(Last Updated on : 10/05/2011)
Development of Islamic philosophy, despite the hurdles it faced from the orthodox theologians, continued unabated down the ages. It usually developed in small groups. The Muslim students of the subject were not in any way fanatical disciples of Islam
, and, in philosophical discussions and even in the work of teaching, Muslims and Christians seem to have associated on equal terms. It was seen in the course of its development that philosophy was quite often associated with medicine. The development of Islamic philosophy owed much to the many small groups which were developing their own principles and interpretations down the ages. Philosophy must have been cultivated at many centres in the Islamic world. Islamic philosophy has been greatly influenced by Greek thought and has in turn influenced a number of European concepts and philosophies.
There is evidence of men versed in the philosophical sciences at a small town near the south coast of the Caspian Sea. It is believed that it was a man from this town who gave the first instruction in philosophy to a boy who later became in the opinion of many the greatest of all the philosophers writing in Arabic. This was Avicenna, or Abu Ali ibn Sina. He began his education by memorizing the Holy Quran
and Arabic poetry, before passing on to jurisprudence. He was introduced to Aristotelian logic at the age of fourteen and he went on to devour all the scientific and philosophical books he could get hold of. He studied medicine and obtained so thorough a theoretical grasp that practising physicians came to read medical books under his guidance. Avicenna was greatly influenced by Al Farabi in his understanding of metaphysics and it was the direct influence of the older Islamic philosopher which led him to adopt so similar a general position in philosophy. In considering Avicenna as a philosopher, it must also be remembered that his Canon of Medicine holds an outstanding place in medical science, and that his writings on other sciences were also influential. His philosophy is contained chiefly in two books the Shifa and the Najat of which the first is a great compendium including sciences as well as philosophy, while the second is an abridged version of the philosophical parts of the longer work. The general position is Neoplatonic. God is the One, the "necessarily existent", from whom everything emanates. Beneath him are the pure intelligences and the spheres. The conception of the human soul is essentially Aristotelian, but modified apparently in accordance with the discussions and interpretations of later Greek Platonizing philosophers. Like most of the other Islamic philosophers he explains the possibility of prophethood, but where al-Farabi had connected prophethood with the highest form of imagination, Avicenna links it with the highest part of the soul, the intellect. Avicenna also had a mystic side. His mysticism and his philosophy constitute a single integrated system. The extent of his mystical writings shows that the mystical life meant much to him. It was presumably the source of his intellectual energy. Because of this personal religious attitude Avicenna has been held by one of the leading modern scholars to come closer to the spirit of Plato than other philosophers whose style is more Platonic and less Aristotelian.
Though Avicenna was one of the greatest philosophers, his philosophical tradition did not go unchallenged. The 11th-century theologian and mystic al Ghazali mounted a critique of philosophy, specifically Avicenna's that is rich in argument and insight. Al Ghazali's Incoherence of the Philosophers provoked a response by Averroes ibn Rushd entitled the Incoherence of the Incoherence, in which al-Ghazali's arguments are countered point for point. Averroes was best known, however, as an interpreter of Aristotle and exerted great influence on all subsequent thinkers in the Aristotelian tradition.
In the later Middle Ages the historian and philosopher Ibn Khaldun produced a sharp critique of culture, and the elaboration of metaphysics and epistemology was carried on in the theosophical schools of Islamic mysticism.
Among the philosophical groups which developed, mention may be made here of a group in Baghdad towards the end of the tenth century, which met in the house of Abu-Sulayman Al Mantiqi, known as the logician, as-Sustani (d. after 1001). Unlike most philosophers Abu Sulayman seems to have held no official position, though he was in favour at the Buwayhid court. Some of the discussions in his house have been recorded by his younger friend Abu-Hayyan At Tawhidi who was an important literary figure, though he earned his livelihood as a secretary to viziers and other court-officials in Baghdad and the provinces.
Another man who deserves to be mentioned is Mis Kawayh (or Ibn Miskawayh). He was a Persian and served as secretary to members of the Buwayhid reigning family and their viziers. He is best known for a lengthy universal history, of which the concluding part has been translated into English as The Eclipse of the Abbasid Caliphate. Among his other extant works is a book of philosophical theology, dealing with the being of God, the being of the soul and the nature of prophethood. It is not an important book in the intellectual history of Islam, but it is an interesting example of how thinkers who were primarily philosophers nevertheless accepted a framework of Islamic conceptions. For instance, the last section of this book explains in terms of a philosophical account of the soul how prophethood is possible. Philosophically, however, his most influential work is undoubtedly his Correction of Morals, which is an explanation of a complete system of morals on a mainly Platonic basis. This book was used by al Ghazali and many other later writers.
These discussed are just some of the developments which took place in Islamic philosophy down the ages. It is the emergence of these different schools that led to an enriching of the great body of Islamic philosophy.