ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

216. Leading Features of Arabian Philosophy. -- (1) Respect for the teaching of Aristotle. -- Aristotle was "The Philosopher" par excellence for the Arabians, and they possessed in a high degree the talent for condensing his doctrine. Scientists themselves, they knew how to appreciate and emphasize the empirical foundation on which his system is based. Yet, with all this, the Arabian conception of Aristotelianism is not accurate nor faithful: the number of languages intervening between the original text and the Arabic version (Syriac, sometimes Hebrew also), added to the defective method of over-literal translation, secured at best only imperfect, obscure and often misleading copies of the original. Moreover, his Arabian disciples often interpreted Aristotle through the commentaries of Alexander of Aphrodisias or the Neo-Platonists; they, furthermore, modified or gave a definite interpretation to teachings that were only vaguely suggested in the master's own writings -- especially in regard to the human intellect. Finally, they combined Aristotelian theories with other elements that were entirely alien, if not even opposed to, peripateticism. This suggests a second characteristic: --

(2) A syncretism peculiar to Arabian philosophy itself. -- The Arabian attempt at a rational explanation of the world is based on certain theories about the emanation of the spheres and the human intellect. Accepting Aristotle's teaching on the eternity of the world, the Arabian peripatetics of the East, from Alkindi to Avicenna, tried to tone down the dualism resulting from such a view, by the theory of Emanation: and all the more readily because they found the theory propounded in a Pseudo-Aristotelian work of great celebrity, the Theology of Aristotle, referred to above.{1} The theory of the extra-human existence of the human intellect has had its origin in an obscure text of Aristotle, badly translated by the Syrians and interpreted in the light of Neo-Platonic assumptions. The Arabians espoused Aristotle's conception of philosophy in its relation to the other sciences, and, after his example, devoted themselves freely to the investigation of special scientific questions: this accounts for their popularity with the scholastics. Some elements of the Alexandrian Gnosis are apparent in the Arabian teachings on mysticism, on the nous, on emanation, ecstasy, etc. -- so perceptible indeed as to give a fresh Neo-Platonic tinge to scholasticism as soon as the latter came into contact with Arabian culture in the thirteenth century. These Neo-Platonic elements were erroneously attributed to Plato, whom the Arabians tried -- in vain -- to reconcile with Aristotle, in the name of unity of philosophical tradition.{2} Finally, we find among the Arabians some traces of ancient Grecian science; the psychologists especially adopt the physiological theories of Galen and other Greek physicians, with all their materialistic leanings.

(3) The conciliation of Philosophic thought with Mussulman dogma was always one of the main concerns of the Arabian philosophers. It accounts for the numerous controversies between the "Motakallimîn" or orthodox Mahometan philosophers and various heretical sects which cannot be mentioned here.{3} We may designate as Arabian or Mussulman scholasticism this philosophy in harmony with the Koran.{4} But at the same time we must not lose sight of the fact that it had a value of its own as a rational explanation of the universe, independently of its relation to the Koran. We may indeed apply to this relation all we have said above (112, 114) about the relation of Western scholasticism to Christian dogma.

{1} WORMS, Die Lehre von d. Anfanglosigkeit d. Welt bei den mittelalt. arabischen Philos. d. Orients, etc., p. 13.

{2} CARRA DE VAUX, op. cit., pp. 79, 272.

{3} The "motakallimin" were the philosopher-theologians of Islamism (POLLAK, op. cit., p. 254).

{4} CARRA DE VAUX, op. cit.

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