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Oxford University Press, USA
Law, Reason, and Morality, in Medieval Jewish Philosophy: Sadia Gaon, Bahya ibn Pakuda, and Moses Maimonides

Law, Reason, and Morality, in Medieval Jewish Philosophy: Sadia Gaon, Bahya ibn Pakuda, and Moses Maimonides

by Jonathan Jacobs


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Law, Reason, and Morality, in Medieval Jewish Philosophy: Sadia Gaon, Bahya ibn Pakuda, and Moses Maimonides

The medieval Jewish philosophers Saadia Gaon, Bahya ibn Pakuda, and Moses Maimonides made significant contributions to moral philosophy in ways that remain relevant today.

Jonathan Jacobs explicates shared, general features of the thought of these thinkers and also highlights their distinctive contributions to understanding moral thought and moral life. The rationalism of these thinkers is a key to their views. They argued that seeking rational understanding of Torah's commandments and the created order is crucial to fulfilling the covenant with God, and that intellectual activity and ethical activity form a spiral of mutual reinforcement. In their view, rational comprehension and ethical action jointly constitute a life of holiness. Their insights are important in their own right and are also relevant to enduring issues in moral epistemology and moral psychology, resonating even in the contemporary context.

The central concerns of this study include (i) the relations between revelation and rational justification, (ii) the roles of intellectual virtue and ethical virtue in human perfection, (iii) the implications of theistic commitments for topics such as freedom of the will, the acquisition of virtues and vices, repentance, humility, and forgiveness, (iv) contrasts between medieval Jewish moral thought and the practical wisdom approach to moral philosophy and the natural law approach to it, and (v) the universality and objectivity of moral elements of Torah.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780199542833
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date: 09/10/2010
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Jacobs is Director of The Institute for Criminal Justice Ethics and Professor of Philosophy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Athens, Jerusalem, and Jewish Moral Thought 10

The philosophical context of the project 10

The rationalism of Jewish thought 14

The relevance of Athens and Jerusalem 19

The rationalism of Jewish tradition 30

The significance of covenant 36

2 Freedom of the Will, Covenant, and Moral Capability 39

The essential role of free will 39

Aristotle on voluntariness and responsibility for character 42

Some considerations of moral epistemology 46

The scope of moral capacity: the contrast with Kant 50

Specific arguments for free will 54

The challenge of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart 67

An important contrast with Plato and Aristotle 69

3 Moral Psychology, Revelation, and Virtue 76

The basis and significance of gratitude 77

Some contrasts with Aristotle's moral psychology 80

The phronimos and the Law as measures of excellence 88

The decisive difference made by repentance 93

The role of rebuke and the importance of community 102

4 Jewish Moral Thought and Practical Wisdom 107

Aristotle's conception of practical wisdom as a basis for comparison 107

The 'reasons of the commandments' and moral epistemology 112

The nature of moral motivation 128

The historical dimension of perfection 131

5 Requirements, Ideals, and Moral Motivation 136

Torah and fundamental principles 136

Lifnim mishurat hadin and imitatio Dei 139

Divine command: the issues of voluntarism and heteronomy 145

6 Judaism and Natural Law 155

Stoic roots of natural law 155

Several background considerations 161

Aristotle and natural law 163

Natural law and theism 169

Two interpretations of the Thomistic conception of natural law 172

Scotus and natural law 182

7 'The Reasons of the Commandments' and Natural Law 186

Fundamental principles and codification 187

A case against interpreting Jewish moral thought as involving natural law 190

A case for finding natural law in Jewish moral thought 197

Different considerations against the natural law interpretation 206

Some differences between the Jewish and Christian contexts 210

Reason, commandments, and natural law 213

Bibliography 222

Index 227

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