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On contradictions, rationality, dialectics, and esotericism in Maimonides's Guide of the Perplexed.


IN THE FOURTH AND FINAL SECTION of Maimonides's preface to his Guide of the Perplexed, in the section labeled "Introduction" (muqaddima), the author lists seven "causes ... for the contradictory or contrary statements in any book or composition." (1) The best known and most significant of these is the seventh cause. Its subject, according to most classical and modern interpreters of the Guide, is intentional contradictions the purpose of which is to hide the author's true opinion from the multitude. Maimonides tells us that contradictions of the seventh type are to be found in the Guide, and in fact he delivers on that promise: in many topics touched upon in that work, we find contradictory statements that give the reader a sense of entrapment and prevent him not only from understanding the issue at hand but also from being able to grasp related matters as well. (2)

The problem posed by these contradictions combines with other intentional stumbling blocks delineated in the preface. Maimonides's practice of scattering the treatment of a single topic across the entire work, his division of the discussion of a given matter among chapters and even among different parts of the work, his occasional flight from systematic and thorough treatment of an issue, the unanticipated transitions from topic to topic, and the clouding of discussion--all these are likely to frustrate and dissuade the student of Maimonides's Guide. As if to ward off ill effect in advance, Maimonides warns us at the outset about the confusing character of his treatise: "A sensible man ... should not demand of me or hope that when we mention a subject, we shall make a complete exposition of it." (3) He notes that he will present his ideas in outline form, as "chapter headings," and even those "are not set down in order or arranged in coherent fashion in this Treatise, but rather are scattered and entangled with other subjects that are to be clarified." (4)

If in his opening remarks Maimonides prepares the reader for an unsystematic presentation, his subsequent Introduction prepares him for a work rife with actual contradictions. Many commentators hold the opinion that his remarks in the Introduction, particularly his observations on the seventh cause, are the key to unraveling the contradictions in the Guide and revealing its hidden stratum. However, despite the frequency with which those remarks are cited by interpreters and scholars, very few of them if any have taken the trouble to examine Maimonides's words carefully and provide a thoroughgoing explication of them. Even though his language is far from being unequivocal, almost all of his readers have ascribed to him the meaning outlined above.

In the following sections, I will offer a different reading of Maimonides's statements on intended contradictions and the underlying reasons for them. This reading will cast new light on the meaning and purpose of the contradictions in the Guide and consequently on the philosophical and theological views embedded in that treatise. My reading is based primarily on a close analysis of Maimonides's language and will be presented against the background of the common understanding of Maimonides's interpreters throughout the ages. Further on I will point out the connection between Maimonides's reasons for writing in contradictions and the reasons for his use of a concise, obfuscatory, and concealing style of writing.


In order to explain the nature of the contradictions in the Guide, Maimonides prefaces his work with a systematic discussion in which, as was stated earlier, he lists the causes of contradictions in various writings, providing examples of each by means of literary corpuses or genres, usually from the Jewish tradition. (5) The primary aim of this Introduction is to arrive at the following statement that appears just before its close: "Divergences that are to be found in this Treatise are due to the fifth cause and the seventh. (6) Know this, grasp its true meaning, and remember it very well so as not to become perplexed by some of its chapters." (7) It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of this comment. (8) Evidence for this is to be found in Maimonides's directive language here, unique among such directive phrasings in the whole of the Guide. (9)

The fifth cause is pedagogic or didactic. It "arises from the necessity of teaching and making someone understand. For there may be a certain obscure matter that is difficult to conceive. One has to mention it or to take it as a premise in explaining something that is easy to conceive and that by rights ought to be taught before the former.... The teacher, accordingly, will have to be lax and, using any means that occur to him or gross speculation, will try to make that first matter somehow understood. He will not undertake to state the matter as it truly is in exact terms, but rather will leave it so in accord with the listener's imagination that the latter will understand what he now wants him to understand. Afterwards, in the appropriate place, that obscure matter is stated in exact terms and explained as it truly is. (10) Contradictions of this sort are common, says Maimonides, "in the books of the philosophers, or rather of those who know the truth," and aroused no particular interest among interpreters of the Guide. (11) This is not so for contractions of the other kind, the seventh.

Of the seventh cause Maimonides writes: "In speaking about very obscure matters it is necessary to conceal some parts and disclose others. Sometimes in the case of certain dicta this necessity requires that the discussion proceed on the basis of a certain premise, whereas in another place necessity requires that the discussion proceed on the basis of another premise contradicting the first one." (12) As noted above, most commentators have identified this seventh cause with intentional contradictions the purpose of which is to hide the author's true opinion from the multitude (while making it accessible to the cognoscenti). If the author--in our case, Maimonides himself in the Guide--expressed his actual opinion on a given matter, usually an esoteric philosophical point, he rushed to contradict it with an opposing opinion, at times immediately adjacent to the expression of his true view but most often in a different chapter or section of the work, whether preceding or following.

Furthermore, according to this reading Maimonides not only hid his true opinions behind contradictory statements, but he also took pains to hide or cloud the contradiction itself, for, as he writes, "the vulgar must in no way be aware of the contradiction," and therefore "the author ... uses some device to conceal it by all means." (13) The seventh cause, then, perfects a double mechanism of concealment: (a) concealment of the correct opinion by expressing a conflicting, incorrect opinion (usually one common among the masses or at least appropriate to them), and (b) concealment of the very fact of the contradiction through mechanisms of blurring and obfuscation. These may include repeated expression of the contradictory, erroneous (and misleading) opinion while the correct opinion is expressed only once, emphasizing the incorrect opinion while expressing the correct opinion in a brief and understated fashion, and distributing the incorrect opinion among various chapters and sections of the text. (The preceding reading of the seventh cause will be referred to as "the common reading.")

The seventh cause has attracted much attention from students of Maimonides, modern and classical alike, radical interpreters and harmonizers--all have found in it, and rightly so, a sort of admission of the existence of intentional contradictions within the Guide. Moreover, many of them think that the seventh cause plays a primary methodological role in deciphering Maimonides's true opinions in the Guide. This approach to contradictions in the Guide, emphasizing their hermeneutic function, is given fully developed and articulated expression in the highly influential essays of Leo Strauss. (14)

According to Strauss, Maimonides adopts in his Guide of the Perplexed the policy of secretive composition known from the Hebrew Bible. However, while Scripture's way of suppressing "the secrets of Divine wisdom" (identified as "the Account of the Beginning" [Ma'aseh Bereishit] and "the Account of the Chariot" [Ma'aseh Merkavah]) is to speak in parables, Strauss states that Maimonides selects a different "art of writing." He chooses not to "replace one individual with another of the same species"--that is, substituting for the biblical parable another parable meant to explain it. (15) Instead, he adopts the method of concealment by contradiction, the existence of which he also recommends blurring and hiding. (16) The motive for this obfuscation, in both the Bible and Maimonides, is socio-political: the concealment of heterodox theological contents from the multitude. The seventh cause, in Strauss's view, is the basis of the Guide's esoteric nature, and it can generate an overall approach to revealing the work's secrets. (17) The contradictions in the Guide, Strauss maintains, are not to be explained away lightly as tangential or inconsequential expressions, and they are certainly not to be ignored. On the contrary, it is the duty of every interpreter of the Guide to search them out and reveal them, to decide in each case which of the two contradictory views was thought by Maimonides to be the true one and which he employed in order to conceal the truth. (18) According to this reading, then, the very cause that serves in the Guide as a means to hiding views from the multitude becomes, for the initiated reader, the primary means--technical in nature--of deciphering its secret substratum. While the other methods of concealment that Maimonides employs in the Guide--lack of clarity, speaking in broad terms ("chapter headings"), metaphoric and veiled language, and the like (19)--"compel the reader to guess the true teaching," the contradictions, Strauss emphasizes, "offer him the true teachings quite openly in either of the two contradictory statements. Moreover, while the other devices do not by themselves force readers to look beneath the surface ..., the contradictions, once they are discovered, compel them to take pains to find out the actual teaching." (20)

The importance of the seventh cause for Strauss's hermeneutics can hardly be overstated. Maimonides's comments on this cause of contradiction are for Strauss a central textual anchor for his argument regarding a strategy of esoteric writing for theological and political purposes based on intentional contradictions. He applies this hermeneutic conception--as is widely known--not only to Maimonides but to the philosophical tradition at large. (21)

Many scholars have adopted Strauss's treatment of the seventh cause and put into practice the exegetical methodology he derived from it. (22) The most important among them was Shlomo Pines. (23) An important example of the application of Strauss's views is the debate of Lawrence Kaplan, Herbert Davidson, and Warren Zev Harvey about Maimonides's alleged secret positions on prophecy and creation and the relationship between them. (24) Even Malmonidean scholars hesitant to accept Strauss's hermeneutic approach and its consequent conclusions about Maimonides's true opinions accepted his understanding of intentional contradictions in the Guide. These scholars, generally characterized as harmonizers, have noted their agreement with Strauss's approach, but without making use of it in practice. (25)

This approach to the contradictions stemming from the seventh cause is not unique to modern research. It was the approach used, in whole or in part--with varying degrees of consistency and decisiveness--by most of the Guide's premodem interpreters as well. (26) Maimonides's younger contemporary Samuel ibn Tibbon (the first Hebrew translator of the Guide and apparently its first interpreter) sees writing in contradictions as a device for concealment from the public and even notes its methodological importance: "Of the hidden expressions on various topics ..., some may contradict others, but all [are expressed] in such a manner as to enable one who pays close attention to them to recognize those that must be understood and upheld among them, namely [he can distinguish between] those spoken in troth and those that were stated for the purpose of concealment, lest there be open expression of what should not be made explicit." (27) A similar radical approach is adopted by Zerahiah ben Shealtiel Hen, Moses Narboni, and Joseph ibn Caspi, who also emphasize the importance of the contradictions for deciphering the secrets of the Guide. (28) Other early commentators, leaning toward a harmonistic interpretation, while not adopting the seventh cause as a hermeneutic tool for interpreting the Guide, share the approach that the purpose of writing in contradictions is to conceal views from the multitude. In this category we may include R. Yom Tov al-Ishbili (the "Ritba"), Shem Tov, Profiat Duran (the "Efodi"), and especially Abravanel. (29)

To the best of my knowledge, the sole scholar who has criticized the classical interpreters and especially Strauss and his followers on this point is Marvin Fox. In an article published a decade and a half ago, he suggested another approach to the contradictions in the Guide, one somewhat close to that presented here. His argument, though, is deficient at points and superfluous at others, and most important, his reasoning and the general conceptual framework upon which he constructed his suggestion are unconvincing. (30)


Does Maimonides in fact hold the views that his interpreters, medieval and modem, ascribe to him? Is the purpose of writing in contradictions indeed the concealment of views from the masses? Are those contradictions really the key to unraveling Maimonides's hidden opinions in the Guide?

It seems to me that a careful reading of Malmonides's language in the seventh cause indicates that the meaning of that passage is entirely different from the common understanding. Let us examine Maimonides's own words. The original Judeo-Arabic is as follows:

1 wa- l-sabab al-sabi darurat al-kalam fi umur ghamida fiddan

2 yanbaghi ikhfa ba d ma aniha wa-izhar ba d

3 fa-qad ta u l-darura bi- hasab qawlatin ma

4 li-yajriya l-kalam fiha ala taqrir muqaddimatin ma

5 wa-tact u l-darura fi mawdic akhar

6 li-yajriya l-kalam fiha ala taqrir muqaddima munaqida litilka

7 wa-yanbaghi an la yash ur al-jumhur bi-wajhin bi-mawdi altanaqud baynahuma

8 wa-qad yatahayyal al-mu allif fi ikhfa dhalik bi-kull wajh.

Let me offer a somewhat literal translation from the original:

1 The seventh cause. The necessity when discussing very profound-matters

2 that one ought to conceal some part of their issues and to disclose some part.

3 Sometimes it is necessary, with respect to a certain conviction,

4 for the discussion to proceed by positing a certain premise,

5 whereas necessity requires in another case

6 that the discussion of this same conviction proceed by positing apremise contradicting [the first one].

7 The multitude ought in no way to be aware of the contradiction between them.

8 The author sometimes uses every device to conceal it. (31)

Maimonides begins this passage by stating that the need to treat certain topics, which he labels "very profound matters," unavoidably leads the author to engage in concealing parts of those topics and revealing others. The "matters" to which Maimonides refers are undoubtedly matters of metaphysics and topics in physics that border on them. (32) The opening statement in this section mentions the necessity of concealing these matters, yet not necessarily by contradiction. Maimonides's words would seem to indicate that this concealment is of a different character, one that involves revealing part of the subject and concealing another part--that is, concealment by partial exposure of the truth. This is different from concealment by contradiction; in the latter the author endeavors to conceal the entire matter. Even if we agree that one side of the contradiction, at least, exposes the truth while the other side hides it, the wording of the clause "one ought to conceal some part and disclose some part" is incongruous with concealment by contradiction, since one side of the contradiction reveals the truth in its entirety and the other is intended to conceal it in its entirety. (33) What is the purpose of concealment here? Is it based on the need for hiding them from the multitude, or is there a different reason? We shall return to this question after we examine the continuation of the passage.

Maimonides takes up the subject of contradiction only later, in the next sentence (lines 3-6), where he notes: "Sometimes it is necessary, with respect to a certain conviction, for the discussion to proceed by positing a certain premise, whereas necessity requires in another case that the discussion of this same conviction proceed by positing a premise contradicting [the first one]." (34) Such contradiction arises in the course of a complex discussion, based at one point on a certain assumption and at another point on a different assumption that contradicts the first. The phrase "with respect to a certain conviction" (bi-hasab qawlatin ma) is employed by Maimonides to refer to a given philosophical matter (a view or outlook) the discussion of which is multifarious, leading to different conclusions that are considered at different points and in different contexts ("in another case" [fi mawdi akhar]--line 5) in a philosophical composition. These conclusions must be examined and tested in the various places and contexts in light of alternative conclusions, based on different assumptions, which are at times contradictory. At this point it is important to recall that most matters of physics and metaphysics, if not all of them, are materially and logically interrelated; a decision among alternatives in a given matter (for example, the question of creation versus primordiality) entails a decision in another matter (for example, the nature of prophecy). (35) These matters usually have in common a certain premise [muqaddima] or certain premises. Maimonides emphasizes, then, that in a complex issue--or in ostensibly different issues which, in light of the consequential nature of philosophy and its interconnectedness, are basically one and the same--it becomes necessary to proceed with discussions, in the different places and contexts in which those discussions take place, based on different premises, assumptions that will at times be contradictory.

It should be carefully considered that the purpose of the contradiction-style discussion is not explained. In other words, Maimonides does not say, at least not explicitly, that the goal of delving into a topic in the realm of those "profound matters" on the basis of contradictory assumptions is to conceal that part of the discussion that is based on the correct assumption. Furthermore, according to the common reading of the passage, it would not be out of place to expect Maimonides to note here that one of the premises to which he refers is correct (and/or appropriate to the initiated reader) and the contradictory one false (and/or appropriate to the multitude). Such statements are read into his words here by his interpreters, especially the early ones, but Maimonides himself refrains from such characterizations. (36)

It seems to me that the formulation, "it is necessary, with respect to a certain conviction, for the discussion to proceed" (fa-qad tad u l-darura ... li-yajriya l-kalam fiha--lines 3-4) refers back to the words "the necessity when discussing very profound matters" darurat al-kalam fi umur ghamida a fiddan--line 1). That is to say, the need to treat those matters on the basis of differing, contradictory premises derives not from the need for concealment; it is anchored in the very nature of the discussion, given the unique character of those "profound matters." (37) Those matters, Maimonides's language indicates, are not subject to discursive discussion based on a simple, clear, self-evident premise, which proceeds in rigorous logical fashion toward an unequivocal conclusion.

Maimonides is describing what I take to be a discussion of a dialectical nature. Such a discussion is appropriate for subjects that are included in what he labels "very profound," his reference being, as we have said, to the most complex and profound topics in physics and metaphysics ("the Account of the Beginning" [Ma'aseh Bereishit] and "the Account of the Chariot" [Ma'aseh Merkavah ]). (38) These matters, maintains Maimonides in the preface to the Guide, are unlike "the other sciences whose teaching is generally recognized," which can be "taught thoroughly in rigorous order. (39) The premises upon which they are based are uncertain; for that reason their treatment requires that different assumptions be taken into account, assumptions that are at times contradictory, and that they--or the conclusions drawn from them--be juxtaposed in the context of a dialectical discussion. Maimonides does indeed speak of intentional and conscious contradictions, but their purpose is not concealment; dialectical deliberation, on the basis of contradictory assumptions, is a product of the essence of the matter under discussion, to which a linear, discursive mode of discussion is inappropriate. This reading is consistent with the fact that Maimonides does not state that one assumption is true and the other, contradictory one false. This is the nature of dialectical deliberation--it is conducted without establishing a priori the truth value, positive or negative, of underlying assumptions that are reasonable but different and even opposed to each other. Establishing such truth value will come, if at all, only at the end of the deliberation. (40) Yet dialectical writing, based on contradicting assumptions, runs the risk of perplexing and confusing the uninitiated reader. Such a student--in Maimonides's terms, the multitude--is unable to bear the uncertainty inherent in a dialectical treatment of an issue, particularly if that discussion is without a firm, unequivocal conclusion. (41) The uninitiated need an unshakable dogma, and this is the very opposite of philosophical discussion of that nature. Thus, in the final sentence of the seventh cause passage, Maimonides emphasizes that "the multitude ought in no way to be aware of the point of contradiction between [the assumptions]" and states that "the author sometimes uses some device to conceal it." (lines 7-8). Note that only here does Maimonides mention the multitude and the need to conceal things from them. His words here are not about concealment by means of contradiction but about making that contradiction unnoticeable, so that "the multitude [be] in no way aware of the contradiction."

Let us return now to the question of the reason for concealment stated at the beginning of the passage (lines 1-2). It may be that the issue of concealing certain matters from the masses (lines 7-8) relates back to the first sentence of the seventh cause passage: the phrase "one ought to conceal" (yanbaghi) at the beginning, which is not about contradiction, may be identified with the need for concealment mentioned at the end--"the multitude ought in no way to be aware" (yanbaghi ikhfa). In this reading, the reason for concealment in both places is one and the same: the need to keep "very profound matters" from being revealed to the multitude. This reading takes lines 37 to be a detailed explication of lines 1-2, with lines 3-6 explaining line 1 and line 7 paralleling line 2.

Alternatively, there may be a different reason for the concealment mentioned at the head of the passage. Another possible reading takes this concealment not to be about withholding philosophical truths from the masses, but rather about the manner in which secrets are to be transmitted to the initiated student. In this view, Maimonides's dictum about "the necessity when discussing very profound matters, that one ought to conceal some part of their issues and disclose some part" (lines 1-2) is a continuation of his remarks some lines earlier, in his prefatory remarks, according to which the manner in which secrets are to be committed to writing and taught--to the initiated student--should imitate the manner in which they are apprehended by the skilled author: "the subject matter will appear, flash, and then be hidden again." (42) According to this suggestion, then, Maimonides opens his remarks about the seventh cause with the observation that the way the secrets ("very profound matters") are to be laid out before the proficient student is not by means of an explanation offering "thorough[ness and] rigorous order" but rather in a way that partially discloses it and partially closes it off. In his Introduction, which details the reasons for contradictions in any composition, he picks up the thread from his prefatory remarks, adding that the author sometimes has to address these matters on the basis of contradictory assumptions, since dialectical deliberation is essential for such issues.

The advantage of the second of these suggested readings (according to which the phrase "one ought to conceal" in line 2 relates to the essence of the subject) lies in the fact that it requires no split between Maimonides's comments on the need to conceal things from the masses (the socio-political reason) at the end of the passage and his words at the beginning of the passage. Furthermore, if we read Maimonides's language closely, the issue of concealment from the multitude appears explicitly only in the final sentence of the "seventh cause," which may indicate that the reason for concealment mentioned at the beginning of the passage is a different one. Whether we adopt the first reading or the second, the contradictions of which Maimonides speaks--the core of the "seventh reason"--are not a means of concealing truths from the multitude. They are part of the essential character of the deliberation (a dialectical one, as we have noted) concerning those very profound matters.

Evidence for the reading suggested here may be found in the distinction in Maimonides's language between the Arabic terms he employs when noting the need for concealment and those he employs to describe the need for a discussion based on contradictory assumptions. When Maimonides writes in this passage about the need for concealment, he uses the term yanbaghi: yanbaghi ikhfa at the beginning of the passage (line 2) and wa-yanbaghi an la yash ur al-jumhur at its end (line 7). But when he emphasizes the need for dealing with very profound matters by means of contradictions, he uses the Arabic term darura: fa-qad tad u l-darura bi-hasab qawlatin ... wa-tad u l-darura fi mawdi akhar (lines 3-5). That term appears at the head of the seventh cause passage as well: darurat al-kalam fi umur ghamida jiddan (line 1). This reinforces the argument presented above that the necessity of proceeding with a discussion on the basis of contradictory premises (fa-qad tad u l-darura) refers back to the language of "the necessity [darura] when discussing very profound matters."

It is not just that Maimonides is careful to employ one term when speaking of the need for deliberation on the basis of contradictory assumptions and a different term when speaking of the need to hide the contradictions from the multitude. The terms are semantically distinct as well. The meaning of the Arabic term darura is "necessity"--and so have we translated it using the noun "necessity" or the adjective "necessary"--and it is used to describe situations (and sometimes actions) that are anchored in the nature of the matter at hand. (The term is employed to describe causal or logical connections as well.) Different from the descriptive nature of darura is the meaning of the term yanbaghi--"fitting," "appropriate," or "ought," used for normative (and sometimes pragmatic) statements about the appropriate manner of action or behavior. Thus we have employed phrases using "ought" in our translation of this term. (43) Hence, when Maimonides describes the occasional need for a discussion to be based on contradic, tory assumptions, which is so in the case of very profound matters, he uses the term that refers to the essence of those matters and the nature of the discussion appropriate to them. (44) When, on the other hand, he is speaking about the need to shield the discussion from the masses, he uses normative-pragmatic language. (45)

Even if we accept the second reading offered above, according to which the character of the concealment mentioned in the first lines of the seventh cause passage is based in something essential to the subject, my linguistic analysis indicates that the need to adopt contradictory premises ("Sometimes it is necessary"--line 3) is related to "the necessity when discussing very profound matters" (line 1) and not to the continuation of that first sentence, according to which "one ought to conceal some part of their issues" (line 2). (46)

The recent Hebrew translation of the Guide by Michael Schwarz and to some extent the earlier one by Yosef Qafih are sensitive to the difference between the meanings of these Arabic terms. (47) In this way they maintain a distinction between the need to camouflage the contradictions (from the eyes of the multitude) and the essential necessity of treating "profound matters" using contradictory assumptions. The medieval translation of Samuel ibn Tibbon, on the other hand, which usually tends toward literalism, blurs this terminological distinction, rendering both by a form of the Hebrew root SRH. This lack of precision as to terms may be a contributing factor in the acceptance of the socio-political interpretation of the seventh cause on the part of virtually all medieval interpreters of the Guide and the moderns in their wake. (48) Shlomo Pines, in his highly influential English translation, parts company with the Guide's modern Hebrew translators and offers a somewhat free translation of the seventh cause, bending Maimonides's words in the direction of the common reading, which is the reading he adopts in his studies on the Guide. His rendition of the text nonetheless supports our suggested interpretation. Pines's translation is as follows:
 The seventh cause. In speaking about very obscure matters it is necessary
 to conceal some parts and to disclose others. Sometimes in the case of
 certain dicta this necessity requires that the discussion proceed on the
 basis of a certain premise, whereas in another place necessity requires
 that the discussion proceed on the basis of another premise contradicting
 the first one. In such cases the vulgar must in no way be aware of the
 contradiction; the author accordingly uses some device to conceal it by all
 means. (49)

Pines's ranslation does not reflect the first use of darura (line 1); he translates it further on (lines 3, 5) as "necessity." He uses the same English word to represent the first instance of the term yanbaghi (line 2), which he translates further on (line 7) as "must." In doing so, Pines departs from his otherwise consistent distinction between these terms. (50) This translation, though, is odd for another reason. Unlike any other translator, Pines translates the words fa-qad tad u l-darura bi-hasab qawlatin ma (line 3) thus: "Sometimes in the case of certain dicta this necessity requires" [emphasis mine--Y.L.]. The antecedent of the term "this" here can only be "it is necessary to conceal some parts [of the `very obscure matters'] and to disclose others." Pines, then, portrays Maimonides as stating that the necessity to contradict is an extension and explication of the necessity to conceal. This meaning gains support from Pines's excision of the term darura from the passage's opening phrase. Conversely, this understanding of the passage is weakened by the translation of the second appearance of the term as "necessity"--without "this." Our close comparison to the Judaeo-Arabic original points up the imprecision Pines's translation, since darura is best understood as "[the] necessity," not as "this necessity." The translation is further marred at the second appearance of l-darura (line 5), where the definite article may indicate more than abstraction; it may refer back to the previous instance of the word. The slight changes and deletion wrought by Pines lend a Straussian meaning to the seventh cause passage. This should perhaps come as no surprise since in many of Pines's studies of the Guide (and certainly as he was translating it into English), he follows Strauss's interpretations of Maimonides's writings in general and on the matter of contradictions in the Guide in particular. (51)

If we attempt to base the commonly accepted reading of the seventh cause in Malmonides's language, assigning the need "to conceal some part of them and some to disclose" to the socio-political realm, then we need to read that line (line 2) as the predicate of the subject "very profound matters" (line 1), making the statement that those matters must be concealed in some way. Lines 3-6 then answer the question of how this is to be done: (sometimes) by means of contradictions. Maimonides's statement about the necessity of dealing with certain topics by means of contradictory assumptions becomes a sort of exposition or explication of his comments on the need "to conceal some part of their issues and disclose some part." According to this interpretation, the very same necessity requires the author, according to Maimonides, to hide the point of contradiction as well, so that "the multitude [will] in no way ... be aware."

Although such a reading (the common one) is not impossible, it encounters several critical difficulties. The arguments in favor of its rejection and the adoption of the reading advanced above can be summarized as follows. First, the common reading is not sensitive to the consistent use of the respective Arabic terms discussed above, and particularly to the semantic difference between them. Second, the common understanding of the passage reads too much into Maimonides, who does not say--at least not explicitly--that the reasons that contradictions are necessary is to conceal; according to his language, the concealment is concealment of the contradiction. Third, as noted above, the phrasing of line 3--"Sometimes [fa-qad] it is necessary"--shows that "[the necessity] for the discussion to proceed by positing a certain premise" (in other words, by positing contradictory premises) is not coterminous with the need "to conceal some part ... and disclose some part." Put another way, the remark on the use of contradictions is not an explication of the way in which one accomplishes the concealment. Moreover, even if the contradiction-based discussion is related to the concealment mentioned just before it, one can still argue cogently that the impetus for this concealment is something inherent in the subject rather than reasons of political desirability.

In the reading suggested here, the motivation behind a socio-political reason for concealment is the need to hide the dialectical (non-apodictic) nature of metaphysical contemplation from the multitude. The multitude needs dogmas; philosophical inquiry cannot provide them. Maimonides's statements about the seventh cause, then, point to a view that the need for concealment from the masses is not because of heterodox views such as the eternity of the world (in contradistinction from creatio ex nihilo) but rather because of the dialectical element inherent in discussions of celestial physics and metaphysics. This suggestion of a socio-political reason behind the esoteric element of the Guide (as distinguished from an esotericism grounded in the essence of the topic) has an advantage over the approach that identifies it with Aristotelian philosophical conclusions. The weakness of the latter approach is evident: in Maimonides's popular writings, for example in The Book of Knowledge (the first book of Mishneh Torah), his Aristotelian views (including the eternity of the world) are openly displayed. (52) In contrast, there is no expression in Maimonides's popular writings of a view as to the inadequacy of philosophical inquiry as a basis for establishing metaphysical conclusions or for justifying dogmas. It is important to emphasize that the sociopolitical damage done by this outlook is no less than the dangers of firmly established heterodox views in the realm of metaphysics, and by my estimate it is even greater.

The common reading of the seventh cause does fit well with the argument that the esoteric element in the Guide is skeptical or agnostic in matters of metaphysics, an argument advanced by Pines, who relied, inter alia, on the common reading. (53) The advantage of the reading advocated here, however, is that the Guide's esoteric nature emerges from Maimonides's own words about the seventh cause.

It should be emphasized that the analysis presented here does not support any claim that Maimonides did not make use of contradictions for the sake of concealment. All that is being argued here is that such concealment is not the subject of contradictions stemming from the "seventh cause."

In the next two sections I will present additional arguments in favor of this proposed reading of the seventh cause. The first is based on a comparison between it and the sixth cause, while the other is derived from statements Maimonides makes in other sections of the Guide, where it is clear that due to the limitations of human intellectual attainment, subjects related to those "profound matters" must be dealt with in a dialectical fashion--that is, on the basis of contradictory assumptions.


Further support for the reading of the seventh cause advanced here may come from a comparison to the sixth cause of contradictions, which is described by Maimonides as follows:
 The sixth cause. The contradiction is concealed and becomes evident only
 after many premises. The greater the number of premises needed to make the
 contradiction evident, the more concealed it is. It thus may escape the
 author, who thinks there is no contradiction between his two original
 propositions. But if each proposition is considered separately--a true
 premise being joined to it and the necessary conclusion drawn--, after many
 syllogisms, the outcome of the matter will be that the two final
 conclusions are contradictory or contrary to each other. That is the kind
 of thing that escapes the attention of scholars who write books. If,
 however, the two original propositions are evidently contradictory, but the
 author has simply forgotten the first while writing down the second in
 another part of his compilation, this is a very great weakness, and that
 man should not be reckoned among those whose speeches deserve
 consideration. (54)

The cause of a contradiction of this type is the inattention of the author to the fact that two inferences that seem to be in harmony with each other are in fact, because of contradictory underlying assumptions, quite contradictory of each other. By being hidden deep within different conclusions, treated in different places and contexts, this contradiction may go undetected even by skilled thinkers; but Maimonides emphasizes that at the outset, the contradiction was evident and noticed, but the author became careless or forgetful and allowed his treatise to fall victim to a "very great weakness" that disqualifies it from consideration among the serious works of philosophy.

We may observe that this kind of contradiction is perfectly congruent with the seventh type as interpreted by the common reading. Both are contradictions not obvious on the surface, in which contradicting premises underlie conclusions that appear to be consistent with one another. One feature distinguishes the sixth cause and the seventh: the sixth cause is without the author's intent or even awareness, while the seventh (as interpreted) is part of the author's awareness and intent, directed at concealing opinions from the uninitiated reader. From the point of view of the skilled student of the treatise, however, these two are the same: how can such a reader know when the author is merely careless and when the author is engaging in intentional contradiction? A suspicious reading of Maimonides here might lead to the conclusion that his goal is to defend himself against criticism in cases where he contradicts himself without noticing, through carelessness. While in fact the sixth cause is at work, the reader, having read Maimonides's warning, will ascribe to the contradiction the seventh cause. If we refrain from such defensive interpretation, though, then we must conclude that by setting the seventh cause (still taking it according to the common reading) just after the sixth, Maimonides causes confusion--particularly on the part of the skilled reader, who has no way to distinguish careless contradictions from intentional ones.

The confusion dissipates if we accept the reading proposed here for the seventh cause. Here, we are not concerned with contradiction for the sake of concealment but with dialectical argument about particularly profound and complex matters. Now we can distinguish between the different types of contradiction. Even if for the reader the distinction between them is not always sharp and clear, he is still able to distinguish between the two types, in part because Maimonides assigns the seventh cause to certain topics (heavenly physics and metaphysics) and also because contradictions set in the context of dialectical argumentation have a different character. In the dialectical setting, contradictions are a function of the complexity of the topic and the recognition that the matters at hand are characterized by the fact that their underlying assumptions are not certain and self-evident. With all that, concealing the place of the contradiction as Maimonides recommends at the end of the seventh cause passage may make it difficult to discern one type of contradiction from the other. (56)


The meaning of the seventh cause suggested here is in keeping with Maimonides's observations (in many places in the Guide) about the possibility of perceiving those "very profound matters," physics and metaphysics, and thus about the nature of discussions about them as well. Maimonides thought that with regard to many topics included in these issues, there is not and cannot be any conclusively demonstrated knowledge. The following is a brief survey of his statements on this issue. (57)

Near beginning of the Guide (I:5), where he discusses the need for extensive preparation in order to study "the divine science" (metaphysics), Maimonides comments:
 When the chief of the philosophers began to investigate very obscure
 matters and to attempt a proof concerning them, he excused himself by
 making a statement the meaning of which was as follows. A student of his
 books should not, because of the subject of these researches, ascribe to
 him effrontery, temerity, and an excess of haste to speak of matters of
 which he has no knowledge; but rather he should ascribe to him the desire
 and the endeavor to acquire and achieve true beliefs to the extent to which
 this is in the power of man. (58)

Maimonides notes the lack of knowledge, or at least firmly demonstrated knowledge, regarding these matters, and he posits limits in the apperception of them according to "the power of man." (59) He refers to these limitations, marked out by Aristotle, later in the Guide (II:19), when he takes up the subject of astronomy. (60) In Guide I:31-4, Maimonides again stresses the limitations of human knowledge. These statements are designed to prevent undue haste in approaching "divine matters": "Know that the human intellect has objects of apprehension that it is within its power and according to its nature to apprehend. On the other hand, in that which exists there also are existents and matters that, according to its nature, it is not capable of apprehending in any way or through any cause." While Maimonides comments that when it comes to intellectual attainments (as with "bodily faculties"), "there are great differences in capacity between the individuals of the species," nonetheless even the most capable have limitations anchored in human nature: "this difference in capacity is likewise not infinite, for man's intellect indubitably has a limit at which it stops." (61)

Further in that chapter, Maimonides adds that "there are things for the apprehension of which man will find that he has a great longing. The sway of the intellect endeavoring to seek for, and to investigate, their true reality exists at every time and in every group of men engaged in speculation." (62) But, he states, "with regard to such things there is a multiplicity of opinions, disagreement arises between the men engaged in speculation, and doubts crop up; all this because the intellect is attached to an apprehension of these things, I mean to say because of its longing for them; and also because everyone thinks that he has found a way by means of which he will know the true reality of the matter. Now it is not within the power of the human intellect to give a demonstration of these matters. For in all things whose true reality is known through demonstration there is no tug of war and no refusal to accept a thing proven." (63) Those areas in which human apprehension is limited are categorized by Maimonides in this way: "The things about which there is this perplexity are very numerous in divine matters [in other words, metaphysics], few in matters pertaining to natural science [physics], and nonexistent in matters pertaining to mathematics." (64)

Indeed, in Guide II:22, when he addresses the question of whether the heavens came into being or existed throughout eternity (which is part of the larger issue of whether the universe was created or existed forever), Maimonides writes:
 Everything that Aristotle has said about all that exists from beneath the
 sphere of the moon to the center of the earth is indubitably correct, and
 no one will deviate from it unless he does not understand it or unless he
 has preconceived opinions that he wishes to defend or that lead him to a
 denial of a thing that is manifest. On the other hand, everything that
 Aristotle expounds with regard to the sphere of the moon and that which is
 above it is, except for certain things, something analogous to guessing and
 conjecturing. All the more does this apply to what he says about the order
 of the intellects and to some of the opinions regarding the divine that he
 believes; for the latter contain grave incongruities and perversities that
 manifestly and clearly appear as such to all the nations, that propagate
 evil, and that he cannot demonstrate. (65)

He repeats these statements with greater force in Guide II:25.

Humanity's limited ability to attain rationally demonstrated truths in the areas of physics (especially celestial physics) and metaphysics (in relation to entities of the highest level, the separate intellects and God), the limited nature of which is attested by the many disputes among scholars, stems in part from a lack of evident and well-founded assumptions (or "premises"). The reason for the competition among philosophical schools is not to be found in logical errors. On these points, says Maimonides, there is general agreement, and even if there is a dispute, it can be resolved easily, since in "matters pertaining to mathematics" (among which is logic), there is no "perplexity." The source of the disputes must therefore be in the absence of premises known to be true that would provide a firm foundation for philosophical deliberation. As Pines has shown, Maimonides adopts the view propounded by Alexander of Aphrodisias in his On the Principles of the All:
 Things of this kind [apparently: the principles of the physical
 world--Pines] are, in my opinion, best explained if one points out that the
 agreed upon principles [that is, premises] are in accord with, and adhere
 to, the manifest, clearly apparent, and well-known phenomena. For in this
 matter it is impossible to use the way of demonstration. For demonstration
 must start with prior things and with the causes, whereas nothing is prior
 to the first principles; nor do they have a cause. (66)

The problematics of discussion of these matters has its roots in the absence of "principles ... in accord with the phenomena, or in other words, a lack of adequate premises. (67) In the absence of such premises, the truth of any inferences remains dubious.

Scholars have already pointed out that in light of this conception of the limitations of apprehension regarding physics and metaphysics, primarily due to a lack of ascertained prerequisite knowledge--primary intelligibles (ma qulat) or sensory perceptions (mahsusat)--discussion of them must perforce rest, in Maimonides view, on statements about which there can be only limited certainty, that is, on commonly accepted assumptions (mashhurat). (68) Unlike axioms or sensory perceptions, which are unimpeachably certain since there is universal agreement about them among people of sound sensory perceptions and sound judgment, commonly accepted premises vary by degree, since to the degree that a premise is commonly accepted among many nations, so does belief in it grow stronger.

Arguments or inferences based on commonly accepted statements or premises (that is, dialectical arguments, according to Aristotle and medieval Islamic philosophers) are of a low level of certainty. (69) Furthermore, because of the uncertainty about their underlying premises, it becomes necessary to take into consideration contradictory assumptions and to conduct the inquiry based upon those assumptions. This conclusion is in keeping with our suggestion for reading of Maimonides's language regarding the seventh cause: "Sometimes it is necessary, in the case of a certain dictum, for the discussion to proceed by positing a certain premise, whereas necessity requires in another case that the discussion of these matters proceed by positing a premise contradicting [the first one]." The necessity inherent in the treatment of "profound matters"--due to the absence of premises, of axioms--is to conduct a dialectical discussion of them, considering in turn different conclusions based on commonly accepted but contradictory assumptions. (70)


In the previous section, we established a connection between (a) the suggestion that Maimonides's statements about the seventh cause should be read as expressing the necessity of conducting a discussion of celestial physics and metaphysics on the basis of contradictory assumptions (in other words, a dialectical discussion), and (b) his view that the assumptions made in these areas are tentative rather than certain. Maimonides does elaborate on the purpose and aims of the dialectical inquiry he recommends. What he means may be understood in a number of ways. One possible goal of dialectical treatment of a topic is pedagogic or heuristic. In this case, while no demonstrated solution to the questions under discussion is attainable, one may arrive at a plausible answer. Such a result may be attained, but only after the author lays out for the reader several possible solutions, which are based (among other things) on contradictory assumptions. At this juncture, it is worth recalling the pedagogic nature of the Guide, which is directed at the uninitiated student. Many scholars, the most prominent among them being Strauss, have emphasized that the organization and diction of this treatise are those of a lecture or oral teaching. (71) In this sense, the treatise resembles a Platonic dialogue, designed to lead the reader through the various and contradictory paths of physics and metaphysics, while testing a variety of alternative conclusions. Only in this way can the student attain a verified knowledge of the likely solution. (72)

Another possible goal of dialectical discussion may be the presentation of alternative solutions--based on contradictory premises-without choosing among them, at least not explicitly. These possibilities are not mutually exclusive, since it may be that on one issue, Maimonides arrived at a reasonable, likely conclusion while on another issue, he was left without an unequivocal conclusion. (73)

There is another possible purpose for the dialectic that Maimonides alludes to in the seventh cause. In order to present it, a preliminary discussion is in order. Our suggestion about the meaning of the seventh cause is congruent with the reasons behind the "unsystematic" structure of the Guide of the Perplexed. As mentioned above, Maimonides shapes the literary character of the Guide in accord with the nature of the contents it conveys. He does indeed point out the socio-political reason--"so as not to oppose that divine purpose which one cannot possibly oppose and which has concealed from the vulgar among the people those truths especially requisite for His apprehension" (74)--but his main reason for choosing the literary style he does stems from the way in which whose "requisite truths" are perceived:
 Know that whenever one of the perfect wishes to mention, either orally or
 in writing, something that he understands of these "secrets," according to
 the degree of his perfection, he is unable to explain with complete clarity
 and coherence even the portion that he has apprehended, as he could do with
 the other sciences whose teaching is generally recognized. Rather there
 will befall him when teaching another that which he had undergone when
 learning himself. I mean to say that the subject matter will appear, flash,
 and then be hidden again, as though this were the nature of this subject
 matter, be there much or little of it. (75)

The phenomenology of apprehension in these matters is characterized by Maimonides by means of the metaphor of lightning flashes:
 You should not think that these great "secrets" are fully and completely
 known to anyone among us. They are not. But sometimes truth flashes out to
 us so that we think that it is day, and then matter and habit in their
 various forms conceal it so that we find ourselves again in an obscure
 night, almost as we were at first. We are like someone in a very dark night
 over whom lightning flashes time and time again. (76)

The apprehension of the profound secrets is not the product of intellectual demonstration conducted in logical sequence. Knowledge of those secrets, Maimonides emphasizes, is intuitive. In that elevated state of perception, the student overcomes the limitations of discursive discussion and perceives the truths directly. (77) The uninitiated reader does not understand the character of apprehension and discourse in these matters, and he therefore identifies them with the forms of apprehension and instruction in "sciences whose teaching is generally recognized" (mathematics, logic, astronomy, and the like), fields of learning that are merely prerequisite and introductory to the study of "the secrets of divine wisdom." (78) What that reader imagines to be a jumble, lacking in orderliness and clarity, Maimonides presents as a form of writing appropriate to "very profound matters." It is fitting for such subjects to be written about in a way in which, as in a lightning flash, "the subject matter will appear, flash, and then be hidden again."

Furthermore, in Maimonides's view, intuitive illuminations do not reach a person directly. Instead they are mediated by parables. The truths sparkle at him through figurative images, and he teaches them to others in the same way. Maimonides does indeed point out that parables in the Bible are intended to conceal some views from the multitude, but here too this reason for their existence is secondary. He devotes the main part of his discussion of parables--the central topic of the introduction to the Guide--to an explanation of their epistemological status, thus clarifying how vital they are for grasping and expressing their "inner meaning" (Arabic batin).

Immediately following his comments on the intuitive recognition of "the secrets" and its implications for the manner in which they may be transmitted, and thus on his approach to writing the Guide, Maimonides writes: "For this reason, all the Sages possessing knowledge of God the Lord, knowers of the truth, when they aimed at teaching something of this subject matter, spoke of it only in parables and riddles.... The men of knowledge and the sages are drawn, as it were, toward this purpose by the divine will just as they are drawn by their natural circumstances. (79) Maimonides explains why the Hebrew Bible and the Rabbis transmit truths--"the Account of the Beginning" and "the Account of the Chariot"--by means of parables along in this way: "And because of the greatness and importance of the subject and because our capacity falls short of apprehending the greatest of subjects as it really is, we are told about those profound matters, which divine wisdom has deemed necessary [allati awda at daruratu 'l-hikmati 'l-illahiyati] to convey to us--in parables and riddles and in very obscure words." (80) Note that Maimonides describes the use of parables to express the "profound matters" as a "necessity" (darura), a point he had already alluded to at the end of the previous passage, when he stated: "just as they are drawn by their natural circumstances."

One may discern here a close connection between Maimonides's observations in his prefatory remarks on the unsystematic character of the Guide and the philosophical status of parables and his observations in the Introduction on the purpose of intentional contradictions. All of these have roots in Maimonides's characterization of the nature of philosophical apprehension and the manners of expression and writing derived from it. There is a measure of truth to Strauss's argument that the esoteric character of parables, which Maimonides ascribes to the Books of the Prophets and to the Rabbis, is replaced in the Guide by an esotericism based on contradictions. (81) Contrary to Strauss's view, though, neither of them--like the jumbled and obfuscatory writing style (82)--embodies only a willed esotericism fueled by socio-political motives. (83) In regard to all of these, scholarship has tended, following Strauss, to overemphasize deliberate concealment due to socio-political considerations and to ignore Maimonides's own explicit statements about their relation to the nature of perceiving philosophical truth and the appropriate manner for transmitting it.

I have noted above that an additional possibility may be suggested for the goal of dialectical discussion in Maimonides's work. An additional, more essential connection may exist between the dialectical character of philosophical discourse and the intuitive nature of the apperception of truths in the realm of celestial physics and metaphysics. It has been noted that these truths are not to be attained through discursive discussion, which proceeds systematically from ascertained premises to ineluctable conclusions. Maimonides, as we have seen, links the limits of discursive discussion of these topics with their apprehension through intuition. Putting it differently, it may perhaps be said that had he thought that the manner of knowing in these fields were the result of step-by-step inquiry, it would have been unnecessary to resort to intuitive apperception. The limitations of philosophical inquiry, where rationality provides illumination, may well be among those limitations to which Maimonides refers in his passage about the seventh cause. Insight through reason, however, at its various levels, is not independent of preparation. That preparation takes place primarily through sustained philosophical analysis, which is dialectical: it does not lead to a demonstrated conclusion, yet it constitutes a necessary, if still insufficient, condition for flashes of truth.

The preceding argument is still in need of study and refinement, since it is dependent upon the precise identification of those topics--or objects of consciousness--to which, in Maimonides's view, intuitive apperception is appropriate. These may not be identical to, or perhaps do not even overlap with, the topics to which he is referring in the passage on the seventh cause. In other words, the limits of discursive discussion that Maimonides has in mind in his treatment of intuitive cognition may be different from those to which he refers in his presentation of the need to conduct philosophical discourse on the basis of contradictory premises. (84)


In summary, the seventh cause does not refer to contradictions the purpose of which is to conceal. I propose instead that it relates to contradictions that are derived inherently from the subject under discussion. For these subjects, the most profound topics in physics and metaphysics, a discussion of a dialectical nature is appropriate, one that considers and tests conclusions based on different and even contradictory premises. Due to the inability of the unskilled reader to digest the uncertainty and inconclusiveness that are the hallmark of dialectical discussion, Maimonides recommends hiding it from him.

If my suggestion of how to understand Maimonides's remarks on contradictions is indeed correct, there is no basis for viewing those contradictions as a tool of exegetical methodology for revealing the secret of the Guide of the Perplexed. If writing in contradictions stems from the realization that the discussion of the topics at hand is dialectical, then there is no validity to a methodology according to which one is to identify the contradictions in the Guide and determine according to certain considerations--external to the topic under discussion--which is Maimonides's "real" position and which is intended to obscure that position. There is no alternative, then, to a sensitive reading of each issue taken up in the Guide, with all its digressions and inconsistencies, without the aid of devices imported from outside the subject itself.

If the reading of the seventh cause suggested here is correct (or more likely than the common reading), then we must ask with some surprise why all the medieval interpreters of the Guide, with modern scholars lining up behind them, adopted what became the common reading of the passage. An answer to this question might cast new light on the history of the Guide's interpretation and on the history of Jewish philosophy in the generations after Maimonides. In answering the question it is important, of course, to distinguish between classical interpreters and modern scholars. (85) Whatever the answer to the question, it is obvious that the conclusions arising from the present inquiry have many substantive and methodological implications, some of them far-reaching, for the study of Maimonides's thought in general and the interpretation of the Guide of the Perplexed in particular. I cannot detail them here, but I do hope to treat them in further research.

Maimonides's own words about the seventh contradiction are the central textual anchor for Leo Strauss's views on esotericism in philosophy based in political-theological considerations. (86) To the best of my knowledge, this is the sole passage in which a philosopher writes explicitly (in Strauss's reading of it, of course) that he has deliberately placed contradictions in his written work in order to hide opinions from the multitude. I know of no similar expression in the work of other thinkers, including Maimonides's contemporaries, nor does Strauss bring any other example. Rejecting this reading of the seventh cause passage, then, leaves the ground eroded under the central textual support for the hermeneutic paradigm that Strauss suggested. (87)

Bar Ilan University The Shalom Hartman Institute

(1) Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed (henceforth, "Pines"), trans. Shlomo Pines (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 17-20. Quotations from the Guide are from this edition unless otherwise noted. For comments on Hebrew translations, see notes 1 and 2 in my earlier article, "`The Seventh Cause': On the Contradictions in Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed: A Reappraisal," Tarbiz 69 (1999-2000): 213-37. For the Judaeo-Arabic orginal, I have consulted the bilinguial edition of Yosef Qafih (Jerusalem: Mosad Ha-rav Kook, 1971-2) and the Judaeo-Arabic edition of Solomon Munk and Issachar Joel (Jerusalem: J. Junovitch, 1930-31).

(2) R. Meir ben Todros Halevi of Toledo commented regarding the Guide: "sometimes veering right, sometimes left ... I understand there are reversals within it." See his letter to Nahmanides in Iggerot Ha-moreh, ed. David Ottensosser (Furth: Zurndorfer und Sommer, 1846), 26, cited in Aryeh Leo Motzkin, "On the Interpretation of Maimonides," Iyyun 28 (1978): 187 n. 3.

(3) Pines, 6.

(4) Ibid. The "chapter headings" approach is influenced by, among other things, Mishnah Hagigah 2:1 and Babylonian Talmud Hagigah 13a. See also Sara Klein-Braslavy, Shelomoh Ha-Melekh Veha-ezoterizm Ha-filosofi Bemishnat Ha-Rambam [King Solomon and Philosophical Esotericism in Maimonides' Thought] (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1996), 39-109.

(5) Another topic deserving of research is the causes of contradictions that Maimonides attributes to the literary sources of the Jewish tradition: the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible, Mishnah and baraitot, Talmud, midrashim and aggadot. Perhaps one purpose for Maimonides's exposition of the causes of contradictions is to banish the perception of actual contradictions from the authoritative texts of the Jewish tradition. Such actual contradictions (in other words, those attributable to the sixth cause) are, he argues, to be found only in midrash or aggadah. He thus continues the Geonic tradition according to which "no questions should be asked about difficulties in the Aggadah." See Moses Maimonides, Moreh Netrukhim, trans. Michael Schwarz (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1996), 16-17 n. 95. See also n. 7 below.

(6) Qafih., 21 n. 28, cites several manuscripts in which the reading is: "due to the fifth cause and the sixth [!] and the seventh." See also Schwarz, 17 n. 96. The analysis in this study assumes the reading adopted by all editors and translators. The implications of the variant reading are discussed in n. 56 below.

(7) Perhaps it is no accident that Maimonides employs the term "perplexed" (tathir) here, the same term as in the title of his treatise. He may be hinting at the contrast between the declared purpose of the treatise and the nature of its composition.

(8) Pines, 20. Although this comment appears at the conclusion of his "Introduction," just a few lines earlier Maimonides writes, "That some passages in every prophetic book, when taken in their external sense, appear to contradict or to be contrary to one another is due to the third cause and to the fourth. And it was with this in view that this entire introduction was written"; Pines, 19, emphasis mine--Y.L. The fourth cause is "a proviso that ... has not been explicitly stated in its proper place ... so that a contradiction appears to have been said, whereas there is no contradiction." The third is the incompatibility of two statements when one is to be taken literally, while the other should be understood as allegory but is taken literally, without an "inner content." This point is an addendum to Maimonides's statement in the earlier "Introduction to the First Part" that one central purpose of this Treatise is "the explanation of very obscure parables occurring in the books of the prophets, but not explicitly identified there as such. Hence an ignorant or heedless individual might think that they possess only an external sense, but no internal one. However, even when one who truly possesses knowledge considers these parables and interprets them according to their external meaning, he too is overtaken by great perplexity. But if we explain these parables to him or if we draw his attention to their being parables, he will take the right road and be delivered from this perplexity"; Pines, 6. It is nonetheless clear that inasmuch as his comments in the Introduction relate to the method according to which one ought to look at his treatise and interpret it, his comment about the fifth and seventh causes assume importance of the first order. Thus, at least, did all the interpreters of the Guide, ancient as well as modem, relate to it (see below). Indeed, while Maimonides's comments on the third cause repeat what he has previously stated in the "Introduction to the First Part," his comments on the fifth cause and particularly on the seventh are presented for the first time in the later "Introduction" (muqaddima). It should be noted that contradictions stemming from the fourth cause are similar to those stemming from the fifth cause. (On the latter, see immediately below). As we shall see further on (section 6), there is apparently a connection between the third cause and the seventh.

(9) For comparison to other directive phrases in the Guide, see Schwarz, 217.

(10) Pines, 17-18.

(11) Pines, 19. For examples of contradictions resulting from the fifth cause in the Guide, see Yosef ibn Caspi, `Amudei Kesef, in Sheloshah Kadmonei Mefarshei Ha-moreh [Three Early Interpreters of the Guide] (Jerusalem: n. p., 1960-1), 6. See also Asher Crescas's commentary. Compare Herbert A. Davidson, "Maimonides' Secret Position on Creation," Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature, I, ed. Isadore Twersky (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979), 17.

(12) Pines, 18.

(13) Pines, 18. Schwarz's Hebrew translation specifies: "must in no way be aware of the point of contradiction" (emphasis mine--Y.L.).

(14) For example, in the essay "The Literary Character of The Guide of the Perplexed," in Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1952), 68-70. See also Leo Strauss, "How to Begin to Study The Guide of the Perplexed," in Pines, xi-lvi. For an assessment of Strauss's influence on Maimonidean studies in general and the question of intentional contradictions in particular, see Aviezer Ravitsky, "The Secrets of the Guide to the Perplexed: Between the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries," in Studies in Maimonides. Harvard Judaic Texts and Studies, 7, ed. Isadore Twersky (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971), 159-207 (on this point, pp. 178 and following). For other literature on Strauss's studies of Maimonides, see n. 66 in Ravitsky.

(15) Pines, 9. Maimonides explains there why he retreated from his original intention of writing a "Book of Revelation" and a "Book of Comparison," which were to have been commentaries on the biblical books of the prophets and on rabbinic midrash. (Compare Maimonides's introduction to his commentary to chap. 10 of Mishna Sanhedrin, "The Seventh Fundamental Principle," in Isadore Twersky, A Maimonides Reader [New York: Berhman House, 1972], 419-20.)

(16) Strauss, "The Literary Character," 68.

(17) In his own words: "Maimonides teaches the truth not plainly, but secretly; i.e., he reveals the truth to those learned men who are able to understand by themselves and at the same time he hides it from the vulgar. There probably is no better way of hiding the truth than to contradict it. Consequently, Maimonides makes contradictory statements about all important subjects; he reveals the truth by stating it and hides it by contradicting it"; Ibid., 73-4. Strauss attributes such a policy to Al-Farabi as well. He ascribes the contradictions in the writings of that philosopher, who was, "after Aristotle, the philosopher most respected by Maimonides"; Shlomo Pines, "The Philosophical Sources of The Guide of the Perplexed," in Bein Mahshevet Yisrael Le-mahshevet Ha-`Amim. Studies in the History of Jewish Philosophy (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1977), 122, solely to social and political motives. His approach exercised a decisive influence on scholars and exegetes of Al-Farabi; see Miriam Galston, Politics and Excellence: The Political Philosophy of Al-Farabi (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).

(18) For a survey of Maimonides's methods of esoteric writing, see Strauss, "The Literary Character," 69-70. It is Strauss's opinion that one can reduce the two sides of contradictions in the Guide to the contrast between statements based on reason and expressions based on the imaginative faculty. In his view, an important criterion for identifying the author's true opinion is the paucity of its expression. As an example of this principle at work in Maimonides's writings, Strauss adduces the principle of physical resurrection, which is mentioned only in two verses in Daniel; see Strauss, "The Literary Character," 73. For him, this is a general hermeneutical principle, and he employs it even when the author does not specify that he contradicts himself; see Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, 177, and Jonathan Cohen, Tevunah U-temurah [Reason and Change] (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1997), 301.

(19) Pines, 6, and see above, p. 692.

(20) Strauss, "The Literary Character," 74.

(21) Strauss notes that for obvious reasons, authors will not explicitly declare that they are shielding their heterodox opinions from view, and so one should not expect the exegetical methodology he is suggesting to find clear expression in the writings of philosophers. At best, one might find hints at such an approach. See his classic article "Persecution and the Art of Writing" in the volume of the same title, especially pp. 30-1. Precisely because of this dearth of explicit reference, Maimonides's observations on the seventh cause--according to the reading common in the Middle Ages and later deepened and developed by Strauss--are so important from Strauss's perspective. It is this he apparently is referring to when he writes: "In some cases we possess even explicit evidence proving that the author has indicated his views on the most important subjects only between the lines." He immediately adds, though: "Such statements, however, do not usually occur in the preface or other very conspicuous place. Some of them even cannot be noticed, let alone understood, so long as we confine ourselves to the view of persecution and the attitude toward freedom of speech and candor which have become prevalent during the last three hundred years"; Ibid., 32. Strauss's approach to the Guide largely shaped his approach to philosophy in general. See Cohen, Tevunah U-temurah, 35-94, and Kenneth H. Green, Jew and Philosopher: The Return to Maimonides in the Jewish Thought of Leo Strauss (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993).

(22) It is interesting to note that while Strauss dealt extensively with Maimonides's literary techniques and thus with the methodology of understanding his works and thought, he delved far less extensively into Maimonides's philosophical and theological views, making only passing reference to them.

(23) See especially Pines, "The Philosophical Sources," 101-73, and also idem, "The Limitations of Human Knowledge According to Al-Farabi, ibn Bajja and Maimonides," in Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature, I, 83-109. The studies that adopt Strauss's approach are many. Without listing all of them, let me cite: Lawrence V. Berman, "Maimonides on the Fall of Man," Association for Jewish Studies Review 5 (1980): 1-16; Warren Zev Harvey, "How to Begin to Study the Guide of the Perplexed, I, 1," Daat 21 (Summer 1988): 5-23. Harvey builds on Strauss's work on the lexicographical chapters in the first part of the Guide; see Strauss, "How to Begin to Study the Guide of the Perplexed," xxvi-xxvii.

(24) See Lawrence Kaplan, "Maimonides on the Miraculous Element of Prophecy," Harvard Theological Review 70 (1977): 233-56; Davidson, "Maimonides' Secret Position on Creation," 16-40; Warren Zev Harvey, "A Third Approach to Maimonides' Cosmogony--Prophetology Puzzle," Harvard Theological Review 74 (1981): 287-301. It is important to note that these scholars have not adopted the entire package of Strauss's views on the seventh cause. All of them agree that its subject is concealment from the multitude (by means of contradiction), but they do not accept the opposition, attributed by Strauss to Maimonides, between Aristotelian philosophy and Mosaic revelation. See, for example, Harvey, "A Third Apporach," n. 41 and the references there; and Davidson, "Maimonides' Secret Position," who rejects the radical exegetical approach to the Guide that identifies Maimonides with Aristotelian philosophy. That approach to the problem can be rejected, in Davidson's opinion, on the basis of "the logic of the contradictions" itself; see pp. 39-40 of his article. These scholars may also have been influenced by Maimonides's medieval exegetes, primarily ibn Caspi, who took a similar tack. See below, n. 28.

(25) These scholars do not always cite Strauss's essays, but there can be no doubt that their comments regarding the contradictions are influenced by them. See, for example, Arthur Hyman, "Interpreting Maimonides," in Maimonides: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Joseph A. Buijs (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press 1988), 22. See also Hannah Kasher "The Art of Writing in the Guide of the Perplexed (A Close Reading of Chapter 26 in Part 3)," Daat 37 (Summer 1996): 63-4. For an extensive discussion of the approaches of various schools of thought, see Ravitsky, "The Secrets of the Guide." Ravitsky holds that a harmonistic exegesis does not place contradiction at the focus of understanding the Guide (Ibid., 168-9). This view finds support in Moshe b. Shmu'el ibn Tibbon, as cited in Zevi Diesendruck, "Samuel and Moses ibn Tibbon on Maimonides' Theory of Providence," Hebrew Union College Annual 11 (1936): 363-5. Even though a contemporary harmonistic reader of the Guide tends to downplay the contradictions in the Guide, he cannot entirely ignore them; he, too--apparently due to the influence of Strauss--will take them into account in his exegetical deliberation. See, for example, Davidson, "Maimonides' Secret Position on Creation." Nevertheless, there are important Malmonidean scholars who ignored (or left unremarked) Maimonides's statements on the seventh cause. This is so of Harry A. Wolfson and Julius Guttmann, for example, the bulk of whose exegetical work on Maimonides antedates Strauss. On Wolfson's harmonistic approach, see Cohen, Tevunah U-temurah, 101-15, and on Guttmann's approach see Ibid., 210-12. On Guttmann's attitude toward Strauss, see Guttmann's Philosophies of Judaism, trans. David W. Silverman (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964), 503-4 n. 125.

(26) For an extensive discussion, see Aviezer Ravitsky, "Samuel Ibn Tibbon and the Esoteric Character of the Guide of the Perplexed," Daat 10 (Winter 1983): 19-46; idem, "The Secrets of the Guide."

(27) See Diesendruck, "Samuel and Moses ibn Tibbon," 362; Ravitsky, "The Secrets of the Guide," 161-2.

(28) On Zerahiah ben Shealtiel H. en, see his letter to Hillel ben Shemuel in Otzar Nehmad 2 (1856-7): 137; Ravitsky, "The Secrets of the Guide," 162-3. On the radical approach in general, see Sheloshah Kadmonei Mefarshei Hamoreh, 52a. Narboni stresses there that Narboni's commentary to Guide III:13 in Maimonides's views should be identified as those of philosophical truth, which Maimonides takes the Aristotelian view to be. See ibn Caspi in Sheloshah Kadmonei Mefarshei Ha-moreh, 10; Ravitsky, "The Secrets of the Guide," 166-7 nn. 18, 21. A similar reading can be found in the writings of Avraham Abulafia; see his Hayed Ha-nefesh, MS Munich 408, 71a-72a. See also Alexander Altmann, "Das Verhaltnis Maimunis sur Judischen Mystik," Monatsschrift fur Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums 80 (1936): 311 n. 20; "Maimonides' Attitude Toward Jewish Mysticism," Studies in Jewish Thought. An Anthology of German-Jewish Scholarship, ed. Alfred Jospe (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981), 203 n. 20. In Altmann's opinion, while Abulafia thought that the purpose of contradictions in writing is, according to Maimonides, to hide secrets from the multitude, contradictions are inherent to mystical secrets, which are by their nature paradoxical. On Abulafia's position, see also Moshe Idel, "Kitvei R. Avraham Abulafia Umishnato [Abraham Abulafia's Works and Doctrines]" (Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1976), 193; and, after Idel, Ravitsky, "The Secrets of the Guide," 172-4.

(29) Al-Ishbili, who generally tends toward a harmonistic interpretation, writes in his Sefer Ha-zikkaron (Jerusalem: Mosad Ha-rav Kook, 1982-3), 68: "It is an important general rule for one who delves in secret lore that they [the authors of such works] often cite statements that contradict one another, whether from the Bible or rabbinic sources, and the bigger the secret that is to be hidden, the less that is truthful that will be said about it and the more that will be said running counter to it." See also Ravitsky, "The Secrets of the Guide," n. 10. Al-Ashvili does not specifically mention Maimonides, but the seventh cause undoubtedly forms part of the background for his statements. See the anonymous sage cited by Ravitsky, "The Secrets of the Guide," 164. Shem Tov, in his commentary to the Guide, writes: "The seventh cause of contradiction [is] the material's need in very profound matters; he will have to hide some of their matters and to reveal some, and sometimes that need will lead later on to [taking a position?] according to one statement ..., and in another place he will cite a different antecedent point, contradictory to the former, according to truth ... and the other according to the multitude"; Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Samuel ibn Tibbon with four commentaries: Profiat Duran, Shem Tov, ibn Crescas, and Abravanel (Warsaw, 1871-2; Jerusalem, 1947-8), 10b-11a. Duran (the "Efodi") takes a similar tack: "Sometimes necessity will lead to one statement--that is, the author of the book will have to set out a premise before the multitude, while in another place he sets down a different premise, contradicting the ftrst, according to truth and the wise sages"; Ibid., 10b. Abravanel as well (the most harmonistic of all of them) explains the seventh cause in this manner. On Maimonides's comment on the possibility of finding the seventh cause at work in the books of the prophets, which he labels "a matter for speculative study and investigation" (Pines, 19), Abravanel observes: "he says this because even though it would be unseemly for there to be in our holy Torah anything not in accord with truth, it would not be unseemly for there to be written in the Torah things that seem to be so but are not so in truth, in order to cause sinners to be frightened for their lives"; Ibid., 11b. Note that Yehuda Even Shmuel, in his modern commentary to the Guide, adopts Abravanel's stance toward the seventh cause: Moreh Nevukhim [Doctor Perplexorum (Guide of the Perplexed) by Rabbi Moses ben Maimun (Rambam)], ed. Yehuda Even Shmuel (Tel Aviv: Shevil, 1934-5), 37.

(30) Marvin Fox, Interpreting Maimonides: Studies in Methodology, Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 67-90. Fox did not offer a substantial explication of Maimonides's statements on the seventh cause, noting only that his words bear a heavy load. His explanation of the phenomenon of contradictions in the Guide is based on the argument that Maimonides does not ascribe to his treatise contradictions in the strict sense but only a lack of consistency, an argument that blunts the force of those "contradictions." Fox grounds this reading in the Maimonides's use of the word ikhtilaf, meaning "divergence," rather than tanaqud, or tadad ("contradictions" or "contraries"), and on examples from the Guide in which he finds inconsistencies and not logical contradictions. His argument is unconvincing, both because of the weak examples and because of the many places in the Guide where substantive contradictions are hard to escape. (For examples of the latter, see the references in nn. 24 and 25 above.) After all, Maimonides ascribes to his treatise the remarks he makes about the seventh cause, and there he refers explicitly to contradictions in the strict sense.

(31) The original is in the editions of Qafih., 19, and Munk-Joel, 12. The translation above is original. It endeavors to hew closely to the syntax of the original, for reasons which will become clear below. The translations of Shlomo Pines (examined below) and of M. Friedlander have been consulted. See Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, trans. M. Friedlaender (New York: Dover, 1954), 10: "Seventh cause. It is sometimes necessary to introduce such metaphysical matter as may partly be disclosed, but must partly be concealed; while, therefore, on one occasion the object which the author has in view may demand that the metaphysical problem may be treated as solved in one way, it may be convenient on another occasion to treat it as solved in the opposite way. The author must endeavor, by concealing the fact as much as possible, to prevent the uneducated reader from perceiving the contradiction."

(32) The topics subsumed under the phrase "profound matters" are listed by Maimonides in Guide I:25, and they are the problem of attributes of God and the issue of negative attributes. "All these," he writes, "are obscure matters. In fact, they are truly 'the mysteries of the Torah' and the `secrets' constantly mentioned in the dicta of `the Sages, may their memory be blessed'. They are the matters that ought not to be spoken of except in `chapter heading'"; Pines, 80-1. This list is not exhaustive, since Maimonides counts as "profound matters" celestial physics and metaphysics. The term "very profound [Pines: `obscure'] matters" also appears in the Guide in the section labeled by Pines "Introduction to the First Part," where Maimonides deals with the cognitive nature of parables in general and of the parables of the prophets in particular, and these relate to metaphysics and physics. See Pines, 6. See also below, section 6.

(33) See Fox, Interpreting Maimonides, 76.

(34) According to an alternative punctuation, these words are the continuation of the preceding sentence.

(35) See the studies of Kaplan, Davidson, and Harvey cited in n. 24 above.

(36) See the references in nn. 28 and 29 above.

(37) See n. 46 below.

(38) The nature of these matters may be indicated by the use of the Arabic word al-kalam, literally "speech," which generally denotes (like its Greek equivalent, logos) rational inquiry into theological questions. See Schwarz's translation of Moreh Nevukhim, 2 n. 10.

(39) Compare Pines, 8.

(40) See below, beginning of section 6.

(41) For different possible meanings of dialectic in Maimonides, see section 6 below.

(42) Pines, 8.

(43) See E. W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon I (New York: Frederick Unger, 1955-56), s.v. darura (p. 1777), anbaghi (pp. 231-2).

(44) Speaking of the fifth cause, Maimonides employs the same term: "The necessity darura of [or: "when"--compare Schwarz, 14] teaching and making someone understand"; Pines, 17. This cause too is involved with apparent contradictions that stem from the very nature of philosophical thought and its expression in writing and teaching.

(45) The significance of Maimonides's choice of terms in other contexts has been pointed out by Abraham Nuriel in a number of articles: "The Question of a Created or Primordial World in the Philosophy of Maimonides," Tarbiz 33 (1963-4): 272-87; "The Divine Will in Moreh Nevukhim," Tarbiz 39 (1969-70): 39-61; "Maimonides and the Concept of Faith," Daat 2-3 (1978-9): 43-7. See also Warren Zev Harvey, "Nuriel's Method for Deciphering the Secrets of the Guide," Daat 32-3 (1993-4): 67-71. Unlike the terms investigated by Nuriel, which are synonymous in everyday use (see his "The Divine Will," 39), the difference between darura and yanbaghi, despite a partial overlap in meaning, is already clear from their usual lexicographical meanings, which are, of course, not unique to their usage in the Guide. Nevertheless, I will illustrate the difference on the basis of several passages in the Guide.

In several instances, forms of the term darura are employed. (These are indicated by italics in the following quotations.) In these examples, Pines consistently distinguishes between these terms. (1) In III:17, Maimonides comments on the three views of providence that he rejects, "To my mind no one among the partisans of these three opinions of providence should be blamed, for every one of them was impelled by strong necessity to say what he did"; Pines, 468. Here, the necessity is logical or metaphysical. (2) Subsequently in the same chapter he writes, "For all these texts refer to providence watching over the species and not to individual providence. It is as if they described His bounty, may He be exalted, which prepares for every species the food necessary for it and matter of its subsistence." And immediately thereafter: "Aristotle likewise holds that that this kind of providence is necessary and exists." The necessity in both these instances stems from the nature of reality. (Pines, 473.) (3) In III:51, he describes a possible "human individual who, through his apprehension of the true realities and his joy in what he has apprehended, achieves a state in which he talks with people and is occupied with his bodily necessities while his intellect is turned wholly toward Him"; Pines, 623. The necessity here is an aspect of the human body. (4) In I:26, he writes, "Thus you know that a motion belongs to the perfection of a living being and is necessary to such a being for its perfection"; Pines, 56. Here too, this is a necessity of nature.

As for the use of anbaghi: (5) In III:54, Maimonides writes, "The Sages, may their memory be blessed, mention likewise that man is required first to obtain knowledge of the Torah, then to obtain wisdom, then to know what is incumbent upon him with regard to the legal science of the Law--I mean the drawing of inferences concerning what one ought to do"; Pines, 633. Here, we are clearly dealing with a prescriptive statement. (6) Another example of the normative use of yanbaghi is found in I:5: "When the chief of philosophers began to investigate very obscure matters and to attempt a proof concerning them, he excused himself by making a statement the meaning of which was as follows. A student of his books should not, because of the subject of these researches, ascribe to him effrontery, temerity, and an excess of haste to speak of matters of which he had no knowledge; but rather he should ascribe to him the desire and the endeavor to acquire and achieve true beliefs to the extent to which this is in the power of man. In the same way we say that man should not hasten too accede to this great and sublime matter"; Pines, 29. In contrast, when Maimonides explains why philosophy is not to be taught to the multitude (at the end of I:33), he uses the term darura: "I shall make clear to you the cause that prevents the instruction of the multitude in the veritable methods of speculation and that prevents their being taught to grasp the essences of things as they are. I shall also explain to you that it is requisite and necessary that this should not be otherwise than thus"; Pines, 72. This necessity stems from the nature of the multitude. (7) On the same topic, at I:34, he writes, "The causes that prevent the commencement of instruction with divine science, the indication of things that ought to be indicated, and the presentation of this to the multitude, are"; Pines, 72. That such indication is needed is, as Pines correctly translates, a normative statement.

(46) The spare syntax of the original may be understood as speaking of the necessity to discuss [rather than "when discussing"] "very profound matters," with Maimonides addressing the contradictions in such a discussion only in the following sentence (lines 3-6). It seems to me, though, that the necessity referred to in line 1 is the very same one referred to in line 3--the need for a discourse that includes contradictory statements. After all, that latter necessity is the very definition of the seventh cause, which is an explanation for the existence of certain contradictions. Further evidence can be found in Maimonides's formulation of the fifth cause: "the necessity of teaching and malting someone understand." The necessity referred to is actually the necessity to employ contradictions in accomplishing those activities. For that reason, Pines inserts "arises from" before the cited phrase. See Pines, 17.

(47) Schwarz, 15; Qafih., 19. For comments on various Hebrew translations of the passage and one in medieval Latin, see notes 55 and 56 in my article "'The Seventh Cause.'" Schwarz, in his introduction (15 nn. 79, 80), cites a manuscript variant that clearly states: "Sometimes it is necessary, on the basis of a certain conviction, for the discussion to proceed on the assumption that there exists some premise, but in another case on the assumption that there is a premise contradicting it." This version supports our contention that it is the necessity of weighing contradictory assumptions within a single discourse--a necessity not dependent upon the writer--that is the seventh cause of contradictions, not a need to obscure truths from the multitude.

(48) This is apparently not the only cause of this tendency, nor even its primary cause. See below, at the end of section 7 and n. 85.

(49) Pines, 18.

(50) See n. 46 above.

(51) On Pines as a Straussian reader of Maimonides, see Pines, "The Limitations of Human Knowledge," 104; Ravitsky, "The Secrets of the Guide," 178-9 and n. 23 above. The relationship is indicated in the appearance (not its first) of Strauss's essay, "How to Begin to Study The Guide of the Perplexed" as a preface to Pines's translation of the Guide. Nevertheless, Pines's translation of the seventh cause is not impossible, since no one expects a wooden, word-for-word translation, and it is clear that there is an exegetical element in every translation. For the reasons enumerated above, though, Pines's translation of this passage cannot be accepted.

(52) Leo Strauss, "Notes on Maimonides' Book of Knowledge," Studies in Mysticism and Religion Presented to Gershom G. Scholem on his Seventieth Birthday (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1967), 269-83; Harvey, "A Third Approach," 295. See also Moshe Halbertal, Bein Torah Le-Hokhmah [Between Torah and Wisdom: Rabbi Menachem ha-Meiri and the Maimonidean Halakhists in Provence] (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1999-2000), 119-20.

(53) See Pines, "The Limitations of Human Knowledge." There are profound differences between the argument about the dialectic nature of philosophical discussion and Pines's contention that the esoteric stratum of the Guide reflects an agnostic outlook regarding metaphysics (and see n. 73 below). However, from the point of view of the need to keep things from the multitude for socio-political reasons, there is a certain similarity between them.

(54) Pines, 18.

(55) Farther on (Pines, 20), Maimonides points out that this contradiction is characteristic of the literature of midrash and aggadah, too (in which "there is to be found a great contradiction due to this cause"). See also n. 5 above.

(56) For this reason it is difficult to assume that Maimonides ascribes to his own treatise contradictions due to the sixth cause (alongside the fifth and seventh), as indicated by the manuscript cited by Qafih. According to the common interpretation of the seventh cause, that would make no sense, for the reasons listed above. According to the interpretation suggested here, which enables us to distinguish the sixth and seventh causes, this reading is not impossible, since it may be that Maimonides, in an expression of modesty, is hinting to the reader that his treatise may not be innocent of unintended contradictions as well. After all, Maimonides ascribes this cause to "most of the books of authors and commentators other than those we have mentioned"; Pines, 20. The considerations raised above, though, make this possibility far-fetched.

(57) The following passages were collected and analyzed by Pines, following which they were examined by Kramer, but their conclusions are not identical. See Pines, "The Limitations of Human Knowledge"; Joel L. Kramer, "Maimonides on Aristotle and Scientific Method [Mehkerei Yerushalayim be-Mahshevet Yisrael]," Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 9 (1989-90): 193-224.

(58) Pines, 29.

(59) On the phrase "the extent to which this is in the power of man," see the end of Guide III:54 (Pines, 637-8) and in the last halakhah in Maimonides's Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 11:12. See also Kramer, "Maimonides on Aristotle and Scientific Method," n. 14 and references there.

(60) Pines, 302-3. The questions dealt with there touch upon the movement of the spheres and the heavenly bodies.

(61) Guide I:31; Pines, 66. See also Guide I:32: "in spite of its sublimity, greatness, and what it has of perfection, the nature of the apprehension in question [intellectual apprehension--Strauss's note]--if not made to stop at its proper limit and not conducted with circumspection--may be perverted into a defect"; Pines, 69. Later in that chapter, Maimonides presents a more balanced view of the limits of human rationality: "the intention of these texts ... is not, however, wholly to close the gate of speculation and to deprive the intellect of the apprehension of things that it is possible to apprehend--as is thought by the ignorant and neglectful.... Their purpose, in its entirety, rather is to make it known that the intellects of human beings have a limit at which they stop"; Pines, 70. Pines noted how close this view of Maimonides is to Kant's views in the Critique of Pure Reason. See Shlomo Pines, "Maimonides," Dictionary of Scientific Biography IX (New York: Scribner, 1974), 29; Pines, "The Limitations of Human Knowledge," 100. Note that Pines stressed that one of Maimonides's original contributions to philosophy is the development of the argument about the limitations of human attention. These comments are, in his view, not a tangential matter in the Guide.

(62) Pines, 66.

(63) Ibid.

(64) Ibid. Close to the end of chapter 31 Maimonides indicates that the view of the human intellect as limited is not rooted only in the Torah: "Do not think that what we have said with regard to the insufficiency of the human intellect and its having a limit at which it stops is a statement made in order to conform to the Law. For it is something that has already been said and truly grasped by the philosophers without their having concern for a particular doctrine or opinion. And it is a true thing that cannot be doubted except by an individual ignorant of what has already been demonstrated [i.e., ignorant of the sort of claim philosophers are to use]"; Pines, 67.

(65) Pines, 319-20.

(66) Cited in Pines, lxix.

(67) In Guide II:22 (Pines, 320) as well, Maimonides cites Alexander of Aphrodisias: "For Alexander has explained that in every case in which no demonstration is possible, the two contrary opinions with regard to the matter in question should be posited as hypotheses, and it should be seen what doubts attach to each of them; the one to which fewer doubts attach should be believed."

(68) Perhaps even upon mere "accepted truths" (maqbulat), which are at an even lower level of certainty. On the distinction between these types of statements, see chap. 8 of "Maimonides' Treatise on Logic," trans. Israel Efros, Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 8 (1937-8): 47-9. On Maimonides's view, see Pines, "The Limitations of Human Knowledge," 94.

(69) On this sense of dialectics in Aristotle, see Aristotle, Topics: Books I and VIII, with Excerpts from Related Texts, trans. Robin Smith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 1.8-12, pp. 7-11. Kramer, "Maimonides on Aristotle and Scientific Method," 221.

(70) See also Guide II:15 and Kramer, "Maimonides on Arisototle and Scientific Method," 209 and nn. 69-74.

(71) Strauss, "How to Begin to Study The Guide of the Perplexed," in Pines, xxiii-xxiv; Kasher, "The Art of Writing in the Guide of the Perplexed."

(72) This is the direction taken by Kramer, although without reference to the issue of contradictions. A dialectic approach is ascribed to Al-Farabi as well, who is considered to have exerted a crucial influence on Maimonides in approaches to philosophical thought and writing, as well as other matters. See Pines, "The Philosophical Sources of The Guide of the Perplexed," 122. Miriam Galston thinks that Al-Farabi's writing is dialectical, and in this way she explains the contradictions in his writings. Al-Farabi's use of dialectics, in her view, is to place contrary arguments of similar power to convince the reader within a philosophical context, with the aim of sharpening the philosopher's understanding of the alternatives in order to enable him to eliminate erroneous assumptions and arguments. See Galston, Politics and Excellence, 10. Galston finds in Maimonides a dialectic analogous to that ascribed by her to Al-Farabi (Ibid., 52).

(73) At this point we should recall the possibility, raised by Blidstein, that Maimonides adopted a dialectical approach to Jewish law as well. See Gerald J. Blidstein, "Where Do We Stand in the Study of Maimonidean Halakha?" in Studies in Maimonides, 19-21. It is important to distinguish between the conclusion that arises from our suggestion about the meaning of the seventh cause (and thus about the dialectical nature of the Guide) and Pines's conclusion that Maimonides held an agnostic view of heavenly physics and metaphysics (Pines, "The Limitations of Human Knowledge"). In Pines's view, that agnosticism caused Maimonides to deny the possibility of the eternity of the soul and thus to present political activity and not a life of philosophical inquiry as the human being's ultimate goal. For a critique of Pines's conclusions, see Warren Zev Harvey, "Political Philosphy and Halakhah in Maimonides," Iyyun 29 (1977-8): 198-212; Alexander Altmann, "Maimonides on the Intellect and the Scope of Metaphysics," Von der mittelalterlichen zur modernen Aufklarung--Studien zur judischen Geistesgeschichte (Tubingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1987), 60-129; Herbert A. Davidson, "Maimonides on Metaphysical Knowledge," Maimonidean Studies 3 (1992-3): 49-103.

While our suggested dialectical reading of the seventh cause rests on Maimonides's comments on the absence of verified assumptions, among other things, it does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that Maimonides in the end adopted an agnostic view. There is a difference between a view based on plausible (but not verified) assumptions and an agnostic view. A view based on plausible assumptions tends to ascribe importance to philosophical discussion (on metaphysical questions), while an agnostic view denies the value of such discussion. To my mind, the impression left by the Guide is that Maimonides ascribed great importance to philosophical discussion and inquiry, even (or perhaps especially) to metaphysical questions. (See above, n. 61.) Furthermore, as mentioned below, Maimonides thought that philosophical inquiry could bring about flashes of insight--that is, intuitive perceptions of truth. In this unique state of apprehension, the philosopher rises above epistemological limitations that characterize discursive discussion but is at the same time dependent upon it and building upon it. Pines does in fact cite this in the aforementioned article, but he ascribes that state of apprehension solely to the prophets. There appears to me to be no basis for such a distinction, at least not in Maimonides's words in the preface to the Guide, since a philosopher who reaches that state of apprehension is a prophet. For Maimonides, this prophetic level of apprehension is natural since it is not dependent upon divine intervention. Furthermore, and most significant for our purposes, Pines bases his conclusion in that article on a Straussian reading of the Guide. Thus for example Strauss describes Maimonides's statements in III:54 and 51, which deal with the eternity of the soul (a position dependent upon a certain view of the possibility of rational attainment), as theological-political statements. According to Pines, these words were intended merely to hide his true agnostic opinion. It is unnecessary to point out that according to our suggestion, Maimonides's statements in these chapters have a philosophical valence that is not necessarily any less than that of other, contradictory statements made elsewhere. See David Schatz, "Worship, Corporeality, and Human Perfection: A Reading of Guide of the Perplexed, III: 51-3," Studies in the History of Philosophy 17 (1992): 77-129.

(74) Pines, 7.

(75) Pines, 8.

(76) Pines, 7. This mode of perception is identical, in Maimonides's view, to prophetic revelation: "Among them there is one [or: there are those (Pines's note)] for whom the lightning flashes time and again, so that he is always, as it were, in unceasing light. Thus night appears to him as day. That is the degree of the great one among the prophets, to whom it was said: `But as for thee, stand thou here by Me.' And of whom it was said: `that the skin of his face sent forth beams,' and so on.... There are others between whose lightning flashes there are greater or shorter intervals"; Ibid. Indeed, in Maimonides's view the prophets were philosophers of the highest rank. He explains the various levels of revelation as, among other things, different levels of philosophical awareness. See Guide II:32 and following.

(77) This is not the place to specify the causes of the limitations of discursive discussion on these topics. I shall merely note that the main cause, in Maimonides's view, of the limited perception of divine matters and related topics in physics is the physical nature of the human being: "Matter is a strong veil preventing the apprehension of that which is separate from matter as it truly is. It does this even if it is the noblest and purest matter, I mean to say even if it is the matter of the heavenly spheres. All the more is this true for the dark and turbid matter that is ours. Hence whenever our intellect aspires to apprehend the deity or one of the intellects, there subsists this great veil interposed between the two"; Guide III:9; Pines, 436-7. This might also be a reason for the absence of verified premises that could provide a basis for philosophical discussion (see below). I have discussed these issues in my unpublished M. A. thesis, "'The Men of Knowledge and the Sages Are Drawn, as It Were, Toward This Purpose by the Divine Will': On Maimonides' Concept of Parable and Metaphor" (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1991). See also Pines, "The Limitations of Human Knowledge," 92.

(78) On this, see the parable of the king's palace in Guide III:51. The taxonomy of sciences there is based on Aristotle, Metaphysics 6.1.1026a6-33. See Aristotle, Metaphysics: Books Gamma, Delta and Epsilon, trans. Christopher Kirwan (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 67-8. See also Maimonides's Treatise on Logic, chap. 14, and Harry A. Wolfson, "The Classification of Science in Medieval Jewish Philosophy," Hebrew Union College Jubilee Volume (Cincinnati: HUC, 1925), 263-315.

(79) Pines, 8. For a detailed analysis, see Lorberbaum, "'The Men of Knowledge and the Sages'."

(80) Pines, 9.

(81) Strauss, "The Literary Character," 68.

(82) This too, in the view of many scholars and even early commentators, is due to the socio-political reason. See Ravitsky, "The Secrets of the Guide," 172-3, and the references there.

(83) On the distinction between intentional esotericism, based on the writer's decision (to engage in concealment for socio-political purposes) and esotericism that is essential to the subject under discussion (which cannot be expressed directly and adequately, but only indirectly, through symbols), see Gershom Scholem, The Kabbalah at Gerona, ed. Yosef Ben-Shlomo (Jerusalem: Academon, 1963-4), 16-24. Strauss indeed attributes to Maimonides the view that the Bible and the prophets employ parables only in order to conceal secrets from the multitude. He ignores Maimonides's explicit statements on their necessary cognitive function. See Strauss, "The Literary Character," 57-9.

(84) See, for now, Lorberbaum, "'The Men of Knowledge and the Sages'."

(85) The investigation of this question with regard to the classical commentators is multifaceted. In the context of such an investigation, among the items to be investigated are those commentators' conceptions of the esoteric character of the Guide in particular and of philosophical inquiry in general. The social context of the study of philosophy in Jewish society must also be weighed. In this context it is important to remember that in contrast with what the radical medieval exegetes ascribed to Maimonides, they themselves did not write in an esoteric fashion. Their discussions are not obfuscatory (at least not intentionally so). They do not write in chapter headings or employ contradictions. Rather than guiding them in their writing, esotericism motivated by theological-political considerations provided them with an exegetical device that enabled them to wrest from the Guide radical philosophical contents, mostly Aristotelian views that stood in opposition to traditional outlooks. It seems to me that the philosophical inquiry aspect of the discussion is more significant. Among the questions to be posed is that of the extent to which the commentators attributed to Maimonides skepticism regarding metaphysics (and related topics in physics). As we have seen, the reading of the seventh cause suggested here is based in part on Maimonides's skeptical (and at times agnostic) comments on these matters. Did the classical interpreters give appropriate consideration to those statements? Did they perhaps see them as mere rhetorical devices, intended to warn the writer and his readers away from approaching metaphysics without appropriate preparation? Were their views on this central issue influenced, perhaps, by external ways of thinking--Averroistic, for example--that were applied to the interpretation of Maimonides in the generations after him? It appears to me that the argument that Maimonides's skeptical statements reflect an actual philosophical position was raised only in the last quarter of the twentieth century, by Pines in his "The Limitations of Human Knowledge," following which other scholars as well have made this argument (see Josef Stem, "Logical Syntax as a Key to a Secret of The Guide of the Perplexed," Iyyun 38 (1989): 137-66). As has been stated, the radical exegesis of the Guide in the Middle Ages sought to attribute Aristotelian views to Maimonides, while the harmonistic exegesis ascribed to him moderate philosophical views consonant with traditional conceptions. Both groups downplayed the importance of the skeptical element in the Guide. The absence of this component may explain why the reading suggested here did not occur to the Guide's medieval interpreters of any school. The preceding comments require further study and clarification, of course, a task I hope to take up elsewhere.

(86) See above, p. 698.

(87) See n. 21 above. I am pleased to acknowledge my debt to the following teachers and friends for their useful and enlightening comments on the original Hebrew version of this article: Ari Ackerman, Prof. Haggai Ben-Shammai, Prof. Moshe Halbertal, Prof. Warren Zev Harvey, Alon Hasid, Dr. Shlomo Naeh, Prof. David Shatz, Prof. Sarah Stroumsa, Prof. Josef Stem, and Dror Yinon. Thanks are due also to Peretz Rodman for his translation of this paper into English.

The author and translator are further indebted to Prof. Ben-Shammai and to Dr. David Sklare for giving generously of their expertise and time in the preparation of the translation of the "seventh cause" passage. In addition, Prof. Ben-Shammai kindly prepared the transcription of the passage in Latin characters. Their invaluable assistance in no way, of course, makes them responsible for any errors or infelicities that remain in the treatment of the Judeo-Arabic source.

The research for this article was made possible by the Florence Unger and Samuel Goldenstein, M.D. Interdisciplinary Center for Law, Rationality, Ethics and Social Justice at Bar Ilan University's Faculty of Law.

Correspondence to: Shalom Hartman Institute, 12 Gedaliah Alon Street, 93228 Jerusalem, Israel.
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Title Annotation:Moses ben Maimon
Author:Lorberbaum, Yair
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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