Sarah Pessin, "Ibn Gabirol's Theology of Desire: Matter and Method in Jewish Medieval Neoplatonism" (Cambridge UP, 2013)


Neoplatonists, including the 11th century Jewish philosopher-poet Solomon Ibn Gabirol, are often saddled with a cosmology considered either as outdated science or a kind of "invisible floating Kansas" in which spatiotemporal talk isn't really about space or time. Sarah Pessin, Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Emil and Eva Hecht Chair in Judaic Studies at the University of Denver, is committed to upending these traditional readings. In Ibn Gabirol's Theology of Desire: Matter and Method in Jewish Medieval Neoplatonism (Cambridge University Press, 2013), Pessin begins her reappraisal from the ground up, interpreting neoplatonist cosmo-ontology as a response to the Paradox of Divine Unity: of how God can be both complete yet also give way to that which is other than Himself. Pessin argues that Ibn Gabirol saw being and beings as emanating from God via a process of divine desire - a kind of pre-cognitive, essential yearning to share His goodness forward. This desire infuses the initial Grounding Element, a positive conception of matter that (contrary to standard views) is prior to and superior to soul and intellect and utterly distinct from Aristotle's notion of Prime Matter. Pessin's provocative book is full of surprising insights that reveal the richness of the ideas of a "completely mischaracterized" figure and period.

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Carrie Figdor

Carrie Figdor is professor of philosophy at the University of Iowa.

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