Roslyn Weiss explores philosophy of Maimonides

Tom Bonan, Contributing Writer

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Roslyn Weiss discussed what it means to achieve perfection and become a perfect human being during a lecture on April 2 in the Willard Smith Library of the Vaughan Literature building.

Weiss, a professor focusing in ancient Greek and medieval Jewish Studies at Lehigh University, focused on the philosophy of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides. Born in 1138 in the southern region of present-day Spain, his philosophy was uniquely influenced by Jewish and Islamic tradition that flourished in northern Africa and the Iberian Peninsula.

His most recognized work, and the source for much of Weiss’ lecture, is the “Guide for the Perplexed,” a three-volume work that sought to analyze the relationship between philosophy and theology. For centuries after Maimonides’ death, philosophers and theologians, both Jewish and Christian, critiqued, cited and analyzed his works, making him one of the most prolific philosophers of the Middle Ages.

On the subject of perfection, Maimonides puts forward two principle ideas regarding how humans can attain it: the first is through intellectual perfection, and the second is through moral virtue. Modern scholarly debate over this work concentrates on which side he was most prominently advocating.

Weiss, one of the foremost scholars on the subject, took a stance that mediated the two opposing camps. She said that intellectual perfection was not only having correct beliefs, but also understanding those beliefs in a way that one achieves a sort of intellectual harmony with God. Through the study of the Torah, theology, physics, logic, and philosophy, one can hope to achieve this harmony.

Moral virtue is subsequently achieved through transmission of this intellectual and moral ideal to others for the sake of God.

“Though we cannot know how God acts, we must act as we think He should act, and that is knowledge is achieved through the act of moral and intellectual perfection,” Weiss said.

Perfection in these two areas is inseparable if one truly wishes to achieve a harmony between himself and God.

The lecture was both captivating and nuanced, providing an insight to a philosopher whose ideas have influenced a great deal of Western philosophy. Weiss’ passion for Maimonides made it clear that he was a thinker ahead of his time and showed his importance within the larger scope of Mediterranean thought.

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