173 - For the Sake of Argument: Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī

Posted on 27 April 2014

The hugely influential Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī weaves Avicenna and Islamic theology into complex dialectical treatments of time, God, the soul, and ethics.

Themes:

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Further Reading

• B. Abrahamov, “Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī on God’s Knowledge of Particulars,” Oriens 33 (1992), 133-55.

• P. Adamson, “Avicenna and his Commentators on Self-Intellective Substances,” in D.N. Hasse and A. Bertolacci (eds), The Arabic, Hebrew and Latin Reception of Avicenna’s Metaphysics (Berlin: 2011), 97-122.

• P. Adamson, “Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī on Place,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 27 (2017), 205-36.

• P. Adamson, “Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī on the Existence of Time,” forthcoming.

• F. Griffel, “On Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s Life and the Patronage He Received,” Journal of Islamic Studies 18 (2007), 313–44.

• F. Kholeif, A Study on Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī and his Controversies in Transoxiana (Beirut: 1966).

• M.E. Marmura, “Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s Critique of an Avicennan Tanbīh,” in B. Mojsisch and O. Pluta (eds), Historia Philosophiae Medii Aevi: Studien zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters, vol.2 (Amsterdam: 1991), 627-41.

• A. Shihadeh, The Teleological Ethics of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (Leiden: 2006).

Comments

Declan Foley 28 April 2014

Has anyone experienced problems with the player recently?

It is a few minutes before the player starts from pressing the start button

Today's lecture stopped on several occasions, I had to restart it, then the last few seconds appear to have been lost.

You mean here on the website, right? If so it may just be your connection being slow; it works fine for me.

Declan Foley 30 April 2014

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Hi Peter, got the player sorted, but the end of this weeks lecture appears to stop before the end of your talk.

That's probably just because your computer didn't download or stream the whole thing - again, it works ok for me. But if anyone else is having trouble let me know, then it might be a more general problem.

Bear 30 April 2014

Hi Peter,

at first I thought that your jibe about Analytic Philosophers was a little pointed (ouch!!) - that is until you discussed the Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī's Ethics. I had to stop and listen to it several times - the argument presented had basically the same conclusion as Ayer. I wonder whether Ayer had read al-Rāzī, or whether the Nominalists of the Latin West (or should I call it Latin Europe?) was the greater influence.

It would seem to me that their arguments are essentially the same - al-Rāzī being an Divine Will Ash'arite considers there to be no actual reason why something is good, except that the Almighty decrees that it is good. Whereas Ayer rejects "good" as being "Metaphysical", which he devotes his first chapter to dismissing. Once concluding that "the good" does not really exist, then it is a matter of turning the logical handle to come to the conclusions that Ethics is simply a statement of preferences.

The other thing that struck me was al-Rāzī's account of Statics - it had many things in common with what we would now call Newtonian Statics - what particularly struck me was the forces holding the book on the table being equal and opposite to the force of the book downwards.

Hi there,

Yes, Fakhr al-Din is brilliant, isn't he? I think we can rule out any influence on Ayer, as Razi's position has only become known in European languages very recently thanks to the excellent book by Shihadeh (see above in bibliography). On statics I think you mean Abu l-Barakat, from the previous episode, right? Anyway I agree, that is quite good too.

Peter

Maciek Zajac 7 May 2014

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Perhaps a byproduct of Your work could be a Stanford Encyclopedia article, like the one You authored about al Kindi? It's kind of sad to have the gallant Heretic missing from the best known philosophical summary.

H.P. Looi 26 October 2014

Dear Peter, I am a semi-retired engineer (not having reach official retirement age yet) currently engaged in writing assignments. Your podcast has been most useful as background accompaniment to my task as a 'writer' (technical papers/reports). Talk about multi-tasking. But it is not as difficult as it seems (given the subject I write on - if you have a life time of experience i.e.).

But I have now reach podcast (history without gaps) number 173 and I am hooked. Your early podcast of classical philosophy (Socrates to Plato to the Aristotle) put back some structure to my knowledge (my last superficial readings of Classical philosophy was 'bout 30-40 years ago). I am amazed that many of the idioms commonly ascribed to(or claimed by) the Christians and Muslims (e.g. 'they is nothing new under the sun' etc) has as its origin from the Classical.

Your series of podcast about the Islamic world is fascinating to me (being domiciled in a Muslim majority country with a significant non-Muslim population).

As I am currently finishing my current project, I will probably complete listening to ALL your current podcast (up to the 'Eastern Tradition) soon.

But I would be eagerly waiting for your series on the 'modern' movements (Spinoza, Nietzsche, etc). History without gaps! So Peter add me as one of your disciples!

Wonderful! Thanks so much for getting in touch - I am very glad that you enjoy the series, and it always gives me a boost to hear from audience members. Sorry it is taking me a while to get to the modern stuff, but I hope you'll find the forthcoming episodes on medieval philosophy worthwhile too.

Mr. Potatohead 12 June 2017

Is it more or is there a lot of sexual pessimism among Muslim thinkers? In his book on ethics, Fakhr Al-Din Al-Razi appears to argue that the fun of rational philosophising is way more pleasurable than sex. It looks like he isn't alone in this either. Al-Ghazzali seems to see sexual impulses as inherently beastial, in need of constraint and containment through rational self-discipline and marriage. Junaid Baghdadi's famous 'I need sex like I need bread', seems to almost imply that sex is a necessary burden of human existence, a chore, an itch that needs scratching ever so often. This comes across as a bit strange for Muslim jurists, especially if you consider the viberant sex lives of Muhammad and his companions; not to mention the very sensous descriptions of paradise that would shock medieval Christians. This begs a few questions, what is Al-Razi's conception of life after death? He was clearly willing to depart with Asharite orthodoxy, did he disagree with bodily resurrection too? And why the development of semi-pessimistic attitudes? Did it come out of a need to oppose celibacy, while at the same time continuing to criticise corporal love and sex as ultimately a distraction from the love of God?

 

Well, I don't know much on this topic in Razi but in general Muslim thinkers tend to defend the desirability and normativity of sex, often in the context of anti-Christian polemic: they argue the Christians are wrong to take chastity to be a virtue or a purer form of life. There is actually a treatise by the Christian thinker Yaḥya Ibn ʿAdī defending chastity from Muslim critique. In general bodily resurrection is uniformly accepted in Islamic theology (as in Christianity), with occasional philosophical suggestions that the afterlife is purely intellectual coming in for heavy criticism.

Saados 6 October 2017

Dr. Adamson,

I was pointed to your website by one of my teachers and have really enjoyed what I have been able to get through

On your audio of al-Razi, you have mentioned:

P. Adamson, “Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī on the Existence of Time,” Forthcoming

Would it be too much to ask on whether I would be able to get access to this paper for my thesis preparation and what sources you used to derive al-Razi's conclusions on this issue

Warm Regards

Hammad Ali 8 February 2018

Hi Dr. Adamson, 

I'd firstly like to thank you for this amazing podcast. It's an incredibly useful resource and very convenient for beginners such as myself.

My question was regarding the issue of Theodicy. I understand that the Asharite position entails that God has ultimate authority and power to do as He wills, and thus is free from any moral judgment raised by humans. Reading through Fakhr al-din al-Razi's position in Shihadeh's text on his Teleological Ethics reinforced this position. My question then, is if God has no right to be questioned with regards to the morality of His acts, what do the Asharite propose as the deeper metaphysical explanation for evil and suffering. This is not to question their justification, but rather to know if there is any wisdom in them, since one of God's attributes is the All-Wise.

Would they also claim like others that it is a necessary result of allowing free-will, or maybe that it serves as an impetus for spiritual development to bring one closer to Him? Is it punishment for humans beings' own sins, or perhaps a test to reward those who are patient and remain steadfast while expiating their sins? Do Asharites claim any of these reasons, if any at all, aside from the notion that "It's irrelevant, as God can do whatever He wills?"

Thanks, glad you like the podcast!

For moral evil, the Asharites will definitely use a version of the free will defense. Remember that their theory of acquisition (kasb) makes us responsible for evil actions even though we don't "create" them, and this is the main element in their theodicy. To be honest I am not entirely sure whether there is a standard Asharite position on natural evils, like earthquakes or diseases; nothing is leaping to mind just at the moment but this is probably just because I don't know the texts well enough.

Oh yes I see, that does clear it up. But given this, what implication would it have on the role of Satan? He was created by God, who knew beforehand that he would be responsible for perpetuating evil as well. Would God's creating him hold him in a way responsible, or did Satan also have free will, such that the theory of acquisition would apply to his situation too? I suppose this would delve a bit away from the philosophical point and deeper into a theological issue, because it can raise questions as to why Satan was created, did God want him to disobey, etc.

Peter Adamson 9 February 2018

In reply to by Hammad Ali

I believe the standard view on this in Islam, as in Christianity, is that Satan a fallen angel and had free will like a human. So there is no obvious additional philosophical problem here, except maybe that as an angel Satan should have had perfect knowledge or at least been in a very good epistemic state when he sinned, which suggests that knowledge is not enough to protect us from evil. There is a fascinating treatise on this very case by Anselm, which I discuss in episode 204.

Kaif Syed 14 December 2018

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Hi! Just wanted to correct -- in Islam, Satan was a jinn, not an angel. I dont believe angels have free will; at least by the account i was taught, angels have no free will

Ah that's a good point, he is often described as a fallen djinn rather than angel, but I guess there are sources to support both views, no? As for whether angels have free will I haven't studied this question but I'd be willing to bet good money that it is an issue that has been lengthily disputed - just consider that a Mutazilite and Asharite couldn't really possibly have the same view on this question.

Jose Castro 1 May 2018

Have you published “Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī on the Existence of Time,”? I was interested in taking a look at his arguments and counter-arguments on its existence.

Jordan 28 April 2022

I really like the arguments re: time. It's like a linear version of that sequence in one of Scott McCloud's books, which illustrates him as a kid on the sidewalk, imagining that everything behind him has disappeared (unless he turns to check, in which case the sidewalk in front of him might not be there). With what I understand about human consciousness, our perception of time passing is more of an illusion (literally I mean, like an optical illusion, where our brain projects something we can understand that isn't physically there) than reality. 

I definitely appreciate the attitude that requires proof for common sense instead of assuming how life works and then trying to prove it. The criticism you mention that he's better at explaining heretical views than refuting them seems to make sense along those same lines - where the religious argument, being accepted in his scholarly circles, doesn't need to be justified or explained, whereas the heretical view is the less intuitive one.

I absolutely vibe with this approach to truth (philosophical, religious, or otherwise) where you get closer to the truth by whittling it down through rigorous arguments and counterarguments. I feel like I would really like reading his work, as long as it came with a good translation and commentary to contextualize it - which it sounds like may not exist in English yet.

Hearing about the good/bad is about pleasant/painful and I'm like YESSSS. YES HE GETS IT! I always wonder if non-English languages have the same associations as English, where "good" can mean "moral" or "just" or "ethical" or "correct" or "likable" or "tasty" or "pleasant" or "worthwhile" or "holy" or... the list goes on. There's so much implication wrapped up in the word "good."

I know he's just touching this topic which I'm pretty sure later social-contract philosophers will really get into, but re: "people do good when it doesn't benefit them because they're following a general law" isn't the strongest argument in modernity imo. If that were true, then people would be following that general law ALL the time.

Or at least, let's say that some people are do-gooders who follow a certain moral when it doesn't benefit them as opposed to the evildoers who will break it whenever it's convenient. If so, then there would be some people who would always be following that specific moral law no matter what. Clearly that isn't the case.

Almost everyone will do some kind of antisocial behavior at least once in a while. It's not like we mostly choose moral actions out of habit, because if so, moral philosophy wouldn't matter - we would only need to be trained to follow moral law and would go forth never breaking it. But what actually happens is that we choose actions based on a range of reasons, conscious and unconscious, the ratio of which will vary individually based on our upbringing, personal beliefs, social climate, personality, physical impulses, etc etc etc.

I think it's reasonable to even claim that if you do something out of habit, it's an amoral action with no moral reasoning behind it - although the things you did to train yourself INTO that habit, if you did so consciously for self-improvement, may have been a moral choice. But that is I guess a stance that morality is an internal judgment-based state of being instead of actions that you take, which I don't know whether I believe either.

Of course, if he counter-argues as much as you say he does, then presumably he talked about this in a way that doesn't fit into a single episode.

(As usual, I'm writing in the comments section to get my thoughts sorted out about an argument as much as I am to comment on the podcast itself!)

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