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Abravanel, Isaac (1437–1509)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-J028-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

Abravanel is often seen as having a unique position in Jewish philosophy, between the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. His ideas point both to the past – especially to Maimonides – and to the future, in his approach to the questions of history and of authority in the state. His defence of what he takes to be religious orthodoxy is carried out with serious attention to the arguments of his predecessors. Abravanel takes great pains to understand their reasoning. He even supplies them with additional arguments, before he presents what he takes to be a decisive objection. In particular he expounds Maimonides’ thought in considerable detail, defending him from his critics, while also insisting that Maimonides misrepresented the religious notions he analyses.

Abravanel’s most original work lies in his view of history as either natural or artificial. Most human history is artificial, since it represents life in rebellion against God. The best form of government is not a monarchy, despite the views of most Jewish philosophers. For a monarchy does not essentially replicate the relationship of God with his subjects, and other forms of government can produce relatively successful societies. The Messiah, who will eventually transform artificial into natural history, is not a king but more a judge and prophet. He will establish the perfect society through a divine miracle. As long as the state is an absolute monarchy, however, its citizens owe absolute obedience to its ruler.

Citing this article:
Leaman, Oliver. Abravanel, Isaac (1437–1509), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-J028-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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