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Discuss medieval Islamic philosophy

  • Coffee Plantation

    7366 E Shea Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ (map)

    33.584141 -111.922249

  • Weather permitting, we will get a large table outside.

  • Several times over the last few months tangential conversations at our meet ups have touched on this topic, so I thought it is about time we cover it in a dedicated session.  We will focus on a short text by the Islamic philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd), the 12th century interpreter of Aristotle from Islamic Spain, discussed in greater length below.  

    We can also discuss the broader Islamic philosophic tradition of which he was a part, starting from Al-Farabi (10th century Syria) and extending through Avicenna (Ibn Sina, 11th century Iran) to Averroes himself, and including the famous controversy with Al-Ghazali (late 11th/early 12th century Iran) the included the latter's book "The incoherence of the philosophers", to which Averroes replied with his "The incoherence of "the incoherence"".

    No background in these thinkers is required, though it would certainly be helpful.  We will briefly lay out some of the context in terms of general history, both on the transmission of late Hellenic thought to medieval Islam and the background of theological controversy in which the Islamic philosophers operated and wrote.  We will also discuss some of the influence these thinkers and controversies had on later medieval thought, including their influence on Maimonides in the Jewish and Acquinas in the Christian philosophic traditions.

    The short text I have chosen to focus on is call "the Decisive Treatise", in which Averroes in his capacity as an Islamic judge considers whether philosophy is forbidden, permitted, or commanded by the (Islamic) law.  Here is the amazon link to the edition I will be using, by Charles Butterworth -

    https://www.amazon.com/Decisive-Treatise-Epistle-Dedicatory-University/dp/0842524797

    You can also find this text (English portion only) online e.g. here -

    http://www.honors.umd.edu/219V/Averroes%20Decisive%20Treatis.pdf

    This work is only 33 pages long,  on relatively brief pages, so it shouldn't be too much to get through before the meeting time.  But as always, the reading is voluntary and meant to stimulate our own discussion.

    Other works I recommend for those who want to read more widely from this tradition are -

    Al-Farabi, The Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle and The Political Writings (Cornell Paperback editions)

    Averroes on Plato's Republic, and for the ambitious The Incoherence of the Incoherence.  Also might read some of his famous commentaries on Aristotle e.g. his Middle Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima (on the soul).

    From Al-Ghazali it is worth reading his short "intellectual autobiography" of sorts called "The Deliverence from Error", and for the ambitious, "The Incoherence of the Philosophers".

    I should also mention Maimonides "Guide to the perplexed" and especially its famous I, 71 chapter discussing the views of the "Mutakallemim" or Islamic theologians and their dispute with (Aristotlean) philosophy.

    There are numerous useful secondary sources on all of this, from a variety of perspectives, of which I can recommend the following -

    Fazlur Rahman, Islam

    Mushin Mahdi, Alfarabi and the foundation of Islamic political philosophy

    Ignaz Goldhizer, Introduction to Islamic theology and law

    HAR Gibb, Mohammedanism, an historical survey

    Leo Strauss, philosophy and law (especially chapter 2)

    Robert Reilly, The closing of the Muslim mind

    That should be more than enough material for even those most interested in the topic.  I have chosen a time in early December to give all a chance to read or consider the subject, and to avoid colliding with holiday weekends.  The weather should be mild enough that we should be able to use a large table outside (weather permitting) at the Coffee Plantation location that has worked for us in the past.

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  • JasonC
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    University of Chicago "book learned" in philosophy and the history of thought; I just love... more

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