Prophecy as Expertise

Arthur J. Jacobson

Abstract: At the beginning of his “Tractatus,” Baruch Spinoza encounters a dilemma of prophecy, that one must have prophetic knowledge in order to know with certainty who it is that has prophetic knowledge. He escapes, or believes he escapes, this dilemma by asserting a democracy of knowledge, that all men have adequate knowledge of the divine, at least of the two attributes of the divine about which men have, in principle, equal knowledge and which form what we know as natural knowledge. Later in the “Tractatus,” however, Spinoza implicitly acknowledges that natural knowledge is democratic in principle only, not in fact, and that the dilemma of prophecy recurs as a dilemma of expertise. It is Maimonides, not Spinoza, who is able to establish a true democracy of knowledge untroubled by any of these dilemmas and in so doing transforms prophecy into philosophy and science.

Biography: Arthur Jacobson is the Max Freund Professor of Litigation & Advocacy at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.

Volume 4, Number 4 (Fall 2009) pp. 329–336