Anselmian in spirit. What is the difference between essence and existence? Does this distinction hold with respect to God?

2. Maimonides makes the interesting claim that God is One without possessing the attribute of unity (80). What does he mean by this?
LVIII
Up until this point, Maimonides has been attacking relentlessly the idea that God has any affirmative attributes. Starting in this chapter, Maimonides makes and defends a claim for which is he famous: Know that the negative attributes of God are the true
attributes (81). Your main task here is to understand what Maimonides means by negative attributes, and why they constitute the path to knowledge of God.
LIX
1. Maimonides begins this chapter with an interesting question: if it is impossible to know God, then what (if anything) distinguishes those who supposedly know a lot about God (Moses, for example) from those who are ignorant? If nothing can be known, arent we all equally ignorant? Think about Maimonides answer to this question, and whether or not you find it persuasive.
2. For those of you with some familiarity with Judaism, the long paragraph beginning at the bottom of page 84 is an interesting one. Here, Maimonides is wrestling with an important problem. If uttering affirmative attributes in some way reflect ignorance of God rather than knowledge, why do Jews use affirmative attributes in the prayers that are required according to rabbinic law? While this is not exactly a philosophical question, it is of supreme importance for Maimonides because he is a Jew and is bound to the Jewish law. Just as he needs to reconcile what reason tells him to be true with Scripture when the two seem to conflict, so too does he have to reconcile philosophy with Jewish practice. (Also, the rabbinic parable on page 85 is a good onethe rabbis often used parables to explain things, and this is a great example of that method).
LX
1. To understand how something can be known by way of negative attributes, Maimonides provides a famous example, that of a ship. Do you find this example persuasive? Why does Maimonides insist that we must not negative without understanding by way of proof/logical demonstration why the thing being negated must be negated?
2. What does Maimonides mean when he says that ones who affirm attributes of God unconsciously loses his belief in God (88)? What do you make of this?READING GUIDE: Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, Chapters 51-60 Reading Guide
As I mentioned in class, Moses Maimonides (d. 1204) is one of the three most important Moses in Jewish history. He was born in Crdoba, Spain around 1135, and fled with his family in 1148, settling in Fez, Morocco. During this period of exile, he composed a famous commentary on the Mishnah. Then, after touring the Holy Land, he settled permanently in Egypt, ultimately becoming the head of the Egyptian Jewish community. He compiled a comprehensive code of Jewish law called the Mishneh Torah, works on medicine (he was also a renowned physician), and of course, a number of philosophical treatises, most notably, the Guide for the Perplexed.
The Guide for the Perplexed is one of the most important and profound works of medieval philosophy ever written, and is notoriously tricky to interpret because it is, according to many commentators (most notably, the political philosopher Leo Strauss), an esoteric text. To add to the difficulty, Maimonides is in dialogue with many Jewish and Muslim thinkers in this text, though not always explicitly so, so you need to filter out some of the polemic to pull out the arguments. The chapters you will read constitute Maimonides famous discussion of the divine attributes. You will see many resonances with Anselm, though he pushes the argument a bit farther.
When Maimonides talks about attributes, he means things that can be said of some subject (the pear is green, for example, with pear being the subject and green the attribute). He is thinking here primarily of sentences of the form X is Y. Maimonides was heavily influenced by Aristotelian philosophy, and in a text called the Categories, Aristotle outlined 10 ways in which something can be said of something else. Aristotle is here, as always in Medieval philosophy, lurking in the background.
LI
In this opening section, there are two important things to pay attention to:
1) the distinction between essential and accidental attributes (try your best to get a clear sense of this distinction);
2) His claim that divine unity requires that there be no parts whatsoever in God (identify the lines in the text where Maimonides makes this claim explicitly).
LII
1. Maimonides begins by outlining five ways in which something can be attributed affirmatively to something else. Try your best to understand:
(1) what these five ways are;
(2) whether this type of affirmative attribution can be used in reference to God; and (3) why or why not.
2. At the very of this chapter, what point does Maimonides make about the many attributes of God found in Scripture?
LIII
This section deals with a key question: Why do people come to believe (erroneously) in the existence of divine attributes? Makes sure you understand his answer to this question. Thinking about the following more particular questions may be helpful:
(1) what is the significance of the principle: The Torah speaks in the language of man? (2) what does Maimonides mean when he claims: from one agency different effects may result?
(3) what is he trying to accomplish by using the example of fire?
(4) what does Maimonides say about the four attributes singles out by those who maintain that God does indeed have essential attributes (life, power, wisdom, and will)?
LIV
The first two paragraphs of this chapter are a really beautiful example of the philosophical exegesis of Scripture. Read and follow along if you can (it might be difficult without a decent knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures), but dont get too bogged down in it; the important material for our purposes begins in paragraph 3 (page 76). Starting in paragraph 3, Maimonides expounds on attributes of action, which he had touched on briefly in Chapter LII. Pay attention to the main points he makes, which are similar to those of Anselm.
LV
This chapter is a transitional one, setting up the chapters to come. Maimonides claims that:
nothing can be predicated of God that implies any of the following four things: corporeality, emotion or change, non-existence,e.g., that something would be potential at one time and real at anotherand similarity with any of His creatures. (78)
Of course, these claims need to be proven, and in order to understand the demonstrations of these points, one must be familiar with Natural Science, by which he means Aristotelian science, and in particular, the central concepts of Aristotles Physics and Metaphysics. He doesnt intend to help us out very muchhe assumes we already understand these things. But dont panic if you dont, well manage.
LVI
In this chapter, Maimonides refutes the notion that there can be any similarity whatsoever between God and his creatures. Try to follow his reasoning. If you dont know what a homonym is, look it up, and make sure you understand what point he is making when he claims that the terms Wisdom, Power, Will, and Life are applied to God and to other beings by way of perfect homonymity (79).
LVII
1. At the beginning of this chapter, Maimonides discussing the distinction between essence and existence in relation to God. Here he says some things that are very
Anselmian in spirit. What is the difference between essence and existence? Does this distinction hold with respect to God?
2. Maimonides makes the interesting claim that God is One without possessing the attribute of unity (80). What does he mean by this?
LVIII
Up until this point, Maimonides has been attacking relentlessly the idea that God has any affirmative attributes. Starting in this chapter, Maimonides makes and defends a claim for which is he famous: Know that the negative attributes of God are the true
attributes (81). Your main task here is to understand what Maimonides means by negative attributes, and why they constitute the path to knowledge of God.
LIX
1. Maimonides begins this chapter with an interesting question: if it is impossible to know God, then what (if anything) distinguishes those who supposedly know a lot about God (Moses, for example) from those who are ignorant? If nothing can be known, arent we all equally ignorant? Think about Maimonides answer to this question, and whether or not you find it persuasive.
2. For those of you with some familiarity with Judaism, the long paragraph beginning at the bottom of page 84 is an interesting one. Here, Maimonides is wrestling with an important problem. If uttering affirmative attributes in some way reflect ignorance of God rather than knowledge, why do Jews use affirmative attributes in the prayers that are required according to rabbinic law? While this is not exactly a philosophical question, it is of supreme importance for Maimonides because he is a Jew and is bound to the Jewish law. Just as he needs to reconcile what reason tells him to be true with Scripture when the two seem to conflict, so too does he have to reconcile philosophy with Jewish practice. (Also, the rabbinic parable on page 85 is a good onethe rabbis often used parables to explain things, and this is a great example of that method).
LX
1. To understand how something can be known by way of negative attributes, Maimonides provides a famous example, that of a ship. Do you find this example persuasive? Why does Maimonides insist that we must not negative without understanding by way of proof/logical demonstration why the thing being negated must be negated?
2. What does Maimonides mean when he says that ones who affirm attributes of God unconsciously loses his belief in God (88)? What do you make of this?

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