Mai­monides & Spin­oza: Their Con­flict­ing Views of Human Nature

Joshua Parens
  • Review
By – October 3, 2012

The names Mai­monides and Spin­oza con­jure up all sorts of images befit­ting their stature as world class philoso­phers. Mai­monides is con­sid­ered by most as the defend­er of Judaism while Spin­oza was looked upon as one of its opponents.

For the aver­age non-spe­cial­ist, the argu­ments over whether Mai­monides or Spin­oza was the first mod­ern philoso­pher or pre-mod­ern philoso­pher or if Spin­oza was still a medieval­ist may not be excit­ing, but among philoso­phers it is quite sig­nif­i­cant. Marc Angel’s book Mai­monides, Spin­oza, and Us (2009), a pop­u­lar work on these two great Jew­ish philoso­phers, was reviewed in JBW. The cur­rent vol­ume is writ­ten by a pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy pri­mar­i­ly for oth­er philosophers.

The writ­ings of influ­en­tial schol­ars such as Wolf­son, Pines, Har­vey, and Strauss are chal­lenged by Parens based on Ken­ning­ton and oth­ers. The extent that Spin­oza was influ­enced by Mai­monides as opposed to oth­er writ­ers is exam­ined close­ly. Parens focus­es on Spinoza’s Ethics. By study­ing his the­o­ry of human nature and con­trast­ing it to Mai­monides’ Guide,Parens demon­strates that nei­ther Spin­oza nor Mai­monides should be con­sid­ered a pre-mod­ern or modern.

This study enhances our under­stand­ing of both philoso­phers and chal­lenges the way of think­ing about them that has been accept­ed for the past century.

Wal­lace Greene, Ph.D., has held sev­er­al uni­ver­si­ty appoint­ments, and cur­rent­ly writes and lec­tures on Jew­ish and his­tor­i­cal subjects.

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