161 - He Moves in Mysterious Ways: Maimonides on Eternity

Peter tests different approaches to interpreting Maimonides, focusing on his discussion of the eternity of the world, which tries to settle the debate by declaring a draw.

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Further Reading: 

• H.A. Davidson, “Maimonides’ Secret Position on Creation,” in I. Twersky (ed.), Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature (Cambridge MA: 1979), 16-40.

• H.A. Davidson, Proofs for Eternity, Creation and the Existence of God in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Philosophy (New York: 1987).

• G. Freudenthal, “‘Intstrumentalism’ and ‘Realism’ as Categories in the History of Astronomy: Duhem vs Popper, Maimonides vs Gersonides,” Centaurus 45 (2003), 96-117.

• A. Hyman, “Maimonides on Creation and Emanation,” In J.F. Whippel (ed.), Studies in Medieval Philosophy (Washington, DC: 1988), 45-61.

• L. Kaplan, “Maimonides on the Miraculous Element in Prophecy,” Harvard Theological Review 70 (1977), 233-56.

• K. Seeskin, Maimonides on the Origin of the World (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

Mark C's picture

Maimonides, Moshe Halbertal, Princeton, 2014

Hi Dr. A,

Been LOVING your podcasts, and hope I ace'd the last quiz ;]

I'm in way over my head, but thought you might enjoy this review (if you haven't already read it):

Many thanks,
Mark C

Peter Adamson's picture

Maimonides review

Thanks! I enjoyed this line: "Like wearing a gun with a sequined dress, metaphysics is both incongruous and ridiculously practical."

Andres Melo Cousineau's picture

On Leo Strauss

I am a fellow philosopher, though I have become less and less interested in becoming part of academia. Like Socrates, I believe philosophy is not about sects, but rather a dangerous way of life. You can see my work at www.amelo14.wordpress.com Have listened with interest to your Islamic philosophy podcast for the last few months. Have shared it. It provides a much needed introduction for many unfamiliar with Islamic thought. Having it accesible via internet is, as the company for credit cards says, PRICELESS. Intend to write a critical approach to your whole approach to philosophy (is, for instance, the history of philosophy really philosophical in the sense that it can be conceptually clear about its own historical presuppositions?). Question also whether you do justice to the powerful POLITICAL reflections of thinkers such as al-Farabi. However, this particular episode smacks of outright carelessness. For a fair and interested approach to Leo Strauss do read, and do recommend your listeners to read: Thomas Pangle´s "Leo Strauss: An Introduction to His Thought and Intellectual Legacy." Of course, given the fact that great Islamic/Jewish philosophy revolves --in great measure-- around Aristotle, it becomes all the more central to get the interpretation of Aristotle right (i.e. as best as we can.) I have personally spent the last few years trying to understand the political and ethical philosophy of Aristotle. After so many years of research (outside academia) of both Straussian and non-Straussian interpretations, it seems clear to me that at the very least the non-Straussians have much to learn from the Straussian interpretation not only of Classical Philosophy but as well of Islamic philosophy. Undoubtedly, for example, Straussians really do much more justice to the reasons why al-Farabi was considered "the Second Teacher" (for instance his words on Socrates which differ strikingly from your forgettable episode 17 on Socrates). Moreover, they do indeed provide heavy arguments against the real possibility of ANY "history of philosophy", with or without gaps. Furthermore, your latest episode (163) strikingly reveals how Maimonides´s work was indeed burnt! And not having asked Professor Stroumsa in episode (162) about the Straussian interpretation, was truly a lost opportunity. It would be a great learning experience, I believe, if you could in fact contact those Straussians to get their ideas as part of your podcast. However, in this regard I am pessimistic as I have come to understand how academic sects work. Hopefully, I will be able to write in greater depth about these considerations, and hopefully they will be of interest to you.

Peter Adamson's picture


Hi there,

I actually have a rather complicated personal relationship to Straussianism because as an undergrad I studied ancient philosophy with professors who were broadly speaking in the Straussian tradition, or at least influenced by it. From that - and here I'd agree with you - I learned that the Straussians do have something to offer the study of these texts, especially in that they ask us to concentrate on aspects apart from "the arguments". For a while one could even say that Straussians almost had a monopoly on reading Plato and other authors using the tools of literary criticism. Now I think that it is much more common for philosophers to read Plato with issues like characterization, foreshadowing, textual structure etc in mind rather than just pulling out arguments as analytically minded readers used to do. I hope my episodes on Plato did bring that across.

With the Islamic-Jewish tradition I think the Straussian approach to Farabi has not been helpful, and that there is not much to say in its favor. So I didn't really get into it when covering him. The case of Maimonides is much better for the Straussian reading because of the introduction Maimonides wrote for the Guide. So I saved it for this episode and wanted both to give it some coverage, but also make clear that this is not my approach. I think that's an honest way for me to handle it. After all this is my attempt to tell the history of philosophy as I see it, not an attempt to present all possible approaches to these texts as if they are on a par with one another, whether I agree with them or not.


Andres Melo Cousineau's picture


Thanks for your prompt and kind reply.

Andres Melo Cousineau's picture


Finally, perhaps Joshua Parens´s, 'Strauss on Maimonides's Secretive Political Science', Chapter Six of "Leo Strauss´s Defense of the Philosophic Life: Reading "What is Political Philosophy?", may be of interest in this regard. Once again, thanks.

Peter Adamson's picture


Thanks for the suggestions - Parens is one of the scholars keeping the Straussian flame burning when it comes to Farabi, also. By the way a critique of Strauss by Miles Burnyeat, "Sphinx Without a Secret," makes for entertaining reading whichever side you are on. It was republished in his recent 2 volume collection of essays from Cambridge Univ. Press.