||First printed edition of this primary philosophic work of R. Joseph ben Jacob Ibn Zaddik (d. 1149), a dayyan in Cordoba and contemporary and correspondent of R. Judah Halevi and R. Moses ibn Ezra. Maimonides speaks highly of the author, whom he remembers from his early days in Cordoba, and describes his book as one of great significance, although he acknowledges that he had not seen it. Other medieval writers who quote it include R. David Kimhi, R. Jedaiah ha-Penini, and R. Meir Aldabi. Originally written in Hebrew, M. Steinschneider attributes the translation into Hebrew to to Nahum ha-Ma'aravi. The text in this edition has been edited by A. Jellinek. The Microcosm is purported to have been written in answer to a disciple's question as to what constitutes the "everlasting good and the state of perfection" to be pursued by man according to the teachings of the philosophers. The author is motivated to reply to this question by his desire to offer guidance to his generation, which he sees sunk in "the deep sleep of lethargy" and "drunk with the passions of this world," and which "retains of Judaism but the name and of humanity but the corporeal form." Like the Islamic "Sincere Brethren" and Ibn Gabirol, he declares the "knowing of God and the doing of His will" to be the twin roads leading to man's ultimate felicity. As for a knowledge of God, it is best obtained by way of self-knowledge, seeing that man is but a microcosmic replica of both the corporeal and spiritual worlds. Thus, by self-inspection "man may climb the ascending stages of knowledge until he reaches the divine knowledge... for by arriving at a knowledge of his intelligent soul, he will achieve the knowledge of its Creator." The title of the book thus indicates its central theme. In treating it, the author shows himself to be steeped in the neoplatonic tradition.
He follows R. Bahya ibn Paquda's view of the unity of G-d and the exclusively negative sense of all qualities predicated of the Divine essence, he admits only "attributes of action," and holds that G-d's essence is "incomparable and unknowable." "The eternal will of G-d" created the world, and the notion of time is inapplicable to this act. Creation is to be attributed "to G-d's abundant goodness and mercy and to nothing else." Non-recognition of G-d's goodness is tantamount to the denial of G-d. Gratitude is the first duty which religion prescribes. From Saadiah, Ibn Zaddik adopts the distinction between the commandments of reason and those of revelation. But even the latter contain some profound, secret, and subtle meaning, as e.g., the commandment of the Sabbath, which teaches "that the world came into being by an act of Creation"; moreover, the Sabbath symbolizes the future world: for example, just as man will have nothing to eat on the Sabbath unless he has prepared the Sabbath meal during the week days, so he will have no share in the future world unless he prepares himself in this world with good deeds.
The work is divided into four "discourses". The first deals with epistemology, ontology, and the nature of the corporeal world as well as of the human body. The second elaborates the microcosm theme and describes the nature of the vegetative and animal souls, life and death, sleep and the waking state, the rational soul, the intellect, and the spiritual world. In these two discourses the neoplatonic outlook is predominant. The remaining two discourses follow the pattern of Kalam theology in that the third deals with the principles of theology, especially the unity and attributes of G-d; the fourth deals with "serving and disobeying G-d" and "reward and punishment." The work as a whole thus reflects the two then prevailing trends, neoplatonism and Kalam.
In his theory of knowledge Ibn Zaddik says of the senses that they perceive only the accidental qualities (the "shells") of things, whereas the intellect knows the genera and species, i.e., true nature of things which lies in their "spiritual being." There are two kinds of knowledge: self-evident and demonstrative. Like R. Saadiah Gaon, he admits that tradition is also a source of true knowledge. Following Plotinus, he speaks of the rational soul as a "stranger in this corporeal world... wherefore men can make themselves understood to one another only through the medium of speech," whereas the souls in the celestial spheres do not require such a medium. In his ontology he follows Isaac Israeli and Ibn Gabirol in assuming that (spiritual) matter and form are constituent elements of the spiritual world. Consequently, the duality of matter and form applies to both corporeal and spiritual beings. All beings, furthermore, are composed of substance and accidents. Matter is potential substance which becomes actual substance only when clothed with form. All natural bodies are composed of the elements, and are therefore subject to generation and corruption. The human body participates in the nature of minerals, plants, and animals. Hence in men are found the courage of the lion, the timidity of the hare, the meekness of the lamb, and the cunning of the fox. His description of man's superiority over the animals (the "balance" of the four elements, upright stature, etc.) closely resembles Israeli's treatment of the subject in his Treatise on the Elements. Man is a "celestial plant," hence his head, which is his "root," is directed heavenward.