philosophy

(falsafa; hikma)
   Falsafa is an Arabic neologism for the Greek word philosophia, meaning ‘love of wisdom’. The derivation of this term points to the profound initial influence of Greek thought upon Islamic philosophy, due to the eastern expansion of the Islamic empire and the subsequent translation of key Greek medical, scientific and philosophical texts into Syriac and Arabic. The ‘classical’ period of Islamic philosophy begins in the third/ninth century with al-Kindi and comes to a close with the death of Ibn Rushd at the end of the sixth/twelfth century. During this phase, thinkers drew liberally from the writings of Aristotle (whom they dubbed ‘The Philosopher’ and ‘The First Teacher’), the Neoplatonists and, to a lesser extent, Plato, building upon their insights and reinterpreting them to address the concerns of a world shaped by Islam. One of the most prominent schools at this time was the mashsha’un (i.e. the ‘Walkers’ or Peripatetics), named after Aristotle himself – although they were equally indebted to Neoplatonism. Thinkers in this lineage (e.g. al-Farabi, Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd) had an enormous impact on subsequent Jewish and Christian thinkers, passing on not only the accomplishments of Greek learning, but their own conceptual clarifications and innovations as well. Another major movement was the Isma‘ilis, who creatively appropriated Neoplatonic cosmology in formulating their esoteric (batin) interpretations of scripture. However, western scholars have sometimes overestimated the formative Greek influence upon Islamic philosophy. For philosophical inquiry and argumentation had already begun to emerge within the Islamic milieu via the science of theology (‘ilm al-kalam), which was forced to grapple with difficult metaphysical questions quite early on in its development (e.g. the tension between predestination and free will, the problem of anthropomorphic conceptions of God, and the relation between God’s various attributes and His essential unity). One might say that in the third/ninth century, philosophy first began to stand apart from – and sometimes over against – theology. Like their theological brethren, the philosophers (falasifa; sing. faylasuf) were committed to the demands of rational disputation. They typically insisted upon demonstrative proofs and rationally self-evident first principles, though, rather than dialectical argumentation and faith-based premises, and their inquiries were less wedded to the proper understanding and defense of revelation. This is not to say that classical Islamic philosophy was antagonistic towards revealed religion. The falasifa often went out of their way to stress the compatibility and underlying conceptual unity of Islam and philosophy. Indeed, almost all falasifa were committed to the project of knowing God as the First Cause and ultimate Reality and perfecting themselves through a demanding ethical regimen (both of which were understood as having therapeutic and soteriological implications for the fate of the soul). However, because they granted primacy to reason and oftentimes reached conclusions that appeared to conflict with revealed truths, they came under increasingly intense scrutiny and critique from more orthodox elements.
   Despite minor periodic resurgences, by the close of the sixth/twelfth century Peripatetic philosophy was more or less overtaken by theology, at least in the Sunni world. Yet philosophy in the broader, more inclusive sense – the sense captured by the indigenous Arabic term hikma (‘wisdom’) – continued to flourish, now wedded to more explicitly Islamic concerns and paths to knowledge. It lived on in Twelver Shi‘ite and Isma‘ili philosophy, the later Ash‘arite theologians (now schooled in philosophical insights and methods through their destructive engagement with the falasifa), the mystical thought and practice of the Sufis, and the school of Illumination (hikmat al-ishraq), which offered a bold new synthesis of philosophy and mysticism, the great School of Isfahan, which forged a more vigorous hybrid from the previously competing philosophies of mashsha’i and ishraqi thought, and the transcendent wisdom of Mulla Sadra, a bold, original synthesis that drew upon the combined insights of all these aforementioned schools and movements, and that would have a considerable influence on modern Islamic philosophy.
   Further reading: Adamson and Taylor 2005; Corbin 1993; Fakhry 1970/2004; Leaman 1985/2002; Nasr and Leaman 1996; Nasr 2006

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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