1. -- Origins.
-- The origins of falsafa are purely Greek; the activity of the falasifa [q.v.] begins with Arabic
translations of the Greek philosophical texts (whether direct or through a Syriac intermediary).
Thus falsafa appears first as the continuation of filosof¤a in Muslim surroundings. But this
definition leads at once to a more precise formulation: since strictly orthodox Sunni Islam has
never welcomed philosophic thought, falsafa developed from the first especially among thinkers
influenced by the sects, and particularly by the Shi'a; and this arose from a certain prior
sympathy, such sects having absorbed gnostic ideas, some related to Hellenistic types of gnosis,
others to Iranian types--for Persia is known in any case to have been an influence on religious
and philosophical speculation throughout the Eastern Mediterranean since the Alexandrian
But it is more difficult to give precise significance to the concept of a Greek legacy; Greek
thought is far from unified. Though falsafa may be called a continuation of Greek thought there
is no perfect continuity, since the Arabic-speaking Muslims were not part of the movement in
which filosof¤a was developing. They were forced to integrate themselves into it as if foreign
bodies: they could not simply follow on; they had to learn everything, from the pre-Socratic
teachings to the writings and commentaries of Proclus and John Philoponus. They started
therefore from an acquired knowledge of a con-qspectus of Greek thought, comprehensive and
abstract, which they envisaged as a separate culture lacking any historical dimension. They
were not unaware that thought had a history but this knowledge came almost exclusively from
their reading of Aristotle, and in practice, for them, he seems the culmination of this movement;
after him, they only see commentators or works written under his direct inspiration. Even
Neoplatonism itself is not viewed as an original system but in the light of a generalized
It would be an easy solution of this difficulty to describe falsafa as having assumed one particular
form of post-classical Greek thought: eclecticism, which had already appeared in the middle
period of Stoicism and exercised considerable influence in the development of Neoplatonism.
Certainly this school, in spite of its internal diversity, favoured the development of falsafa and
contributed to the spread of the belief that Greek philosophy was unified. A text such as the
Theology of the pseudo-Aristotle would confirm this belief. Nevertheless it is difficult to suppose
that the falasifa failed to notice the differences, not only between Aristotle and Plato, but also
between the commentators, or that they passively took over eclecticism, which is itself a
synthesis and in any case necessarily varies from one writer to another. Primitive falsafa could
not establish itself as a 'sect' (to use the term employed by Renan) except insofar as it borrowed
from Hellenistic and post-Hellenistic philosophy a common form, a general concept of the
world, a comprehensive theory of the spirit, the soul, man and human knowledge, with a
technical vocabulary to become the familiar jargon of the schools. In detail, beyond the
structural uniformity, each faylasuf made his own choice, and the first falsafa is much more
original than one would suppose if it were described as nothing but Arab Neoplatonism.
2. -- Utilization of Greek sources.
-- Ibn al-qifti (568-646/1172-1248), though remote from the beginnings and later than
al-Ghazali, provides some interesting information. He enumerates seven sects of Greek
philosophy, adding that the two principal ones are that of Pythagoras and that of Plato and
Aristotle. He considers in fact two great sections of Greek philosophy: natural philosophy, which
is that of the ancients, exemplified by Pythagoras, Thales of Miletus, the Sabaeans and the
Egyptians; and 'political' philosophy, which characterizes the moderns, with Socrates, Plato
and Aristotle. He explains that this division comes from Aristotle. But he does not separate them
absolutely, since he goes so far as to say that Plato achieved the level of Pythagoras in the study
of intelligible realities (fi 'l-umur al-'aqliyya) and the level of Socrates in the questions of the
constitution of the perfect city (fi siyasat al-madina al-fadila). Thus in the eyes of the Muslims
philosophy, culminating in Aristotle, the disciple of Plato, is a synthesis which studies the
universe in relation to human life, which views man in the whole and which conceives of the
whole as the medium in which man by knowledge and virtue realises his ultimate goal in
re-discovering the principle of his being. The philosophy of nature opens out into a mystical
cosmology in which the central concept is the Stoic cosmopolis. It is comprehensible that in this
light Neoplatonism, which embodies all these viewpoints in one system, should have appeared to
them as the final formulation of a philosophic ideal in harmony with the religious ideal put
forward by a more or less heterodox form of Islam. It is clearqthat the primary motive for the
choice of falsafa is religious by nature, since the falasifa always rejected with horror that type of
thought also offered by ancient Greece, known as that of the dahriyya [q.v.], of whom Ibn al-qifti
also says: 'This is a sect of ancient philosophers who deny the Creator, the director of the
Universe. They assert that the world has not ceased to be what it is in itself, that it has no
creator who made it and freely chose to do so; that the circling motion has no beginning, that
man comes from a drop of sperm, and the sperm from man, the plant from the seed and the
seed from the plant. The most famous philosopher of this sect is Thales of Miletus; those who
follow him are called zanadiqa'.
Since Thales was classed among the 'physicists' (tabi'iyyun), it is clear that there are in fact two
kinds of physicists: those who are purely materialist and rejected, and those who may be taken
over by the 'metaphysicists' (ilahiyyun) as Pythagoras is by Plato. It may be argued that Aristotle,
in spite of his metaphysics, does not lend himself to use by religious thought: God, nÚhsiw
noÆsevw, is not the efficient cause of the world; He is the end, but not the principle. In reply it
could be said that the Uthuluÿhiya intervened here most aptly, 'since it seemed to present the
theodicy absent from the Metaphysics, though itself brief on the divine attributes and silent on the
creation' (A. M. Goichon, La Philosophie d'Avicenne et son influence en Europe medievale, Paris 1951,
12). But it should not be forgotten that Porphyry, the disciple of Plotinus, had steeped himself in
Aristotelian thought and saw no opposition in it to that of Plato. Equally, the Neoplatonic
commentator Simplicius (6th century), educated both in Alexandria and Athens, had already
attempted to harmonize the systems of Plato and Aristotle (as al-Farabi was to do). Now
Simplicius, who had emigrated to Persia upon the closure of the School of Athens by Justinian
in 529, was well known to the Muslims (cf. Ibn al-qifti: art. Samlis). Syrianus also (ibid., art.
Suryanus) was as frequently quoted by the specialists; and he, though he did not believe that the
two sages of antiquity were in agreement, at least saw the study of Aristotle as a preliminary to
the understanding of Plato. The Muslims therefore did not lack precedents authorizing them
not to make too great a gulf between the two great masters of Greek thought.
Nevertheless it would appear that the 'Plotinus source', as F. Rosenthal calls it (Aà-’ayÉ al-Yunani
and the Arabic Plotinus source, in Orientalia, xxi (1952), xxii (1953), xxiv (1955), played very much a
major role, together with the Uthuluÿhiya which is related to it. On this point P. Kraus, Plotin chez
les Arabes, Remarques sur un nouveau fragment de la paraphrase des Enneades, in BIE, xxiii (1940), 41,
may also be consulted.
Thus everything combined to give a Neoplatonic form to the meeting of Plato and Aristotle in
Muslim thought. P. Duhem (Le systeme du monde, iv, 322) observes that Neoplatonism permitted
the conservation in a single harmonious whole of what could be saved of the Aristotelian theory
of the universe together with what theology claimed.
At the same time certain elements of the Greek inheritance could not be absorbed with comfort
in this synthesis. On the one hand, the whole Gnostic, or, rather, theurgic tradition as it
developed from Iamblichus to Proclus, becoming burdened with Egyptian and Hermetic ideas,
preoccupied with every religion and every god, developing a fantasticqangelology, was ready to
fuse with the mystic concepts of Persia and India and revivify that esoteric cult which is still
alive. These tendencies, subjugated to the discipline of falsafa by Avicenna, were to flourish freely
in the philosophy of Ishraq. On the other hand, an Aristotelianism which had remained more
faithful to Aristotle, confining itself to the correction of those points where he displayed
weaknesses, difficulties, obscurities or incoherence, had never ceased to be represented in the
post-Hellenistic period up to the 6th century. Alexander of Aphrodisias (2nd century) tries to
explain Aristotle and defend him against the doctrines of other schools. In doing so, he insists
on the naturalist aspect of his teaching and professes a nominalism. The universal exists only in
human thought; 'separated from the intellect which thinks it, it is destroyed.' Thus it neither
preexists particular things nor is drawn from them; it appears only as a consequence of the
experience which thought has of these things: thus the soul is a form of the body and cannot
subsist without it. As for the doctrine of the intellect, a distinction must be drawn between the
noËw fusikÚw or ÍlikÚw (natural or material, which is potential), the noËw ap¤kthtow or kayu sjin
(acquired and possessing the habitus of intelligible thought), and the noËw poihtikÚw which makes
the transition from the potentiality of the former to the habitus of the latter but which does not
belong to the human soul, coming to it from outside (yirayen). This theory of the intellect was
to be the constant subject of consideration in the falsafa of every age. But the Aristotelianism of
Alexander was especially to characterize the Western philosophers: Ibn Badhdha (Avempace) and
particularly Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and to exercise some influence in the East on the thought of
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi. It is thus associated with a transformation of primitive falsafa which takes
place in consequence of al-Ghazali's criticism of the falasifa. We should also refer to Themistius
(4th century), a late Peripatetic: he uses Plato, believing him in agreement with Aristotle, but
'prefers to the novelties of Neoplatonism that more ancient Platonic-Aristotelian philosopy' (W.
Stegemann, Real Encyclopaedie, art. Themistios). He was above all interested in ethics, to which he
regarded logic and physics as merely ancillary. This idea passed into falsafa. His aim was
practical; he wished to render Aristotle more easily accessible, in 'paraphrases' in which he
gathered together the ideas of the master clearly and concisely. This is why the Muslims turned
frequently to him; some indeed adopted his method of exposition by means of paraphrase.
Falsafa, as an encyclopaedic system of knowledge, also owes much to the physician Galen (2nd
century). He again is the author of an original and very wide electicism. He made explicit the
idea that medicine is founded on a philosophical basis, an idea which was to dominate the
activity of the falasifa, who were nearly all savants and physicians. In logic, physics, and
metaphysics Galen bases himself on Aristotle, but his eclecticism is touched with Stoic ideas and
it is in part through him that Islam made the acquaintance of the Stoa. In psychology, he
follows the Platonic teaching of the tripartite division of the soul. Though concentrating on the
study of positive reality as accessible to experience, he believes in the existence of God and in
Providence, which is manifested in the harmony of the parts of the universe and the bodily
organs. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi depends on him, at the beginning of his commentary on
theqqur'an, in order to demonstrate the sympathy of all beings in the universe, from which it
follows that the slightest search is linked with every other. Nevertheless, though Galen
integrated philosophy with science and thus laid the foundations for a system to be found in
every Muslim philosopher, he did not distract falsafa from its Neoplatonic preference, for he
nourished a philosophical literature 'which, starting from the Timaeus of Plato and passing
through the commentary of Posidonius on the Timaeus, ended in Neoplatonism' (Ueberweg,
Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie des Altertums, Berlin 1920, 576). At the same time Galen
represents above all to the Muslims, if we may believe Ibn al-qifti, a physical philosopher (favlasuf
tabi'i) who understood the method of demonstrative proof ('alim bi-tariq al-burhan) and applied it to
all sciences. He concerned himself with the problem of distinguishing causes (the question of the
asbab al-masika to which Ibn al-qifti draws attention), an important problem which is equally
central in Proclus and over which falsafa and kalam were to divide.
Another commentator of Aristotle familiar to the Muslims is John Philoponus (Yahya al-Nahwi).
He was a Christian, who contested with Proclus the doctrine of the eternity of the world, basing
himself primarily on considerations of physics. In this manner he demonstrated that the
scientific spirit, freed from the extremist metaphysics of the Athenian Neoplatonists, could have
room for the fundamental dogma of revealed monotheism.
The Greek heritage is therefore a very varied body of doctrines and trends of whose multiplicity
the Muslims were not unaware. Thus falsafa had to make a choice, and this explains the varied
forms it assumed from time to time, reflecting no doubt different philosophical temperaments
but also religious attitudes to dogma and theology and to the history of the sects and of kalam.
3. -- The establishment of falsafa.
-- The influence of translations is of prime importance. But that falsafa was born at all is due to
the fact that most of the translators were also original thinkers. Original work was often linked
to the translation by the intermediary of commentary. Thus qusta b. Luqa made use of
technical language gleaned from translations to produce individual work, as shown in the Book
of characters (ed. P. Sbath, in BIE, xxiii (1940-1)). Ibn al-Nadim (d. 386/996) appreciated his value
as a philosopher. qusta reveals great subtlety in analysis, and a spirit of synthesis which enables
him to borrow from the different sciences whatever material he needs to deal with his subject. It
is important to note that a thinker like al-Kindi, who is revered by posterity as a philosopher and
savant, is also a translator. Moreover, all the great falasifa applied themselves to commentaries
on Greek texts. Thus, falsafa does not follow from works of translation and commentary; it is
born amongst them and continues them; its lexicon (istilahat) was not written as a purely
philological exercise unrelated to it; falsafa gained definition by an undertaking which combined
translations, commentaries, personal reflections and practical examples.
4. -- The first period of falsafa.
-- This could be called Avicennan. It takes shape in the East between the 3rd/9th and the
5th/11th centuries, with al-Kindi, al-Farabi, and Ibn Sina (Avicenna). It is a synthesis of
Neoplatonic metaphysics, natural science and mysticism: Plotinus enriched by Galen and
This first falsafa is quite distinct from the kalam which preceded it (Mu'tazili kalam); although it
takes pleasure in the rediscovery of qur'anic texts or ideas, it does not make them a starting
point, but is presented as a method of research independent of dogma, without, however,
rejecting the dogma or ignoring it in its sources. Nevertheless, its problems are not unrelated to
those of theology. The Mu'tazila, in order to preserve the absolute transcendence of the divine
unity, had distinguished essence from existence in created beings. For them, there was in God
no paradigm (mathal) for the essence of the creature, and creation consisted simply in bestowing
existence on essences which were in 'a state of nothingness'. The creative act was conceived in
a positive sense as what causes essences to pass from non-existence to existence (lam yakun
fayakunu). God, Whom nothing resembles, was therefore beyond the essence and the existence of
creatures here below. The first falsafa is based on an ontology which also makes a distinction
between essence and existence. But it did not find the idea of creation ex nihilo in the Greeks. It
preserved the absolute transcendence and unity of God by introducing precisely this distinction
between essence and existence in all beings other than the Godhead. For God alone, existence
is identical with essence. But for this reason He is the unifying and unique mainspring of the two
orders of being. Thus this falsafa unites seemingly contradictory concepts of the universe; on the
one hand there is a First Principle in whose unity are rooted both the essences and the
existences of all beings, and in consequence a continuity is postulated between the Being and
beings, which is not interrupted by any creative act; on the other hand, there is an absolute
discontinuity between the modes of being of the Principle and of that which proceeds from the
Principle. Thus it is possible to speak of a cosmological continuity between the universe and its
source (theory of emanation), tending to a form of monism, and of an ontological discontinuity
between the necessary and the possible, tending to re-establish the absolute transcendence of
God. Furthermore, the possible beings, in whom essence is distinct from existence, are only
possible if considered in themselves. But they are necessary if considered in relation to the
Principle: granted a Being necessary on its own account, everything else is necessary because of it. As
was to be the case with Spinoza and Hegel, the possible is always real. Hence we return to
monism. Is that a reason for considering that this falsafa is incoherent? Up to now we have
considered only the cosmology and the ontology of the first falsafa, which means that this falsafa
needed to be completed by a third attitude to Being: the mystical. Falsafa of the Avicennan type
may be analysed as regards its system in the following manner: a first upward movement going
from beings to the Being, which seeks an ontological foundation for given reality; this is human
intelligence in search of a principle of intelligibility in the universe; then a second, downward
movement, an attempt to explain the universe on the basis of a declared principle, which should
provide a total explanation of it; these two movements involve only human thought; but in the
first, the principle is attained so to speak in perspective, as the limit where conditions of
intelligibility converge; thus there may well be some lack of continuity of thought, since it is
logically impossible for thought to reach this limit; whilst in the second movement, thought
starts from the idea whichqcorresponds in it to this Principle, and tries to produce from it the
world from which it came itself; this is a difficult task, since it is beyond the scope of logical
deduction, and recourse must be made to images (metaphors of light) through which the
continuity which is postulated but not demonstrated can be re-established. Then comes the
third movement, which is a second ascent, but this time no longer a simple discursive procedure,
since it is by intelligible intuitions of the spiritual realities themselves, already identified, that
progress is made. Man first sees himself in his contingency, separated from his Principle,
endowed with a precarious existence. But ontology has taught him that his whole being is
rooted in God, and cosmology supplies him with a spiritual itinerary, whose postulated
continuity will be verified by mystical experience. The last word therefore is with this
A second theme which Greek philosophy had touched on, and which Mu'tazili kalam had studied
very closely, is that of the knowledge God has of particular things. The first falsafa, in its theory
of the possible, considerably simplified the problem posed by the theologians who believed that
contingent things could be or not be. However, there still remained the difficulty of the
knowledge of the particular as such: God could not make contact with this in itself in its
materiality, but only in His universal knowledge of that which is. Falsafa was thus obliged to
interpret the verses of the qur'an where God declares that nothing, not even a grain of mustard
seed (qur'an, xxi, 47), escapes Him. This question is, moreover, closely linked with the concept of
creation held by the first falsafa. There is no doubt that it rejects the dogmatic idea of creation ex
nihilo, but it aggravates its case by adopting the principle that from the One only the one can
proceed, which led it into complicated theories on the successive procession of the Intellects and
of their spheres, from the first Intellect onward; this procession plays a part not only in
cosmology, but in the theory of knowledge, of prophetic revelation and of mystical experience.
In this context must be placed the doctrine of the intellect as agent and its role in man's
intellection. On this point explanations vary slightly from one philosopher to another. In
conclusion we may note that the problem of the immortality of the soul is closely related to this
Such are the fundamental themes of the first falsafa. Each philosopher of this school, and above
all Avicenna, has been the object of varying interpretations, according to whether emphasis was
laid on his scientific works, on the relationship of his metaphysics with Western scholasticism, on
his fidelity to Greek thought, or on his mystical ideas. In fact, all these points of view must be
considered together, not forgetting moreover that falsafa penetrates into the Muslim
environment and that even if it was rejected by strict orthodoxy it was none the less steeped in
Islamic thought considered as a whole; we have seen that it was not ignorant of kalam; even in
its logic, where the Aristotelian inspiration is clearest (for example in the Shifa' of Avicenna),
allusions to the concepts of the Arab grammarians are easily discernible. Finally, falsafa
interested itself in political problems, not only by preserving Greek works on politeia, but in
relation to the political, and therefore religious, problems of the Muslim world of that time. The
temporal organization of a city has the double purpose of achieving the well-being of men and
of preparing them for theqfuture life. The union of members of the earthly community
foreshadows the union of souls with souls, and of souls with God, in the after life. Political theory
thus itself embraces mysticism; these ideas are so strong that they will be respected by al-Ghazali
and will reappear in another context as late as Ibn öhaldun. It may be said that falsafa wished
to support shari'a, fiqh, and ahkamsultaniyya, and that it is thus opposed to the spirit of the qur'an.
This is true as far as rigorously orthodox Islam is concerned. But falsafa developed in more
liberal surroundings, where there was a desire for a less legalistic view of religion and for an
Islam which would be cultural and universal in character.
5. -- The reaction of al-Ghazali.
-- If Avicenna is a much discussed figure, al-Ghazali is discussed much more. Some see him as a
reactionary who brought to an end the blossoming of the rational thought of the philosophers,
and made supreme a theology which was itself the slave of dogma. For others he clipped the
wings of mystical thought by fighting the Batiniyya, whose teachings were in harmony with the
great spiritual constructions of falsafa. Whatever value one may place on the thought of
al-Ghazali, the historical significance of his work demands recognition. Even if he conceived his
religious system only for political ends associated with the passing circumstances of the disturbed
period in which he was living, yet he introduced Greek philosophy into the realm of Sunni
thought, through the way he developed Ash'arism and criticized the falasifa. In falsafa, as in
esoteric mysticism, he denounced Gnostic trends opposed to the qur'anic spirit. No doubt he
remained a mutakallim; it would be an abuse of language to say that he created a Sunni falsafa.
He simply allowed falsafa, and mysticism too, to detach itself from Shi'i heterodoxy and to
become acclimatized in an orthodox environment.
The principal points of his criticism (which were to be taken up again by Ibn al-qifti) may be
brought together under three headings: against falsafa he maintains (a) the resurrection of the
body and the materiality of the rewards and punishments of the after life; (b) the creation of the
world in the proper sense and its real contingency; (c) God's knowledge of particular things. As
for the other philosophical sciences--mathematics, logic, physics--they are harmless provided
that their methods are not generalized rashly and that they are not allowed to exceed their
proper limits. The metaphysics of the Greeks and their imitators is on the other hand a
privileged place for innovations and impieties since in this field logical reasoning is not infallibly
applied. Al-Ghazali, like his master al-Dhuwayni, was struck by the differences which rule between
metaphysicians in spite of their common appeal to reason. There is a level of reality where
human reason cannot grasp truth by its own efforts; it needs the help of revelation which alone
provides certitude in these questions. These ideas, put forward by Ghazali in a dogmatic and
theological context, reappear in a philosophical context in his successors.
6. -- The second period of falsafa.
-- This may be called post-Ghazali. It is distinguished geographically by having one centre in
the East with Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and another in the West with Avempace (Ibn Badhdha), Ibn
Tufayl and Averroes (Ibn Rushd). The period is characterized in part by its diversity, the
teachings no longer displaying that unity of approach which the preceding period showed; and
in part by the fact that thisqfalsafa is much more integrated in the whole intellectual and
spiritual culture acquired by Islam over the formative centuries: theology, law, tafsir, mysticism,
constitute disciplines which from now on are established and rich in content and influence,
whereas the first falsafa found itself taking shape at a time when all mental activities were
seeking an appropriate way for themselves, and only Mu'tazilism so far had taken up fixed
Of the three who most adorned Western falsafa, Avempace displayed the least religious spirit.
His Rule of the solitary (Tadbir al-mutawahhid) has as its ideal isolation from the mass of mankind in a
purely intellectual contemplation of the intelligible. In his Risalat al-Ittisal he shows how it is
possible to unite with the agent Intellect, by studying the development of the human individual
from his embryonic life to the speculative life. This is a philosophical psychology of knowledge.
This 'evolutive' aspect of Avempace's thought recurs in Ibn Tufayl, where some influence of the
Ikhwan al-Safa' may also be discerned. The mysticism of Ibn Tufayl tries to go further than the
purely speculative mysticism of Avempace, being inspired both by Avicenna and al-Ghazali.
Averroes, in his refutation of the Tahafut al-falasifa, was led to take up again the problems with
which Avicenna's philosophy had faced Sunni orthodoxy. He replies to al-Ghazali, not in order
to defend Ibn Sina but in order to set out his own teaching, more directly inspired by Aristotle
and the Peripatetic commentators than the first falsafa had been. The meaning of Averroism
has been much discussed. Some, with Renan, view him as a pure rationalist. According to L.
Gauthier, Ibn Rushd only rejects the kind of theology which encloses itself in the revealed texts
and desires to comprehend them dialectically; but he allows literal belief to the uneducated, who
react to the rhetoric of images, while philosophers should submit everything to apodictic proof.
It appears that this explanation by means of the theory of the three classes of spirit (apodictic,
dialectic, rhetorical) does not entirely cover the thought of Averroes. In fact, he was responsive
to the warning of al-Ghazali: rigorous proof is only superior where the object is accessible to
human intelligence. When this is not so and obscurities remain, as in the questions of creation,
the attributes of God, and the nature of the after life, philosophy has no real privilege, and risks
indeed encouraging doubt, while revealed knowledge, though in itself inferior, gains the
advantage since it brings assurance. To the fundamental problems of the first falsafa as criticised
by al-Ghazali, Averroes replies like a mutakallim: he gives up the postulate that from the One
nothing but the one can emerge; God moves the world by His amr which permits Him to act
while remaining unmoved (cf. the unmoved prime mover of Aristotle); God has no will
resembling the human will, since He has nothing to desire, having all; but the idea of a
voluntary act better represents what creation is than the idea of an involuntary emanation (a
viewpoint to be found in al-Razi in his commentaries on the divine attribute of life, hayat); God
does not know particular things in a sentient manner; but the knowledge He has of them
resembles the sentient knowledge by which man grasps them rather than our abstract and
general knowledge. These few observations suffice to show that Averroes took note of the
theological criticisms of al-Ghazali.
In the East, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi is an Ash'ariqlike al-Ghazali, whom he takes for guide, while
remaining attached to the thought of Avicenna. He criticizes the Mu'tazila but he borrows from
them what he can use. He attacks the extremist sects but without breaking down the bridges to
them. Irenic in outlook, in spite of his polemical vigour, he is endowed with great powers of
synthesis and it is perhaps in him that the richest, widest and most open system is to be found.
He explains Avicenna while correcting him. He achieves a profound union of kalam and falsafa.
Thus, like his adversary al-Tusi, he studies the Mu'tazili notion of mode (hal) in relation to the
problem of the divine attributes. For him, philosophical reason may well collect ideas into
coherent systems, but it is for revelation to pronounce upon their truth. Finally, the sacred text
is a stimulus for philosophical thought. Al-Razi therefore clearly differs from Averroes in his
approach; he does not limit recourse to dogma and kalam to certain difficult cases: with him
philosophy and theology are co-extensive and interpenetrating.
7. -- The tradition of Avicenna in the philosophy of ishraq.
-- The work of al-Ghazali was not accepted by the whole of Islam; in particular those circles, of
Shi'i tendencies, who resisted his criticism developed the most mystical aspects of Avicenna's
thought in order to produce a union of Avicennian type falsafa with a mystical kalam of Gnostic
Here we must mention the philosophical corpus of Abu 'l-Barakat al-Baÿhdadi (d. 550/1155),
which develops into an angelology. But the great representative of Ishraq is al-Suhrawardi (d.
578/1191), who was influenced philosophically by Avicenna but gives an important position to
Aristotelian concepts in the exposition of his mystical ideas. On the philosophical plane, it was
Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (d. 672/1273) who was to undertake the Shi'i defence of Avicenna's thought
against al-Razi, a defence which is not, however, accompanied by absolute fidelity: the real
distinction between essence and existence is denied, and one finds in the end an explicit monism
in al-Suhrawardi, al-Tusi and ‘adr al-Din al-Shirazi (d. 1050/1640). This monist philosophy
developed above all in the Iranian areas and is often expressed in Persian. It remained alive and
flourishing for a long period.
8. -- Falsafa as scholasticism.
-- In spite of the great names which adorn even the last period of falsafa, it must be recognized
that from now on thinkers are in possession of received ideas and that they develop them in
variations which offer interest but without real invention. The union of falsafa and kalam was
completed: the stages of this process are marked by Tustari, qutb al-Din al-Razi (d. 765/1364)
and al-^dhi (d. 756/1355), for whom kalam includes metaphysical questions and logical
procedures while offering the greater security of reason founded on tradition. Al-^dhi appears in
this period as the leader of a school whose disciples were to diverge in different directions, some
attaching themselves to Ash'ari orthodoxy, such as al-Dhurdhani (d. 816/1413), others remaining
more faithful to Avicenna, like Sayf al-Din al-Abhari (8th/14th century), al-Fanari (d. 886/1481),
al-Siyalakuti (d. 1069/1659). Thus the earlier discussions over the opposition of Avicenna and
Ghazali are taken up again: in these the partisans and continuers of Avicenna are Dhamal al-Din
al-Hilli (d. 726/1326), a leading theologian of the imamiyya, and qushdhi (d. 749/1348); while
those who attacked Avicenna's school in the spirit of Ash'ari kalam and in the tradition of
al-Ghazali included al-qIsfahani (d. 749/1348) and al-Taftazani (d. 791/1389). The 'scholastic'
character of this falsafa is basically what unites it in spite of the diversity of trends. It is clearly
indicated by the flourishing of commentaries, no longer on Greek, but on Arabic and Persian
works. Thus, al-Dhurdhani writes a commentary on the Mawaqif of al-^dhi; al-Dawwani on
Suhrawardi and on the 'Aqa'id, also of al-^dhi; while al-Fanari comments on al-Farabi.
This falsafa is also scholastic in its method of exposition, which multiplies divisions and
subdivisions. This method was not, of course, new, but it becomes more and more formal.
9. -- Supplementary and conclusion.
-- To enumerate here all the theological philosophers of the last period would be tedious. We
ought rather to mention those works of previous centuries which, though philosophical, do not
exactly fit into the categories we have outlined. We should first recall that theologians like the
Ash'aris al-Baqillani and al-Dhuwayni or the £ahiri Ibn Hazm, wrote of purely philosophical
questions from a point of view which was properly that of kalam (e.g., al-Baqillani's theory of
causality and atomism). On the other hand, the Rasa'il of the Ikhwan al-‘afa' deserve mention;
these develop Pythagorean ideas, frequently with remarkable originality, on the fringes of the
school of Avicenna but in an analogous spirit, in spite of the popularizing character of these
writings. Ibn Masarra, who has been studied by Asin Palacios, was influenced by the philosophy
of Empedocles and Batini mysticism (cf. Ibn al-qifti, art. Abidhaqlis).
Further, it should be noted that in order to study not falsafa as such but the philosophical ideas
current in Islam one should also consider the use of Greek concepts by sages such as 'Ali b.
Rabban al-Tabari and above all Abu Bakr Muhammad b. Zakariyya al-Razi and many others.
The corpus of Dhabir also, in the analysis of it by P. Kraus, should not be neglected by those
seeking to establish the function of Pythagoreanism in the alchemical concepts of Islamic
scholars. In another field, the examination of the theories of the grammarians, particularly Ibn
Dhinni, would supply very interesting information on the influence of Greek ideas in Arabic
grammar. In special philosophical disciplines such as ethics, Ibn Miskawayh should be
mentioned, whose thought extensively overlaps pure questions of morals and reflects the life of
his age. The literary circle of Baÿhdad made known to us by Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi, is very
representative of philosophical culture in the Muslim East of the 4th/10th century.
To sum up, falsafa was a focus of reflection on the legacy of Greek thought. It was not at the
beginning a matter of Muslim apologetics utilizing Hellenic philosophy to explain and justify
the faith. Falsafa began as a search by Muslims with Shi'i leanings for a coherence in their
intellectual and spiritual life, that is, the quest for a religious humanism, with all that humanism
implies in freedom of spirit. Later it evolved, grew closer to orthodox kalam and ended by fusing
with it. Only then did falsafa begin to burden itself with apologetic elements: fides quaerens
intellectum or, conversely, faith illuminating and fortifying knowledge. Only the mysticism of ishraq
retained the primitive humanism of Avicenna (cf. al-Insan al-kamil). In the course of its
development, falsafa spread Greek ideas in every realm of thought. But it concluded by
becoming a school activity. It is perhaps this decline which inspired the disillusioned
observations of Ibn öhaldun on the pernicious effects of education in the Muslim world. q
This great thinker of the 8th/14th century, who spared nothing and no-one in his scientific
criticism of societies, appears at least in his Muqaddima as the most profoundly rationalist of all
Muslim philosophers. The interest in political philosophy which animates the first falasifa
reappears in him, but purged of all Neoplatonic metaphysics. Ibn öhaldun indeed saw in these
great systems concepts inspired by the characteristics of social life. In this sense one can say that
he destroyed falsafa in accomplishing his ideal. For the universality which it assumed for itself,
because it claimed to achieve a self-sufficing intelligible, he substituted the actual universality of
a positive all-embracing science, the science of human societies.
'A. Badawi, Aristu 'ind al-'Arab, Cairo 1947
idem, Neoplatonici apud Arabes, Cairo 1955
idem, Mantiq Aristu, Cairo 1947-52, 3 vols.
idem, Al-Usul al-Yunaniyya li 'l-naíariyyat al-siyasiyya fi 'l-Islam, 1954
T. J. de Boer, Geschichte der Philosophie im Islam, Stuttgart 1901
Carra de Vaux, Les penseurs de l'Islam, iv, Paris 1923
P. Duhem, Le systeme du monde, iv, Paris 1916
Gardet and Anawati, Introduction a la theologie musulmane, Paris 1948
Hanna al-Fakhuri and öhalil Dhurr (Georr), Ta'rikh al-falsafa al-'arabiyya, Beirut
S. Horowitz, Über den Einfluss d. griech. Philosophie auf die Entwicklung d. Kalam (Jahresber. d.
jüd.-theol. Seminars, Breslau 1909)
M. Horten, Die Philosophie des Islams, Munich 1924
M. Klamroth, Über die Auszüge aus griechischen Schriftstellern bei al-Ya'qubi, iii: Philosophen, in
ZDMG, xli (1887)
I. Madkour, L'Organon d'Aristote dans le monde arabe, Paris 1934
idem, La place d'al-Farabi dans l'ecole philosophique musulmane, Paris 1934
SS. Munk, Melanges de philosophie juive et arabe, Paris 1859, republ. 1927
W. Kutsch and S. Marrow, Alfarabi's commentary on Aristotle's De Interpretatione, Beirut 1962
M. Mahdi, Al-Farabi's Philosophy of Aristotle, Beirut 1961
idem, Al-Farabi's Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, New York 1962
A. Schmölders, Essai sur les ecoles philosophiques chez les Arabes, Paris 1842
M. Steinschneider, Die arab. Übersetzungen aus dem Griechischen, (Beih. z. Centralbl. für Bibliothekw.,
xii), Leipzig 1893
R. Walzer, Greek into Arabic, Essays on Islamic philosophy, Oxford 1962
W. M. Watt, Islamic philosophy and theology, London 1962.--For a bibliography of each
philosopher, see the appropriate article. In the context of this article we would nevertheless
refer to the works of A. M. Goichon, Henri Corbin, and Louis Gardet on Avicenna. Cf. also
Averroes' Tahafut al-Tahafut, English trans. with notes (very important) by S. van den Berg,
GMS, N.S. xix, London 1954. On Razi, Tusi and questions concerning kalam, see M. Horten,
Die Modus Theorie des Abu Haschim, Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Philosophie im Islam, in ZDMG,
lxiii (1909). For a general bibliography, see J. de Menasce, Arabische Philosophie, Berne 1948.
FAL$SIFA, pl. of faylasuf, formed from the Greek filÚsofow. By its origin this word primarily
denotes the Greek thinkers. Al-Shahrastani gives a list of them: the seven Sages who are 'the
fount of philosophy (falsafa) and the beginning of wisdom (hikma)', then Thales, Anaxagoras,
Anaximenes, Empedocles, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Plutarch, Xenophanes, Zeno the elder,
Democritus, the philosophers of the Academy, Heraclitus, Epicurus, Homer (the poet whose
wisdom inspired Greece for, with the Greeks, poetry preceded philosophy), Hippocrates, Euclid,
Ptolemy, Chrysippus and Zeno, Aristotle (whose philosophy is described according to
Themistius), Porphyry, Plotinus (al-shaykh al-yunani), Theophrastus, Proclus and Alexander of
Aphrodisias. The doctrines attributed to these thinkers are often incorrect or anachronistic,
perhaps under the influence of the systemization of Aristotle and the Eclectics. Then the falasifat
al-Islam are named. The list is somewhat long; we may mention al-Kindi, Hunayn b. Ishaq, Abu
'l-Faradh al-Mufassir, øhabit b. qurra, al-Nisaburi, Ibn Miskawayh, al-Farabi, etc. But, he writes,
the true representative of the falasifa ('alamat al-qawm) is Ibn Sina, and it is his philosophy alone
that he expounds. From this point of view the Muslim falasifa appeared merely as the successors
of the Greeks: 'They followed Aristotle in all he thought ... except for unimportant expressions
on which they adopted the views of Plato and the earlier philosophers'. This judgment needs to
be radically revised.
a). The word falasifa has retained in Arabic the general sense of the Greek equivalent. It is thus
synonymous with hukama' or 'ulama'. This is the meaning it has in al-Dhahií (K. al-Hayawan, introd.)
where falasifat 'ulama' al-bashar is compared with hudhdhaq ridhal al-ra'y, in a passage in which human
reason and skill, which in the signs of nature discern the wisdom of God, are compared with
animals' instinct, the immediate expression of this wisdom.
b). If the general idea of wisdom (which occurs both in the qur'an and in the Greek
philosophical tradition) remains attached to the term falsafa, there is justification for describing
as falasifa those Muslim theologians who gave a place to human reason and ra'y. Indeed, from
the very start of Mu'tazili thinking there can be discerned, in theqexposition of problems and in
methods of reasoning, a Greek influence, transmitted indirectly by the Christian philosophers of
Syria (John of Damascus, Theodore Abu qurra). Later, when the logic of Aristotle (the
pre-eminent Master and organizer of this branch of learning in the Arabs' eyes) was known
directly, it was utilized by the mutakallimun, but less as an instrument of constructive analysis than
as a means of exposition and refutation. In this form it quite soon became general throughout
Islam, despite the opposition of the strictly orthodox. An instance of this purely dialectical use of
logic can be found in the £ahiri Ibn Hazm (5th/11th century) at the beginning of his Fisal, to
refute certain philosophically inspired ideas about the eternity of the world. In the thinking of
such Ash'aris as al-Baqillani and al-Dhuwayni, and especially in al-Ghazali, despite his opposition
to the falasifa, the influence of Greece is even more positive. Al-Baqillani's theory of simple
substances (atoms) and accidents, the Mu'tazili doctrines concerning essence and existence or
the knowledge that God has of created things before and after their creation, derive among
other things from pure philosophy. Moreover the falasifa properly speaking are acquainted with
these theological schools and sometimes refer to them in order to determine their own situation.
An absolute distinction between them cannot be made.
c). As for the falasifa in the restricted sense of the word, it is not possible to give a clear-cut,
exclusive definition. In general, they are the successors of Neo-Platonism, which is itself an
eclecticism in which are combined Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Pythagorean and many other
kinds of ideas. This Neo-Platonism had been sufficiently flexible to integrate Alexandrian
learning, as P. Duhem has shown. In this multiplicity of influences, that of Aristotle is
distinguished by the part played by his logic. Seen from this point of view, falsafa was a
consequence of the translation of Greek writings, and certain translators were themselves the
first falasifa. Orientalists, following Renan, have regarded falsafa as a sect, and this is the opinion
of Muslims in general. But if there is a common body of doctrine and strong resemblances, the
originality of each thinker and the existence of different tendencies must not be denied.
The sources of the falasifa are no doubt essentially Greek--Plato, Aristotle and the
commentators, especially Alexander and Themistius. But we must also observe the influence of
scientific thought, particularly of Galen, the scholar and philosopher, and also that of an
intellectualist mysticism deriving from Plotinus, and combining theological and cosmological
ideas of gnostic type, the theology and angelology of Proclus, the Theology of the
pseudo-Aristotle, doctrines of Hermetic origin. All the gnoses of the Alexandrian period, which
even then were tinged with Iranism, find an echo in Arabo-Muslim thought. The Sabaeans,
with their astrology that was at once scientific and religious, and with their conception of an
intermediate world of spirits (cf. the expose of al-Shahrastani), played a large part. In this
situation, Persian-inspired dualism was able to infiltrate without difficulty, either directly or
through the Shi'i sects, especially Isma'ilism. From the theoretical aspect, it is difficult entirely to
isolate from falsafa esoteric mystics such as Suhrawardi whose speculative thinking is Peripatetic
and who speaks of light as Aristotle speaks of substance. The thinking of the falasifa is thus very
complex; Ibn Sina, a scholar and the disciple of Galen, a logician and follower of Aristotle, a
Neo-Platonist, exponentqof a mysticism that gave rise to that of Suhrawardi, illustrates in a
single harmonious entity the complexity of falsafa.
But this description is only entirely true of the first falasifa, al-Kindi and, in particular, al-Farabi
and Ibn Sina. What characterizes them is their belief, deriving from Greek electicism, in the
harmony between the 'two sages', Plato and Aristotle (cf. the treatise of al-Farabi on this
subject). Reason, the instrument of truth, can produce only a single system. Insofar as the falasifa
concentrated on defining and developing this single system which came to them from Greece,
they do indeed form a single school or sect. But al-Ghazali, under the inspiration of al-Dhuwayni,
denounces this mistake: reason is not the supreme arbiter (hakam); there are as many divergencies
(ikhtilaf) between philosophers as between theologians. He thus marks the beginning of a second
period which is characterized by a better knowledge of Aristotle's works and exemplified in the
West by Ibn Badhdha and, more particularly, by Ibn Rushd upon whom al-Ghazali was not
without influence in spite of their obvious differences, and who reacted against Arab
Neo-Platonism. In the East, Fakhr al-Din and Nasir al-Din al-Tusi returned to Ibn Sina's doctrine
on various important points, while also integrating elements of Ash'ari theology with it, in the
case of the former, or of mystical esoterism in the case of the latter.
Finally, side by side with this main stream (Ibn Sina, al-Ghazali, and then Ibn Rushd in the
West, al-Razi in the East), a further, and Neo-Pythagorean, stream must be pointed out,
represented by the Ikhwan al-‘afa' whose esoteric and mystical character is more clearly marked.
They accuse other philosophers or theologians of having only partially observed the rhythms of
the universe. It is not consonant with Wisdom that beings should go only in multiples of two
(matter and form, substance and accident, etc.), or of three (the three dimensions, the three
modes of existence--necessary, possible and impossible, etc.), or of four, five, six, seven (doctrine
of the septimanians), etc. The Pythagoreans (al-hukama' al-fithaÿhuriyyun) 'accept the right of
everything which has a right'; since the number includes everything, measures and balances
everything, so their thought takes everything exactly into account. In their eyes, Pythagoras was
a sage adoring the single God; they connected him with the philosophers of Harran.
How are the falasifa as a whole to be characterized?
a). By their vocabulary.
It is composed of istilahat, words that are Arabic or calques from the Greek which have assumed
a technical meaning. For the expression of the truth, strictly orthodox theology only allows
words of divine origin (texts from the qur'an and from Tradition). However, a large proportion
of this vocabulary has been accepted by the mutakillimun. The distinguishing feature of the falasifa
is therefore merely the more systematic and independent use which they make of this
b). By logic.
As with Aristotle, logic became a true organon (ala). It shows from what known starting-point
one can reach a certain unknown point, and by what course. It is based on the study of concepts
and categories, judgment, syllogism and induction. This analytical and constructive use of logic
to discover the structure of truth is not accepted by strict theologians. Al-Ghazali, however,
recognizes that it has a certain value, although notqabsolute. On the other hand the falasifa,
indirectly following Aristotle, have taken account, in their studies of concept and judgment, of
principles enunciated by the Arab grammarians. With logic can be connected the division of
the sciences, inspired by the Greeks but varying according to the authors (Ikhwan al-‘afa';
al-Farabi: Ihsa' al-'ulum; Ibn Sina: Aqsam al-'ulum al-'aqliyya). Its basis is the tripartite division into
sciences theoretical, practical and creative.
c). By their study of natural science.
The falasifa were all scholars, sometimes of originality. They integrated astronomy, physics,
chemistry and medicine with their general metaphysics which was the source of their
fundamental concepts. Nevertheless a spirit of experiment, not unrelated to the Muslim
tendency to attach value to the experience of the senses, is clearly revealed.
d). By metaphysics.
Here the divergences between authors are more marked. But for all of them, metaphysics is a
theory of being, built up on the distinction between the necessary and the possible (being
necessary in itself, being necessary through another or possible) or the eternal and the
contingent. The pure being of all matter is at once the intellect, the agent which
intellectualizes, and intelligible. The interplay of these ideas explains the constitution of the
world. For the Neo-Platonists and Arab Pythagoreans, from the One only one can emerge, that
is to say the first intellect. Ibn Rushd does not accept this postulate. The first intellect on the one
hand intellectualizes the being necessary in itself, thus producing a second intellect; on the other
hand, it intellectualizes its own essence, either as being necessary through another and thereby
producing the form or soul of the sphere, or else as being possible in itself and so producing the
body of the sphere (dhirm al-falak). Upon this general principle of emanation, many variations are
to be found in the expositions by the different authors. This process continues up to the last
intellect, that is to say the active intellect. Beneath it are placed the sentient beings of the
sublunary world. The active intellect plays an important part in human knowledge, but upon
this point the falasifa differ considerably. Emanation is of a different character for the Ikhwan
al-‘afa'. From the Creator (al-Bari') is emanated Intellect, which is the immediate expression of
his powers and virtues (cf. Philo of Alexandria). From the intellect is emanated the universal
Soul which at once receives the forms of all beings. From this emanates universal matter, a
simple intelligible substance like the foregoing, which eventually receives the forms. The first
form received is the corporeal form in the three dimensions which constitute a sort of intelligible
scale, and in this way the absolute body (al-dhism al-mutlaq) is attained, where emanation is
halted. After this comes the diversity of sentient objects, the universal bodies of the spheres and
the elements, the individual and composite bodies of our world.
e). By theology.
The falasifa here are in agreement with the mutakallimun and the problem of the attributes of God.
They are close to the Mu'tazila in that they seek not to multiply the divine essence. But they
differ in that, for them, God is at once the source of existences and essences. Their central
problem is that of divine knowledge. God, knowing Himself sufficiently, knows Himself as the
cause of everything that is; of all kinds, of all species, of all possibilities that enter into existence,
that is to say possibilities which are necessary by their cause, and finally of all individual beings,
not by a knowledge which would vary with them, but through a universal species (bi-naw' kulli).
Providence leads to the necessary universal order. The falasifa have a theory as to the Prophet: in
general, he is a man so gifted that the active intellect acts on his imagination (while it acts on
the intelligence of the wise man).
f). By psychology and morality.
Morality is a practical science: moral natures, virtues and characters exist, whose value one can
learn by reason in order to gain from it a system of life that conforms with the good. These
values are in relation to the human soul. In regard to the metaphysical nature of the soul,
theories are diverse and reflect the uncertainties of Plato and Aristotle. But gnostic beliefs are
intermixed with them: in the cosmos, the soul has an itinerary to follow, stages of purification to
traverse, to regain its place of origin (cf. Theology of Pseudo-Aristotle). The Aristotelians such as
Ibn Rushd do not accept these ideas. Moreover, in all the falasifa we find a morality based on the
Greek psychology of the three souls or powers (rational, irascible and concupiscible) and on the
doctrine of virtue as the golden mean. Thus, in falsafa we meet two moralities, juxtaposed and
co-existent for some (Ibn Sina), the one a humanist morality (Ibn Rushd), the other mystical
(Suhrawardi). Both are at variance with strict orthodoxy which regards the revelation of the
Law as the single source of knowledge of both ethical and religious values. But, in their
classification of the virtues within the Greek philosophical systems, the falasifa introduced a
considerable number of Islamized Arab virtues, for example hilm (cf. Ibn Sina, Risalat al-akhlaq).
Thus the falasifa often break away from orthodox Islam, but thanks to ta'wil they could still
believe that they were in harmony with the qur'an, from which they quoted unfailingly. But
they quoted it purely as evidence, without incorporating it in the body of their argumentation.
Thus the theologians, so far as they depart from the revealed texts, are opposed to them. This is
how Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi speaks of the Ikhwan al-‘afa' (K. al-Imta', 17th Night). According to
them, the Law has been profaned by foolish ignorance and confounded by error. It must be
purified by philosophy. By harmonizing Greek philosophy and Arab law, perfection is reached.
But their Epistles are no more than 'ramblings' consisting of 'scraps strung together in a kind of
patch-work'. They have 'woven a philosophy in secret' out of the science of the stars and
spheres, the Almagest, the knowledge of the greatness and works of nature, music, logic. Now
there is no question of these sciences in the Revelation. The Muslim community is divided into
sects, but none of them has had recourse to the falasifa. 'What is the relation between religion
and philosophy? (ayna 'l-din min al-falsafa?)', between what is derived from a heaven born
revelation and what is derived from fallible personal opinion? The prophet is superior to the
philosopher. As for reason, it does not pertain in its entirety to any one man, but to mankind as
a whole. And al-Tawhidi proclaims the ambition of philosophers: their wish is, not to cure men
of their maladies, the task to which the prophets confine themselves, but rather to preserve the
health of those who possess it. They aspire to the most exalted happiness and to a dignity,
thanks to which man becomes worthy of the divine life. But in that case what purpose would the
For al-Ghazali (Munqidh; Maqasid), certain parts of philosophy are without danger to the faith,
provided that good is made of them: these are mathematics and logic. Physics is also admissible,
on condition that it is never forgotten that the only causality is that of God. The useful sciences
such as medicine are the 'ulum al-dunya, and ought to be studied, at least by some (fard kifaya) for
the general good, since life in this world contains the germ of the future life and it must not be
neglected (cf. Ihya' 'ulum al-din, ch. on Science). Certain sciences are harmful, like magic and the
science of talismans (which still come into Ibn Sina's classification); they must be rejected. As for
the theology of the falasifa, this is frankly bad, since it teaches that bodies are not resurrected,
that it is disembodied spirits that are rewarded or punished, and that penalties are spiritual, not
bodily. Moreover, the theories of the eternity of the world and of the knowledge of God who
knows only the universals are complete heresies (kufr). On the other hand, the doctrine which
reduces the divine attributes to essence is not kufr in the eyes of al-Ghazali since the Mu'tazila,
who cannot be charged with infidelity, adhered to it. Finally, the political theory of the falasifa is
taken from the ancient prophets (salaf al-anbiya'), a very ancient idea which Philo of Alexandria
had already rejected; and their moral philosophy is inspired by the mystics. From the end of the
period of antiquity the opinion was widespread that Plato was an initiate and inspired.
For al-Shahrastani (6th/12th century), philosophers are men of passions (ahl al-ahwa'), that is to
say men who follow their own judgment and who must be distinguished from those who follow
a revelation (arbab al-diyana), to whom they are diametrically opposed (taqabul al-tadadd). Later, Ibn
Taymiyya (7th-8th/13th-14th centuries), in the K. al-Radd 'ala 'l-mantiqiyyin, denounces the
uselessness and inconsequence of the logic of the falasifa. Finally we may mention Ibn Khaldun
(8th/14th century) who attacked philosophy in his Muqaddima (Ibtal al-falsafa). Philosophers think
that it is reason, not tradition, which confirms the truth of the foundations of the faith. They
proceed by successive abstractions, reach the first intelligibles and then integrate them to
establish sciences in the manner of second intelligibles. The soul which, in purifying itself, comes
to the sciences, experiences joy and has no need of the illumination of the Law. The soul that is
ignorant is in affliction. Such is the meaning of the rewards and punishments of the other
world. But this opinion is false: when they relate all beings to the first intellect and find this a
satisfactory means of reaching the necessary, they reveal a lack of vision in regard to the actual
organization of the divine Creation, which surpasses any representations of it that they give.
Existence is too vast for man to be able to embrace it in its entirety.
These criticisms make it possible to place the falasifa in relation to orthodox Muslim ideals. But
they give too sharp a definition of outline to falsafa. In reality, the philosophers of Islam remain
truly Muslim, in touch with the theologians and with the mystical elements which have not
tried to break away from the teaching of the Qur'an. As for the legacy of Greece, this was first
acquired by the Muslim world as a whole, in spite of the opposition raised by strict orthodoxy. If
it appears to be systematized in their doctrines, its influence is far from being limited to the
falasifa alone. It is therefore impossible to regard falsafa as a sect sharply differentiated from the
general cultural and spiritual movement which is the pride of Muslim civilization.
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Source: from the Encyclopedia of Islam --© 1999 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands