Divine law and philosophy in Plato and Maimonides
With the advent of traditions based on revealed law, political philosophy was forced to reorient its approach to the topic of law. Yet it remains in question whether the classical tradition’s medieval inheritors ever broke entirely with their pagan forebears. As a contribution to that debate, this dissertation compares the discussions of law found in Plato’s Statesman and Laws with the parallel accounts found in Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed and in the Book of Roots written by the late-medieval Maimonidean Joseph Albo. The benefit of a comparative approach is that through these authors’ convergences and differences we may see problems that are inherent in law as such and those that may be related to divine law in particular. Plato subjected divine law to his critique of law as such: unlike prudence, law cannot address what is rare or novel because its commands are necessarily generalizations. Law so understood is a necessary evil that, at best, could merely imitate the wise ruler. At the same time, in its appeal to ancestral authority, law seeks to suppress the philosopher’s radical questioning. In a community based on revealed religion, the problems of law are intensified, especially the tension between law and philosophy. Therefore, the most urgent task for Maimonides and his followers was the clarification of the moral, psychological, and theological conditions of the very idea of divine law. Only then could they examine whether their own divine law mysteriously transcends the limits of law as such.