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Maimonides’ view is that halakha is teleological (see for example Guide III, 27,31) e.g. some laws are to promote societal wellbeing, correct moral beliefs, etc. Where in his works does he deal with how to handle a demonstration on the basis of empirical fact that a particular law promotes suffering or where he explains how such a demonstration is impossible or irrelevant? I am simply looking for references to Maimonides’ works which are relevant.

I am not asking how to deal with contradictions between aggadata and empirical facts.

I would also be interested in places in Maimonides’ works where he deals with how to deal with a demonstration that the halakha is not the most effective way to realize the purpose of the law, but some other law is or where he explains how such a demonstration is impossible, or irrelevant.

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    Does this answer your question? Rambam on the Gemara's Scientific and Historical authenticity Commented Apr 10 at 9:07
  • @Kazibácsi thanks for this. It is related to what I asked about rabbinic statements, but does not address what I’ve asked about contradictions with the law.
    – GUT
    Commented Apr 10 at 12:17
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    @Kazibácsi I think between Guide II,25 and the introduction to Helek, it mostly answers the second part of my question by saying to interpret things allegorically. I will edit the question so it only pertains to the first part of my question regarding contradictions with the law. Thank you. Any other sources on the second part would be appreciated though.
    – GUT
    Commented Apr 10 at 12:28
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    "Maimonides’ view is that halakha is teleological e.g. some laws are to promote societal wellbeing, correct moral beliefs, etc." When making claims, please try to support them with proper reference/citation. Commented Apr 10 at 12:33
  • The meaning of "teleology": See 1 Kings 5:12, Isaiah 40:26 and also Job 19:25-27. Commented Apr 10 at 13:21

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The Rambam is always careful to distinguish between knowledge of facts and knowledge of good and evil (More Nevuchim 1:2). A law can never contradict the fact that it causes suffering. The fact that a law causes suffering could only contradict a claim that a law doesn't cause suffering.

The Rambam says that all the commandments have a purpose, but having a purpose doesn't mean that they don't cause suffering. Sometimes the suffering of the individual is outweighed by the benefit to the majority. For example, we put criminals to death, causing them suffering, to prevent crime, which damages the rest of society (1:54, 3:34).

Finally, we don't know the reason for the commandments, because the Torah itself doesn't give them. If we are able to somehow measure the benefit and detriment of the commandments towards attaining particular goals, we still can't say that the benefit of a commandment is outweighed by the suffering it causes, because it's our own problem for not understanding the real reason (3:26).

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  • @b a thank you for your response. Regarding Guide I,2, I think I see where Rambam distinguishes between true/false and fine/bad (a kind of positive/normative distinction). Is the suggestion that empirical facts cannot bear on normative facts? I guess I'm having difficulty since in my mind, whether or not a law promotes e.g. "welfare of the body" is an empirical question ... It's hard for me to see how Rambam can maintain that law cannot be evaluated empirically given his teleological view.
    – GUT
    Commented Apr 10 at 15:40
  • @b a regarding Guide III,26, Rambam explicitly states that the reasons for the commandments are knowable and should be understood. Here is one illustrative passage. Regarding a comment in Bereshit Rabba he says: "[t]hough this dictum is very strange and has no parallel in their other dicta, I have interpreted it, as you will hear, in such a manner that we shall not abandon the views of all their dicta and we shall not disagree with a universally agreed upon principle, namely, that one should seek in all the Laws an end that is useful in regard to being: For it is no vain thing" (III,26).
    – GUT
    Commented Apr 10 at 15:48
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    @GUT "I'm having difficulty since in my mind, whether or not a law promotes e.g. "welfare of the body" is an empirical question. It's hard for me to see how Rambam can maintain that law cannot be evaluated empirically given his teleological view." I think such an occasion would give rise to re-assessing whether one was accurate in ascertaining the rationale for the law, not whether the law is correct. Though one ought seek a useful end in the law, there is no absolute guarantee that one has arrived at the correct conclusion. It is a valuable but ultimately speculative project. Commented Apr 10 at 16:53
  • @GUT Regarding 1:2: Empirical facts certainly bear on normative facts, but each of them has to be understood in its own way. Whether something is good is an empirical question if good is defined in rational terms (as in 3:10). So yes, if you rigorously define what's good for the body (as in "health" in 3:10), and you know what effect two laws have on the body, you can compare them with respect to that effect. But contradiction only arises after you translated the normative fact into an empirical fact, and this translation has limitations which have to be taken into account.
    – b a
    Commented Apr 10 at 18:23
  • On 3:26: Yes, the reasons for the commandments are knowable, but the Torah doesn't say what they are, hence the possibility of error on our part (along the lines of @Deuteronomy). "'It is not in vain, and if it is in vain, it is only so through you.' That is to say, the giving of these commandments is not a vain thing and without any useful object; and if it appears so to you in any commandment, it is owing to the deficiency in your comprehension" (and next sentences) i.e. the commandments have reasons, but people are also liable to misunderstand them which is why the reasons were concealed.
    – b a
    Commented Apr 10 at 18:24

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