History of Philosophy in Islam (PART IA) continued fm 29.05.14


1. In a history of scholarly Education as conducted in the Muslim nations, this subject would necessarily have a larger space assigned it: but here we shall dismiss it in a few words.

That Gazali has annihilated philosophy in the East, for all time to come, is an assertion frequently repeated but wholly erroneous, and one which evidences neither historical knowledge nor understanding. Philosophy in the East has since his day numbered its teachers and students by hundreds and by thousands. The teachers of the Faith have no more discontinued their dialectical arguments in support of Doctrine than the teachers of Morals have abandoned their hair-splitting casuistry, General culture too has adopted an element of philosophical learning.

But it is true that Philosophy did not succeed in conquering for itself a commanding position, or in retaining the consideration which it once enjoyed. According to an Arab anecdote a Philosopher, who had been thrown into prison, on being asked what he was fit for, by a man who wanted to purchase him as a slave, is said to have replied: “For freedom”. Philosophy needs freedom. And where was this Freedom to be met with in the East? Freedom from material cares, freedom to exemplify unprejudiced thinking, tended continually to dwindle away from regions where no enlightened despots were to be found, able to warrant and protect it. But that is just a symptom of the general decay of civilization. And although travellers from the West in the twelfth century praised highly the culture of the East, it had, in comparison with earlier times, at least begun to decline. In no department

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did they pass the mark which had been reached of old: Minds were now too weak to accomplish such a feat. Literary production became stagnant, and the only merit which belongs to the voluminous compilers of the following centuries is that of elegant selection. Ethical and religious doctrine had ended in Mysticism; and the same was the case with Philosophy. After the time of Ibn Sina, the Prince of Philosophy, no one felt called upon to come forward with independent views. The day had come for Abridgements, Commentaries, Glosses, and Glosses upon Glosses. The learned world occupied their time in school with work of that nature, while the believing multitude placed themselves more and more under the guidance of the Dervish orders.

2. That which general education borrowed most from philosophical Propaedeutics was a little Mathematics &c., naturally exceedingly elementary as a rule. By sectaries and mystics a good deal was taken over from Pythagorean-Platonic wisdom. In particular these doctrines had to be drawn upon in order to support the belief in saints and miracles; and a barren syncretistic Theosophy was tricked out therewith. The system even enrolled Aristotle among its teachers, of course the spurious Aristotle, but it turned him into a disciple of Agathodaemon and Hermes.

The more sober-minded thinkers, on the other hand, kept to Aristotelianism, so far as it agreed with their own views or with the orthodox Faith. The system of Ibn Sina was almost universally followed by them; and it was only a few that went back to Farabi, or that endeavoured to combine the two. Very little notice was taken of Physical and Metaphysical doctrines: Ethics and Politics were rather more attended to. Logic was the only subject universally

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studied; for it could be admirably conveyed in scholastic form; and, as pure Formal Logic, it was an instrument which every one was able to make use of. In fact with the resources of Logic everything might be proved; and even if the demonstration should be recognized as faulty, there was this consolation that the averment might still be true, although its demonstration had not been properly conducted.

Even in the Encyclopaedia of Abu Abdallah al-Khwarizmi, a production of the last quarter of the tenth century, a larger space was assigned to Logic than to Physics and Metaphysics. The very same thing was done in many later encyclopaedias and compilations. The Dogmatists also commenced their system with logical and epistemological considerations, in which a traditional eulogy was pronounced over “knowing”. And from the twelfth century onwards there arose a whole multitude of separate arrangements of the Aristotelian Organon. Here may be mentioned only,–as being much used, commented on, and so forth,–the works of Abhari († 1264), who gave a short summary of the whole ‘Logic’ under the title of “Isagudji” (εἰσσγωγή); and the works of Qazwini († 1276).

At the greatest University in the Muslim world, that of Cairo, the Epitomes of the 13th and 14th centuries are used, up to this day. There the word still is, as for a long time it was with ourselves: “First of all a College of Logic”, and, we need scarcely add, with no better result. They indulge themselves, within the limits of the. Law, in the luxury of studying the rules of thinking discovered by the ancient philosophers, but all the while they smile at these men and at the Mutazilite Dialecticians, who “believed in Reason!”



1. Western North-Africa, Spain and Sicily are reckoned as forming the Muslim West. North-Africa, to begin with, is of subordinate importance: Sicily is regulated by Spain, and is soon overthrown by the Normans of Lower Italy. For our purpose Muslim Spain or Andalusia first falls to be considered.

The drama of culture in the East passes here through a second representation. Just as Arabs there intermarried with Persians, so in the West they intermarry with Spaniards. And instead of Turks and Mongols we have here the Berbers of North-Africa, whose rude force is flung into the play of more refined civilization with a blighting influence ever on the increase.

After the fall of the Omayyads in Syria (750), a member of that House, Abderrakhman ibn Moawiya, betook himself to Spain, where he contrived to work his way up to the dignity of Emir of Cordova and all Andalusia. This Omayyad overlordship lasted for more than 250 years, and after a passing system of petty States, it attained its greatest brilliancy under Abderrakhman III (912-961), the first who assumed the title of Caliph, and his son

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al-Hakam II (961-976). The tenth century was for Spain, what the ninth was for the East,–the time of highest material and intellectual civilization. If possible, it was more fresh and native here than in the East, and, if it be true that all theorizing betokens either a lack or a stagnation of the power of production, it was more productive also: The sciences, and Philosophy in particular, had far fewer representatives in Spain. Speaking generally, we may say that the relations of intellectual life took a simpler form. There was a smaller number of strata in the new culture than in the old. No doubt there were, besides Muslims, Jews and Christians in Spain, who in the time of Abderrakhman III played their part in this cultivated life, of the Arabic stamp, in common with the rest. But of adherents of Zoroaster, atheists and such like, there were none. Even the sects of Eastern Islam were almost unknown. Only one school of Law, that of Malik, was admitted. No Mutazilite dialectic troubled the peace of the Faith. True enough the Andalusian poets glorified the trinity of Wine, Woman and Song; but flippant freethinking on the one hand, and gloomy theosophy and renunciation of the world on the other, rarely found expression.

On the whole, intellectual culture was dependent upon the East. From the tenth century onwards many journeys in search of knowledge were undertaken thither from Spain, by way of Egypt and as far as Eastern Persia, for the purpose of attending the prelections of scholars of renown. And farther, educational requirements in Andalusia attracted to it many a learned Eastern who found no occupation in his own home. Besides, al-Hakam II caused books to be

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copied, all over the East, for his library, which is said to have contained 400,000 volumes.

The West was mainly interested in Mathematics, Natural Science, Astrology and Medicine, precisely as was the case at first in the East. Poetry, History and Geography were cultivated with ardour. But the mind was not yet “sicklied o‘er with the pale cast of thought”, for when Abdallah ibn Masarra of Cordova, under Abderrakhman III, brought home with him from the East a system of Natural Philosophy, he had to submit to see his writings consigned to the flames.

2. In the year 1013 Cordova, “the Gem of the World”, was laid waste by the Berbers, and the kingdom of the Omayyads was split up into a number of minor States. Its second bloom fills up the eleventh century,–the Medicean age of Spain, in which Art and Poetry still flourish in luxuriant growth at the courts of the various cities, upon the ruins of ancient splendour. Art grows refined; poetry becomes sage, and scientific thought subtle. Intellectual nutriment continues to be fetched from the East; and Natural Philosophy, the writings of the Faithful Brethren, and Logic from the school of Abu Sulaiman al-Sidjistani find admission one after the other. Towards the close of the century it is possible to trace the influence even of the writings of Farabi, and the “Medicine” of Ibn Sina becomes known.

The beginnings of philosophical reflection are found chiefly with the numerous men of culture among the Jews. Eastern Natural Philosophy produces a powerful and quite singular impression upon the mind of Ibn Gebirol, the Avencebrol of Christian authors; and Bakhya ibn Pakuda

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is influenced by the Faithful Brethren. Even the religious poetry of the Jews is affected by the philosophical movement; and what speaks therein is not the Jewish Congregation seeking after God, but the Soul rising towards the Supreme Spirit.

Among the Muslims, however, the number of those who addressed themselves to a thorough study of Philosophy was very limited. No master gathered about him a numerous band of disciples; and meetings of the learned, for the discussion of philosophical subjects, were scarcely ever held. The individual thinker must have felt very lonely in these circumstances. In the West, just as in the East, Philosophy was developed subjectively; but here it was more the concern of a few isolated individuals; and, besides, it stood more apart from the faith of the mass of the people. In the East there were countless intermediary agencies between faith and knowledge,–between the philosophers and the believing community. The problem of the individual thinker, confronted by political society and the faith of narrow-minded fanatical multitudes, was accordingly realized more acutely in the West.


by T.J. de Boer [1904]

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