Aug 23, 2009

A History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy, by Isaac Husik

This book was a tremendous undertaking on Isaac Husik's part. In it, he seeks to summarize and analyze the philosophical writings of several Jewish philosophers, starting with Isaac Israeli in the 10th Century and ending with Joseph Albo in the 15th. What is fascinating about this book is that Husik makes plain, through his introduction and throughout the chapters, that medieval Jewish philosophy was very much a product of Muslim philosophy. It is well known that the writings and learning of ancient Greek and Roman scientists and philosophers passed not to their European descendants, but to the Muslim intellectual elite. These men translated and commented on the works of Aristotle to great length, and it was in Muslim-controlled Spain that Jewish intellectuals became acquainted with their work. It took a fantastically great mind, that of Maimonides, to break fully with the Muslim-influenced philosophy.

What is interesting about this book is that it contains, within the introduction, the most comprehensible explanation of Aristotle's philosophy, epitomized by his idea of the unmoved mover. Husik's explanation of the Muslim philosophical schools most influential to medieval Jewish philosophers is also quite understandable. As the book goes on, however, and the philosophies become more intricate and draw from many different traditions, it becomes much more difficult to understand. I often found myself reading entire sections without having actually comprehended them. So while the book was certainly helpful on the more basic aspects of medieval philosophy in general, when it comes to specifics, I guess it just takes a more penetrating mind than I have to truly comprehend medieval Jewish philosophy.