Here are some of my teaching and reading notes on Saadia's epistemology, and views on creation & revelation.
Comments, additions, and corrections are welcome.
Please send them to Michael Kagan, Le Moyne College, Department of Philosophy,
Syracuse, NY 13214


Egyptian born Jew. Saadia ben Joseph Al-Fayyumi (892- 942, according to Weinberg, p. 143). Saadia was head of the academy at Sura. Saadia was strongly influenced by Mutakallimun (Mutazilite affirmation of G's unity, human freedom, providence, sinner in intermediate state between infidel and true believer, human obligation to do good and prevent evil; Asharites affirmed G's absolute omnipotence, evanescent atomism) contemporaries.

4 Roots of knowledge [note: explain how S uses these to argue for Scriptural Authority: For information on how I teach this material on the introductory level see my "Examining Scriptural Authority with Saadia" in TEACHING PHILOSOPHY 14:3 (September 1991), pp. 283-293.]

1. Sense perception

2. Reason (self-evident like geometry)

3. Inference (causal knowledge inferring necessary conditions)

4. reliable tradition

Pedagogical role of revelation.

Saadia attempts to prove Divine attributes like Unity, Power, Wisdom, Incomparability, but explains them in a way reminiscent of RAMBAM's via negativa.

Note that Saadia seems at times to suggest that the soul consists of a subtle matter.

Note Bene: the utility of reliable tradition in support of Saadia's ongoing battles with the Karaites and any other deniers of the oral law.

Saadia on Creation & Revelation

Saadia begins by pointing out that a priori arguments are necessary here since what's at issue goes beyond our sense experience. So also, he reminds us, do proofs of the eternality of the world.

Saadia accepts creation from prophecy verified by miracles (review this briefly if necessary). Then attempts to show it through speculation.

1. Finite universe, therefore contains finite force. Therefore has beginning and end. Saadia considers possibility of other earths but his Aristotelian science keeps him from taking the idea seriously since he thinks all e.g., would fall towards his one earth.

2. Saadia's composition of parts/design argument.

3. All bodies have accidents with which these bodies are coeval; if x is an accident x is created; if y is coeval with a crated x, then y too is created.

4. Infinite time, if it were, would imply that time never got here yet tot his instant, but it did. Therefore finite time.

The Creator's Transcendence; Creatio ex nihilo

Having shown to his satisfaction that the world is created Saadia investigates the possible nature of the creator. He considers the possibility that the world is self created but denounces it since the world can't self create now and a world created is stronger than it was before it was created. He cannot fathom an entity creating itself before it existed, and sees no reason why it would after it existed. IF x could self-create, then x could fail to' if it can, then it exists (for being is power?).

Ex Nihilo. Saadia holds that creation implies creation of a new thing; he's on target here, I think, with respect to the meaning of the Hebrew. Saadia takes it as axiomatic and necessary that a maker must be temporally prior to the made.

Yet for all that there must be an entity of a different category altogether that not need to have a prior entity or we have the problem of the infinite time which needed to be traversed before we got to this one.

Saadia's Philosophy of Law and Grace

Better to be saved with the law than without it since "reason judges that one who obtains some good in return for work which he has accomplished enjoys a double portion of happiness in comparison with one who has not done any work and receives what he receives as a gift of grace." (351) Discuss the psychological insight in terms of what we value.

2 Classes of Law (those of reason and those of revelation)

Dictates of reason include:

1) gratitude through return or thanks, so with G

2) that a wise man not permit himself to be vilified so with G

3) one should not trespass on anther's rights through aggression

4) one may hire someone and pay wages for the sole purpose of allowing the worker to earn, since this benefits the worker and does no harm to the employer

The above, argues Saadia on the basis of his thorough knowledge of the Law, is a summary of Torah.

Concerning worship (Avodah) prohibition of idolatry, Torah of justice, and deeds of kindness like loving one's neighbor.

Discuss Saadia's argument against theft on p 353 new paragraph 2. and vs. lying in following paragraph.

Laws of revelation

Laws of revelation are neutral with respect to reason, often serving purposes even if there is a sense in which the specifics might seem arbitrary, further, G knows of them in a higher way.

Revelation being rational, is nonetheless necessary, Saadia argues, since it gives us the specifics of practice (do what is just too vague, the prophets provide us with models). And details, e.g., when does an individual own a x such that to take x constitutes theft. Also penalties, etc. "IF we had to rely on our own judgment in these matters, we should have opposed each other and never agreed on anything; moreover, prophetic Revelation was necessary on account of the revelational laws, as I have already explained." (355 ft.)

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