Politics and Perfection: Gersonides vs. Maimonides

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[Gersonides (1288–1344) is consistent in seeing the pure life of the mind as the highest end to which a human being can aspire. Maimonides (1138–1204) certainly presented the vita contemplativa as a crucially important goal but made room in his view of the perfected life for what we would call today statesmanship or politics. Gersonides' view is surprising because he refuses to follow the Platonists in their call for some sort of integration between the vita contemplativa and the vita activa, the Aristotelians who called for their separation, or ibn Bajja in his insistence that the philosopher withdraw from society. Gersonides' singular view is delineated here by contrasting his positions on prophecy, the imitation of God, and especially the nature of the perfected life, with those of Maimonides. With respect to the latter, in particular, Gersonides held that the perfected life involved the study and teaching of the sciences. In teaching science one is actively imitating God. One seeks out students in order to imitate God (contra ibn Bajja); teaching those students is not the unintended consequence of one's own perfection (as with Maimonides) — it is the very point of that perfection. It is suggested here that Gersonides' unusual position on the place of politics in the perfected life reflects the Christian culture which apparently framed his universe of political discourse and it is to that we should look in seeking to understand his unusual position.]
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-82
Number of pages34
JournalJewish Political Studies Review
Issue number1/2
StatePublished - 27 Apr 1994


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