Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Philosophy in the time of Avicennan Hegemony: the 12th Century

Our understanding of the history of Islamic philosophical traditions becomes richer and more nuanced by the day as more and more specialists enter the field and make contributions. In particular, recent developments are beginning to shed greater light on the crucial 12th century when Avicennan philosophy became established, fused with different currents of philosophical kalām including Ashʿarism and the modified Muʿtazilī school of Abū-l-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī (d. 436/1044) – Robert Wisnovsky has for some time been studying that Avicennan legacy not least in his article in the Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy, and now in another collected volume Interpreting Avicenna. The 12th century is precisely the period that Yahya Michot described as one of ‘la pandémie avicennienne’, not least because of the lack of success in refuting and challenging Avicennan ideas. Avicenna and Avicennism survived; ʿAyn al-Quḍāt Hamadānī (d. 525/1131), Sharaf al-Dīn al-Masʿūdī (d. 582/1186), ʿAbū-l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī (d. c. 560/1165), Abd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī (d. 629/1231 – but now on him see this new book by Cecila Martini Bornadeo), Ibn Kammūna (d. 683/1284 – on him, see the book by Pourjavady and Schmidtke) and others did not even if now and then some thinkers in the later traditions referred back to their works.

Ayman Shihadeh at SOAS has made a number of important contributions here, beginning with his article in 2005 in Arabic Sciences and Philosophy on the 12th century, more recently another article in the Bulletin of SOAS in 2013 on Ibn Ghaylān al-Balkhī (d. c. 590/1194) as well as his facsimile edition of Nihāyat al-marām fī dirāyat al-makān of Ḍiyāʾ al-Dīn al-Makkī, father of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzi (d. 606/1210). Similarly, a Warburg Institute colloquium on the 12th century convened by Peter Adamson (now at Munich) has resulted in a volume In the Age of Averroes. The 13th century that immediately followed in rather significant as well since that is when the illuminationist tradition associated with Suhrawardī (d. 587/1191) became established, as did the new Avicennan orthodoxy of Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (d. 674/1274), and the emergence of Imāmī kalām with him and his student ʿAllāma al-Ḥillī (d. 725/1325). It would be great to have a conference called In the Age of Ṭūsī

But in terms of the 12th century, one of the figures whom we have known for some time, not least because of his supposedly non-Aristotelian logical text al-Baṣāʾir is Zayn al-dīn ʿUmar b. Sahlān al-Sāwī or Sāvajī (d. c. 537/1143). Gholamreza Dadkhah and Mohammad Karimi Zanjani Asl at Bonn have produced an edition of three works in logic and philosophy as the first volume in a new series in ‘Iranian philosophy’ published in Germany by Goethe & Hafis. The three texts, all in Arabic, are rather short totally barely 50 pages in all – and they are:

  1. Risāla fī taḥqīq naqīḍ al-wujūd primarily concerned with the semantics of the term wujūd and its predication (and previously edited and published by Muḥammad Taqī Dānishpazhūh - I wonder why one would need to improve on something he did - I need to look more carefully again), 
  2. al-Tawṭiʾa fī-l-muʿjizāt wa-l-karamāt on the epistemological and psychological background to making sense of miracles responding to the positions of al-Shahrastānī (d. 548/1153), 
  3. and Nahj al-taqdīs on the problem of God’s knowledge of particulars, defending Avicenna against Ghazālī.
An introduction in Persian that is longer than the texts adequately present Sāwī, his texts, the manuscripts and some aspects of his thought – a much more abridged English introduction is not nearly as useful and suffers from issues in expression, orthography and transliteration – and also one wonders why a work published in Germany has nothing in German? 

In terms of Sāwī’s one context, we have an individual associated with the Seljuk court – he wrote al-Baṣāʾir for the vizier of Sanjar, Naṣīr al-Dīn Maḥmūd Marwazī. Sāwī was a student of Muḥammad b. Yūsuf Īlaqī (d. 534/1141), an Avicennan thinker (who wrote on medicine as well as philosophy), associated with Asʿad Mayhānī (d. 527/1132), a teacher at the Niẓāmīya in Baghdad and a third generation student of Avicenna, interacted and debated with Shahrastānī, and taught Ibn Ghaylān al-Balkhī. Thus in terms of his networks, he was clearly an important figure engaged in the debates for and against Avicenna at the time when Avicennism was becoming established. His influence still needs to be considered – Ziai wrote the famous Encyclopaedia Iranica entry on him but there is little else. In particular, he is attributed with a refutation of Shahrastānī’s Muṣāraʿat al-falāsifa that may have influenced Ṭūsī’s own refutation, but until we study the text we cannot say for sure. But nevertheless, the editors have done a decent job – the history of philosophy requires both research and careful critical editions of texts as well as the studies of their ideas, impact and influence. What we now need is for someone to join the dots and link together the emerging Avicennan networks, to analyse the thought of these thinkers in the 12th century and crucially show us how Avicennism emerged and perhaps even more significantly how that might be distinguished from Avicenna's own contributions, not least because the later traditions (Mullā Ṣadrā, for example, often associated Avicennism with the works of Bahmanyār, Lawkarī, Ṭūsī and others alongside citing the actual texts of al-Shifāʾ, al-Taʿlīqāt/al-Lawāḥiq and al-Ishārāt). 

And for those of us interested in intellectual history with a focus on philosophy, things just get better by the day. 

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