Morality a Prerequisite for Doing Metaphysics

So says Maimonides:

It is clear, and proved by evidence, that moral virtues are a prerequisite of intellectual virtues. The attainment of true intellectual values, that is perfect intellectual ideas, is impossible except for a man whose moral character is properly trained and who possesses dignity and balance. There are many people whose native character and temper is wholly unsuitable for the attainment of perfection[1].

[1]The Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Chaim Rabin (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 1952; orig. 1190), 61.


2 Responses to Morality a Prerequisite for Doing Metaphysics

  1. Kevin says:

    Interesting. A few comments. First, what he seems to be suggesting isn’t that moral virtue is necessary for doing metaphysics, but for doing it well (that is, getting it right). Second, Aquinas suggests that it is the other way around: according to him, prudence (an intellectual virtue) is a prerequisit of any of the moral virtues (such as temperance). One cannot properly order his desires if he doesn’t know how good a thing is, and thus doesn’t know how much that thing should be desired. Finally, I’ve long thought that there is a different sense in which doing metaphysics is a prerequisite for doing ethics, insofar as how we ought to live is a function of what kind of beings we are most fundametnally.

  2. Keith says:

    Dr. Timpe,

    Thanks for stopping by. I too think Maimonides’ comment interesting. The context of his remark, of course, is that he’s giving five reasons why “one should not begin instruction with metaphysics, nor even direct attention to any matters requiring attention, leave alone divilulge such matters to the vulgar crowd” (p. 58). So, you’re right: he doesn’t mean doing metaphysics period, he means doing metaphysics well. But this specification seems a bit trivial to me: I suppose I could *do* carpentry [I’m not trained as a carpenter at all] without first fulfililng the prerequisites, but *of course* it wouldn’t be done well. But then metaphysics is unlike carpentry in many important ways–although I’m not sure that matters here. What matters, I think, is that just as anything worthy of the name “carpentry” demands as a prerequisite appropriate training, so anything worthy of the name “metaphysics” (or what you call “metaphysics done well”) demands certain prerequisites, including moral virtue. This, I think, is what Maimonides would say (whether I agree is an entirely other matter).

    Thanks for highlighting the contrast with Aquinas!

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