Agreeing With Philosophers

Question from Sammy:
Maimonides was the greatest philosopher ever, his influence has spanned centuries and cultures, and he believed in God.

I am sure he was aware of atheistic theories, and still he believed. Isn’t that something to count on? Is it possible to be smarter than the smartest?!

I would appreciate some clarity, tnx!!!

Answer by SmartLX:
The claim that Maimonides was the greatest philosopher ever is highly subjective, especially given the competition from the rest of history. Just for starters, he’s up against Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Lao Tze and Buddha; from a quick online search, Maimonides rarely seems to make the top ten.

While most of the men on this impromptu list believed in some kind of divine presence they were completely at odds as to its nature, and therefore could not all have been right. So you can stack your Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas and Blaise Pascal up against my Epicurus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell and it won’t mean much in the end, because it is demonstrably possible and in fact very common for even the world’s greatest thinkers to be dead wrong. Sometimes we don’t know which ones are wrong, but when they’re diametrically opposed at least one position has to be.

For Maimonides to actually affect the debate over the existence of gods (let alone his God) we have to look at what he actually contributed to that area of theology. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, his attempts to prove God all boiled down to variants of the cosmological argument, which I’ve covered. If you think one of his versions is beyond what I addressed in my earlier piece or the follow-up, put it in a comment and we’ll discuss it. Otherwise there’s nothing new or convincing to be had.

Importantly, Maimonides’ intelligence and his arguments for God are most likely not why he believed in the first place. From what we know of his life, he grew up in Spain during what’s known as its golden age of Jewish culture, when Muslim Moors ruled but Jews were accepted and their culture prospered. Just about everything he would have read or heard from either Islamic or Jewish sources simply assumed the existence of God, and used it as a premise to argue for other things. Chances are he did that himself in his youth, so when he eventually began to argue for God he was just looking for ways to confirm what he already “knew” and please his audience. That’s the thing about religious apologetic: in the end its actual use is usually not to convert unbelievers but to reassure believers.

4 thoughts on “Agreeing With Philosophers”

  1. Sammy, your argument is extremely weak.

    For one it’s based on a false premise (an opinion). My guess is that you are the type of person who yields (your thoughts) to authority. I can’t speak for all atheists, but I can tell you that there is no person in this world whose words I will take without analyzing them and determining their value. “He said it is so, so it is so” just doesn’t work with me. And I would hope it doesn’t work with you. I have my own mind. Authority does not always (or even usually) translate to correctness.

  2. Maimonides?
    Hmm … I consider myself to be sufficiently well read … and philosophy was a particular passion of mine during undergrad.
    I confess I’ve heard of (and dabbled with reading) Epicurus, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Seneca from the oldies and Bentham, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kant, Hegel, Spinoza etc. (classics) and then Sartre, Camus, Russell etc. (moderns) but Maimonides has never come up in my generalist philosophical searches.
    I guess I am mistaken about the depth of my philosophical meanderings.

    If you mean Moses Maimonides, Sammy, I think I have some vague recollection of a really nice Rabbi who was once invited as a guest to the catholicism class in school when they were teaching us some stuff about the old testament (I went to a catholic school and used to slip into catholicism classes) talk of him.
    Apart from that, nothing.
    Would have expected a bit more populist acclaim for the greatest philosopher ever.

    Anyhow … my views on philosophy, unfortunately, aren’t too far removed from my views on religion. Especially on philosophers who emphasize on metaphysics – and especially on those who do so in modern times without an understanding of science.
    Ancient and Medieval preposterous metaphysical claims can be written off as rumblings of inquisitive minds trying to understand the fundamental workings of reality, but without resorting to experimental fact-checking (due to a lack of the will or, usually, the lack of the proper technology). And most ancient and medieval philosophers who developed any sort of metaphysical system (involving or not involving a deity) would fall in that written-off category.

    Modern philosophers … especially those who dealt with more psychological and human issues (issues on human experience in the world) – Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche (though I think he was a crank), Schopenhauer etc. still have much to offer.

    Again … its all just my opinion.
    I read up a bit on Maimonides’ thoughts on theodicy … and man … they are childishly simplistic. The whole “evil is an absence of good” and “god created good … evil is secondary” is a bit silly and a sort of denial (a bit like the denial phase children go through when they learn there’s no Santa).

    I can think of ancient Indian scriptures that are much more sophisticated than that. For e.g. Vedanta philosophy talks of the three principles of Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas … Sattva being the seeking of knowledge, Rajas being the materialistic principle, Tamas being the negative/ destructive principle. And it says that all three principles are created in equal measure by the “supreme being” (god) and are necessary in their own right.
    It’s all non-sense of-course (ok – not complete nonsense, but it shouldn’t be taken literally. A cautious metaphorical interpretation would suffice) but its still much more sophisticated and realistic than “God didn’t do that … we did” versions of attacks on the problem of theodicy.

  3. Hah, yes SmartLX. That is why I said, “my guess.” Although the way he phrased his question did seem something like:
    “Well super smart person Maimonides believed in a god, so what is up with that, atheists?”

    Either way, my outlook as an atheist is still, nobody has authority over my mind, no matter how well respected they are. Here I’ll make up some random semi deep sounding quote, “To relinquish the sovereignty over ones own mind is a great disservice and disrespect to oneself.”

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