Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 February 2018
Shortly after publishing the definitive English translation of the Guide of the Perplexed in 1963, Shlomo Pines, in 1968, entered on a new avenue of research on Maimonides. He began a series of articles stressing deep similarities between Maimonides and his Muslim predecessor, Alfarabi, on the one hand, and various modern authors such as Spinoza and Kant, on the other. He thereby contributed mightily to a gradual process of effacing the line between medieval or premodern and modern thought in contemporary scholarship. Pines's new approach was most evident in the thesis of his most renowned article, published in 1979, “The Limitations of Human Knowledge according to al-Fārābī, Ibn Bājja, and Maimonides.” His thesis is that Alfarabi and Maimonides maintain a view of the limitations of human knowledge highly similar to Kant's.
Pines's articles have had the cumulative effect not only of effacing the distinction between medieval and modern but also of modernizing Alfarabi and especially Maimonides. Leaving aside the bad effects this has on our historical understanding, it impedes our ability to read and benefit from these medieval thinkers. This effect has been formidable. Indeed, Pines's 1979 article may be the most influential article on Maimonides written in the last quarter of the twentieth century. As a result, many leading Maimonides scholars have defended their views on Maimonides. Although few have embraced the claim that Maimonides was as close to Kant as Pines seemed to argue, his article has contributed profoundly to the impression that there are deeper affinities between Maimonides and modern thought generally than has been recognized heretofore. Despite reservations about Pines's specific formulation about Maimonides and Kant, the general trend toward the drawing of parallels between Maimonides and various modern thinkers has grown rapidly since Pines's article. These parallels, though they may raise provocative questions of influence, are, I believe, more misleading than helpful. I offer criticisms of Pines's assimilation of Alfarabi and Maimonides to Kant. I hope thereby to clarify not only Alfarabi and Maimonides's relation to Kant and of premodern to modern thought in general but also the relation between politics and metaphysics in each of these thinkers.