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Physics in an odd idiom: the stoic theory of mixtures in the applied reason of the Mishna

  • Jacob Neusner

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The Mishnah, a philosophical treatise in the form of a law-code produced by sages of Judaism in the Land of Israel at c. A.D. 200, works out in acute detail a set of philosophical principles expressed in general principles in other writings of the same age. These principles emerge only in the medium of practical logic and applied reason, rather than in the philosophical idiom of abstraction and generalization. For example, principles of political economics familiar from Aristotle's writings make their appearance in sustained inquiries into such matters as the nature of profit or interest, the principles of distributive economics enforced in the markets, and profound speculation on the nature of true value. Along these same lines, as I shall show here, the interests of natural philosophy in questions of the physics of mixtures come to expression in the Mishnah's authorship's treatment of the problem of mixtures. True, the facts that require explanation take an odd and even egregious form. While Stoic physics asked about mixtures in the abstract, the Mishnah's authorities addressed the same questions in quite concrete terms, the one speaking of things in general, the other of meat and gravy, water, flour and dough. But the principles of physics that tell us how to differentiate one kind of mixture from another and how, therefore, to draw consequences from the different traits of things that fuse, affect one another in some ways but not in others, or are merely juxtaposed with no mutual affect, are not merely parallel; they are in fact identical.

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1 I have spelled out these matters in my Economics of the Mishnah (Chicago, 1989: University of Chicago Press).

2 Samboursky, S., Physics of the Stoics (London, 1959), 122.

3 Ibid., 14–15.

Physics in an odd idiom: the stoic theory of mixtures in the applied reason of the Mishna

  • Jacob Neusner

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