Maimonides and the Pre-Maimonidean Jewish Philosophical Tradition According to Hermann Cohen
This paper examines Hermann Cohen’s idiosyncratic construction of a medieval Jewish philosophical tradition, focusing primarily, though not exclusively, on his Charakteristik der Ethik Maimunis. This construction, not unlike modern accounts, is filtered through the central place of Maimonides. For Cohen, however, Maimonides’ centrality is defined not by his systematization of Aristotelianism, but by his elevation of ethics over metaphysics. The ethical and pantheistic concerns of Maimonides’ precursors, according to this reading, anticipate his uniqueness. Whereas Shlomo ibn Gabirol’s pantheistic doctrine of emanation, for example, assigned little weight to ethics, Abraham ibn Daud rebelled against such a doctrine. Ibn Daud—much like Bahya ibn Paquda and Abraham ibn Ezra—becomes part of a Jewish philosophical tradition that culminates in Maimonides’ rejection of Aristotelian metaphysics. In particular, this paper examines the way in which Cohen envisaged the pre-Maimonidean philosophical tradition, putting his highly critical reading of Shlomo ibn Gabirol and his pantheistic obsession with prime matter in counterpoint with his more favorable readings of Abraham ibn Daud and Bahya ibn Paquda.