Gad Freudenthal


Modern thought takes it as an axiom that all men and women are born equal. Medieval thinkers held exactly the opposite view. They accepted a cluster of theories, taken from biology and physics, which implied that, owing to physical causes, human beings are born with different “temperaments”. The key term “temperament” denotes the “balance” of the components (elements or humors) in the body, which (according to medieval theories of the relationship between soul and body) determines the intellectual capacities of the individual. Now all medieval thinkers held that the “quantity” of knowledge (intelligibles, in the medieval parlance) acquired by an individual during his physical existence determines his afterlife, i.e. the survival of his rational soul after his physical death: the assumption was that “intelligibles” are indestructible (because  immaterial), so that the acquired intelligibles vouchsafe the immortality of the rational soul. Therefore, the foremost goal of any human being during his terrestrial existence was to acquire as many intelligibles as possible. This view, together with the assumption that the intellectual capacity of an individual depends on natural factors and is therefore “innate”, implied that in fine the survival of an individual’s rational soul is more or less predetermined at one’s birth. Some of the natural factors depend e.g. on the region in which one lives, implying that one’s prospects for afterlife depend in part on such contingent physical circumstances. This paper describes the relevant medieval theories and analyses in some detail the views of two major thinkers: Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī (Alpharabius; 870-950) and Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides; 1138-1204).


Maimonides. Al-Fārābī. Biological Foundations. Innatism. Cultural Elitism

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