Page:Eight chapters of Maimonides on ethics.djvu/37

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

INTRODUCTION

17

vices, which are termed partitions, prevent man from beholding God. As many vices, intellectual or moral, a man has, by so many partitions is he separated from God. The prophets "looked upon" God from behind the least number of partitions. The fewer they were, the higher was the rank of the prophet. Three virtues the prophets, however, must have, which Maimonides deduces from the rabbinical saying, "Prophecy rests only upon the wise, the brave, and the rich." The wise man is the one who possesses all intellectual virtues. The brave man is he who conquers his desires. The rich man is the one who is satisfied with his lot. Moses was the only prophet in whom all moral and intellectual virtues were combined. The only partition or wall between him and God was his physical body, from which the spirit of man cannot divorce itself on earth. This partition the rabbis call specularia,[1] a transparent wall, through which Moses gazed upon the highest truth, but not as one does with human eyes.

The interesting problem of the freedom of will, in which again Maimonides successfully blends the philosophical and the rabbinical doctrines, is taken up in Chapter VIII. Maimonides begins with the statement that man is not born with either virtues or vices, just as he is not born skilled in an art. He may, however, have a predisposition towards a certain characteristic, but every man's temperament is equally susceptible to virtue as well as to vice. It is man's moral duty to encourage any predilection he may have towards virtue, and to stamp out any desire for the vicious. No virtue is unattainable; there is no vice that cannot be avoided, no matter what man's natural bent may be. The developing of what is good and the conquering of what is bad may be accomplished by instruction, guidance, and habit. Astrologers, however, and those who believe with them, maintain that a man's destiny, his conduct in life, in fact, all his actions, are determined according to the constellation under which he is born. This belief Maimonides denounces as ridiculous. The rabbis and the philosophers alike agree in the belief that man has absolute free choice, and that he alone is

  1. See infra, chapter VII, p, 79, notes 3 and 4.

c