Arabic Theology, Arabic Philosophy: From the Many to the One: Essays
in Celebration of Richard M. Frank edited by James E.
Montgomery (Orientalia Lovaniensia
Analecta: Peeters) The final sentence of the last
scholarly work by Professor Richard M. Frank to have been published
Ontology and logic are not separable the one from the other.
This remarkable statement concludes an incisive and authoritative exposition of the term hukm, plural ahkäm, in the writings of the classical Ash`arite masters, the architects of the formal theological system posterior to the eponym's death in 324/935 and prior to the floruit of al-Ghazali. It forms one panel of a triptych of remarkable surveys of Ash`arite ontology, stemming from the final stages of Professor Frank's professional career, the others being The As'arite Ontology: I. Primary Entities, and The Non-Existent and the Possible in Classical Ash'arite Teaching. These works are characterized by scrupulosity in the recording of source references, subtlety and ingenuity in the exposition of ideas, and an astonishing sensitivity to the systematic implications and supple delimitations of Classical Arabic as a formal language for the speculative exploration of existence. Taken together they represent one of the most sustained endeavours to-date by any scholar to penetrate the formidable formalism of this system, predicated upon a reluctance to establish philosophical reasoning as an autonomous principle of theological speculation, a reluctance inherited from al-Ash'ari's refusal to commit himself on a number of questions or to subject the godhead to an over-reductive analysis.
The prize of this formidable intellectual exercise is the sentence quoted above, in which 'logic' is to be understood as 'the formal and technical language of the classical Ash`ariya', for whom being was univocal and ontology was truly nominalistic, deriving the impetus for their speculations from al-Ash'ari's construction of 'a formal method based on the Arab grammarians' analysis of predicative sentences' which are
Divided into three categories: (1) those that assert the existence of only the subject itself (al-nafs, nafs al-mawsuf); (2) those that assert the existence of an 'attribute' (sifah, ma`na) distinct from the 'self' of the subject as such; and (3) those that assert the existence of an action (fi `l) done by the subject.
We can trace this trajectory in Professor Frank's scholarship right back to his first encounter with the Kalam and his reluctance to acquiesce in its characterization as an apologetic exercise in hair-splitting quibbling and logic-chopping, combined with that remarkable moment tournant captured so brilliantly in 1981 when he demonstrated the full ontological implications for speculative theology of the system developed by the Arabic grammarians.'
Professor Frank's contribution to the Ash`ariya alone would
render the scholarly world deeply indebted to him. But of course,
his legacy does not end there, for he has devoted the same
considerable energies to the formative first centuries of the Kallam
as a formal system, with particular emphasis on the emergence of
the Mu'tazila and the school's first theological acme in the
teachings of Abu 'Ali and Abu Hashim al-Jubbal; has been among the
first scholars fully and systematically to make use of the
publication of sections of al-Mughni of Cadi `Abd al-Jabbar; has
made al-Ash`ari the object of a number of studies spanning some
thirty years; has established the influence of Kalam thinking on the
theories of the falasifa; and has subjected to the most searching
and penetrating scrutiny al-Ghazali's cosmological and doctrinal
affiliations, reading this influential thinker against the grain of
his own reception history, in a manner that is not only
controversial but refreshing and liberating — whatever the rights
and wrongs of Professor Frank's al-Ghazali, few will have brought
such an impressive array of erudition to bear on his writings and
paid him the greatest of all scholarly compliments, that of taking
another thinker's thoughts seriously. And this is to say nothing of
the works on the Syriac tradition and the Greek into Arabic
translation movement. Indeed, an overview of his scholarly
In all of his studies on the Arabic-Islamic tradition, when once we have recognised the courage and enterprise demonstrated in embarking upon his study of the tradition of the Kalam; have celebrated the moral and intellectual integrity of his conviction that this tradition was anything but meaningless; have valued his repeated efforts to resist the appeals of approximation to Western theological traditions, especially when he has pointed to his own lack of success in such resistance —there is one feature which looms large and which I find irresistible: the prominent attention paid to the `arabiya, to Classical Arabic. It is hard to read a piece by Professor Frank without being deeply impressed by his command of the `arabiya, and without, in fact, having one's own knowledge thereof enhanced, challenged, revised or deepened. It is for this reason that I have chosen the principal title of this volume, Arabic Theology, Arabic Philosophy, with its slightly jarring repetition — for this is a theology (more customarily referred to as Islamic) which we should fail to appreciate, should we close our mind's eye for even one second to the `arabiya in which it is housed.
Philosophy, Theology And Mysticism in Medieval Islam: Texts And Studies on the Development And History of Kalam by Richard M. Frank and Dimitri Gutas (Variorum Collected Studies Series: Ashgate Publishing)
Early Islamic Theology: the Mu`tazilites and Al-ash`ari: Texts and Studies on the Development and History of Kalam by Richard M. Frank and Dimitri Gutas (Variorum Collected Studies Series: Ashgate Publishing)
Beings & Their Attributes: The Teaching of the Basrian School of the Mu'tazila in the Classical Period by Richard M. Frank (State University of New York Press)
Al-Ghaz¯al¯i and the Ashárite School by Richard M. Frank (Duke
Monographs in Medieval and Renaissance Studies: Duke University
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