Note on Maimonides’ Letter on Astrology

"Note on Maimonides' Letter on Astrology," Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, University of Chicago Press, 1983.


The addressees of this Letter had asked Maimonides for his view about astrology.  After having praised their question, he says that if they had known his Mishneh Torah, they would have known his opinion on the subject.  He uses the first person plural when speaking of himself as the author of the Mishneh Torah, while when speaking of his opinion or of his Guide he uses the first person singular.  He begins by speaking of the sources of knowledge: knowledge stems from reason (deah), sense, and tradition from the prophets and the just.  He tacitly excludes he endoxa either because they deal chiefly with what one ought to do or forbear, as distinguished from what one ought to believe or not, or because they can be understood to be parts of the traditional lore.  Sense occupies the central place, and among the senses the sense of touch.  Maimonides exhorts his addressees to a critical posture toward anything they might be inclined to believe and especially toward opinions supported by many old books.  This is not to deny the immense usefulness of the astrological literature or, since astrology is the root of idolatry, of the idolatrous literature: by studying the whole available idolatrous literature Maimonides has succeeded in explaining all commandments which otherwise seemed inexplicable and thus in explaining all commandments.

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