Harvey, Warren Zev
Senior Fellow: February–March 2017, February–March 2018, and October–November 2018
Research Project: Hasdai Crescas’ Sceptical Critique of Maimonides
In his Guide of the Perplexed, Maimonides (1138–1204) anchored Jewish religion in Aristotelian science and philosophy. Rabbi Ḥasdai Crescas (c. 1340–1410 or 1411), in his Light of the Lord, presented a radical critique of Aristotelian physics and metaphysics and rejected Maimonides’ approach. According to him, human reason can prove the existence of a first cause, but cannot prove God’s unity or goodness, that is, it cannot prove the personal God of the Bible. Religion, he argues, is based on prophecy, not philosophy. Crescas’ critique is analysed in H. A. Wolfson’s Crescas’ Critique of Aristotle (1929). Crescas argues against Aristotle’s theories of space, time, the impossibility of a vacuum, and the impossibility of actual infinity. His sceptical arguments are based on a critical examination of Aristotle, Averroes (1126–98), Maimonides (1138–1204), and Gersonides (1288–1344). They show an affinity with Nicole Oresme (1320–82). Instead of Aristotle’s closed universe, Crescas conceived a universe infinite in space and time. His sceptical views left an impact on Spinoza.
Warren Zev Harvey is professor emeritus in the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he has taught since 1977.