Sunday, July 30, 2006

"From Moses to Moses..."

I haven't abandoned this blog - quite the opposite. I have several posts halfway written, ranging from the intensely personal to the esoteric and abstract. I'm trying to get them up soon.

I've also finally gotten around to really diving into my copy of Maimonides' Guide to the Perplexed, which has been gathering dust on my bookshelf for the past few years. It's some heavy-duty stuff - I'm going to have to break out my old notes on Aristotle's Metaphysics to really engage with the material on a sophisticated level.

Even so, reading Maimonides is a hell of a lot better this time around. I picked up the book while I was studying in Israel during the summer before my junior year. After completing a couple of philosophy classes, I thought I was hot shit - a master of argumentation, a sophist extraordinaire. I acquired a reputation for posing difficult questions, and for my vigorous debates with the rabbis. At some point, one of the them suggested that I might find Guide to the Perplexed interesting, since it addressed Judaism from a philosophical viewpoint.

I was intrigued. Although I always enjoyed our dissucssions, there was something missing when I talked with the rabbis. My questions or arguments often required some familiarity with ideas coming from philosophy with which they had little, if any, background in. Maimonides, on the other hand, was not just a great Jewish thinker, but an important philosopher in his own right. And his Guide to the Perplexed was explicitly addressed to those whose objections to Judaism came from their study of philosophy.

When I started reading the Guide, however, I quickly found that I was in over my head. Just as I had assumed a certain level of philosophical learning for my arguments, so too did Maimonides. I didn't really understand what he was talking about half the time, and so I laid it down in frustration.

Moreover, though I didn't realize it at the time, my own philosophical thought was still immature - not surprising since I had only been exposed to a few introductory classes - and so the criticisms I did come up with were superficial at best. It wasn't until after I returned to Texas and embarked on the real core of my philosophy major that my deeper objections to Judaism began to crystalize.

During my last three years at Texas, I immersed myself in the world of philosophy, taking every upper-division class that I could fit into my schedule. I even stayed an extra year because, even though I had completed more than enough credits to graduate, I was not yet finished. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to study under some truly world-class professors at a department considered one of the best, and so I tried hard to get as much out of it as I possibly could. And in the end, it changed me - perhaps even more than law school did.

Reading Maimonides now is an entirelly different experience. Arguments and concepts that were opaque when I first read them are now the very things I live to explore. I find myself anticipating many of his logical moves as I read, since I have now studied their Aristotelian ancestry. In many ways, it is the theological debate I have always longed for.

And yet, it is still incomplete. Maimonides, after all, lived in the Middle Ages - he did not have the opportunity to consider the ideas of later minds like Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, Frege and Russell. He never confronted the computational theory of mind or the paradoxes of Godel's incompleteness theorem. And so, despite my enthusiasm, I still despair that I will ever find the debate that I am looking for. But at least this is a start.

3 Comments:

Blogger Novitski said...

I would check out Whitehead's Process and Theology lectures. His general philosophy builds on Hume in a way I find quite satisfactory, but his religious writings I found spectacular.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006 8:21:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Murphy said...

I look forward to seeing more posts from you.

Cheers,
Mark

Tuesday, August 15, 2006 11:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First time visiting your site...Have you read Kellner's "Must a Jew Believe anything?"?

Sunday, August 08, 2010 7:39:00 AM  

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