From the beginnings to Avicenna


From the beginnings to Avicenna
From the beginnings to Avicenna Jean Jolivet INTRODUCTION Arabic philosophy began at the turn of the second and third centuries of the Hegira, roughly the ninth and tenth centuries AD. The place and the time are important. It was in 133/750 that the ‘Abbāssid dynasty came to power. The ‘Abbāssids, like the Ummayads whom they had driven out, were Arabs; but they had been aided by eastern powers: Persians and Shi‘ite Muslims. The symbolic capital of the empire changed from Damascus to Baghdad, founded in 145/762 by the second ‘Abbāssid caliph, al-Manṣūr. Now Islamic power stretched from the Atlantic to central Asia. Damascus and Baghdad were areas which had been Hellenized for a millennium and where Byzantium and Persia had faced each other. Now the Arabs had been victorious over them both, overturning the Sassanids, who had already been forced back towards the East by Byzantium, and taking from Byzantium not only Egypt but also its Asian provinces, where the monophysite Christians were in schism with the Orthodox Church and persecuted by the imperial authorities. These conquests took place between 634 and 650 (the second and third decades of the Hegira). These historical circumstances foreshadow several essential features of Arabic philosophy to which we shall return. First, there was a gap in time between the revelation of the Holy Book, which was ‘handed down’ in an un-Hellenized area of Arabia, and the beginning of Arabic philosophy (contrast the development of Christian thought, where Hellenistic elements are to be found even in the earliest documents). Second, the emergence of Arabic philosophy coincided with a change of dynasty brought about with the help of non-Arabs: the political, religious and, in particular, literary aspects of this change would develop in the third/ninth century into the movement which was called the shu‘ūbiyya (after the Koran, 49, 13: ‘Men…we have set you up as peoples, shu‘ūban). Third, Arabic philosophy developed in a milieu linked, in language, culture and belief, by age-old ties both to Greece and to Asia—and, as we shall see, it was thanks to Christian scholars that it found its particular direction. THE TRANSLATIONS For two centuries, Christians had been employed to translate Greek works into Syriac, a type of Aramaic that had been developed into a literary language. In this way there began, even before the birth of Islam, the great enterprise of translation which would provide the opportunity for the first works of Arabic philosophy and the results of which would provide its subject-matter and foundation. The history of this movement, especially its earliest stage, has not yet been written in full. We can say, however, that between the fifth and seventh centuries AD translations were made from Greek into Syriac, particularly translations of medical works and, even more, of logical works. The first books of Aristotle’s Organon were, then, not merely translated but received a number of commentaries. The majority of the translators were Nestorians, but they also included Jacobites. At the end of the first/seventh century, the Muslims took over the Fertile Crescent and the Umayyad caliph ‘Abd al-Malik decided that Arabic would be the official language of the empire. The work of the translators was enlarged. Translation from Greek to Syriac continued to be their main task, but there were also translations made from Greek into Arabic and from Syriac into Arabic. This third route was used only in the fourth/tenth century when even the educated no longer knew Greek, and when in any case the translation movement came to a halt. Not only was there a change in the languages from which, and to which, translations were made; there was variation over time in the method and type of translation. Translators into Syriac changed from giving paraphrases to making literal versions. The greatest of them were the two Christian Nestorians Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq and his son Isḥāq ibn Ḥunayn, whose work in Syriac and Arabic dates from the third/ninth century. Acute in establishing their texts and rigorously accurate in translating from one language to another, Ḥunayn and his son ended by creating ‘a technical Arabic capable of closely reflecting the structure of the Greek’ ([2.27]). There were many other translators too in their century and the one before, some of them very fine. Rather than list them, it is more useful to step back in time and mention the names of ‘Abd Allāh ibn al-Muqaffa‘ (d. 140/757) and of the Syrian Ibn Bahrīz, who lived at the time of the caliph al-Ma‘mūn (d. 218/ 833). Both wrote epitomes of logical works (al-Muqaffa‘ on Porphyry’s Isagoge and the first books of the Organon; Ibn Bahrīz on the whole Organon). We can see in these works the first attempts to develop an Arabic philosophical vocabulary ([2.27], [2.43]). In this way an enormous library of philosophical and scientific works was built up and revealed to the curiosity and interests of new readers. The last Umayyad caliphs and the first of the ‘Abbāsids were especially strong in their support for this work of translation. In the case of the Abbāssids, this enthusiasm was motivated in part by a political motive, since Greek philosophy and science provided a cultural counterbalance to the theology of the Islamic Arabs and to the ancient heritage of the Persians. The intellectual (and, particularly, philosophical) market-place was thus stocked with a complex mixture of goods: an Arabic Plato (the details of which still remain unclear), an Arabic Plotinus attributed to other authors, collections of philosophical comments and aphorisms in which authentic pronouncements mingle with apocrypha, and above all the complete works of Aristotle, without the Politics but with various, especially Neoplatonic, pseudepigrapha. This Aristotle is omnipresent in Arabic philosophy, yet its presence was the result in the main of a choice made several centuries earlier by the Syriac translators: ‘it was not the Arabs who chose Aristotle, but the Syriacs who imposed [him on them]’ ([2.43]; cf. [2.20], [2.38], [2.41], [2.44]). AL-KINDĪ Arabic philosophers drew extensively, then, on Aristotle’s work and thought. Yet they were not Aristotelians in the strict sense of the word. This is already clear in the work of the first of them, Abū Yūsuf Ya‘qūb ibn Isḥāq al-Kindī (born end of second century/beginning of eight century; died after 256/870) ([2.19], [2.11]). Al-Kindī was a philosopher, no doubt; but he was primarily a wide-ranging scholar and scientist (and it was just as such that, half a thousand years later, Ibn Khaldūn would remember him). The biographer and bibliographer Ibn al-Nadīm (fourth/tenth century) provides a catalogue raisonné of his works: almost 250 of them in all, of which only about a tenth survive. Ibn al- Nadīm divides them into seventeen categories. Classifying them, rather, by subject areas, we find that al-Kindī devoted about 50 treatises to philosophy and logic, but nearly a hundred to the various branches of mathematics (including astrology), and 35 to medicine and the natural sciences. The others do not concern us here. His scholarly and scientific work was thus extensive and varied; we might mention, for instance, in passing his contributions to optics and pharmacology. As a philosopher, he quotes by name hardly any authors besides Plato and Aristotle. We do not know precisely how great his knowledge was of Plato, but he wrote a treatise listing the works of Aristotle ([2.23]). Of the major works only the Politics is, as we should expect, absent. The list includes two apocrypha (On Plants, On Minerals), but not the Theology of Aristotle, a work by an unknown author, probably Porphyry, consisting of considerably adapted extracts from Plotinus’ later Enneads. Its absence is all the more striking because al-Kindī had corrected an Arabic translation of it made by Ibn Nā‘ima for the son of the caliph al-Mu‘taṣim (218/833 to 228/842). And indeed al-Kindī’s philosophy is a branch of Neoplatonism, but not one which is disguised by being based on Aristotelian apocrypha of Neoplatonic origin. Among the handful of philosophical works of al-Kindī’s which have survived, the most important is the Book of First Philosophy (Kitāb alfalsafah al-ūlā ([2.2]); note how the Greek philosophia is transcribed as falsafah; similarly philosophas becomes faylasūf, plural falāsifah). Of this book with its Aristotelian title we have only the first part (divided into four chapters). It is a Neoplatonic work in the sense that the main concepts of Aristotelianism (the categories, the predicables, causes) are made part of a theory of the one, into which al-Kindī’s ontology is absorbed. In this rich discussion, new ideas and new methods are found in every chapter. We shall consider merely a few significant themes of various sorts. Chapter 1 forms a veritable manifesto, decked out with quotations from Aristotle (who is not named: the passages are mostly from the Metaphysics A 1). Al-Kindī provides an apologia for philosophy which, he says, has been formed over the course of centuries. We must gather what remains and bring it to fruition. It matters little, he says, that it comes from elsewhere. We must adapt it into our own language and to our own traditions, since it does not differ in content from the messages of the prophets: it is knowledge of God’s unity and sovereignty, of virtue and of what in general we should seek and avoid. The ending of chapter 2 provides a characteristic example of al-Kindī’s method and his liberty with regard to Aristotle. Using the method of geometry, he shows that the body of the world, movement and time can exist only if they are simultaneous with each other. They are, therefore, finite, because the world is finite. Aristotle’s view that the world is eternal is thus rejected. Chapter 3 ends with a dialectical treatment of the one and the many based in detail, yet also very freely, on Proclus (Platonic Theology II, 1), who none the less is not named ([2.29]). Finally, chapter 4 demonstrates that the True One is transcendent: above every genus, category and ontological structure. It is he who gives to everything which is ‘accidentally one’ the unity which makes it exist, and this being-madeone, ‘the flowing of unity from the True One’ is a being-made-to-exist (tahawwī. (The noun tahawwī is derived from the pronoun huwa, ‘him’, which by its very meaning implies reference to an existing being and from which is also derived the word huwiyya, ‘substance’ or ‘existence’ depending on the context. Al-Kindī’s vocabulary includes a number of neologisms, some of which were not used by his successors; it bears witness to the state of Arabic philosophical vocabulary which was still being constructed, especially by the translators.) At this point the known part of the First Philosophy concludes. It is an important work, which shows how al-Kindī fits together the major systems of Greek philosophy, especially Neoplatonism. The concepts of the one and of transcendence are, in particular, common to this philosophical school and to Muslim theology. The Mu‘tazilites especially would make it one of their main themes, and there is independent evidence that al- Kindī was close to them. The doctrinal themes of the First Philosophy can be compared to those contained in other works by al-Kindī: explicitly or implicitly, the main aspects of his thought are to be found in this central work. First, the idea of the underlying harmony between revelation and prophecy is also found in the main discussion of the Letter on the Number of Aristotle’s Bodies ([2.23]): the ‘divine knowledge’ which God gives, from his free choice, to the prophets opens to them the knowledge of visible and invisible substances, whereas men usually have to labour long and hard, using logic and mathematics, to gain it. Thus the final verses of sourate 36 (Yā ‘Sīn) provide illuminating teaching on creation, the sequence of life and death and on contraries in general. Al-Kindī expounds at length the philosophical content of what divine revelation condenses into a few words. Second, as has already been explained, knowledge is gained through science and mathematics. This is an important theme of the Letter, which is proposed and argued at the beginning and taken up again near to the end. In both places, mathematics is put first, and it is this method which is used in chapter 2 of the First Philosophy. The discussions there are taken up in three other letters about the finitude of the world. Elsewhere too al-Kindī’s arguments often have a rigorous, detailed structure based on the mathematical method. Third, the cosmological theme is developed by the same method in the Letter on the Prostration of the Farthest Body, which takes a text from the Koran (55: al-Raḥmān, 6)—‘The star and the tree prostrate themselves’—as its point of departure. Al-Kindī begins with a semantic analysis of the words ‘prostration’ and ‘obedience’, which he says mean the same in this context. Then he explains in detail how God’s will works in the world, which he envisages according to Greek cosmology and Aristotle’s physics (except that he does not consider it eternal); once they have been created, the heavens are put into motion, and from this there comes about time and then comingto- be. The heavens live, think and are the agent cause of all coming-tobe. The Letter on the True, First and Perfect Agent Cause, and the Imperfect Agent Cause [which is called agent] by Extension explains that true agency is reserved for God alone, who creates the first sphere of the heavens and puts it into motion and, through it, puts all the other spheres into motion: but what comes to be from it is not action, but being-acted-upon (infi‘al) ([2.31]). We should also mention two topics which are implied in the First Philosophy but not discussed there. One of these is the soul, the subject of a metaphysical, exhortatory treatise, which gathers together ideas from various sources, in particular ones taken from Platonism, Neoplatonism and Hermeticism ([2.22]). Another is intellectual knowledge, treated in the Letter on the Intellect, one of the few works by al-Kindī translated into Latin (twelfth century). Here al-Kindī differentiates four types or levels of the intellect, according to the reinterpretation of Aristotle’s theory of intellectual knowledge by the early Neoplatonic school (Porphyry) and John Philoponus ([2.28]). Finally, the Letter on How to Dispel Sadness ([2.40]) is a lengthy moral exhortation which includes spiritual advice, written in the common philosophical style of the first centuries AD. In this work al-Kindī shows much less of his characteristic turn of mind than elsewhere, where he subjects what he has gathered from the Greek philosophers to his own treatment. AL-RĀZĪ AND AL-FĀRĀBĪ The most idiosyncratic figure in the history of Arabic philosophy is, without question, that of Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī (251/865–313/925), who was also an outstanding writer on medicine. The most important of his many medical works, al-Hāwī (known in Latin as Continens) has a significant place in the history of medicine, in Christian Europe as well as in Islam, and it was translated into Latin twice (end of thirteenth century and in the sixteenth century). He took his inspiration as a philosopher more closely and constantly from the Greeks than from other sources. He looked to Socrates as the master of all philosophers in his way of life; he knew and quoted Plato, Aristotle, Porphyry, John Philoponus and others. He did not think that philosophy always remains one and the same. It progresses through the very differences between those who follow it, and to be a philosopher does not, he believed, mean to have the truth but to try to reach it—a view of intellectual history entirely other than al-Kindī’s. The basis of al-Rāzī’s ethics is reason and its aim is the ordering of conduct and the subjugation of the passions. His theology is explicitly philosophical. The world is an emanation from God; and not only God, but also the world soul, prime matter, space and time are eternal. Al-Rāzī believed in the transmigration of souls, which could rise to higher moral and metaphysical levels in successive reincarnations. And he denied that there was such a thing as prophecy. God inspires all men equally, but they are not all equal in taking advantage of it. Clearly, these views were not acceptable to the Islamic faithful. Only a few rather short treatises of al-Rāzī survive, and the work where he denies the existence of prophecy is known only through the quotes made in order to attack it by his contemporary and compatriot, the Ismā ‘(lite missionary, Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī. Despite the controversial nature of his philosophical ideas, al-Rāzī was allowed to be the doctor in charge of the hospital at Baghdad. Abū Bakr al-Rāzī’s place in the history of falsafah is therefore a strange one, the very opposite of that held by al-Kindī, another Neoplatonist. Different again is that held by Abū Naṣr Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Fārābī, who was born at about the same time as al- Kindī died and who lived until 339/950 ([2.11]). He maintained the same high level of philosophical thinking as his great predecessor, but he moved it definitely into a new direction, opening up a fresh path for its development. One feature of his work was his great interest and ability in logic. Here he was the beneficiary of the work done by the translators and commentators (most of them Christians), such as Abū Bishr Mattā and Yuḥannā ibn Ḥaylān, his masters at the Aristotelian school at Baghdad, whom he considered to belong to the tradition of the Greek commentators. But he went further, especially in the attention he gave to the structure of reasoning and the types of argument. Among his works of logic are books based on, or commenting on (often very freely), all the books of the Organon, as well as Porphyry’s Isagoge and in accord with the practice of the School of Alexandria, the Rhetoric (though not, like them, the Poetics, which remained on the edges of the Arab philosophical tradition). He also wrote introductory logical works and, more interestingly, a Little Book of Reasoning according to the methods of the mutakallimūn and the fuqahā, which examines critically, according to logical criteria alone, the methods of argument used by the theologians and the lawyers. Al-Fārābī begins with a systematic exposition of Aristotle’s logic. In his prologue, al-Fārābī explains that he will use ‘terms known to those who speak Arabic and examples familiar to our contemporaries’. This method might be taken as one especially designed for teaching, but it might also be seen in terms of a more far-reaching principle of logico-grammatical analysis. Before giving a complete survey of logic and placing it within the whole domain of knowledge, the Book of Terms Used in Logic lists the words which are joined to nouns, to verbs and to noun-verb combinations: that is to say, tool-words. In this list are found purely logical terms (such as quantifiers) but especially invariable words, some of which correspond to terms in Greek, others of which have a place only in Arabic. There is, then, here a tension between the universality implied by the return to Greek philosophy, and the particularity of the language of faylasūf. In this light, al-Fārābī’s work can be seen as an attempt to introduce certain particular features of the Arabic language into the historical development of logic ([2.9], [2.25]). Here we see the deep structure of al-Fārābī’s thought: more emphatically than al-Kindī’s, it is based on the attempt to combine ideas of different sorts—Greek and Arabic, philosophical and religious— into a whole which is both systematic and historical. Another witness to this way of thinking and writing is the strange Book of Letters (Kitāb al-ḥurūf). ‘Letters’ has two different (but compatible) meanings here. It provides the work’s title first because the book is a set of loose variations, in al-Fārābī’s usual manner, on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, which was sometimes called in Arabic Kitāb al-ḥurūf (from the fact that its books are each designated by a Greek letter). But, second, the title refers to the fact that, just like the Book of Terms Used in Logic, this treatise contains a study of various tool-words; and these are what grammarians call ḥurūf, ‘letters’. Here, however, the list is occupied mainly by terms which are used in philosophy, whether words like ‘when’ and ‘how’ or the names of the categories, predicables and so on. In this context, al-Fārābī examines the copula in attributive propositions which, in Arabic, poses problems unknown to Greek logicians. (It is wrong, however, to draw— as has been done—the conclusion that this difference in the way being is expressed caused a radical separation between ‘Arab thought’ and ‘Greek thought’. The Greek attributive proposition can easily do without the copula, and Arabic philosophers were perfectly comfortable in ontology.) This treatise also dwells on, among other things, the relation between philosophy, religion, language and the whole course of civilization, considered in the most general way. Altogether, it examines in depth concepts and themes from the whole field of philosophy: the status of concepts, the categories, the vocabulary of being, epistemology and scientific method. In one way or another it includes the subjectmatter of various Aristotelian works along with subjects such as the history of culture and the theory of religion which Aristotle did not consider systematically. Here perhaps is a third reason for its title. To al-Fārābī, this book occupied a place among his works similar to that of the Metaphysics (devoted to being qua being, and to theology) among Aristotle’s writings. In logic, then, al-Fārābī’s project was to found the Greek on the Arab and the Arab on the Greek. In political philosophy, his second main interest, his procedure is the same, although it involves more material that is rooted in cultural particularities. Political philosophy includes consideration of the relations between philosophy and religion, which for al-Fārābī meant the defence of philosophy. A number of his works fit into this class. The Enumeration of the Sciences surveys the encyclopaedia of scientific knowledge which the Arabs have built up through their philology, their translations from the Greek and their own creative work: grammar and linguistics, logic, mathematics (in the broad sense of the quadrivium along with mechanics), physics, metaphysics, politics and two exclusively Islamic branches of knowledge: fiqh or jurisprudence and kalām, defensive or polemical theology (about which al-Fārābī manifests considerable reserve, whereas he recognizes the usefulness of fiqh). Although the chapters on these two Islamic subjects seem not to fit in with the rest of the work, al- Fārābī had promised, in his prologue, to deal with the branches of knowledge ‘which are being followed at the present time’, a qualification which now is seen to have its rationale. The Agreement of the Two Sages is intended to show that, despite appearances to the contrary, Plato and Aristotle do not contradict each other. This subtle, at times even enigmatic work, is at least clear in its aim. Starting from a definition and analysis of the content of philosophy, it attempts to reveal a deep unity among the main doctrines which make it up and so to assert its value against those who attack it, and guarantee its place in the field of knowledge and thought. Side by side with this treatise is the collection consisting of The Attainment of Happiness, The Philosophy of Plato and The Philosophy of Aristotle ([2.3], [2.4]). During the course of his life, al-Fārābī was able to observe the crumbling of the Abbāssid caliphate’s power. In every part of the empire minor, practically independent princely dynasties sprang up. During al-Muqtadir’s caliphate (298/908 to 320/930) there were thirteen vizirs, amd two rival caliphates were formed: the Fatimid in Egypt and the Umayyad in Spain. Between al-Muqtadir’s death and al-Fārābī’s own, four caliphs were overthrown or assassinated. Not unexpectedly, then, al-Fārābī was aware of the importance of politics and the philosophical problems posed by it. They formed the subject of many of his works, and were emphasized even in books of his which also dealt with other areas. His most extensive political work is called Principles of the Opinions of the Citizens of the Best City. Here al-Fārābī considers the city and its government by placing it within a wider scheme of macrocosm and microcosm, in which the structure of the greater and lesser worlds is seen to be similar at every level. This structure is hierarchical: its elements (the celestial spheres, the faculties of the soul, the bodily organs, the inhabitants of cities) are each seen to depend on something superior, which is the basis for their initial and continuing existence. Al-Fārābī gives a clear description of the emanation of the celestial intelligences and their spheres, one which Avicenna will copy and fill out in detail. The city should be organized and run by a legislator who combines being ‘wise, prudent and a philosopher’. From the agent Intellect there come into the legislator’s potential intellect the intelligible forms which make up his knowledge, whilst also putting his imagination to work so that he becomes an ‘annunciatory prophet’, who can inculcate the best laws in the people through persuasion and thus achieve the aim of political science: to establish the happiness of the city. The legislator will, then, be both philosopher and prophet: he will combine philosophy and religion. Especially in the Book of Letters and the Book of Religion, al-Fārābī asserts the priority of philosophy to religion, which ‘follows’ it: ‘good religious laws are subordinate to the universal principles of practical philosophy’. Religion is subordinate to philosophy in the way that imagination is to the intellect, and persuasive discourse to demonstration. These ideas are linked to various ancient philosophical themes: Platonic (the role of the legislator) and Aristotelian (the position of rhetoric). Al-Fārābī is certainly nearer than al-Rāzī to the Islamic view of religion and the state, in that he accepts the existence of prophets and gives a rational explanation for it. But, by sharp contrast with al-Kindī, his doctrine is laicized: it keeps the form of Islam but subverts its content. The philosophical religion about which he theorizes ends by placing the philosophical theology of the Greek philosophers above the teaching of God’s messengers ([2.8]). This is not the place for a history of Islamic theology (the kalām), nor even a sketch of it. This kind of speculative theology began even before the end of the first century, the product of the need to express and defend in formal language the truths first formulated in the Qu’rān. Its main themes included the structure of created being, the relation of human actions to God’s absolute power and how God should be conceived. Only the Mu‘tazilite school, which began in the second century, need be mentioned here, since it was the first to deal with the central points of theology and arrange them into a doctrinal whole; and since, moreover, its exponents were accused of being close to the falāsifah. The Mu‘tazilites—who differed between themselves on many matters—were agreed that the good can be known by reason, apart from revelation; that man creates his own acts. They emphasized the absolute unity of God: his names are many, but not his attributes. And some of them engaged in profound speculations about the status of non-existing things (for instance, things before God created them, or those things which God knows will never exist). These are genuinely philosophical themes, and it is legitimate to speak of a metaphysics or physics of the kalām—but one which has a characteristic vocabulary, set of concepts and structure different from those of falsafah. Their paths are different but, quite often, they intersect. Without some knowledge of the kalām, there are important features of Arabic philosophy which will not be properly understood ([2.21], [2.39]). At the same period there were other writers connected in one way or another with the central tradition of falasfah. First, the collective work of the Ikhwān al-¬afā’ (Brothers of Purity) should be mentioned. It was produced throughout the tenth century AD. It consists of fiftytwo letters, written in a style which is more accessible and persuasive than that of the philosophers and theologians. Taken together, the letters make up an encyclopaedia which is Neoplatonic in its arrangement and concepts, spiritual in content and religious in its basis. The Ikhwān should be placed within Shi‘ism or, rather, on its edges, since they were Isma‘(lites. Theirs was an hierarchical organization of initiates. Although they therefore have a rather special place within Islam as a whole, their method of speculation illustrates how the Shi‘ites accepted far more readily than the Sunnis the connection between philosophy and religion. Like the Mu‘tazilites, the Ikhwān held that truth was originally given in a divine revelation witnessed by the philosophical sages as well as the prophets. Whilst it is just to compare this idea to late Neoplatonism, it also has a precise place in the intellectual and spiritual history of Islam in this particular period. On the one hand, it provided a way to recognize the value of ancient traditions, especially those in what was now the eastern part of the empire, which seemed to pre-date Islam. On the other hand, it was a means of legitimating the philosophy derived from the Greeks, following the path opened by al-Kindī but with greater historical precision. As a result the sages of antiquity (Empedocles and Pythagoras were thought the most venerable) were considered to have lived at the same period as David and Solomon and to have profited from their wisdom; this wisdom, which emanated from ‘the tabernacle of prophecy’ was successively passed to Socrates, then to Plato and even went as far as Aristotle. The heyday of this historico-ideological doctrine was the second half of the tenth century AD, a time when several emirs of the Shi‘ite Buyid dynasty, with its capital at Shīrāz, acted as patrons of learning and science. There is a certain uniformity to the philosophy of this period. Ancient philosophy was well and accurately known, but it did not stimulate any really creative thought. Rather, it was linked to a taste for learning and for expounding the stock of ancient wisdom. Writers of this sort include Abū Sulaymān al- Sijistānī (died c. 990), Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī (died in 399/1099) and Ibn Fātik al-Mubashshir, all of them men of great learning. Among the works typical of this tendency is the Eternal Wisdom of Abū ‘Alī Aḥmad ibn Miskawayh (died in 421/1030), chancellor of the Buyid emir, ‘Aḍud al-Dawla. This work claims to be a translation of an old Persian book and collects pronouncements attributed to ancient Persian, Indian, Arab and Greek sages. For the exponents of this current of thought, the truth has been available ever since its original revelation. Such a conception comes down to applying to philosophers the principle by which the prophets all transmit the same revelation; but, for this reason, philosophy, having been made sacred, becomes merely a matter of retrospection. Al-Kindī’s explicit view was very different, but his idea of a deep agreement between philosophers and prophets left the way open for the notion of eternal wisdom and so may have perhaps contradicted his own theory of progress ([2.18], [2.33], [2.34]). AVICENNA The traditional (perhaps not completely exact) date for the birth, near Bukhara (in present day Uzbekistan) of Abū ‘Alī al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Abdallah ibn Sīnā is 370/980. Ibn Sīnā, known as ‘Avicenna’ in the West through the twelfth-century Latin translations, is a giant in the history of thought. A polymath, he was in particular an outstanding physician, and it was in this capacity or as a vizier that he served various princes in the eastern parts of Islam. His life was thus far from calm and, at times, it was dramatic. He died at Hamadān in 429/1037 as a result of taking a wrongly made-up medicine. Some of his works have been lost, but what remains is still substantial. It includes treatises on various subjects, especially medicine; writings in which he wraps philosophical views in fiction, in a way reminiscent of Plato’s myths; and a set of encyclopaedias, some of which are more or less schematic, whilst others are fairly or extremely detailed. The detailed, lengthier encyclopaedias are The Direction (al-Hidāya), The Cure (al-Shifā’)— by far the longest of them, The Salvation (al-Najāt) and Instructions and Remarks (al-Ishārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt). These are all in Arabic, whilst a fifth large encyclopaedia, the Book of Knowledge (Dānesh-nāme) is in Persian. Two rules of method guide the composition of these works. First, they follow in general the scheme of the branches of knowledge traditionally recognized in Aristotelianism: logic, physics, mathematics, and theology or metaphysics. This does not mean that all Ibn Sīnā’s encyclopaedias follow exactly this order. For instance, the Book of Knowledge, as well as another work in Persian, the Philosophy for ‘Alā al-Dawla, places metaphysics before physics, in accord with the idea of metaphysics as the study of the general properties of being. Avicenna’s other encyclopaedias place metaphysics after physics, which prepares the ground for understanding it. The second rule is what follows from the progress of knowledge and Ibn Sīnā’s own decisions on theoretical questions. The result of these two principles is that Ibn Sīnā expounds his own views, following Aristotle but not repeating him; thus in the Shifā the material of the Meteorologica is differently arranged among different books, and the Metaphysics follows Aristotle’s plan only distantly. The only works on which he actually wrote commentaries are Aristotle’s Metaphysics _ and On the Soul, and also the apocryphal Theology of Aristotle. These commentaries belonged to the Book of Right Judgement (Kitāb al-Inṣāf), which survives only in fragments (the complete text was lost when the prince whom Ibn Sīnā served as physician and vizier was defeated in battle). In this way there disappeared almost the whole of what has been taken as Ibn Sīnā’s last philosophy, what he called an ‘Eastern philosophy’, distinct from that of ‘Westerners’. There has been much speculation about the nature of this ‘Eastern philosophy’. Some have seen it as a definite turning towards what would later be called ‘philosophy of illumination’. Others point out that a treatise which Ibn Sīnā actually calls Logic of the Easterners is not particularly different from his other writings. They consider that the term ‘Easterners’ refers to an Aristotelian school at Khurāsān. Moreover, in the Instructions, which are later than the lost Book of Right Judgement, there is no mention of ‘Eastern philosophy’ ([2.10], [2.24], [2.25]). As a young man, Ibn Sīnā read and learnt everything there was to read and learn. But for the formation of his thought the most important of all the books he read were the Letters of the Ikhwan al-afa’, and the works of al-Fārābī, which were particularly important in allowing him to grasp the point of Aristotle’s Metaphysics by showing him the deep connection between the theology and the ontology of forms which this text brings together. His interest in the Ikhwān is understandable in the light of his spiritual sympathy (perhaps even adherence) to Isma‘(lism; his father was himself an Isma‘(li. With regard to al-Fārābī, there is no difficulty in drawing up a list of parallels with Ibn Sīnā’s views. The two thinkers shared a universal vision of a hierarchy of being with God at the head of it, and (following the accumulated teaching of the Aristotelian commentators and of al-Kindī) an analysis of the intellect which, using the notions of act and potency, divides it into several ontologically distinct levels. To this, they both linked a doctrine of prophecy; and they also shared an interest in logic. But Ibn Sīnā treated these traditions as he did Aristotle: he handled their various features in his own personal way. A fuller study would need to take these differences into account, listing and analysing them. For instance, in logic Ibn Sīnā combined the rules for attributive propositions and those for hypothetical ones into a more complete synthesis than had been previously achieved ([2.35], [2.37], [2.42]). Similarly, Ibn Sīnā’s thinking about the origin of things goes further than al-Fārābī’s. According to Ibn Sīnā ‘the Being which is necessary by its essence’ is an Intelligence which thinks itself and so is at once thinking and thought. The thought which it has of itself is productive of being. The first being produced in this way therefore exists necessarily and yet, in its own essence, it is contingent. It too is an Intelligence (the First Intelligence) which (1) thinks the Necessary in itself and also thinks itself in its two aspects: (2) in its own necessary existence and (3) in its contingent essence. From Thought (1) there emanates a second Intelligence placed directly below this first Intelligence; whilst from Thought (2) there emanates a form, and from Thought (3) matter, which are respectively the soul and body of the first Intelligence’s sphere. The second Intelligence produces the soul and body of its own sphere, and the third Intelligence; and this process continues down to the last Intelligence, that of the sphere of the moon. From it there emanate into the sublunary world the forms which human intellects receive in different ways and the matter which is ‘prepared’ to receive these forms. The ideas implied by this scheme of cosmic emanation are at the very heart of Avicenna’s metaphysics—none more so than the correlated notions of necessity and contingency. Aristotle had established the existence of a pure Act, the First Mover ‘on which depend the heavens and all nature’; al-Kindī that of a True One, the ‘cause of unity’ and so of the existence of ‘all beings which are unitary’. Ibn Sīnā bases his own argument on a division of being according to logical modality. All beings of whose existence we are aware are contingent by their very essence, since it includes no necessity: they can without contradiction be conceived as not-existing. Moreover, their existence is ultimately linked by causal relations to the celestial spheres which are themselves also contingent in essence. But it is impossible that a chain of causes should go on for ever from one contingent thing to another, since what is contingent is, by definition, something which can equally be or not be: contingent existence tends in itself towards non-existence in so far as it is not founded on something which exists necessarily. There is, therefore, a first term in the causal chain which is necessary in its very essence— that is to say, whose essence includes that mark of necessity which is lacking in all other things and which can also be expressed as the identity in it of essence and existence. In this way, the cosmogony sketched above is given a philosophical basis. Just as the whole system of the world comes about from the thought which the Necessary Being has of itself, so this being, in thinking itself at the same time thinks everything in the universe: it thinks ‘the higher (that is, heavenly) beings, each in its individuality, and the being of the sublunary world in the universals under which they are classified’ ([2.6]). The distinction between essence and existence is another feature of Ibn Sīnā’s thought which is his own; he did not take it from al-Fārābī, as was long thought because of the misattribution of a short treatise (Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam, which might be translated as Precious Aphorisms) which continues Ibn Sīnā’s own formulation of the distinction. In all contingent things, Ibn Sīnā differentiates, on the one hand, the fact of having a certain quiddity (māhiyyah: mā is translated into Latin as quid, thus producing the word quidditas) or, as he is also willing to say, a ḥaqīqah, meaning ‘truth’—what this thing which exists really is; and, on the other hand, the very fact that it exists, its wujūd or huwiyya. (The word huwiyya is made up from the pronoun huwa which means ‘him’ but also acts as the copula in attributive propositions; al-Kindī, who also uses wujūd, had already used huwa as the basis for another word, tahwid, as noted above.) The standard contrast essence and existence in Western philosophy is, then, a good rendering of Ibn Sīnās distinction between māhiyya and wujūd. In existing things essence does not imply existence, otherwise they would exist necessarily. The one exception, as we have seen, is God, and this structural distinction has its place at the level of the ultimate origin of things. But it also gives rise to an idea relevant to the ontology of forms. What sort of being does essence have? It has no effect on existence as such, but essence determines its status in each existing thing. In itself, essence is neither universal nor particular, neither singular nor plural, neither present in existence nor just a concept in the mind: but it can be any of these. To use Ibn Sīnā’s own example: the universal ‘horse’ signifies something which is distinct from its universality: ‘horseliness’ (equinitas in the Latin translations) or ‘just horseliness’ (equinitas tantum). This horseliness can be attached to the ‘conditions’ of existence in actual horses, or not: in itself, it is removed from any condition and only a ‘divine being’ can be attributed to it, as Ibn Sīnā says in an enigmatic comment which should certainly be linked to what he says about the origin of the world in God’s thought. Methodologically, this doctrine of being supports one of Ibn Sīnā’s favourite procedures. He engages in an imaginary experimentation with combinations of forms, an inspection of the ‘thingness’ (his word too) of a given object, from which one can see what is or is not compatible with its nature and so what should be thought about it. In this theory of essence, Ibn Sīnā can be seen to be following on from the theological speculations about non-existing things mentioned above in connection with the Mu‘tazilites ([2.32]). There remains one area where Ibn Sīnā is close to al-Fārābī: the theory of prophecy, its nature and function. Prophetic revelation is an outstanding example of the joining of the human soul with the separated Intelligences. Intellectual understanding is the most common instance of this joining, but whereas ordinary men proceed through discursive thought, the prophet is, he said, ‘informed of what is invisible; an angel speaks to him’. The function of prophecy is to ensure the social ties which are necessary for men by giving them laws and laying down religious obligations. But it can only inculcate the truth which it contains through symbols which are accessible to simple minds. It is not a matter of the prophets’ hiding the truth but of expressing it in another language. Thus the descriptions of the happiness of heaven are allegories of the spiritual pleasures of the separated soul. Besides its use in interpreting prophecies, Ibn Sīnā uses his idea of symbolic expression in two ways. Sometimes he employs it to give philosophical readings of verses from the Qur’ān: for instance, in Instructions and Remarks he interprets the famous verse about light (Sourate 24, Light, v, 35) as an imagistic description of the intellectual faculties of the soul and their hierarchy, from the material intelligence up to the intelligence in act which is in contact with the Agent Intellect. In the same work, Ibn Sīnā refers to the Story of Salāmān and Absāl (about which he also wrote a letter): they are two figures, he says, who represent the soul of man (‘yourself’) and its level of mystical knowledge, a subject treated in detail in the Instructions. Or again—this is the second way in which he treats symbols—he himself composes stories which put into the form of images the adventures of the soul desiring ‘light’ (Ḥayy ibn Yaqzān) and in search of truth (The Story of the Bird) ([2.1], [2.7], [2.36]). CONCLUSION Without doubt Ibn Sīnā is the most widely known of the great Eastern falāsifah, because of the extent of his work and the variety of fields, including medicine and literary composition, in which he excelled. Knowledge of al-Kindī and al-Fārābī is more restricted to specialist historians of philosophy, but it would be unjust not to recognize al- Kindī’s pioneer role and his genius as a scholar and philosopher, or al- Fārābī’s penetration and power of synthesis. Not, of course, that there is any question of drawing up an order of merit. The task of these concluding remarks is, rather, to give a general picture of this period of falsafah. It was a lively, creative period, and many lesser but highly able authors, unmentioned in this account, were active. Its central problems resulted from the interplay between two different oppositions. On the one hand, there was the opposition between the Prophet of Islam’s revelation and a body of teaching originating in another language and a different spiritual atmosphere. On the other hand, there was the opposition between tradition and progress, which in some ways repeats the first opposition, but in others suppresses it by looking to a wisdom which has always been the same. Leaving aside this illusory solution, there are two different ways in which the main opposition— between religion and philosophy—was resolved. One way was to reconcile their differences in some way or other. This was al-Kindī’s procedure (although his historical view of philosophy did not fully resolve the tension between the terms of the second opposition, tradition and progress). Ibn Sīnā, too, proceeded in this way. He combined a theology which was philosophical in a highly technical way with exegetical and mystical meditations. The other way involved subordinating religion and making the philosophical tradition the solid basis for progress. Al-Rāzī went the furthest in this direction; al-Fārābī tried to have the best of both worlds, but his philosophy of religion has philosophy of mind and political science, rather than the Koran, as its main constituents. These, then, were the main themes and tensions in the first period of falsafah: the first period because, after Ibn Sīnā, Arab and Islamic philosophical and religious thought took on a new configuration. During the fifth/eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Iran bit by bit, moving from East to West, and they entered Baghdad in 447/ 1055. They did not suppress the caliphate which had long been in decline, but they put it beneath their authority and presented themselves as its defenders against the various Shi‘ite regimes of the Near East and Egypt. As a necessary accompaniment to this military/religious programme, there was ideological reform. Its outstanding exponent was Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazzālī (458/1058 to 505/1111). His work took many forms (theoretical, mystical, political), but here we need note merely his hostility to falsafah. His main work in this area is the Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahāfut al-falāsifah), in which he refutes twenty theses held by al-Fārābī and Ibn Sīnā. These theses, he says, express in one way or another three points of view which are directly opposed to the faith: that the world has existed for eternity; that God knows only universals; and that bodies will not be resurrected. Physics and metaphysics are thus to be rejected; the only valuable parts of philosophy left are mathematics and logic. Al-Ghazālī’s attack, which took place in a political climate hostile to whatever fell outside strict theological and juridical tradition, put an end to three centuries of vigour in the falsafah of the Near East. Falsafah would go on as such for a while in the extreme West of Islam, the Maghreb and Spain, where there was already a well-established scientific and philosophical tradition. And, in the East, the legacy of Ibn Sīnā would continue, but in a way where (starting especially with Shihāb al-Dīn Yaḥyā al- Suhrawardī, of Alep, put to death in 587/1191) its mystical tendencies were emphasized. There followed a brilliant line of philosophers whose doctrines brought together a profound metaphysics, religious speculations characteristic of Shi‘ism and traditions attributed to the great figures of ancient Persia (such as Zoroaster) or to a mythical past (Hermes). It is difficult not to recall here Neoplatonism at the end of antiquity, in which poems attributed to Orpheus and the Chaldaean Oracles were made the subject of commentary and were the goal for pupils who would already have studied Plato and Aristotle. This new Islamic philosophy thus marks the return, though with a different content, of a stimulating structure of thought able to unify different religious traditions. The ideas about ‘eternal wisdom’ of the fourth and fifth (tenth and eleventh) centuries were a more restricted development of the same way of thought. (translated by John Marenbon) BIBLIOGRAPHY Translations 2.1 Bakoš, J. Psychologie d’Ibn Sīnā (Avicenne) d’après son oeuvre Aš-Šifā’, II, Prague, 1956 (French translation). 2.2 Ivry, A.L. Al-Kindi’s Metaphysics: a Translation of Ya‘qūb ibn Isḥāq al-Kindī’s Treatise ‘On First Philosophy’ (f({{}}al-Falsafah al-1lā), Albany, NY, 1974. 2.3 Mahdi, M. Alfarabi’s Philosophy of Plato andAristote, translated and with introduction, Ithaca, NY, 1969. 2.4 Mallet, D. Deux traités philosophiques: L’harmonie entre les opinions des deux sages, le divin Platon et Aristotle, et de la religion, introduction, translation and notes, Damascus, 1989. 2.5 ——‘Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī: le rappel de la voie à suivre pour parvenir au bonheur’, introduction, translation and notes, Bulletin d’études orientales de l’Institut Français de Damas 39–40 (1989): 113–40. 2.6 Morewedge, P. The Metaphysica of Avicenna (ibn Sīnā): a Critical Translation- Commentary and Analysis of the Fundamental Arguments in Avicenna’s Metaphysica in the Dānisḥ Nāma-i ‘alā’i (The Book of Scientific Knowledge), New York, 1973. 2.7 Rahman, F. Avicenna’s Psychology: an English Translation of Kitāb al-Najāt, Book II, Chapter VI, Oxford, 1952. 2.8 Walzer, R. Al-Farab({{}}on the Perfect State: Abū Naṣr al-Fārābi’s Mabādi’ ārā’ ahl al-madīna al-fāḍila, Oxford, 1985. 2.9 Zimmermann, F.W. Al-Farabi’s Commentary and Short Treatise on Aristotle’s De interpretatione, translated with introduction and notes, Oxford, 1981. Bibliographies 2.10 Janssens, J.L. An Annotated Bibliography of Ibn Sīnā (1970–1989), Leuven, 1991. 2.11 Rescher, N. Al-Fārābī: an Annotated Bibliography, Pittsburgh, Pa., 1962. 2.12 ——Al-Kindī: an Annotated Bibliography, Pittsburgh, Pa., 1964. General Surveys 2.13 Badawi, A. Histoire de la philosophie en Islam, II, Paris, 1972. 2.14 Butterworth, C.E. ‘The study of Arabie philosophy today’, in T.A.Druart (ed.) Arabic Philosophy and the West, Washington, DC, 1988, pp. 55–140. 2.15 Corbin, H. Histoire de la philosophie islamique, Paris, 1964. 2.16 Fakhry, M. A History of Islamic Philosophy, 2nd edn, London and New York, 1983. 2.17 Hitti, P.K. History of the Arabs, 8th edn, London, 1964. Since this chapter was written there has also been published: Nasr, S.H. and Leaman, O. History of Islamic Philosophy, 2 vols (Routledge History of World Philosophies I), London and New York, 1996. Studies 2.18 Arkoun, M. Contribution à l’étude de l’humanisme arabe au IV/Xe siècle: Miskawayh, philosophe et historien, Paris, 1970. 2.19 Atiyeh, G.N. Al-Kindi: the Philosopher of the Arabs, Rawalpindi, 1966. 2.20 Fakhry, M. ‘The Arabs and the encounter with philosophy’, in T.A.Druart (ed.) Arab Philosophy and the West, Washington, DC, 1988, pp. 1–17. 2.21 Frank, R.M. The Metaphysics of Created Being according to Abū I’Hudhayl al-allāf, Istanbul, 1966. 2.22 Genequand, C. ‘Platonism and hermetism in al-Kindī’s Fī al-nafs’, Zeitschrift für Geschichte der arabisch-islamischen Wissenschaften 4 (1987–8): 1–19. 2.23 Guidi, M. and Walzer, R. Studi su al-Kindi, I: uno scritto introduttivo allo studio di Aristotele, Rome, 1940. 2.24 Gutas, D. Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition: Introduction to Reading Avicenna’s Philosophical Works, Leiden, 1988. 2.25 Hasnaoui, A. ‘Fārābī et la pratique de l’exégèse philosophique (Remarques sur son Commentaire au De Interpretatione d’Aristote)’, Revue de Synthèse 106 (1985): 27–59. 2.26 ——‘Aspects de la synthèse avicennienne’, in M.A.Sinaceur (ed.) Penser avec Aristote, Toulouse, 1991, pp. 227–44. 2.27 Hugonnard-Roche, H. ‘L’intermédiaire syriaque dans la transmission de la philosophie grecque à l’arabe: le cas de l’Organon d’Aristote’, Arabie Sciences and Philosophy 1(2) (1991): 187–209. 2.28 Jolivet, J. L’Intellect selon Kindī, Leiden, 1971. 2.29 ——‘L’intellect selon al-Fārābī, quelques remarques’, Bulletin d’etudes orientales 29 (1977): 211–19. 2.30 ——‘Pour le dossier du Proclus arabe: al-Kindī et la Théologie platonicienne’, Studia Islamica 49 (1979):55–75. 2.31 ——‘L’action divine selon al-Kindī’, Mélanges de l’Université Saint-Joseph 50, Beirut (1984): 313–29. 2.32 ——‘Aux Origines de l’ontologie d’Ibn Sīnā’, in J.Jolivet and R.Rashed (eds) Etudes sur Avicenne Paris, 1984, pp. 11–28. 2.33 ——‘L’Idée de la sagesse et sa fonction dans la philosophie des 4e et 5e siècles’, Arabie Sciences and Philosophy 1, 1 (1991): 31–65. 2.34 Kraemer, J.L. Philosophy in the Renaissance of Islam: Abū Sulaymān al-Sijistānī and his Circle, Leiden, 1986. 2.35 Maróth, M. Ibn Sīnā und die peripatetische ‘Aussagenlehre’, Leiden, 1989. 2.36 Michot, J. La Destinée de l’homme selon Avicenne: le retour à Dieu (Ma‘ad) et l’imagination, Louvain, 1986. 2.37 Moussaoui, A. ‘Le Problème des fondements de la logique chez les penseurs musulmans médiévaux: la logique d’Ibn Sīnā’, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Paris I, 1987–8. 2.38 Peters, F.E. Aristotle and the Arabs, New York, 1968. 2.39 Pines, S. Beiträge zur islamischen Atomenlehre, Berlin, 1936; repr. New York and London, 1987. 2.40 Ritter, H. and Walzer, R. Studi su Al-Kindī II: uno scritto morale inedito di Al- Kindī (Temistio peri alypias?), Rome, 1938. 2.41 Rosenthal, F. Greek Philosophy in the Arab World, London, 1990. 2.42 Shehaby, N. The Prepositional Logic of Avicenna, Dordrecht and Boston, 1973. 2.43 Troupeau, G. ‘Le Rôle des syriaques dans la transmission et l’exploitation du patrimoine philosophique et scientifique grec’, Arabica 38 (1991):1–10. 2.44 Walzer, R. Greek into Arabic, Oxford, 1962.

Routledge History of Philosophy. . 2005.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Avicenna — See From the beginnings to Avicenna …   History of philosophy

  • Avicenna — /av euh sen euh/, n. A.D. 980 1037, Islamic physician and philosopher, born in Persia. * * * Arabic Ibn Sīnā in full Abū ʾAlī al Ḥusayn ibn ʽAbd Allāh ibn Sīnā born 980, Bukhara, Iran died 1037, Hamadan Islamic philosopher and scientist. He… …   Universalium

  • The Cantos — by Ezra Pound is a long, incomplete poem in 120 sections, each of which is a canto . Most of it was written between 1915 and 1962, although much of the early work was abandoned and the early cantos, as finally published, date from 1922 onwards.… …   Wikipedia

  • The Magician's Nephew —   …   Wikipedia

  • The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing — A page from the book Al Kitāb al mukhtaṣar fī hīsāb al ğabr wa’l muqābala (Arabic for The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing , in Arabic script الكتاب المختصر في حساب الج …   Wikipedia

  • Twelfth century (The) — The twelfth century John Marenbon INTRODUCTION The twelfth century began and ended with events which mark it off, at least symbolically, as a discrete period in the history of Western philosophy. It was in about 1100 that Abelard the most wide… …   History of philosophy

  • Intellectual context (The) of later medieval philosophy: universities, Aristotle, arts, theology — The intellectual context of later medieval philosophy: universities, Aristotle, arts, theology Stephen Brown ORIGIN OF THE UNIVERSITIES A number of medieval towns in the twelfth century owed a large portion of their renown to their schools.… …   History of philosophy

  • Metaphysics and science in the thirteenth century: William of Auvergne, Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon — Steven Marrone By the third decade of the thirteenth century there emerge the first signs of a new metaphysics. Alongside Neoplatonizing idealism we now see attempts to lay greater emphasis on the ontological density of the created world and to… …   History of philosophy

  • Science in the Middle Ages — Science, and particularly geometry and astronomy, was linked directly to the divine for most medieval scholars. Since God created the universe after geometric and harmonic principles, to seek these principles was therefore to seek and worship God …   Wikipedia

  • al-Farabi, Abu Nasr — See From the beginnings to Avicenna …   History of philosophy