The Limits of Metaphysics and the Turn to the Physical Sciences: Gersonides, Crescas, and their Aristotelian Context

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Like their Christian and Muslim counterparts, medieval Jewish scholars of Aristotle understood the Metaphysics to contain or at least point to the most complete human understanding of God. Accordingly, many scholars from all three traditions understood metaphysics to be the chief of all sciences and indeed the ultimate goal of all scientific undertaking. Yet, despite its exalted status, the prevailing attitude in Hebrew discussions of metaphysics was that its attainment by human is quite limited. Thus, we find relatively few Hebrew commentaries on Aristotle's Metaphysics and detailed discussions of its contents in other contexts are much rarer than we might expect. This attitude may be due to Moses Maimonides, the most important Jewish philosopher, whose Guide of the Perplexed focuses, inter alia, on the limitations of human knowledge of metaphysics and the divine. Probably in light of Al-Farabi, Maimonides and many other Jewish thinkers saw the human scientific endeavor as reaching its peak in political science or a science of the Law, a view that colluded well with Rabbinic and Talmudic approaches to study and learning. Yet, some thinkers took the limitations of metaphysics as a spur to study physics and astronomy, the “second best” sciences which were considered necessary preconditions for the study of metaphysics. Here we shall examine two such thinkers, Levi Gersonides (1288–1344) and Hasdai Crescas (1340-1411). Both claimed to turn to physics because of the limitations of metaphysics and both reached highly innovative physical conclusions that led them to question Aristotelain metaphysics in particular and Aristotelian science in general.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2017
EventHistory of Science Society Annual Meeting - History of Science Society, Toronto, Canada
Duration: 9 Nov 201712 Nov 2017 (Website)


ConferenceHistory of Science Society Annual Meeting
Internet address


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