Richard C Taylor. New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. Editor: Maryanne Cline Horowitz. Volume 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005.
All Muslims hold the Koran as the very word of God, who provides guidance and understanding of creation and proper human conduct by divine wisdom (hikma). This wisdom is also reflected in the oral statements of the prophet Muhammad collected in the Traditions (hadith) and in the reports of the life and deeds (sunna) of the Prophet. The study of these in the traditional Islamic religious sciences of Koranic commentary (tafsir), Traditions, religious law (al-fiqh), Arabic grammar, and related religious studies is the human response to the command of the Koran to seek out knowledge and understanding (20:114; 39:9). That search for knowledge and understanding is not limited to studies strictly religious since the whole of creation manifests divine wisdom. Hence medicine, mathematics, and study of nature can be included in the divine command, though these are classified as foreign sciences and rational or intellectual sciences. Philosophy, which retains its reference to its non-Islamic origins in its transliterated form as falsafah, is located in this second group but nevertheless came to be identified by the philosophers of the Islamic milieu with the wisdom (al-hikma) mentioned in the Koran and Traditions of the Prophet. In the classical period (eighth to twelfth centuries) the major philosophers of the lands of Islam (dar al-islam) characterized philosophical understanding at the highest levels as concerned with principles ultimately founded in God and thereby claimed a rightful stake in knowledge of the divine and of God’s creation for the rational sciences. The significance of this idea can hardly be overemphasized since this controversial assertion of the value of independent rationality was a hallmark of philosophy in the classical period and has had a deep and lasting influence not only among Muslim, Christian, and Jewish philosophical thinkers in Islamic lands but also in the medieval Latin West, where its effect was shocking and altogether new.
Philosophical Theology in Islam
Among the most important participants in kalam or Islamic theological dialectics were the Mu’tazilis whose name came from their reasoned disassociation from extremist views of moral purists (Kharijis), who would exclude sinners from the community and from those more accepting of transgressors (Murji’is). The name came to be associated with theologians asserting the value of human reason in the judging of religious issues, famously insisting on rational coherence in regard to divine attributes by denying scriptural literalism in favor of allegorical interpretation and the denial of attributes to divine unity, on the rational necessity of the restraint of divine justice by human freedom, and on the created nature of the Koran. Abu’l-Hasan al-Ash’ari (873-935), breaking away from his Mu’tazili teacher, al-Juba’i (d. 915), argued for the literal understanding of divine attributes recounted in God’s revelation, for what is now characterized as divine command moral theory (that Justice is itself defined as whatever God decrees), and for the eternal speech of God and the uncreated Koran. This was so, he asserted, because on such matters the statements of the Koran must be accepted bi-la kayf, “without asking how.” Insofar as all power belongs to God, all actions are dependent upon God and are merely “acquisitions” (aksab) by humans of states and actions created by God. This led to the development of an occasionalist atomism in which transitory atoms having no persisting natures are renewed in existence only by divine power and apparent regularity of nature is fully dependent on divine will. The Ash’ari analysis receives its most powerful expression in the later thought of al-Ghazali, who attacked Aristotelian accounts of natural causality by famously arguing that there is no metaphysically necessary connection between what purport to be cause and effect.
Transmission and Development of Greek Science and Philosophy
The quantity of important works of science and philosophy translated into Arabic was unrivaled until modern times. Among the philosophical writings translated were the entire corpus of Aristotle’s works (with the notable exception of his Politics), the dialogues of Plato as well as their Summaries by Galen, a vast array of medical works by Galen and others, substantial portions of the Enneads of Plotinus, the Isagoge and other works of Porphyry, and works by nearly all of the writers of the philosophical commentary tradition, such as Theophrastus, Alexander, Iamblichus, Themistius, Syrianus, Proclus, Ammonius, Simplicius, Philoponus, Olympiodorus, and others.
The extraordinary transference of philosophical and scientific knowledge from Greek into Arabic that took place during the long period of the Abbasid caliphate may be traced to a large array of factors: a desire to enhance Abbasid power by opening Islamic society to many different peoples; concerns of the ruling class for future success (thus the interest in Greek astrology) and for good health (thus the interest in Greek medical writings); the needs of a new, powerful, and growing empire for knowledge both practical and theoretical; and perhaps also a cultural ideology of valuing knowledge in all its forms as part of a Zoroastrian heritage. Whatever the precise reasons, it is clear that the translation, assimilation, and development of Greek thought was a broad cultural movement involving Christians, Muslims, and Jews working in concert both as translators and as philosophers teaching students and developing new approaches that, though founded on Greek thought, inevitably led to new doctrines argued not solely on the basis of tradition but on the basis of new scientific analyses and on the basis of reason itself.
Al-Kindi and the Assimilation of Greek Neoplatonic Metaphysics
Research on the thought of al-Kindi (d. c. 870) and an early phase of the translation movement at Baghdad has led to the conclusion that this Arab philosopher was part of a circle or group of thinkers with special interest in Greek metaphysical texts concerning God, the higher intellects moving the heavens, and the soul. Among the works translated wholly or partially and studied by this group were Aristotle’s Metaphysics by Eustathius; selections from Plotinus’s Enneads, books 4-5 (portions of which were revised, edited, prefaced by al-Kindi to be issued as the Theology of Aristotle); Plato’s Timaeus; Aristotle’s On the Heavens, Meteorology, Prior Analytics; works on animals by Yahya Ibn al-Bitriq; and selections or perhaps all of the Elements of Theology of Proclus as well as other selections by Proclus attributed to Alexander of Aphrodisias by unknown translators (Endress). This group produced a paraphrase of the De Anima; the widely read and influential Theology of Aristotle; and the Discourse on the Pure Good, a creationist treatise based on the Elements of Theology of Proclus and the Theology of Aristotle. The Discourse was read in Arabic by a number of philosophers but had its greatest influence in the Latin West as the Liber de causis, where its highly influential discussion of the First Cause as being alone, devoid of form, was read as the completion of Aristotle’s discussion of God in the Metaphysics (D’Ancona and Taylor). That metaphysical doctrine was borrowed from the Arabic Plotinus, which had already probably been “adapted” by the Christian translator Ibn Na’ima al-Himsi to monotheism and to an Aristotelian conception of God as the First Being and cause of all other beings (Adamson). In the pseudo-Aristotelian Theology of Aristotle, metaphysics (“what is after the physical”) is presented as identical with divine sovereignty (rububiyya) and divine things (ilahiyyat). Al-Kindi as editor and presumed author of the preface of this work set forth the view that the subject matter of metaphysics is the same as that of dialectical theology or kalam.
Arguing against those theologians of his day who would reject any role for the foreign science of philosophy, al-Kindi boldly asserted in what is extant from his On First Philosophy that the goal of the philosopher is the attainment of truth by causal knowledge of the True One, which is the cause of existence for all things. Identifying the religious study of divine unity (tawhid) as having the same end as the philosophical pursuit of the truth, al-Kindi not only argues for a major role for philosophy in defending against unbelievers of various sorts but also asserts that philosophical metaphysics has the God of revelation as its ultimate object of study. By an examination of the nature of unity or oneness (wahda), al-Kindi concludes that there is no true or essential unity in created things and that unity must be derived from the True One. Creation is also argued in another work to be the only True Agent insofar as it alone acts by a creative agency presupposing nothing, while all other agents are mere metaphorical agents insofar as their agency is not essentially their own but rather derived from their being and power, which are to be traced to God. These accounts of God as True Unity and as First and Primary Cause of all are also found in the Discourse on the Pure Good and contribute to the view that al-Kindi himself may have been the author or editor of that work as well as of the Theology of Aristotle. Al-Kindi’s philosophical psychology is also based on a mixture of genuine Aristotelian teachings and adapted teachings of Plotinus, though other sources from the Greek tradition are detectable. His treatise On the Intellect with its assertion of intellect as of four kinds (intellect eternally in act, intellect as potency in the soul, intellect as an actualized disposition in the soul, and intellect as act in the soul) shows more immediate dependence on the school account of the Christian Alexandrian John Philoponus. He also employed the arguments of Philoponus to assert for philosophical reasons the temporal creation, a doctrine thought to be in accord with the apparent sense of Koranic revelation. And in his ethical treatise, On the Art of Dispelling Sorrows, he draws upon the Stoic argument for restraint regarding earthly desires and the cares they engender for the sake of a hoped-for lasting and permanent intellectual fulfillment of the higher realm not further elaborated.
In his teachings al-Kindi clearly showed a degree of affinity with the rationalist goals of the Mu’tazili theologians of his day as well as a desire for conciliation of philosophy and Islam, though his commitment to Greek philosophy was foundational. That his followers used his works and those of his group for the understanding of Islamic teachings is particularly evident in the work of al-‘Amiri (d. 992) who wrote On the Afterlife, drawing on Aristotelian and Neoplatonic sources for arguments for personal immortality promised in the Koran. He made use of a large array of materials from al-Kindi’s group and was quite familiar with the Arabic Plotinus texts as well as with the Discourse on the Pure Good,which he paraphrased in Chapters on Metaphysical Topics (Rowson). The tradition of al-Kindi, however, was soon eclipsed by the work of Avicenna, who drew upon the thought of al-Farabi, a thinker who was less sanguine on the harmony of philosophy with Islam.
Hunayn ibn Ishaq and Baghdad Aristotelianism
Contemporaneous with the circle of al-Kindi, the Christian Hunayn ibn Ishaq (d. 873) initiated a tradition of sophisticated translation of Greek philosophical, medical, and scientific works into Syriac and Arabic. In contrast to the al-Kindi group, Hunayn’s group of translators and their successors made extensive efforts to track down works for translation, exercised greater care in selecting and collating manuscripts, translated by consideration of whole phrases or sentences rather than individual words, and standardized much vocabulary. Translation, particularly of works by Galen and other physicians, was a lucrative business, and some of its practitioners were paid well by wealthy families for quality translations and the revision or retranslation of earlier versions. The enormous wealth of translations of this period recorded in the Fihrist or book catalogs of Ibn al-Nadim bears witness to the fertile ground for the rise of a new Aristotelianism in Baghdad fostered by Christian translators and philosophers of Syriac background, such as Abu Bashr Matta, Ishaq ibn Hunayn, and many others who were able to consult Syriac as well as Arabic translations. F. W. Zimmermann notes that “in the contemporary milieu of Baghdad the predominant language of Christian scholarship still was Syriac. Syriac Christianity, owing to its roots in the Greek church and a considerable tradition of Hellenic learning in Syriac, had a virtual monopoly of access to the Greek legacy” (al-Farabi, 1981, lxxvii). The tradition this movement inherited was that of late Aristotelianism of the Alexandrian School. And while he apparently did not know Syriac and depended on his teachers and colleagues for philosophical sources, the representative of this tradition most well-known today is al-Farabi.
Abu Nasr al-Farabi
Abu Nasr al-Farabi (c. 870-950) likely worked for the greater part of his eighty-year lifespan in Baghdad, where he was a student of logic with the Christian Yuhanna ibn Haylan and taught the Christian Yahya ibn ‘Adi, who came to be a leading philosophical figure in Baghdad. Al-Farabi was thoroughly engaged in the great project of the establishment of a new Alexandrian Aristotelianism in the Arabic philosophical context. His apparently enormous literary output, of which only a modest portion survives, includes sophisticated paraphrases and commentaries on Aristotle’s logical works as well as lost commentaries on Aristotle’s On Generation and Corruption and Nicomachean Ethics, innovative emanationist accounts of principles governing the universe and human societies (The Principles of the Opinions of the People of the Virtuous City and The Political Regime or the Principles of Beings), a set of works on Plato and Aristotle (The Attainment of Happiness, The Philosophy of Plato, The Philosophy of Aristotle, The Harmony of Plato and Aristotle), complex works on the nature of metaphysics, logic, and language (On One and Unity, The Book of Letters, and The Purposes of Metaphysics), and more.
Al-Farabi worked to build a coherent understanding of philosophy as a systematic discipline founded on Platonic insights and Aristotelian principles. At the foundation of this was his apparent correction of the view of al-Kindi and his group that the end of philosophy and religion is the same, namely the knowledge of divine unity and truth. In his Intentions of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, al-Farabi argues for metaphysics to be understood not as a special science dealing primarily with God, as in al-Kindi, but as a general science dealing with the principles of being. On this understanding the study of God and higher causes (special metaphysics) is understood as encompassed within general metaphysics, which deals with all being and unity. Since metaphysics deals with the more universal causes of beings of the material world, al-Farabi does not neglect special metaphysics but rather sets out to explain that causality by way of an account of emanation following Ptolemaic astronomy in The Principles of the Opinions of the People of the Virtuous City and The Political Regime or the Principles of Beings. From the noetic activity of the First Cause, which in Aristotelian fashion is self-thinking thought, another emanates and from this there emanate both another intellect and the outermost celestial sphere, a process that continues giving rise to intellects and planetary spheres terminating with the final and lowest intellect, the agent intellect (al-‘aql al-fa”al), which oversees the sublunar realm, the matter for which comes from the celestial spheres. This last intellect in the emanative hierarchy al-Farabi identifies with the agent intellect that Aristotle posited in De Anima 3.5 to account for the understanding of intelligible universals in contrast with sensation and imagination, which apprehend only particulars. In his Treatise on the Intellect based on his study of Alexander of Aphrodisias rather than the De Anima directly (Geoffroy 2002), he explains that human happiness lies in the transcendence of the body and some degree of immaterial noetic identity with the agent intellect. The separate agent intellect enables abstraction and brings the potential intellect to act with intelligibles in actuality existing in individual minds. When the acquired intellect has been perfected by the understanding of universal principles, the philosopher no longer requires the body and is able to associate with the separate agent intellect. Although this doctrine of intellectual perfection plays an important role in al-Farabi’s teachings, Averroës, Ibn Bajjah, and others report that he abandoned this view that a generated human knower could become immortal and eternal in his lost Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics as an old wives’ tale.
Al-Farabi’s account of intellect and the knowledge of universal principles provides the noetic account essential for his understanding of human beings and society. Just as with Plato, who singled out the philosopher-king to rule because of his highest, most perfect knowledge in the ideal city-state of the Republic, so too according to al-Farabi the rightful place of rule belongs to the philosopher-king, who has exact scientific knowledge through philosophical demonstration and proof, not the mere dialectical accounts of poetry and rhetoric. While these are understood to be included in the Organon with Aristotle’s logical works, they aim only at persuasion by the prompting of images in the hearer and not at the rigorous truth of demonstration. Ideally the images of religion conveyed by a prophet and taught by an imam work to prompt those receiving them into action in accord with the end of human beings, which is happiness in perfection of intellect. Yet few are intellectually capable of this, so rhetoric, poetry, dialectic—all of which are contained in religion and revelation—provide a way for the truth (which is known to the philosopher directly but to the others in the emotive movement of the soul’s imagination) to be shared with the community. This allows for the prophet-imam-philosopher to guide the community toward its perfection, which is the perfection of individual human beings to the point that they ascend to the level of the agent intellect. In accord with this, al-Farabi says at the beginning of his Book of Religion,”religion is opinions and actions, determined and restricted with stipulations and prescribed for a community by their first ruler, who seeks to obtain through their practicing it a specific purpose with respect to them or by means of them” (al-Farabi, 2001, p. 93). Thus rather than being one with philosophical metaphysics as al-Kindi had it, religion is concerned with particular human responses to the general end of human intellectual perfection. For al-Farabi, metaphysics and philosophical theology concern the intellectual study of the essential matters of being, unity, and its causes, while religion is concerned with particular and varying ways for the establishment of the conditions for highest human intellectual fulfillment on the part of select individuals.
This was a period of great intellectual diversity and creativity at Baghdad and elsewhere. The renowned physician Muhammad Ibn Zakariyya al-Razi (d. 925) wrote a wide range of works in philosophy, theology, cosmology, medicine, and more; he gave an account of creation as the fall of soul infused with knowledge by God and permitted to fulfill its yearning to be in matter, space, and time. It is likely that at about this time at Basra the Brethren of Purity (Ikhawan al-Safa) crafted and assembled much of their collection of treatises drawing upon Aristotle and the Arabic Plotinus to weave a view of philosophy as an essential part of the religious goal of the saving of the soul. But much of the work of this era was dwarfed and nearly forgotten in the shadow of Islam’s most influential philosopher, Avicenna.
Avicenna (Ibn Sina)
The brilliant Persian philosopher, physician, and vizier Avicenna (Ibn Sina; 980-1037) was born in the village of Afshanah near Bukhara in present-day Uzbekistan. A diligent and exceptionally insightful student according to his own autobiographical account, Avicenna mastered medical, legal, scientific, and philosophical studies in short order and went on to develop his own philosophical teachings. The context in which he worked was that of the harmonization of the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle and the effort to bring about a complete and consistent teaching of the sort found in the late commentator Ammonius and pursued by al-Farabi, whose work guided Avicenna’s understanding of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. From this and his studies of Islamic theology, Avicenna crafted a new synthesis most evident in his broadly influential teachings on God as the Necessary Being and the human soul’s separability from the body.
Avicenna’s arguments for the Necessary Being appear in a number of important works. In the Metaphysics of his Shifa’ (Healing), the argument that leads to the Necessary Being begins in book 1, chapter 5, which is on being (mawjud) and thing (shay’). There Avicenna writes that there are three first intentions that arise initially in the soul: being or existent, thing, and necessary. These are primary intentions that naturally arise as first principles grasped by the mind in the consideration of reality in any of its forms. But apprehended quiddity or essence has of its very nature an indeterminate openness to various sorts of existence determined by something outside the essence. The arguments for the existence of the Necessary Being then proceed by rejection of the impossibility that all beings are merely possible or contingent and the acceptance that there must be necessary being for the actual existence. Since there cannot be an infinite regress of beings necessary by another, Avicenna concludes that there must be a first, the unique Necessary Being that causes the existence of the dependent necessary and possible beings and is itself uncaused. This analysis leads to the Avicennian distinction of essence and existence so influential in Arabic philosophy and in the Latin West. The First is the True One that is existence alone, free of the limitation of form, while all other things are form and being received ultimately from God. Causality here is by way of emanation, as with al-Farabi, in a hierarchy of necessary beings, except that for Avicenna there is an emanation of an intellect, a celestial sphere, and a celestial soul associated with the celestial intellect as its mover. Holding firm to the principle “from one only one can arise,” Avicenna asserted that there first was emanated an intellect and from that plurality arose. This emanation continues down to the level of the moon, at which point the agent intellect generated the world and all the forms in it.
This agent intellect is denominated the “giver of forms” because it gives forms both to human minds and to natural entities of the world. The human soul has a temporal origination and its individuation in being is the result of its association and joining with the body. But its nature as intellectual shows that it is not merely the form of a body. Rather, its nature as rational indicated to Avicenna that the soul is incorruptible and that it does not die with the death of the body. This is illustrated (not proved) by the famous “Flying Man” argument which holds that it can be imagined that even if a man is suspended in the air and in complete sensory deprivation as if bodiless, he would nonetheless affirm his existence as a rational soul. According to his Letter to Kiya, the key principle is found in Aristotle’s discussion of the atomism of Democratus in the De Anima and the notion that intelligibles can only exist in immaterial subjects. The common explanation that these intelligibles come to be in the soul by emanation when the soul is prepared for their reception and not by true abstraction has been challenged recently with texts suggesting a greater role for the activities of the soul itself. Still for Avicenna the soul of a prophet has special powers of imagination to receive intelligibles directly from the agent intellect and to communicate them to the people in religious discourse.
Avicenna’s philosophy dominated the tradition that continued to develop after his death even after the harsh attacks of the Ash’ari theologian Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (1058-1111). In the Incoherence of the Philosophers, al-Ghazali attacked the thought of the philosophers (al-Farabi and Avicenna) as insufficiently founded and also as contrary to Islam on the eternity of the world, God’s knowledge of particulars, and the resurrection of the body. While the stated purpose of this work is to undermine the pronouncements and arguments of the philosophers, al-Ghazali’s own Ash’ari occasionalism plays a role, for example, when he argues that there is no necessary connection but rather only habitual association between what are customarily called cause and effect. Such connections must be traced to divine will and power and are not found in the natures of things themselves.
Philosophy in Andalusia
While philosophical texts and ideas are present in the eclectic thinking of the Cordoba native and Sufi Ibn Masarrah (883-931), who drew upon Mu’tazili theology and Neoplatonic and pseudo-Empedoclean texts, the beginnings of rigorous philosophical study are with Ibn Bajjah (d. 1138). This philosopher from Saragossa is most famous for his challenge to the understanding of motion in the natural philosophy of Aristotle with a theory of impetus and momentum, for his theory of intentional forms and intellect and for his political philosophy of solitude. His theory of intellect is based on the consideration of spiritual forms or intentions that are apprehended in sensation and must be traced to higher realities. Using arguments from Neoplatonic sources against Aristotle’s rejection of Plato’s transcendent forms, Ibn Bajjah holds in his Treatise on Conjunction with the Intellect that intelligibles in act or universals cannot be founded on abstraction from particulars but rather can only be grounded in forms located in the unique agent intellect. True knowledge is not tied in any way to the transitory world but rather is the grasp of the eternal and unchanging forms causative of things of this world. These are apprehended by an intellectual “conjoining” with the agent intellect that is a uniting in oneness without the destruction of the individual. In this the end is the perfection and happiness that consist in conjoining and uniting with a separate agent intellect, and the means is intellectual understanding. Those who are intellectual in nature either are in a society in which they can lead as philosopher-king or they are rejected by the ignorant masses and must live a solitary life. Most often they find themselves in an unreceptive society, as in Andalusa and elsewhere, where they are like weeds. A similar theme is found in Ibn Tufayl’s tale Hayy ibn Yaqzan, in which the protagonists find it impossible to lead the people by religion and take refuge in a solitary life apart from society.
Averroës (Ibn Rushd)
The Cordoban jurist, physician, and philosopher Averroës (Ibn Rushd; 1126-1198), more influential in the history of philosophy by his commentaries on Aristotle translated into Latin in the thirteenth century than for his work extant in Arabic, is famous for his commitment to the proper interpretation of Aristotle’s philosophy and the rejection of the innovations of Avicenna, for his detailed response to the theologian al-Ghazali’s attack on the philosophers in his Incoherence of the Incoherence and his rationalist critique of kalam, and for his own creative completion of Aristotle’s doctrine of human intellect with the theory of a single shared receptive and incorporeal intellect (called “material intellect” following Alexander of Aphrodisias). While Averroës thought philosophy had attained its highest achievement in the thought of Aristotle (“I believe that this man was a model in nature and the exemplar which nature found for showing ultimate human perfection” [ Averroës, 1953, p. 433]), his Short, Middle and detailed Long Commentaries expounded the difficult texts of Aristotle and completed unfinished philosophical accounts. Although he followed emanationist views in some early works, in his own mature account he argued that God is “creator” as the ultimate final cause drawing generated things from potency into act, continuing the heavens in eternal motion, sustaining the separate intellects (angels in religious language), and generally attracting all things toward the perfection of which he is the exemplar. He rejected Avicenna’s distinction of essence and existence as philosophically unwarranted insofar as it is founded on kalam and also Avicenna’s theory of the soul as an immortal substrate for the reception of intelligibles by emanation from the agent intellect. While in his early works on psychology Averroës held that each person possesses a distinct receptive material intellect, his final position was that both the material intellect and the agent intellect are distinct immaterial substances in which human knowers share. He was prompted to this position by the need for there to be one set of intelligibles for intersubjective discourse and understanding and by the realization that intelligibles in act received into a plurality of particular minds would become particulars, not the universals needed for knowledge. As a consequence he held the eternality of the material and agent intellects and also of the human species that provides images for abstraction by the agent intellect to impress upon the receptive material intellect. Contrary to Ibn Bajjah, Averroës viewed conjoining with separate intellect not as the end itself but as the means to human happiness in intellectual understanding. These mature positions were expounded only after he had written several works critical of Kalam advocating for a central role for philosophy in the attainment of truth concerning God and his creation. Most famous of these is the Decisive Treatise, in which this jurist who served as chief judge (qadi) of Cordoba mounted a vigorous defense of the pursuit of philosophy on the basis of Islamic religious law. He argued that philosophy is not only permitted but is the surest method of the attainment of truth and philosophical demonstration and so is endorsed by the Koran. Holding that there can be no conflict between the truths of demonstration and religion, he declared, “Truth does not contradict truth but rather is consistent with it and bears witness to it”—without mention of his source in Aristotle’s Prior Analytics—thereby dispelling any concerns about the issue of a double truth, one for religion and one for philosophy. Where conflict between religion and reason arises, particularly concerning scriptural interpretation, reason’s method of demonstration of truth is primary in determining the need for allegorical interpretation of otherwise conflicting explanations.
Condemned and exiled toward the end of his life, Averroës founded no school, and his influence in the subsequent development of philosophy in the Islamic milieu is hardly detectible until a revival of interest in the nineteenth century in the Arab world, where his thought was used to support various causes current then and later. His greatest influence was through Latin and Hebrew translations of his work that taught Latin and Jewish thinkers to read Aristotle and stirred great controversies among religious authorities wary of reason acting independently of the traditions of faith.
Before, during, and after the time of Averroës, Sufi mystical thought was a strong presence in Andalusia, and it is reported that the elderly Averroës met the very young Sufi Ibn al-‘Arabi (1165-1240). Ibn al-‘Arabi’s notion of the unity of all being (wahdat al-wujud) and the perfect human being as the mirror of the divine brought to the fore the importance of imagination in apprehending the divine and contributed powerfully to the development of mystical philosophy in the East. Detailed work on the texts of philosophy is evidenced in the work of the pantheistic Sufi Ibn Sab’in (c. 1217-1270), whose broad knowledge of philosophy made him a suitable candidate for answering philosophical questions posed by the emperor Frederick II of Sicily. Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) of Tunisia was an astute reader of philosophy, including the work of Averroës, and in his Muqaddimah he set forth a philosophy of history explaining political change in terms of social and structural changes.
In the East, philosophy continued to flourish with new developments in which the philosophy of Avicenna was the centerpiece, particularly his Pointers and Reminders (al-Isharat wa’l-tanbihat), the last section of which was read literally as mystical and religious. The Ash’ari theologian Fakhr al-Razi (d. 1209) attacked Avicenna, as later did the mystic illuminationist Suhrawardi (d. 1191), for whom Avicenna’s Peripatetic epistemology was to be replaced by the necessity of Platonic Forms for true knowing in a doctrine of knowledge by presence in the intellectual ability to apprehend essences. The illuminationism of Suhrawardi had a lasting impact on philosophy in the East, as did the continuing legacy of Avicenna in figures such as Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (d. 1274), who expounded Avicennian metaphysics and authored the widely influential Nasirian Ethics. The development of ishraqi or illuminationist philosophy was continued by Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi (d.1311), who studied Avicenna and wrote a commentary on Suhrawardi’s Philosophy of Illumination. By the time of the founding of the School of Isfahan by Mir Damad (d. 1631) and Sadr al-Din al-Shirazi or Mulla Sadra (d. 1641), the Safavid dynasty had long supported mystical thinking in Twelver Shiism. This new school systematically completed the synthesis of philosophical and Sufi mystical teachings from Ibn al-‘Arabi and others in ways that continue to be reflected dominantly in Shiite thought. One notion of lasting philosophical interest is that of knowledge by presence with a focus on the “I” as knowing subject in lieu of a role for Avicenna’s separate agent intellect. In the early twenty-first century the writings of Mulla Sadra and Suhrawardi play a powerful role in Iran, where philosophy is taught not only in religious schools but also in universities. Contemporary thinkers of the Shiite tradition of Iran, such as Mehdi Ha’iri Yazdi, who studied in the West and published The Principles of Epistemology in Islamic Philosophy in 1992, continue these traditions by placing the thought of Avicenna, Suhrawardi, and Mulla Sadra in dialogue with modern Western thought.