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Maimonides and Aquinas on Divine Attributes

Maimonides and Aquinas on Divine Attributes

The Importance of Avicenna

(p.333) 12 Maimonides and Aquinas on Divine Attributes
Maimonides' "Guide of the Perplexed" in Translation
Richard C. Taylor
University of Chicago Press

This chapter opens with a brief overview of the impact of Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed on the medieval Latin scholastic tradition, and then focuses on its influence on Thomas Aquinas. It is well known that Thomas knew the teachings of “Rabbi Moses” as he developed his own philosophical positions on human understanding of God. However, almost all previous scholarship on the Maimonides-Aquinas connection has limited itself to the Summa theologiae and to Aquinas’ direct criticisms of Rabbi Moses. This chapter turns instead to Aquinas’s engagement with Maimonides in his earlier Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (1252-1256) where we see him working out arguments whose conclusions are later articulated in the Summa. The chapter shows how Aquinas read Maimonides, not in isolation, but in the context of the Arabic philosophers, and especially Avicenna. Furthermore, by closely analyzing their detailed philosophical accounts of divine attributes and human knowledge of the nature of God, the author shows how Aquinas “Maimonidizes” Avicenna, rendering him a Maimonidean agnostic who denies that humans can have knowledge of God. This serves as the counterpoint to Aquinas’s defense of his own positive view of the possibility of human knowledge of God

Keywords:   Latin scholasticism, Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, divine attributes, agnosticism, Avicenna

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