Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Henrik Lagerlund

Saadia Gaon

  • Jonathan Jacobs
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-024-1151-5_455-2


Saadia Gaon (Saadia ben Joseph) (882–942) has an important place in medieval Jewish philosophy and was a distinguished translator (of Bible into Arabic), commentator, author of a Hebrew dictionary and the earliest known Hebrew grammar, and a contributor to liturgy. In The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, he formulated many of the main problems of medieval Jewish philosophy. While later thinkers disagreed with him in many respects (e.g., Maimonides criticized his views and his method), medieval Jewish philosophy owes a great deal to him. He was not doctrinally committed to one or another philosophical approach or system, such as Neoplatonism or Aristotelianism. While his thought shows the influence of kalam, dialectical theology, he is important for helping shape a broadly rationalist disposition in Jewish philosophy, maintaining that key elements of Judaism can be shown to have the support of reason. In The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, he argues that there are adequate replies to skeptics and other critics who object that Judaism lacks rational justification. His distinction between “laws of reason” and “laws of revelation” has had considerable influence on many thinkers’ treatments of the issue of “the reasons of the commandments.” In that discussion he distinguished different levels of how evident are the rational supports for commandments. Also, Saadia discussed extensively the various parts of the soul, the basic motivational tendencies of human beings, and the question of what is the best life for a human being. He elaborated a rich moral psychology with some Platonic resonances and some Aristotelian resonances, integrated in a way that showed the wisdom of Torah as the guide to life. His discussion of repentance, merit and demerit, prophecy, creation, divine foreknowledge, Messianism, and other topics exhibits considerable philosophical sensitivity along with very great knowledge of Torah and tradition. He addressed a great many particular topics of moral psychology with considerable subtlety. Saadia was also the head of a major Talmudic academy in Babylonia and was a vigorous critic of Karaism. Little is known of his education or personal life, but his was a very active, engaged, life, of notable and enduring accomplishment.

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Primary Sources

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyJohn Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNYNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Doctoral Faculty of PhilosophyCUNY Graduate CenterNew YorkUSA