Maimonides’s Doctrine of Prophecy and Its Sources

"Maimonides's Doctrine of Prophecy and Its Sources," Le Monde Oriental (Uppsala), Vol. 28 (1934).  Reprinted in Philosophy and Law.


One can with a certain right call Maimonides’s position “medieval religious Enlightenment.”  With a certain right: namely if one accepts the view that not only for the modern Enlightenment–and thus for the Age of Enlightenment proper, from which the expression “Enlightenment” is customarily transferred to certain phenomena of the Middle Ages (and of antiquity)–but also for Maimonides and his predecessors and successors in the Middle Ages, it is a matter of the freedom of human thought, the “freedom of philosophizing.”  but one must not for a moment leave any doubt that these medieval philosophers were precisely not Enlighteners in the proper sense; for them it was not a question of spreading light, of educating the multitude to rational knowledge, of enlightening; again and again they enjoin upon the philosophers the duty of keeping secret from the unqualified multitude the rationally known truth; for them–in contrast to the Enlightenment proper, that is, the modern Enlightenment–the esoteric character of philosophy was unconditionally established.  To be sure, even in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there were men who, to quote Voltaire, claimed: “Quand la populace se mele a raisonner, tout est perdu;” and on the other hand, even men like Maimonides had in mind a certain enlightenment of all men.  But if one considers that the modern Enlightenment, as opposed to the medieval, generally publicizes its teachings, one will not object to the assertion that the medieval Enlightenment was essentially esoteric, while the modern Enlightenment was essentially exoteric.

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