Maimonides and St. Thomas on the Limits of Reason

By Idit Dobbs-Weinstein

Subjects: Philosophy Of Religion
Series: SUNY series in Philosophy
Paperback : 9780791424162, 278 pages, July 1995
Hardcover : 9780791424155, 278 pages, July 1995

Table of contents

Apologia and Acknowledgments



1. Maimonides and Aquinas as Interpreters

The Development of Philosophical, Biblical Exegesis

Maimonides' and Aquinas' Approaches to Interpretation

Interpretation as a Philosophical Practice

2. The Book of Job

Early Approaches to the Book of Job

The Nature of the Inquiry

Maimonides' Account of Job

Aquinas' Exposition on Job

3. The Account of the Beginning or Creation


Maimonides' Arguments for Creation

Aquinas' Arguments for Creation

4. Matter, Privation, and Evil


Maimonides' Ambivalence Toward Matter

Aquinas' Understanding of Matter, Privation, and Evil

5. Natural Human Perfection and Its Limits


The Nature of the Human Soul According to Maimonides

Aquinas and the Harmony of the Soul


6. Divine Law as a Perfection of Philosophical Ethics


The Limits of Philosophical Ethics According to Maimonides

Divine Sanction as Universal Imperative

The Limits of Legislative Reason

The Displacement of Legislative Reason by Divine Law


7. Hubris , Knowledge, and Provident Participation


The Problem of Job

Modes of Participating Providence

Conclusion: Excess and Reticence



Name Index

Subject Index

This book shows that Maimonides and St. Thomas reached strikingly similar conclusions regarding the limits of reason and that these limits, in turn, show the dimensions of philosophical understanding.


Through a comparative philosophical examination of the diverse aporiae constituting the question of "providence," the author seeks to determine the degree of philosophical compatibility between Maimonides and St. Thomas Aquinas, and where disagreement is evident, its origin, nature and philosophical consequences. Dobbs-Weinstein retrieves some occluded aspects of their thought that render a better understanding of each thinker and provide a richer philosophical vocabulary for discussions of the limits of "reason," the consequent inevitable limits of language and interpretation and, above all, the relation between knowing and acting.

This study also shows how and why, despite the fact that they adopt some radically different ontological principles, Maimonides and Aquinas reach strikingly similar conclusions concerning the existential dimensions of human life, especially the possibilities and modes of knowledge and the actions consequent upon them.

Idit Dobbs-Weinstein is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University.


"The book provides an important discussion of the agent intellect as conceived by Maimonides and by Aquinas. Dobbs-Weinstein does justice to both authors; her treatment is penetrating.

"It is a highly focused inquiry based on extensive study. While both Maimonides and Aquinas acknowledge a common intellectual tradition, their differing religious outlooks provide contrasting insights. The author makes them talk to one another and not past each other. The topics chosen for discussion are significant, not esoteric; they are issues confronted equally by medieval and contemporary moralists who subscribe to a Judaic or Christian belief system. Dobbs-Weinstein assists the reader by providing many accurate and helpful comparisons between the two. " — Jude P. Dougherty, The Catholic University of America