The Conversion of Aristotle

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Aristotle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the historic challenges to the Abrahamic faiths has been the rise of the Epicurian schools of rational thought. Judaism came to an intellectional accommodation with rationalism over time, a process that was completed and formalized through the brilliance of the Rambam. My understanding – possibly faulty – is that Thomas Aquinas attempted to do the same thing with Christianity and the greeks.

In my studies I have come across several claims that Aristotle underwent a deathbed conversion to Judaism. As near as I can tell (admittedely based on desktop research), the story is apocryphal. I have yet to find any conclusive evidence either way.

The claim stretches credulity both because of an apparent lack of evidence and because it appears to address the secret hopes of every Jew (including this one) that even the most ardent advocates of rational thought have discovered in its precepts a hole, a fault, that leaves too many questions unanswered. Like the Man on the Grassy Knoll theory of JFK’s assassination, the story’s support of our worldview makes it too tempting to believe. At moments like this, the precepts of our faith demand we step back and put our brains rather than our hearts to work.

Is there any historical basis? Would it matter if there was? The veracity of Torah and the worth of a life lived according to its precepts do not rest on the whims of an aged Greek philosopher. It should be enough for a thinking Jew to follow his own inquiry and reach his or her own conclusions. The need for us to tell ourselves stories of eleventh-hour conversions of skeptics only hints at unaddressed self-doubts.

Virtue and Knowledge

Contrary to postmodern relativists, the growth of human knowledge is a fact. But that fact does not make human beings any more likely to be virtuous, or rational. However fast and far science may advance the dilemmas that beset us, ethics will remain as problematic as before. Indeed, since the increase in knowledge enlarges the power to do evil, these dilemmas may be more formidable.

John Gray | Review: Mr. Brooks’s Miracle Elixir | The National Interest.