Medieval Arab philosophy

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Medieval Arab philosophy
Medieval Arab philosophy

With the advent of Christianity, Muslim philosophy was forced to seek refuge outside the Middle East. According to the decree of Zeno of 489, the Aristotelian peripatetic school was closed, later, in 529, because of the decree of Justinian, the last philosophical school of the pagans in Athens, to which the Neoplatonists belonged, also fell into disfavor and persecution. All these activities caused many philosophers to move to nearby lands.

History of Arabic Philosophy

Arabic philosophy

One of the centers of this philosophy was the city of Damascus, which, by the way, gave birth to many Neoplatonists (for example, Porphyry and Iamblichus). Syria and Iran accept the philosophical currents of antiquity with open arms. All literary works of ancient mathematicians, astronomers, doctors, including books by Aristotle and Plato are transported here.

Muslim at that time did not pose a big threat either politically or religiously, so philosophers were given the full right to quietly continue their activities without persecuting religious leaders. Many ancient treatises have been translated into Arabiclanguage.

Baghdad at that time was famous for the "House of Wisdom", the school where the translation of the works of Galen, Hippocrates, Archimedes, Euclid, Ptolemy, Aristotle, Plato, Neoplatonists was carried out. However, the philosophy of the Arab East was not entirely clear about the philosophy of antiquity, which led to the attribution of incorrect authorship to many treatises.

For example, Plotinus' Ennead was partially authored by Aristotle, which led to many years of misconceptions up to the Middle Ages in Western Europe. Under the name of Aristotle, the works of Proclus, en titled The Book of Causes, were also translated.

Arabic medieval philosophy

The Arab scientific world of the 9th century was replenished with knowledge of mathematics, in fact, from there, thanks to the works of the mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, the world received a positional number system or “Arabic numbers”. It was this man who elevated mathematics to the rank of science. The word "algebra" from the Arabic "al dzhebr" means the operation of transferring one term of the equation to the other side with a sign change. It is noteworthy that the word "algorithm", derived from the name of the first Arab mathematician, denoted mathematics in general among the Arabs.


The development of philosophy at that time was applied as an application of the principles of Aristotle and Plato to the existing provisions of Muslim theology.

Arabic philosophy of the Middle Ages

One of the first representatives of Arabic philosophy was Al-Kindi (801-873), thanks to his efforts, the translation of the known to us underPlotinus' treatise "Theology of Aristotle" by Aristotle. He was familiar with the work of the astronomer Ptolemy and Euclid. As well as Aristotle, Al-Kindi ranked philosophy as the crown of all scientific knowledge.

Being a man of broad views, he argued that there is no single definition of truth anywhere and at the same time, the truth lies everywhere. Al-Kindi is not just a philosopher, he is a rationalist and firmly believed that only with the help of reason one can know the truth. To do this, he often resorted to the help of the queen of sciences - mathematics. Even then, he spoke about the relativity of knowledge in general.

However, being a pious person, he argued that Allah is the goal of all things, and only in him is hidden the fullness of truth, which is available only to the elect (prophets). The philosopher, in his opinion, is not able to achieve knowledge due to its inaccessibility to a simple mind and logic.


Al-Farabi (872-950), who was born in southern Kazakhstan, then lived in Baghdad, where he adopted the knowledge of a Christian doctor, became another philosopher who laid the foundation for the Arab philosophy of the Middle Ages. This educated man, among other things, was also a musician, and a doctor, and a rhetorician, and a philosopher. He also drew on the writings of Aristotle and was interested in logic.

Thanks to him, the Aristotelian treatises called "Organon" were streamlined. Being strong in logic, Al-Farabi was nicknamed "the second teacher" among subsequent philosophers of Arabic philosophy. He revered logic as a tool for knowing the truth, necessary for absolutely everyone.

Logic also did not come into being withouttheoretical foundations, which, along with mathematics and physics, are presented in metaphysics, which explains the essence of the objects of these sciences and the essence of non-material objects, which includes God, who is the center of metaphysics. Therefore, Al-Farabi elevated metaphysics to the rank of divine science.

Al-Farabi divided the world into two types of existence. To the first he attributed the possible-existing things, for the existence of which there is a reason outside of these things. The second - things that contain the very reason for their existence, that is, their existence is determined by their inner essence, only God can be attributed here.

Like Plotinus, Al-Farabi sees in God an unknowable essence, to which, however, he attributes personal will, which contributed to the creation of subsequent minds, which made the idea of ​​the elements a reality. Thus, the philosopher combines the Plotinian hierarchy of hypostases with Muslim creationism. So the Koran, as a source of medieval Arabic philosophy, shaped the subsequent worldview of the followers of Al-Farabi.

This philosopher proposed a classification of human cognitive abilities, presenting the world with four types of mind.

The first lower kind of mind is considered passive, since it is associated with sensuality, the second kind of mind is an actual, pure form, capable of comprehending forms. The acquired mind, which has already known certain forms, was assigned to the third kind of mind. The last type is active, on the basis of knowledge of forms comprehending other spiritual forms and God. Thus, a hierarchy of minds is built - passive, actual, acquired andactive.

Ibn Sina

When analyzing medieval Arabic philosophy, it is worth briefly presenting the life path and teachings of another outstanding thinker after Al-Farabi named Ibn Sina, who came down to us under the name Avicenna. His full name is Abu Ali Hussein ibn Sina. And according to the Jewish reading it will be Aven Sena, which ultimately gives the modern Avicenna. Arab philosophy, thanks to his contribution, was replenished with knowledge of human physiology.

Arabic Medieval Philosophy Briefly

The doctor-philosopher was born near Bukhara in 980 and died in 1037. He earned himself the fame of a brilliant doctor. As the story goes, in his youth he cured the emir in Bukhara, which made him a court physician who won the mercy and blessings of the right hand of the emir.

The work of his whole life can be considered the "Book of Healing", which included 18 volumes. He was an admirer of the teachings of Aristotle and also recognized the division of sciences into practical and theoretical. In theory, he put metaphysics above all else, and in practice he attributed mathematics, revering it as an average science. Physics was considered the lowest science, since it studies the sensible things of the material world. Logic was perceived, as before, as a gateway to scientific knowledge.

Arab philosophy at the time of Ibn Sina considered it possible to know the world, which can only be achieved through reason.

One could classify Avicenna as a moderate realist, because he spoke about universals like this: they exist not only in things, but also in the human mind. However, there are passages in his books where he states thatthey also exist “before material things.”

The works of Thomas Aquinas in Catholic philosophy are based on the terminology of Avicenna. “Before things” are universals that are formed in the divine consciousness, “in/after things” are universals that are born in the human mind.

In metaphysics, which Ibn Sina also paid attention to, there are four types of being: spiritual beings (God), spiritual material objects (celestial spheres), bodily objects.

As a rule, all philosophical categories belong here. Here property, substance, freedom, necessity, etc. It is they that form the basis of metaphysics. The fourth kind of being is the concepts associated with matter, the essence and existence of an individual concrete thing.

The peculiarities of medieval Arabic philosophy include the following interpretation: "God is the only being whose essence coincides with existence." God is attributed by Avicenna to the necessary-existent essence.

Thus, the world is divided into possibly-existing things and necessarily-existing things. The subtext hints that any chain of causality leads to the knowledge of God.

The creation of the world in medieval Arab philosophy is now viewed from a neoplatonic point of view. As a follower of Aristotle, Ibn Sina erroneously asserted, quoting Plotinus' Theology of Aristotle, that the world is created by God emanatively.

God in his mind creates ten levels of intelligence, the last of which provides the shape of our bodies and the awareness of their presence. Like Aristotle, Avicenna considers matter to be a necessary and eternal element of God.any existence. He also reveres God as pure thought that thinks itself. So, according to Ibn Sina, God is ignorant, because he does not know every single object. That is, the world is not governed by a higher mind, but by the general laws of mind and causality.

Briefly the Arab medieval philosophy of Avicenna consists of the denial of the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, because he believes that it is immortal and will never take on a different bodily form after liberation from the mortal body. In his understanding, only the soul, freed from feelings and emotions, is able to taste heavenly pleasure. Thus, according to the teachings of Ibn Sina, the medieval philosophy of the Arab East is based on the knowledge of God through the mind. This approach began to provoke a negative reaction from Muslims.

Al-Ghazali (1058-1111)

This Persian philosopher was actually called Abu Hamid Mohammed ibn-Muhammed al-Ghazali. In his youth, he became interested in the study of philosophy, sought to know the truth, but over time he came to the conclusion that true faith departs from philosophical teachings.

After a serious crisis of the soul, Al-Ghazali leaves the city and court activities. He strikes into asceticism, leads a monastic life, in other words, becomes a dervish. This lasted eleven years. However, after persuading his devoted students to return to teaching, he returns to the position of teacher, but his worldview is now being built in a different direction.

The Arab philosophy of Al-Ghazali's time is briefly presented in his works, among which are "The Revival of Religious Sciences", "The Self-Refutation of Philosophers".

Significant development at this time is achieved by the natural sciences, including mathematics and medicine. He does not deny the practical benefits of these sciences for society, but calls not to be distracted by the scientific knowledge of God. After all, this leads to heresy and godlessness, according to Al-Ghazali.

Al-Ghazali: three groups of philosophers

He divides all philosophers into three groups:

  1. Those who affirm the eternity of the world and deny the existence of the supreme Creator (Anaxagoras, Empedocles and Democritus).
  2. Those who transfer the natural-scientific method of cognition to philosophy and explain everything by natural causes are lost heretics who deny the afterlife and God.
  3. Those who adhere to metaphysical teachings (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina). Al-Ghazali disagrees with them the most.

The Arab philosophy of the Middle Ages of the time of Al-Ghazali condemns metaphysicians because of three main mistakes:

  • eternity of the existence of the world outside of God's will;
  • God is not omniscient;
  • denial of his resurrection from the dead and personal immortality of the soul.

In contrast to the metaphysicians, Al-Ghazali denies matter as an eternal principle for the deity. Thus, it can be attributed to nominalists: there are only specific material objects that God creates, bypassing universals.

In medieval Arab philosophy, the situation in the dispute about universals acquired a character opposite to that of Europe. In Europe nominalists were prosecuted for heresy, but things are different in the East. Al-Ghazali, being a mystic theologian, deniesphilosophy as such, affirms nominalism as a confirmation of the omniscience and omnipotence of God and excludes the existence of universals.

All changes in the world, according to the Arabic philosophy of Al-Ghazali, are not accidental and refer to the new creation of God, nothing is repeated, nothing is improved, there is only the introduction of a new one through God. Since philosophy has limits in knowledge, it is not given to ordinary philosophers to contemplate God in a superintelligent mystical ecstasy.

Ibn Rushd (1126-1198)

characteristics of Arabic medieval philosophy

In the 9th century, with the expansion of the borders of the Muslim world, many educated Catholics are influenced by it. One of these people was a resident of Spain and a person close to the Caliph of Cordoba, Ibn Rushd, known by the Latin transcription - Averroes.

history of arabic philosophy

Thanks to his activities at court (commenting on the apocrypha of philosophical thought), he earned the nickname of the Commentator. Ibn Rushd extolled Aristotle, arguing that only he should be studied and interpreted.

The main work of his is considered to be “Refutation of Refutation”. This is a polemical work that refutes Al-Ghazali's Refutation of the Philosophers.

The characteristics of the Arab medieval philosophy of the time of Ibn Rushd include the following classification of inferences:

  • apodictic, that is, actually scientific;
  • dialectical or more or less likely;
  • rhetorical, which give only the appearance of an explanation.

Sothe division of people into apodictics, dialecticians and rhetoricians also emerges.

Rhetoricists include most of the believers, content with simple explanations that lull their vigilance and anxiety in front of the unknown. Dialectics include such people as Ibn Rushd and Al-Ghazali, and apodictics - Ibn Sina and Al-Farabi.

At the same time, the contradiction between Arab philosophy and religion does not really exist, it appears from the ignorance of people.

Knowing the truth

The holy books of the Quran are considered the receptacle of truth. However, according to Ibn Rushd, the Qur'an contains two meanings: internal and external. The external builds only rhetorical knowledge, while the internal is comprehended only by apodictics.

According to Averroes, the assumption of the creation of the world creates a lot of contradictions, which leads to an erroneous understanding of God.

features of Arabic medieval philosophy

Firstly, according to Ibn Rushd, if we assume that God is the creator of the world, then, therefore, he lacks something, which detracts from His own essence. Secondly, if we are truly eternal God, then where does the concept of the beginning of the world come from? And if He is a constant, then where does change come from in the world? True knowledge according to Ibn Rushd includes the awareness of the eternity of the world to God.

The philosopher claims that God knows only Himself, that it is not given to him to invade the material existence and make changes. This is how a picture of a world independent of God is built, in which matter is the source of all transformations.

Denying opinionsmany predecessors, Averroes says that only in matter can universals exist.

The edge of the divine and the material

According to Ibn Rushd, universals belong to the material world. He also disagreed with Al-Ghazali's interpretation of causality, arguing that it is not illusory, but exists objectively. Proving this statement, the philosopher proposed the idea that the world exists in God as a single whole, the parts of which are inextricably linked with each other. God creates harmony in the world, order, from which the causal relationship grows in the world, and it denies any chance and miracles.

Following Aristotle, Averroes said that the soul is the form of the body and therefore, after the death of a person, it also dies. However, she does not die entirely, only her animal and plant souls are what made her individual.


The rational beginning is eternal according to Ibn Rushd, it can be equated with the divine mind. Thus, death turns into communion with the divine and impersonal immortality. It follows from this that God cannot communicate with a person due to the fact that he simply does not see him, does not know him as an individual.

Ibn Rushd in his exoteric teaching was quite loyal to the Muslim religion and argued that, despite the obvious falsity of the doctrine of immortality, you should not tell the people about it, because the people will not be able to understand this and plunge into complete immorality. This kind of religion helps keep people in check.

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