A History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy
by Isaac Husik
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We are now ready to take up the question of human immortality. The material intellect as a capacity for acquiring knowledge is not immortal. Being inherent in the sensitive soul and dependent for its acquisition of knowledge upon the memory images (phantasmata) which appear in the imagination, the power to acquire knowledge ceases with the cessation of sense and imagination. But the knowledge already acquired, which, we have shown above, is identical with the conceptions of sublunar nature in the Active Intellect, is indestructible. For these conceptions are absolutely immaterial; they are really the Active Intellect in a sense, and only the material is subject to destruction. The sum of acquisition of immaterial ideas constitutes the acquired or actual intellect, and this is the immortal part of man.

Further than this man cannot go. The idea adopted by some that the human intellect may become identified completely with the Active Intellect, Levi ben Gerson rejects. In order to accomplish this, he says, it would be necessary to have a complete and perfect knowledge of all nature, and that too a completely unified and wholly immaterial knowledge just as it is in the Active Intellect. This is clearly impossible. But it is true that a man's happiness after death is dependent upon the amount and perfection of his knowledge. For even in this life the pleasure we derive from intellectual contemplation is greater the more nearly we succeed in completely concentrating our mind on the subject of study. Now after death there will be no disturbing factors such as are supplied in this world by the sensitive and emotional powers. To be sure this lack will also prevent the acquisition of new knowledge, as was said before, but the amount acquired will be there in the soul's power all at once and all the time. The more knowledge one has succeeded in obtaining during life, the more nearly he will resemble the Active Intellect and the greater will be his happiness.[343]

The next topic Levi ben Gerson takes up is that of prognostication. There are three ways in which certain persons come to know the future, dreams, divination and prophecy. What we wish to do is to determine the kind of future events that may be thus known beforehand, the agency which produces in us this power, and the bearing this phenomenon has on the nature of events generally, and particularly as concerns the question of chance and free will.

That there is such knowledge of future events is a fact and not a theory. Experience testifies to the fact that there are certain people who are able to foretell the future, not as a matter of accident or through a chance coincidence, but as a regular thing. Diviners these are called, or fortune tellers. This power is even better authenticated in prophecy, which no one denies. We can also cite many instances of dreams, in which a person sees a future event with all its particulars, and the dream comes true. All these cases are too common to be credited to chance. Now what does this show as to the nature of the events thus foreseen? Clearly it indicates that they cannot be chance happenings, for what is by chance cannot be foreseen. The only conclusion then to be drawn is that these events are determined by the order of nature. But there is another implication in man's ability to foretell the future, namely, that what is thus known to man is first known to a higher intellect which communicates it to us.

The first of these two consequences leads us into difficulties. For if we examine the data of prognostication, whether it be of dream, divination or prophecy, we find that they concern almost exclusively such particular human events as would be classed in the category of the contingent rather than in that of the necessary. Fortune tellers regularly tell people about the kind of children they will have, the sort of things they will do, and so on. In prophecy similarly Sarah was told she would have a son (Gen. 18, 10). We also have examples of prognostication respecting the outcome of a battle, announcement of coming rain,—events due to definite causes—as well as the prediction of events which are the result of free choice or pure accident, as when Samuel tells Elisha that he will meet three men on the way, who will give him two loaves of bread, which he will accept; or when the prophet in Samariah tells the prophet in Bethel that he will be killed by a lion. The question now is, if these contingent things can be known in advance, they are not contingent; and if these are not, none are. For the uniform events in nature are surely not contingent. If then those events usually classed as contingent and voluntary are not such, there is no such thing as chance and free will at all, which is impossible.

Our answer is that as a matter of fact those contingent happenings we call luck and ill luck do often come frequently to certain persons, whom we call lucky or unlucky, which shows that they are not the result of pure chance, and that there is some sort of order determining them. Moreover, we know that the higher in the scale of being a thing is, the more nature takes care to guard it. Hence as man is the highest being here below, it stands to reason that the heavenly bodies order his existence and his fortune. And so the science of astrology, with all its mistakes on account of the imperfect state of our knowledge, does say a great many things which are true. This, however, does not destroy freedom and chance. For the horoscope represents only one side of the question. Man was also endowed with reason and purpose, which enable him whenever he chooses to counteract the order of the heavenly bodies. In the main the heavenly bodies by their positions and motions and the consequent predominance of certain elemental qualities in the sublunar world over others affect the temperaments of man in a manner tending to his welfare. The social order with its differentiation of labor and occupation is worked out wonderfully well—better than the system of Plato's Republic—by the positions and motions of the heavenly bodies. If not for this, all men would choose the more honorable trades and professions, there would be no one to do the menial work, and society would be impossible. At the same time there are certain incidental evils inherent in the rigid system which would tend to destroy certain individuals. To counteract these unintended defects, God endowed man with reason and choice enabling him to avoid the dangers threatening him in the world of nature.

The solution of our problem then is this. These human events have a twofold aspect. They are determined so far as they follow from the order of the heavenly bodies; and in so far they can be foretold. They are undetermined so far as they are the result of individual choice, and in so far they cannot be known beforehand. There are also pure chance events in inanimate nature, bearing no relation to human fortune. These cannot be foretold.[344]

We said above that there must be an intellect which knows these contingent events predicted in dreams, divination and prophecy and imparts a knowledge of them to these men. This can be no other than the Active Intellect, whose nature we discussed above. For the Active Intellect knows the order of sublunar things, and gives us a knowledge of them in the ideas of the material intellect. Moreover, he is the agent producing them through the instrumentality of the heavenly bodies. Hence the heavenly bodies are also his instrument in ordering those contingent events which are predicted in dreams and prophetic visions.

The purpose of this information is to protect man against the evil destined for him in the order of the heavenly bodies, or in order that he may avail himself of the good in store for him if he knows of it.

There is a difference in kind between prophecy on the one hand and divination and dream on the other. Prophecy comes from the Active Intellect directly acting on the material intellect. Hence only intelligent men can be prophets. Divination and dream come from the Active Intellect indirectly. They are caused by the heavenly bodies, and the action is on the imagination. The imagination is more easily isolated from the other parts of the soul in young people and simpletons. Hence we find examples of dreams and divination among them.[345]

In discussing the problem of God's knowledge, Gersonides takes direct issue with Maimonides. The reader will recall that the question turns upon the knowledge of particulars. Some philosophers go so far as to deny to God any knowledge of things other than his own essence; for the known is in a sense identified with the knower, and to bring in a multiplicity of ideas in God's knowledge would endanger his unity. Others, however, fell short of this extreme opinion and admitted God's knowledge of things other than himself, but maintained that God cannot know particulars for various reasons. The particular is perceived by sense, a material faculty, whereas God is immaterial. Particulars are infinite and cannot be measured or embraced, whereas knowledge is a kind of measuring or embracing. The particulars are not always existing, and are subject to change. Hence God's knowledge would be subject to change and disappearance, which is impossible. If God knows particulars how is it that there is often a violation of right and justice in the destinies of individual men? This would argue in God either inability or indifference, both of which are impossible.

Maimonides insists on God's knowledge of all things of which he is the creator, including particulars. And he answers the arguments of the philosophers by saying that their objections are valid only if we assume that God's knowledge is similar to ours, and since with us it is impossible to know the material except through a material organ, it is not possible in God. As we cannot comprehend the infinite; as we cannot know the non-existent, nor the changing without a change in our knowledge, God cannot do so. But it is wrong to assume this. God's knowledge is identical with his essence, which these same philosophers insist is unlike anything else, and unknowable. Surely it follows that his knowledge is also without the least resemblance to our knowledge and the name alone is what they have in common. Hence all the objections of the philosophers fall away at one stroke. We cannot in one act of knowing embrace a number of things differing in species; God can, because his knowledge is one. We cannot know the non-existent, for our knowledge depends upon the thing known. God can. We cannot know the infinite, for the infinite cannot be embraced; God can. We cannot know the outcome of a future event unless the event is necessary and determined. If the event is contingent and undetermined we can only have opinion concerning it, which may or may not be true; we are uncertain and may be mistaken. God can know the outcome of a contingent event, and yet the event is not determined, and may happen one way or the other. Our knowledge of a given thing changes as the thing itself undergoes a change, for if our knowledge should remain the same while the object changes, it would not be knowledge but error. In God the two are compatible. He knows in advance how a given thing will change, and his knowledge never changes, even though that which was at one moment potential and implicit becomes later actual and explicit.

At this point Gersonides steps in in defence of human logic and sanity. He accuses Maimonides of not being quite honest with himself. Maimonides, he intimates, did not choose this position of his own free will—a position scientifically quite untenable—he was forced to it by theological exigencies.[346] He felt that he must vindicate, by fair means or foul, God's knowledge of particulars. And so Gersonides proceeds to demolish Maimonides's position by reducing it ad absurdum.

What does Maimonides mean by saying that God knows the contingent? If he means that God knows that the contingent may as contingent happen otherwise than as he knows it will happen, we do not call this in us knowledge, but opinion. If he means that God knows it will happen in a certain way, and yet it may turn out that the reverse will actually take place, then we call this in our case error, not knowledge. And if he means that God merely knows that it may happen one way or the other without knowing definitely which will happen, then we call this in our experience uncertainty and perplexity, not knowledge. By insisting that all this is in God knowledge because, forsooth, God's knowledge is not like our knowledge, is tantamount to saying that what is in us opinion, uncertainty, error, is in God knowledge—a solution far from complimentary to God's knowledge.

Besides, the entire principle of Maimonides that there is no relation of resemblance between God's attributes and ours, that the terms wise, just, and so on, are pure homonyms, is fundamentally wrong. We attribute knowledge to God because we know in our own case that an intellect is perfected by knowledge. And since we have come to the conclusion on other grounds that God is a perfect intellect, we say he must have knowledge. Now if this knowledge that we ascribe to God has no resemblance whatsoever to what we understand by knowledge in our own case, the ground is removed from our feet. We might as well argue that man is rational because solid is continuous. If the word knowledge means a totally different thing in God from what it means in us, how do we know that it is to be found in God? If we have absolutely no idea what the term means when applied to God, what reason have we for preferring knowledge as a divine attribute to its opposite or negative? If knowledge does not mean knowledge, ignorance does not mean ignorance, and it is just the same whether we ascribe to God the one or the other.

The truth is that the attributes we ascribe to God do have a resemblance to the same attributes in ourselves; only they are primary in God, secondary in ourselves, i. e., they exist in God in a more perfect manner than in us. Hence it is absurd to say that what would be in us error or uncertainty is in God knowledge. Our problem must be solved more candidly and differently. There are arguments in favor of God's knowing particulars (Maimonides gives some), and there are the arguments of the philosophers against the thesis. The truth must be between the two, that God knows them from one aspect and does not know them from another. Having shown above that human events are in part ordered and determined by the heavenly bodies, and in part undetermined and dependent upon the individual's choice, we can now make use of this distinction for the solution of our problem. God knows particulars in so far as they are ordered, he does not know them in so far as they are contingent. He knows that they are contingent, and hence it follows that he does not know which of the two possibilities will happen, else they would not be contingent. This is no defect in God's nature, for to know a thing as it is is no imperfection. In general God does not know particulars as particulars but as ordered by the universal laws of nature. He knows the universal order, and he knows the particulars in so far as they are united in the universal order.

This theory meets all objections, and moreover it is in agreement with the views of the Bible. It is the only one by which we can harmonize the apparent contradictions in the Scriptures. Thus on the one hand we are told that God sends Prophets and commands people to do and forbear. This implies that a person has freedom to choose, and that the contingent is a real category. On the other hand, we find that God foretells the coming of future events respecting human destiny, which signifies determination. And yet again we find that God repents, and that he does not repent. All these apparent contradictions can be harmonized on our theory. God foretells the coming of events in so far as they are determined in the universal order of nature. But man's freedom may succeed in counteracting this order, and the events predicted may not come. This is signified by the expression that God repents.[347]

Levi ben Gerson's solution, whatever we may think of its scientific or philosophic value, is surely very bold as theology, we might almost say it is a theological monstrosity. It practically removes from God the definite knowledge of the outcome of a given event so far as that outcome is contingent. Gersonides will not give up the contingent, for that would destroy freedom. He therefore accepts free will with its consequences, at the risk of limiting God's knowledge to events which are determined by the laws of nature. Maimonides was less consistent, but had the truer theological sense, namely, he kept to both horns of the dilemma. God is omniscient and man is free. He gave up the solution by seeking refuge in the mysteriousness of God's knowledge. This is the true religious attitude.

The question of Providence is closely related to that of God's knowledge. For it is clear that one cannot provide for those things of which he does not know. Gersonides's view in this problem is very similar to that of Maimonides, and like him he sees in the discussions between Job and his friends the representative opinions held by philosophers in this important problem.

There are three views, he says, concerning the nature of Providence. One is that God's providence extends only to species and not to individuals. The second opinion is that God provides for every individual of the human race. The third view is that some individuals are specially provided for, but not all. Job held the first view, which is that of Aristotle. The arguments in favor of this opinion are that God does not know particulars, hence cannot provide for them. Besides, there would be more justice in the distribution of goods and evils in the world if God concerned himself about every individual. Then again man is too insignificant for God's special care.

The second view is that of the majority of our people. They argue that as God is the author of all, he surely provides for them. And as a matter of fact experience shows it; else there would be much more violence and bloodshed than there is. The wicked are actually punished and the good rewarded. This class is divided into two parts. Some think that while God provides for all men, not all that happens to a man is due to God; there are also other causes. The others think that every happening is due to God. This second class may again be divided according to the manner in which they account for those facts in experience which seem to militate against their view. Maintaining that every incident is due to God, they have to explain the apparent deviation from justice in the prosperity of the wicked and the adversity of the righteous. One party explains the phenomenon by saying that the prosperity and the adversity in these cases are only seeming and not real; that they in fact are the opposite of what they seem, or at least lead to the opposite. The second party answers the objection on the ground that those we think good may not really be such, and similarly those we think bad may not really be bad. For the way to judge a person's character is not merely by his deeds alone, but by his deeds as related to his temperament and disposition, which God alone knows. Eliphaz the Temanite belonged to those who think that not all which happens is due to God; that folly is responsible for a man's misfortune. Bildad the Shuchite believed that all things are from God, but not all that seems good and evil is really so. Zophar the Naamathite thought we do not always judge character correctly; that temperament and disposition must be taken into account.

Of these various opinions the first one, that of Aristotle, cannot be true. Dreams, divination, and especially prophecy contradict it flatly. All these are given to the individual for his protection (cf. above, p. 342). The second opinion, namely, that God's providence extends to every individual, is likewise disproved by reason, by experience and by the Bible. We have already proved (p. 345) that God's knowledge does not extend to particulars as such. He only knows things as ordered by the heavenly bodies; and knows at the same time that they may fail to happen because of man's free will. Now if God punishes and rewards every man according to his deeds, one of two things necessarily follows. Either he rewards and punishes according to those deeds which the individual is determined to do by the order of the heavenly bodies, or according to the deeds the individual actually does. In the first case there would be often injustice, for the person might not have acted as the order of the heavenly bodies indicated he would act, for he is free to act as he will. The second case is impossible, for it would mean that God knows particulars as particulars—a thesis we have already disproved. Besides, evil does not come from God directly, since he is pure form and evil comes only from matter. Hence it cannot be said that he punishes the evil doer for his sin.

Experience also testifies against this view, for we see the just suffer and the wicked prosper. The manner in which Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar wish to defend God's justice will not hold water. Man's own folly will account perhaps for some evils befalling the righteous and some good coming to the wicked. But it will not account for the failure of the good man to get the reward he deserves, and of the wicked to receive the punishment which is his due. The righteous man often has troubles all his life no matter how careful he is to avoid them, and correspondingly the same is true of the wicked, that he is prosperous, despite his lack of caution and good sense. To avoid these objections as Eliphaz does by saying that if the wicked man himself is not punished, his children will be, is to go from the frying pan into the fire. For it is not just either to omit to punish the one deserving it, or to punish another innocent man for him. Nor is Zophar's defence any better. For the same man, with the same temperament and disposition, often suffers more when he is inclined to do good, and is prosperous when he is not so scrupulous. Bildad is no more successful than the other two. The evils coming to the righteous are often real and permanent. But neither does the Bible compel us to believe that God looks out for all individuals. This is especially true in reference to punishment, as can be gathered from such expressions as "I will hide my face from them, and they shall be given to be devoured" (Deut. 31, 17), or "As thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, so will I myself also forget thy children" (Hosea 4, 6). These expressions indicate that God does not punish the individuals directly, but that he leaves them to the fate that is destined for them by the order of the heavenly bodies. True there are other passages in Scripture speaking of direct punishment, but they may be interpreted so as not to conflict with our conclusions.

Having seen that neither of the two extreme views is correct, it remains to adopt the middle course, namely, that some individuals are provided for specially, and others not. The nearer a person is to the Active Intellect, the more he receives divine providence and care. Those people who do not improve their capabilities, which they possess as members of the species, are provided for only as members of the species. The matter may be put in another way also. God knows all ideas. Man is potentially capable of receiving them in a certain manner. God, who is actual, leads man from his potentiality to actuality. When a man's potentialities are thus realized, he becomes similar to God, because when ideas are actualized the agent and the thing acted upon are one. Hence the person enjoys divine providence at that time. The way in which God provides for such men is by giving them knowledge through dream, divination or prophecy or intuition or in some other unconscious manner on the individual's part, which knowledge protects him from harm. This view is not in conflict with the truth that God does not know particulars as such. For it is not to the individual person as such that providence extends as a conscious act of God. The individualization is due to the recipient and not to the dispenser. One may object that after all since it is possible that bad men may have goods as ordered by the heavenly bodies, and good men may have misfortune as thus ordered, when their attachment to God is loosened somewhat, there is injustice in God if he could have arranged the heavenly spheres differently and did not, or incapacity if he could not. The answer is briefly that the order of the spheres does a great deal of good in maintaining the existence of things. And if some little evil comes also incidentally, this does not condemn the whole arrangement. In fact the evils come from the very agencies which are the authors of good. The view of providence here adopted is that of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite in the book of Job (ch. 32), and it agrees also with the opinion of Maimonides in the "Guide of the Perplexed" (cf. above, p. 292).[348]

Instead of placing his cosmology at the beginning of his system and proceeding from that as a basis to the other parts of his work, the psychology and the ethics, Levi ben Gerson, whose "Milhamot Hashem" is not so much a systematic work as an aggregation of discussions, reversed the process. He begins as we have seen with a purely psychological analysis concerning the nature of the human reason and its relation to the Active Intellect. He follows up this discussion with a treatment of prognostication as exhibiting some of the effects of the Active Intellect upon the reason and imagination of man. This is again followed by a discussion of God's knowledge and providence. And not until all these psychological (and in part ethical) questions have been decided, does Levi ben Gerson undertake to give us his views of the constitution of the universe and the nature and attributes of God. In this discussion he takes occasion to express his dissatisfaction with Aristotle's proofs of the existence of the spheral movers and of the unmoved mover or God, as inadequate to bear the structure which it is intended to erect upon them. It will be remembered that the innovation of Abraham Ibn Daud and Maimonides in making Jewish philosophy more strictly Aristotelian than it had been consisted in a great measure in just this introduction of the Aristotelian proof of the existence of God as derived from the motions of the heavenly bodies. Levi ben Gerson's proofs are teleological rather than mechanical. Aristotle said a moving body must have a mover outside of it, which if it is again a body is itself in motion and must have a mover in turn. And as this process cannot go on ad infinitum, there must be at the end of the series an unmoved mover. As unmoved this mover cannot be body; and as producing motion eternally, it cannot be a power residing in a body, a physical or material power, for no such power can be infinite. Gersonides is not satisfied with this proof. He argues that so far as the motions of the heavenly bodies are concerned there is no reason why a physical power cannot keep on moving them eternally. The reason that motions caused by finite forces in our world come to a stop is because the thing moved is subject to change, which alters its relation to its mover; and secondly because the force endeavors to move the object in opposition to its own tendency, in opposition to gravity. In the case of the heavenly bodies neither of these conditions is present. The relation of the mover to the moved is always the same, since the heavenly bodies are not subject to change; and as they are not made of the four terrestrial elements they have no inherent tendency to move in any direction, hence they offer no opposition to the force exerted upon them by the mover. A finite power might therefore quite conceivably cause eternal motion. Similarly an unmoved mover cannot be body, to be sure, but it may be a physical power like a soul, which in moving the body is not itself moved by that motion. Aristotle's proofs therefore are not sufficient to produce the conviction that the movers of the spheres and God himself are separate Intelligences.[349]

Gersonides accordingly follows a different method. He argues that if a system of things and events exhibits perfection not here and there and at rare intervals but regularly, the inference is justified that there is an intelligent agent who had a definite purpose and design in establishing the system. The world below is such a system. Hence it has an intelligent agent as its author. This agent may be a separate and immaterial intelligence, or a corporeal power like a soul. He then shows that it cannot be a corporeal power, for it would have to reside in the animal sperm which exhibits such wonderful and purposive development, or in the parent animal from which the sperm came, both of which, he argues, are impossible. It remains then that the cause of the teleological life of the sublunar world is an immaterial power, a separate intellect. This intellect, he argues further, acts upon matter and endows it with forms, the only mediating power being the natural heat which is found in the seed and sperm of plants and animals. Moreover, it is aware of the order of what it produces. It is the Active Intellect of which we spoke above (p. 337). The forms of terrestrial things come from it directly, the heat residing in the seed comes from the motions of the spheres. This shows that the permanent motions of the heavenly bodies are also intelligent motions, for they tend to produce perfection in the terrestrial world and never come to a standstill, which would be the case if the motions were "natural" like those of the elements, or induced against their nature like that of a stone moving upward. We are justified in saying then that the heavenly bodies are endowed with intellects and have no material soul. Hence their movers are pure Intelligences, and there are as many of them as there are spheres, i. e., forty-eight, or fifty-eight or sixty-four according to one's opinion on the astronomical question of the number of spheres.

Now as the Active Intellect knows the order of sublunar existence in its unity, and the movers of the respective spheres know the order of their effects through the motions of the heavenly bodies, it follows that as all things in heaven above and on the earth beneath are related in a unitary system, there is a highest agent who is the cause of all existence absolutely and has a knowledge of all existence as a unitary system.[350]

The divine attributes are derived by us from his actions, and hence they are not pure homonyms (cf., p. 240). God has a knowledge of the complete order of sublunar things, of which the several movers have only a part. He knows it as one, and knows it eternally without change. His joy and gladness are beyond conception, for our joy also is very great in understanding. His is also the perfect Life, for understanding is life. He is the most real Substance and Existent, and he is One. God is also the most real Agent, as making the other movers do their work, and producing a complete and perfect whole out of their parts. He is also properly called Bestower, Beneficent, Gracious, Strong, Mighty, Upright, Just, Eternal, Permanent. All these attributes, however, do not denote multiplicity.[351]

From God we now pass again to his creation, and take up the problem which caused Maimonides so much trouble, namely, the question of the origin of the world. It will be remembered that dissatisfied with the proofs for the existence of God advanced by the Mutakallimun, Maimonides, in order to have a firm foundation for the central idea of religion, tentatively adopted the Aristotelian notion of the eternity of motion and the world. But no sooner does Maimonides establish his proof of the existence, unity and incorporeality of God than he returns to the attack of the Aristotelian view and points out that the problem is insoluble in a strictly scientific manner; that Aristotle himself never intended his arguments in favor of eternity to be regarded as philosophically demonstrated, and that they all labor under the fatal fallacy that because certain laws hold of the world's phenomena once it is in existence, these same laws must have governed the establishment of the world itself in its origin. Besides, the assumption of the world's eternity with its corollary of the necessity and immutability of its phenomena saps the foundation of all religion, makes miracles impossible, and reduces the world to a machine. Gersonides is on the whole agreed with Maimonides. He admits that Aristotle's arguments are the best yet advanced in the problem, but that they are not convincing. He also agrees with Maimonides in his general stricture on Aristotle's method, only modifying and restricting its generality and sweeping nature. With all this, however, he finds it necessary to take up the entire question anew and treats it in his characteristic manner, with detail and rigor, and finally comes to a conclusion different from that of Maimonides, namely, that the world had an origin in time, to be sure, but that it came not ex nihilo in the absolute sense of the word nihil, but developed from an eternal formless matter, which God endowed with form. This is the so-called Platonic view.

We cannot enter into all his details which are technical and fatiguing in the extreme, but we must give a general idea of his procedure in the investigation of this important topic.

The problem of the origin of the world, he says, is very difficult. First, because in order to learn from the nature of existing things whether they were created out of a state of non-existence or not, we must know the essence of existing things, which is not easy. Secondly, we must know the nature of God in order to determine whether he could have existed first without the world and then have created it, or whether he had to have the world with him from eternity. The fact of the great difference of opinion on this question among thinkers, and the testimony of Maimonides that Aristotle himself had no valid proof in this matter are additional indications of the great difficulty of the subject.

Some think the world was made and destroyed an infinite number of times. Others say it was made once. Of these some maintain it was made out of something (Plato); others, that it was made out of absolute nothing (Philoponus, the Mutakallimun, Maimonides and many of our Jewish writers). Some on the other hand, namely, Aristotle and his followers, hold the world to be eternal. They all have their defenders, and there is no need to refute the others since Aristotle has already done this. His arguments are the best so far, and deserve investigation. The fundamental fallacy in all his proofs is that he argues from the laws of genesis and decay in the parts of the world to the laws of these processes in the world as a whole. This might seem to be the same criticism which Maimonides advances, but it is not really quite the same, Maimonides's assertion being more general and sweeping. Maimonides says that the origin of the world as a whole need not be in any respect like the processes going on within its parts; whereas Gersonides bases his argument on the observed difference in the world between wholes and parts, admitting that the two may be alike in many respects.

In order to determine whether the world is created or not, it is best to investigate first those things in the world which have the appearance of being eternal, such as the heavenly bodies, time, motion, the form of the earth, and so on. If these are proven to be eternal, the world is eternal; if not, it is not. A general principle to help us distinguish a thing having an origin from one that has not is the following: A thing which came into being in time has a purpose. An eternal thing has no purpose. Applying this principle to the heavens we find that all about them is with a purpose to ordering the sublunar world in the best way possible. Their motions, their distances, their positions, their numbers, and so on are all for this purpose. Hence they had a beginning. Aristotle's attempts to explain these conditions from the nature of the heavens themselves are not successful, and he knew it. Again, as the heavenly bodies are all made of the same fifth element (the Aristotelian ether), the many varieties in their forms and motions require special explanation. The only satisfactory explanation is that the origin of the heavenly bodies is not due to nature and necessity, which would favor eternity, but to will and freedom, and the many varieties are for a definite purpose. Hence they are not eternal.[352]

Gersonides then analyzes time and motion and proves that Aristotle to the contrary notwithstanding, they are both finite and not infinite. Time belongs to the category of quantity, and there is no infinite quantity. As time is dependent on motion, motion too is finite, hence neither is eternal. Another argument for creation in time is that if the world is eternal and governed altogether by necessity, the earth should be surrounded on all sides by water according to the nature of the lighter element to be above the heavier. Hence the appearance of parts of the earth's surface above the water is an indication of a break of natural law for a special purpose, namely, in order to produce the various mineral, plant and animal species. Hence once more purpose argues design and origin in time.

Finally if the world were eternal, the state of the sciences would be more advanced than it is. A similar argument may be drawn from language. Language is conventional; which means that the people existed before the language they agreed to speak. But man being a social animal they could not have existed an infinite time without language. Hence mankind is not eternal.[353]

We have just proved that the world came into being, but it does not necessarily follow that it will be destroyed. Nay, there are reasons to show that it will not be destroyed. For there is no destruction except through matter and the predominance of the passive powers over the active. Hence the being that is subject to destruction must consist of opposites. But the heavenly bodies have no opposites, not being composite; hence they cannot be destroyed. And if so, neither can the sublunar order be destroyed, which is the work of the heavenly bodies. There is of course the abstract possibility of their being destroyed by their maker, not naturally, but by his will, as they were made; but we can find no reason in God for wishing to destroy them, all reasons existing in man for destroying things being inapplicable to God.[354]

That the world began in time is now established. The question still remains, was the world made out of something or out of nothing? Both are impossible. The first is impossible, for that something out of which the world was made must have had some form, for matter never is without form, and if so, it must have had some motion, and we have a kind of world already, albeit an imperfect one. The second supposition is also impossible; for while form may come out of nothing, body cannot come from not-body. We never see the matter of any object arise out of nothing, though the form may. Nature as well as art produces one corporeal thing out of another. Hence the generally accepted principle, "ex nihilo nihil fit." Besides it would follow on this supposition that before the world came into existence there was a vacuum in its place, whereas it is proved in the Physics that a vacuum is impossible. The only thing remaining therefore is to say that the world was made partly out of something, partly out of nothing, i. e., out of an absolutely formless matter.

It may be objected that to assume the existence of a second eternal thing beside God is equivalent to a belief in dualism, in two gods. But this objection may be easily answered. Eternity as such does not constitute divinity. If all the world were eternal, God would still be God because he controls everything and is the author of the order obtaining in the world. In general it is the qualitative essence that makes the divine character of God, his wisdom and power as the source of goodness and right order in nature. The eternal matter of which we are speaking is the opposite of all this. As God is the extreme of perfection so is matter the extreme of imperfection and defect. As God is the source of good, so is matter the source of evil. How then can anyone suppose for a moment that an eternal formless matter can in any way be identified with a divine being?

Another objection that may be offered to our theory is that it is an established fact that matter cannot exist at all without any form, whereas our view assumes that an absolutely formless matter existed an infinite length of time before the world was made from it. This may be answered by saying that the impossibility of matter existing without form applies only to the actual objects of nature. God put in sublunar matter the nature and capacity of receiving all forms in a certain order. The primary qualities, the hot and the cold and the wet and the dry, as the forms of the elements, enable this matter to receive other higher forms. The very capacity of receiving a given form argues a certain form on the part of the matter having this capacity; for if it had no form there would be no reason why it should receive one form rather than another; whereas we find that the reception of forms is not at random, but that a given form comes from a definite other form. Man comes only from man. But this does not apply to the prime matter of which we are speaking. It may have been without form. Nay, it is reasonable to suppose that as we find matter and form combined, and we also find pure forms without matter, viz., in the separate Intelligences,—it is reasonable to suppose that there is also matter without form.

Finally one may ask if the world has not existed from eternity, what determined the author to will its existence at the time he did and not at another? We cannot say that he acquired new knowledge which he had not before, or that he needed the world then and not before, or that there was some obstacle which was removed. The answer to this would be that the sole cause of the creation was the will of God to benefit his creatures. Their existence is therefore due to the divine causality, which never changes. Their origin in time is due to the nature of a material object as such. A material object as being caused by an external agent is incompatible with eternity. It must have a beginning, and there is no sense in asking why at this time and not before or after, for the same question would apply to any other time. Gersonides cites other objections which he answers, and then he takes up one by one the Aristotelian arguments in favor of eternity and refutes them in detail. We cannot afford to reproduce them here as the discussions are technical, lengthy and intricate.[355]

Having given his philosophical cosmology, Gersonides then undertakes to show in detail that the Biblical story of creation teaches the same doctrine. Nay, he goes so far as to say that it was the Biblical account that suggested to him his philosophical theory. It would be truer to say that having approached the Bible with Aristotelian spectacles, and having no suspicion that the two attitudes are as far apart as the poles, he did not scruple to twist the expressions in Genesis out of all semblance to their natural meaning. The Biblical text had been twisted and turned ever since the days of Philo, and of the Mishna and Talmud and Midrash, in the interest of various schools and sects. Motives speculative, religious, theological, legal and ethical were at the basis of Biblical interpretation throughout its long history of two millennia and more—the end is not yet—and Gersonides was swimming with the current. The Bible is not a law, he says, which forces us to believe absurdities and to practice useless things, as some people think. On the contrary it is a law which leads us to our perfection. Hence what is proved by reason must be found in the Law, by interpretation if necessary. This is why Maimonides took pains to interpret all Biblical passages in which God is spoken of as if he were corporeal. Hence also his statement that if the eternity of the world were strictly demonstrated, it would not be difficult to interpret the Bible so as to agree. But in the matter of the origin of the world, Gersonides continues, it was not necessary for me to force the Biblical account. Quite the contrary, the expressions in the Bible guided me to my view.[356]

Accordingly he finds support for his doctrine that the world was not created ex nihilo, in the fact that there is not one miracle in the Bible in which anything comes out of nothing. They are all instances of something out of a pre-existent something. The miracle of the oil in the case of Elisha is no exception. The air changed into oil as it entered the partly depleted vessel. The six days of creation must not be taken literally. God's creation is timeless, and the six days indicate the natural order and rank in existing things proceeding from the cause to the effect and from the lower to the higher. Thus the movers of the heavenly bodies come before the spheres which they move as their causes. The spheres come before the terrestrial elements for the same reason. The elements are followed by the things composed of them. And among these too there is a certain order. Plants come before animals, aquatic animals before aerial, aerial before terrestrial, and the last of all is man, as the most perfect of sublunar creatures. All this he reads into the account of creation in Genesis. Thus the light spoken of in the first day represents the angels or separate Intelligences or movers of the spheres, and they are distinguished from the darkness there, which stands for the heavenly bodies as the matters of their movers, though at the same time they are grouped together as one day, because the form and its matter constitute a unit. The water, which was divided by the firmament, denotes the prime formless matter, part of which was changed into the matter of the heavenly bodies, and part into the four terrestrial elements. Form and matter are also designated by the terms "Tohu" and "Bohu" in the second verse in Genesis, rendered in the Revised Version by "without form" and "void." And so Gersonides continues throughout the story of creation, into the details of which we need not follow him.[357]

The concluding discussion in the Milhamot is devoted to the problem of miracles and its relation to prophecy. Maimonides had said that one reason for opposing the Aristotelian theory of the eternity of the world is that miracles would be an impossibility on that assumption. Hence Maimonides insists on creation ex nihilo, though he admits that the Platonic view of a pre-existent matter may be reconciled with the Torah. Gersonides, who adopted the doctrine of an eternal matter, finds it necessary to say by way of introduction to his treatment of miracles that they do not prove creation ex nihilo. For as was said before all miracles exhibit a production of something out of something and not out of nothing.

To explain the nature of miracles, he says, and their authors, it is necessary to know what miracles are. For this we must take the Biblical records as our data, just as we take the data of our senses in determining other matters. On examining the miracles of the Bible we find that they may be classified into those which involve a change of substance and those in which the substance remains the same and the change is one of quality or quantity. An example of the former is the change of Moses's rod into a serpent and of the water of Egypt into blood; of the latter, Moses's hand becoming leprous, and the withering of the hand of Jeroboam. We may further divide the miracles into those in which the prophet was told in advance, as Moses was of the ten plagues, and those in which he was not, as for example the reviving of the dead by Elijah and many other cases. Our examination also shows us that all miracles are performed by prophets or in relation to them. Also that they are done with some good and useful purpose, namely, to inculcate belief or to save from evil.

These data will help us to decide who is the author of miracles. Miracles cannot be accidental, as they are performed with a purpose; and as they involve a knowledge of the sublunar order, they must have as their author one who has this knowledge, hence either God or the Active Intellect or man, i. e., the prophet himself. Now it is not reasonable to suppose that God is the author of miracles, for miracles come only rarely and are of no value in themselves but only as a means to a special end, as we said before. The laws of nature, however, which control all regular events all the time, are essentially good and permanent. Hence it is not reasonable to suppose that the Active Intellect who, as we know, orders the sublunar world, has more important work to do than God. Besides if God were the author of miracles, the prophet would not know about them, for prophetic inspiration, as we know (p. 342), is due to the Active Intellect and not directly to God.

Nor do we need waste words in proving that man cannot be the author of miracles, for in that case the knowledge of them would not come to him through prophetic inspiration, since they are due to his own will. Besides man, as we have seen, cannot have a complete knowledge of the sublunar order, and hence it is not likely that he can control its laws to the extent of changing them.

There is therefore only one alternative left, namely, that the author of miracles is the same as the inspirer of the prophets, the controlling spirit of the sublunar world, whose intellect has as its content the unified system of sublunar creation as an immaterial idea, namely, the Active Intellect, of whom we have spoken so often. The prophet knows of the miracles because the Active Intellect, who is the author of them, is also the cause of the prophetic inspiration. This will account too for the fact that all miracles have to do with events in the sublunar world and are not found in the relations and motions of the heavenly bodies. The case of Joshua causing the sun and moon to stand still is no exception. There was no standing still of the sun and moon in that case. What is meant by the expressions in Joshua 10 is that the Israelites conquered the enemy in the short time that the sun occupied the zenith, while its motion was not noticeable for about an hour, as is usually the case about noon. In the case of Isaiah moving the sun ten degrees back for Hezekiah (Isai. 38, 8), there was likewise no change in the motion of the sun, but only in that of the cloud causing the shadow.

Miracles cannot be of regular occurrence, for if natural phenomena and laws were changed by miracle as a regular thing, it would signify a defect in the original order. Miracles cannot take place to violate the principle of contradiction, hence there can be no miracles in reference to mathematical truths, nor in matters relating to the past. Thus a miracle cannot make a thing black and white at the same time; nor a plane triangle whose angles are less than two right angles; nor is it possible by miracle now to make it not to have rained in Jerusalem yesterday, when as a matter of fact it did rain. For all these involve a denial of the logical law of contradiction that a thing cannot be and not be at the same time.[358]

A prophet is tested (1) by being able to foretell miracles before they come, and (2) by the realization of his prophetic messages. The question is raised concerning the statement of Jeremiah that one may be a true prophet and yet an evil prophecy may remain unfulfilled if the people repent. Does this mean that a good prophecy must always come true? In that case a good deal of what comes within the category of the possible and contingent becomes determined and necessary! The answer is that a good prophecy too sometimes fails of realization, as is illustrated in Jacob's fear of Esau after he was promised protection by God. But this happens more rarely on account of the fact that a man endeavors naturally to see a good prophecy realized, whereas he does his best to counteract an evil prophecy.[359]

Gersonides's entire discussion of miracles shows a deep seated motive to minimize their extent and influence. The study of science and philosophy had the effect of planting in the minds of the medival philosophers a great respect for reason on the one hand and natural law on the other. A study of history, archology and literary criticism has developed in modern times a spirit of scepticism regarding written records of antiquity. This was foreign to medival theologians generally. No one doubted for a moment the accuracy of the Biblical records as well as their inspiration in every detail. Hence prophecy and miracles had to be explained or explained away. Interpretation held the place of criticism.



The chronological treatment of Jewish philosophy which we have followed makes it necessary at this point to take up a Karaite work of the fourteenth century that is closely modelled upon the "Guide of the Perplexed." In doing this we necessarily take a step backward as far as the philosophical development is concerned. For while it is true that the early Rabbanite thinkers like Saadia, Bahya, Ibn Zaddik and others moved in the circle of ideas of the Mohammedan Mutakallimun, that period had long since been passed. Judah Halevi criticized the Kalam, Ibn Daud is a thorough Aristotelian, and Maimonides gave the Kalam in Jewish literature its deathblow. No Rabbanite after Maimonides would think of going back to the old arguments made popular by the Mutakallimun—the theory of atoms, of substance and accident in the Kalamistic sense of accident as a quality which needs continuous creation to exist any length of time, the denial of law and natural causation, the arguments in favor of creation and the existence of God based upon creation, the doctrine of the divine will as eternal or created, residing in a subject or existing without a subject, the world as due to God's will or to his wisdom, the nature of right and wrong as determined by the character and purpose of the act or solely by the arbitrary will of God—these and other topics, which formed the main ground of discussion between the Mu'tazilites and the Ashariya, and were taken over by the Karaites and to a less extent by the early Rabbanites in the tenth and eleventh centuries, had long lost their significance and their interest among the Rabbanite followers of Maimonides. Aristotelianism, introduced by Alfarabi, Avicenna and Averroes among the Arabs, and Ibn Daud and Maimonides among the Jews, dominated all speculative thought, and the old Kalam was obsolete and forgotten. Gersonides no longer regards the Kalamistic point of view as a living issue. He ignores it entirely. His problems as we have seen are those raised by the Averroistic system. In this respect then a reading of Aaron ben Elijah's "Ez Hayim" (Tree of Life)[360] affects us like a breath from a foreign clime, like the odor of a thing long buried. And yet Aaron ben Elijah was a contemporary of Levi ben Gerson. He was born about 1300, and died in 1369. He lived in Nicomedia, Cairo, Constantinople. The reason for the antiquated appearance of his work lies in the fact that he was a Karaite, and the Karaites never got beyond the Mu'tazilite point of view. Karaism was only a sect and never showed after the days of Saadia anything like the life and enthusiastic activity of the great body of Rabbanite Judaism, which formed the great majority of the Jewish people. The Karaites had their important men in Halaka as well as in religious philosophy and Biblical exegesis. Solomon ben Yeroham, Joseph Ha-Maor (Al-Kirkisani), Joseph Al Basir (p. 48 ff.), Jeshua ben Judah (p. 55 ff.), Yefet Ha-Levi, Judah Hadassi, Aaron ben Joseph—all these were prominent in Karaitic literature. But they cannot be compared to the great men among the Rabbanites. There was no Maimonides among them. And Aaron ben Elijah cherished the ambition of being to the Karaites what Maimonides was to the Rabbanites. Accordingly he undertook to compose three works representing the three great divisions of Karaitic Judaism—a book of Laws, a work on Biblical exegesis and a treatise on religious philosophy. The last was written first, having been composed in 1346. The "Sefer Ha-Mizvot," on the religious commandments, was written in 1354, and his exegetical work, known as "Keter Torah" (The Crown of the Law) was published in 1362. It is the first that interests us, the "Ez Hayim." As was said before, this book is closely modelled upon the "More Nebukim," though the arrangement is different, being more logical than that of the "Guide." Instead of beginning, as Maimonides does, with interpreting the anthropomorphic expressions in the Bible, which is followed by a treatment of the divine attributes, long before the existence of God has been proved or even the fundamental principles laid down upon which are based the proofs of the existence of God, Aaron ben Elijah more naturally begins with the basal doctrines of physics and metaphysics, which he then utilizes in discussing the existence of God. As Maimonides brought to a focus all the speculation on philosophy and religion as it was handed down to him by Arab and Jew, and gave it a harmonious and systematic form in his masterpiece; so did Aaron ben Elijah endeavor to sum up all Karaitic discussion in his work, and in addition declare his attitude to Maimonides. The success with which he carried out this plan is not equal. As a source of information on schools and opinions of Arabs and Karaites, the "Ez Hayim" is of great importance and interest. But it cannot in the least compare with the "Guide" as a constructive work of religious philosophy. It has not the same originality or any degree remotely approaching it. The greater part of the Aristotelian material seems bodily taken from Maimonides, and so is the part dealing with the anthropomorphic expressions in the Bible. There is a different point of view in his exposition of the Mu'tazilite physics, which he presents in a more systematic and favorable light than Maimonides, defending it against the strictures of the latter. But everywhere Aaron ben Elijah lacks the positiveness and commanding mastery of Maimonides. He is not clear what side of a question to espouse. For the most part he places side by side the opposed points of view and only barely intimates his own attitude or preference. Under these circumstances it will not be necessary for us to reproduce his ideas in extenso. It will be sufficient if we indicate his relation to Maimonides in the problems common to both, adding a brief statement of those topics which Aaron ben Elijah owes to his Karaite predecessors, and which Maimonides omits.

His general attitude on the relation of religion or revelation to reason and philosophy is somewhat inconsistent. For while he endeavors to rationalize Jewish dogma and Scriptural teaching like Maimonides, and in doing so utilizes Aristotelian terminology in matters physical, metaphysical, psychological, ethical and logical, he nevertheless in the beginning of his work condemns philosophy as well as philosophers, meaning of course the Aristotelians.[361] He nowhere expressly indicates the manner of reconciling this apparent contradiction. But it would seem as if he intended to distinguish between the philosophical method and the actual teachings of the Aristotelians. Their method he approves, their results he condemns. The Aristotelians taught the eternity of the world, the immutability of natural law, God's ignorance of particulars and the absence of special Providence. These doctrines must be condemned. Maimonides too rejects these extreme teachings while praising Aristotle and maintaining that philosophy was originally a possession of the Israelitish people, which they lost in the exile. Aaron ben Elijah is not willing to follow the philosophers as far as Maimonides. He admits positive attributes in God, which Maimonides rejects; he admits an absolute will in God and not merely a relative like Maimonides; he extends God's providence to all individuals including irrational creatures, whereas Maimonides limits special providence to the individuals of the human species, and so on. And so he condemns the philosophers, though he cannot help using their method and even their fundamental doctrines, so far as they are purely theoretical and scientific. He is willing to go the full length of the Aristotelians only in the unity and incorporeality of God, though here too he vindicates sense perception to God, i. e., the knowledge of that which we get through our sense organs. He too like the philosophers insists on the importance of the reason as the instrument of truth and knowledge. Abraham was the first, he tells us, who proved the existence of God with his intellect. Then came the law of Moses, which strengthened the same idea. The Gentiles hated and envied Israel for their superiority and their true opinions; hence they endeavored to refute their ideas and establish others in their stead. This was the work of the ancient Greek philosophers, who are called enemies in the Bible (Psalms 139, 21). At the time of the second Temple, seeing that the Jewish religion and its teachings were true, they took advantage of the advent of Jesus to adopt his false teachings, thus showing their hatred and envy of Israel. At the same time, however, they were obliged to borrow some views and methods of proof from Israel, for religion as such is opposed to philosophy. Still the true nature of God was unknown to them. Then came the Arabs, who imitated the Christians in adopting a belief different from Judaism, at the same time borrowing views from the Bible. These are the Mu'tazila and the Ashariya. Later when on account of the exile differences arose among the Jews, there were formed the two parties of the Karaites and the Rabbanites. The Karaites followed the Mu'tazila, and so did some of the Rabbanites, because their views coincided with those of the Bible, from which they were borrowed. The views of the philosophers as being opposed to the Bible they naturally rejected. Nevertheless some Rabbanites adopted the views of the philosophers, though believing in the Bible. This is a mistake, for even the Christians rejected the views of the philosophers.[362]

Here we see clearly the difference in general attitude between Aaron ben Elijah and Maimonides. The latter has no use whatsoever for the Mu'tazila. He realizes the immeasurable superiority of the Aristotelians (this is the meaning of the word philosophers in medival Jewish and Arabic literature). His task is therefore to harmonize the Bible with Aristotelian doctrine wherever possible. Aaron ben Elijah is still, in the fourteenth century, a follower of the Kalam, and believes the Mu'tazila are closer to Scripture than Aristotle. He is two centuries behind Maimonides philosophically, and yet he has the truer insight because less debauched by Aristotelian learning.

As was said before, Aaron ben Elijah follows a more logical arrangement in the disposition of his work than Maimonides. In reality it is the old arrangement of the Kalamistic works (cf. p. 24). The purpose of all Jewish investigators, he says, is the same, namely, to prove the existence and nature of God, but there is a difference among them in the method of proving God's existence. Some base their proofs on the assumption of the creation of the world, others on that of the world's eternity. The Mutakallimun follow the former method, the philosophers, the latter. Their respective views of the origin of the world are determined by their opinions concerning the principles of existence and the existent, that is, the fundamental principles of physics and metaphysics. Accordingly Aaron ben Elijah finds it necessary to give a preliminary account of the Kalamistic as well as the philosophic theories, as Maimonides did before him (p. 249 ff.). It is not necessary for us to reproduce here his sketch of the philosophical views, as we know them sufficiently from our studies of Ibn Daud and Maimonides. But it will be of value to refer to his account of the Kalamistic principles, though we have already discussed them in the introduction (p. xxi) and in our study of Maimonides (p. 249 ff.). This is due principally to the fact that Aaron ben Elijah endeavors to defend the Mutakallimun against Maimonides's charge that they were influenced by preconceived notions and allowed their religious views to dictate to them their interpretation of nature, instead of letting the latter speak for itself. Thus Maimonides specifically accuses them of having adopted the atomic theory of the pre-Aristotelian philosophers not because they were really and independently convinced of its scientific truth—how could that be since Aristotle proved it impossible?—but because on this theory they could prove the creation of the world, which they must at all hazards maintain as a religious dogma fundamental in its nature, since upon it is based the proof of the existence of God.

Aaron ben Elijah denies this charge, maintaining the philosophical honesty of the Mutakallimun. Epicurus too, he says, believed in the atomic theory, though he regarded the world as eternal. Hence there is no necessary connection between atoms and creation.[363] The atomic theory is defensible on its own merits, and the motives of the Mutakallimun in adopting it are purely scientific, as follows: According to the Mutakallimun there are only body or substance and its accidents or qualities. This is the constitution of material objects. There are, however, two kinds of qualities or attributes, viz., "characters," and accidents. Characters are such attributes as are essential to body and without which it cannot exist. Accidents may disappear, while body continues. Since, then, body may exist with or without accidents, there must be a cause which is responsible for the attachment of accidents to body when they are so attached. This cause we call "union." When a body is "united" with accidents it owes this to the existence of a certain something, a certain property, let us say, in it which we have called "union." Hence when the body is "separated" from accidents, when it is without accidents, it is because there is no "union." Further, every body possessed of magnitude or extension is divisible, hence it must have "union" to hold its parts together. But this "union" is not essential to all existents; for we have seen that its function is to unite accidents with body. And as accidents are separable while body may continue to exist without them, "union" disappears together with the accidents. Bodies without "union" are therefore possible and real. But we have just seen that all bodies possessing magnitude have "union." It follows therefore that if there are "union"-less bodies, they are without magnitude, and hence atoms. This is the proof of the atomic theory and it has nothing to do with the matter of the origin of the world.[364] As a matter of fact the Mutakallimun believe that the atoms were created ex nihilo. But the creation of the world can be proved whichever view we adopt concerning the nature of the existent, whether it be the atomic theory of the Mutakallimun or the principles of matter and form of the Aristotelians. The important principle at the basis of this proof is the well-known Kalamistic one that if an object cannot do without an attribute originating in time, the object itself has its origin in time. Now on either view of the constitution of the existent, body must have form or accidents respectively, and as the latter are constantly changing, body or matter has its origin in time, hence the world is not eternal.

Besides, not to speak of the inconclusive character of the philosophical arguments in favor of eternity and the positive arguments for creation (all or most of which we have already met in our previous studies, and need not therefore reproduce Aaron ben Elijah's version of them), the philosophers themselves without knowing it are led to contradict themselves in their very arguments from the assumption of eternity. The doctrine of creation follows as a consequence from their own presuppositions. Thus on the basis of eternity of motion they prove that the heavenly spheres are endowed with soul and intellect, and their motions are voluntary and due to conceptions which they endeavor to realize (cf. p. 267). This makes the sphere a composite object, containing the elements, sphericity, soul, intellect. Everything composite is a possible existent, because its existence depends upon the existence of its parts. What is a possible existent may also not exist. Moreover, that which is possible must at some time become actual. Hence the sphere must at some time have been non-existent, and it required an agent to bring it into being. We are thus led to contradict our hypothesis of eternity from which we started.[365]

Creation is thus established, and this is the best way to prove the existence, unity and incorporeality of God. Maimonides attempts to prove creation from the peculiarities of the heavenly motions, which cannot be well accounted for on the theory of natural causes. Adopting the latter in the main, he makes an exception in the case of the spherical motions because the philosophers cannot adequately explain them, and jumps to the conclusion that here the philosophical appeal to mechanical causation breaks down and we are dealing with teleology, with intelligent design and purpose on the part of an intelligent agent. This leads to belief in creation. But this argument of Maimonides is very weak and inconclusive. Ignorance of causes in a special case, due to the limitations of our reason, proves nothing. Mechanical causes may be the sole determinants of the heavenly motions even though the philosophers have not yet discovered what they are (cf. above, p. 270 ff.).[366]

Nor is Maimonides to be imitated, who bases his proof of the existence of God on the theory of eternity. The Bible is opposed to it. The Bible begins with creation as an indication that this is the basis of our knowledge of God's existence, revelation and providence. This is the method Abraham followed and this is what he meant when he swore by the "most high God, the creator of heaven and earth" (Gen. 14, 22). Abraham arrived at this belief through ratiocination and endeavored to convince others. The same thing is evident in the words of Isaiah (40, 26), "Lift up your eyes on high and see who created these." He was arguing with the people who believed in eternity, and proved to them the existence of God by showing that the world is created. All these indications in the Bible show that the doctrine of creation is capable of apodeictic proof.[367]

The reader will see that all this is directed against Maimonides, though he is not mentioned by name. Maimonides claimed against the Mutakallimun that it is not safe to base the existence of God upon the theory of creation, because the latter cannot be strictly demonstrated. And while he believed in it himself and gave reasons to show why it is more plausible than eternity, he admitted that others might think differently; and hence based his proofs of God's existence on the Aristotelian theory of eternity in order to be on the safe side. It is never too late to prove God's existence if the world is created. We must be sure of his existence, no matter what the fate of our cosmological theories might be. This did not appeal to the Karaite and Mutakallim, Aaron ben Elijah. His idea is that we must never for a moment doubt the creation of the world. To follow the procedure of Maimonides would have the tendency of making people believe that the world may be eternal after all, as happened in fact in the case of Gersonides. Aaron ben Elijah will not leave a way open to such a heresy.

In the doctrine of attributes Aaron ben Elijah likewise maintains the views of the Mu'tazilite Karaites against the philosophers, and especially against Maimonides. The general problem is sufficiently familiar to us by this time, and we need only present the salient points in the controversy. The question is whether there are any positive attributes which may be applied to God as actually denoting his essence—hence positive essential attributes. Maimonides denied it, the Karaites affirmed it. The arguments for Maimonides's denial we saw before (p. 262 f.). And his conclusion is that the only attributes that may be applied to God are the negative, and those positive ones which do not denote any definite thing corresponding to them in God's essence, but are derived from the effects of God's unitary and simple being on the life of man and nature. He is the author of these effects, and we characterize him in the way in which we would characterize a human being who would do similar things; but this must not be done.

Aaron ben Elijah insists that there are positive essential attributes, which are the following five: Omnipotent, Omniscient, Acting with Will, Living, Existent. He agrees with Maimonides that these essential attributes must be understood in a manner not to interfere with God's simplicity and unity, but is satisfied that this can be done. For we must not conceive of them as additions to God's essence, nor as so many distinct elements composing God's essence, but as representing the multiplicity of powers issuing from him without detriment to his unity. We call them essential attributes, meaning that they are the essence of God, but not that they are different from each other and each makes up part of God's essence. We do not know God's essence, and these terms are simply transferred from our human experience, and do not indicate that God's activity can be compared to ours in any sense.

The five attributes above named are all identical with God's simple essence. "Living" denotes ability to perceive, hence is identical with "Omniscient." "Acting with will" likewise denotes just and proper action, which in turn involves true insight. Hence identity of will and knowledge. "Omnipotent" also in the case of an intellectual being denotes the act of the intellect par excellence, which is knowledge. And surely God's existence is not distinct from his essence, else his existence would be caused, and he would not be the necessary existent all agree him to be. It follows then that God is one, and his essence is nevertheless all these five attributes.

There are all the reasons in the world why we should apply attributes to God. The same reason as we have for applying names to anything else exists for giving names to God. In fact it would be correct to say that we should have more names for God than for anything else, since in other things we can avoid naming them by pointing to them, as they can be perceived by the senses. Not so God. We are forced to use words in talking about him. God has given himself names in the Bible, hence we may do the same.

Maimonides and his school endeavor to obviate the criticisms of the philosophers, who are opposed to all attributes, by excluding all but negative terms. But this does not help the matter in the least. A negative attribute is in reality no different from a positive, and in the end leads to a positive. Thus if we say "not mineral," "not plant," we clearly say "animal." The advocates of negative attributes answer this criticism by saying that they understand pure negation without any positive implications, just as when we say a stone is "not seeing," we do not imply that it is blind. But this cannot be, for when they say God is "not ignorant," they do not mean that he is not "knowing" either, for they insist that he is power and knowledge and life, and so on. This being the case, it is much more proper to use positive attributes, seeing that the Prophets do so. When they say that the Prophets meant only to exclude the negative; that by saying, "Able," "Knowing," they meant to exclude "weak" "ignorant," they ipso facto admit that by excluding the latter we posit the former.

The arguments against positive essential attributes we can easily answer. By saying that certain attributes are essential we do not claim to know God's essence. All we know is God's existence, which we learn from his effects, and according to these same effects we characterize God's existence by means of attributes of which also we know only the existence, not the essence. For we do not mean to indicate that these terms denote the same thing in God as they denote in us. They are homonyms, since in God they denote essence, whereas in us they are accidents. The plurality of attributes does not argue plurality in God, for one essence may perform a great many acts, and hence we may characterize the essence in accordance with those acts. The error of composition arises only if we suppose that the various acts point to various elements in their author. Of the various kinds of terms those only are applicable to God which denote pure essence or substance like knowledge, power; and those denoting activity like creating, doing, and so on.[368]

In reference to the will of God Aaron ben Elijah refuses to agree with the peculiar view of the Mutakallimun; but unlike Maimonides, who can afford to ignore their discussions entirely and dismiss their fanciful notion with a word ("Guide," I. 75, proof 3), Aaron ben Elijah takes up the discussion seriously. The Mutakallimun (or the Ashariya, according to Aaron ben Elijah) were in dread of anything that might lend some semblance to eternity of the world. Hence they argued, If the will of God is identical with his essence like the other essential attributes, it follows that as his essence is eternal and unchangeable so is his will. And if we grant this, then the objects of his will too must be eternal and unchangeable, and we have the much abhorred doctrine of the eternity of the world. To avoid this objectionable conclusion they conceived of God's voluntary acts as due to an external will. But this external will also offered difficulties. It cannot be a power or quality residing in God as its subject, for God is not a material substance bearing accidents. It cannot be a quality inherent in another subject, for then it would not be God's will at all; it would be the will of this other being, and God's acts would be determined by someone else. They were thus forced to assume a subject-less will newly created with every act of God. This notion Aaron ben Elijah rejects on the ground that a subject-less will is an impossibility. An accident must have a subject, and will implies life as its subject. Besides, the relation between God and this subject-less accident, will, would be the cause of much logical difficulty. Aaron ben Elijah therefore accepts the ordinary sane view that the will of God is identical with his essence; that God wills through his own essence. And he does not fear that this will lead to eternity of the world. He identifies God's will with his wisdom, and God's wisdom with right action. As we do not know the essence of God's wisdom, so we do not know how it is that it prompts him to realize his will at one time and not at another, though his will is always the same.[369]

Aaron ben Elijah also follows his party in attributing to God sense perception, not, to be sure, the same kind of perception as we have, acquired by means of corporeal organs; for this is impossible in God for many reasons. God is not corporeal, and he cannot be affected or changed by a corporeal stimulus. But it is clear beyond a doubt that nothing can be more absurd than to suppose that the creator of the sense organs does not understand the purpose which they serve and the objects which they perceive. What we mean then is that the objects which we perceive with our senses God also perceives, though in an incorporeal manner. Hence it does not follow that there is any change in God due to the external object he perceives, nor that the multiplicity of objects involves plurality in God; for even our power of perception is one, though it perceives many things and opposite. We conclude then that God has perception as well as intelligence, but they are not two distinct powers in him. It is the object perceived that determines the power percipient. Hence one and the same power may be called perception when we are dealing with a sensible object, and intelligence when it has an intelligible as its object.[370]

In his discussion of the nature of evil we once more are brought in contact with Kalamistic views recalling the old Karaite works of the eleventh century (cf. pp. 52, 57). Thus the notion that good and bad are adjectives applied to acts not in view of their inherent character, which is per se neither good nor bad, but solely to indicate that they have been commanded or forbidden; the idea that only the dependent subject can do wrong, but not the master, since his will is the source of all right and wrong—these views are frequently discussed in the Mu'tazilite works of Arabs and Karaites. The Rabbanites scarcely ever mention them. Aaron ben Elijah enumerates six views on the nature of evil, with all of which except the last he disagrees. The opinion named above that an act is made good or bad by being commanded or prohibited, he refutes as follows: Such a view removes the very foundation of good and bad. For if the person in authority chooses to reverse his order, the good becomes bad, and the bad good, and the same thing is then good and bad, which is absurd. Besides, if there are two authorities giving opposite orders, the same act is good and bad at the same time. To say that God's command alone determines the character of an act is incorrect, because as long as commanding and prohibiting as such determine the goodness or badness of an act, the person issuing the command is immaterial. We do say quite generally that an act which God commands is good, and one which he prohibits is bad; but we mean by this merely that the command or prohibition is an indication to us, who are ignorant of the true nature of acts.

Again, on this theory of the value of acts, what will you do with such an act as the investigation of the existence and nature of God? Surely such an important matter cannot be indifferent. It must be good or bad. And yet we cannot apply to it the above test of command and prohibition, for this test implies the existence of God, which the act endeavors to prove. It follows therefore that the value of an act is inherent in it and not determined and created by command and prohibition.

Aaron ben Elijah is similarly dissatisfied with another view, which regards evil as a negation. We have heard this opinion before and we know that Maimonides adopted it (p. 288). Its motive as we know is to remove from God the responsibility for evil. If evil is nothing positive it is not caused by the activity of an agent. All essential activity is good, and all the acts of God are good. Evil consists in the absence of good; it is due to matter, and does not come from God. Aaron ben Elijah objects properly that as good is a positive act, a doing of something positive, so is evil, even on the theory of its negative character, a removal of something positive, hence a positive act. Besides, granting all that the opponent claims, the argument should work both ways, and if God is not held responsible for the evil in the world because it is mere privation, why should man be held responsible for doing evil, i. e., for removing the positive? He clinches his argument by quoting Isaiah (5, 20), "Woe unto those who say of evil it is good, and of good it is evil ... that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." Good and evil are placed parallel with sweet and bitter, which are both positive. Hence the Bible is opposed to the negative conception of evil.

His own view is that good and evil are qualities pertaining to an act by reason of its own nature, but these are not absolute conceptions like true and false. The good and the bad are conventional constructs, and the value of an act is relative to the end or purpose it serves. The purpose of human convention in regarding certain acts as good and others as bad is the protection of the human race. An act which conduces to human welfare is good, one that militates against it is bad. Still there are instances in which an act generally regarded as bad may assume a different character when in the given instance it serves a good purpose, as for example when pain is inflicted to obviate more serious danger. The surgeon, who amputates a leg to save the patient's life, does good, not evil. The judge, who punishes the criminal with imprisonment or death for the protection of society and to realize justice, does good, not evil. In this way we must explain the evil which God brings upon man. God cannot be the cause of evil. For evil in man is due to want or ignorance. Neither is found in God, hence he has no motive to do wrong. All the evil of which we complain is only apparent. In reality it is good, because it is either brought upon us to prevent still greater evils, or it is in the nature of just punishment for wrongdoing. In either case it is a good.[371]

Aaron ben Elijah's discussion of Providence follows closely the plan of the corresponding arguments in Maimonides. The problem is treated by both in connection with God's knowledge, and both maintain that the real motive of those who denied God's knowledge of particulars is their observation of apparent injustice in the happenings of this world (cf. above, p. 289). Both again preface their own views of the question of Providence by a preliminary statement of the various opinions held by other sects. Here too the two accounts are in the main similar, except that Aaron ben Elijah is somewhat more detailed and names a few sects not mentioned by Maimonides, among them being the Manicheans and the followers of the Syrian Gnostic Bardesanes. In their own views, however, Aaron ben Elijah and Maimonides differ; the latter approaching the view of Aristotle, the former that of the Mu'tazila.

Maimonides as we know (p. 292) denies special providence for the individuals of the sublunar world with the exception of man. In the case of the lower animals, the species alone are protected by divine providence, hence they will continue forever, whereas the individual animals are subject to chance. Man, as a rational animal, is an exception. He is a free and responsible agent, hence he is under divine guidance and is rewarded and punished for his conduct. The extent of the divine care depends upon the degree to which the individual develops his reason, actualizing his potential intellect.

Aaron ben Elijah argues that this view is erroneous, for it is not proper to make a distinction between God's knowledge and his providence. If it would argue imperfection in God not to know certain things, the same objection applies to limiting his providence, and the two should be coextensive. To say that God's providence extends to superior and important things and ignores the inferior is to make God guilty of injustice. Aaron ben Elijah believes therefore that Providence extends to all individuals, including animals. And he quotes the Bible in his support, "The Lord is good to all, and his mercies are over all his works," (Ps. 145, 9), and, "Thou shalt not plough with an ox and an ass together" (Deut. 22, 10). Maimonides, he says, was led to his opinion by his idea that death and suffering always involve sin; and not being able to apply this dictum to the suffering of animals that are slaughtered, he removed Providence from their individuals entirely. When the Bible orders us to consider the feelings of the animal, he says the object is to train our own faculties in mercy, and prevent the formation of habits of cruelty, not for the sake of the animal. But he cannot remove all difficulties in this way. What will he do with the case of a person born crippled, and the sufferings of little children? The idea that death and suffering in all cases involve sin must be given up. Maimonides is also wrong when he says that reward is purely intellectual and is dependent upon the development of the "acquired intellect." It would follow from this that right conduct as such is not rewarded; that it serves merely as a help to realizing the acquired intellect. All this is opposed to Biblical teaching.[372]

The prosperity of the wicked and the adversity of the righteous Aaron ben Elijah endeavors to explain as follows. The prosperity of the wicked may be due to former good deeds; or by way of punishment, that he may continue in his evil deeds and be punished more severely. It may be in order that he may use the good fortune he has in whatever way he pleases, for good or ill. Finally his good fortune may be given him as a matter of grace, like his creation. Correspondingly we may explain the adversity of the righteous in a similar manner. It may be due to former sins. If he has no sins, his sufferings may be intended to test him in order to add to his reward. If he dies without having enjoyed life, he will be rewarded in the next world. The pleasures of this world must not be considered. For since they are given as a matter of grace, they may come or not without involving any injustice. When a man has both good deeds and sins, he may be rewarded for his good deeds and punished for his bad, or he may be paid according to the element which predominates. Those who are born crippled and the sufferings of children will be rewarded later. In reference to the slaughter of animals, Aaron ben Elijah does not agree with the Mu'tazila that the animals will be recompensed for their undeserved sufferings. There is no immortal part in animals, hence no reward after death. He can assign no reason for their sufferings except that men need them for food, but he sees nothing wrong in taking an animal's life for food, for as the life of animals was given to them as a matter of grace, there is no wrong in taking it away. However, to inflict pain in a way different from the manner permitted by God is wrong.[373]

Aaron ben Elijah lays great stress upon what he considers an important difference of opinion between the Rabbanites and the Karaites concerning the nature and purpose of divine punishment. The Rabbanites according to him insist that "there is no death without sin, nor suffering without guilt," whereas the Karaites admit that some of the sufferings of the righteous are not in the nature of punishment at all, but are what are known as "chastisements of love." Their purpose is to increase the man's reward later in the future world, and at the same time they have a pedagogical value in themselves in strengthening the person spiritually. Accordingly Aaron ben Elijah, who in the main follows the opinions of the Karaites, differs with the Rabbanites and particularly Maimonides in the interpretation of the "trials" of Adam, Abraham, Job.

So far as Job is concerned, we know the opinions of Maimonides on the subject. In his "Guide of the Perplexed" he interprets the book of Job in connection with his discussion of Providence (cf. above, p. 304). In the general nature of suffering the idea of "chastisement of love" is quite familiar to the Rabbis, though Maimonides does not care to insist on it, claiming that there is no support for it in the Bible. The idea of "trial" according to him is neither that God may know what he did not know before; nor is it to make a man suffer that he may be rewarded later. The purpose of trial is that mankind may know whatever it is desired to teach them in a given case. In the trial of Abraham when he was told to sacrifice Isaac, there was a two-fold reason; first, that all may know to what extent the love of God may go in a pious man; and second to show that a prophet is convinced of the reality of his visions as an ordinary person is of the data of his senses.[374]

The book of Job is to Maimonides a treatise on Providence, and the five characters in the drama represent the various opinions on the nature of Providence as they were held by different schools of philosophy and theology in Maimonides's day. Job has the Aristotelian view that God cares nothing for man. Eliphaz represents the correct Jewish view that everything is reward or punishment for merit and demerit. Bildad maintains the Mu'tazilite opinion that many misfortunes are for the purpose of increasing reward in the world to come. Zophar stands for the view of the Ashariya that all is to be explained by reference to the will of God, and no questions should be asked. Elihu finally insists that the individual man is the object of the divine care, but that we must not compare God's providence with our own interest in, and care for things; that there is no relation at all between them except in name (cf. above, p. 304). The Rabbis, who do not make of Job a philosopher, naturally do not understand the matter as Maimonides does, but they nevertheless agree with him that Job deserved the punishment he received. The Karaites on the other hand classed Job's sufferings with "chastisements of love," which would mean that Job was a perfect man and did not deserve any punishment. The sole motive for inflicting pain and tribulation upon him was to reward him the more later.

Aaron ben Elijah agrees in the main with his Karaite predecessors that Job was not punished for any fault he had committed. He does not see in the arguments of Job's friends any difference of opinion on the general question of Providence, and Job was not an Aristotelian. Unlike Aristotle, he did believe in God's care for man, as is evident from such statements as (Job 10, 10), "Behold like milk didst thou pour me out, and like cheese didst thou curdle me." The Karaites, he holds, are correct in their main contention that Job's sufferings were not in the nature of punishment for previous guilt and wrongdoing, but they are mistaken in supposing that Job was altogether right in his conception of the meaning and reason of his sufferings; that they had no other purpose except to increase his reward in the future. Aaron ben Elijah then explains his own view of "trial."

Man, he says, is composed of body and soul, and must therefore endeavor to gain this world and the next. If he is punished for guilt or offence, the punishment corresponds to the offence. Corporeal guilt is followed by corporeal punishment, spiritual guilt by spiritual punishment. Adam offended spiritually and was punished spiritually by being driven from the Garden of Eden as will be explained later. Abraham endeavored to do justice to both the constituent parts of his being; and hence God in his kindness, wishing to strengthen Abraham spiritually, gave him the opportunity in the trial of Isaac. At the same time the physical suffering was compensated by the promise to Abraham of the continuity of Isaac's descendants. Job's sufferings were of the same kind, except that they came to him without his knowledge and without his being told their purpose. And at first he thought they were in order to give him future reward, but without any use in themselves. Later he discovered that they benefited him directly by increasing his spiritual strength.[375]

Aaron ben Elijah differs also from Maimonides in reference to the purpose of the world. Maimonides maintains that while there is sense in inquiring for the purpose of the parts of the world, the question of the ultimate purpose of the world as a whole is meaningless. The purpose of a given event or law of nature lies in its relation to the other events and laws, hence there is a relative purpose in particular things; thus, given the existence of animals they must have food, sense perception, and so on. But if we ask why the universe as a whole, the only answer that can be given is God's wisdom, which we do not understand. In particular Maimonides will not admit that the world is for the sake of man, as this view clashes with experience and makes it impossible to explain a great many phenomena in nature, which are distinctly of no benefit to man and take no cognizance of his interests.[376] Aaron ben Elijah agrees with Maimonides that God's wisdom rather than his arbitrary will, as the Ashariya maintain, must be appealed to in answering the question of the purpose of the world. But he is inclined to regard man as the purpose of the lower world, admitting that we cannot know the purpose of the higher worlds of the spheres and Intelligences, as they transcend the powers of our comprehension.[377]

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