Socratic Scepticism in Hebrew: Al-Harizi and Shem Tob Falaquera and their Influence

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How did medieval Hebrew readers encounter Socrates? Was the Socrates they knew the same as the Socrates we know from Plato's dialogues? Some of the most important sources for the character of Socrates came from loose, heavily edited translations of Arabic works. Among these, perhaps the most important were Judah al-Ḥarizi's Musare hafilosofim, a modifying translation of Ḥunain ibn Isḥāq's Ādāb al-Falāsifa, and Shem Ṭob Falaquera's Reshit Ḥokhmah, which contained short accounts of Socrates derived from Abu Naṣr Al-Farabi's Philosophy of Plato. It is not entirely clear where Ḥunain ibn Isḥāq and Al-Farabi got their accounts of Socrates, but both are relatively far from Plato. Both portray Socrates as an erotic lover of wisdom, indeed one absorbed in a kind of divine madness, who chose to die rather than give up philosophy. In both accounts, especially in their Hebrew versions, Socrates is not a particularly appealing person, but a symbol of a choice that would best be avoided: the choice between philosophy and state sanctioned beliefs, i.e., in the eyes of these thinkers, religiously sanctioned beliefs. The Hebrew Socrates thus represents a paradox: as one absorbed in divine madness, he epitomizes a kind of religious philosophy. Yet it is precisely this philosophy that runs counter to the religious views of the people, who accordingly force him to choose between divine madness or death. This paradox is somewhat similar to the paradox of the Apology, according to which Socrates is led by the oracle at Delphi and his daemonion to question everything, including his own religious beliefs and those of the city. A similar paradox emerges in Falaquera's Epistle of the Debate, in which a philosophically oriented Sage debates a religious Hasid. The Sage claims that philosophy is the best way to understand and worship God, while the Hasid is concerned that philosophy undermines religion. Ostensibly, the debate concludes with the agreement of both thinkers that philosophy is the proper way to become closer to God and accordingly the Sage agrees to write books of Averroan philosophy for the Hasid. However, in order to reach this agreement, the Sage gives up the free, open questions of philosophy since they can potentially undermine faith. That is, he gives up unfettered philosophy. Falaquera thus presents the Sage as saving philosophy by giving up divine madness, in favor of moderation. Such moderation may save the philosopher from death, but is he or she still truly a philosopher?
Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - 2018
EventScepticism and Anti-Scepticism in Jewish Averroism - University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
Duration: 12 Nov 201814 Nov 2018 (Website)


ConferenceScepticism and Anti-Scepticism in Jewish Averroism
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