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2171RE: [neoplatonism] List of Islamic Platonists and Neoplatonists

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  • Adamson, Peter
    Jul 15, 2008
      Dear Mike,

      >How much truth, then, is there in Henry Corbin's oft-repeated assertion
      >that after the death of Averroes, the philosophical center of Islam
      >shifted from West to East and from Aristotle to Plato?

      Well, the later period isn't my forte, but for what it's worth:

      Firstly, Averroes is pretty marginal, both geographically and historically, to the tradition of philosophy in Islam. As witnessed by the fact that many of his commentaries aren't even preserved in Arabic, but were avidly read in Latin and Hebrew. So he doesn't really represent an end-point of any kind, after which things abruptly change.

      However one might use his death as a marker simply because he's a near-contemporary of Suhrawardi, who really was a very influential figure, and who was, as you say, in the East. But even here I think Suhrawardi needs to be understood in the more complex context of reactions to Avicenna, and even followers of Suhrawardi, as I understand it, were engaged in the task of arguing not only against but also about Avicenna.

      As for there being a shift from Aristotle to Plato, that's pretty misleading if only because none of these figures we're talking about would have been able to read much Plato. Apart from a recently discovered scrap from the Republic, for instance, there's no evidence of any Plato being transmitted into Arabic in dialogue form. My perhaps ill-informed impression is that when Suhrawardi et al talk about "Plato" this is more like a symbolic fictional character, as opposed to having anything to do with the real Plato -- they might know that Plato believed in "Forms" for instance but they aren't engaging with any of the texts in which Plato defended or discussed the idea of Forms.

      One might compare this to Socrates in Arabic: there is a lot of information about him in Arabic, but as a quick read-through of Ilai Alon's works on Socrates Arabus will show, the information usually has nothing to do with either the historical or the Platonic Socrates. I'm not saying the later idea of Plato was that distorted, but I am saying that (a) from the fact that they say they like Plato, we shouldn't assume they were readers of Plato, and (b) Avicenna, not Plato, is the figure who basically sets the later eastern tradition in motion. To the extent that there's a shift away from Aristotle my sense is that it was because people started reading Avicenna instead of Aristotle (and Averroes' defiant resistance to this is probably one reason he was marginal).

      All of this should be taken with a grain of salt though: the later tradition in the East is complicated, with lots of different strands interacting, and it is very poorly studied. Plus there are numerous scholars who know more about it than me, my focus has mostly been on the earlier period when Greek philosophy was directly influential.



      Philosophy Dept.
      King's College London
      London WC2R 2LS
      From: neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com [neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Goya [goya@...]
      Sent: Tuesday, July 15, 2008 4:49 PM
      To: neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: Re: [neoplatonism] List of Islamic Platonists and Neoplatonists

      > For reasons that are still unclear, there seems to have been a surge in
      > the
      > interest in, and acceptance of, Platonic teachings in the period after
      > Avicenna.

      How much truth, then, is there in Henry Corbin's oft-repeated assertion
      that after the death of Averroes, the philosophical center of Islam
      shifted from West to East and from Aristotle to Plato? Corbin's life-work
      was, of course, dedicated to editing and the works of these Iranian
      'Platonists', shi'ite and sufi, who based their thought on Plato as
      interpreted by Suhrawardi and Ibn Arabi, and included names like Mullah
      Sadra, Mir Damad, Ruzbehan Baqli, Nasir-e-Khosraw, Sijistani, Jorjani,
      Najmoddin Kubra, Shabestari, Haydar Amoli, Qazi Said Qommi, Ahmad Ahsai,
      etc., etc., etc.

      One of the great desiderata of Anglophone scholarship is a translation of
      Corbin's 4-volume opus En Islam Iranien. As far as I know, the only
      translation this great work has ever received is into......Bosnian (Resid
      Hafizovic, Sarajevo 2000).

      Michael Chase
      CNRS UPR 76
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