Senior Fellow: January–March 2018 and January–February 2019
Research Project: Seeking Knowledge in a Seemingly Uncertain World
Leading scholars (several of whom are fellows at the Maimonides Centre) have adopted increasingly radical views on the limitations of knowledge for Maimonides and certain later Jewish thinkers. From this perspective, one wonders whether pure bookish learning and demonstrative reasoning were considered sufficient for attaining true knowledge and perfection. This question has recently led me to reconsider the role of observation, oral reports, and experience for late medieval Jewish thinkers in the study of physics, astronomy, meteorology, zoology, medicine, dreams, and prophecy. For example, to what extent did Maimonides consider experience (tajriba) to have epistemological relevance outside of medicine? How did thirteenth-century Hebrew encyclopaedists use experience to counter Averroes’ argument that theoretical knowledge cannot be acquired in dreams? Did the growing scepticism of medieval Jewry’s leading scientist, Gersonides, lead him to abandon the search for truth in natural sciences and instead devote his energies to observation and mathematical calculation in his attempt to solve problems associated with astronomy? My proposed research project for the MCAS focuses on such questions. It concerns the limitations of human knowledge and the turn towards experience and observation in the search for certainty.
Steven Harvey is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan.