Levi ben Gerson

(1288–1344)
   Perhaps the most important of the radical Aristotelian thinkers in the Jewish philosophical tradition was Rabbi Levi ben Gerson (alternatively, Gershon or Gershom; Latin: Gersonides). While he did not live in an Islamicate milieu – his home was in southern France – and did not write in Arabic like many of his predecessors (e.g. Saadia Gaon, Judah Halevi, Ibn Gabirol, Ibn Maymun, etc.), he was nonetheless profoundly influenced by Islamic philosophy. His indebtedness can be traced back through Ibn Maymun (who himself had an intimate familiarity with the doctrines and methods of the classical Islamic philosophers, particularly the mashsha’un) and Ibn Rushd (on whose Aristotelian commentaries he wrote numerous supercommentaries). In many ways his thought can be seen as an attempt to strike a balance between the harmonizing Aristotelianism of the former and the more radical, unadulterated Aristotelianism of the latter. In addition to the afore-mentioned super-commentaries, he produced works in the areas of astronomy, mathematics and Biblical exegesis.
   His great original contribution in the field of philosophy is the Book of the Wars of the Lord (Sefer Milhamot ha-Shem), which argued resourcefully for a number of bold and controversial theses. A substantial portion of the book is dedicated to the question of whether the world is created or eternal. Levi ben Gerson rejects the traditional creation ex nihilo position on Aristotelian grounds, arguing that all generation must be from something, that pure form alone couldn’t bring corporeal things into being without preexisting matter, and that the creationist model inescapably implies the existence of a vacuum, which is an impossibility. However, he also rejects the eternalist position, on the grounds that it entails the existence of an actual infinite, also an impossibility. Yet surprisingly, he rejects Ibn Maymun’s contention that no position on this question is demonstrable, and formulates his own quasi-Platonic formatio mundi model according to which the universe is created by God out of preexisting, eternal matter. Further, he argues (again, apparently contra Aristotle) that, although the universe is generated, it is by its very nature indestructible.
   Another topic on which Levi ben Gerson takes a fairly radical position is the hoary question regarding God’s knowledge of spatio-temporal particulars. He defends the much-maligned claim that God has no real knowledge of future contingents. Although it seems as though Levi ben Gerson has sacrificed divine omniscience in order to preserve human freedom, he denies this is the case, since omniscience implies that one knows only what is actually knowable, and future contingents are not knowable because they have not yet been determined. In any case, ‘ignorance’ of spatio-temporal particulars is in fact not really a deficiency, since true knowledge is always of the universal, not of the particular.
   In his psychology, Levi ben Gerson argues on behalf of the immortality of the soul, while limiting it to the rational part. However, he rejects the standard position of the falasifa that the soul becomes immortal through conjunction with the active intellect, and by extension, the Averroist doctrine of monopsychism, which ultimately rules out the possibility of individual or personal immortality. In doing so, he defends a philosophical conception of immortality that nevertheless preserves the uniqueness of the individual soul. What makes this compromise position possible is his particular conception of the active intellect as a kind of blueprint for the rational order of the cosmos. On his account, the active intellect grounds and preserves the distinctions created between individual souls by differing degrees of acquired knowledge, even after the destruction of our material aspect. It also justi- fies the great premium he places on human reason and the confidence he has in our ability to achieve extensive knowledge of God and the world (the objects of human thought are essentially the same as those of God’s thought; the only difference is that God’s knowledge is more perfect). It is perhaps no surprise, then, that Levi ben Gerson sees revelation as in some sense answerable to the claims of reason and interprets scripture figuratively when necessary in order to show its reconcilability with his own philosophical conclusions.
   Further reading: Frank and Leaman 1997; Gersonides 1984, 1992; Sirat 1985

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Levi ben Gerson — Levi ben Gershon (auch Levi ben Gerson oder Levi ben Gerschom, lateinisch Leo Hebraeus, Leo de Balneolis oder Gersonides genannt, * 1288 in Bagnols sur Cèze (Südfrankreich), † 20. April (?) 1344 in Perpignan(?)) war ein jüdischer Mathematiker,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Levi ben Gerson — Levi ben Gẹrson,   Gersonides, genannt Ralbag (Abkürzung für Rabbi Levi ben Gerson), französischer jüdischer Philosoph, Mathematiker, Astronom, Bibelkommentator und Talmudgelehrter, * Bagnols sur Cèze 1288, ✝ Perpignan 1344; vertrat in der… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Levi ben Gerson — (Leon de Bagnols, Gersonides), jüd. Religionsphilosoph und Schrifterklärer, geb. um 1288 in Bagnols, franz. Departement du Gard, gest. 1344, Sohn des naturkundigen Gerson ben Salomo, lebte in Orange, Perpignan und Avignon und machte sich… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Lévi Ben Gerson — Gersonide Pour les articles homonymes, voir Gerson. Rabbi Levi ben Gershom ou Gersonide (1288, Bagnols sur Cèze (France) 20 avril 1344) connu sous l acronyme de son nom Ralbag, il est l un des plus importants commentateurs bibliques de son temps …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Gersonides, Levi ben Gerson, Leo of Bagnols — See Jewish philosophy …   History of philosophy

  • Levi ben Gershon — (auch Levi ben Gerson oder Levi ben Gerschom, lateinisch Leo Hebraeus, Leo de Balneolis oder Gersonides genannt, * 1288 in Bagnols sur Cèze (Südfrankreich); † 20. April (?) 1344 in Perpignan(?)) war ein jüdischer Mathematiker, Philosoph, Astronom …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • LEVI BEN GERSHOM — (1288–1344; acronym: RaLBaG; also called Maestre Leo de Bagnols; Magister Leo Hebraeus; Gersonides), mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and biblical commentator, born probably at Bagnols sur Cèze (Languedoc – now département du Gard, France) …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Levi ben Gershom — Gersonide Pour les articles homonymes, voir Gerson. Rabbi Levi ben Gershom ou Gersonide (1288, Bagnols sur Cèze (France) 20 avril 1344) connu sous l acronyme de son nom Ralbag, il est l un des plus importants commentateurs bibliques de son temps …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Levi ben Gershon — Gersonide Pour les articles homonymes, voir Gerson. Rabbi Levi ben Gershom ou Gersonide (1288, Bagnols sur Cèze (France) 20 avril 1344) connu sous l acronyme de son nom Ralbag, il est l un des plus importants commentateurs bibliques de son temps …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Levy ben Gerson — Gersonide Pour les articles homonymes, voir Gerson. Rabbi Levi ben Gershom ou Gersonide (1288, Bagnols sur Cèze (France) 20 avril 1344) connu sous l acronyme de son nom Ralbag, il est l un des plus importants commentateurs bibliques de son temps …   Wikipédia en Français

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