Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Peter Adamson

For those of you who may not have come across Peter (who is a Professor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King's London), here is the link to his history of philosophy blog but even more importantly here is the link to his history of philosophy podcasts that are also available through itunes.

The blog design

I recognise my own IT frailties and need to get some advice on design - some issues I've noticed (and others have commented upon) is the need to be buttons to link directly to reviews, articles and other categories - as it stands I just have them listed but they are not clickable and require scrolling back in time.
Bear with me as I try to sort these things out.

On some more books from Iran

First, I should mention Muḥammad Mujtahid Shabistarī’s Taʾammulātī dar qarāʾat-i insānī az dīn (first published by the famous Tehrani press Ṭarḥ-i naw in 2004). A key theme of reformist thinking is to propose humanist(ic) hermeneutics of the text and of reality. The slim volume contains some of his papers from the last decade and follows on the theme that he introduced at the end of his critique of the ‘official reading/interpretation’ of religion (naqd bar qarāʾat-i rasmī az dīn). Not surprisingly around half of the papers are concerned with matters of politics or governance (siyāsat, ḥukūmat, mardumsālārī). It wil be of particular interest to a student of mine writing his MA dissertation on Mujtahid Shabistarī and then going onto to write his PhD on the relationship between faith and freedom.

Second, on the visit to the impressive Dānishgāh-i adyān va madhāhib in the new town of Pardisan in Qum, I met some of the faculty and was introduced to some of their publications including their journals. One of the faculty, Shihāb al-Dīn Vaḥīdī presented me with a copy of his ʿAql dar sāḥat-i dīn: rābiṭa-yi ʿaql u īmān dar āthār-i Mullā Ṣadrā (published in 2008 by the University). This is yet another study of aspects of MS’s thought and focuses on a sort of conceptual history of the terms.

Third, from Bustān-i kitāb, I picked up an interesting study of the debate on whether philosophy is a pure pursuit or is compromised by its historical and intellectual context. Is there such a thing as ‘pure philosophy’ (ḥikmat-i nāb)? This is the title of the study by Muḥammad Riżā Irshādī-niyā that considers the question through an analysis of MS’s ethics both theoretical and practical (virtue ethics and applied) and then moves on to an examination of the hermeneutics and epistemology of mystical experience finally ending with a chapter on whether our understanding of reality is primarily mediated through scriptural tradition or reason (in some sense). In some ways the book is a bit more disappointing than my expectation when I picked it up. I was expecting some analysis of the MS school and tafkīk debate on the nature of philosophy and the foundations of our metaphysical knowledge as well as engaging more deeply with the argument on the nature of philosophy as such as interrogates whether the notion of Islamic philosophy obviates its being ‘philosophy’.

Another purchase from the same official outlet of the ḥawzeh was Muḥammad Ḥusayn Khalīlī’s Mabānī-yi falsafī-yi ʿishq az manẓar-i Ibn Sīnā va Mullā Ṣadrā. Another volume in the comparative genre so beloved of recent ḥawzeh outputs, the starting point is the Risālat al-ʿishq of the former that establishes the principle of erotic motion that underlies the cosmos and is taken up as another one of the ‘sisters of being’ by MS (i.e. ʿishq = wujūd). Anyway I haven’t finished it yet so cannot make a final assessment of it.

Finally, two volumes that I picked up from the Marʿashī bookshop next to the library – which remains one of the best places in Qum to pick up real gems including some old books. They usually stock publications of the major libraries and publishers including the Majlis Library in Tehran. Now one excellent publishing series of the Majlis Library is their Ganjīna-yi Bahāristān edition of risālas divided into subjects. Since I already had volume I of their ḥikmat and ʿulūm-i qurānī va ravāʾī series I was happy to find volume II of both. These works are of great interest because they publish treatises often by major figures from the Timurid/Safavid/Qajar periods. The volume on Qurʾānic and ḥadīth topics includes a collection of 40 ḥadīth by the famous figure of the school of Shiraz Shams al-Dīn Khafrī and a commentary on a ḥadīth by the Sufi and ḥakīm Quṭb al-Dīn Nayrīzī. The volume on ḥikmat includes a number of treatises on logic including al-Sharīf Jurjānī on propositions, a treatise attributed to Mīr Dāmād on the nature of logic and al-Fārābī on Zeno’s paradox. Another treatise of interest is a short work by Muḥsin Fayż on motion in the category of substance that is such a central metaphysical concern of MS.

Some Books I picked up in Iran

Apart from these political thought volumes which I gratefully received, I went ahead and bought some things which looked interesting or necessary.

In the necessary group were:

Asrār al-āyāt – the new SIPRIn edition which looks like an improvement on the old standard edition – as I am systematically acquiring the new corpus it seemed important – and they’ll all look nice in the same green covers on the shelf (!)

Maḥmūd Shihābī’s al-Naẓrat al-daqīqa fī qāʿidat basīṭ al-ḥaqīqa – published by the Anjuman-i ḥikmat (where I had an interesting meeting with some students and Sayyid Muḥammad Yūsuf-i Sānī especially on the nature of ḥikmat in MS and whether there was a critical culture of the study of Islamic philosophy in Iran today). Shihābī was one of the founders of the Anjuman and a professor at Tehran University, well known for his edition of Ibn Sīnā’s al-Ishārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt with the commentaries of Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī and Quṭb al-Dīn al-Taḥtānī. It was originally published back in 1976 and comprises an Arabic study on this critical principle of monism expounded by MS. The work was a response to a Shaykhī friend of his who basing himself on the critique of Shaykh Aḥmad al-Aḥsāʾī and of the Kirmānī leader of the time Mīrzā Abū-l-Qāsim Khān Ibrāhīmī, wanted to understand MS’s position. So the text is a defence of the Ṣadrian position and of Sabzavārī’s explanation in response to the Shaykhī critique. Its reissue is interesting not because the Shaykhīs are important in contemporary Iran but because of the attack on philosophy and mysticism led by the maktab-i tafkīk and their allies focuses upon the issue of the simple reality encompassing all things as heresy. Given my recent interests in the tafkīkīs and in the Shaykhīs it seemed sensible to get this.

In the interesting group were:

ʿAbd al-Sattār Lāhūrī’s Majālis Jahāngīrī, a little known text edited by ʿĀrif Nawshāhī and Muʿīn Niẓāmī based on a unicum and published in Mīrāth-i maktūb’s series of studies and texts from the Indian subcontinent. This Mughal period was pivotal to the reception of philosophy and the intellectual traditions from Iran into India so I am hoping to find material useful to my background project on an intellectual history of Islamic thought in India in the Mughal period.

The Political Thought of Mullā Ṣadrā??

I was briefly in Iran last week having some meetings and giving a lecture. The original idea was to go to the Bunyād-e Mullā Ṣadrā’s annual conference which was supposed to be in Isfahan on the interesting topic of Shiʿi philosophy. Anyway an email came a couple of weeks before saying that it had been cancelled but given that I had a visa (and they’re quite difficult to come by these days), I decidedly to book a flight on Iran Air (not really a good idea) and go anyway. As ever, any trip to Iran involves the customary buying, receiving and exchanging of books. As I was giving a lecture on selfhood and the nafs in Safavid philosophies at the Pazhūhishgāh-i ʿulūm va farhang-i islāmī (ISCA in English) at the Daftar-i tablīghāt (a large building on the Ṣafāʾiyyeh roundabout opposition the Bustān-i kitāb shop), I spoke to the (Sharīf Lakzāʾī) chap in charge of their political thought unit – which specialises and he does in particular on the ‘political thought’ of Mullā Ṣadrā.

[One PhD student who completed with me a few years ago wrote on the ethics and politics of Mullā Ṣadrā – the dissertation is apparently forthcoming as a book in English and Persian. I remember the supervision being quite a struggle – especially over the issue of vilāyat-i faqīh]

Intriguing – since I do not think MS ever wrote on the topic and in fact as I told SL, a better candidate for a Safavid precursor to vilāyat-i faqīh would be Mīr Dāmād, MS’s teacher and not the student. So I got these books:

1) Najaf Lakzāʾī’s Andīsha-yi siyāsī-yi Ṣadr al-mutaʾallihīn – part of a long series of monographs on thinkers published by ISCA. The original edition dates from 2001. I have yet to examine the contents in details. But it comprises five chapters: the historical background to the political personality of MS (did he have one? Setting aside the fictive oppositional and anti-monarchical posture portrayed in the famous Jām-i jam serial Rawshantar az khāmushī), the place of political thought in MS’s philosophy, the political life in MS’s thought, religious government (ḥukūmat-i dīnī) in MS’s thought (read: vilāyat-i faqīh in MS), and establishing the structure of religious government in MS’s thought. The main text is followed by 10 appendices providing summaries of political thought present in his major works – al-Shawāhid al-rubūbīya being the most controversial. But much of this material relates on discussions on imāma or merely reflects the ideal of Platonopolis expressed in al-Fārābī and those influenced by him (including of course MS).

2) Four volumes of articles edited by SL entitled Siyāsat-i mutaʿāliya dar manẓar-i ḥikmat-i mutaʿāliya. Vol I is focused on MS, vol II on theoretical and practical issues, vol III on the politics of the human and the imamate and its relationship to politics, and vol IV on the relationship between ethics and politics. The Aristotelian and Platonic frames remain clear. Much of this is not really about MS himself or his thought but involves studies of those from his school including the recent great thinker ʿAllāma Ṭabāṭabāʾī (and making him a political supporter of the revolution troubles me even more than making the long departed MS one).

3) ʿAlī-Riżā Ṣadrā’s Mafhūm-shināsī-yi ḥikmat-i mutaʿālī-yi siyāsī is another short study.

These developments raise an important question about the relationship of philosophy and politics in Iran. Do thinkers in the public sphere use philosophy to justify a certain form of politics? Or is the study of philosophy an end on itself? Or do some engage in politics to defend the scope and legitimacy of a certain metaphysics? Is it even possible nowadays to study MS and his school as a critical historical-philosophical inquiry without being implicated in a politics that one finds distasteful? It reminds me of my first trip to Iran many years ago and being at a shab-i yaldā party. Engaging in small talk and being asked what I did, I said I study Islamic philosophy being naive to its connotations in those days. Those with whom I was speaking changed their attitude towards me immediately and one of them said, ‘I hate Islam – it’s the cause of all of our troubles’. I did not realise at that time that the very phrase ‘falsafa-yi islāmī’ had been political co-opted and I had foolishly placed myself in a camp without being aware of it. The legitimacy and possibility of speaking about and critically evaluating ‘Islamic philosophy’ today, thankfully, is still I think possible in other places and an endeavour worth pursuing even if to conclude that Islamic philosophy, much like Heidegger famously said of Christian philosophy, is a bit like a square circle, a nonsensical and impossible concept.