NEH Summer Seminar on Medieval Philosophy

There will be a four-week National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar on “Will, Commandment, and Human Perfection in Medieval Jewish Philosophy” taking place July 9—August 4, 2017 at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. The Director of the Seminar is Jonathan Jacobs, Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy, John Jay College/CUNY.

The seminar will begin with exploration of portions of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, as important background to several of the issues. We will then spend two weeks studying works by Saadia Gaon and two weeks studying works by Moses Maimonides, examining affinities between them as well as important differences, and also looking at their appropriation of philosophy from other traditions. We will also read a text from Aquinas, which will be a very helpful basis for comparative study, especially regarding moral epistemology.

The following are some of the questions that will shape some of our discussions:

  • How do Saadia and Maimonides’s conceptions of free will differ from Aristotle’s conception of voluntariness, and what are the implications for key issues of moral psychology and moral responsibility?
  • What are the main differences between the Jewish thinkers’ account of repentance and the possibility of revising one’s states of character on the one hand, and Aristotle’s view of the fixity (or near fixity) of established states of character, on the other?
  • What are the distinctive features of each thinker’s conception of virtue and human excellence?
  • How do Saadia and Maimonides understand the relation between reason’s role in religion and the authenticity and significance of prophecy?
  • How do Saadia and Maimonides appropriate and modify inheritances from the Greek philosophical heritage and Islamic influences? (Saadia’s method shows the influence of Islamic thinkers, and Maimonides’ appropriation of Aristotle was mediated by Islamic thinkers.)
  • How do the views of “the reasons of the commandments” elaborated by Saadia and Maimonides differ from the Aristotelian conception of practical wisdom and from natural law theorizing (especially Aquinas’s)?
  • What are Saadia and Maimonides’s most significant contributions to fundamental, enduring issues of moral agency, the understanding of the will, and the rationality of moral judgment? What aspects of their thought remain especially relevant?

Of course, numerous other issues will arise and you are encouraged to raise and pursue your own questions and angles of approach. The seminar is meant to engage a wide range of interests and expertise, including Ethics, History of Philosophy, Jewish Studies, Philosophical Theology, Theories of Human Nature, Intellectual History, and others. 

Applicants need not have expertise in Medieval Philosophy or Jewish Philosophy though, of course, expertise is welcome.

For additional information about the Seminar contact Professor Jacobs at jojacobs@jjay.cuny.edu   

Information is available on a website for the Seminar: www.colgate.edu/medphilnehseminar

Please Note:

For summer 2017 at least three Seminar spaces are reserved for non-tenure-track/adjunct faculty members. An applicant need not have an advanced degree in order to qualify. Adjunct and part-time lecturers are eligible to apply.

Individuals may not apply to an NEH Summer Seminar whose director is affiliated with the same institution or is a family member.

Individuals must not apply to seminars directed by scholars with whom they have studied.

To be considered eligible, applicants must submit a complete application. This includes an NEH cover sheet and the additional materials requested on the individual seminar website.

Application deadline: March 1, 2017/Notification date: March 31, 2017.

The Director

Jonathan Jacobs is Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and also a member of the Doctoral Faculty of Philosophy and the Doctoral Faculty of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author of nine books, editor of three, and has published over ninety articles on topics in Ethics, Medieval Philosophy, Jewish Philosophy, Criminal Justice, Political Philosophy, and other areas. He has been a Visiting Scholar or Visiting Professor at Clare Hall, Cambridge, the Oxford Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies, The University of St. Andrews, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Linacre College, Oxford, the University of Edinburgh, and other institutions.

Among his works most relevant to the seminar are Law, Reason, and Morality in Medieval Jewish Philosophy, (Oxford University Press, 2010), Judaic Sources and Western Thought: Jerusalem’s Enduring Presence, (editor, Oxford University Press

2011), and Reason, Religion, and Natural Law: Plato to Spinoza (editor, Oxford University Press, 2012).



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