Mention should be made at the outset that many have claimed that the Biblical 'quotes' at the heading of each part have much significance. I am going to try to keep this summary as pure exposition, so I will not discuss them. Additionally, as you might expect this text has been the subject of much commentary, like many of the texts, but more so because of its explicitly esoteric character. I am not going to go into all of that, I will try summarize the text as straightforwardly as possible and leave the rest to Strauss.
The Guide is structured as a letter from Maimonides to one of his students who learnt with him in the past but is currently not with him. Maimonides recaps how the student came to him with some intellectual skills and a desire to engage with speculative issues. The student succeeded in his preliminary studies with Maimonides, so Maimonides began to offer him hints and indications of divine matters. The student was in a state of perplexity and Maimonides cautioned him to approach philosophical issues in an orderly manner. The student had to leave Maimonides before his education was complete so Maimonides has composed this Treatise for him to further his studies
Most commentators assume that there is no particular student that the Guide was composed for, or if there was then it was not composed only for him. Many claim that that the description of the student is meant to indicate who the direct message of the Guide is addressed to, thus allowing other readers to unlock the indirect messages that are hidden away. (Key conspiracy music)
Introduction to the First Part
Maimonides claims that the first purpose of the Guide is to explain ambiguous words and expressions in the Bible, identifying which terms should be understood equivocally, which ones derivatively, and which ones are amphibolous. He describes this task as the true Science of Law as distinguished from the Halakhic, or legalistic, study of the law. Moreover, the purpose of the treatise is to help the perplexed individual, one who believes in the Law or Torah and has also studied philosophy. This individual may be divided between his allegiance to what he believes scripture demands and what he thinks philosophy teaches. Maimonides wants to guide this perplexed individual and show him how to reconcile the two, thus allowing him to accept what he believes to be true and retain his commitment to religion.
The second purpose of the work is to explain difficult parables in the Bible. Particularly, this will focus on the Account of the Creation and the Account of the Chariot. The first thing to realize is that these are parables. Maimonides then shows how they fit with Neoplatonic/Aristotelian physics and metaphysics, respectively.
Maimonides stresses the delicacy with which these subjects must be taught. That is why they were indicated by parables in the Bible. Additionally, he maintains that no one knows all the great secretes that lie behind the major parables in the Bible. He illustrates this with a parable of his own about the different levels of people and the extent of the light which they are able to see. Moreover, he argues that even for one who understands it is difficult to put down what he comprehends into writing.
Maimonides proceeds to discuss the nature of metaphors more broadly. One should note that he is inconsistent in his valuation of the external meanings of metaphors, sometimes he says that they too have value, while at other times he seems to claim that they are valueless.
Also, parables found throughout Scripture are not all the same, sometimes each word is important, other times only some words are important and the others are just props.
Instruction with Respect to this Treatise
Maimonides stresses the very careful reading that is necessary in order to unlock the meaning of his text. Additionally, he exhorts his reader not to explain to anyone else what he had understood from the Guide, especially in the cases in which Maimonides differs from those Rabbis that preceded him. Maimonides explains that different readers will get different things from the Guide. He also stresses that he would not have set down his ideas in writing if not for the crisis that the Jews find themselves in at this time. One should not that this is a trope in Rabbinic writings, starting with the composition/anthologization of the Mishna (ca. 200 CE). There is a principle that the Oral Law, the Law not part of the written Torah, should remain Oral. However, everyone breaks this principle, but always notes that they are breaking the principle because of the needs of the time.
Maimonides begins, again, by describing seven different causes that can account for contradictions in texts.
1) Because different opinions of different scholars are being cited
2) The author has rejected an opinion that he held earlier
3) Some non-literal interpretation is needed
4) One or both of the statements has been accepted only provisionally
5) Necessity of teaching
6) Errors by the author who did not realize that there was a concealed contradiction in two statements
7) Necessary concealment
Maimonides then describes which types of works include which causes of contradiction. He also claims that his work contains contradictions caused by the fifth and seventh reasons. (Key conspiracy music again)
Maimonides begins his lexical task of explaining difficult words in scripture. It will become apparent that these are not arbitrary words. They are words which are used in the Bible to describe God as well as man's relationship to Him. Indeed, the first chapter explain the terms image and likeness, both used in the Bible to say that man is created in the image of God. In effect, Maimonides explains that they do not connate actual corporeal similarity. But rather, the fact that man has intellectual apprehension. Later Maimonides will, following Aristotle, equate God with thought thinking itself, thus drawing out the connection between Man and God. Despite say that God is though thinking itself, Maimonides will undercut this in many many other chapters in which he says that we cannot know what God is.
Maimonides embarks on a seeming tangent in order to explain the Adam and Eve story. The reason why it is not a tangent is that in it he is responding to those who would claim that man only received the intellect because of his sin. The tree is, after all, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Maimonides obviously rejects this as he believes that man's intellectual nature was there from the start when God created him in His image. This much is clear, what Maimonides believes the tree did give Adam and Eve is up for debate, opinions ranging from morality to aesthetic preference.
Maimonides explains the meaning of the terms figure and shape. Shape means corporeality and therefore is never used to describe God. Figure on the other hand can mean a number of things from actual figure to the true notion of a think grasped by the intellect. It is this term that is used in reference to God.
Maimonides now discusses various terms relating to seeing. This is closely connected to the prior chapter because it ended with a quote about Moses 'seeing' God. But what could that mean, if God does not have a physical form? According to Maimonides, all these terms can be read non-literally to mean intellectual apprehension.
This chapter is a bit of a reintroduction, but using some of the grammatical work that has been done in the past four chapters. Maimonides holds up the of figures of Aristotle and Moses as the proper models for how one should go about inquiry. Both of them, according to him, proceeded cautiously not trying to overstep what they could properly apprehend. Maimonides refers back to a verse in the Bible were Moses holds back from 'seeing' God. Because Moses refrained from 'seeing' God he was later rewarded with knowledge of God. This is contrasted with the behavior of the nobles of the people who looked at God directly; because they overstepped, their knowledge of God was corrupted and they conceived of him as corporeal.
In this chapter Maimonides presents his overarching hermeneutical principle - that the Torah speaks in the language of men. This means, according to him, that the Bible speaks to the level of understanding of the general populace. In particular, the Bible says many things about God that are not necessarily true, but are said so that the general populace should understand what is necessary for them to understand. Specifically, first they must be taught that God exists. This done through language that seems to imply corporeality, because the masses cannot understand non-corporeal existence. In truth, Maimonides claims God is incorporeal and that all the verses that seem to ascribe a body or movement to Him should be interpreted metaphorically.
Maimonides reflects on human knowledge. He argues that there are some things that everyone can know, some things that no can know and different levels of intellectual apprehension among different people. There also things which man very much would like to know, but cannot know with certainty.
Maimonides then quotes Alexander on the causes of disagreement, including love of domination and strife, difficulty of certain subjects, and ignorance of the individual. He then adds to those the baleful effects of habit and upbringing.
Maimonides cautions against trying to attain certain demonstration in areas of knowledge that do not allow it. However, he argues that in those domains in which knowledge is possible one must seek it. This is an important point, because as we will see, Maimonides believes that that which can be demonstrated must be accepted and Scripture must be understood to conform with it. That which is not demonstrated does not demand assent and the plain meaning of scripture can be upheld.
Maimonides explains the dangers involved in the study of the divine science. He links this to the reason that the Torah is written in the language of man. It allows for the non-elite to read it and receive benefit without being exposed to danger. It also, however, has a metaphorical content that can be accessed by the elite.
Maimonides now discusses the causes that prevent individuals from learning the divine science
1) Difficulty of the subject matter
2) Insufficiency of the minds of all men when they are young
3) Length of the course in order to get to divine science, one must go through the physical sciences in order to learn what God is not
4) Natural aptitudes
5) Men are occupied with necessities of physical existence
After having indicated what comprises the divine science and how difficult it is, Maimonides returns to re-stress what is necessary for everyone to know, whether they can understand it or whether they accept it on authority. Everyone must know God's incorporeality and God's incommensurability. Other areas, such as God attributes, creation, governance, providence, and prophecy are matters that are reserved for the elite in the divine science.
In this chapter Maimonides discusses idolatry, which is called false worship in Rabbinic Hebrew. Maimonides entirely re-centers this idea on belief as opposed to action. Maimonides believes that all idolatry is worship of intermediaries that stand between man and God. What is problematic in this case is merely that the idolater gives an intermediary the prerogative that is reserved for God - worship. How much worse, Maimonides claims, is one who believes God to be different than He actually is. According to Maimonides, foreign belief, theological error, is worse than foreign worship. The prime example of theological error for Maimonides is belief in God's corporeality and this is why even the masses must be instructed with authority against it.
Maimonides explains the various meaning of the word face. This word is important because Moses is described as having spoken to God face to face. In that context, according to Maimonides, face means presence and in the verse means that God spoke to Moses without intermediary. This term will be important later when Maimonides explains Moses' request to see God's face.
This chapter also discusses a term that will be important in that later explanation. When Moses requests to see God's face, he is denied and shown His back instead. But what does that mean if God is incorporeal? Back can mean actual back, after, or following an example. In the context of Moses seeing God's back it means that which follows from God's will or the natural world, physics.
In this chapter Maimonides begins his discussion of God's attributes, or lack thereof. He starts by discussing what true knowledge is, as opposed to mere utterance with the mouth. In effect, true knowledge is realizing all the implications of what one is saying. Consequently, Maimonides argues that in order to truly understand that God is incorporeal and is one, or lacks all composition, one must realize that God does not possess any essential attributes at all.
In this chapter Maimonides sets up his discussion of attributes that will continue in the forthcoming chapters. He argues that there are two general division of attributes,: essential attributes, which are either tautologies or explanation, and superadded, or accidental, attributes.
Maimonides expands on the two major divisions of attributes and shows why most of them cannot be applied to God and that those that due must be qualified. He identifies five categories of attributes and describes how appropriate they are in reference to God.
Essential Attributes are definitions. For example, man is a rational animal. According to Maimonides, these attributes cannot be predicated of God because there is nothing existent before God that he should be composed of a union of them.
Partial Essential Attributes are objectionable for the same reason as the first group, but additionally they point out that any articulated statement about God imputes composition in Him.
Accidental or Qualitative Attributes: these cannot be predicated of God because they too would imply composition in him. Maimonides claims that later he will demonstrate why God cannot be composite. This assumption is the background of this whole discussion.
Relational Attributes are more tricky than the previous attributes. They are not problematic because they imply multiplicity or change in the essence of the subject. At first Maimonides considers admitting them. However, he then argues that relationship is premised on some sort of equivalency between two subjects. But that is impossible between God and anything that exists in the world. Just as it is not possible to establish the equivalence between two created things like intellect and color, how much the more so is it impossible to establish an equivalence between a being that has necessary existence and those that have only possible existence. In the end though, Maimonides says that we can be lenient in regard to relationship, tolerating its predication of God despite the fact that it is not entirely correct.
Attributes of Action are attributes that one ascribes to God as result of his actions. These are acceptable as long as one is clear that these attributes are predicated solely because of the actions that God has performed and not because there actual exists in his essence multiplicity.
Maimonides claims that those that came to believe that God possesses attributes were led to this conclusion for the same reason that those who believe that he is corporeal were, they followed the literal sense of scripture. In fact, in this case to Scripture was merely speaking in the language of man. It meant to assert perfections of God based on his actions, not to actually claim that God has attributes. Indeed, all of God's diverse actions proceed from one unified essence.
Maimonides connects his foregoing account of God's attributes to the Biblical story of Moses' request to see God's face. This request is denied, but Moses is allowed to see God's back. What could this mean? According to Maimonides, Moses request to see God's face meant to understand God's essence. God denies this request because know one can know his essence. However, he allows Moses to know God's back or actions. That is why following his request God makes his thirteen attributes of mercy known to Moses. Maimonides stresses that it is not that God actually acts out of having these passions, rather it is just what we would label the motive for the actions if a man performed them. Additionally, Maimonides stresses that God made him aware of those divine actions that show proper governance.
Maimonides returns to discuss why certain predicates must of necessity be negated in reference to God. Corporeality must be negated because it implies composition. Affections must be negated because they imply change. Privations must be negated of him because that would require predicating potentiality to him, which is connected to composition or worse yet matter. Commensurability must also be denied of him. Maimonides stresses that one must know natural science in order to fully understand these concepts and realize why they cannot be predicated of God.
In this chapter Maimonides returns to the theme that in order for their to be any relation between two things there must be some sort of likeness posited between them. Since God is like no other thing, there can be no relation between him and other things. Additionally, Maimonides argues that even if one wants to acknowledge, wrongly, that God has essential attributes one must understand that these attributes are in no way like the similarly named attributes that are predicated of created beings.
Maimonides, believing existence to be a predicate, argues that while other existents have existence superadded to their essence when they happen to exist, God's existence, because it is necessary, is part of his essence. The same holds true, according to Maimonides, to such descriptions as oneness. He then explains the difficulty of using language to discuss these issues. Language according to him often leads to errors.
Maimonides now moves into a direct discussion of using negative attributes in reference to God. According to him, negative descriptions are more appropriate for God than positive descriptions. This is because positive attributes do not particularize objects, do not show it as entirely unique, rather they actually equate the object with other objects. This is important because, as we discussed earlier, God is not like anything else. Additionally, as we discussed earlier, positive attributes are bad because they imply some form of multiplicity.
Negative attributes are better because they conduct the mind towards what should be believed about God as well the limit of what can be known about God. According to Maimonides, many of the predications in the Bible are actually negative attributes. When the Bible says that God is a living God, it really means that he is not dead.
Thus, according to Maimonides the only attributes that should be ascribed to God are attributes of action and negative attributes.
Indeed, it is seriously possible that Maimonides does not think that we can have any knowledge of God whatsoever and that 'knowledge' of God consists of knowing that we do not know. He writes, "Glory then to Him who is such that when the intellects contemplate His essence, their apprehension turns to incapacity; and when they contemplate the proceedings of His actions from His will, their knowledge turns into ignorance; and when tongues aspire to magnify Him by means of attributive qualifications, all eloquence turns into weariness and incapacity!"
Maimonides makes this more clear in this chapter when he discusses how individuals can have greater and lesser knowledge of God if we can only make negative statements about him. In effect, Maimonides claims that the more we negate of God the superior our knowledge of him is. This is paradoxical because negations express the fact that God is not like something we know. Thus the more that we know that we don't know, the more we know.
In this Chapter Maimonides recaps much of what he has said regarding negative and positive attributes. Praising negative attributes because they tell us the only knowledge of God that we can have - what he is not like, and disparaging positive attributes because they ascribe humanly perfections to a Divine being. Towards the end, Maimonides seems to imply that even negative attributes are not really correct. They too have a hint of multiplicity in them, the multiplicity that is inherent in any act of predication.
Introduction to the Second Part
Maimonides begins the second part of the Guide by listing twenty-five premises that he has culled from the work of Aristotle and his followers that enable him to demonstrate that 1) God exists 2) that He does not have a body and 3) that He is one. He maintains that each of these premises can be demonstrated. He also grants one more premise that he believes is questionable but that he will provisionally accept for purposes of proving God existence - the eternity of the world. Maimonides sees granting this premise as making his job more difficult. If the world is not eternal, then it would have had to be created. If it was created then there must be a God. However, he wishes to demonstrate God's existence even if one were to maintain that the world is eternal.
The twenty-five premises, briefly, are as follows:
1) The existence of an infinite magnitude is impossible
2) The co-existence of an infinite number of finite magnitudes are impossible
3) The existence of an infinitely long series of causes and effects is impossible
4) There are four types of change a) generation and corruption of a substance b) growth and decay c) alteration d) local motion
5) Every change involves a transition for potentiality to actuality
6) Motion can be divided into two general categories, which each can be divided, in turn, into two more. Essential motion can be natural or violent. Accidental motion can be proper or as a part.
7) Everything changeable is divisible
8) All accidental motion must eventually cease
9) Any body that moves another body must itself be in motion when moving the other body
10) Anything that is said to be in a body must either a) subsists due to the body, like an accident, or b) cause the body to subsist, like a substantial form.
11) Some of the things that subsists due to the body are divisible as the body is divisible. Some of the things the cause a body to subsist are not divisible in any way.
12) Anything that is distributed through a body is finite because the body itself is finite
13) All motion save one type is discontinuous. Local motion, in particular circular motion, can be continuous.
14) All other forms of motion is based off of local motion
15) Time and Motion are correlative terms
16) Multiplicity can only exists among a) bodies, b) forces in bodies, or 3) causes and effects
17) Any motion must have an agent that caused the movement, this agent can be internal or external to the object moved
18) Everything that transitions from potentiality to actuality must have something besides itself that caused it to do so
19) Everything that has a cause possesses only possible existence - existence is not part of its essence
20) Necessary existence implies being uncaused
21) Any composite being is caused and thus only possesses potential existence
22) Every body is caused and possess accidents. Caused by matter and form and accompanied by the accidents of quantity, shape, and position
23) Everything that has potentiality, whose existence is only possible existence, will at some point not exist
24) Anything that has only potential existence must be necessarily endowed with matter
25) Compound substance is composed of matter and form. There must be an agent that caused the matter to be enformed with the form
The 26th premises that, as mentioned above, Is only admitted provisionally is that time and movement are eternal. Maimonides claims that Aristotle did not believe this premise to be demonstrated but only probable.
In this chapter Maimonides runs through four major arguments for the existence, incorporeality, and unity of God. He then offers three follow-up arguments refuting God's corporeality and proving his unity.
The first argument is the argument for a first cause from the fact of motion. Maimonides ascends a chain of causes until he reaches the movement of the eternally moving outermost sphere. And then asks what the mover of that might be. He rules out a number of possibilities, including another body, an internal distributed force, and a internal indivisible force. He concludes that the mover of the outermost, eternally moving sphere must be a force not bounded by the sphere. He then concludes that this must be God who is incorporeal and one.
The second argument starts from the fact that one sees many objects which are both movers and moved as well as some objects which are only moved. Maimonides concludes from this that there must be an object which is only a mover.
The third argument centers on necessary and possible existence. Maimonides starts from the fact that things exists. Now there are three possibilities according to him. No existents have only possible existence. All existents have only possible existence. Some existents have possible existence and others have necessary existence.. The first possibility is ruled out because we see that existents do pass away, so at least some existents have possible existence. The second possibility is, according to Maimonides, impossible. Why this is so is hard to discern. It seems that what he is arguing is that if every existent had only possible existence then there would be something like a summative possibility for the entire universe to not exist. Since this is a possibility, it must at some point be an actuality. Maimonides believes that it in order for a possibility to be a possibility, it must given an infinite amount of time occur. Given that the world is eternal and that an infinite amount of time has passed, this summative possibility should have occurred. Once it would have occurred there would be nothing, and nothing in existence to make anything existed again. But we see that the universe does, in fact, exist. Therefore, the second possibility is impossible . Therefore, there must be some existents that have possible existence and some that have necessary existence. He then proceeds to show that that which has necessary existence cannot change, can have no multiplicity, cannot be a body, and thus must be one.
The fourth argument centers on the notions of actuality and potentiality. According to Maimonides, anything that moves from potentiality to actuality must have something else which is actual cause it to make that move. Thus, he sets out a chain of agents moving other agents from potentiality to actuality. At the end of this chain, since it cannot be infinite, lies a being that is always actual. Something that is always actual must posses necessary existence, be immaterial, and be one.
Maimonides then follows up with three less important arguments which refute that God is corporeal and prove his unity.
Maimonides stresses that the existence, incorporeality, and unity of God can be proved whether one assumes that the world is eternal or created.
Maimonides argues that his purpose is not to do physics or metaphysics. Rather, his main purpose is to explain scripture, in particular the accounts of creation and of the chariot. It happens to be though that one needs to know these subjects in order to understand the accounts.
Maimonides sets out his differences with Aristotle. Aristotle believes that the universe proceeds from God as a result of a eternal necessity. Maimonides believes that the world is created by God's will and thus is a manifestation of God's purpose. Maimonides wants to show in this chapter, by virtue of arguments approaching demonstration, that his view is correct.
Maimonides pushes the principle of sufficient reason. For every fact there must be a reason why it is one way and not the other. In effect, Maimonides aims to show that there is no rational reason why the heavens are laid out the way that they are. Aristotle cannot account for the same matter being arranged in different ways. This is especially troublesome because, according to Aristotle, the heavens are supposed to be the most uniform and orderly domain of existence.
Maimonides now argues that the universe does not exist due to chance. He maintains that Aristotle would also agree with this. He then clarifies Aristotle's view that the universe proceeds from the First Cause as perfect thought proceeding necessarily from a perfect thinker.
Maimonides agues against those who would try to bridge the gap between him and Aristotle. They argues that the world came to be through some eternal creating, the world has existed from eternity but it was created through purpose. Maimonides cuts off this attempted bridge by focusing on necessity. Either the world proceeds from God by necessity or not. According to Aristotle it does, according to Maimonides it does not.
Maimonides presses some difficulties with Aristotle's account. First, he argues that Aristotle has no way of accounting for the emergence of diversity from the One. How can the eventual effect that necessarily comes from the First Cause be so different than the First Cause? Second, Maimonides exploits then recent developments in astronomy that showed that the heavens were not uniformly distributed. This shows, for Maimonides, that the universe is based on Will and Particularization as opposed to Eternal Necessity. In summary, Maimonides claims that Aristotle is the supreme and definitive philosopher when it comes to sub-lunar physics. However, he believes that Aristotle has not demonstrated his opinions regarding the Eternity and Necessity of the universe. Consequently, the two views must be compared, Creation and Will vs. Eternality and Necessity to see which one has more doubts.
Maimonides stresses that when weighing opinions against each other one should not be blinded by habit and custom. One must work to free oneself from these traps. However, he also mentions, contradicting himself, that because of the harm that comes to the Law as a result of relinquishing the opinion that the world was created, one should not give up on this view unless its contrary is demonstrated.
Maimonides returns to the problems that has been gripping his age in rationalizing the movements of the heavens. Interestingly, this debate in effect is one between empiricist astronomers and deductive philosophers. In any event, these problems serve to undercut Aristotle's claim to show that the set-up of the universe derives necessarily from a First Cause.
Maimonides stresses that he does not reject the notion of the eternality of the world because of any text in the creation story. Just as he eradicated the corporeality of God through figurative interpretation, he could have done so for creation as well. There are two reasons why he has treated corporeality and creation differently. First, the impossibility of God being corporeal has, according to Maimonides, been demonstrated, the eternality of the world has not. The second reason is that the incorporeality of God does not undermine the Law, removing the notion of Will from God entirely undermines Law by making miracles and reward and punishment impossible.
Maimonides then discusses the view that he attributes to Plato, that God through an act of will formed the world out pre-existing matter. He believes that this view is acceptable because it maintains God's Will.
The crucial issue is will vs. necessity, creation and eternality are just issues that result from this opposition. Interestingly, Maimonides claims that once we affirm will we no longer have to inquire into God's reasons for anything, an event occurred or something was commanded merely because God willed it. If however we were to recognize necessity as opposed to will we would have to ask all sorts of questions regarding providence and the reasons for the commandments.
After spending a number of chapters analyzing providence, Maimonides moves to a discussion of the reasons for the commandments. (The Straussian reading should be obvious from the end of the last paragraph) This discussion starts with a consideration of different types of actions divided up according to there ends. Maimonides identifies futile actions, frivolous actions, vain actions, and good and excellent actions. He discusses each and rules out all except for good and excellent actions for attribution to God. Good and excellent actions are those that are accomplished aiming at a noble end. Next, Maimonides argues that, while we cannot know God's overall purpose in creating the world (it seems that this is a corollary of it being a result of God's will instead of necessity), we can know the purposes of God's actions and commands within the world.
Now Maimonides moves to consider God's commandments more directly. He notes that there are those who shy from attributing any reason to God's commands. Maimonides rejects there view. Instead, he believes that reasons can be given for all the laws, taken in their generality. The particular specifics of each law, however, may be the result of just having to decide on one way of doing things.
Maimonides takes a step back and considers the general purposes of the Law taken as a whole. He claims that there are two perfections for humans, one higher than the other. The first perfection ensures bodily and social stability, it is the prevention of wrongdoing and enhancement of moral character. The satisfaction of this first perfection allows for the possibility of the second and higher perfection - intellectual perfection. This consists in having correct opinions and beliefs. According to Maimonides, the laws of the Torah work to effect both of these perfections.
Maimonides focuses in on the role that the laws of the Torah play in teaching correct opinions. According to him, the law teaches two types of beliefs: those that are true and could be shown to be true through demonstration, even though the Torah does not demonstrate them, and those that are not strictly speaking true but that are necessary in order to ensure political stability. An example of the former is God's unity, while an example of the later is God's anger at those that sin. It is evident even from these examples, however, that sometimes the later conflict with the former. As Maimonides has shown in earlier parts of the God believing that God is affected by passions conflicts with a belief in his unity. Thus, there is a tension between the first perfections and the second perfections. This can be resolved by positing two different groups that are being spoken to, the masses and the elect.
Chapters 29 and 30
In this chapter Maimonides gives a historical background of idolatry that underlies the account of the reasons for the commandments that he will set out in the chapters that follow. In effect, Maimonides will explain certain commandments of the Torah that have resisted previous explanations as a response to certain idolatrous practices that were prevalent during the time that he believes the Torah was given. By describing the worship of these Sabians Maimonides attempts to make sense of certain laws of the Torah that had been traditionally ascribed merely to God's will. He explains them as outlawing certain practices that the Sabians used to engage in. This serves two goals, first it rationalize all of the commandments; second, it shows that the major concern of the Torah is to establish proper conceptions and worship of God by stamping out any traces of idolatry. This obviously connects with Maimonides view that the most important thing is to have proper beliefs about God.
Maimonides now responds to those who deny that the commandments might have any reason at all. He charges them with having a disrespectful view of God. They believe that men should act with a view towards ends, but that God must act unintelligibly. Maimonides returns and restresses that all of the commandments have the end of either teaching necessary or true opinions, inculcating moral qualities , or political civic actions.
Maimonides begins to explain the intentions of the law. The primary intention of the law, according to him, is to educate the people with correct beliefs about God. In order to accomplish this, however, God must take an indirect route. The laws of the Torah make allowance for human nature and recognize that people cannot abruptly change from what they are used to. This accounts for the continuation by the law of many idolatrous practices. For example, it does not make sense strictly speaking to offer sacrifices to Maimonides's God, he has no use for them. However, the Children of Israel at the time that the Torah was given lived in a culture when that was the way one worshiped deities. They would not be able to accept a purely contemplative relationship to God. Therefore, God made allowance for their weakness and permitted them sacrifices as they had been accustomed to, but switched the object of these sacrifices from many gods to one God. In bears mention that this was a very radical idea, one that many observant Jews still find difficult to accept, coming, in particular, from a master of Jewish Law who codified all of the laws, including those of sacrifices.
Maimonides moves on now to discuss a number of the Law's other intentions, including, restraint of unnecessary desires, inculcating gentleness and docility, teaching sexual purity and sanctity, ensuring physical cleanliness.
Maimonides explains that the focus of the law is not the individual as such, but the universal or communal. Indeed, the individual might be ill-served by the law, but that is no matter. The object of the law is the community.
Maimonides now divides up the laws into fourteen classes. He will go into each class in the chapters that follow explaining how each law achieves its purpose.
1) Fundamental Opinions that are correct and those that are useful for belief in the law
2 )Laws that are aimed at eradicating idolatry and thus allowing for correct opinions to develop
3) Commandments that improve the moral qualities
4) Commandments that have social utility
5) Laws that prohibit wrongdoing and aggression
6) Laws that mandate punishments
7) Laws that regulate economic transactions
8) Laws that stipulate days of rest and holidays. The purpose of these commandments are to aid in teaching certain true or necessary beliefs and giving the body rest
9) Practices of worship that teach correct opinions
10) Commandments concerned with the sanctuary. These are connected, as discussed above, with focusing previously idolatrous worship on the one God.
11) Commandments concerned with ritual offerings. These too are connected with redirecting idolatrous impulses towards God.
12) Commandments concerning ritual purity. The purpose of these commandments are to heighten one's respect for the sanctuary.
13) Commandment that mandate dietary restrictions. The purpose of these commandments are to curb one's desires.
14) Commandments that prohibit certain sexual unions. These are commanded in order to ensure that sex does not become an end in-of-itself.
The main focus of this chapter is a parable that Maimonides has written which symbolizes the various levels that one can attain in closeness to God. He describes a palace with a ruler in a special room in the center. He then describes concentric circles around the ruler and populates it with different types of individuals. The upshot is a hierarchy with those with the most perfect beliefs about God at the top, or in the center with God. Importantly, Maimonides makes the one has proper beliefs about God well superior to one who (merely?) observes the law. Maimonides concludes this chapter with advice to the aspiring young philosopher.