Josef SternThe Matter and Form of Maimonides’ Guide

Harvard University Press, 2013

by Carrie Figdor on March 14, 2014

Josef Stern

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[Cross-post from New Books in Philosophy] The medieval Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides’ most famous work, The Guide of the Perplexed, has been interpreted variously as an attempt to reconcile reason and religion, as a guide to philosophers on ruling the community while concealing the truth, or as an exegesis of rabbinical texts. In The Matter and Form of Maimonides’ Guide (Harvard University Press, 2013), Josef Stern provides an entirely distinct reading of this singular work. Stern, William H. Colvin Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago and Director of the Chicago Center for Jewish Studies, argues that for Maimonides, reason and religion are just one domain, not two that need to be reconciled; that biblical parable is a literary device used to articulate our incomplete understanding of truths about general welfare and individual happiness; and that Maimonides is primarily motivated by the question of what the best attainable human life can be given our embodied nature. The Guide is in effect a primer that trains the reader to tease apart the multiple meanings of biblical texts – even though these exercises will not yield knowledge of metaphysics and cosmology, including knowledge of God. Stern combines deep familiarity with Maimonides, his works, and his intellectual environment with expertise in contemporary philosophy of language in this major contribution to historical-philosophical scholarship.

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