Maimonides virtue ethics His influence beyond the Jewish

  • Slides: 5
Download presentation
Maimonides’ virtue ethics His influence beyond the Jewish world Philip Allan Publishers © 2016

Maimonides’ virtue ethics His influence beyond the Jewish world Philip Allan Publishers © 2016

Maimonides’ virtue ethics • Alasdair Mac. Intyre writes in the second edition of his

Maimonides’ virtue ethics • Alasdair Mac. Intyre writes in the second edition of his A Short History of Ethics (2002): ‘There is no name whose absence from the index of [the first edition of this book] is more regretted by me now than that of Maimonides. ’ • Maimonides’ libertarian approach to free will is essential in understanding his agent-centred moral worldview. • Maimonides described Aristotle as having ‘reached the highest level of knowledge to which man can ascend, with the exception of one who experiences the emanation of the Divine Spirit’. • In Egypt Maimonides wrote the Mishneh Torah, an unparalleled code of Jewish law. This 14 -volume work included the Laws of Moral Character, which elevated the idea of virtuous conduct as a religious obligation. • For Maimonides, ethics represent not a quest for personal happiness of selfrealisation but a response to the religious imperative of imitatio Dei — imitating God. Philip Allan Publishers © 2016

Maimonides vs Aristotle (1) • Maimonides quotes the prophets, who describe God according to

Maimonides vs Aristotle (1) • Maimonides quotes the prophets, who describe God according to his attributes that we are meant to imitate: ‘Slow to anger, ’ ‘Abundant in kindness, ’ ‘Righteous, ’ ‘Just, ’ ‘Perfect, ’ ‘Almighty, ’ ‘Powerful, ’ and the like … these are good and just paths. • For Maimonides, a person needs to train themselves to follow these temperaments until they are a permanent fixture of their personality. ‘ He should perform, repeat and perform a third time the acts which conform to the standards of the middle road temperaments. He should do this constantly, until these acts are easy for him and do not present any difficulty. Then, these temperaments will become a fixed part of his personality. ’ • Because Maimonides’ virtue ethics are ultimately rooted in Torah law, a key clash arises in practical terms between Aristotle and Maimonides with regard to the quality of humility. • For Aristotle’s virtuous citizen, the golden mean of ‘magnanimity’ should be adhered to, between the vices of pride and humility. • Maimonides’ ideal person, based on religious imperatives, departs from the mean when humility is at stake. Philip Allan Publishers © 2016

Maimonides vs Aristotle (2) • ‘There are temperaments with regard to which a man

Maimonides vs Aristotle (2) • ‘There are temperaments with regard to which a man is forbidden to follow the middle path. He should move away from one extreme and adopt the other. ’ Among these is arrogance. If a man is only humble, he is not following a good path. • Underlying the person’s struggle towards moral conduct motivated by virtue is the notion of free will. • Following the Laws of Moral Character, Maimonides formulates the Laws of Repentance, where he suggests that moral conduct which involves a struggle against inclinations should be assigned a higher moral status than effortless moral conduct that is motivated by virtue. • Maimonides seeks role models to inspire the virtuous life: ‘Each person is fit to be righteous like Moses, our teacher’, declares Maimonides, with each person able to choose the path he or she wishes. • Maimonides goes as far as to claim that the principle of free will is: ‘a fundamental concept and a pillar on which rests the totality of the Torah and commandments [mitzvot]’, as Deuteronomy 30: 15 states: ‘Behold, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. ’ Philip Allan Publishers © 2016

Maimonides vs Aristotle (3) • For Maimonides, a determinist viewpoint would undermine the whole

Maimonides vs Aristotle (3) • For Maimonides, a determinist viewpoint would undermine the whole notion of justice: rewarding or punishing people for their actions. At the heart of virtue ethics is the concept of responsibility: a person must be responsible for the free choices they make in order to be considered virtuous. • Unwilling to flinch from the traditional standpoints of an omniscient and omnipotent God who allows full free will for mankind, Maimonides turns to Isaiah 55: 8 for his guiding principle: ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. ’ • Man cannot comprehend God’s essence, and because God is simple, a unity, his knowledge and essence are one and the same. In turn, ‘just as it is beyond the potential of man to comprehend and conceive the essential nature of the Creator…so, too, it is beyond man’s potential to comprehend and conceive the Creator’s knowledge. ’ In this manner, Maimonides preserves a belief in God’s perfect knowledge together with humanity’s ability to freely choose. Philip Allan Publishers © 2016