Great Jewish Philosophers

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Throughout history, Jews addressed the nature of their religion. Frequently, this search was the result of a perceived need to confront other intellectual or religious groups. At other times, it was inspired by attempts to reconzile between the surrounding world of intellectual inquiry and the world of Jewish thought.

We will discuss the outstanding Jewish philosophers from a a variety of ages and cultural environments. Greek philosophy introduced a revolutionary way of thinking about the world. It represented a challenge to Judaism at diverse times and places. Philosophers investigated the nature of things hoping to arrive at new truths that would explain the order of the world, the nature of change and even aspects of the human soul.

Jews, both in antiquity and in the middle ages, believed that they possesed these truths as part of their religious tradition. Nevertheless, the abstract and conceptual nature of Greek thinking had enormous effects throhout the Greco-Roman world. At least some Jews living in that world adopted aspects of these thought processes.

  • Philo: Philo tried to reconcile his Greek philosophical training with a comprehensive knowledge of Jewish religious tradition.
  • Saadia Gaon, Revelation and Reason Reconciled: Saadia argues that one should employ philosophical thought in trying to achieve a deeper understanding of all the aspects of Jewish religion. He is using the Greek mode of thought and applying it to his own world. He did not consider this as undermining a belief in the Bible. He argues that this supports the belief in the Bible.
  • Maimonides: Greek philosophy spread throughout the world and Jews became very well-versed in scholarship. They felt a need to reply. The greatest of these presenters of Jewish philosophy, and maybe the greatest thinker in all of Jewish history, was Moses Maimonides.