Formative Period

Philosophy in the Islamic world begins in the 9th century, as thinkers respond to the impact of Greek works translated into Arabic, and come to grips with the subtle inquiries of Muslim theology (kalām). Beginning with the early theologians known as the Mu'tazilites and the work of al-Kindi, Peter traces the story up to the time of Avicenna (11th century), who was the pivotal figure for philosophy in Islam. Also considered are the contributions of Jewish thinkers like Saadia Gaon and Christians who wrote in Arabic, such as Yahya ibn 'Adi and other members of the Baghdad school. This series of episodes includes interviews with Deborah Black, Farhad Daftary, Frank Griffel, Dimitri Gutas, and Peter E. Pormann.

book version of these podcasts is available from Oxford University Press.

Further Reading

For selections of primary texts in translation:

M.A. Khalidi, Medieval Islamic Philosophical Writings (Cambridge: 2005).

J. McGinnis and D.C. Reisman (ed. and trans.), Classical Arabic Philosophy: an Anthology of Sources (Indianapolis: 2007).

And see also:

 

P. Adamson, Philosophy in the Islamic World: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: 2015).

P. Adamson and R.C. Taylor (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy (Cambridge: 2005).

P. Adamson (ed.), Classical Arabic Philosophy: Sources and Reception (London: 2007).

P. Adamson, Studies on Early Arabic Philosophy (Aldershot: 2015).

M. Campanini, An Introduction to Islamic Philosophy (Edinburgh: 2008).

T.-A. Druart, “Philosophy in Islam,” in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy, ed. A.S. McGrade (Cambridge: 2003), 97-120.

K. El-Rouayheb and S. Schmitdke (eds), The Oxford Handbook to Islamic Philosophy (Oxford: 2016).

G. Endress, “The Defense of Reason: the Plea for Philosophy in the Religious Community,” Zeitschrift für Geschichte der arabisch-islamische Wissenschaften 6 (1990), 1-49.

M. Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philosophy (New York: 1983).

G. Hourani (ed.), Essays on Islamic Philosophy and Science (Albany: 1978).

M.E. Marmura (ed.), Islamic Theology and Philosophy (Albany: 1984).

S.H. Nasr and O. Leaman (eds), History of Islamic Philosophy, 2 vols. (London: 1996).

U. Rudolph (ed.) Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie. Philosophie in der islamischen WeltBd.1: 8.-10. Jahrhundert(Basel: 2012). Translated into English as U. Rudolph, R. Hansberger and P. Adamson (eds), Philosophy in the Islamic World, Vol.1: 8-10th Century (Leiden: 2016).

S. Schmidtke (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology (Oxford: 2016).

W.M. Watt, The Formative Period of Islamic Thought (Oxford: 1973).

 

Bibliography on individual thinkers and movements can be found on the pages of the relevant podcasts.

Episodes 120 - 145: Formative Period

120 - The Straight Path: Philosophy in the Islamic World

Posted on 17 March 2013

The rise of Islam creates a new context for philosophy not only among Muslims, but also Jews and Christians.

45 comments
121 - This is a Test: the Mu'tazilites

Posted on 24 March 2013

A first look at the philosophical contributions of Islamic theology (kalām) and its political context, focusing on the Mu'tazilites Abū l-Hudhayl and al-Naẓẓām.

36 comments
122 - Founded in Translation: From Greek to Syriac and Arabic

Posted on 31 March 2013

Greek philosophy and science make their way into the Islamic world via Syriac and Arabic translations and interpretations.

15 comments
123 - Philosopher of the Arabs: al-Kindī

Posted on 7 April 2013

Al-Kindī uses Hellenic materials to discuss the eternity of the world, divine attributes, and the nature of the soul.

18 comments
124 - The Chosen Ones: Judaism and Philosophy

Posted on 14 April 2013

The roots of Jewish philosophy in the Islamic world, focusing on the Rabbinic background in the Mishnah and Talmud, and the thought of early figures like Isaac Israeli.

21 comments
125 - Reasoned Belief: Saadia Gaon

Posted on 21 April 2013

Saadia Gaon draws on philosophy and Islamic theology to provide a rational account of Jewish belief.

10 comments
126 - High Five: al-Rāzī

Posted on 28 April 2013

The doctor and philosopher Abū Bakr al-Rāzī sets out a daring philosophical theory involving five eternal principles: God, soul, matter, time and place.

14 comments
127 - Peter E Pormann on Medicine in the Islamic World

Posted on 5 May 2013

A double dose of Peters, as Pormann joins Adamson to discuss medicine and philosophy in the Islamic world.

1 comments
128 - Aristotelian Society: the Baghdad School

Posted on 12 May 2013

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

9 comments
129 - The Second Master: al-Fārābī

Posted on 19 May 2013

Peter begins to look at the systematic rethinking of Hellenic philosophy offered by al-Fārābī, focusing on his logic and metaphysics.

7 comments
130 - State of Mind: al-Fārābī on Religion and Politics

Posted on 26 May 2013

Al-Fārābī combines Islam and Greek sources to present the ideal ruler as a philosopher who is also a prophet.

17 comments
131 - Deborah Black on al-Fārābī's Epistemology

Posted on 2 June 2013

Deborah Black joins Peter to talk about al-Farabi's innovations concerning knowledge and certainty.

3 comments
132 - Eye of the Beholder: Theories of Vision

Posted on 8 June 2013

Ibn al-Haytham draws on the tradition of geometrical optics to explain the mystery of human eyesight.

13 comments
133 - Strings Attached: Music and Philosophy

Posted on 16 June 2013

Peter turns DJ, with some actual music interspersed with discussion about theories of music in works by al-Kindī, the Brethren of Purity, and al-Fārābī.

11 comments
134 - Balancing Acts: Arabic Ethical Literature

Posted on 23 June 2013

Drawing on Galen and Aristotle, philosophers from al-Kindi to Miskawayh compose ethical works designed us to achieve health in soul, as well as body.

4 comments
135 - Undercover Brothers: Philosophy in the Būyid Age

Posted on 30 June 2013

Miskawayh, al-‘Āmirī, al-Tawḥīdī, the Brethren of Purity and Ismā'īlī missionaries bring together philosophy with Persian culture, literature and Islam.

5 comments
136 - Farhad Daftary on the Ismā'īlīs

Posted on 7 July 2013

Peter is joined by Farhad Daftary, a leading expert on the Shiite group known as the Ismā'īlīs.

2 comments
137 - God Willing: the Ash'arites

Posted on 14 July 2013

Al-Ash'arī puts his stamp on the future of Islamic theology by emphasizing God’s untrammeled power and freedom.

35 comments
138 - The Self-Made Man: Avicenna's Life and Works

Posted on 21 July 2013

Despite war, the demands of patronage, and intellectual rivalry, Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā) manages to become the most influential of all medieval philosophers.

21 comments
139 - By the Time I Get to Phoenix: Avicenna on Existence

Posted on 28 July 2013

Avicenna revolutionizes metaphysics with groundbreaking ideas about necessity and contingency, and his new distinction between essence and existence.

22 comments
140 - By All Means Necessary: Avicenna on God

Posted on 4 August 2013

Avicenna’s proof of the Necessary Existent is ingenious and influential; but does it amount to a proof of God’s existence?

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141 - Into Thin Air: Avicenna on the Soul

Posted on 15 September 2013

With his Flying Man argument, Avicenna explores self-awareness and the relation between soul and body.

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142 - Dimitri Gutas on Avicenna

Posted on 22 September 2013

Peter talks to leading Avicenna scholar Dimitri Gutas about Avicenna's sources, philosophical methods, and influence.

1 comments
143 - Special Delivery: al-Ghazālī

Posted on 29 September 2013

Al-Ghazālī’s search for truth leads him to philosophy, Ash'arite theology, and ultimately the mystical tradition of Ṣūfism.

18 comments
144 - Miracle Worker: al-Ghazālī against the Philosophers

Posted on 6 October 2013

In his Incoherence of the Philosophers, al-Ghazālī attacks Avicenna’s theories about the eternity of the universe and insists on the possibility of miracles.

9 comments
145 - Frank Griffel on al-Ghazālī

Posted on 13 October 2013

Why did al-Ghazālī judge "the philosophers" to be apostates? Peter finds out from Frank Griffel.

9 comments