Friday, May 25, 2007

The Relationship between Philosophy and Theology in the Postmodern Age

The Relationship between Philosophy and Theology
in the Postmodern Age

Dr. Muhammad Legenhausen

When I was a student at a Catholic high school in Queens, New York, I was taught that although philosophy is the mother of the sciences, she is also the handmaid of theology. Sometimes the dialogue between philosophy and theology may have seemed to have taken the form of orders given by the theological mistress to her erudite but obedient maid, but that was a long time ago, if ever it was at all. The idea that philosophy should be in service to theology has been rejected in the West by most philosophers, and many theologians, at least since the Enlightenment period of European thought.

But instead of bringing about the emancipation of philosophy, the result has been to place philosophy at the service of her own children, the natural and human sciences. Scientific realists would determine being itself by the ultimate dictates of science. So, where does this leave the relationship between philosophy and theology? Many see it as forever broken off, and many Christian theologians think that this is to the advantage of theology. As they see it, philosophy was never a very good servant, for it was always raising more problems than it solved.

Of course, this attitude is not unknown to Muslin scholars. It is easy to find Muslims who are suspicious of philosophy; especially Islamic philosophy; there are even those, like Ghazali, who would accuse philosophy of blasphemy. Others would be satisfied if philosophy would mind its own business and stay out of the way of theological doctrine.

Philosophy, however, refuses to be ignored. It has a way of making itself noticed even by those theologians who wish it would just go away. Philosophy accuses those who neglect her of lacking reason, and since it proclaims that reason is the difference between man and the other animals, this accusation amounts to the charge that those who neglect her are subhuman.

So, after the rise and fall of positivism, after philosophy had been declared to be a servant of the natural sciences, assigned to clean up left over questions, philosophy arrives in the new dress of philosophy of religion, coyly proffering her own questions for the theologian. On the surface, most or many of the questions are those which have been familiar to theologians for centuries: How can the existence of God be proved? How can God know what free humans will do? Can God make a stone so large that He Himself cannot lift it? How can the eternal God know the temporal material world?

And so forth. While on the surface, these appear to be the same questions familiar to theologians since reason was first applied to religion, once one becomes familiar with the contemporary discussions of these questions it becomes obvious that the philosophy of religion is not as innocent as she may seem. Her questions are not those of a naive girl seeking to understand her faith as best she can.

Philosophy has served the sciences for years, and its servitude to the sciences has required countless compromises with humanism, materialism, physicalism, naturalism, and other ideologies antagonistic to religion. When it raises its questions for the theologians, the arguments of all these ideologies are ready and waiting for whatever response the theologians may offer. If the theologian responds by rehearsing the standard discussions to be found in traditional texts, whether. Christian or Islamic, he will be accused of -ignorance and irrelevance to contemporary concerns.

The philosophy of religion is by no means merely another name for rational theology as traditionally understood, for the very standards of reason which are applied to theological issues have changed. If the theologian is not to be caught off guard, he must be prepared to question these standards, and thus, to adopt an unfamiliar hypercritical stance toward the cannons of reason themselves.

The dialogue between philosophy and theology today is not simply an affair between the questioning mind of the philosopher and the pious spirit of the theologian. Every question comes with unspoken expectations of what sort of answer will be considered suitable. Every search for a reason presupposes a standard of explanation. The expectations and presuppositions which inform the philosophy of religion are deeply coloured by the entire history of recent Western thought. Since many of those who write and publish in the area of philosophy of religion have been trained in analytic philosophy, the standards of analytic philosophy, which are influenced to a great degree by positivism, pragmatism, and the thinking of natural scientists, play an important but subtle role in this field.

The situation is complicated by the fact that many philosophers -of religion, and even more Christian theologians, are influenced more by what is often called "continental philosophy" than by analytic philosophy. Most of the important continental philosophers have been from France or Germany, while the majority of analytic philosophers have taught at American or British universities. While philosophy in the U.S. has been dominated by analytic thought throughout, most of the twentieth century, over the last ten or fifteen years, continental thought has come to play a prominent role in American philosophy.

What is emerging is a "world philosophy," but one from which the Islamic world is largely excluded. The reason for this exclusion is not because of some conspiracy to suppress Islamic thought, but because we Muslims have not seriously attempted to enter the discussion. If we are to enter the discussion, we must beware that it takes place in what is often hostile territory, in the context of expectations, presuppositions and standards of reasoning many of which are quite foreign to those found in the Islamic sciences.

These issues must be kept in mind before the Muslim scholar attempts to survey the questions contemporary philosophy of religion poses for theology, where here, and in what follows, theology is to be understood as including not merely kalam, but `irfan nazari (theoretical gnosis), religious ethics, and even some discussions of fiqh and usul. What appears to be a dialogue between a philosopher who relies on pure reason alone and a theologian is in reality a complex discussion about philosophy, the sciences, theology and the various ideologies which have influenced these broad areas of intellectual endeavor.

Perhaps the attitude of the Muslim scholar to the complexity of the situation will be one of dismissal: The philosophy of religion is the product of Western intellectual attitudes toward science and religion and does not apply to the Islamic world. The conversation between philosophy and theology is really a conversation between a Western philosopher and a Christian theologian. However, we ignore the philosophy of religion at our own peril. The ideas and attitudes that inform the philosophy of religion are not confined within the walls of a few universities in distant foreign lands.

They are part of the Western cultural atmosphere whose volume is so large that it will find itself invading the Islamic world, or rather has already started invading, whether anyone wants it to or not. The international commerce in ideas-mostly Western ideas--cannot be slowed, let alone stopped. Faced with a trade imbalance, attempts may be made to preserve local markets, but ultimately the only successful policy will be one in which locally manufactured products of export quality are made widely available.

Since there are so many different kinds of Western intellectual products on the market, we Muslims cannot hope to gain our market share in all fields any time soon. However, we can hope to compete aggressively in those areas in which Islamic thought has demonstrated its strength in the past, and build on this to expand into other areas. In order to compete in the international market of ideas, Islamic thought must not only answer the doubts raised by various Western thinkers, it must do so in a way that is distinctively Islamic. We cannot simply look at the answers Christians have given and then search for an appropriate ,had'ith to make them seem Islamic. Serious full time work has to be done to begin to formulate contemporary Islamic theologies which are in harmony with the tradition of Islamic sciences, especially kalam, falsafah, and `irfan.

With these points in mind, we can turn to some examples of the sorts of questions raised by the philosophy of religion for the theologian.

One of the deepest areas to be surveyed is that of epistemology. This is also an area to which medieval thinkers devoted less attention than our contemporaries. How do we know that God exists? The traditional answer given by Christians as well as Muslims was that we can formulate sound deductive proofs whose premises are self-evident and whose conclusions state the existence of God. The problem with this answer is that many of the premises which seemed self-evident enough in the past have now come to be questioned.

Consider, for example, the role of the principle that an actual infinity of causes is impossible. A number of Western philosophers, physicists and mathematicians have come to doubt this principle. In defense of the principle, an important book has been written in which some of the ideas of Muslim philosophers are given attention: William Lane Craig's The Kalam Cosmological Argument (New York: Harper & Row, 1979). This is one of the rare cases in which ideas from the Islamic tradition (particularly those of Abu Humid Ghazali) have been the subject of discussion in the contemporary philosophy of religion.

The continued discussion of this work in scholarly journals sixteen years after the publication of the book is testimony to its significance. The important point is that what has seemed for centuries to be a self-evident principle is now the topic of vigorous debate. At first glance it seems that what we have here is a case of a principle of reason defended in Islamic philosophy and theology pitted against the modem skeptics of the West. If we look closer, however, we find that the principle has undergone its own evolution within the tradition of Islamic philosophy.

By the time we get to Sadr al-Muta'allihin the principle is limited to series of actual causes of existence occurring simultaneously. The question that needs to be addressed here is how the unqualified principle came to be qualified in Islamic philosophy, for the unqualified principle was also taken by some (such as Ghazali) to be a self-evident principle of reason, and the version of the principle stilt defended by Craig is not subject to the qualification of simultaneity!

In any case, what we find here is rather typical of the philosophy of religion. Philosophers impressed with the principles employed in the natural sciences or mathematics raise doubts about what had been considered to be self-evident or nearly self-evident principles which had been used as premises of proofs for the existence of God. The result is an epistemological problem. What was once claimed to be known is now doubted. The doubts raised are not unanswerable, but the formulation of answers requires a fair degree of sophistication, including a certain amount of familiarity with current physics and mathematics. The debate about the cosmological argument and the new physics is taken up by William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith in a more recent book: Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology (New York: Oxford, 1993).

Debates about the traditional proofs for the existence of God have led some to question whether proofs are really necessary at all for rational, religious belief. Alvin Plantinga has become famous among philosophers of religion for his defense of what he calls "reformed epistemology." [1] Plantinga claims that for the devout Christian, belief in the existence of God is properly basic, that is, it doesn't need to be proved. He claims that the founder of the Reformed Church, John Calvin, held a similar view [2] Calvin was skeptical about the abilities of sinful man to reason his way to the existence of God, but Catholic philosophers, who have more faith in human reason, have also been impressed with Plantinga's position.

The Catholic response to Plantinga is especially interesting because in the Shi'i tradition there has been a similar respect for the powers of reason. I suspect that in the long run, the responses of Catholic and Muslim philosophers and theologians will be similar in being diverse. [3] Some of the Catholic thinkers who have researched the issue have defended a foundationalist epistemology, but the majority have sought to find some common ground with the sort of view defended by Plantinga. Another major figure who has defended the rationality of religious belief without reliance on the traditional proofs for the existence of God is William Alston [4].

Alston turns modem skepticism against atheism, claiming that we have no more reason to trust sense experience than we have to trust our religious intuitions. Since the beliefs based on sense experience are considered to be rational, the same must be granted of religious beliefs. Alston's work, like Plantinga's, has generated volumes of criticism and responses, most of which focus on such epistemological questions as the nature of knowledge and rationality, faith and belief, or evidence and justification.

Other defenders of the Christian faith have argued that the doubts raised by Hume (1711-1776) and Kant (1724-1804) about the rationality of religious belief can be answered through an examination of the standards of reasoning employed in the natural sciences today, which are far from what Hume and Kant imagined. [5] In these discussions it is the philosophy of science to which theologians must turn in order to demonstrate to those who have faith in science but not in religion that their bias is not dictated by their fidelity to the rational standards of the empirical sciences.

In many of the discussions of the rationality of religious faith, the concept of religious experience plays a pivotal role. This is especially true of the writings of reformed epistemologists and of William Alston, but of many others as well, including Gary Gutting, [6] Richard Swinbume [7] and Jolu1 Hick. [8] The concept of religious experience is one which is especially foreign to Islamic thought, for it emerged in Europe and the United States in the writings of Friedrich Schleiermacher and William fames as a result of the pressure religious thinkers felt exerted by the legacies of Hume and Kant, romanticism and empiricism.

Even the very term "religious experience" is difficult to translate into Farsi or Arabic. The most commonly accepted translation seems to be tajrobeh ye dini, but tajrobeh has the odour of the laboratory and a sense of repetition which is absent from the Western concept. Other terms which might be suggested each have their own problems, for example, idrak, shenakht, and marifat each are appropriate only when some reality is successfully apprehended, while the term "religious experience" is supposed to be neutral as to whether it is illusory or veridical. It is to be understood on analogy with scientific data, and just as the scientist uses reason to judge which of competing hypotheses can best explain the available empirical data, Gary Gutting and Richard Swinbume hold that the hypothesis of God's existence can best explain the data of one's inner religious feelings and intuitions.

Alston and Plantinga, on the other hand, claim that for the believer, the proposition that God exists is more analogous to the scientist's presumption that there is a physical world to be investigated and about which empirical data convey information. They hold that religious feeling and intuitions, including mystical visions, provide data which convey information about God and His relation to the believer, information which presupposes the existence of God. To say that according to Alston and Plantings religious experience presupposes the existence of God sloes not mean that for these philosophers God's existence is a mere assumption, for they hold that the assumption is warranted, and that its warrant can be demonstrated through a rational examination of the relation between the assumption and the sorts of religious experiences that are important to Christian life.

The focus on religious experience has led some philosophers, such as William Proudfoot, [9] Steven Katz [10] and Nelson Pike, [11] to an epistemological examination of the reports of the mystics. They ask such questions as whether a meaningful distinction can be made between what appears in the heart of the mystic and how he interprets this appearance, whether mystical appearances must be analogous to sensory appearances, whether mystics of various traditions all have the same sorts of experiences, whether training determines the sort of experience the mystic will have and whether the mystics themselves take these experiences to have epistemological significance.

Here we find a number of issues about which the philosopher and the theologian can be of mutual service. The theologian provides the philosopher with the doctrinal setting in terms of which reports of mystical experiences are understood, and the philosopher provides a critical analysis of both doctrine and report in order to place mystical experiences within the framework of a broader epistemological theory.

It is not only epistemology that serves as a source of the problems posed in the philosophy of religion for theology, virtually all the branches of philosophy have some bearing on the philosophy of religion, anti raise questions about theological doctrine.

One of the most distinguished areas of philosophy is metaphysics, and metaphysics has long had an intimate relation to theology, especially to Islamic theosophy (hikmat). Muslim, Christian and Jewish theologians have often utilized metaphysical systems based on ancient Greek thought in order to explain theological doctrines. Many religious philosophers have come to prefer other systems of metaphysics; as a result, they find themselves engaged in an attempt to restate religious doctrine in a way that does not use the language of the older metaphysics.

Sometimes, however, doctrine becomes so intertwined with the older metaphysics that they are difficult to separate. For example, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity was stated in terms of a metaphysics of substances, modes, persons and attributes drawn from Roman as well as Greek philosophy. Many contemporary Christian thinkers are now willing to concede that the traditional statements of the doctrine of the Trinity in these terms has not been successful. But rather than reject the claim that God is to be understood as the Holy Trinity, they have claimed that the doctrine is better explained without the claim that God is three persons but one substance, or with an interpretation of this claim that would have been unthinkable in past centuries.

Robert Cummings Neville, the Dean of the Boston Theological Seminary, completely dismisses the claim, and defends the Trinity as three ways or aspects of divinity understood with reference to the creation. God is the source of creation; He is the end or telos of creation, and He is the very activity of creation itself, according to Neville. Aside from this, there is little left of the traditional doctrine of the Trinity in Neville's theology. [12]

A more traditional defense of the Trinity is to be found in the work of a philosopher who teaches at Notre Dame University in Indiana, Thomas V Morris. Morris uses the methods developed by analytic philosophers to defend a version of Social Trinitarianism from the heretical claim made by some process theologians that God is in need of the world. Process theology itself developed as a reaction against a metaphysics of substances inspired by Whitehead and Hartshome's idea that the world consists of essentially interrelated events. [13]

Another contemporary metaphysical idea which has had an impact on discussions of the doctrine of the Trinity is the theory of relative identity. According to this idea the identity relation is always governed by the category of its terms. Defenders of the Trinity such as Peter Geach and Peter van Inwagen have used the theory of relative identity to defend the proposition that while the persons of the Trinity may be different persons, they may at the same time be the same God.[14]

Other areas to which philosophers of religion have applied ideas drawn from contemporary logic and metaphysics include discussions of Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God, the many problems pertaining to the divine attributes, the nature of divine activity, God's foreknowledge and human responsibility, the nature of creation ex nihilo and the problem of evil.

Older than epistemology and at least as ancient as metaphysics is ethics. Philosophical reflections on good and evil, right and wrong and virtue and vice have always mingled with religious thought, and today, as well, philosophers whose primary concern is the nature of value and morality are raising important questions for theologians to ponder. All of the religions systematize moral thought to a certain extent, for all religions issue imperatives disobedience to which is considered morally as well as religiously wrong. Must moral theory conform to the moral concepts embodied in religion? Can there be altruistic ideals that go beyond the moral ideals of religion? Can religion issue orders which nullify moral imperatives? Can a person be morally reprehensible without violating any religious law?

Can a rational ethics put constraints on an acceptable interpretation of religion? How could God, who is perfectly good, order Abraham to kill his son? This last question was forcefully raised by Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1885), and it is still a problem frequently discussed among Christian philosophers and theologians. Kierkegaard's answer, of course, was that religion issues orders with a force beyond anything found in morality, orders which from the point of view of reason would be considered wrong. Philosophers and theologians who are not satisfied with this fideist approach to religious commands must find a plausible reconciliation between reason and moral intuition, . on the one hand, and religious rulings and actions of those considered faultless, on the other.

The question of the relation between divine commands and moral imperatives has become the focus of considerable debate among contemporary philosophers of religion largely as a result of the work of Robert M. Adams. [15] In his articles on divine command theories of morality, Adams has sought to reconcile the idea that actions are wrong or right because they are forbidden or commanded by God with the idea that God's commands are not arbitrary. Adams is no Ash`arite, and will not accept the claim that if God were to command cruelty and infidelity then torture and treason would be morally praiseworthy. God's commands have moral force, according to Adams, only because God is perfectly good, just and benevolent; but without God's commands, Adams contends there would be no moral imperatives at all.

Other recent publications in which the relation between religion and morality are discussed include J. L. Mackie's The Miracle of Theism [16] and many of the writings of Alasdair MacIntyre. [17] Mackie argues as an admitted atheist that the only ways to make sense of the relation between fact and value is either through Hume's moral philosophy or through a religious theory. He even confesses that if no variation on Hume's theory is ultimately defensible, we should be forced to seek a religious explanation to the manner in which values seem to supervene on natural properties.

MacIntyre is also interested in the fact/value dichotomy, and he explicitly seeks to refute Hume's approach to the problem, and to refute most other modem theorists as well. But MacIntyre is not satisfied with the notion that facts are related to values by divine decree; instead he seeks to revive a version of an Aristotelian teleological ethics, but one in which perfection is to be understood by means of attention to the movement of tradition and historical narrative, rather than through biology (as Aristotle sometimes seemed to suggest). Religion becomes paramount in MacIntyre's thinking because it is only religion which is able to support the sorts of traditions and historical narratives which can provide a firm basis for the moral life.

No discussion of the way religious narratives can contribute to our understanding of who we are and where we are headed would be complete without some attention to the issue of religious language, and this brings us to another area in which the philosopher may be seen as posing questions for the theologian.

One of the areas of most intense activity in twentieth century Western philosophy is that of the philosophy of language. The German mathematician, logician and philosopher Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) initiated a research program in the philosophy. of language concerned with such problems as sense and reference, the failure of substitution of co-referential terms in various 'intensional' contexts (for example, it, may be true that S believes that a is F and true that a= b, although S fails to believe that b is F), and the logical analysis of various sorts of semantic functions commonly performed in ordinary language by demonstratives, proper names, definite descriptions, and other kinds of terms and expressions.

Frege's programme was carried on by Russell (1872-1970), Wittgenstein (1889-1951), Camap (1891-1970), Quine (1908-) and Kripke (1940-), to mention just a few of those whose ideas about the logical analysis of language have provoked extended debate. The program of logical analysis was soon extended to theological statements. Philosophers of religion began to ask questions about the logical analysis of such claims as "God is eternal" [18] and "God is omnipotent," [19] and the ways in which we may succeed in referring to God. [20]

Although these discussions may be fruitfully compared to medieval .discussions of related issues in Islamic as well as Christian theology and philosophy, many contemporary Christian theologians find the attention to logical detail a bit boring, and irrelevant to their primary concerns. Many of these theologians have been more favourably impressed by Wittgenstein's later writings, and his suggestion that religious language may be compared to a game or a form of life significantly different from scientific language to prevent the possibility of any conflict between religion and science. [21]

Wittgenstein's doctrine of language games also has attracted theologians who sought a response to the positivists' charge that religious claims were meaningless. Although the verificationist theory of meaning advocated by the positivists has been generally rejected, the Wittgensteinian slogan, "meaning is use," provided theologians with a basis in the philosophy of language for turning their attention to functionalist theories of religious language which seemed to dovetail rather neatly with the anti-reductionism popular in Protestant theological circles.

These theologians felt that any attempt to base religious claims on theoretical reason (as in the traditional proofs for the existence of God, called natural theology), or on practical reason (as in Kant's theology), ought to be rejected as reductions of religious claims to metaphysics or ethics, reductions which failed to appreciate the fundamental originality of the religious view, what Schleiennacher (1768-1834) called the religious moment of experience.

These tendencies among many (although by no means all) of those who have been attracted to functionalist explanations of religious language are largely anti-philosophical tendencies, even when they turn to the philosophy of the later Wittgenstein for support. Although there are many disagreements among those who find themselves supporting some variety of fideism, there is agreement among the fideists that religion does not need any philosophical explanation or justification.

So, after our tour through the philosophical territories bordering on theology, we find ourselves back where we started, at epistemology and the question of the rationality of religious belief, for functionalist approaches to religious language, including theories according to which religious language serves to express attitudes rather than to describe reality, are often attempts to escape rational criticism of religious beliefs. No justification is needed, the fideist proclaims, because the language of religion is independent of and irrelevant to the language of justification.

Here the reformed epistemology of Alvin Plantinga, or the related ideas of William Alston may be seen as a sort of compromise between those who would justify religious claims by rational proof and those who deny that any such justification is needed or desirable. What Plantinga and Alston offer is a philosophical argument as to why religious belief may be considered warranted and rational, even in the absence of direct evidential support.

Today's Christian theologians, however, are often unimpressed by the works of Christian philosophers such as those mentioned above. These philosophers are primarily concerned with the issues of rationality and the justification or warrant that can or cannot be provided for assertions of the truth of various- religious claims. The theologians, on the other hand, often seem to be more interested in the effects in the lives of believers which are associated with adhering to various beliefs and participating in the Church. Religion is not a collection of truths about God, they insist, but a way to salvation. Religious symbols are important for many contemporary Christian theologians not as they serve to disclose religious truths which might not be expressible in non-symbolic language, but rather because they present a framework within which meaning for human life is to be found. [22]

Another reason Christian theologians have given for their antipathy toward philosophy is related to the problem of religious pluralism. In the past, Christian theologians claimed that the doctrines of Christianity were true, and that all those doctrines inconsistent with Christian dogma were false. Among the dogmas of traditional Christianity is the claim that there is only one way to salvation for Catholics, the Church, and for Protestants, participation in Christ's redemption of sin by faith. In short, traditional Christianity would exclude Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists from salvation and eternal felicity unless they would accept Christianity on learning of its gospel.

As Christians are becoming increasingly aware that there are good people, even saintly people, who follow a path other than that of Christianity although they are familiar with the gospel, they are finding it difficult to accept the traditional dogma that would bar the non-Christian from paradise. A number of Christian theologians are even beginning to take the view that Christian theology has been too preoccupied with the truth of dogma altogether. In reaction to the exclusivism of traditional Christianity, according to which the acceptance of certain truth-claims is a necessary condition for salvation, some have gone to the extreme of thinking that the truth of religious doctrines is insignificant, and attempts to justify religious beliefs or show them to be rational are irrelevant to the issue of salvation.

Instead of occupying themselves with the central questions of traditional theology, constructing proofs to support doctrines, analyzing the logical structure of various religious concepts, and defending their interpretation of doctrines against rivals, many if not most contemporary Christian theologians have turned their attention to questions about how religious concepts develop and change, how they function in religious communities, how religious ideas inform religious experience, and how Christian symbols, practices and institutions have been used and abused by Christian communities in various historical and social contexts.

When these theologians turn their attention to questions of ethics, they are concerned about how to prevent the future abuse of Christian symbols, practices and institutions and how to encourage what they consider to be the positive and morally responsible development of the various elements of Christian life, although there is often a lack of critical reflection on the philosophical perspective which informs their own moral standards. Many believe that claims to have religious knowledge or certainty reflect a sinful desire to gain intellectual control over what must remain ultimately a mystery.

Today's Christian theologians are much more interested in postmodernist thought than the work- of Christian philosophers trained in the analytic tradition. Postmodernism is a movement which has emerged from the ideas of certain contemporary French writers such as Jean-Francois Lyotard, [23] Jacques Derrida, [24] Georges Bataille, [25] and Michel Foucault. [26] What these writers have in common is a generally cynical outlook, skepticism about the transcendental claims characteristic of the modem period of European philosophy from Descartes (1596-1650) through Kant (1724-1804), the suspicion that rational argument is a screen hiding desires for power, the idea that we cannot escape the cultural presuppositions which largely determine our world view, and an irreverent style.

Many of the postmodernists look to Nietzsche (1844-1900) for inspiration. Contemporary Christian theologians who are reluctant to defend or try to justify Christian doctrine, some of whom even admit agnosticism, find common cause with the postmodernists. [27] Postmodernist writings do not really offer the theologian a set of philosophical questions of relevance to theology as we found with the philosophy of religion. Instead, the postmodernist offers consolation to the fideist theologian for his reluctance to attempt to show that his beliefs are reasonable and excuses for not engaging in the reasoned defense of the truth of his beliefs.

Postmodernism is not a philosophy, but an intellectual movement against philosophy as traditionally understood. Traditionally, the term philosophy functions as an encomium-it is not merely descriptive, but has a strong evaluative sense. To imply that postmodernist thought is not philosophy, but anti-philosophy, is to express allegiance to the traditional ideal of philosophy as love of sophia, as a quest for the truth which the postmodernists find somewhat preposterous. In castigating postmodernism as anti-philosophy; however; I do not mean to be dismissive. Postmodernism is a very important trend which has had a profound influence on many Christian theologians. [28]

The philosophy of religion as practiced by Christian philosophers with training in analytic philosophy may be understood as a movement which to a large extent is diametrically opposed to postmodernism. To the postmodemists, the Christian philosophers seem a bit naive-still arguing about how to defend the rationality of asserting the truth of various religious doctrines. To the philosopher, however, what room remains for religion in the confines of postmodernism is little more than a sentimental attachment to the symbols and rituals of religion shorn of the metaphysical or transcendent significance which gives them their power and is responsible for the strong emotional response they provoke in the first place.

This is a claim. I suspect that most of my readers will agree with it, and that we do not have to look very far to find arguments to back it up. The claim is that the strength of the hold on the human imagination exerted by religion as evidenced by phenomena as diverse as the Islamic Revolution in Iran and allusions to religious themes in contemporary American fiction depends on the fact that religions allege that they contain truths that are absolute, truths that go beyond the particularities of their expressions in various cultural contexts. The questions of whether or not this allegation is correct, and whether it is even rational to believe it, are central to contemporary discussions of the philosophy of religion.

For this reason alone, the skepticism of the postmodernist is important and requires a response. But aside from how this response is formulated, there is this other question of whether postmodernism can provide a philosophical perspective from which theology is more profoundly understood or whether it undermines theology by denying that it has any real connection with Ultimate Reality The Christian postmodemists and many, if not the majority, of contemporary Christian theologians contend that the question of the truth of religious doctrine can be dismissed without damage to religion, at least without damage to Protestant Christianity, because the focus of the evangelical's religion is salvation rather than gnosis.

This contention is dubious for several reasons. First, because the vast majority of believers, past and present, of the world's religions have understood their religions as making important claims about reality. Any denial of the importance of religious truth is a distortion of religious thought. Second, in Islam and Christianity, the Ultimate Reality is known as God, and the practical, symbolic and social dimensions of religious life are directed toward obedience and worship of God as the means to salvation. If claims that God exists are dismissed as naive, then the doubts generated about the reality of the object of worship threaten to make the meaningfulness of worship doubtful.

Without God, worship is pointless, and without meaningful worship, there is no salvation. Third, the aura of the sacred and feelings of holiness generated by religion seem to involve the idea that the sacred provides us with a vehicle by means of which the mundane is to be transcended, the merely perspectival is to be escaped. In revealed religion, particular historical events are designated as revelation, and with this designation Christians and Muslims cease to see Jesus, Peace be with him, as a merely historical personality, and Muslims cease to see the Qur'an al-Karim as a mere artifact of early medieval Arabian culture, but as the Word of God. This transformation of awareness from the mundane to the sacred is accomplished by means of a recognition of an ontological status for the Source of revelation, so that without the metaphysical dimension of religion, the rest of it, including the salvific potency of its symbols, the feelings of obligation to respect its commandments, the attachment to participation in its rituals, all would weaken and wither. [29]

The above discussion of postmodernism prepares the way for a return to our original question about the relation of philosophy to theology. Despite the fact that religious authorities might feel threatened from time to time by questions that arise out of unfamiliar philosophical discussions, many of whose participants are indeed hostile toward religious authority, if not toward religion itself, ultimately the theologian cannot escape an involvement with philosophy. Perhaps the most persuasive reason we can offer to the theologian is that the philosophical criticisms of religious ideas that plague the minds of the young require a philosophical response if the young are to be guided.

Even if no amount of merely philosophical expertise will be sufficient to remove doubt, some philosophical wisdom is necessary in order to engage the sincere seeker in the spiritual work of rising above the widespread Satanic suspicions that religion is little more than a pack of lies. The presence of philosophical doubts in the minds of the young was also the reason given by Allamah Tabataba i to Ayatullah Burujerdi for publicly teaching philosophy in Qum. Philosophy presents itself to theology as a servant without whose help the mess philosophy herself has made cannot be cleaned up!

But there are other reasons for theology to graciously accept the services offered by philosophy. Allah has graced the human mind with a thirst for wisdom, and the wisdom sought includes knowledge of the things of which religion speaks, as well as skill in practical evaluations and the sort of precision in which logicians, mathematicians and physicists take pride, and other things, such as history, as well. The philosophical quest is one which propels the seeker to some degree of understanding of all these areas and an attempt to fit them together. From time to time philosophy might devote too much attention to a single dimension of understanding, resulting in waves of logicism or empiricism or historicism, but the structure of the human spirit ultimately cannot be satisfied with a narrow slot from which to view reality.

I am told that Sohravardi Maqtul said that a person who is not able to leave his body at will is not a real philosopher. I am not sure what this means, but it suggests to me the philosophical need to escape the confines of a physical perspective, the need to succumb to what some have derided as "the transcendental temptation." [30]

Theology, on the other hand, is much more limited than philosophy. The business of theology is not to offer a comprehensive theory of reality, but merely to show that there is a Supreme Reality and how this is related to lesser things. Without some attention to philosophy, the business of theology is not likely to be very profitable, because we do not get a very clear picture of God's relation to the world unless we pay some attention to what the world is supposed to look like. This does not mean that theology has to give an absolute stamp of approval to some particular metaphysical speculation, but theologians should not shy away from metaphysical issues either.

Theology is well served by philosophy if it interacts with philosophical ideas without developing a dependency for a single philosophical way of doing things. Philosophy, too, perhaps finds its true vocation in service to theology. For if philosophy is to fulfill its goal of providing an intelligible comprehensive synthesis, it must make room for theological truth and knowledge of that truth, that is, by providing for the needs of theology. This becomes the worship of philosophy, to be at the service of theology; and as in all things human, the highest degree of perfection is to be approached through worship of Allah, recognizing one's own faqr before al-Ghani.

[1]. Plantinga's articles on this topic have not yet been collected in the form of a book, but two anthologies in which there are articles by him and discussions of his work are especially worth mentioning: Robert Audi and William J. Wainwright, eds., Rationality, Religious Belief, and Moral Commitment (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986), and Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff', eds., Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983). Also worth mentioning is a book devoted to criticisms of Plantinga's ideas and his responses: James E. Tomberlin and Peter Van Inwagen, Alvin Plantinga, Profiles, Volume 5 (Dordrecht: D. Reidel,1985).

[2]. Plantinga's claim has been disputed by John Beversluis, who argues that Calvin and the Reformed Church object to natural theology for reason incompatible with the epistemological position advocated by Plantinga. See John Beversluis, "Reforming the `Reformed' Objection to Natural Theology," Faith and Philosophy, 12:2, April 1995, 189-206.

[3]. See Rational Faith: Catholic Responses to Reformed Epistemology, edited by Linda Zagzebski (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993).

[4]. His major work on this topic is Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991).

[5]. See Michael C. Banner, The Justification of Science and the Rationality of Religious Belief (Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1992) and Nancey Murphy, Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990).

[6]. Gary Gutting, Religious Belief and Religious Skepticism (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982).

[7]. Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (London: Oxford University Press, 1979).

[8]. John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).

[9]. Wayne Proudfoot, Religious Experience (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).

[10]. Steven Katz, ed., Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978).

[11]. Nelson Pike, Mystic Union: An Essay on the Phenomenology of Mysticism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992).

[12]. Robert Cummings Neville, A TheologyPrimer (Albany: SUNY, 1991).

[13]. See Thomas V Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986).

[14]. See Peter Geach, The Virtues (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), and Peter van Inwagen, "And Yet They Are Not Three Gods But One God," in Thomas V Morris, ed., Philosophy and the Christian Faith (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), pp. 241-278.

[15]. Robert Adams, `A Modified Divine Command Theory of Ethical Wrongness" in Louis Pojman, ed., Philosophy of Religion (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1987), and "Divine Command Metaethics Modified Again" The Journal of Religious Ethics 1:7, 91-97.

[16]. J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982).

[17]. MacIntyre's most important books are After Virtue, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), and Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopedia, Geneology and Tradition (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990). Translations of the first two of these works into Farsi are being prepared, and a Farsi summary of After Virtue may be found in the journal Ma'rifat, Nos. 9-18, and continuing.

[18]. See, for example, Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann, "Eternity" in Thomas V Morris, ed., The Concept ofGod (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

[19]. See the articles in Linwood Urban and Douglas N. Walton, eds., The Power of God (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978).

[20]. See William P Alston's, "Referring to God," in his Divine Nature and Human Language: Essays in Philosophical Theology (Ithaca: Comell University Press, 1989).

[21]. See D. Z. Phillips, Religion Without Explanation (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1976) and Norman -Malcolm, Wittgenstein: A Religious Point of View? (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994).

[22]. See Gordon Kaufinan, "Evidentialism: A Theologian's Response," Faith and Philosophy, 6:1 (January 1989), 35-46, and the response by Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann, "Theologically Unfashionable Philosophy," Faith and Philosophy, 7:3 (July 1990), 329-339, and the defense of Kaufinan's position by James A. Keller, "On the Issues Dividing Contemporary Christian Philosophers and Theologians," Faith and Philosophy, 10:1 (January 1993), 68-78 and James A. Keller, "Should Christian Theologians become Christian Philosophers?" Faith and Philosophy, 12:2 (April 1995), 260-268.

[23]. Jean-Francois Lyotard, tr. G. Bennington and B. Massumi, The Postmodern Condition (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1984).

[24]. His major work is Of Grammatology, tr. G. Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), but especially relevant to contemporary Christian theology is Derrida and Negative Theology, ed. Harold Coward and Toby Foshay (Albany: SUNY Press, 1992).

[25]. Georges Bataille, Theory of Religion, tr. R. Hurley (New York: Zone Books, 1989).

[26]. Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, ti. A. M. Sheridan-Snuth (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), also see the biography, James Miller, The Passion of Michel Foucault (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993) in which the relation between Foucault's writings and his sado-masochistic homosexuality is explored.

[27]. For a collection of essays in which postmodernist thought is seen as offering resources for Christian theology see Faith and Philosophy, Vol. 10, No. 4 (October 1993). 28. Postmodernism is also starting to attract the attention of students of Islamic thought. See Akbar S. Ahmed, Postmodernism and Islam: Predicament and Promise (London: Routledge, 1992) and Ernest Gellner, Postmodernism, Reason and Religion (London: Routledge,1992).

[29]. Worthy of note is Huston Smith's defense of the religious world view over the postmodern proclamation (issued by Richard Rorty) that "There is no Big Picture:" "Postmodernism and the World's Religions" in The Truth about Truth, ed., Walter Truett Anderson (Los Angeles: Jeremey P Tarcher, 1995), an address originally delivered in Kuala Lumpur for a symposium on "Islam and the Challenge of Modernity," and later revised without references to Islam as "The Religious Significance of Postmodernism: A Rejoinder" in Faith and Philosophy 12:3 (July 1995), 409-422.

[30]. See the defense of atheistic skepticism by Paul Kurtz, The Transcendental Temptation (New York: Prometheus, 1986).

The Study of Islamic Philosophy

The Study of Islamic Philosophy

For a long time Islamic philosophy was under a cloud of doubt and uncertainty. Some people denied its existence while others affirmed it. This uncertainty continued all through the nineteenth century. Those who denied the very existence of an Islamic philosophy feigned ignorance and maintained that the teachings of Islam opposed all free discussion and investigation, and therefore Islam has never risen to the aid of philosophy and science throughout the centuries of its existence. The only fruits Islam has borne for its followes have been intellectual despotism and dogmatism, they said. Christianity, in comparison, has been the cradle of free thought and discussion, they maintained, patronizing art and literature, encouraging the sciences, and becoming a fertile ground for the germination of new philosophy and helping it to develop and bear fruit. [1]

1. Racial Prejudice

Those who attacked and denigrated Islamic philosophy did not stop at the kind of arguments that have been mentioned. They went much further an extended their fallacious notions to general racial characteristics, and extended what they said about philosophy and learning to political matters. It is surprising that although the French politically opposed racial discrimination, they were among the people who sowed the seeds of this kind of attitude, the effects of which have continued well into the present century. For example, Renan was the first person who openly stated the view that the Semitic race is inferior to the Aryan race.[2] This judgement of Renan's had an effect on some of his contemporaries, and some of his disciples and students repeated his views and published them far and wide. This was because Renan was both an unequalled master of the Semitic languages and was more familiar with Islamic matters than other researchers of his day.

Advancing the notions of the 'Semitic spirit' in contrast to the 'Aryan spirit' by Leon Gauthier during the early part of the twentieth century was nothing other than the continuation of the argument made by Renan. In Gauthier's view, the Semitic mind is only capable of comprehending details and particulars which are disconnected with each other or are combined and incapable of conceiving any coherent order or relationship between details. In other words, the 'Semitic spirit' is that of division and separation, or in Gauthier's words, espirit separatiste. The 'Aryan spirit' on th other hand, is the spirit of integration and synthesis, espirit fusionniste, as he calls it.[3]

It follows naturally that since the Arabs are inherently able to understand only particulars and isolated facts, they would be unable to form any theories, propositions, laws or hypotheses. It would be futile therefore to look for any philosophical or scientific investigations on their part. This is especially true now when Islam has narrowed their intellectual horizons and closed the doors to any speculative discussions, so much so that the Muslim student denigrates and ridicules science and philosophy.[4]

Those who stated such views, held that Islamic philosophy is simply an imitation of Aristotelian philosophy, and Islamic philosophical texts are nothing other than repititions of Greek ideas in Arabic.[5]

The views of Renan, which I have just mentioned, were widespread during the nineteenth century. Fortunately the days when the habits, customs, ethical, moral, and intellectual characteristics of a nation were thought to be products of either its geographical conditions or racially inherited traits have passed. Other attempts in the same vein or formulating so-called 'national psychology' or 'group psychology' proved equally futile.

Moreover, who has claimed that Islamic philosophy is a creation of Arab thinking? It is a well established fact that many nationalities such as the Persians, Indians, Turks, Egyptians, Syrians, Barbars, and Andalusians contributed to the development and enrichment of Islamic philosophy.

Islamic civilsation at its zenith not only did not block the path of science, it both confirmed and encouraged it. And far from opposing philosophy, it welcomed and embraced it with open arms. It welcomed opinions and views of every shade and colour. How can Islam, which invites mankind to observe the heavens and the earth and to contemplate and meditate upon their mysteries, oppose discussion and inquiry and restrict the freedom of thought? Even Renan, who expressed the kind of views about Islamic philosophy and science that we have already mentioned, has confessed elsewhere that Muslims treated conquered peoples with an indulgence unheard of throughout history. For example, some among the Jews and Christians accepted Islam while others preserved their ancestral faith and attained to high and honoured official positions in the courts of the Muslim caliphs and rulers. Moreover, although Muslims differed with the Jews and the Christians in regard to beliefs and religious principles, they still married in those communities.[6]

Of course, this is not the first time that this French historian and philologist has contradicted himself. In one place he denies the very existence of such a thing as an Arab (Islamic) philosophy and says: "The only thing that the Arabs (Muslims) accomplished was to learn a Greek encyclopedia of the seventh and eighth centuries."[7] Then he goes on to contradict his denial and asserts that there is a uniquely Islamic philosophy whose special characteristics must be given attention. He confesses that, "the Arabs (Muslims), like the Latins, through engaging in interpretation of Aristotle's works learned how to formulate a philosophy full of peculiar chraracteristics and elements in serious opposition to what was taught at the Lyceum."[8] He then adds that "The original movement in Islamic philosophy should be sought in the various schools of the Mutakallimun (theologians)."[9] These contradictory statements of Renan's and the negligence evident in his works did not remain hidden from Dugat, one of his contemporaries. Dugat believed that the quality of thought such as witnessed in Ibn Sina could not result in anything other than original and sophisticated interpretations and views: and the schools of thought such as that of the Mu'tazilites and the Ash'arites are nothing other than original creations of Islamic thought.[10]

In the twentieth century what was expressed in the form of guess and speculation by menlike Dugat wad found to be irrefutable and proven fact. Researchers became gradually more familiar with Islamic topics than before, and their understanding of the original and unique characteristics of Islamic thought gradually increased. As they came to know more about Islam, their judgement of it became fairer and more even-handed. The truth of the matter is that the malicious intent of the nineteenth century European scholars was quite evident in their handling of various Islamic topics; because, while on the one hand they admitted that "the works of the Islamic philosophers have not been adeqautely studied and our knowledge of their substance and content of their writings is incomplete,"[11] in the next breath they made the most general and blanket statements and judgements on it and said that Islamic philosophy is nothing other than an imitation of Aristotle. It is well to keep in mind that these scholars had no direct access to Islamic philosophy because they did not have the original texts at their disposal, while the Latin translations could not give a full and accurate portrayal of the scope and depth of this philosophy. Today, however, we can speak with complete certainty of the accomplishments which the Islamic civilization had made in this regard and still claim that there are a large number of topics in Islamic thought which have not yet been fully investigated and discussed.

As to the question of whether we should call this philosophy "Islamic" or "Arab", such questions are nothing but futile arguments over words and names. This philosophy developed and grew in an Islamic environment and was written in the Arabic language. The fact however that these thoughts were written in Arabic does not mean that Islamic philosophy is a creation of the Arab element. We who have already condemned racism have never claimed any such things. Islam gathered in its fold numerous nationalities and all of them contributed to the growth and development of its thought. And as for this philosophy being called "Islamic", it can not be claimed that it is the product of the intellectual efforts of the Muslims alone, since such a claim would not sit well with the historical evidence available. Historical records show that the earliest teachers of the Muslims were Nestorian, Jacobites, Jews, and Sabaeans, and that Muslim scholars cooperated with their Nestorian and Jewish contemporaries in their philosophical and scientific investigations.

In any case, I am inclined to call this philosophy "Islamic" because of two reasons. Firstly, Islam is not just a religion it is also a civilization; and the topics of Islamic philosophy, despite the variety of its sources and backgrounds of writers, are rooted in the Islamic civilization. Secondly, the problems, the foundations, and aims of this philosophy are all Islamic, and it was Islam that formed this cohesive philosophy by gathering teachings and views belonging to many different cultures and schools of thought.

2. Islamic Philosophy

Islamic philosophy is unique in the sort of topics and issues with which it deals, the sort of problems it attempts to solve and the methods it uses in order to solve them

Islamic philosophy concerned itself with such matters as the problem of unity and multiplicity, the relationship between God and the world, both of which had been subjects of heated controversies and discussions among the theologians for a long time.[12]

Another aim of this philosophy was to reconcile revelation with reason, knowledge with faith, and religion with philosophy, and to show that reason and revelation do not contradict each other, and that religion would be accepted by the pagan when it is illuminated by the light of philosophic wisdom. It aimed to prove also that when religion embraces philosophy it takes on philosophical qualities just as philosophy too assumes the colour of religion. In all, Islamic philosophy is a creature of the environment in which it grew and flourished, and as is quite obvious, it is a religious and spiritual philosophy.

(a) Topics: Although Islamic philosophy is religiously oriented, it has not ignored any major philosophical issues. For example, it has extensively discussed the problem of being, and defended its position on issues like time, space, matter, and life. Its treatment of epistemology is both unique and comprehensive. It drew distinction between the self (nafs) and reason, inborn and acquired qualities, accuracy and error, surmise and certain knowledge. It has investigated the question of what is virtue and happiness and divided virtues into a number of categories and reached the conclusion that the highest virtue is uninterrupted contemplation and serene realization of the Truth.

Muslim thinkers divided philosophy into the two generally accepted categories of 'speculative' and 'practical' and their discussions extended over varied topics such as natural philosophy, mathematics, metaphysics, ethics and politics.[l3] Evidently, the Islamic thinkers believed philosophy to have a much greater scope than is generally given it today, and in this regard their work was similar to that of the Greek philosophers, specially Aristotle, whom they imitated and followed. Thus, Islamic philosophy was intermingled with medicine, biology, chemistry, botany, astronomy and music. Generally speaking, all the fields of science were considered to be nothing other than branches of philosophy.

Considering all that has been said, it would not be an overstatement to claim that Islamic philosophy encompasses all the various aspects of Islamic culture. It should, of course, be kept in mind that during the ages when Islamic philosophy was developing and maturing, learning and investigation were carried out in an encyclopedic and all-round manner. Furthermore, it should be kept in mind that the full range of Islamic philosophical thought cannot be fully accessible through the study of philosophical texts alone. In order that a full understanding be attained, it is necessary to expand the range of investigation and research to include discussion of theology (kalam) and mysticism (tasawwuf). It might even be necessary to relate any discussion of Islamic philosophy to the history of Islamic Law and the principles of jurisprudence. It is not rare to discover philosophical ideas, concepts, and views in what are ostensibly Islamic scientific texts dealing with such topics as medicine, geometery, chemistry, and astronomy. Furthermore, some Muslim scientists showed more courage and freedom in expressing philosophical views than that shown by those specializing in the field of philosophy. Also, amongst Islamic mystical and theological discussions, views and positions are encountered which in their profundity and precision equal any found amongst the Aristotelians. These Muslim thinkers challenged Aristotle's philosophy and struggled against it for many years. This struggle led to the emergence of a distinctive Islamic philosophy and thought. Later on a certain methodology and forms of rational analysis were introduced into discussions about the foundations of Islamic law and the principles of jurisprudence which have a distinctly perceptible philosophical tinge. It is even possible to uncover in their involved procedures, rules and methods similar to those in use today.

(b) Islamic Philosophy and Christian Scholasticism: What we have already said may give an idea of the wide scope of philosophical thought in Islam. And it would be a mistake to limit ourselves-as the nineteenth century European scholars did-to the study of a few scattered Latin and Hebrew translations. In fact, if the depth and the scope of Muslim philosophers' thinking is ever to be clearly and fully understood, it must be done through an examination of the original sources themselves.

However, even though not all the original texts have as yet been published and subjected to research, enough is known to convince us that the material gathered by the Muslim thinkers of the Middle Ages was greater than that gathered by the Christian scholars of that era, that the Muslim thinkers explored wider horizons, enjoyed more complete freedom, and made greater inventions and discoveries than their Christian counterparts. If, therefore, one is to speak of a Christian philosophy, or as it is better known, of Christian Scholasticism, it would be more apt to speak first of an Islamic philosophy and an Islamic Scholasticism, especially since Christian Scholastic thought owes much to Islamic Scholasticism for developing and clarifying many of its problems and issues.[14]

Islamic philosophy is to the East what Latin philosophy is to the West. The combination of these two philosophical traditions plus the scientific investigations carried out by Jewish scholars complete the history of speculative thought of the Middle Ages. In order that the true place of Islamic philosophy can clearly be understood, and a full understanding of the various stages in the development of human thought be attained, it is essential that we investigate the relationship of the Islamic philosophy with ancient, medieval, and modern philosophies.

(c) The Islamic and the Greek Philosophies: We do not deny the fact that philosophical thought in Islam has been influenced by Greek philosophy and that Islamic philosophers have mostly adoped Aristotle's views. Nor do we deny that Islamic thinkers looked upon Plotinus with wonder and followed him in many instances. If a word is not repeated it dies, and who has not been an apprentice at the school of his predecessors? We, the children of the twentieth century, are still relying on the scientific work done by the Greeks and Romans in a number of fields. If, however, we should go so far as to label the use and join the chorus sung by the likes of Renan who claims that Islamic philosophy is nothing other than a replica of Aristotelian philosophy, or of some others who say that it is an exact copy of Neo­Platonic philosophy, we would be completely mistaken.[15] The truth of the matter is that Islamic philosophy has been influenced by a number of factors, the result of which was birth of new ideas and views. Just as it has been influenced by Greek thought, it has also been influenced by the Indian and Persian cultural traditions.

The exchange and adoption of ideas do not always imply blind obedience. Several individuals may examine a particular topic and the result of their investigations may appear in a number of forms. A philosopher may utilize some of the ideas of another philosopher but this does not prevent him from giving birth to new ideas or to wholly new philosophical systems. Spinoza, for example, even though clearly followed Descartes, was the originator of an independent philosophical system of his own, and Ibn Sina, even though a loyal disciple of Aristotle, put forth views never professed by his master. Each of the Islamic philosophers lived in a particular environment distinct from the environment of the other, and it would be a mistake if we ignore the influence that these particular circumstances have had on their philosophical ideas and views. Thus the Muslim world could have a philosophy appropriate to its social conditions and religious principles. As to what the nature of this philosophy is, only an extensive discussion and analysis of its main ideas and principles could provide us with the answer.

(d) Islamic Philosophy and Modern Philosophy: It is not possible for us to adequately discuss the relationship of Islamic philosophy with modern philosophy in this article and speak of the chain of ideas that relate these two together. This is specially true since repeated attempts have been made during the middle of the present century to discover the principles of modern philosophy and their roots in Christian Scholasticism.

Today, when we are aware, of the relationship between modern and medieval philosophy, on the one hand, and the influence of Islamic philosophy on European medieval thought on the other, how is it possible to ignore the influence that Islamic thought has had on modern philosophy? In this study we shall discuss some examples of this influence and relation. As we shall prove, the similarity between Islamic philosophy and modern philosophy is so strong that one may speak of the existence of a kind of kinship between them.

Without going into details we can say that the history of modern philosophy originates with the consideration of two important issues: firstly, the significance of the experimental aspect, which deals with matters related to external reality; secondly speculation, which is concerned with the rational sciences. In other words, the experience of Bacon on the one hand and the doubt of Descartes on the other, have been the subjects of discussion and controversy in the modern age. Moreover, it has been pointed out before that Christian Scholastic thinkers and the Renaissance philosophers engaged in experimentation and paid attention to the world of nature a long time before Bacon. Roger Bacon, whom Renan calls "the real prince of thought during the middle ages" did not limit himself to carrying out chemical experiments but widened the scope of his experiments to include the world of nature. Now if it can be shown that he had contact with the works of Islamic scientists, we can conclude that his experimental approach, or rather the origin of experimentation during the Renaissance, were both products of Islamic thought and Muslim thinkers, because they were the ones who used observatories and laboratories in order to discover scientific truths.

As for the Cartesian doubt, there is evidence that it had some precedence during the Christian Middle Ages and we believe that any study of the origin of Cartesian doubt will remain defective without any attempt to discover it in Islamic philosophy. Who can say that the doubt of Descartes is not wholly or partially influenced by the doubt of Al-Ghazzali? Even if we set aside the question of influence, the two philosophers are still found to think in parallel and similar terms. Elsewhere in our discussions we have shown that Descartes' "cogito" is not entirely inspired by St. Augestine and that there is much similarity between it and Ibn Sina's idea of "man suspended in spaced."[16]

In short, since Christian and Jewish Scholasticism-which is closely related to the Islamic world-is the link connecting Islamic philosophy to modern philosophical speculation, the probability of transfer and exchange of ideas cannot be denied.

Indeed it would amount to hasty generalization if, without having first properly investigated and studied the issue, we were to say that there have been no connections between the East and the West in regard to the world of thought and philosophic and rational speculation. It has been proven today that an exchange dating back to the ancient times did exist and it was renewed during the middle ages. What is there then to stop such a connection from existing today? Ideas and opinions cannot be imprisoned in limited geographical boundaries, their movement cannot be restricted. What was once referred to as the secret of the atom, is common scientific knowledge today in all parts of the world.

Viewpoints of Islamic Philosophy

We cannot find any example of a full and complete study of Islamic philosophy either in the East or in the West before the middle of the nineteenth century. This is so because whenever the Western scholar turned his attention to the study of matters relating to the East, it was mostly with the economic or political aspects that he was concerned, not with the cultural aspect. If we encounter any instances of such cultural studies in the eighteenth century or the early part of the nineteenth century, it is mostly based on Latin sources. As for the Easterners, they were so lost in economic and political difficulties during this period that they had no interest in keepimg alive their ancient culture or revitalizing their Islamic heritage.

(a) The Movement of Orientalism: In the second half of the nineteenth century the European Orientalists became interested m Islamic subjects and became vanguards of a movement that rapidly developed and reached its zenith during the first quarter of the twentieth century. Some of these European scholars even travailed to the East and studied in its schools in order to better understand the spiritual and intellectual life of the Orient. Europe and America competed with each other in the publication of Islamic culture. Schools where Oriental languages were taught, and colleges where Islamic subjects were studied were established in Paris, Rome, London, and Berlin. Scholarly and historical societies were formed for the sole purpose of investigating and examining the various aspects of Islamic civilization.

Periodically, seminars were held by Orientalists, where valuable presentations and discussions occured. At the same time, learned and scholarly journals and publications were devoted to the study of Oriental subjects. These debates, discussions and exchanges of views, caused the cloud of ignorance and confusion to be scattered and the facts of the matter to be more cleady perceived.

This Orientalist movement had welcome results. Texts unknown up to the time were discovered. Precious manuscripts of texts were published. The new techniques of publication of books accompanied with notes and indices came into widespread usage, and a number of the most important works in the libraries of the Muslim world were translated into living European languages such as Italian, French, English and Gemman. The publishing of such translated works in turn stimulated interest and discussion in various aspects of Islamic civilization such as politics, economics, history, literature, Quranic interpretation and exegesis, science and philosophy all of which received brief treatment in articles published in scholarly journals and were dealt with extensively in books.

Research and study increased in proportion to the level of knowledge and information that became available. Scholars and investigators fell into the habit of spending years in scholarly research in order to clarify hidden or poorly understood points. Such intensive researches led various groups of scholars to specialize in different aspects of the Islamic civilization. Some became experts in the Arabic language and Islamic literature while others became specialists in Islamic theology and jurisprudence. Still a third group concentrated on Muslim mysticism, while a fourth group delved deep into the field of Islamic science and philosophy. The fruit of this expansion and specialization in the field of Islamic studies was the Encyclopedia of Islam which was published in French, German and English languages. This book is itself the clear proof of the extensive knowledge of Islam gathered by the Orientalists and their intense interest in Islamic culture and civilization. The Encyclopedia of Islam is indeed a rich and important source of information indispensable for every researcher of Islamic subjects.

The East was also influenced by the work of the Western Orientalists. The scholars of the East adopted many of their views, translated many of their texts, and following the path paved by them, became their partners in reviving the glory and brilliance of Eastern culture They also finished what had been left incomplete by the Western Orientalists or filled in gaps left in their treatment of various subjects. These contributions, although small in each instance, were spread over a wide range, so that none of the aspects of Islamic culture were ignored. Still what has been done is only the beginning of an effort that must grow and expand.

(b) The Orientalists And Philosophy: Philosophy was not left out of the general trend described above. Texts written by Muslim philosophers, which had remained in their original manuscript form, were published and the original Arabic versions were compared with the Hebrew and Latin translations of them which were extant. The study of their notes and commentaries helped a great deal in solving any problems which may have existed in regard to their meaning. Without the efforts of the Orientalists, these books would have remained in some corner of a library, unread, gathering dust. And if it were not for the fact that they understood a number of ancient and modern languages and possessed a correct methodology, the works published by them would not have been characterized by such care and authenticity.

The work of the European Orientalists was not limited to the printing and publication of books; they tried to discover and explore the whole horizon of intellectual life in Islam and to write about it. For instance, they wrote about the history of Islamic philosophy and philosophers, theology and the theologians, Sufism and the Sufies and described the various sects and schools of thought found in Islam. Sometimes they investigated the life, opinions and views of one individual. At other times they wrote books about scientific terms and definitions, so that their names were inseparably linked with the subject of their specialization. Who, for example, on hearing the name of Nicholson is not reminded of tasawwuf? It would be outside of the scope of this work to mention all the Orientalists alongside the subjects of their specialization which made them famous. It would suffice to say that Orientalism possessed a unique vigour and vitality during the first quarter of the present century which also included the study and investigation of speculative subjects. In spite of all this, the history of Islamic philosophy and the views of its most eminent thinkers are as yet insufficiently understood and it is the missing link in the chain of human intellectual history. We still do not know exactly how this philosophy came into existence, what was the manner of its development, what factors caused its flourishing and flowering, and what were the causes of its decay. Nor has the work of the Islamic philosophers ever been scrutinized one by one so as to show how much each one of them borrowed or inherited from his predecessors and how much of his philosophy was the result of his own original thought. The sad truth of the matter is that the shining stars of Islamic philosophy are strangers in their own lands and to their own people. What better proof of this than the fact that many of us Easterners know more about Rousseau and Spencer than about Al­Kindi and Al­Farabi? And if God had not so decreed that a group of Orientalists should make a study of them, today we would have known nothing useful about these great figures.

The work of the Orientalists, however, is too limited in scope to adequately deal with a subject such as Islamic philosophy. Moreover, in some cases they contain either literal or technical errors, or are deficient in some other manner. Sometimes these studies are so brief that it is not possible to fathom the intent of their writers. Perhaps the cause of all these difficulties is that some of the scholars who have investigated Islamic philosophy do not understand the Arabic language sufficiently and have not mastered the history of Islamic culture. Others, not lacking in any of the aforementioned aspects are completely ignorant of the history of Islamic philosophy. There are, of course, brilliant exceptions to this general weakness. Two examples of such beautiful and informative works are Van den Bergh's translation of the Metaphysics of Ibn Rushd, and De Boer's History of Islamic Philosophy. One cannot reall Van den Bergh's book and not feel that he is reading a philosopher commenting on philosophy.[16] And one cannot reall De Boer's book without wishing that he had made it a much larger work.[17]

Of course, much time has passed since the publication of the books mentioned above and the other works by the Orientalists. They are thus in need of revision, and the conclusions reached in them must be re­examined in the light of the far greater knowledge of Islamic thought now available. This is especially true since the more access we have attained to the original manuscripts, the greater was the rapidity by which our problems have been solved and our mistakes corrected.

Although the history of the efforts to gather the inheritance of Islamic tradition and attempts to revitalize the Islamic civilization date back only to the beginning of the twentieth century, a great deal of progress has been made and much material has been made available to the researcher. Nevertheless, the need for new analysis and discussion based on the study of these newly available facts and source material is absolutely undeniable.

(c) The Road Ahead: We must continue on the path that we have been following until now and fully discover this hidden link in the chain of human intellectual history, and put it in its proper place. Up to now, the Orientalists have made important contributions and have made great efforts to accomplish this task. It is our duty to try to overtake them; and if we are unable to do this, at least we should keep pace with them. It is not enough for us to make a thinker or an inventor famous by mentioning his ideas or his inventions, we must make an effort to revive his works. All the nations of the world are in a race with one another in trying to publish the works of their scientists and thinkers.

The field of our study is vast and there are innumerable opportunities for research. Our first duty is to gather and publish the writings of the philosophers of Islam; works which have remained as manuscripts until this day, or have been published in an unsatisfactory form. I say this because as long as we have not studied the works of our philosophers and scientists in the language in which they were originally written, we cannot understand the essence and the core of their teachings.

When we found out that treatises written by Al­Kindi are to be found in the libraries of the city of Istanbul, or that manuscripts of the works of Al­Farabi are scattered among libraries of London, Paris, and Escorial,[18] or that from the famous work of Ibn Sina, Shifa', the publisher has printed only the first volume, Logic,[19] then we realized the importance and necessity of gathering the texts of our philosophers and publishing them. It is unnecessary to mention the fact that Ibn Rushd is better known in the Latin world than he is in the Muslim world, and that some American Orientalists have been publishing his writings for some time now.

The publishing of these texts would take a long time. Therefore it is necessary that a number of individuals and academies cooperate with one another in accomplishing this important task. The Cairo University had at one time adopted an interesting and effective technique in that it gathered films of some of the manuscripts and printed some samples from them. Unfortunately it has recently stopped doing this. Maybe it has been because of the war, and the university will resume this practice. I also hope that the College of Alexandria will also join this effort, and finally that all the universities of the East shall compete with one another in accomplishing this task.

A comment about the libraries of Istanbul must be made here. In these libraries, the heritage of more than six centuries of Islamic culture is stored. Naturally, texts can be found there the copies of which do not exist anywhere else in the world. For example, a German Orientalist has recently found some precious volumes in these libraries among which Ash'ari's Maqalat al­Islamiyin can be mentioned. This book is an important source in the field of the history of Islamic doctrines. Since the publication of Ash'ari's book and the Nihayat al­Aqdam of Shahristani, some of the views we had held regarding Islamic theology (kalam) and theologians (mutakallimun) have changed.

I have no doubt that our Turkish brothers are aware of the value of this priceless heritage, and if they themselves are unable to publish these masterpieces they shall not hesitate to make them available to those who wish to do so.

Besides the publishing of these texts, we should also engage in investigation and discussion of the works of Islamic philosophers and get to know them just as well as we do the non­Islamic philosophers. We should prepare biographies of our thinkers, describe their views in detail, explain the factors which were instrumental in formation of their views, clearly evaluate their intellectual debt to the ancients and to their immediate predecessors, and examine the similarities existing between their ideas and those of their contemporaries.

I hope that the day will come when they will write about Al-Farabi just as they are writing today about Musa ibn Maymun, that they become as familiar with the works of Ibn Sina as they are with the writings of Thomas Aquinas, and shall discuss Al­Ghazzali just as they discuss Descartes. That would be the day when it can be justifiably said that Islamic philosophy has been given the recognition and stature it so rightly deserves.


[1]. See V. Cousin, Cours de l' histoire de la philosophie, pp.48­49, Paris l841.

[2]. E. Renan, Histoire Generale de systeme comparedes langues semitiques;

[3]. L. Gauthier, L'esprit semitique et l'esprit aryen, pp. 66~67, Paris 1923, see also I. Madkour, La Place d' al-Farabi, p, 14, Paris, 1934

[4]. Renan, "Le 'islamisme et la Science", dans Discours et Confe'rences, p. 337 Paris, 1887; Madkour, La Place d' al-Farabi, p. 54.

[5]. Renan, Averroe's et l'Averroesme, pp. 79, II, Paris, eighth edition.

[6]. Ibid, vol. I, p. 171. See also Goldziher, Le dogme et la loi de 1' Islam, pp. 29-34.

[7]. Renan, Averroe's, Avertissement, p.11.

[8]. Ibid, p.89.

[9]. Ibid.

[10] G. Dugat, Histoire des philsophes et des theologians musulmans, p. XV,

[11] G. Tennemann, Manuel de l' histoire de la philosophic (French translation by V. Cousin), T. I, pp.358­359, Paris 1839.

[12]. Madkour, La place d'al-Farabi, p.46 et suive.

[13]. Madkour, L'Organon d'Aristote, p. 49 et suive, Paris, 1934.

[14] L. Gauthier, "Scolastique musulmane et sehoiastique chretienne", dans Revue d'Histoire de la philosophie, Paris, 1928.

[15] Renan, Averroe's, p. 88; Duhem, Le systeme du monde T. IV p 321 et suive, Paris, 1917.

[16] S. Van den Bergh, Die Epitome der Metaphysik des Averroes, Leiden, 1924.

[17]. T.J. De Boer, Geschichte der Philosophie im Islam, Stuttgart, 1901, tr. ang., par E.R, Jones, The History of Philosophy in Islam, London, 1903.

[18] Madkour, La place, pp.223­225.

[19]. Madkour, L' Organon, pp. 19­20.