(Knowledge/Power) Maimonides (Art of Reason)  

stylus

Maimonidean reason has in common with Foucault a basic correlation between knowledge and power. It pops up in the introduction to Commentary on the Mishnah. Wisdom adds to the inner power of a person which is the actualization of human potential, the transformation of the human from disgrace to honor or glory (kavod), a term which is also an attribute attributed to God in Jewish tradition.

In the English translation below, knowledge is “to depict for [oneself] the intellectual secrets.” Translated from the original Arabic, the  לצייר בנפשו הסודות המושכלות might be better translated as “to draw upon his soul the intellectual secrets.”

Not to overdraw the relation between the one and the other. Foucault writes about the making visible of something invisible in the institutional settings described in Birth of the Clinic. For Maimonides, the invisible unity of God is the supernal idea “drawn upon the soul” of the reasoning human creature. This image of intellectual apprehension and the apprehension of truth about God as an act of inscription is a felicitous figure of speech. The animal soul and actualized human soul is a knowledge/power palimpsest.

Introduction to Commentary on the Mishnah 17: 18-21

אבל האדם יעשה מעשים רבים משתנים זה בזה וחקרו על כל פעולותיו פעל לדעת תכלית בריאתו מאלה הפעלים ומצאו כי תכליתו פעל א’ בלבד ובשבילו נברא ושאר פעליו הם לקיים עמידתו כדי שישלם בו.

But man does many actions – one differing from the other. And they investigated his activities – [each] activity – to know the purpose of his creation, from these activities. And they found that his purpose is one activity alone, and that because of it, he was created. And the rest of his activities are to maintain his support so that he perfect himself in that activity.

הפעל האחד ההוא והפעל הזה הוא לצייר בנפשו הסודות המושכלות ולדעת האמתות על פי מה שהם עליו שהדעת נותן ששוא ושקר להיות תכלית האדם לאכילה ולשתיה ולבעילה או לבנות קיר כי כל אלה מקרים מתחדשים עליו לא יוסיפו על כחו הפנימית ועוד שהוא משתתף בזה עם רוב הברואים.

And that activity is to depict for himself the intellectual secrets and to know the truths, according to what they are. As it is to be reasoned that it be worthless and false that the purpose of man is for eating and drinking and sexual intercourse or to build a wall, since all of these events that recur to him do not add to his inner power; and also since he shares this with most of the animals.

והחכמה היא אשר תוסיף על כחו הפנימית ותעתיק אותו ממעלת בוז למעלת כבוד שהרי היה האדם בכח וחזר אדם בפועל והאדם קודם שישכיל וידע הוא נחשב כבהמה לא נבדל משאר מין החיות אלא בהגיון שהוא חי בעל הגיון רוצה לומר בהגיון שהוא מצייר לנפשו המושכלות.

And wisdom is that which adds to his inner potential (power) and takes him from the level of disgrace to the level of honor – as behold, he was a man in potential and he became a man in actuality, [since] before man understands and knows, he is considered like an animal. He is only distinguished from other types of animals by [his] reasoning – as he is [unique in being] a reasoning life-form – meaning to say through the reasoning with which he depicts ideas to himself.

והנכבד שבמושכלות לצייר לנפשו אחדות הקב”ה וכל הנלוה לענין ההוא מהאלהיים ששאר החכמות אינם אלא להרגיל בהם עד שיגיע לדעת האלהי והדיבור בזה הענין עד כלותו יאריך מאד.

And the most honored of the ideas to depict to himself is the unity of the Holy One, blessed be He, and all that accompanies that matter from the theological. As the other wisdoms are only to train him in them, until he reaches the knowledge of Divinity. And discussion about this to its end would be very lengthy.

[[the text i’m using here is available at Sefaria.com]]

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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