1902 Encyclopedia > Arabian Philosophy

Arabian Philosophy




ARABIAN PHILOSOPHY owed to Arabia little more than its name and its language. It was a system of Greek thought, expressed in a Semitic tongue, and modified by Oriental influences, called into existence amongst the Moslem people by the patronage of their more liberal princes, and kept alive by the intrepidity and zeal of a small band of thinkers, who stood suspected and disliked in the eyes of their nation. The Arabian philosophers have but a secondary interest in the history of their own lands. Their chief claim to the notice of the historian of speculation comes from their warm reception of Greek philosophy when it had been banished from its original soil, and whilst Western Europe was still too rude and ignorant to be its home. In the annals of philosophy the period from the beginning of the 9th to the close of the 12th century may be styled the "Flight into Egypt." During these four centuries free thought found a refuge under Mahometan princes until her oppressors were dead. In the course of that exile the traces of Semitic or Mahometan influence gradually faded away; and the last of the line Saracenic thinkers was a truer exponent of the one philosophy which they all professed to teach than the first. The whole movement was little else than a chapter in the history of Aristotelianism. That system of though, after passing through the minds of those who saw in the hazy light of an Orientalised Platonism, and finding many laborious but narrow-purposed cultivators in the monastic schools of heretical Syria, was then brought into contact with the ideas and mental habits of Islam. But those in whom the two currents converged did not belong to the pure Arab race. Of the so-called Arabian philosophers of the East, Al-Farabi,Ibn-Sina, and Al-Ghazali were natives of Khorassan, Bokhara, and the outlying provinces of north-eastern Persia; whilst Al-Kendi, the earliest of them, sprang from Basra, on the Persian Gulf, on the debatable ground between the Semite and the Aryan. In Spain, again, where Ibn-Badja, Ibn-Tofail, and Ibn-Roshd rivaled or exceeded the fame of the eastern schools, the Arabians of pure blood were few, and the Moorish ruling class was deeply intersected by Jewish colonies, and even by the natives of Christian Spain. Thus, alike at Baghdad and at Cordova, Arabian philosophy represents the for a time victorious reaction of exotic ideas and of subject races against the theological one-sidedness of Islam, and the illiterate of the early Saracens.

Islam had, it is true, a philosophy of its own. There were Schoolmen amongst the believers in the Koran, not less than amongst the Latin Christians. At the very moment when Mahometanism came into contact with the older civilizations of Persia, Babylonia, and Syria, the intllectual habits of the new converts created difficulties with regard to its very basis, and showed themselves a prolific source of diversity in the details of interpretation. The radical questions on which these disputes turned were two. The first dealt with the possibility of ascribing manifold attributes to God-to a Being who was absolute unity. The other referred to the bearing of God's omnipotence upon the freedom of the human will. Ere the second century of the Hegira, sturdy adherents of the literal truth of the Koran taught a gross anthropomorphism, applying to the Creator the very bodily attributes of his creatures. These were the Sefatites, or partisans of the attributes. Another sect represented Mahomet as the teacher of an unqualified fatalism. Opposed to these narrow-minded exponents stood the comparatively liberal sect of the Motazalites, the Dissidents, who first appeared about 750. as they maintained, on one hand, that man was in some degree a free agent, and on another, elevated the unity of the divine nature far above the diversity of attributes, they came to be styled the partisans of justice and unity. It was with them that the Mussulman theology-the science of the word (Calam) - first came into existence. Its professors, the Motecallemin (known in Hebrew as Medabberim, and as Loquentes in the latin versions) may be compared with the scholastic doctors of the Catholic Church. Driven in the first instance to speculation in theology by the needs of their natural reason, they came, in after days, when Greek philosophy had been naturalized in the Caliphate, to adapt its methods and doctrines to the support of their views. They employed a quasi-philosophicalmethod, by which, according to Maimonides, they first reflected how things ought to be in order to support, or at least not contradict, their opinions, and then, when their minds were mad up with regard to this imaginary system, declare that the world was no otherwise constituted. The dogmas of creation and providence, of divine omnipotence, chiefly exercised them; and they sought to assert for God an immediate action in the making and the keeping of the world. Space they looked upon as pervaded by atoms possessing no quality or extension, and time was similarly divided into innumerable instants. Each change in the constitution of the atoms is a direct act of the Almighty. When the fire burns, or the water moistens, theses terms merely express the habitual connection which our senses perceive between one thing and another. It is not the man that throws a stone who is its real mover: the supreme agent has for the moment created motion. If a living being die, it is because God has created the attribute of death; and the body remains dead, only because that attribute is unceasingly created. Thus, on the one hand, the object called the cause is denied to have any efficient power to produce the so-called effect; and, on the other hand, the regularities or laws of nature are explained to be direct interferences by the Deity. God is the sole cause or agent in the universe: it is He who, directly, or by the mediation of His ministering angels, brings everything to pass. The supposed uniformity and necessity of causation is only an effect of custom, and may be at any moment rescinded. In this way, by a theory which, according to Averroes, involves the negation of science, the Moslem theologians believed that they had exalted God beyond the limits of the metaphysical and scientific conceptions of law, form, and matter; whilst they at the same time stood aloof from the vulgar doctrines, attributing a causality to things. Making the uniformity of nature a mere phantom due to our human customary experience, they deemed they had left a clear ground for the possibility of miracles.

But at least one point was common to the theological and the philosophical doctrine. Carrying out, it may be, the principles of the Neo-Platonists, they kept the sanctuary of the Deity securely guarded, and interposed between him and his creatures a spiritual order of potent principles, from the Intelligence, which is the first-born image of the great unity, to the Soul and Nature, which come later in the spiritual rank. Of God the philosophers said we could not tell what He is, but only what He is not. The highest point, beyond which strictly philosophical inquirers did not penetrate, was the active intellect, - a sort of soul of the world in Aristotelian garb-the principle which inspires and regulates the development of humanity, and in which lies the goal of perfection for the human spirit. In theological language the active intellect is described as an angel. The inspirations which the prophet receives by angelic messengers are compared with the irradiation of intellectual light, which the philosopher wins by contemplation of truth and increasing purity of life. But while the theologian incessantly the agency of that God, whose nature he deemed beyond the pale of science, the philosopher, following a purely human and natural aim, directed his efforts to the gradual elevation of his part of reason from its unformed state, and to its final union with the controlling intellect which moves and draws to itself the spirits of those who prepare themselves for its influences. Philosophers in their way, like the mystics of Persia (the Sufites) in another, tended towards a theory of the communion of man with the spiritual world, which may be considered a protest against the practical and almost prosaic definiteness of the creed of Mahomet.

Arabian philosophy, at the outset of its career in the 9th century, was able without difficulty to take possession of those resources for speculative thought, which the Latins had barely achieved at the close of the 12th century by the slow process of rediscovering the Aristotelian logic from the commentaries and verses of Boethius. What the Latins painfully accomplished, amid many senseless disputations and blind gropings after light, owing to their fragmentary and unintelligent acquaintance with ancient philosophy, was already done for the Arabians by the scholars of Syria. In the early centuries of the Christian era, both within and without the ranks of the church, the Platonic tone and method were paramount throughout the East. Their influence was felt in the creeds which formulated the orthodox dogmas in regard to the Trinity and the Incarnation. But in its later days the Neo-Platonist school came more and more to find in Aristotle the best exponent and interpreter of the philosopher whom they thought divine. It was in thisspirit that Porphyry, Themistius, and Joannes Philoponus composed their commentaries on the treatises of the Peripatetic system which, modified often unconsciously by the dominant ideas of its expositors, became in the 6th and 7th centuries the philosophy of the eastern Church. But the instrument which, in the hands of John of Damascus, was made subservient to theological interests, became in the hands of others a dissolvent of the doctrines which had been reduced to shape under the prevalence of the elder Platonism. Peripatetic studies became the source of heresies; and conversely, the heretical sects prosecuted the study of Aristotle with peculiar zeal. The church of the Nestorians, and that of the Monophysites, in their several schools and monasteries, carried on from the 5th to the 8th century the study of the earlier part of the Organon, with almost the same means, purposes, and results as were found among the Latin schoolmen of the earlier centuries. Up to the time when the religious zeal of the Emperor Zeno put a stop to the Nestorial school at Edessa, this "Athens of Syria" was active in translating and popularizing the Aristotelian logic. Their banishment from Edessa in 489 drove the Nestorian scholars to Persia, where the Sassanidae gave them a welcome; and there they continued their labours on the Organon. A new seminary of logic and theology sprung up at Nisibis not far from the old locality; and a Gandisapora (or Nisabur) in the east of Persia, there arose a medical school, whence Greek medicine, and in its company Greek science and philosophy, ere long spread over the lands of Iran. Meanwhile the Monophysites had followed in the steps of the Nestorians, multiplying Syriac version of the logical and medical science of the Greeks. Their school at Resaina is known from the name of Sergius, one of the first of these translators, in the days of Justinian; and from their monasteries at Kinnesrin (Chalcis) issued numerous versions of the introductory treatises of the Aristotelian logic. To the Isagoge of Porphyry, the Categories and Hermeneutica of Aristotle, the labours of these Syrian schoolmen were confined: these they expounded, translated, epitomized, and made the basis of their compilations; and the few who were bold enough to attempt the Analytics, seem to have laid down the pen with their ask unaccomplished.

The energy of the Monophysites, however, began to sink with the rise of the Moslem empire; and when philosophy revived amongst them in the 13th century, in the person of Gregorius Barhebraeus (1226-1286), the revival was due to the example and influence of the Arabian thinkers . It was otherwise with the Nestorians. Gaining by means of their professional skill as physicians a high rank in the society of the Moslem world, the Nestorian scholars soon made Baghdad familiar with the knowledge of Greek philosophy and science which they possessed. But the narrow limits of the Syrian studies, which added to a scanty knowledge of Aristotle some acquaintance with his Syrian commentators, were soon passed by the curiosity and zeal of the students in the Caliphate. During the 8th and 9th centuries, rough but generally faithful versions of Aristotle's principal works were made into Syriac, and then from the Syriac into Arabic. The names of some of these translators, such as Johannitius (Honein ibn-Ishak), were heard even in the Latin schools. By the labours of Honein and his family the great body of Greek science, medical, astronomical, and mathematical, became accessible to the Arab-speaking races. But for the next three centuries fresh versions, both of the philosopher and of his commentators, continued to succeed each other.

To the Arabians Aristotle represented and summed up Greek philosophy, even as Galen became to them the code of Greek medicine. They adopted the doctrine and system which the progress of human affairs had made the intellectual aliment of their Syrian guides. It was a matter of historical necessity, and not an act of deliberate choice. Just as the early poets of Rome, when they tried to naturalise the drama, reproduced the works of Euripides, the popular tragedian of their time, so the Arabians, when the need of scientific culture awoke amongst them, accepted Aristotle. From first to last Arabian philosophers made no claim to originally; their aim was merely to propagate the truth of Peripateticism as it had been delivered to them. In medicine and astronomy, as well as in philosophy, they entertained an almost superstitious reverence for their Greek teachers. It was with them that the deification of Aristotle began; and from them the belief that in him human intelligence had reached its limit passed to the later schoolmen. The doctrine is fixed: truth has been ascertained: all that is needed is a faithful and skillful interpreter. Hence, their perpetual labour of exposition and illustration: their epitomes and paraphrases of Aristotelian doctrine. The progress amongst the Arabians on this side lies in a closer adherence to their text, a nearer approach to the bare exegesis of their author, and an increasing emancipation from control by the tenets of the popular religion.


Secular philosophy found its first entrance amongst the Saracens in the days of the early caliphs of the Abbaside dynasty, whose ways and thoughts had been moulded by their residence in Persia amid the influences of an older creed, and of ideas which had in the last resort sprung from the Greeks. The seat of empire had been transferred to Baghdad, on the highway of Oriental commerce; and the distant Khorassan became the favourite province of the caliph. Then was inaugurated the period of Persian supremacy, during which Islam was laid open to the full current of alien ideas and culture. The incitement came, however, not from the people, but from the prince: it was in the light of court favour that the colleges of Baghdad and Nisabur first came to attract students from every quarter, from the valleys of Andalusia, as well as the upland plains of Transoxiana. Al-Mansur, the second of the Abbasides, encouraged the appropriation of Greek science; but it was
Al-Mamun, the son of Harun al-Rashid, who deserves in the Mahometan empire the same position of royal founder and benefactor which is held by Charlemagne in the history of the Latin schools. In his reign (813-833) Aristotle was first translated into Arabic. Legend told how Al-Mamun had been induced to s end to the Byzantine emperor for Greek books on philosophy, in consequence of a vision in which a venerable personage, who made himself known as Aristotle, had excited without gratifying the curiosity of the caliph. Orthodox Mussulmans, however, distrusted the course on which their chief had entered, and his philosophical proclivities became one ground for doubting as to his final salvation.

al-Kindi picture

Al-Kindi
(also known as Alkindius, or Abu Jusuf Jacub ibn-Ishak al-Kendi),
Arab polymath, philosopher, mathematician, scientist and physician
(ca 800-873 AD)


In the Eastern provinces the chief names of Arabian philosophy are those known to the Latin schoolmen as Alkindius, Alpharabius, Avicenna, and Algazel, or under forms resembling these, or under other names derived from various parts of their complex Arabic designations. The first of these, Alkindius (Abu Jusuf Jacub ibn-Ishak al-Kendi), wrote in the reigns of Al-Mamun and Al-Motassem (813-842). His claims to notice at the present day rest upon a few works on medicine and the astrological astronomy of his age,-the only remnant left of the 200 treatises which he is said to have composed on all the themes of science and philosophy. With him begins that encyclopaedic character-the simultaneous cultivation of the while field of investigation which is reflected from Aristotle on the Arabian school. Towards the close of the 10th century the presentation of an entire scheme of knowledge, beginning with logic and mathematics, and ascending through the various departments of physical inquiry to the region of religious doctrine, was accomplished by a society which had its chief seat at Basra, the native town of Al-Kendi. This society-the Brothers of Purity or Sincerity - divided into four orders, wrought in the interests of religion no less than of science; and though its attempt to compile an encyclopaedia of existing knowledge may have been premature, it yet contributed to spread abroad a desire for further information. The proposed reconciliation between science and faith was not accomplished, because the compromise could please neither party. The fifty-one treatises of which this encyclopaedia consists are interspersed with apologues in true Oriental style, and the idea of goofness, of moral perfection, is as prominent an end in every discourse as it was in the alleged dream of Al-Mamun. The materials of the work come chiefly from Aristotle, but they are conceived in a Platonising spirit, which places as the bond of all things a universal soul of the world with its partial or fragmentary souls. Contemporary with this semi-religious and semi-philosophical society lived Alfarabius (Abou-Nasr Mohammed ben-Mohammed ben-Tarkhan al-Farabi) or Abunasar. From Turkerstan, the place of his birth, he passed southward to Baghdad where he studied, and died at Damascus in 950, after living for some time at Aleppo on the invitation of its prince. The legendary accounts of Al-Farabi describe him as man of vast erudition, the master of seventy languages, and accomplished both in the theory and the practice of the musical art. Of his numerous writings on all the branches of science only a few remain in Arabic or Hebrew versions, but his paraphrases of Aristotle formed the basis on which Avicenna constructed his system, and his logical treatises produced a permanent effect on the logic of the Latin scholars. He gave the tone and direction to nearly all subsequent speculations among the Arabians. His order and enumeration of the principles of being, his doctrine of the double aspect of intellect, and of the perfect beatitude which consists in the aggregation of noble minds when they are delivered from the separating barriers of individual bodies, present at least in germ the characteristic theory of Averroes. But Al-Farabi was not always consistent in his views; a certain sobriety checked his speculative flights; and although holding that the true perfection of man is reached in this life by the elevation of the intellectual nature, he came towards the close to think the separate existence of intellect no better than a phantasm and delusion.

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Unquestionably the most illustrious name amongst the Oriental Moslems was vvicenna (980-1037). His fame in Europe rested more upon his medical canon than on his philosophical works; but even in logic and metaphysics his influence on the West was considerable. With him the encyclopaedic tendencies of the school of Baghdad reached their culmination. He was followed by Algazel (Abou-Hamed Mohammed ibn-Mohammed al-Ghazali), whose name was the last that attained a European reputation. Born near Tus in 1058, he studied there and at Nisabur; and having left his native province of Khorassan at the age of 36, he was appointed to a high educational post at Baghdad. There, as well as at Damascus, Jerusalem, and Alexandria, his lectures attracted crowds of eager listeners. Suddenly hi withdrew from active life, assumed the habits of the Sufite mystic, and devoted himself to contemplation of religious truth; and although he was persuaded to resume for a while his duties in the college of Baghdad, he soon returned to seclusion, and passed his last days in a monastery which he had himself founded at Tus (1111). To Algazel it seemed that the study of secular philosophy had resulted in a general indifference to religion, and that the skepticism which concealed itself under a pretence of piety was destroying the life and purity of the nation. With these views he carried into the fields of philosophy the aims and spirit of the Moslem theologian. In his Tendencies of the Philosophers (Makacid al-Falasifa) he gave a resume of the contemporary state of the speculative sciences as a preliminary work to his Destruction of the Philosophers (Tehafot al-Falasifa), in which the contradictions and errors of these sciences were pointed out, as well as their divergence from the orthodox faith. This indictment against liberal thought from the stand-point of the theological school was afterwards answered in Spain by Averroes; but in Baghdad it heralded the extinction of the light of philosophy. Moderate and complaint with the popular religion as Alfarabius and Avicenna had always been, as compared with their Spanish successor, they had equally failed to conciliate the popular spirit, and were classes in the same category with the heretic or the member of an immoral sect. The 12th century exhibits the decay of liberal intellectual activity in the Caliphate, and the gradual ascendancy of Turkish races animated with all the intolerance of semi-barbarian proselytes to the Mahometan faith. Philosophy, which had only sprung up when the purely Arabian influences ceased to predominate, came to an end when the sceptre of the Moslem world passed away from the dynasty of Persia. Even in 1150 Baghdad had seen a library of philosophical books burned by command of the Calip Mostandjed; and in 1192 the same place might have witnessed a strange scene, in which the books of a physician were first publicly cursed, and then committed to the flames, while their owner was incarcerated. Thus, while the Latin church showed a marvelous receptivity for ethic philosophy, and assimilated doctrines which it had at an earlier date declared impious, in Islam the theological system entrenched itself towards the end of the 12th century in the narrow orthodoxy of the Assarites, and reduced the votaries of Greek philosophy to silence.

The same phenomena were repeated in Spain under the Mahometan rulers of Andalusia and Marocco, with this difference, that the time of philosophical development was shorter, and the heights to which Spanish thinkers soared were greater. The reign of Al-Hakem the Second (961-976) inaugurated in Andalusia those scientific and philosophical studies which were simultaneously prosecuted by the Society of Basra. From Cairo, Baghdad, Damascus, and Alexandria, books both old and new were procured at any price for the library of the prince; 27 free school were opened in Cordova for the education of the poor; and intelligent knowledge was perhaps more widely diffused in Mahometan Spain than in any other part of Europe at that day. the mosques of the city were filled with crowds who listened to lectures on science and literature, law and religion. But the future glory thus promised was long postponed. The usurping successor of Hakem found it a politic step to request the most notable doctors of the sacred law to examine the royal library; and every book treating of philosophy, astronomy, and other forbidden topics, was condemned to the flames. But the spirit of research, fostered by the fusion of races and the social and intellectual competition thus engendered, was not crushed by these proceedings; and for the next century and more the higher minds of Spain found in Damascus and Baghdad the intellectual aliment which they desired. At last, towards the close of the 11th century, the long-pent spiritual energies of Mahometan Spain burst forth in a brief series of illustrious men. Whilst the native Spaniards were narrowing the limits of the Moorish kingdoms, and whilst the generally fanatical dynasty of the Almohades might have been expected to repress speculation, the century preceding the close of Mahometan sway saw philosophy cultivated by Avempace, Abubacer, and Averroes. Even amongst the Almohades there were princes, such as Jusuf (who began his reign in 1163) and Jacub Almansor (who succeeded in 1184) who welcomed the philosopher at their courts, and treated him as an intellectual compeer. But about 1195 the old distrust of philosophy revived; the philosophers were banished in disgrace; works on philosophical topics were ordered to be confiscated and burned; and the son of Almansor condemned a certain Ben-Habib to death for the crime of philosophizing.





Arabian speculation in Spain was heralded by Avicebron, a name under which the schoolmen conceived as Arab thinker, whereas modern scholars have shown that he was identical with Salomon ben-Gebirol, a Jewish sacred poet of no mean order, and still popular in the synagogue. Born at Malaga, and educated at Saragossa, he seems to have written most of his works between 1045 and 1070. His philosophical essay, known as the Foundation of Life (Fons Vitae), although, in a Latin version made about 1150, it acted like a ferment amongst the seething mass of heterodox Christian theology, found no immediate acceptance among his own philosophical compatriots, or amongst the Arabian thinkers who succeeded him. His speculations were drawn from sources other than those which supplied the dominant school of the 12th century in Spain, and found a congenial home amongst those who had drunk deeply from the ideas of Scotus Erigena. The doctrine of Avicebron attributed matter to everything, even to the soul, and to simple substances, and held that ultimately there was one universal matter. Thus, while intelligible and sensible substance differ in their forms, they are at one in matter. The doctrine became important in the disputes as to the principle of individuation; where Duns Scotus, in opposition to Aquinas, reverted to the position of Avicebron, whom he also resembled in his doctrine of the superiority of the will to the intellect.

Such questions in the present age would seem to fall strictly within the sphere of logic. But it was the characteristic of the thinkers of the mediaeval period, both Arabian and Christian, to magnify the power of abstract ideas, and to give a deep reality to logical metaphysical ideas. The earlier schoolmen exaggerated the value of general and species, till everything else grew faint in comparison; and the Arabian thinkers similarly took in awful earnest the distinction of material and formal. Abstractions were first realized with uncommon distinctness and became almost palpable; and then they were introduced into the world of popular conception. An irresistible attraction drew thinkers of different classes to apply their metaphysical subtleties to the religious ideas of a celestial order of beings, and the results of this application not unnaturally gave rise to heresies.

The ideas of Avicebron are the one-sided consequences of principles which had an influence, but a secondary one, on the whole Arabian school. They descend in the last instance from the Alexandrians, - particularly as Alexandrian ideas are presented in the book De Causis, and in the Apocryphal Theology of Aristotle. Both of these works (which passed under a variety of other names) belong to a class of writings of Neo-Platonic tone and contents, which were accredited by their ascription to Pythagoras, Empedocles, Plato, and Aristotle, and circulated amongst the Arabians before the canon of Peripatetic scriptures had been definitively fixed by the school of Baghdad. The Theology known as Aristotle's did not appear in Latin before 1519, when it was translated from an Arabic manuscript of the 9th century; whereas the De Causis, although unknown to the Moslem world, was familiar to the Latins of the 13th century. The Theology was an exposition of the theory of Plotinus; the De Causis was extracted from the Theological Elements of Proclus; and both works presented the usual Alexandrian system of emanation and hypostases, - the graduated series of externalizations and manifestations of the first cause or absolute unity, firstly, in Intelligence; secondly, in the Soul of the universe; thirdly, in Nature and the region of mutability. These successive spheres of being, where the central unity expands into the circumferences without losing its simplicity, and the circumference is instinctively led towards its controlling centre, lay ate basis of the conception of the universe held more or less by all the Moslem philosophers. The first of creatures, says Avicenna, is the Intelligence, in which are contained soul and life. The first cause is above all intelligence. The principles exert a causal influence according to their degree of elevation.

About a generation after Avicebron the rank of Moslem thinkers proper was introduced by
Abou-Bekr Mohammed ben-Jahya, surnamed Ibn-Badja, and known to the Latin world as Avempace. He was born at Saragossa, and died comparatively young at Fez 1138. Besides commenting on various physical treatises of Aristotle's, he wrote some philosophical essays, notably one on the Republic or Regime of the Solitary. In its general character, and in several peculiarities, it resembles the Republic of Plato. The Solitary of whom Ibn-Badja speaks is the stranger who seeks for a better commonwealth than the common vulgarity of the world,-who, like some rare plant that springs up unsown in a bed of ordinary flowers, would fain regain his native air. Ibn-Badja proposed to trace the steps by which such an one taken alone, rising above his animal nature, might by abstraction and reflection elicit the universal forms of material things from the data of sense, and thus finally apprehend the pure intelligences or speculative forms. As against Algazel, he maintained the right of the intellect to rise by scientific contemplation to the philosophical heaven, - to a union with the ever-active intellect which moves the spheres. The consciousness of this union is the commonwealth of the solitary, - the enduring commonwealth of intellect in which the philosopher abides.

The same theme was developed by
Ibn-Tofail in his philosophical romance, called Havy ibn-Jakhan (the Living, Son of the Waking One), best known by Pococke's Latin version, as the Philosophus Autodidactus. Ibn-Tofail, the Abubacer of the schoolmen, was born at Guadix in Andalusia, and died at Marocco in 1185. at the court of Jusuf he combined the offices of vizier and physician, and employed his influence to introduce younger students to the notice of the prince. Ibn-Tofail wrote on medicine and astronomy, as well as philosophy, but his romance, which has been translated into Hebrew, Latin, English, and other European languages, is his only extant work. It describes the process by which an isolated truth-seeker detaches himself from his lower passion and raises himself above the material earth and the orbs of heaven to the forms which are the source of their movement, until he arrives at a union with the supreme intellect. The experiences of the religious mystic are paralleled with the ecstatic vision in which the philosophical hermit sees a world of pure intelligences, where birth and decease are unknown.


Averroes (ibn-Rushd) statue

Statue of the great Arab scholar and philosopher, Averroes (or ibn-Rushd), (1126-98 AD), located in Cordoba, Spain, where he lived


It was this theory which Averroes (1126-1198), the last and most famous of the thinkers of Moslem Spain, carried out to his doctrine of the unity of intellect. The whole doctrine will be discussed under the heading AVERROES; but its general purport is this. Reproducing, on one hand, the customary psychology of Aristotle as it rises gradually from the mere sense to the understanding, it emphasizes, on another hand, the permanent subsistence and action of intellect apart from all materiality and from the individuals who share in the intellectual power. In the active intellect it finds the motive principle, and the full fruition of human reason. Sometimes this intellect is invested with the supremacy of the sphere beneath the moon, and connected with a more universal intelligence through a hierarchy of spiritual principles in the celestial system. Such a mind is the sole actual intellect in which the generations of thinking men live and move. In complete union with it lies their perfect beatitude; and, save as a temporary participant in the blessings of this universal form, the intellectual soul is a nonentity.

The philosophers thus characterized were in almost every case physicians; and with their medical knowledge they frequently combined studies in mathematics, astronomy, and alchemy. In all these departments they were the pupils of Greeks, text they accepted almost as a revelation. Their talent lay in the elaboration of details, and in correcting certain mistakes of their guides; but they never introduced any comprehensive change. Still their conjunct prosecution of physical and metaphysical studies gave them an advantage over their Latin contemporaries, with whom the schools of dialetic grew into exaggerated prominence, whilst few traces were left, as a Salerno, of the medical and scientific pursuits of the ancient world. Their acquaintance with art was another feature in favour of the Arabians. Al-Kendi, Al-Farabi, and Ibn-Badja were musicians of note: Ibn-Tofail and Ben-Gebirol were famous as poets. Their studies in the sacred law and in theology did not unduly dominate their philosophical investigations, and they combined much practical work as physicians and statesmen with an almost incredible industry in appropriating and systematizing the wisdom of Greece. But the great education value of Arabian philosophy for the later schoolmen consisted in its making them acquainted with an entire Aristotle. At the moment when it seemed as if everything had been made that could be made out of the fragments of Aristotle, and the compilations of Capella, Cassiodorus, and others, and when mysticism and skepticism seemed the only resources left for the mind, the horizon of knowledge was suddenly widened by the acquisition of a complete Aristotle. Thus the mistakes inevitable in the isolated study of an imperfect Organon could not henceforth be made. The real bearing of old questions, and the meaninglessness of many disputes, were seen in the new conception of Aristotelianism given by the Metaphysics, and other treatises. The former Realism and Nominalism were lifted into a higher phase by the principle of the universalizing action of intellect - (Intellectus in formis agit universalitatem). The commentaries of the Arabians in this respect supplied nutriment more readily assimilated by the pupils than the pure text would have

Arabian philosophy, whilst it promoted the exegesis of Aristotle and increased his authority, was not less notable as the source of the separation between theology and philosophy. Speculation fell on irreligious paths. In many cases the heretical movement was due less to foreign example than to the indwelling tendencies of the dominant school of Realism. But it is not less certain that the very considerable freedom of the Arabians from theological bias served indirectly to intensity the prevailing protest against Sacerdotalism, and prepared the time when philosophy shook off its ecclesiastical vestments. In the hurry of first terror, the struck Aristotle with the anathema launched against innovations in philosophy. The provincial council of Paris in 1209, which condemned Amalricus and his followers, as well as David of Dinant's works, forbade the study of Atistotle's Natural Philosophy, and the Commentaries. In 1215 the same prohibition was repeated, specifying the Metaphysics and Physics, and the Commentaries by the Spaniard Mauritius (i.e. probably Avveroes). Meanwhile Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, accepting the exegetical services of the Arabians, did their best to controvert the obnoxious doctrine of the Intellect, and to defend the orthodoxy of Aristotle against the unholy glosses of infidels. But it is doubtful whether even they kept as pure from the infection of illegitimate doctrine as they supposed. The tide meanwhile flowed in stronger and stronger. In 1270 Stephen Tempier, bishop of Paris, supported by an assembly of theologians, anathematized thirteen propositions bearing the stamp of Arabian authorship; but in 1277 the same views and others more directly offensive to Christians and theologians had to be censured again. Raymond Lyllu, in a dialogue with an infidel thinker, broke a lance in support of the orthodox doctrine, and carried on a crusade against the Arabians in every university; and a disciple of Thomas Aquinas drew up a list (De Erroribus philosophorum) of the several delusions and errors of each of the thinkers from Alkindius to Averroes. Strong in their conviction of the truth of Aristotelianism, the Arabians carried out their logical results in the theological field, and made the distinction of necessary and possible, of form and matter, the basis of conclusions in the most momentous questions. They refused to accept the doctrine of creation because it conflicted with the explanation of forms as the necessary evolution of matter. They denied the particular providence of God, because knowledge in the divine sphere did not descend to singulars. They excluded the Deity from all direct action upon the world, and substituted for a cosmic principle the active intellect,-thus holding a form of Pantheism. But all did not go the same length in their divergence from the popular creed.

The half-legendary accounts which attribute the intro duction of Arabian science to Gerbert, afterwards Pope Sylvester II., to Constantinus Africanus, and to Adelard of Bath, if they have any value, refer mainly to medical science and mathematics. It was not till about the middle of the 12th century that under the patronage of Raymond, archbishop of Seville, a society of translators, with the archdeacon Dominicus Gundisalvi at their head, produced Latin versions of the Commentaries of Avicenna and Algazel, of the Fons Vitoe of Avicebron, and of several Aristotelian treatises. The working translators were converted Jews, the best known among them being Joannes Avendeath. With this effort began the chief translating epoch for Arabic works. Avicenna's Canon of Medicine was first translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona (d. 1187), to whom versions of other medical and astronomical works are due. The movement towards introducing Arabian science and philosophy into Europe, however, culminated under the patronage of the Emperor Frederick II. (1212-1250). Partly from superiority to the narrowness of his age, and partly in the interest of his struggle with the Papacy, this Malleus ecclesioe Romanoe drew to his court those savants whose pursuits were discouraged by the church, and especially students in the forbidden lore of the Arabians. He is said to have pensioned Jews for purposes of translation. One of the scholars to whom Frederick gave a welcome was Michael Scot, the first translator of Averroes. Scot had sojourned at Toledo about 1217, and had accomplished the versions of several astronomical and physical treatises, mainly, if we believe Roger Bacon, by the labours of a Jew named Andrew. But Bacon is apparently phypercritical in his estimate of the translators from the Arabic. Another protxgé of Frederick's was Hermann the German (Alemannus), who, between the years 1243 and 1256, translated amongst other things a paraphrase of Al-Farabi on the Rhetoric, and of Averroes on the Poetics and ethics of Aristotle. Jewish scholars held an honourable place in transmiting the Arabian commentators to the schoolmen. It was amongst them, especially in Maimonides, that Aristotelianism found refuge after the light of philosophy was extinguished in Islam; and the Jewish family of the Ben-Tibbon were mainly instrumental in making Averroes known to southern France.

See Munk, Mélanges de philosophie juive et arabe, Paris, 1859; Renan, De Philosophia Peripatetica apud Syros, 1852, and Averroès et l'Averroisme, Paris, 3me ed., 1867; Jourdain, Recherches critiques sur l'age et l'origine des traductions latines d'Aristote, Paris, 2me ed., 1843; Haureau, Philosophie Scolastique, Paris, 1re ed., 1850 tome i. p 359; Vacherot, Ecole d'Alexandrie, 1re ed. 1851, tome iii., p. 85; Abulfaragius, Historia Dynastiarum, ed., Pococke, Oxon., 1663; Schmolders, Documenta philosophiae Arabum, Bonn, 1836, and Essai sur les écoles philosophiques chez les Arabes, Paris, 1842; Shahrastani, History of Religious and Philosophical Sects, in German translation by Haarbucker, Halle, 1850-51; Dieterici, Streit zwischen Mensch und Thier, Berlin, 1858, and his other translations of the Encyclopaedia of the Brothers of Sincerity, 1861 to 1872; Prantl, Geschichte der Logik, 1861, vol. ii. pp. 297-396; and the Histories of Philosophy, e.g., Erdman's vol. I (2d ed.), p. 295, and Ueberweg's vol. i., English translation, London, 1872. (W. W.)






The above article was written by: William Wallace, M.A.; Merton College, Oxford University, 1867; Whyte's Professor of Moral Philosophy, Oxford University, from 1882; author of The Logic of Hegel; Epicureanism; Kant; and Life of Arthur Schopenhauer.





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