and a half after Maimonides's death, the greatest and most independent was without doubt Levi ben Gerson or Gersonides, as he is also called. There were others who were active as commentators, translators and original writers, and who achieved a certain fame, but their work was too little original to merit more than very brief notice in these pages. Isaac Albalag[331a] (second half of thirteenth century) owes what reputation he enjoys to the boldness with which he enunciated certain doctrines, such as the eternity of the world and particularly the notion, well enough known among the Averroists of the University of Paris at that time and condemned by the Church, but never before announced or defended in Jewish philosophy—the so-called doctrine of the twofold truth. This was an attitude assumed in self-defence, sincerely or not as the case may be, by a number of scholastic writers, who advanced philosophic views at variance with the dogma of the Church. They maintained that a given thesis might be true and false at the same time, true for philosophy and false for theology, or vice versa.[332] Shem Tob Falaquera (1225-1290) is a more important man than Albalag. He was a thorough student of the Aristotelian and other philosophy that was accessible to him through his knowledge of Arabic. Munk's success in identifying Avicebron with Gabirol (p. 63) was made possible by Falaquera's translation into Hebrew of extracts from the "Fons Vit." Of great importance also is Falaquera's commentary of Maimonides's "Guide," which, with that of Moses of Narbonne (d. after 1362), is based upon a knowledge of Arabic and a thorough familiarity with the Aristotelian philosophy of the Arabs, and is superior to the better known commentaries of Shemtob, Ephodi, and Abarbanel. Falaquera also wrote original works of an ethical and philosophical character.

Joseph Ibn Caspi (1297-1340) is likewise a meritorious figure as a commentator of Maimonides and as a philosophical exegete of Scripture. But none of these men stands out as an independent thinker with a strong individuality, carrying forward in any important and authoritative degree the work of the great Maimonides. Great Talmudic knowledge, which was a necessary qualification for national recognition, these men seem not to have had; and on the other hand none of them felt called upon or able to make a systematic synthesis of philosophy and Judaism in a large way.

Levi ben Gerson (1288-1344) was the first after Maimonides who can at all be compared with the great sage of Fostat. He was a great mathematician and astronomer; he wrote supercommentaries on the Aristotelian commentaries of Averroes, who in his day had become the source of philosophical knowledge for the Hebrew student; he was thoroughly versed in the Talmud as his commentary on the Pentateuch shows; and he is one of the recognized Biblical exegetes of the middle ages. Finally in his philosophical masterpiece "Milhamot Adonai" (The Wars of the Lord),[333] he undertakes to solve in a thoroughly scholastic manner those problems in philosophy and theology which Maimonides had either not treated adequately or had not solved to Gersonides's satisfaction. That despite the technical character and style of the "Milhamot," Gersonides achieved such great reputation shows in what esteem his learning and critical power were held by his contemporaries. His works were all written in Hebrew, and if he had any knowledge of Arabic and Latin it was very limited, too limited to enable him to make use of the important works written in those languages.[334] His fame extended beyond the limits of Jewish thought, as is shown by the fact that his scientific treatise dealing with the astronomical instrument he had discovered was translated into Latin in 1377 by order of Pope Clement VI, and his supercommentaries on the early books of the Aristotelian logic were incorporated, in Latin translation, in the Latin editions of Aristotle and Averroes of the 16th century.[335]

Levi ben Gerson's general attitude to philosophical study and its relation to the content of Scripture is the same as had become common property through Maimonides and his predecessors. The happiness and perfection of man are the purpose of religion and knowledge. This perfection of man, or which is the same thing, the perfection of the human soul, is brought about through perfection in morals and in theoretical speculation, as will appear more clearly when we discuss the nature of the human intellect and its immortality. Hence the purpose of the Bible is to lead man to perfect himself in these two elements—morals and science. For this reason the Law consists of three parts. The first is the legal portion of the Law containing the 613 commandments, mandatory and prohibitive, concerning belief and practice. This is preparatory to the second and third divisions of the Pentateuch, which deal respectively with social and ethical conduct, and the science of existence. As far as ethics is concerned it was not practicable to lay down definite commandments and prohibitions because it is so extremely difficult to reach perfection in this aspect of life. Thus if the Torah gave definite prescriptions for exercising and controlling our anger, our joy, our courage, and so on, the results would be very discouraging, for the majority of men would be constantly disobeying them. And this would lead to the neglect of the other commandments likewise. Hence the principles of social and ethical conduct are inculcated indirectly by means of narratives exemplifying certain types of character in action and the consequences flowing from their conduct. The third division, as was said before, contains certain teachings of a metaphysical character respecting the nature of existence. This is the most important of all, and hence forms the beginning of the Pentateuch. The account of creation is a study in the principles of philosophical physics.[336]

As to the relations of reason and belief or authority, Levi ben Gerson shares in the optimism of the Maimonidean school and the philosophic middle age generally, that there is no opposition between them. The priority should be given to reason where its demands are unequivocal, for the meaning of the Scriptures is not always clear and is subject to interpretation.[337] On the other hand, after having devoted an entire book of his "Milhamot" to a minute investigation of the nature of the human intellect and the conditions of its immortality, he disarms in advance all possible criticism of his position from the religious point of view by saying that he is ready to abandon his doctrine if it is shown that it is in disagreement with religious dogma. He developed his views, he tells us, because he believes that they are in agreement with the words of the Torah.[338] This apparent contradiction is to be explained by making a distinction between the abstract statement of the principle and the concrete application thereof. In general Levi ben Gerson is so convinced of man's prerogative as a rational being that he cannot believe the Bible meant to force upon him the belief in things which are opposed to reason. Hence, since the Bible is subject to interpretation, the demands of the reason are paramount where they do not admit of doubt. On the other hand, where the traditional dogma of Judaism is clear and outspoken, it is incumbent upon man to be modest and not to claim the infallibility of direct revelation for the limited powers of logical inference and deduction.

We must now give a brief account of the questions discussed in the "Milhamot Adonai." And first a word about Gersonides's style and method. One is reminded, in reading the Milhamot, of Aristotle as well as Thomas Aquinas. There is no rhetoric and there are no superfluous words. All is precise and technical, and the vocabulary is small. One is surprised to see how in a brief century or so the Hebrew language has become so flexible an instrument in the expression of Aristotelian ideas. Levi ben Gerson does not labor in the expression of his thought. His linguistic instrument is quite adequate and yields naturally to the manipulation of the author. Gersonides, the minute logician and analyst, has no use for rhetorical flourishes and figures of speech. The subject, he says, is difficult enough as it is, without being made more so by rhetorical obscuration, unless one intends to hide the confusion of one's thought under the mask of fine writing.[339] Like Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, he gives a history of the opinions of others in the topic under discussion, and enumerates long lists of arguments pro and con with rigorous logical precision. The effect upon the reader is monotonous and wearisome. Aristotle escapes this by the fact that he is groping his way before us. He has not all his ideas formulated in proper order and form ready to deliver. He is primarily the investigator, not the pedagogue, and the brevity and obscurity of his style pique the ambitious reader and spur him on to puzzle out the meaning. Not so Thomas Aquinas and the scholastics generally. As the term scholastic indicates, they developed their method in the schools. They were expositors of what was ready made, rather than searchers for the new. Hence the question of form was an important one and was determined by the purpose of presenting one's ideas as clearly as may be to the student. Add to this that the logic of Aristotle and the syllogism was the universal method of presentation and the monotony and wearisomeness becomes evident. Levi ben Gerson is in this respect like Aquinas rather than like Aristotle. And he is the first of his kind in Jewish literature. Since the larger views and problems were already common property, the efforts of Gersonides were directed to a more minute discussion of the more technical details of such problems as the human intellect, prophecy, Providence, creation, and so on. For this reason, too, it will not be necessary for us to do more than give a brief rsum of the results of Gersonides's lucubrations without entering into the really bewildering and hair-splitting arguments and distinctions which make the book so hard on the reader.

We have already had occasion in the Introduction (p. xxxvi) to refer briefly to Aristotle's theory of the intellect and the distinction between the passive and the active intellects in man. The ideas of the Arabs were also referred to in our treatment of Judah Halevi, Ibn Daud and Maimonides (pp. 180 f., 213 f., 282). Hillel ben Samuel, as we saw (p. 317 ff.), was the first among the Jews who undertook to discuss in greater detail the essence of the three kinds of intellect, material, acquired and active, as taught by the Mohammedan and Christian Scholastics, and devoted some space to the question of the unity of the material intellect. Levi ben Gerson takes up the same question of the nature of the material intellect and discusses the various views with more rigor and minuteness than any of his Jewish predecessors. His chief source was Averroes. The principal views concerning the nature of the possible or material intellect in man were those attributed to Alexander of Aphrodisias, the most important Greek commentator of Aristotle (lived about 200 of the Christian Era), Themistius, another Aristotelian Greek commentator who lived in the time of Emperor Julian, and Averroes, the famous Arabian philosopher and contemporary of Maimonides. All these three writers pretended to expound Aristotle's views of the passive intellect rather than propound their own. And Levi ben Gerson discusses their ideas before giving his own.

Alexander's idea of the passive intellect in man is that it is simply a capacity residing in the soul for receiving the universal forms of material things. It has no substantiality of its own, and hence does not survive the lower functions of the soul, namely, sensation and imagination, which die with the body. This passive intellect is actualized through the Active Intellect, which is not a part of man at all, but is identified by Alexander with God. The Active Intellect is thus pure form and actuality, and enables the material or possible intellect in man, originally a mere potentiality, to acquire general ideas, and thus to become an intellect with a content. This is called the actual or acquired intellect, which though at first dependent on the data of sense, may succeed later in continuing its activity unaided by sense perception. And in so far as the acquired intellect thinks of the purely immaterial ideas and things which make up the content of the divine intellect (the Active Intellect), it becomes identified with the latter and is immortal. The reason for supposing that the material intellect in man is a mere capacity residing in the soul and not an independent substance is because as having the capacity to receive all kinds of forms it must itself not be of any form. Thus in order that the sense of sight may receive all colors as they are, it must itself be free from color. If the sight had a color of its own, this would prevent it from receiving other colors. Applying this principle to the intellect we make the same inference that it must in itself be neutral, not identified with any one idea or form, else this would color all else knocking for admission, and the mind would not know things as they are. Now a faculty which has no form of its own, but is a mere mirror so to speak of all that may be reflected in it, cannot be a substance, and must be simply a power inherent in a substance and subject to the same fate as that in which it inheres. This explains the motive of Alexander's view and is at the same time a criticism of the doctrine of Themistius.

This commentator is of the opinion that the passive intellect of which Aristotle speaks is not a mere capacity inherent in something else, but a real spiritual entity or substance independent of the lower parts of the soul, though associated with them during the life of the body, and hence is not subject to generation and destruction, but is eternal. In support of this view may be urged that if the passive intellect were merely a capacity of the lower parts of the soul, we should expect it to grow weaker as the person grows older and his sensitive and imaginative powers are beginning to decline; whereas the contrary is the case. The older the person the keener is his intellect. The difficulty, however, remains that if the human intellect is a real substance independent of the rest of the soul, why is it that at its first appearance in the human being it is extremely poor in content, being all but empty, and grows as the rest of the body and the soul is developed?

To obviate these difficulties, Averroes in his commentary on the De Anima of Aristotle practically identifies (according to Levi ben Gerson's view of Averroes) the material intellect with the Active Intellect. The Active Intellect according to him is neither identical with the divine, as Alexander maintains, nor is it a part of man, as Themistius and others think, but is the last of the separate Intelligences, next to the spiritual mover of the lunar sphere. It is a pure actuality, absolutely free from matter, and hence eternal. This Active Intellect in some mysterious manner becomes associated with man, and this association results in a temporary phase represented by the material intellect. As a result of the sense perceptions, images of the external objects remain in the imagination, and the Active Intellect takes hold of these images, which are potentially universal ideas, and by its illumination produces out of them actual ideas and an intellect in which they reside, the material intellect. The material intellect is therefore the result of the combination of the Active Intellect with the memory images, known as phantasmata ([Greek: phantasmata]), in the human faculty of imagination. So long as this association exists, the material intellect receives the intelligible forms as derived from the phantasmata, and these forms are represented by such ideas as "all animal is sensitive," "all man is rational," i. e., ideas concerning the objects of this world. This phase of man's mind ceases when the body dies, and the Active Intellect alone remains, whose content is free from material forms. The Active Intellect contemplates itself, a pure intelligence. At the same time it is possible for man to identify himself with the Active Intellect as he acquires knowledge in the material intellect, for the Active Intellect is like light which makes the eye see. In seeing, the eye not merely perceives the form of the external object, but indirectly also receives the light which made the object visible. In the same way the human soul in acquiring knowledge as implicit in its phantasmata, at the same time gets a glimpse of the spiritual light which converted the phantasma into an explicit idea (cf. above, p. 320). When the soul in man perfects itself with all the knowledge of this world it becomes identified with the Active Intellect, which may be likened to the intellect or soul of the corporeal world.

In this combination of the views of Alexander and Themistius Averroes succeeds in obviating the criticisms levelled at the two former. That the power of the material intellect grows keener with age though the corporeal organs are weaker, supports Averroes's doctrine as against Alexander, to whom it is a mere capacity dependent upon the mixture of the elements in the human body. But neither is he subject to the objection applying to Themistius's view, that a real independent entity could scarcely be void of all forms and a mere receptacle. For the material intellect as it really is in itself when not in combination with the human body is not a mere receptacle or empty potentiality. It is the Active Intellect, which combines in itself all immaterial forms and thinks them as it thinks itself. It is only in its individualized aspect that it becomes a potential intellect ready to receive all material forms.

But what Averroes gains here he loses elsewhere. There are certain considerations which are fatal to his doctrine. Thus it would follow that theoretical studies which have no practical aim are useless. But this is impossible. Nature has put in us the ability as well as the desire to speculate without reference to practical results. The pleasure we derive from theoretical studies is much greater than that afforded by the practical arts and trades. And nature does nothing in vain. Theoretical studies must therefore have some value. But in Averroes's theory of the material intellect they have none. For all values may be divided into those which promote the life of the body and those which lead to the final happiness of man. The former is clearly not served by those theoretical speculations which have no practical aim. On the contrary, they hinder it. Deep students of the theoretical sciences forego all bodily pleasures, and often do without necessities. But neither can there be any advantage in theoretical speculation for ultimate human happiness. For human happiness according to Averroes (and he is in a sense right, as we shall see later) consists in union with the Active Intellect. But this union takes place as a matter of course according to his theory at the time of death, whether a man be wise or a fool. For the Active Intellect then absorbs the material.

Another objection to Averroes's theory is the following. If the material intellect is in essence the same as the Active Intellect, it is a separate, immaterial substance, and hence is, like the Active Intellect, one. For only that which has matter as its substratum can be quantitatively differentiated. Thus A is numerically different from B, though A and B are both men (i. e., qualitatively the same), because they are corporeal beings. Forms as such can be differentiated qualitatively only. Horse is different from ass in quality. Horse as such and horse as such are the same. It follows from this that the material intellect, being like the Active Intellect an immaterial form, cannot be numerically multiplied, and therefore is one only. But if so, no end of absurdities follows. For it means that all men have the same intellect, hence the latter is wise and ignorant at the same time in reference to the same thing, in so far as A knows a given thing and B does not know it. It would also follow that A can make use of B's sense experience and build his knowledge upon it. All these inferences are absurd, and they all follow from the assumption that the material intellect is in essence the same as the Active Intellect. Hence Averroes's position is untenable.[340]

Gersonides then gives his own view of the material intellect, which is similar to that of Alexander. The material intellect is a capacity, and the prime matter is the ultimate subject in which it inheres. But there are other powers or forms inhering in matter prior to the material intellect. Prime matter as such is not endowed with intellect, or all things would have human reason. Prime matter when it reaches the stage of development of the imaginative faculty is then ready to receive the material intellect. We may say then that the sensitive soul, of which the imaginative faculty is a part, is the subject in which the material intellect inheres. The criticism directed against Alexander, which applies here also, may be answered as follows. The material intellect is dependent upon its subject, the sensitive soul, for its existence only, not for the manner of receiving its knowledge. Hence the weakening or strengthening of its subject cannot affect it directly at all. Indirectly there is a relation between the two, and it works in the reverse direction. When the sensitive powers are weakened and their activities diminish, there is more opportunity for the intellect to monopolize the one soul for itself and increase its own activity, which the other powers have a tendency to hinder, since the soul is one for all these contending powers. It follows of course that the material intellect in man is not immortal. As a capacity of the sensitive soul, it dies with the latter. What part of the human soul it is that enjoys immortality and on what conditions we shall see later. But before we do this, we must try to understand the nature of the Active Intellect.[341]

We know now that the function of the Active Intellect is to actualize the material intellect, i. e., to develop the capacity which the latter has of extracting general ideas from the particular memory images (phantasmata) in the faculty of imagination, so that this capacity, originally empty of any content, receives the ideas thus produced, and is thus constituted into an actual intellect. From this it follows that the Active Intellect, which enables the material intellect to form ideas, must itself have the ideas it induces in the latter, though not necessarily in the same form. Thus an artisan, who imposes the form of chair upon a piece of wood, must have the form of chair in his mind, though not the same sort as he realizes in the wood. Now as all the ideas acquired by the material intellect constitute one single activity so far as the end and purpose is concerned (for it all leads to the perfection of the person), the agent which is the cause of it all must also be one. Hence there are not many Active Intellects, each responsible for certain ideas, but one Intellect is the cause of all the ideas realized in the material intellect. Moreover, as this Active Intellect gives the material intellect not merely a knowledge of separate ideas, but also an understanding of their relations to each other, in other words of the systematic unity connecting all ideas into one whole, it follows that the Active Intellect has a knowledge of the ideas from their unitary aspect. In other words, the unity of purpose and aim which is evident in the development of nature from the prime matter through the forms of the elements, the plant soul, the animal soul and up to the human reason, where the lower is for the sake of the higher, must reside as a unitary conception in the Active Intellect.

For the Active Intellect has another function besides developing the rational capacity in man. We can arrive at this insight by a consideration undertaken from a different point of view. If we consider the wonderful and mysterious development of a seed, which is only a piece of matter, in a purposive manner, passing through various stages and producing a highly complicated organism with psychic powers, we must come to the conclusion, as Aristotle does, that there is an intellect operating in this development. As all sublunar nature shows a unity of purpose, this intellect must be one. And as it cannot be like one of its products, it must be eternal and not subject to generation and decay. But these are the attributes which, on grounds taken from the consideration of the intellectual activity in man, we ascribed to the Active Intellect. Hence it is the Active Intellect. And we have thus shown that it has two functions. One is to endow sublunar nature with the intelligence and purpose visible in its processes and evolutions; the other is to enable the rational power in man to rise from a tabula rasa to an actual intellect with a content. From both these activities it is evident that the Active Intellect has a knowledge of sublunar creation as a systematic unity.

This conception of the Active Intellect, Levi ben Gerson says, will also answer all the difficulties by which other philosophers are troubled concerning the possibility of knowledge and the nature of definition. The problems are briefly these. Knowledge concerns itself with the permanent and universal. There can be no real knowledge of the particular, for the particular is never the same, it is constantly changing and in the end disappears altogether. On the other hand, the universal has no real existence outside of the mind, for the objectively real is the particular thing. The only really existing man is A or B or C; man in general, man that is not a particular individual man, has no objective extra-mental existence. Here is a dilemma. The only thing we can really know is the thing that is not real, and the only real thing is that which we cannot know. The Platonists solve this difficulty by boldly declaring that the universal ideas or forms are the real existents and the models of the things of sense. This is absurd. Aristotle's solution in the Metaphysics is likewise unsatisfactory. Our conception, however, of the Active Intellect enables us to solve this problem satisfactorily. The object of knowledge is not the particular thing which is constantly changing; nor yet the logical abstraction which is only in the mind. It is the real unity of sublunar nature as it exists in the Active Intellect.

The problem of the definition is closely related to that of knowledge. The definition denotes the essence of every individual of a given species. As the individuals of a given species have all the same definition, and hence the same essence, they are all one. For what is not in the definition is not real. Our answer is that the definition represents that unitary aspect of the sublunar individuals which is in the Active Intellect. This aspect is also in a certain sense present in every one of the individual objects of nature, but not in the same manner as in the Active Intellect.[342]

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