Author Profile

(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Orphaned early in life and raised in Saragossa, Ibn Gabirol devoted much of his life to the pursuit of wisdom (philosophy), in which he found solace from his serious physical ailments and his squabbles with wealthy patrons and town elders, which caused him great mental anguish. His Fons vitae is more Neoplatonic than Aristotelian, more religious than theological. It holds that the purpose of human life is for the soul to commune with the upper world, and it emphasizes knowledge and contemplation rather than action. The subjects of the Fons vitae are three: God, or pure spiritual substance; divine will, which is separate from the essence of God; and universal matter and universal form, which, in combination, produce universal reason. The universe is a gradual series of emanations of substances, and the farther a substance is from the source of all, the more material and corporeal it becomes. The gradation of substances is unified by the divine will, which permeates the whole series of gradations. In this point, Ibn Gabirol departs from classical Neoplatonism, which teaches the system of emanations in a mechanical way that is totally alien to the Jewish idea of creation. The human soul, an emanation of the world-soul, is eternal, but, in uniting with the body in the corporeal world, it is lowered from its pristine purity. The soul retains its desire to return to its source, however, and this is accomplished in two ways: through knowledge of the divine will as it extends into matter and form, and apart from matter and form; and by reason, by means of which the soul unites with world reason and ultimately attaches to the “source of life.” Ibn Gabirol’s long philosophical poem Keter Malkhut (The Kingly Crown, 1911) is addressed to the human intellectual aspiration to discover God (“I flee from You, to You”) and praises figuratively the attributes of God. This classic poem is included in the High Holiday services of Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews.