Page:Eight chapters of Maimonides on ethics.djvu/38

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

18

THE ETHICS OF MAIMONIDES

responsible for his actions. If this were not so, all commands and prohibitions of the law would be in vain. All learning, teaching, and effort of all kinds would be useless if man's actions, knowledge, and characteristics were determined by an outside power. If such were the case, reward and punishment would be unjust; for no matter how much a man would try to do a certain deed, if it were predetermined that he should not do it, he would be unable to perform it. If Simeon killed Reuben, it would be unjust to punish Simeon; for he did not kill of his own volition, but was forced to do so.

Maimonides then attacks a popular belief that all actions, even such as sitting or standing, are done by the will of God. In general, this is true, but not of any given individual action. A stone thrown up in the air falls to the ground, which is in accordance with a general law of nature that God willed at creation. God, however, does not will that a certain stone at a certain time, when thrown into the air, should fall to the ground. At creation God willed also that man should have certain characteristics, that he should walk upright, have a broad chest, have fingers on his hands and so forth, and likewise man was endowed with the characteristics of having freedom of will which he can exercise. Maimonides then proves that certain statements in the Bible which seemingly support the theory of predestination are not of such a nature.

In conclusion, Maimonides takes up a question often asked, "Does God know in advance that a certain man will do a good or a bad deed at a certain time, or does He not know it?" If He does not know, then the principles of religion are undermined, for God is said to be all-knowing. If He does know in advance, then this clearly proves that man's actions are preordained. Maimonides answers by having recourse to metaphysics. God does not know, he says, by means of human knowledge, nor does He live by means of human life, so that it can be said He and His knowledge are distinct, or that He and His life are different, as is true of man. God is, however, the knower, the knowing and the known. He is the living, He is the life, and the giver of life. Man cannot, owing to his imper-