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Ars Disputandi Volume 8 (2008) : 1566–5399

Ars Disputandi Volume 8 (2008) : 1566–5399

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 Ars Disputandi
Volume
8
(
2008
)

:
1566
5399
 Allan Bäck
 
,

The Cambridge Companion to ArabicPhilosophy
Edited by P. Adamson & R. Taylor
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2005
; xviii
+
448
pp; hb.£
50
.
00
, pb. £
19
.
90
, ebook $
26
.
00
;

:
978
0
521
81743
1
 / 
978
0
521
52069
0
 / 
978
0
511
22194
1
.Yet another handbook. There already have appeared several handbooks orhistories on Arabic philosophy in the past decade (and more to come, putatively:as I have written a piece on logic for yet another one from another publisher).Indeed, some of the authors contributing to this volume have written in someof those already published. Has the state of research become so changed and soimproved? Or, morepertinently, havepublishersfiguredoutthatinthesedaysof tightened library budgets, a general handbook tends to have priority over morespecialized treatises in the funding wars?Does then this
Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy
have somethingdistinctive to o
ff 
er? Its organization resembles quite, quite strongly that of the
Routledge History of Islamic Philosophy
, ed. S. Nasr & O. Leaman (London,
1996
;paperback ed.
2001
), xx
+
1211
pp. That
History
is intended as a supplementaryvolume to the
Routledge History of Philosophy
(
1993
) which deals with WesternPhilosophy—rather like the recent supplementary volumes for the rival
Encyclo- pedia of Philosophy
. The Routledge one is written in the style of the
Cambridge Histories of Philosophy
. So I guess that turn-about is fair play.In a review of this
Routledge History
for
Traditio
, I wrote the following:
Using this book as a general reference source has some drawbacks. Many of the discussions are written from specialists’ viewpoints (that do not alwaysagree!), although some e
ff 
ort has been made to make them accessible, e.g., by having the Arabic terms listed with English translations in the ‘Index of Terms’. The book also has some editorial problems: e.g., duplicate passages.[
441
&
489
]Again,this
 History
coulduseageneral,consolidatedBibliography,instead of having separate ones mostly at the end of each Chapter.
In contrast, this
Cambridge Companion
does have a general bibliography and noduplicate passages, although it does have overlap in its expositions. However, itdoessharesomeoftheseproblems: someofthechaptersdonotprovideageneraloverviewbutspendmostofthetimefocusingonasingleaspectofasingletextofasingleauthor. Forinstance,TonyStreetinthe‘Logic’chapterfocusesonAvicenna– rightly so, given his permanent importance – but there mostly on the singleissue, howhedealsinthe
Q¯ ıy¯ as
withAristotle’sclaimthatanecessaryconclusion
c
August
6
,
2008
,
Ars Disputandi
. If you would like to cite this article, please do so as follows:Allan Bäck, ‘Review of The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy,’
Ars Disputandi
[
]
8
(
2008
),
88
.
 
Allan Bäck: Review of The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy
follows from a Barbara syllogism having a necessary major and a categoricalminor premise (IANANA). [
256
-
62
] Those without much background will findhis discussion hard going; I did somewhat myself—even though I’ve published apaper or two on this (not cited by Street). One might ask: why this focus? If I hadto choose a single logical issue on which to focus – for Avicenna and for Arabicphilosophy in general – I would pick the modality of necessity and possibility,given the conception of God as the necessary being. However, Wisnovsky hadalready discussed modality in an earlier chapter on Avicenna. [
116
9
] So whynot instead: Avicenna’s theory of predication, his theory of demonstration, histreatment of the categories, or his immense dialectics—all of which I find ratheroriginal and less specialized.IshouldnotethatsomeofStreet’sgeneralclaimsarequestionable. Ingivinga survey of Islamic logic, he focuses on the
Shamsiyya
of al-K¯atib¯ı, ‘a lovely littletextbook’, used in the religious schools, the madrasa, for centuries. [
250
] Yet thisis like writing a history of modern logic by focusing on the
Port-Royal Logic
or onCopi’s
IntroductiontoLogic
! WegetnoideawhetherIslamiclogichaddegeneratedinto a Panglossian scholasticism or whether there continued to be real advancesin logical theory.Other chapters are more even-handed: Adamson on Al-Kind¯ı, Riesmanon Al-F¯ar¯ab¯ı, Butterworth on political theory—although Riesman does admitslighting logic, due to there not being much research on it. I should note thatmany of the authors are not philosophers. Perhaps this too accounts for theirinterest in theology, political theory, and psychology more than on the logic.Occasionally the authors disagree. Wisnovsky speaks of the ‘Ammoniansynthesis’, of the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle. [
97
8
] D’Ancona suggests thatthiswas already done by Proclus—or perhaps, othersmight say, by Plotinus. [
16
]Anyway although Al-F¯ar¯ab¯ı follows Ammonius in logical matters such as thesquare of opposition and in Neoplatonism, Avicenna doesn’t. Perhaps we arelosing sight of the originality of Arabic philosophy.This
Cambridge Companion
does do better than the
Routledge History
in termsofitsspaceallocations. Despiteitsmuchgreaterlengthandthegeneralagreementof the former’s key importance for nearly all later Islamic philosophers, the latterhas only
20
pages on Avicenna and
59
pages on the Kabbalistic Al-Hamd¯an¯ı,whereas this one has
44
pages on Avicenna and nothing on Al-Hamd¯an¯ı. The
Companion
then is focussing on philosophy in a stricter and more technical sense,which I find more accurate historically.Also I find that the editors, Peter Adamson and Richard Taylor, have some justificationincallingthematerial‘Arabicphilosophy’andnot‘Islamic(etc.) phi-losophy’. [
3
] As they note, not all of those writing in this tradition were Muslims;others like Al-F¯ar¯ab¯ı and Al-R¯az¯ı were nominally, but thought, like Plato, that re-ligion is for the masses and not for those able to do philosophy. Yet most of themwrote in Arabic. They are willing then to call Maimonides an Arabic philosopher,as he wrote his philosophical works in Arabic – but still don’t give him a chapter– and talk of ‘Jewish philosophy’. [
3
;
350
3
] Of course, the appellation of ‘Arabicphilosophy’ has its problems too: most ‘Arabic philosophers’ were not Arabs but
 Ars Disputandi
[
]
8
(
2008
)
|
89
 
Allan Bäck: Review of The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy
Persians etc. Indeed some of them wrote in Persian—Avicenna for instance. Itend to favour Lenn Goodman’s conception of ‘Islamic philosophy’ as somethinglike ‘a philosophical inquiry informed by the texts, traditions and experiences of Muslims’—or better yet to avoid the ethnicity. (Yet that is another topic.)Although not too explicitly, this
Companion
seems organized relative to thecurrent scholarly view that Islamic culture had di
ff 
erent traditions in religion, based on the Kal¯am and in philosophy, based on the Greek, before Avicenna.[
6
;
109
111
] It maintains that Avicenna’s system, combined with his mysticaltreatises, unified the two for most of his successors. They did not necessarilyagree with his doctrines, especially on his rejection of God’s knowledge of futurecontingents and of the Resurrection of the flesh. Still the later followers of theKal¯amwerealsofollowersofAvicenna—althoughWesternscholarshaveignoredthis until recently. [
113
]I should note that in a way this view is not new. Corbin had long agonoted a shift in Islamic culture from philosophy proper to a ‘theosophy’ relyingheavily on mystical insight. [Cf.
204
7
;
226
] Mull¯a S.adr¯a and Suhraward¯ı wrotetreatises describing the angelic realm. Whether such claims be meant literally ormetaphorically(‘imaginallyasCorbinputit),it’shardtoseeitsplaceinascientificmetaphysics. This is the flip side of the current view: not that theology movesover to philosophy, but that philosophy is transformed into theology or somesort of religious discourse. Of course, on this view the philosophical traditionproper has degenerated. Perhaps this is not politically correct to say these dayswe are supposed to say that all philosophical traditions have equal value?  but then people do say it about Latin medieval scholasticism even earlier thanthe Renaissance. Hossein Ziai certainly protests against Corbin’s views. [
405
]Yet he is forced to admit that, so far as we know today, Arabic philosophers inthe modern period had little interest in logic and a lot in rehashing theologicaldisputes. [
417
;
420
] Paul Walker likewise protests a bit too much that the earlyIsm¯a’¯ıl¯ımovementisreally,reallyphilosophical. [
73
;
89
]LikewiseJohnWalbridgeprotests in the case of Suhraward¯ı, but admits that the defence will have to wait.[
201
n.
2
;
204
;
212
](Hedoesn’tincreasehisphilosophicalappealbysaying, ‘Whenpropertiesaremadeintonouns...’ [
211
])MichaelMarmuraismoreeven-handedwith Al-Ghaz¯al¯ı: he admits the theological and mystic base but then points outthat, in defending it, Ghaz¯al¯ı comes up with some interesting arguments aboutcausality. [
153
;
143
-
5
] In any event, this
Companion
doesn’t make a case for thephilosophicalexcellenceandoriginalityofArabicphilosophyinitslatercenturies.The discussions do give valuable historical background and a survey of the general doctrines. Yet, too often for an introductory handbook, the authorsleave o
ff 
doing this for the sake of pushing the views that they are themselvesdeveloping in their own research. Thus Wisnovsky has an interesting discussionof some of the source of Avicenna’s distinction between essence and existence.(He is summarizing his research in
Avicenna’s Metaphysics in Context
(London:Duckworth,
2003
),
9
;
147
64
;
179
.) He then proceeds to claim that Avicenna hasmuddled things up due to a shifting terminology [
108
9
; so too
341
]; he nevergetsaroundtoanexplicitstatementofthethreefolddistinctionofquiddity(
triplex
 Ars Disputandi
[
]
8
(
2008
)
|
90

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