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2179RE: [neoplatonism] List of Islamic Platonists and Neoplatonists

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  • Goya
    Jul 17, 2008
      > Dear Mike,
      >> Firstly, Averroes is pretty marginal, both geographically and
      >> historically, to the tradition of philosophy in Islam.
      > M.C. Quite. Which is why, for Corbin, he spelled the *end* of philosophy
      > in Western Islam.
      > ***
      > Ok -- fair enough. I just meant that he wasn't the end point of philosophy
      > in Islam generally speaking. The notion of "philosophy in Western Islam"
      > is a bit odd since we're basically talking about two generations' worth of
      > philosophers in Andalusia (Ibn Bajja, Ibn Tufayl, and Averroes). By the
      > way there are exceptions even to what you say here, like Ibn Sab'in. And
      > Ibn 'Arabi

      M.C. Ibn Arabi was of course, born, raised, and educated in Spain. Yet
      when, a the age of 60, he chose a place to spend the final years of his
      life, in was not in the West, but in Damascus, where he appears to have
      married the daughter Malikite qadi Abd al-Salam al-Zawawi and enjoyed the
      protection of the Banu Zaki. He had spend the previous 20 years travelling
      thoughout the East, staying half-a-dozen times at Aleppo under the
      protection of king Zahir.

      as well as Maimonides were in Spain as well, so insofar as they
      > had a continuous influence elsewhere you could say that they are the more
      > important Andalusian philosophers who aren't "end points". Whether Ibn
      > 'Arabi is a "philosopher" is of course another contentious question,
      > though!

      M.C. It shouldn't be, in my view. Those who deny Ibn Arabi was a
      philosopher are working with an overly-narrow conception of philosophy.
      >> 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.
      > M.C. That may be true but I'm not sure you relevant it is. You appear to
      > be assuming that to be a Neoplatonist, one must have read Plato. Is this
      > true? I have argued it's not in a recent publication (in L. Newton, ed.,
      > Medieval Commentaries on Aristotle's Categories, Leiden 2008, 9-29), where
      > I briefly consider two authors, Thomas Aquinas and al-Farabi, who,
      > although neither ever read much or any Plato *directly*, have been
      > convincingly described in recent scholarship as Neoplatonists
      > ***
      > Yes, again I'm happy with that: you could argue that "Neoplatonism" in
      > Islam means having an engagement with something like the Theology of
      > Aristotle. I just wanted to caution people not to assume from the
      > self-description "Platonist" or "follower of Plato" (as we find it in
      > Suhrawardi) that the person who describes themselves actually knew
      > anything about Plato!

      M.C. I'm afraid I can't agree with you there. Once again, you're
      presupposing something like the following axiom : "One knows something
      about Plato iff one has read/engaged directly with Plato's dialogues".

      I question this assumption. Augustine probably never read Plato either,
      and quite probably no Plotinus, yet I assume no one would claim he "knew
      nothing" about either Plato or Plotinus, in fact I think almost all
      scholars would be comfortable in calling him a Neoplatonist. Why? Because,
      although his limited linguistic abilities barred him from *direct*
      acquaintance with the *letter* of Plato's work, he absorbed the *spirit*
      of Platonism through the *indirect* tradition. The same holds true for
      Farabi, Thomas Aquinas and, arguably, the entire Islamic tradition.

      Our positivistic age is no doubt inclined to say that to lack a *direct*
      acquaintance with an author's work is indeed equivalent to "knowing
      nothing" about an author. But (a)I would like to see a cogently argued
      defense of this position, rather than using it as an implicit premise, and
      (b) we should realize that it is a viewpoint quite limited in space and
      time to the post-industrial West. Elsewhere, traditional oral transmission
      was considered a source of learning equal or greater in value than
      "engaging with the text" : one need only think of the transmission of
      Plato's unwritten dcotrines in the West, or the ransmission of hadiths in

      As far as Sohrawardi is concerned, what do we know about his sources?
      Precious little, I would guess (and Walbride's positivistic, dismissive
      and reductionist Leaven of the Ancients is of disappointingly little help
      in this regard). He himself quotes Plato, Zoroaster and Hermes. All
      balderdash, I can hear Peter saying, but how can we be so sure? How can we
      ever retrace the oral traditions he may have been transmitting? How can we
      be sure we possess or know of all of the written texts he had read ? And
      if we cannot do this, how can we issue the dogmatic, a priori proclamation
      that none of S's writings preserve authentically Platonic material?

      Michael Chase
      CNRS UPR 76
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