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Arabic Philosophy

Introduction | History of Arabic Philosophy
Introduction Back to Top

Arabic Philosophy refers to philosophical thought in the Arab world that spans Persia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Iberia, although, as a particular center of intellectual endeavor, Persian Philosophy is often treated separately. Some schools of Arabic thought, including Avicennism and Averroism are also often considered within the traditions of Western philosophy.

History of Arabic Philosophy Back to Top

The first great Arab thinker is widely regarded to be al-Kindi (801 - 873 A.D.), a Neo-Platonic philosopher, mathematician and scientist who lived in Kufa and Baghdad (modern day Iraq). After being appointed by the Abbasid Caliphs to translate Greek scientific and philosophical texts into Arabic, he wrote a number of original treatises of his own on a range of subjects, from metaphysics and ethics to mathematics and pharmacology. Much of his philosophical output focuses on theological subjects such as the nature of God, the soul and prophetic knowledge.

His near-contemporary, the Persian (or possibly Central Asian) polymath al-Farabi (872 - 950 A.D.), made use of the logical treatises of Aristotle and the practical political philosophy of Plato, and employed arguments for the existence of God which would only make their way into the Christian tradition in the 13th Century. He is credited with over one hundred works and his output, aimed at synthesis of philosophy and Sufism, paved the way for Avicenna's later work.

The 11th-century Persian Islamic philosopher Avicenna (also known as Ibn Sina) attempted to reconcile Western Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism with Islamic theology, and his metaphysics were very influential on the Western Scholastics and St. Thomas Aquinas among others. He proposed an ontological argument for the existence of God as the first cause of all things, and developed his own system of Avicennian logic.

The 13th Century Arab philosopher AverroŽs (also known as Ibn Rushd) has been described as the founding father of secular thought in Western Europe. He lived in southern Spain and Morocco and based his work on interpretations of Aristotle and the reconciliation of Aristotelianism with the Islamic faith. Devoted to the teachings of Aristotle, he often disagreed explicitly with his Islamic predecessors, particularly with the Ash'arite al-Ghazali and Avicenna.

The 14th Century Ash'arite philosopher and scholar Ibn Khaldun (1332 - 1406), born in present-day Tunisia, is considered one of the greatest Arabic political theorists, and his definition of government as "an institution which prevents injustice other than such as it commits itself" is still considered a succinct analysis. He is sometimes credited as a "father" of demography, cultural history, historiography, the philosophy of history, sociology and modern economics for anticipating many elements of these disciplines centuries before they were developed.

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