128 - Aristotelian Society: the Baghdad School

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A group of mostly Christian philosophers transpose the practices of antique Aristotelian philosophy to 10th century Baghdad.



Further Reading

• P. Adamson, “Knowledge of Universals and Particulars in the Baghdad School,” Documenti e Studi sulla Tradizione Filosofica Medievale 18 (2007), 141-64.

• A. Elamrani-Jamal, Logique Aristotélicienne et grammaire arabe. Étude et documents (Paris: 1983).

• G. Endress, “La controverse entre la logique philosophique et la grammaire arabe au temps des khalifs,” Journal for the History of Arabic Science 1 (1977), 339-51.

• K. Gyekye (trans.), Arabic Logic: Ibn al-ayyib’s Commentary on Porphyry’s Eisagoge (Albany: 1979).

• P. Lettinck, Aristotle’s “Physics” and its Reception in the Arabic World (Leiden: 1994).

• D.S. Margouliath, “The Discussion Between Abu Bishr Matta and Abu Sa'id al-Sirafi on the Merits of Logic and Grammar,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1905), 79-129.

• J. McGinnis and D.C. Reisman (ed. and trans.), Classical Arabic Philosophy: an Anthology of Sources (Indianapolis: 2007). [partial translation of Ibn 'Adī On the Possible]

• S. Pines, “A Tenth-Century Philosophical Correspondence,” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 24 (1955), 103-36.


Wojciech Wciorka on 15 May 2013


The episode kicks ass. Succinct and sparkling with humour.

Gizawi on 16 May 2013

Language and Written Scripts

Hello Prof. Adamson,

I know that Christian and Jewish authors writing in the Arab lands tended to write philosophy either in 1. pure Arabic as you mentioned, 2. in Arabic but with their own scripts (Hebrew for the Jews and Syriac for the Christians) or 3. in their actual language if it was absolutly intended for their own community.

What type of training does it take for someone who already knows how to read Arabic to be able to read one of Maimonides works in Hebraic script, or Yahya Ibn Adi's in Syraic script? Is it just the matter of learning the letters in the script and which letters connect and don't connect (I guess in Hebrew's case which letters change shape) or do you have to learn some grammar and vocabulary as well? I read that Hebrew has a lot more "tashkeel" (Arabic word meaning short vowel marks for those who don't know.) than Arabic, does that have any impact when Arabic is written in Hebraic?

I don't actually know if you had to read any such works in your research, if you have it would be interesting to know what you had to go through to do so. Thank you

In reply to by Gizawi

Peter Adamson on 16 May 2013

Different scripts

Actually as far as I know (but maybe someone will correct me with a counterexample), though there are certainly Arabic works in Syriac script, philosophical works in Syriac script are pretty much always in Syriac. Someone like Ibn 'Adi (thank goodness, speaking as someone who reads Arabic and not Syriac) wrote in Arabic in Arabic script so there is no problem there.

Hence, again as far as I know, your question arises for philosophy more with Arabic in Hebrew script. An obvious example is Maimonides who wrote some of his works this way. To be honest I have never worked with Hebrew script texts (I have been meaning to learn the Hebrew alphabet at least for years and never gotten around to it) but my understanding is that if you know Arabic and the Hebrew alphabet then you'll be most of the way to being able to read these texts, because it is mostly a matter of substituting one letter for another. I believe it's not quite that simple but it is nothing like, say, the difficulty of learning a new language.

But someone else out there may know more than me about this!


In reply to by Peter Adamson

Gizawi on 16 May 2013

Syraic script

I read about the practice of works written in Syraic script in Pormann and Savage's book (unfortunately I do not have it with me) and the visual example they had provided was from a page of one of the Hunayns' medical books (I forget which Hunayn and which book). I have always been very intrigued by the practice amongst the Arab Jews and Christians. I do not actually know how much it limited their readership. I think Ibn Sab'in was one of the few Muslims who responded to Maimonides, but for him to have done so means that he would have had to learn how to read Hebrew letters, or have stuck to what Arabic script works he wrote (I hope you cover Ibn Sab'in. I do not know much about him other than he anticipated a few of Ibn Arabi's ideas and that he may have been one of the few Muslim philosophers to have been in contact with a European monarch).

Is there a study about the reception of Jewish philosophers amongst later Muslim philosophers?

In reply to by Gizawi

Peter Adamson on 18 May 2013

Jewish/Muslim interchange

Sorry to be slow responding to this, I wanted to see if I could remember something in answer to your last question but nothing really came to mind unless you count Jewish authors and converts in the East like Ibn Kammuna and Abu l-Barakat al-Baghdadi. Of course there is a lot of work on influence of Avicenna and others on Jewish thinkers (including a piece in a volume I've edited on Avicenna which is coming out next month), but in terms of influence of Andalusian Jewish thinkers on Muslim philosophers, I can't think of anything. Anyone else? I may come across something when I am doing the research for those episodes.

And by the way yes I will cover Ibn Sab'in! At least in passing and maybe more than that, when I am talking about Ibn 'Arabi.



Alexander Johnson on 15 November 2018

Logic of Language

I have before heard that grammar is the logic of language.  Would this view have been foreign at this time to the debaters?  Is this view at all plausible?

In reply to by Alexander Johnson

Peter Adamson on 16 November 2018

Logic and grammar

Actually there is a line in the report about the debate between Abu Bishr and Sirafi where Sirafi (the grammarian) says "Grammar, stripped of Arabic, is logic, and logic, understood through language, is grammar."

But I actually don't think the view is plausible, especially in terms of how logic is understood nowadays, as a quasi-mathematical discipline. There is certainly an analogy because grammar gives you a set of rules and so does logic. But saying that grammar is the logic of language is sort of like saying the rules of basketball are the grammar of basketball.

Kevin Michael … on 12 June 2019

Iamblichus and features of the knower

Thanks for your monumental work! I benefit greatly from it.

You sparked up my interest at the end of this podcast, referring to a distinction originally introduced by Iamblichus: that features of knowledge, e.g., necessity and immutability, are those appropriate to the knower not to what is know. I am very interested to know about the genesis of this distinction. You were speaking in the context of the discussion over future contingents, but I think in your remark about Iamblichusm you were referring to the issue of the relation between knower and known generally. Anyway, I am interested in the genesis of this distinction of features of the knower and the known more generally. Perhaps, in the history of philosophy, it was by means of the question of future contingents that this distinction was made more apparent and asserted with more clarity? But couldn't we say that this distinction is latent in the whole history of philosophy, back to the Pre-Socratics and the dialectic between the observation of the changing world and the immutability of knowledge. Plato has his spin in the Meno. Then Aristotle's criticisms of the forms and participation seem to hone in on the fact that known is not truly known until we begin a rigorous process of empirical knowledge and avoid gratuitously imposing the features of the knower on the known, viz., positing some separate forms. With the recovery of Aristotle in the 13th century west, especially in someone like Aquinas, this distinction of the features of the knower from the known becomes the keystone of his criticism of the via platonicorum. Ironically Aquinas does this by tying it up with the Neo-platonic idea of the capacity of the being that receives (here the human intellect) to make his point. This all seems to insert itself in the debate over universals, which although latent in Plato and Aristotle is triggered by Porphyry and then seriously launched by Boethius. Porphyry’s trigger of the debate over the universals in his “Isagoge” is very much related to his comment that “On interpretation” refers both to words or things: it is a question of the metaphysical underpinnings of logic. That makes me think...couldn't we see the question of future contingents as precisely a question of logic where the underpinning metaphysics can't be prescinded from? 

I have never heard of Iamblichus mentioned in the history of the debate over universals. Anyway, what is the genesis of this distinction between the features of the knower and the known in the history of philosophy? Is Iamblichus really the first to introduce this distinction? Where does he do that? Is it an important element of his philosophical vision?




In reply to by Kevin Michael …

Peter Adamson on 13 June 2019

Mode of the knower

Yes, you are definitely right in general terms that there was a long-standing tradition of reflection on the way that a certain property, say, can appear in one way outside the mind and in another way in the mind. What Iamblichus does for the first time though, I think, is to say explicitly that the mode of knowledge could be opposed to that of the known: thus we could have necessary knowledge of the contingent, universal of the particular, immaterial of the material. This is picked up in Boethius for the future contingents discussion.

I might be wrong but I think we only know that Iamblichus made this distinction because of later authors like Proclus (See Elements of Theology 124) and Ammonius ascribe it to him.

Sofiane El haddad on 11 February 2023

Thank you very much, Dr…

Thank you very much, Dr. Adamson. I benefited a lot from your contribution to the topic "Sources for the Formation of Philosophy in the Islamic World (the subject of my PhD thesis)" A wonderful podcast, keep it up.

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