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Subject: BMCR 2005.09.67, The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Phil.
> Peter Adamson, Richard C. Taylor, The Cambridge Companion to Arabic
> Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Pp. 448.
> ISBN 0-521-52069-X. $29.99 (pb).
> Reviewed by Roxanne D. Marcotte, The University of Queensland
> Word count: 3132 words
> To read a print-formatted version of this review, see
> 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 authors of the 18 articles of this collection are all
> specialists in their respective fields.
> In their "Introduction" (Chapter 1), the editors argue for their choice
> of title. They favor the term "Arabic philosophy" -- falsafa (a term
> translated from Greek) -- over "Islamic philosophy," because of the
> importance of Arabic in the translation of Greek works, the equally
> important contributions of Christians and Jews to the Arabic
> philosophical tradition, and the sincere endeavor of many Muslim
> writers (e.g., al-Kindi^, al-Fa^ra^bi^, Averroes) to understand the
> newly translated Greek philosophical texts, rather than to propose an
> "Islamic" philosophy.
> The work is structured around one central figure, as Arabic philosophy
> can be viewed as "the tradition that leads up to and stems from" the
> work of Avicenna. A first section covers the advent of the translation
> movement that culminates in the classical period of 10th century
> Baghdad with the reception and integration of Greek philosophy.[] A
> long study follows on the work of Avicenna (d. 1037) who provided a
> truly masterly synthesis of Arabic philosophy. Finally, the
> post-Avicennian period and traditions are introduced. Post-Avicennian
> tradition branches out into two different directions: a vibrant
> Andalusian Aristotelian tradition emerged in the West, while a new
> Illuminationist tradition emerged in the East, along side a flourishing
> Avicennian tradition.
> The studies from the first part of the Cambridge Companion follow a
> chronological order and focus on the reception of Greek philosophy by
> individual authors, whereas the studies of the second part center on a
> number thematic issues. This review follows the organization of the
> volume and provides a short synopsis of each chapter. In this way, I
> hope to offer a glimpse of the richness of Arabic philosophy and some
> of the more important issues it tackled.
> Christina D'Ancona writes an excellent introduction to the transmission
> of Neoplatonism in her "Greek into Arabic: Neoplatonism in translation"
> (Chapter 2). The importance of the transmission of the Greek
> Neoplatonic tradition remains greatly neglected and generally
> underestimated. D'Ancona notes that the work of Plotinus in Arabic
> provided new philosophical topics that were integrated into falsafa:
> e.g., the "amphibious" life of the soul (belonging to two worlds) which
> sees the intelligibles and animates the living body, the identity of
> the Forms and Intellect, and the absolute simplicity and ineffability
> of the First Principle.
> In his contribution on "Al-Kindi^ and the reception of Greek
> philosophy" (Chapter 3), Peter Adamson examines the work of the "first
> self-described" philosopher in the Islamic world. Partaking in the
> translation movement of Greek works into Arabic, al-Kindi^ (d. after
> 870) remains a "transitional" figure whose work "set the agenda" for
> later developments, e.g., his theories of intellect and of creation.
> Al-Kindi^ and early philosophers often opted for Neoplatonizing
> Aristotelian positions, already present in the works of later Greek
> commentators, such as Alexander, Themistius, and Philoponus. Adamson
> provides a succinct survey of al-Kindi^'s major ideas in metaphysics
> (creation as manifestation of being from non-being), psychology (a
> separate immaterial "first" intellect), natural sciences (against
> Mu'tazili atomism) which include cosmology and astrology (heavens as
> instruments of divine providence), and optics (accepting the
> "extramission" theory of vision and rejecting the Aristotelian
> position), and concludes with a section on prophetic dreams (similarity
> of the knowledge of philosophers and prophets).
> David C. Reisman turns to "Al-Fa^ra^bi^ and the philosophical
> curriculum" (Chapter 4). Al-Fa^ra^bi^ (d. 950), whom he labels the
> "most systematic" of all the early philosophers, refined the
> "neo-Aristotelianism" of the Alexandrian tradition. This is nowhere
> better exemplified than with al-Fa^ra^bi^'s Principles of the Opinions
> of the People of the Excellent City. Neoplatonic elements are obvious
> in his emanationist scheme, which was central to his cosmology, his
> theory of the intellect and his postulation of an Active Intellect
> standing outside the human intellect (inspired by Alexander). Using the
> most important studies of the past few decades, Reisman surveys
> al-Fa^ra^bi^'s legacy in metaphysics (First Cause) and cosmology
> (emanationism), psychology and the soul (noetics), and the importance
> of logic for the education of the philosopher.
> Building on his previous numerous works,[] Paul E. Walker introduces
> the philosophical doctrines of "The Isma^'i^li^s" (Chapter 5). He
> focuses on the works of major Isma^'i^li^ figures: Muh|ammad al-Nasafi^
> (d. 943), Abu^ *H|a^tim al-Ra^zi^ (d. 934), Abu^ Ya'qu^b al-Sijista^ni^
> (d. 971), and *H|ami^d al-Di^n al-Kirma^ni^ (d. 1021). Walker notes
> that although Isma^'i^li^s relied on the "sure guidance of divinely
> inspired prophets," the formative period of the Isma^'i^li^ tradition
> would be unintelligible without falsafa which allowed the Isma^'i^li^s
> to maintain the absolute primacy of intellect, whereby "revelation is
> not, and cannot be, in conflict with universal reason" and "religious
> law ... is a manifestation of reason."
> Robert Wisnovsky provides the longest contribution (a double-length
> chapter) on "Avicenna and the Avicennian tradition" (Chapter 6) in
> which he highlights the centrality of Avicenna's contribution to Arabic
> philosophy. Wisnovsky demonstrates how Avicenna makes use of the
> Neoplatonic tradition to understand Aristotle, while simultaneously
> engaging directly with "problematics from kala^m tradition," i.e.,
> Islamic scholastic theology. Wisnovsky focuses on the history of three
> basic philosophical issues tackled by Avicenna: (i) the theory that a
> human rational soul comes into existence with the birth of the body
> which it governs and uses, yet survives the body's death; (ii) the
> essence/existence distinction, and (iii) God as the only being which
> necessarily exists by virtue of itself, as opposed to all other beings
> that only exist by virtue of another, i.e., by virtue of their cause.
> He skillfully illustrates Avicenna's ability to provide a synthesis of
> both the philosophical and theological traditions into a coherent
> philosophical system.
> In his study on "Al-Ghaza^li^" (Chapter 7), Michael E. Marmura explores
> the manner in which Avicennian ideas are reinterpreted in terms of
> al-Ghaza^li^'s (d. 1111) Ash'arite occasionalist perspective, so that
> the former can be rendered consistent with his theology. Marmura
> restricts his study (mainly a textual analysis) to the notion of
> causality that al-Ghaza^li^ developed out of his reflection upon
> Ash'arite doctrine of divine attributes. Although theologically
> motivated by his Ash'arite occasionalism, al-Ghaza^li^ is able to
> develop a philosophical argument for necessary causal connection.
> Marmura then notes the mystical elements of his epistemology that
> complement al-Ghaza^li^'s theological-philosophical stances.
> Josef Puig Montada introduces "Philosophy in Andalusia: Ibn Ba^jja and
> Ibn *T|ufayl" (Chapter 8). He highlights the initial Fa^ra^bi^an and
> Avicennian impetus for Arabic falsafa in the Iberian Peninsula, but
> notes that it eventually branches out into two different directions:
> the Aristotelian strand and the Sufi tradition developed by Ibn 'Arabi^
> (d. 1240). Montada shows how those who worked in the falsafa tradition,
> like Ibn Ba^jja (Avempace) (d. 1139) with his classification of
> sciences, his metaphysics of forms and his political philosophy, and
> Ibn *T|ufayl (d. 1185) with his search for the origins of human life
> with *H|ayy Ibn Yaqz|a^n's quest for and union with the Creator, were
> not immune from the influences of the Sufi tradition.
> In his contribution, "Averroes: religious dialectic and Aristotelian
> philosophical thought" (Chapter 9), Richard C. Taylor, one of the
> editors, challenges prevailing interpretations of Averroes' (d. 1198)
> doctrine of "Double Truth" (noting that these interpretations arose in
> the Latin West). He reviews the evidence and concludes that Averroes
> proposes a "unity of truth" in his Decisive Treatise: philosophical
> demonstrations can provide explanations of divine knowledge or of the
> existence of God. Averroes' close (and perceptive) readings of
> Aristotle's texts also led him to provide (various) positions on the
> nature of the intellect, and to reject a number of Avicenna's ideas,
> such as the latter's theologically inspired existence/essence
> distinction and distinction of beings into beings necessary in
> themselves, beings possible in themselves, and beings possible in
> themselves but necessitated by another. For some strange reason, no
> Arabic Averroist tradition developed in the Islamic world comparable to
> the Avicennian or Suhrawardi^an traditions in the East, although
> Averroes' thought did reemerge, later, in the Latin West.
> John Walbridge provides an excellent summary of his earlier works []
> in "Suhrawardi^ and Illuminationism" (Chapter 10), in which he
> discusses an Avicennian Peripatetic who later in life became a
> "Platonist." Like Ibn 'Arabi^'s work, Shiha^b al-Di^n Suhrawardi^'s (d.
> 1191) work remains a milestone for later mystical ('irfa^n) philosophy
> in the East. In metaphysics, Suhrawardi^ rejects "realism with regard
> to universals, holding that everything that exists is a particular,"
> which Walbridge calls his "nominalist intuition." In opposition to the
> dominant Peripatetic epistemology, Suhrawardi^ holds the idea that
> knowledge "consists in immediate awareness," what Walbridge calls an
> "empiricist approach," a doctrine that came to be known as "knowledge
> by presence." Both of Suhrawardi^'s original criticisms of Avicenna's
> ontology and of Aristotelian epistemology remain part of his
> philosophical legacy.
> Sajjad H. Rizvi writes a comparative chapter on "Mysticism and
> philosophy: Ibn 'Arabi^ and Mulla^ *S|adra^" (Chapter 11); the former
> represents the "rationalizing mystic," while Mulla^ *S|adra^ (d. 1640)
> embodies the "mystical philosopher." Rizvi focuses on the
> reconciliation of rational discourse and mystical intuitive experience
> ("gnosis" or 'irfa^n) in the later Iranian philosophical tradition,
> within the context of a "Neoplatonic intellectual paradigm," while his
> aim is to discover a "therapeutic and even salvific" method for
> accessing the truth. Rizvi notes that later developments provided a
> "meta-language for explaining and analyzing the "pure consciousness
> experiences" that were the inner, ineffable, and infallible domain of
> the mystic." Rizvi introduces the practical and ethical dimensions that
> developed into a "salvational psychology" mediated by these
> philosophers' meditation on the nature of Being.
> Tony Street tackles the difficult and little-studied topic of "Logic"
> (Chapter 12) in Arabic philosophy. His chapter is a welcome
> contribution to the thematic component of the Cambridge Companion.
> Street focuses on Najm al-Di^n al-Ka^tibi^'s (d. 1276) Logic for Shams
> al-Di^n, the "first substantial text" on logic, also known as the
> Shamsiyya, a work that became the standard text on logic of the madrasa
> educational system. Street presents the content of the Shamsiyya and
> analyzes its treatment of modals, with its distinction between the
> dha^ti^ and the was|fi^ readings of the propositions. This is achieved
> by introducing the modals of the Aristotelian system and of their later
> Fa^ra^bi^an and Avicennian interpretations. The dha^ti^ (similar to de
> re readings) and the was|fi^ (similar to de dicto) distinction was
> first proposed by Avicenna to save Aristotle's text. Al-Ka^tibi^
> developed a more systematic and comprehensive system, based on his
> modifications of Avicenna's modal system.
> Differentiating between "Ethical and political philosophy" (Chapter
> 13), Charles E. Butterworth identifies the beginning of a truly
> political philosophy in Arabic philosophy with al-Fa^ra^bi^.
> Butterworth argues that although al-Fa^ra^bi^'s predecessors, al-Kindi^
> and al-Ra^zi^ (d. 925), wrote ethical works and developed ethics, they
> did not provide systematic political reflections. The ethical only
> merges with the political with al-Fa^ra^bi^'s fusing of statecraft with
> soulcraft. Following in the Fa^ra^bi^an tradition, Avicenna later notes
> the political aspects of prophecy and divine law, while Averroes'
> Platonic politics fosters a need for philosophy to serve religious and
> political well-being.
> Marwan Rashed's contribution on "Natural philosophy" (Chapter 14) is an
> exquisite philosophical investigation into the "ontology of the
> sensible world," i.e., the way natural philosophy was understood.
> Physical theories developed around a number of fundamental topics of
> Aristotelian physics: the status of the minima and the distinction
> between actuality and potentiality. Discussions appear to have
> originated within the theological milieus and centered on the atomism
> common among the kala^m schools of theology. Rashed provides a detailed
> analysis of the origin of the problem with a study of the works of
> al-Hudhayl (d. ca. 840), al-Naz|z|a^m (early 9th century), and the
> criticism of their views by people like Tha^bit Ibn Qurra (d. ca. 840).
> Rashed then provides an account of Avicenna's original articulation of
> dynamics (of the theologians) and kinematics (of the geometers) and a
> detailed analysis of Avicenna's postulation of four kinds of notion of
> infinity (two potential infinites and two actual infinites) which were
> to dominate debates in post-Avicennian traditions.
> A lucid discussion of the major psychological issues covered by
> theories of the soul in falsafa is provided by Deborah L. Black in her
> "Psychology: soul and intellect" (Chapter 15). Highlighting the
> significance of Aristotle's De Anima and Parva Naturalia, Black rightly
> holds that the conception of the soul advocated by all Arabic
> philosophers was derived from the Greek tradition whose Aristotelian
> division into faculties was readily accepted (at least until the
> modifications of Abu^ al-Baraka^t al-Baghda^di^ (d. ca. 1150) and
> Suhrawardi^). Avicenna introduces a dualistic conception of the soul,
> the idea of the soul as principle of cognition and a theory of
> intentionality. Prior to Averroes, the Arabic tradition identified four
> different stages of the intellect; Averroes added a fifth. Black notes
> that, on the whole, Arabic philosophers focus on cognition (where
> appetite even became a byproduct of cognition), while not developing a
> strong conception of the will.
> The/re\se-Anne Druart provides an overview of "Metaphysics" (Chapter
> 16) whose fate in Arabic philosophy was shaped by confusions arising
> from the mix of Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism and the Arabic
> philosophers' understanding of metaphysics as a natural philosophy that
> (eventually) incorporates an ontology of "being qua being." Druart
> explores the metaphysical problems raised by the philosophers' eternity
> of the world and the theologians' creationist position. She begins with
> al-Kindi^'s defense of creation in time, proceeds with al-Ra^zi^'s
> rejection of creation out of nothing and in time, introduces
> al-Fa^ra^bi^'s investigation into the nature of being and his
> distinction between physical and metaphysical causes. She then analyzes
> passages from Avicenna's al-Shifa^' in order to introduce the latter's
> distinction between existence and essence, and his elaboration of the
> modalities of existence (see Wisnovsky's discussion of Avicenna's use
> of the kala^m notion of "thing") within his theory of causality
> (physical / metaphysical). Al-Ghaza^li^ adopts a different view: only
> God is an agent. Among the Andalusian thinkers, Averroes discards
> Avicenna's essence/existence distinction to focus on Being as substance
> and form. Druart provides a truly excellent review of the most recent
> scholarship on metaphysics in Arabic philosophy.
> In "Islamic philosophy and Jewish philosophy" (Chapter 17), Steven
> Harvey, the only contributor who insists on using "Islamic," rather
> than "Arabic," philosophy, discusses the similarities and differences
> between falsafa and Jewish philosophy. He notes the beginning of
> medieval Jewish philosophy in the 9th and early 10th century, with
> Da^wu^d al-Muqammas|, the theologian (early 9th century), Isaac
> Israeli, the Neoplatonist (d. 955) and Saadia Gaon (d. 942) and affirms
> that these Jewish philosophers, and others like Solomon Ibn Gabirol
> (Avicebron) (d. ca. 1060), were, at least till the second half of the
> 12th century, influenced by Mu'tazilis and Muslim Neoplatonists, rather
> than by the works of Arab philosophers of the Fa^ra^bi^an tradition
> (falsafa. Judah Halevi (d. 1141) provided a critique of
> Aristotelianism, while Maimonides' (d. 1204) work is rooted in the
> writings of al-Fa^ra^bi^, Avicenna, and Ibn Ba^jja. Jewish philosophers
> later learned of Aristotle's thought through Averroes' commentaries
> upon which Gersonides (d. 1344) wrote his popular supercommentaries.
> Later influence of falsafa is also evident on post-Maimonidean Jewish
> writers who found appealing their theological discussions, e.g., in the
> writings of H_asdai Crescas (d. ca. 1411) who criticized Maimonides,
> but used al-Ghaza^li^'s Avicennism. Harvey claims that Jewish
> philosophers and their Muslim counterparts took "divergent paths." He
> seemingly excludes from falsafa the Neoplatonist tradition, a
> counter-intuitive assumption in light of most of the contributions of
> this Cambridge Companion.
> Charles Burnett's "Arabic into Latin: the reception of Arabic
> philosophy into Western Europe" (Chapter 18) highlights the crucial
> importance of the translation movement of Arabic texts, starting in the
> late 11th century, for the history of Western philosophy. Latin
> translations were made of Arabic translations of Greek philosophical
> works (mainly Aristotle and commentaries on them), summaries and
> quaestiones, systematic treatises of falsafa, Arabic commentaries on
> Aristotle, and doxographies. Burnett provides a list of Arabic
> philosophical works translated into Latin before ca. 1600 and the
> advent of the modern discipline of Oriental Studies that divorced the
> study of Arabic from the study of philosophy. The list (391-400)
> includes names of texts, authors, translators, place of translation
> (when known), and translations made via the intermediary of a Hebrew
> In his "Recent trends in Arabic and Persian philosophy" (Chapter 19),
> Hossein Ziai provides an overview of post-Avicennian philosophical
> activities in Iran (Shiraz and Isfahan) from the mid-16th to the
> beginning of the 18th centuries. Ziai introduces the work of the less
> known *S|a^'in al-Di^n (Ibn Torkeh) (d. ca. 1432) who attempts to
> harmonize philosophy, religious doctrines and "mystical" ('irfa^n-e
> naz|ari^) knowledge. Ziai then proceeds with some issues discussed in
> the logical works of the time: logical paradoxes and philosophy of
> language, ontology, and theories of causality. The acceptance of
> philosophy by religion culminates in the work of *S|adr al-Di^n
> al-Shi^ra^zi^, known as Mulla^ *S|adra^, who elaborates a "unified
> system" whose core element is the "primacy of being" and which has,
> according to Ziai, religio-political implications for the legitimacy of
> the "guardians" of just rule.
> The majority of the chapters contained in this Cambridge Companion
> provide insightful, at times, highly complex discussions of
> philosophical issues (logic, Avicenna's ontology, etc.). Although
> informative, some of the contributions are not as philosophically
> engaging ("Recent Trends" or "Islamic and Jewish philosophy") as one
> would hope. In spite of its structure, the work does exhibit a strong
> sense of unity. The volume includes a useful bibliography and a
> chronology of major philosophers in the Arabic tradition.
> In short, 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. The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy is the
> latest addition to recent works on Islamic philosophy, e.g., Seyyed
> Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman, eds., History of Islamic Philosophy
> (London: Routledge, 1996) [1211 pages] and Seyyed Hossein Nasr and
> Mehdi Aminrazavi, eds., An Anthology of Philosophy in Persia (Oxford:
> Oxford University Press, vol. 1, 1999 [464 pages] and vol. 2, 2001 [416
> Publication of a Cambridge Companion on Arabic philosophy definitely
> constitutes another step in the right direction. Arabic philosophy
> needs to be recognized for its philosophical insights; hence, more
> works of this kind are needed to show the richness of the Arabic
> philosophical tradition and its philosophical relevance. This will be
> achieved when individual philosophers of the likes of Avicenna,
> Averroes, Suhrawardi^ or Mulla^ *S|adra^ have become the subject of
> their own Cambridge Companions.
> 1. See Dimitri Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture: The
> Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early 'Abba^sid
> Society (2nd-4th/8th-10th Centuries) , London: Routledge, 1998.
> 2. See Paul E. Walker, , *H|ami^d al-Di^n al-Kirma^ni^: Ismaili
> Thought in the Age of al-*H|a^kim, London: I.B. Tauris; in association
> with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 1999; ibid., The Wellsprings of
> Wisdom: A Study of Abu^ Ya'qu^b al-Sijista^ni^'s Kita^b al-Yana^bi^':
> Including a Complete English Translation with Commentary and Notes on
> the Arabic Text, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1994; ibid.,
> Early Philosophical Shiism: The Ismaili Neoplatonism of Abu^ Ya'qu^b
> al-Sijista^ni^, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
> 3. See John Walbridge, The Leaven of the Ancients: Suhrawardi^ and
> the Heritage of the Greeks, Albany, NY: State University of New York
> Press, 2000; ibid., The Wisdom of the Mystic East: Suhrawardi^ and
> Platonic Orientalism, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press,
> The BMCR website (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/) contains a complete
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