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Maimonides’ Non-Kantian Moral Psychology: Maimonides and Kant on the Garden of Eden and the Genealogy of Morals

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image of The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy

Abstract Both Immanuel Kant and Moses Maimonides wrote lengthy treatments of the biblical garden of Eden. For both philosophers the biblical story served as an opportunity to address the genealogy of morals. I argue here that the two treatments offer deep insights into their respective philosophical anthropologies, that is to say, into their assessments of the human person and of moral psychology. Contrary to much that has been written about Maimonides as a proto-Kantian, I expose the profoundly different and even opposed conceptions of human nature and of reason at the heart of the respective philosophies. For Kant, the first exercise of reason in the garden is an act of rebellion that jettisons the human person from the womb of nature into a post-natural freedom. The repudiation of the natural is the beginning of an ethical life, according to Kant—a life to be dominated by respect for a human dignity beyond the natural. For Maimonides, in contrast, reason is a philosophical torah li-shmaʿ. Rational understanding is an understanding of the laws of a nature fecund with the presence of the divine. Exposing the reason inherent in nature is the only path to knowledge of God and whatever communion with the divine is available to human beings. Such knowledge transforms the heart as well as fills the mind, embedding the human person as moral actor in a God-filled universe.

Affiliations: 1: Hamilton College Clinton, NY


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