Maimonides on Predicting the Future: Prophecy, Astrology, Chance and the Limits of Science

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The great medieval philosopher, physician and jurist Moses Maimonides (d. 1204) emphasizes the problems inherent in any kind of synthesis of Jewish religious thought and Aristotelian philosophy or science, while at the same time expressing his own desire for just such a harmonization. Like many medieval thinkers, Maimonides often seems to allow for revelation where he sees that Aristotelian science has reached its limits. Yet, for Maimonides, questions of the limitations of revelation arise any time revelation comes up. The issue of predicting future events exemplifies Maimonides' treatment of the limitations of science and religion. Since future events have an accidental or chancy character, they cannot be accurately described by Aristotelian science, which deals with essences determined by nature rather than chance. Maimonides roundly condemns astrology as a pseudo-science that illegitimately uses essences to explain accidents, i.e., it uses mathematical models to describe future events. Maimonides accepts the validity of prophetic descriptions of future events in all cases, tacitly assuming that God knows particulars and communicates them to prophets. However, Maimonides limits the use of prophetic predictions in two ways. 1. he emphasizes the allegorical character of Biblical prediction, claiming that one can only understand how such predictions play out after the fact, i.e., after the events have already come to pass. 2. he follows rabbinic tradition in denying the possibility of prophecy after the Biblical period. Consequently, prophetic revelation is not useful for predicting future events and science is not capable of doing so. From the perspective of science, future events are left to chance, while from the perspective of prophecy, future events are left to the unknowable will of God.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2012
EventThe Wheel of Fortune,” Southeastern Medieval Association - Southeastern Medieval Association, Gulfport, Mississippi, United States
Duration: 18 Oct 201218 Oct 2012


ConferenceThe Wheel of Fortune,” Southeastern Medieval Association
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityGulfport, Mississippi


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