Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Medieval Islamic Philosophical Writings edited by Muhammad Ali Khalidi (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy: Cambridge University Press) Philosophy in the Islamic world emerged in the ninth century and continued to flourish into the fourteenth century. It was strongly influenced by Greek thought, but Islamic philosophers also developed an original philosophical culture of their own, which had a considerable impact on the subsequent course of Western philosophy. This volume offers new translations of philosophical writings by Farabi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ghazali, Ibn Tufayl, and Ibn Rushd (Averroes). All of the texts presented here were very influential and invite comparison with later works in the Western tradition. They focus on metaphysics and epistemology but also contribute to broader debates concerning the conception of God, the nature of religion, the place of humanity in the universe, and the limits of human reason. A historical and philosophical introduction sets the writings in context and traces their preoccupations and their achievement.

Excerpt: The main challenge associated with preparing an anthology of this kind has to do with the selection of texts. The aim has been to choose a small number of approachable texts from some of the most representative prac­titioners of Islamic philosophy, and to translate them into comprehensible language with a minimum of footnotes and annotations. This volume con­tains extracts from longer philosophical works rather than entire texts or a large number of brief passages from a variety of texts. The selections assembled here are taken from five texts by five authors: al-Farabi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), al-Ghazali, Ibn Tufayl, and Ibn Rushd (Averroes). This list includes what many scholars would consider to be the paradigmatic exemplars of the tradition, though some may question the chronological endpoint on the grounds that it perpetuates the mistaken impression that Islamic philosophy died out with Ibn Rushd (1126-98 AD), whereas it actually endured far beyond that point. But despite the survival of philo­sophical activity of some kind in the Islamic world, I would argue that a "style of reasoning" did indeed decline after Ibn Rushd, one that is seamlessly connected to natural science, a logic-based, Greek-influenced, and rationalist enterprise.

This anthology tries to achieve some thematic unity by focusing broadly on metaphysics and epistemology rather than on ethics and political phi­losophy. Though the distinction is somewhat artificial in the context of medieval Islamic philosophy, since few texts discuss ethics without bring­ing in some metaphysics and vice versa, one can often extract portions of texts where the emphasis is decidedly on "theoretical" questions rather than "practical" ones. It might be added that epistemology (unlike meta­physics) was not recognized as a distinct branch of philosophy by these writers, and that this category is therefore something of an imposition. Bearing these two points in mind, it is quite possible to select texts with these complementary foci, broadly construed. The issues discussed in these selections (language, meaning, mind, knowledge, substance, essence, accident, causation, and so on) might be said to reflect our current philo­sophical predilections rather than to represent Islamic philosophy "as it saw itself." But if the aim is partly to "mainstream" Islamic philosophy,then the approach should be to select texts that will be of particular interest to a contemporary audience.

Another challenge associated with preparing such a volume consists in choosing texts that will be of interest not just to a philosophical audience, but also to students of Islamic civilization. Orientalist scholars have often regarded philosophy as being marginal to Islamic history and culture, but more nuanced interpreters of the tradition have underscored the latent philosophical content in Islamic civilization, ranging from ubiquitous Arabic terms originally coined for philosophical purposes, to substantive theses concerning the best form of government, to more general attitudes towards the relation between faith and reason. As Albert Hourani has written: "There was a submerged philosophical element in all later Islamic thought."' Moreover, many prevailing Islamic attitudes were formulated, at least in part, in reaction to the views of the Islamic philosophers, and such establishment figures as Ibn Hazm, al-Shahrastani, Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Khaldun, and others frequently occupied themselves in responding to them. For obvious reasons, a collection of texts in moral and politi­cal philosophy might be thought to have more direct relevance to those interested in Islamic culture, history, and religion, than one that focuses mainly on epistemology and metaphysics. But theoretical philosophy, no less than practical philosophy, had an important impact on foundational debates concerning the conception of God, the place of humanity in the universe, the limits of reason, and the nature of the afterlife, among many others.

Abut Nasr al-Farabi (c. 878--c. 95o AD) was born in Turkestan on the northeastern border of the lands under Islamic rule, in the town of Farab (in present-day Turkmenistan on the border with Uzbekistan). He is said to have moved to Baghdad at an early age when his father, who was a military officer, was one of the Turkish mercenaries recruited by the `Abbasid court. Some accounts state that he was taught philosophy by Yuhanna bin Haylan, a Nestorian Christian whose intellectual lineage connected him to the Greek philosophical school of Alexandria. Farabi lived and taught for almost all his life in Baghdad, but in 942, when he was reportedly in his seventies, he accepted an invitation from the Hamdanid ruler Sayf al-Dawlah to move to Aleppo. He died there or in Damascus (accounts differ) eight years later, in 95o. His philosophical output was prolific and diverse: over a hundred different texts are attributed to him, including works on logic, physics, metaphysics, ethics, politics, and a well-known treatise on music.

This selection from Farabi comprises the middle section of The Book of Letters (Kitab al-Huruf), which represents a thematic break from the first and last sections of a text that is devoted largely to metaphysical terms and the meanings of Arabic words used in philosophical discourse. By contrast, this portion of the work is a genetic account of the origin of lan­guage, as well as the origins of various disciplines, culminating in philos­ophy and religion. Throughout, Farabi assumes a tripartite classification of types of discourse or modes of reasoning, which was to become central to a great deal of Islamic philosophy in subsequent centuries. In ascend­ing order of rigor, the types of reasoning are: rhetorical, dialectical, and demonstrative. Rhetorical and dialectical reasoning are associated with the multitude of human beings and are the modes of reasoning adopted in popular disciplines, whereas demonstrative reasoning is the province of an elite class of philosophers, who use it to achieve certainty. The main difference between these three types of discourse consists in the types of premises from which they begin, and hence the extent to which they pro­vide an ultimate justification for their conclusions. Rhetorical disciplines, as Farabi makes clear elsewhere, base their conclusions on persuasive opinions, while dialectical ones begin from commonly accepted opinions. By contrast, demonstrative disciplines are those that start from first prin­ciples or self-evident premises and proceed to prove everything else from them, either directly or indirectly.

In this text, Farabi makes clear that this ascending hierarchy also corre­sponds to a genetic progression, rhetoric being the first mode of discourse to appear in human affairs, followed by dialectic, and then demonstration. In addition to these three main types of discourse, sophistical discourse appears alongside dialectic, employing false or dubious premises rather than true (but uncertain) ones. Some disciplines also employ images or similes instead of literal language, further removing discourse from lit­eral truth and certainty. In particular, Farabi regards religion as couching philosophical truths in the form of similes for popular consumption. Moreover, the two principal religious sciences, theology and jurispru­dence, are based on religion and are dialectical or rhetorical in nature, sometimes taking the similes of religion for literal truth. This means that philosophy precedes religion, which in turn precedes the derivative disciplines of theology and jurisprudence.

Before giving an account of the development of the three main modes of discourse, Farabi proposes a theory of the origin of language. Language arises in a particular nation (ummah) when people start to use visible signals to indicate their intention to others, later replacing these visible signs with audible ones. The first signs are those for particular perceptibles, followed by signs for universals that can be derived from perceptibles. The process of assigning words to particulars and universals happens first haphazardly among small groups of people, who effectively develop a convention to use certain words to pick out certain things. They do so not by stipulation, but rather by falling in with a certain practice. Eventually, these scattered efforts are managed by someone, who also invents sounds for things that have yet to be assigned sounds, plugging the gaps in their language by introducing new terms. Then, after expressions settle on meanings, linguistic rules start to be broken, issuing in figurative meanings. A word that has already been attached to a certain meaning comes to be associated with a different meaning, based on some near or distant resemblance between the two meanings.

Ibn Sina, On the Soul

Abu 'Ali Ibn Sina (980-1037 AD) may be regarded as the great system-builder among Islamic philosophers, composing compendious works in philosophy, medicine, science, and religion, as well as on literary and lin­guistic matters. Ibn Sina was born of Persian parentage around half a cen­tury after Farabi died, near the town of Bukhara (in modern Uzbekistan), then capital of the Samanid dynasty, a semi-independent regime gener­ally loyal to the Baghdad-based 'Abbasid caliphate. His father was sym­pathetic to the Isma'ilis, a breakaway sect from Shi'i Islam, who were influenced by neo-Platonist ideas. He was exposed to these ideas from an early age and had a basic religious education as well as lessons in logic, mathematics, natural science, philosophy, and medicine, all of which he is said to have mastered by the age of i8. He relates that he reread Aristotle's Metaphysics forty times without understanding it, until he came upon one of Farabi's works, which explained it to him. He was appointed a physician at the Samanid court, but their rule disintegrated under Turkish attack in 999 and Ibn Sina left to roam the cities of Persia, moving from city to city, serving in various senior posts. He died in 1037, assisting the ruler of Isfahan on a campaign against Hamadan, though he had refused an official position. Even more productive than Farabi, Ibn Sina's corpus includes a number of works of a mystical nature written in what is known as the "illuminationist" (ishrdqi) style of philosophizing. His celebrated work in medicine, Kitab fil-Tibb (The Book of the Canon of Medicine, The Canon for short), remained in use in Latin translation in Renaissance Europe, and is cited as the authoritative medical textbook in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

Ibn Sina's magnum opus The Book of Healing (Kitab al-Shifer) is a multivolume overview of the philosophical sciences, including logic, nat­ural science, and divine metaphysics. The text excerpted here, The Book of Salvation (Kitab al-Najdt), is a condensed version of that longer work organized into the three divisions mentioned, the second of which includes a section on the soul. Though Ibn Sina wrote numerous works in which he discussed the nature of the soul, this section contains perhaps his most succinct yet thorough treatment of the main topics relating to the human soul: the intellect, the acquisition of knowledge, abstraction, the immateriality of the intellect, the origination of the soul, the immortality of the soul, the refutation of reincarnation, the unity of the soul, and the Active Intellect. The selections translated here omit the first three chapters concerning the vegetative soul, the animal soul, and the inter­nal senses of the soul, and begin with a chapter on the (human) rational soul.

When it comes to the topic of the human soul, the basic challenge for Ibn Sina and other Islamic philosophers was to reconcile Aristotle's account, which is not unequivocally dualist in nature, with an account which not only conceives of the soul as being a separate self-standing substance, but also subscribes to the immateriality, incorruptibility, and immortality of individual souls. One central aspect of Ibn Sina's dual­ist theory of the soul has to do with the different grades that can be attained by the human soul, depending on the degree to which its poten­tial has been actualized. Initially, the human soul, or more precisely, the theoretical part of it, namely the intellect (aql), is pure potential and is known as the "material intellect" (in analogy with prime matter before it receives any forms – not because it is literally material). Once it has acquired the basic building blocks of thinking, namely the first intelligi­bles or the purely rational principles that are unproven premises under­lying the entirety of human knowledge (e.g. things equal to the same thing are equal to one another), it is known as the "habitual intellect." Then, after the soul acquires the rest of the intelligibles, it becomes the "actual intellect"; and at this point it is capable of reasoning and prov­ing (or demonstrating) the totality of knowledge. Finally, whenever it actually grasps the intelligibles or thinks, it turns into the "acquired intellect."

Al-Ghazali, The Rescuer from Error

Often considered an intellectual autobiography, this text is at best a ratio­nal reconstruction of the intellectual life of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali ( 1058— 1111 AD), specifically his lifelong quest for knowledge or certainty. Indeed, it is often a considerable challenge to determine how his biographical details map on to his intellectual development. To tackle this question, one needs to plot the bare details of Ghazali's life. He was born in Tus (near Meshhed in what is now northeastern Iran) and grew up there, leaving it in 1077 at the age of 19. For the next fourteen years he was at Nishapur, teaching at the Nizamiyyah college until 1085, then serving as court adviser to the famed Seljuk vizier Nizam al-Mulk until 1091. In 1091, at the age of 33, he moved to Baghdad to take up a teaching post at the Nizamiyyah college there. Four years later, he experienced an intellectual crisis that caused him to stop teaching, which lasted six months and led to his traveling to Damascus, Jerusalem, Hebron, Mecca, and Medina. These travels lasted a little over a year, ending some time in 1097, at which point he returned to Baghdad. He spent the next nine years or so in Baghdad in a state of solitude of some kind, during which he refrained from teaching and concentrated on his mystical experiences. By the end of this period, in i106, Ghazali was 48 and was summoned back to Nishapur. He returned to teaching in Nishapur, after an eleven-year hiatus, spending the rest of his days there and dying at the age of 53 in 1111.

As for his intellectual quest, it proceeds as follows. He tells us that as a youth he had some dissatisfaction with conformist beliefs (taqlidiyyat), or beliefs acquired on the basis of tradition and authority. This led him to question many of his beliefs from an early age and to adopt a broadly skeptical outlook. Much later, at the age of 37, he experienced sharp pangs of doubt that caused him to be unsure of all his beliefs, even those based on the senses and on reason, leaving him without any beliefs at all. This intellectual crisis lasted two months and ended only when God enlightened him, casting a light into his breast. Ghazali is quite explicit that this light from God restored his trust in the necessary truths, that is, those beliefs based on reason alone. We can presume that it also restored his sensory beliefs, since he would surely have needed them to get further in his intellectual quest, which consists in a systematic investigation of what he takes to be the four classes of truth-seekers: theologians, philosophers, Instructionists (an Islamic sect who believe that authoritative teaching is dispensed by an infallible religious leader), and mystics (Sufis). What is certain from the text is that this bout of skepticism coincides with the intellectual crisis described above. However, what is not certain is when he went on to investigate the first three classes of truth-seekers. In the text, he implies that he did so directly after this crisis and before he proceeded to investigate mysticism (the fourth class of truth-seekers), but this is unlikely, since he tells us that philosophy alone took two years of his time. It is more likely, given the fact that he had been the equivalent of a seminary professor, teaching mainly theology and jurisprudence for around eighteen years prior to his skeptical crisis, that he had already undertaken an investigation of these three classes before his bout with skepticism. Thus, after his necessary beliefs (and perhaps sensory beliefs) had been restored, he proceeded to investigate the theory and practice of mysticism, which we can presume occupied him for the next eleven years or so. But before embarking on his investigation of mysticism, he informs us that some of his basic religious beliefs were also restored to him (belief in God, prophecy, and the Day of Judgment). Since these are neither sensory nor necessary beliefs, they must not have been acquired as a result of the light cast by God. Ghazali is somewhat evasive as to how these beliefs were acquired, telling us simply that they became entrenched in his soul "not as a result of a specific and explicit proof, but rather due to reasons, indications, and experiences, the details of which do not lend themselves to a brief summary" [133-4]. This suggests that these sciences were pursued after his rescue from skepticism and before he embarked on the in-depth study of mysticism. However, we have already seen that the investigation of philosophy alone took two years. Thus, the chronological sequence cannot have been as he implies. One alternative is that the belief in these things had eventuated from a reflection on his earlier studies of theology and philosophy, which took place in the interval between his being rescued from skepticism and his delving into mysticism (an interval that must have been fairly short based on what he tells us about his autobiography). What this shows is that Ghazali's account of the four main stages of his intellectual development (skeptical crisis, fideist resolution, investigation of the three classes of truth-seekers, and immersion in mysticism) must be a rational reconstruction to some extent. The four stages cannot have been as compartmentalized as he makes out; in particular, the third stage must not have been neatly confined to a single phase in his life.

The parallels with Descartes' intellectual crisis and bout of skepti­cism, as recounted in the Discourse on Method and the Meditations on First Philosophy, have often been noted. However, the similarity between the two accounts stops more or less at the point at which the two philosophers find themselves in a state of radical doubt. After that, Ghazni's solution may be regarded as fideist, while Descartes' is plainly rationalist. Unlike Descartes, Ghazali makes no attempt to prove the existence of God, stat­ing simply that, "Whoever supposes that enlightenment depends upon explicit proofs has narrowed the expanse of God's mercy" [86-7]. Indeed, he advances a reason as to why there can be no rational escape route from a situation of extreme skepticism, pointing out that a proof can only be given by employing certain first principles, but if these are not accepted by the skeptic, then no proof is forthcoming. That is why the fideist solution is the only one open to him, and why he relies on a light from God to restore some of his basic beliefs. 

Ibn Tufayl, Hayy bin Yaqzan

Ibn Tufayl (c. 1109-86 AD) was born around the same time as Ghazali died, at the opposite end of the Islamic world, near the town of Granada in Spain. Little is known about his early life, though it is clear that he studied medicine and philosophy, and practiced as a physician in Granada, even­tually becoming secretary to the governor of the province. He occupied progressively senior positions, eventually serving as court physician to the Almohad sultan of Spain and parts of North Africa, Abu Ya'qub Yusuf, upon whom he exercised considerable influence. The text excerpted here is the only one of his philosophical works to survive, but he also wrote treatises on medicine and astronomy, and is said to have held certain anti-Ptolemaic views in astronomy. After Abu Ya'qub died in 1184, Ibn Tufayl went on to perform the same role for his son and successor Abu Yusuf Ya`qub, who was, however, less interested in philosophy than his father, and he died in his service in Marrakesh in 1186.

This work, entitled Hayy bin Yaqzan (literally, Alive Son of Awake) after its eponymous hero, recounts the tale of an autodidact who lives by himself on a desert island. The selection translated in this volume constitutes over three-quarters of the work, omitting an extensive introductory section and a concluding epilogue. In this middle section of the text, the emphasis is on showing that a single human being in isolation from others, equipped simply with a superior intellect and a disposition for virtue, can discover for himself the main truths of philosophy (including natural science). Ibn Tufayl is also concerned to show that such an individual can surpass the rational realm, crossing over to a mystical state that furnishes him with a vision of the supernatural. In addition, the work functions as a kind of philosophical primer that can serve to introduce neophytes to basic philosophical concepts through the story of their spontaneous discovery by a single individual.

As if to convey the point that there can be both a purely naturalistic or scientific explanation as well as a nonscientific explanation for the same phenomenon, we are provided with two accounts of how Hayy came to be on his uninhabited island. The first involves spontaneous generation from clay, while the second consists of a fanciful story of forbidden love, illicit marriage, and the dispatch of a newborn infant in a wooden chest over the waves, a tale that might almost have been drawn from the Thousand and One Nights. But the two accounts quickly converge and Ibn Tufayl proceeds to recount the stages of Hayy's development, which are conveniently divided into seven seven-year periods (taking him up to the age of 50). After being reared in his early years by a doe, Hayy embarks on his intellectual journey by undertaking an empirical investigation of the world around him. This leads him to uncover important metaphysical truths, and his journey ends with a discovery of mysticism and the euphoric visions that one obtains from it.

The first four phases of Hayy's life are largely taken up with an inves­tigation into the terrestrial realm, though this eventually includes knowl­edge of matters that originate in the celestial sphere, such as the forms of objects and the rational soul. He gains knowledge not just of the natural sciences, for example by undertaking anatomical dissections of various different species of animals, but also of metaphysics, for example by con­templating the difference between body and soul. In recounting Hayy's intellectual progress, Ibn Tufayl introduces his readers in an intuitive way to some of the main philosophical and scientific doctrines that he shared with his fellow Islamic philosophers, including the distinction between form and matter, the nature of the four elements (earth, water, air, and fire), the difference between essence and accident, and the role of the Active Intellect. For example, Hayy establishes the existence of the Active Intellect after investigating the process whereby the four elements are transformed into one another. As water is heated, it is transformed into steam, a process that he understands in terms of eliminating one form and replacing it with another. He reasons that this necessitates an agent that bestows forms on natural objects, which is none other than the Active Intellect. After completing this inquiry into the natural world, the fifth phase of Hayy's life takes him from the terrestrial to the celestial realm, engaging him in discussions of the nature of the universe, which lead him to conclude that it is finite and has been created by an immaterial creator. Thus, this phase of Hayy's life (at the end of which he reaches the age of 35) concludes with a proof of the existence of God.

The sixth phase of his life moves Hayy from the realm of theory into the realm of practice. Given the absence of other human beings on his island, these practical endeavors involve his conduct towards other living crea­tures, his conduct towards himself, and his conduct towards God, in the form of spiritual exercises that aim ultimately at constant contemplation of God. Indeed, this phase also brings forth a tension between mysti­cal contemplation and practical attention to the needs of other creatures (which is later heightened in the epilogue to the text). On the grounds that he shares something with animals, celestial beings, and God Himself, Hayy sets himself three different tasks or "emulations." The first emu­lation pertains to the animals and aims to secure Hayy's livelihood and ensure his continued survival in such a way that he is not distracted from the vision of God. It therefore involves an ascetic existence that causes the least amount of disruption to the work of the Creator. The second emu­lation involves imitating three attributes of the celestial bodies (including the sun): caring for his fellow creatures in the realm of generation and corruption, practicing purity and circular motion, and enjoying a vision of God. Finally, the third emulation is continuous with the third part of the second emulation since it also involves reflecting on God. Emulation of God's positive attributes involves knowing Him without associating Him in any way with materiality. Meanwhile, emulation of His negative attributes (mainly, freedom from matter) entails ridding himself of mate­rial attachments and preoccupations. At this point, Ibn Tufayl informs us that a tension arises between the second and third emulations, since part of the objective of the second is the care of other creatures, whereas the third calls for utter withdrawal from the world. Hayy never resolves the tension; instead, he becomes increasingly detached from the material world and seeks ever greater proximity to God. Eventually, he succeeds in achieving an uninterrupted mystical vision for longer periods of time, with minimal pauses to replenish himself and keep body and soul together. Thus, the seventh phase of his life ends with Hayy achieving this mystical vision and being imbued with some form of mystical insight.

When it comes to the status of mystical insight and the possibility of a nonrational mode of apprehension, Ibn Tufayl's position seems to be situated somewhere between Ibn Sina's and GhazaIi's. He does not go so far as the latter in holding that mysticism provides a source of insight that cannot be apprehended through reason. However, he would not appear to concur with Ibn Sina's conception of the prophetic faculty simply as an enhanced ability to frame deductive arguments. This emerges most clearly in the prologue to this text (which has not been included in this translation), where he likens the acquisition of mystical insight to the acquisition of the sense of sight by a congenitally blind man. He explains that this does not confer any new information on the man who acquires the new sensory modality, since he knew the shapes and appearances of things by touch as well as by hearsay. It merely presents the same information more vividly.? Ibn Tufayl agrees with Ghazali that reason breaks down when faced with mystical experience, illustrating this point by showing that it leads Hayy into specious argumentation. After awakening from the mystical state, Hayy reflects on the fact that his essence is really only a reflection of the essence of God, and since the reflection of the sun in a material body is in reality nothing but the light of the sun itself, he concludes thet he is nothing but the reality of God. Moreover, Hayy reasons that God's essence is no different from His knowledge of His essence, and since he has acquired knowledge of God's essence, he has also acquired His essence. Once he acquires this knowledge, it becomes Hayy's essence, so he concludes that he is identical with God's essence, and therefore the same as God. However, this is a specious argument, which Hayy soon dismisses once he recognizes (by God's grace) the source of his error.

Despite the fact that Ibn Tufayl maintains that Hayy's vision cannot be fully expressed in words, insisting that his discourse is of a kind that tran­scends reason, and that a request to understand it in propositional terms is comparable to a request to taste colors, he acquiesces reluctantly in the attempt to convey the gist of what Hayy observed in his mystical state. The last part of the text consists in an apocalyptic vision of the essences of the celestial beings and of other human beings, as well as allusive evo­cations of the Day of Judgment. Ibn Tufayl expresses in a vivid form the emanationist cosmology and cosmogony that is broadly shared by many Islamic philosophers, according to which a series of ten celestial intel­ligences emanate from God, each of which governs one of the celestial spheres. As we have already seen, the last of these ten intelligences is the Active Intellect, which governs the sphere of the moon and gives rise to the vast multiplicity of the sublunar world — though Ibn Tufayl also insists that it is a mistake to attribute multiplicity to the Active Intellect.

Ibn Rushd, The Incoherence of the Incoherence

A protege and contemporary of Ibn Tufayl, Abu Ibn Rushd (1126-98 AD) spent most of his career in Islamic Spain. Though he excelled as a jurist and physician, philosophy was his main intellectual preoccu­pation. Ibn Rushd came from a prominent family of jurists and received a thorough legal training in Islamic jurisprudence. He must also have received a good education in theology, in the philosophical sciences, and in medicine. Ibn Tufayl was responsible for introducing him to the philo­sophically minded ruler of Islamic Spain and parts of North Africa, Abu Ya'qub Yusuf, who promptly commissioned him to write a number of commentaries on Aristotle. He also wrote works on medicine, jurispru­dence, and other books on philosophy, notably The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-Tahafut), which is excerpted here. In addition to these activities, he served as chief judge of Cordoba and court physician. In 1194, Ibn Rushd fell out of favor at court after Abu Ya'qub's son came to power and came under the influence of religious extremists. Along with other philosophers, he was sent into exile and a prohibition was issued against the study of philosophy. But shortly afterwards, he was restored to favor and resumed work on philosophy until he died in Marrakesh in 1198. Ibn Rushd (Averroes) is sometimes said to have had a more profound influence on the Latin West than on the Islamic world, even though there was a backlash against Averroism in late thirteenth-century Europe, when the study of his works was pronounced heretical. But what went by the name of "Averroism" was often different from the philosopher's actual doctrines.

Ibn Rushd's Incoherence of the Incoherence is very distinctive in form. Conceived as an extensive reply to Ghazali's assault on philosophy, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, Ibn Rushd's work quotes the vast majority of Ghazdli's text, so that his readers can read his opponent's words side by side with his own. To consider The Incoherence of the Incoherence a philosophical dialogue may seem somewhat unfair to Ghazali, since Ibn Rushd always has the last word. However, it does retain much of the character ofa debate thanks partly to the fact that Ghazali has the foresight to anticipate many of the objections to his views, as well as to the fact that Ibn Rushd gives him a fair hearing. This particular exchange concerns the nature of causation, and it constitutes the seventeenth of twenty issues that Ghazali- tackles in criticizing the philosophers (the last four of which are about the "natural sciences").

This debate between Ghazali and Ibn Rushd is both rich and involved. Not only does it contain their respective positions on the issues of causa­tion and miracles, it also contains what Ghazali takes to be the position of the philosophers (primarily Ibn Sina, though he goes largely unmen­tioned), what Ibn Rushd takes to be the position of the philosophers (which is not always identical with Ghazali's interpretation, nor is it always the same as his own position), positions Ghazali takes for the sake of argument to refute the position of the philosophers, objections raised by Ghazali to what he takes to be the position of the philoso­phers, Ibn Rushd's responses to these objections, objections raised by Ibn Rushd to Ghazali's position, and so on. Needless to say, the dialec­tical state of play can become difficult to follow at times (e.g. is Ghazali stating another objection or is he articulating an alternative philosophical position?). However, with some rearranging, two main threads emerge in the dialogue.

In the debate on causation, Ghazali is advocating an occasionalist view according to which existing things do not have any real causal powers. Rather, every time fire burns cotton, the fire itself does not produce any of the burning effects; they are, instead, caused directly by God. Naturally occurring events do not manifest the causal powers of the objects involved in those events; they are mere occasions for God to insert the appropriate effects in their habitual order. Ghazali adheres to this view partly because it leaves room for God to refrain from inserting those effects in certain instances, or makes it possible for God to insert effects other than the habitual ones. These instances are none other than miracles. By contrast, Ghazali holds that the rival, philosophical conception of causality, accord­ing to which things in nature have causal powers that are proper to them and necessitate their effects, does not allow for the possibility of mira­cles. He also thinks that it represents a limitation on God's omnipotence by ruling out his ability to intervene directly and interrupt the causal order or sever the causal nexus. Thus, a second reason for adhering to occasionalism is that it places fewer limits on God's capabilities.

After enumerating three types of miracle that Ghazali says the philoso­phers allow, he states that this falls short of a full endorsement of miracles and fails to allow for other more spectacular types of miracle, for example Moses' conversion of a stick into a serpent, which is mentioned in the Qur'an (see 7:107, 20:20). The first line of argument that Ghazali pursues against the necessitarian view of causation consists of denying a necessary connection between cause and effect (or for that matter, between effect and cause). He points out that the "only proof" the philosophers adduce for a necessary connection between fire and burning is the simple fact of the occurrence of the burning upon contact with the fire. However, he responds that observation proves that the occurrence took place upon contact with fire, not that the occurrence took place by virtue of contact with fire. To underscore this point, he observes that the philosophers themselves acknowledge that at least one such habitual occurrence is not an indication of causation, namely the ensoulment of the embryo in the womb. He tells us that the nonmaterialist philosophers agree that the soul attaches itself to the body at conception not as a result of the operation of natural causes and the effects of the four elements, but as a result of direct causal intervention from the celestial realm (either by God himself; or by the mediation of the celestial intelligences).

Ibn Rushd's response to this proceeds by pointing out that a denial of natural causation is tantamount to a denial that things have fixed natures, definitions, and names. If fire no longer has the causal power of burning, then there is nothing to distinguish it from water, air, and earth. Conse­quently, natural elements and the substances formed from them can no longer be differentiated from one another in any real sense. This would, according to Ibn Rushd, strip all the various existents of their distinctive natures and make them one; indeed, not even one, since that implies that the resulting undifferentiated natural substance has some causal power or another, and since it does not, one should properly say that it does not exist at all. In addition, in the absence of fixed causal powers, things do not have settled natures, which means that we could have no real knowledge of the natural world. Thus, the removal of cause and effect removes the possibility of human knowledge.

A second argumentative thread pursued by Ghazali in this debate con­cerns the philosophers' view that "external principles" (i.e. the celestial intelligences) are somehow involved in endowing natural existents with the natures that they have in the first place. As we have already seen, on a widespread Islamic philosophical view, natural existents in the terres­trial or sublunar realm are subject to the influence of the celestial realm through constant emanation. This divine emanation is mediated by the celestial intelligences, the last of which is the Active Intellect associated with the innermost sphere of the heavens, which was introduced above in connection with Ibn Sina's account of the development of the human soul. Moreover, in addition to this psychological role, the Active Intellect (or the "bestower of forms") also endows existents with their forms and essential natures, as Hayy bin Yaqzan discovers in Ibn Tufayl's work. Once these natures have been bestowed on existing things, they proceed to act upon one another with necessity through their own causal powers.

Ghazali raises three points in response to this aspect of the necessitar­ian account. First, he questions why the philosophers accept that God endows existents with their essential natures in this way, whether directly or through the mediation of the Active Intellect, and do not accept that God intervenes to revoke or suspend these essential natures at the time of a miracle. Second, he states that even if we grant that causal powers, once bestowed on existents, are fixed, there is nothing to prevent God from intervening to limit these causal powers in certain ways, for example restricting the heating effects of fire to a certain circumscribed area and not allowing it to come into contact with the cotton. Third, he wonders why the forms that are bestowed on some material things at certain times could not be bestowed on other material things that are not ordinarily receptive to them. In fact, he finds that the philosophers have no coher­ent account of why some material entities are disposed to receive certain forms and not others, for example why the sperm of a human being could not receive the form of a horse, or for that matter, why a stick could not receive the form of a serpent.


The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy by Peter Adamson  (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy: Cambridge University Press) 'The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy was long overdue. The Arabic philosophical tradition has often been treated as marginal by Western scholars, but this work attests to its great riches. It has, however, remained much understudied, hence, the editors aim to 'invite' readers to the study of Arabic philosophy and to provide 'a basic grounding in some of the main figures and themes'. These are modest goals in comparison to what this excellent new Cambridge Companion achieves. ... The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy will not only be of interest to scholars and students of Arabic philosophy, but should also be of interest to students and scholars working more generally on later Greek philosophical traditions and on philosophy in the Middle Ages. The work should remain a very good reference for a number of years to come.' Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Representing one of the great traditions of Western philosophy, philosophy written in Arabic and in the Islamic world was inspired by Greek philosophical works and the indigenous ideas of Islamic theology. This collection of essays, by some of the leading scholars in Arabic philosophy, provides an introduction to the field by way of chapters devoted to individual thinkers (such as al-Farabi, Avicenna and Averroes) or groups, especially during the 'classical' period from the ninth to the twelfth centuries. 

The Introduction of Arabic Philosophy into Europe edited by Charles E. Butterworth, Blake Andree Kessel (Studien Und Texte Zur Geistesgeschichte Des Mittelalters: Brill Academic Publishers) The contributors to this volume are noted scholars from Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Morocco, Poland, the Soviet Union, and Spain. Each has stepped somewhat outside of his or her usual academic interest to consider how the writings of a particular Arab philosopher or of a group of Arab philosophers were introduced into a particular European university. Their essays identify the European professor or scholar who first introduced the works of an Arab philosopher into the university. They speak about the works themselves, and explore what prompted the original European interest in the particular philosopher or philosophers. Thus, by explaining how medieval European universities first approached Arab philosophy, these papers contribute to the growing interest in the curriculum and general life of those important institutions.
Excerpt: Of particular interest, given the major role philosophic and scien­tific commentaries and treatises written by medieval Arab authors played in the history of European thought, is the way these writings came to be known in European universities. Who first introduced Arabic philosophical treatises or commentaries into the University of Oxford, the University of Paris, or those other European institu­tions less well-known generally, such as the University of Cracow and that of Saragossa? What prompted the choice of some Arabic treatises and commentaries, of some authors even, but not of others? Did competence in the languages of the Middle East, especially in Arabic and Persian, matter in any way? Or was it enough to be able to read the works chosen in Latin translation?

These are the questions that seized the coordinator's attention in planning the seminar. Accordingly, each scholar invited to partici­pate in the seminar was asked to step somewhat outside of his or her usual academic interests and to consider how the writings of a partic­ular Arab philosopher might have been introduced into a particular European university. However learned each scholar was in a limited subject, the paper presented in the seminar was not to focus on that specialization. Rather, the assigned task for each was to identify the European professor or scholar who first introduced the works of an Arab philosopher into his university, speak about the works them­selves, and explore what prompted that European professor or scho­lar to first become interested in these works. In this sense, each par­ticipant was encouraged to engage in a kind of limited intellectual history. After minor negotiations to avoid duplication of efforts and to achieve some sort of geographical distribution, each of the work­shop participants was allowed to choose any university and any Arab philosopher. Consequently, the expectation was that this series of papers would allow us to describe in some detail the curricula of medieval European universities with respect to Arabic philosophy.

As so often happens with group projects, things did not work out exactly as planned. Yet the modifications introduced by each of the authors contributed to a far better understanding of the transmission of knowledge and of the introduction of Arabic philosophy into Europe. Michel Chodkiewicz, for example, has challenged, with carefully detailed arguments, notions heretofore accepted among scholars about how Sufism made its way into Western learning and especially into Western literature. Speaking only in passing about the way this aspect of Arabic culture—he is hesitant to call it philosophy—came to be introduced into European universities, he demonstrates why it must be reckoned a very late arrival. Those papers that did concentrate more directly on the subject were equal­ly split between discussions of the medieval European university and the European university of the Renaissance and later. In fact, two papers revealed that Arabic philosophy became a subject of interest in particular universities only in the late nineteenth and early twen­tieth centuries.

One paper that would have contributed much to this volume is missing, its author having been taken from us by a cruel death in July, 1992 before he could finish his revisions. Out of affection for him and as a small token to his memory, it seems appropriate to speak briefly of the paper he presented during the seminar. Profes­sor Jamal al-Din al-Alawi of the Sidi Muhammad Ibn Abdullah University in Fez explored the question of the way Arabic phi­losophy was introduced into Spain. In his paper, "Dukhul al­Falsafah al-Islamiyyah fi Isbaniya" ("The Entry of Islamic Phi­losophy into Spain"), he focused on the authors and works that were studied in Muslim Spain as well as on how they were studied at that time. The paper of al-Alawi complemented and was in turn com­plemented by that of Professor Josep Puig from the Universidad Complutense of Madrid. Puig's paper, as its title indicates—"The Transmission and Reception of Arabic Philosophy in Christian Spain (1300-1500)"—concentrates upon the same general topic as al-Alawi, but from the perspective of Christian Spain and from a later period. Thus he shows how several of the works mentioned as central to intellectual life in Muslim Spain by al-Alawi were trans­lated into Latin, mainly by priests and monks, and then found their way into the Latin curriculm in various Spanish universities. C .S.F. Burnett of the Warburg Institute in London carries this same theme a bit further in his paper, "The Introduction of Arabic Learning into English Schools." He explains not only how some of the early Latin translations from Spain found their way to England, but also how they were added to by translations made in England and elsewhere. Burnett also expands the general theme to speak about Arabic science and its introduction into English schools generally. M. Abdelali Elamrani-Jamal of the Centre National de Recherches Scientifiques in Paris addresses somewhat the same theme as his col­leagues, but does so from the perspective of what occurred at the Sorbonne. Entitled "L'Entrée de la philosophic arabe a l'université de Paris," Elamrani-Jamal's paper gives a general account of the numerous Latin translations of Arabic philosophical works that were used in the Sorbonne during the thirteenth and fourteenth cen­turies and identifies their authors.

Each of these papers looks broadly at the question in order to present, in generous detail, an account of how Arabic philosophy came to be accepted in the major centers of European learning. None, however, explores the more limited question of how or why a particular European scholar first became interested in Arabic philosophy and then sought to introduce it to his own university. For this earlier period of time, only Hans Daiber of the Vrije Univer­siteit Amsterdam addresses the more limited question. His paper, "The Reception of Islamic Philosophy at Oxford in the 17th Cen­tury: The Pococks' (father and son) Contribution to the Under­standing of Islamic Philosophy in Europe," looks both at a particu­lar Arab philosopher—Ibn Tufayl—and at the individual (or, in this case, individuals) who introduced him to a particular European university. Daiber explores how the senior Pocock first became in­terested in Arabic philosophy generally, then in Ibn Tufayl's famous Hayy Ibn Yaqzan more particularly, and eventually decided to edit and translate it. He was aided in the task by his son. Daiber also draws attention in his paper to parallel activities occurring in Oxford at the time the Pococks were working on Ibn Tufayl.

The Ukranian scholar Iaroslav Isaievych does something similar to Daiber in his account—"George Drohobych's Astronomical Treatises and Their Arabic Sources"—of how the fifteenth century Ukranian Rector of the University of Bologna became interested in Latin translations of Arabic science. His fellow countryman, Profes­sor Youri Kochubey, writes more broadly in order to capture the rise, great moments, and eventual eclipse of an important insti­tution. His essay, "La philosophie de l'ouest et de l'est dans l'académie Kiev-Mohyleana," traces the development of the cur­riculum of the Kiev academy from the late sixteenth century on­wards as it slowly came to include works on Arabic philosophy and science in Latin translation. Jerzy Korolec of the Polish Academy of Science in Warsaw studies Cracow University starting in the late fifteenth century in order to explain the way Arabic philosophy and science came to be known there through Latin translations. In addi­tion to providing a detailed account of the development of the Arabic curriculum at the University of Cracow, Korolec's chapter, "La premiere reception de la philosophic islamique a l'université de Cracovie," is especially interesting for its account of the commen­taries some of the professors there wrote on al-Ghazali.

With Therese-Anne Druart and her study of the University of Louvain, "L'Introduction de la philosophic islamique a l'université de Louvain," we come very close to our own time. Professor Druart notes that there was minor interest in the Latin translations of Arabic philosophical works at Louvain for a long period of time, but no scholar willing to learn Arabic and look at the works first-hand came forth until the mid-nineteenth century. It is on this period, primarily on the efforts of Jacques Forget, that Druart focuses her attention. Forget, known to us above all for his edition and transla­tion of Avicenna's Kitab al-Isharat wa al-Tanbihat, brought the study of Arabic and of Arabic philosophy back to the University of Louvain. Because no one willing to learn Arabic could be found, the study of the language and of Arabic letters generally had been absent from the University of Louvain for almost three hundred years. A similar tale is told by Professor Miklós Maróth from the University of Budapest. His paper, "The Reception of Arabic Philosophy at the University of Budapest," concentrates on the efforts—or, more accurately, the trials and tribulations—of Ignaz Goldziher during the early part of this century as he sought to bring Arabic philosophy to that university.

Both Druart and Maróth show in their investigations how impor­tant it was for Arabic to become accepted as part of the curriculum and how difficult it was for those intent upon learning the language to do so. Daiber also touches upon this theme. But for the Pococks, it was not such a difficult issue. The need to teach Oriental lan­guages had already been accepted at Oxford and Cambridge. And Chodkiewicz notes that it was not until the founding of the École des Langues Orientales Vivantes in Paris in 1795 that French academic interest in Arabic philosophy began to flourish, a claim attested to by what is known of Ernest Renan's attempts to further such studies even half a century later.

From the diverse studies presented here, it is all too evident that however much Arabic philosophy flourished in Latin translation during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, it quickly dropped out of favor when Latin was no longer the medium of in­struction. That Arabic philosophy has never enjoyed a stable place in any single seat of learning in Europe, neither East nor West, also becomes utterly clear from these contributions. Indirectly, they also show how important it is at all times—this one included—for univer­sities to develop the study of the Arabic language. One of the leitmo­tifs of Professor Druart's paper, for example, is the long and demanding voyages various Louvain professors embarked upon as they dedicated themselves—usually without success—to learn Arab­ic. Finally, from these papers, any one interested in the study of Arabic philosophy in the West today gains deeper insight into why it is still a fledgling enterprise. 

An Introduction to Classical Islamic Philosophy by Oliver Leaman (Cambridge University Press) Islamic philosophy is a unique and fascinating form of thought, and particular interest lies in its classical (Greek-influenced) period, when many of the ideas of Greek philosophy were used to explore the issues and theoretical problems which arise in trying to understand the Qur'an and Islamic practice. In this revised and expanded edition of his classic introductory work, Oliver Leaman examines the distinctive features of Classical Islamic philosophy and offers detailed accounts of major individual thinkers. In contrast to many previous studies that have treated this subject as only of historical interest, he offers analysis of the key arguments within Islamic philosophy so that the reader can engage with them and assess their strengths and weaknesses. His book will interest a wide range of readers in philosophy, religious studies and Islamic studies.

Although Islamic philosophy represents one of the most important philosophical traditions in the world, it has only relatively recently begun to receive attention in the non-Islamic world. This is a new edition of a successful introductory book, expanded and updated to take account of recent scholarship. It focuses on what is regarded as Islamic philosophy's golden age, and will appeal to students and to any general reader interested in this philosophical tradition. 

A History of Islamic Philosophy by Majid Fakhry (Studies in Oriental Culture: Columbia University Press) "Fakhry deserves commendation for the considerable service he has rendered by providing a textbook which should be useful to many groups. Scholars and teachers of Islamic philosophy, students in this field, and general readers owe him a great measure of appreciation." -- The Muslim World

Islam is the religion of over nine hundred million Muslims, and was the latest of the three monotheistic faiths to appear. Muslims believe the Koran to be the revelation of God through the Prophet Mohammed, and base every aspect of their daily lives upon its teachings.

This second edition of Majid Fakhry's highly successful book, first published in 1970, presents the most detailed historical survey to date discussing Islamic philosophy and theology from the seventeenth century to the present. Professor Fakhry discuses the legalism, rationalism, and mysticism of Islamic thought and its impact upon the cultural aspects of Muslim life. He examines the rise of nineteenth-century Pan-Islamism which attempts to unite the politically disunited Islam into a spiritual unity, and he follows that distinct line of development which gave it the unity of form characteristic of all the great intellectual movements in history.

The author has based his work on primary sources, chiefly in Arabic, but has also consulted a great number of manuscripts, books, and monographs in Arabic, Persian, English, French, German and Spanish. The book will prove invaluable to teachers of Oriental studies and of Philosophy, as well as to students and readers interested in these disciplines.

Headline 3

insert content here