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The Role of Scientific Knowledge in Commentaries on Maimonides' Works

Research project by Idit Chikurel, 2018-2019

This project offers a new perspective on the integration of scientific knowledge in commentaries on Maimonides' works, showing its significance in forming novel philosophical stances. In turning to science for resolving metaphysical questions, commentators followed Maimonides (1135-1204). It is often claimed that scientific knowledge is used by Maimonides for his philosophical needs, yet not actively shaping them. This study aims to show how, in the commentaries,  scientific knowledge contributes to the formation of novel philosophical arguments and explores how it is used for educational or rhetorical purposes.
      The examination includes six commentaries on two of Maimonides' well-known works, Guide of the Perplexed and Millot ha-Higgayon [Treatise on Logical Terminology], written by four commentators: Moses ben Joshua Narboni (1300-1362), Mordecai ben Eliezer Comtino (1420-1487?), Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) and Salomon Maimon (1753-1800). All four commentators are rationalist thinkers, addressing science as means to arrive at or better understand religious and metaphysical truths. Whereas the question of Maimonides' use of scientific knowledge has been addressed by several scholars, little has been written on this issue in regards to the commentaries on Maimonides' works. The main hypothesis is that scientific knowledge had an active role in forming these commentaries and helped resolving philosophical debates rather than merely being used as rhetorical means for philosophical purposes. Moreover, the various ways in which these commentaries were used to build a bridge between Jewish tradition and non-Jewish European culture of their time, such as German Enlightenment, are to be explored.