E491 Moses Maimonides Questions

Assigned: from The Guide of the Perplexed (211-26).

From The Guide of the Perplexed (circa 1190)

1. What, according to Maimonides, gives rise to "perplexity" in the reading of texts, and who are the "perplexed" — i.e. what audience is Maimonides addressing? (214-15)

2. Why, in Maimonides' view, have the Sages always found it appropriate to employ parables and riddles? How, in discussing this matter, does Maimonides comment on the nature of learning and teaching? (216-17)

3. How does Maimonides explain the way a "well-constructed parable" works? What significant uses does such a parable have? (219-20)

4. What does Maimonides identify as the two kinds of prophetic parable? How do they differ? (220)

5. When Maimonides comments on his intentions in offering his treatise, what limitations does he try to impose upon his readers? What seems to be his main anxiety regarding his relationship with readers? (222-23)

6. Is Maimonides primarily concerned to embrace what the Norton editors might call "textual indeterminacy," or do his concerns lie elsewhere? It would help to consider what he is promising to do for his readers. (222-23, also general question)

7. What, according to Maimonides, are the seven causes of "contradictory or contrary statements"? Which one seems most important or most relevant to you as a reader and learner? Why? (223-24)

8. Maimonides employs the binary pair" outer/inner meaning," which might be taken to imply a rigorous interpretive method for extracting the inner meaning from a text's "surface." But is there some more nuanced way to understand his argument here, or to modify it for contemporary purposes? Explain. (general question)

9. What contrast does Maimonides develop throughout the selection between exegesis or interpretation on the one hand, and early scientific endeavor on the other? (general question)

10. Maimonides sometimes suggests that "secrecy" is a legitimate mode of discourse, a legitimate property of a written text. Do you agree with his suggestion if it is applied to a modern and secular context? I.e., is "secrecy" or mysteriousness till something worth cultivating for some purposes, or do you think that treating a text as somehow mysterious turns interpretation into an exclusionary operation, a way to control people's thoughts rather than expand them? Explain. (general question)

Edition: The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN: 0393974294.