The Matter and Form of Maimonides' Guide

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9780674051607: The Matter and Form of Maimonides' Guide

Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed has traditionally been read as an attempt to harmonize reason and revelation. Another, more recent interpretation takes the contradiction between philosophy and religion to be irreconcilable, and concludes that the Guide prescribes religion for the masses and philosophy for the elite. Moving beyond these familiar debates, Josef Stern argues that the perplexity addressed in this famously enigmatic work is not the conflict between Athens and Jerusalem but the tension between human matter and form, between the body and the intellect.

Maimonides’ philosophical tradition takes the perfect life to be intellectual: pure, undivided contemplation of all possible truths, from physics and cosmology to metaphysics and God. According to the Guide, this ideal cannot be realized by humans. Their embodied minds cannot achieve scientific knowledge of metaphysics, and their bodily impulses interfere with exclusive contemplation. Closely analyzing the arguments in the Guide and its original use of the parable as a medium of philosophical writing, Stern articulates Maimonides’ skepticism about human knowledge of metaphysics and his heterodox interpretations of scriptural and rabbinic parables. Stern shows how, in order to accommodate the conflicting demands of the intellect and the body, Maimonides creates a repertoire of spiritual exercises, reconceiving the Mosaic commandments as training for the life of the embodied mind. By focusing on the philosophical notions of matter and form, and the interplay between its literary form and subject matter, Stern succeeds in developing a unified, novel interpretation of the Guide.

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About the Author:

Josef Stern is William H. Colvin Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago and Director of the Chicago Center for Jewish Studies.

Review:

Josef Stern's The Matter and Form of Maimonides' Guide is by far the best philosophical book on Guide of the Perplexed I have ever read, and Maimonides is by far the most significant and most discussed Jewish philosopher, of unparalleled importance for the development of Judaism up to the present day, but also of vast importance for medieval Christian and Islamic philosophy. Stern's book is a must-read, not only for anybody interested in the history and contemporary practice of Jewish thought, but also for scholars and students of analytic theology and medieval philosophy. (Paul Franks, Yale University)

To the continuously growing number of studies on Moses Maimonides, Stern adds a new and refreshing voice. Stern's multi-layered reading of Maimonides' parabolic writing allows him to address, from a revealing new angle, questions that had hitherto seemed exhausted: Maimonides' esotericism, his skepticism, and the place of the Mosaic commandments and of philosophy in his life-project. Bringing to bear Stern's profound familiarity with the pre-Maimonidean philosophical literature, this remarkable book reunites Maimonides with the Alexandrian philosophical tradition, in which philosophy was a way of life. Stern's bold, precise, and elegantly-written analysis reveals the Guide of the Perplexed to be not only Maimonides' most philosophical work, but a true philosophical masterpiece. (Sarah Stroumsa, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Stern's book is one of the best treatments of Maimonides' metaphysics and epistemology to appear in the last twenty-five years and unquestionably the best presentation of the skeptical reading of Maimonides. It is clear, closely argued, historically informed, and philosophically sophisticated. It puts forward new and thought-provoking interpretations of well-known passages and will definitely stir the pot when it comes to getting people to rethink their positions. (Kenneth Seeskin, Northwestern University)

Stern closely examines Maimonides’s interpretations of biblical parables, and the parables Maimonides himself constructed...This linking of parables with other parables,
and with biblical and Talmudic passages, is invaluable.

(E. Halper Choice 2014-02-01)

The Maimonides who emerges from within the skeptical reading is an iconoclastic firebrand who challenges motifs central to Jewish theology. Stern’s The Matter and Form of Maimonides’ Guide is by far the most extensive, rigorous, and sophisticated expression of the skeptical interpretation to date. Stern’s impressive reading of Maimonides pushes the envelope further and deeper than...any of those in the skeptical camp...Stern, drawing on his expertise in the philosophy of language, provides the reader with the best treatment of Maimonides’ negative theology to date...Stern is clear about his aims from the outset--to provide a unified reading of the Guide. In this respect his work is a complete and resounding success. A significant and impressive amount of historical and philosophical work has gone into drawing together the various threads of this challenging work and into navigating the difficult interpretive hurdles Maimonides laid down. For these reasons, and many more besides, I have no doubt that this monograph will become a modern classic and will generate a substantial secondary literature...This is a rare piece of stellar scholarship. The Matter and Form of Maimonides’ Guide is a must read for anyone interested in Maimonides. (Dani Rabinowitz Los Angeles Review of Books 2014-06-10)

There is much to commend in Josef Stern’s exciting new book, The Matter and Form of Maimonides’ Guide. Here is the most extensive and best account of the ‘skeptical’ interpretation of Maimonides, a major school of thought that has gained ground relatively recently and provides an alternative way to approach the hidden aspects of the Guide for the Perplexed...Stern presents an entirely new account of Maimonides’ parables, biblical and rabbinic as well as those of his own creation...Stern’s account of parables and the examples he discusses should be of interest to scholars in various fields of Jewish studies...It is a delight to read this important and philosophically sophisticated contribution to the field and, although no work on a figure as contested as Maimonides can meet with universal agreement, even those who demur over certain aspects of interpretation will have to contend with Stern’s new approach and will learn much in the process. (Daniel Davies H-Net Reviews 2014-07-01)

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Book Description Harvard University Press. Book Condition: New. Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed is generally read as an attempt either to harmonize reason and revelation or to show that they are irreconcilable. Moving beyond these familiar debates, Josef Stern argues that the perplexity addressed in this famously enigmatic work is the tension between human matter and form: the body and intellect. Num Pages: 412 pages. BIC Classification: HPCB; HRJT. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 242 x 166 x 32. Weight in Grams: 786. . 2013. Hardcover. . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Bookseller Inventory # V9780674051607

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