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He commented on the Qur’an, he wrote huge theological treatises on every area of philosophy fundamentally within an Avicennan framework. The result of that is that when the colonialist period happened, you had a confrontation between a very longstanding intellectual culture—that came from the period we’ve been talking about—and a new wave of ideas from Europe. But there was a lot more openness and freedom for intellectual debate in the Islamic world than in the Latin medieval world because there was no Church. You’ve already mentioned that there is a flow from the translation of Greek philosophy into philosophy in the Islamic world. You have to remember that the Arabic-Latin Translation Movement happened around 1200, and he lived all the way out in Central Asia and Persia. Is this a continuing tradition that’s alive today? Peter Adamson is professor of late ancient and Arabic philosophy at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. You have to read those passages in a figurative or allegorical way. The description ‘Arabic philosophy’ is meant to highlight the fact that this is a philosophical tradition that gets going through the Arabic translations from Greek philosophy. You’re even all right if you started out with some work by Bertrand Russell, or Ayn Rand, o “Imagine someone trying to describe what happened in European philosophy between 1300 and 1900 in a few sentences”. This book is from 1998, so it’s almost 20 years old now, which is hard to believe. Read. We won’t enforce this anymore.’ And maybe, because that policy was a failure, you didn’t see Abbasid Caliphs after that trying to require obedience to any particular theological dogma. Read I totally agree with her way of setting up the book though, because what she says is that we need to think about Maimonides from several different points of view—not just as a Jewish legal scholar, but also as someone who was responding to the culture of Islamic Spain where he was born, and who moved to Egypt because his family was chased out by anti-Jewish Muslim forces called the Almohads. So I learnt Arabic. He’s so clever and sophisticated. “He had to leave instructions to be buried in a secret place so that people wouldn’t dig him up and desecrate his body”. He even structured his books in imitation of Aristotle’s. So, really, all I mean by ‘the Islamic world’ is regions of the earth under the political domination of Islam. Then, occasionally, someone comes along and he or she doesn’t necessarily say ‘forget all this,’ but responds to what’s been going on in such an original, decisive, and pioneering way that, after that, it’s almost as if everything restarts. Scotus and Ockham, who were later scholastics, both explicitly referred to Avicenna when they were arguing in support of some of their most central ideas. Of course, once you’ve invested the time and effort to learn Arabic, the die is cast because you’re not going to learn Arabic and then just stop working on it. Mazdakism. It was fabulously expensive to have these books translated. Avicenna was the person who intervened in the whole tradition and said: ‘here’s how we’re going to do this from now on.’ He had his own distinctive vocabulary and arguments which set the agenda for the whole remaining Islamic tradition, but were also very influential in Jewish and Christian medieval thought. They were the people you would consult if you wanted to know the answer to a question and they were involved in the law. Sometimes they translated first from Greek into Syriac, and then from Syriac into Arabic. Sometimes people say that the Latin medievals got access to certain texts through Arabic. He likes to give you both sides of every argument and then just sort of move on. Read “The Abbasids tried to enforce a theological doctrine that the Qu’ran was created and not eternal”. by Jon McGinnis He is a good example of the kind of figure who, if you’re just following the tradition of philosophy in the Islamic world, would seem to be incredibly important. The point of that, Hasse thinks, is that it’s not really supposed to be a demonstration that your soul is immaterial, so much as an indication that you could imagine someone being aware of their own soul without being aware of their body and that can help you see that the two things are not necessarily the same. So we need to start from existence in thinking about how metaphysics works.’. From our conversation so far it is clear there was a rich history of Islamic philosophy in the medieval period. Even then—here comes the clever part—Avicenna says this person would be aware of his own existence. So this is another case where it looks like you have a contrast between philosophy and religion. What we’re really studying here is this shared culture of philosophical work in the Islamic world. “This is a very powerful way of rethinking what God is and how God relates to everything else”. And then—bam!—enter Kant. It was the high point of the ninth century, though it started towards the end of the eighth century and kept going into the tenth century. This is The Teleological Ethics of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (2006). The borders fluctuate: they lose Spain after a while, and it’s not even mostly under one single ruler. I wanted to pick a book about a non-Muslim philosopher to make the point that philosophy in the Islamic world is not all by Muslims. And in fact, in that respect, it shares the fate of Indian philosophy, Chinese philosophy, African philosophy, and Latin American philosophy. And there had been work done even earlier by people like Rosenthal, who was Gutas’s teacher. God is the source of existence. In fact, I should say that he has published two very important books that I was tempted to choose. Zoroastrianism. Let’s go to the final choice. He is either falling or floating or flying, that’s why it’s usually called the Flying Man Argument. What was the social context? His analysis of the argument is well worth reading: it’s one of the most lucid and philosophically impressive discussions of the Flying Man Argument that you get in the secondary literature. His primary areas of interest are late ancient philosophy and Arabic philosophy, and is the author of books including The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy and Philosophy in … Is there the equivalent now? The Byzantines were their main military and political rivals in this period. So ‘Arabic philosophy’ is not really satisfactory as a name. Much later, in the period that is the same timeframe as early modern Europe, you have a fracturing into three large empires: the Ottoman Empire, the Safavid Empire in Iran, and the Mughal Empire in India. There is actually a word, ‘Islamicate,’ which was invented to refer to the same idea. “You’ll see this idea that philosophy in the Islamic world dies after Averroes. What that means is that by their nature or essence, they might exist or they might not exist. Five Books interviews are expensive to produce. The Islamic world is a big place still. He argues that no Jew should believe that God has a body because the argument against him having a body are too powerful. One thing to realise about Maimonides and also Averroes is that, since they were from Islamic Spain, they came from a region which was marginal within the Islamic world. For Avicenna, this explanation leads to a primary cause of existence which exists by its very nature and that’s God. Like the title says, I'm looking first for something that generally covers everything related to middle Eastern philosophies. Astrology could legitimate the rule of certain political rulers. “The Stoics died out, the Epicureans died out, the Sceptics died out, and the only thing left was Platonism”. One thing that’s quite characteristic of Rāzī, though, is it’s often hard to tell whether he’s telling you what he really thinks or whether he’s just imagining a position that someone would or could occupy. In the context of courses on medieval philosophy, you might cover Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Avicenna, Averroes, Aquinas, and Scotus. I could exist, I could not exist, I used to not exist, there could be no humans at all. UC Press publishes bold, forward-thinking titles in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. 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