Senior Fellow: November 2016, January–March 2017 and May 2017
Research Project: Maimonides’ Sceptical Critique of Prophecy and the Parable of the Aqedah
Josef Stern’s objective is to complete a monograph on Maimonides’ sceptical critique of prophecy. According to Maimonides, prophecy is an ideal state of intellectual perfection yielding a ‘knowledge’ whose representations are a function of both the intellect and the imagination, a state articulated in the Torah by the condition that all (non-Mosaic) prophecy must occur in a dream or vision. This characterisation immediately raises an epistemological question: with respect to any given prophetically apprehended proposition, how does the purported prophet know that he intellectually apprehended its content, which in turn is represented in an imaginative form, and that he did not instead imagine that he intellectually apprehended that content? An answer would require a criterion for distinguishing objects of the intellect from those of the imagination. However, Maimonides argues that humans have no such criterion, leaving him at a sceptical impasse, unable to justify his claim to knowledge. This, Stern argues, is what Maimonides means by the challenge posed by ‘false’—deceived rather than deceiving—prophets. To explore this, Stern analyses Maimonides’ idea of prophecy, prophetic verification, and prophetic intuition (hads), the tension for him between the intellect and imagination in light of the major dispute over the status of the modalities among the Arabic philosophers, his critique of the epistemic status of the certainty of the prophet, and the normative consequences of this sceptical critique for the prophetic life and commandments.
Josef Stern is William H. Colvin Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Chicago.