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    Maimonides: philosopher or theologian? – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. How can some texts describe Maimonides as a philosopher? Wasn’t he a theologian? Aren’t the two roles contradictory?

    A. Despite the common view, you may well be right since philosophy has to reason things out without preconceived notions, and Maimonides as a believer began with axioms such as the existence and oneness of God.

    Of course Maimonides works extensively on philosophical concepts, but my teacher Isidore Epstein argued in a famous essay for what he called the Supremacy of Faith in Maimonides, as against Ahad HaAm who argued for the Supremacy of Reason in Maimonides’ thinking.

    As a theologian Maimonides uses rigorous philosophical methodology to reason about the faith and tradition which he upholds. It should be said, however, that modern philosophy also analyses the meaning and use of words and it is still called philosophy. Maybe this proves the pragmatic view that philosophy is what philosophers do, analogous to the definition of law which I heard as a law student, that law is what lawyers do.

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