Prof. Peter Adamson: "Philosophy in the Islamic World"

August 07, 2019

Actually, I wanted to say that I'm very grateful to Google, not only for inviting me but because you give me my best way of impressing people when I am trying to blow their minds about my podcast, which is, I tell them about it. And they say, where can I find it? And I say, just google the phrase "history of philosophy" and after Wikipedia, I'll be the first hit. And they're all like, no way. I also sometimes try to impress people by telling them how many times it's been downloaded. But I think if I told you the number, it probably wouldn't impress you. So I won't bother. OK. So I was asked to come speak about this book. This is a little slide I like to call "Shameless Self-Promotion." So I published this last year, I guess. And it's a very short introduction to "Philosophy in the Islamic World" that was published by Oxford University Press. And nowadays, when I'm asked what areas I work on, I usually say late-ancient philosophy and philosophy in the Islamic world. And that's a little bit of a mouthful. And in fact, when I was talking to the editors at OUP about what to call the book, they said, well, can't we just call it "Islamic Philosophy?" That would be a lot easier and maybe easier to sell. And I said, no, we can't. And I want to first of all explain why. So why is it called that? Why is it called philosophy in the Islamic world? There's really been a kind of debate about what to call this topic, Arabic philosophy or Islamic philosophy. Islamic philosophy is kind of the obvious thing to call it because most of the philosophers who leap to mind from this tradition, to the extent that any philosophers at all leap to mind, are Muslim. And also, a big role in this tradition is, of course, played by the context of the Quranic revelation. So a lot of the thinkers in the tradition are, in fact, sort of using philosophical ideas to interpret the Quran or respond to ideas from the Quran. But I think actually, in a way, although that's true and I wouldn't for a moment deny it, it maybe prejudges the tradition as one that's primarily about responding to the Quran so that we assume that any philosopher who was working in the Islamic world would necessarily have been mostly interested in using philosophy to, for example, prove that God exists, or prove that revelation is possible, or prove that Muhammad was really a prophet and that the things he said are true. There are certainly thinkers who were very interested in that project and were even primarily motivated by doing that. But that doesn't apply to all philosophers who worked in the Islamic world. And especially it doesn't apply to philosophers who worked in the Islamic world who weren't Muslim. And in fact, it turns out that there were quite a few of these. So just to give some examples, the people who originally translated Greek philosophical works into Arabic, and I'll say more about that in just a moment, were mostly Christians because they were either from Syria or of Syrian extraction. This is what's going to pass for ripped-from-the-headlines relevance at my talk-- they were from Syria. And the reason why they were the ones you could turn to for translating Greek works into Arabic is that there was a living tradition in Syrian Christian monasteries of working with Greek texts and translating them into Syriac, which is another Semitic language, and thus, a lot closer to Arabic than Greek was. So they played an important role in the transmission of Greek philosophy into the Islamic worlds. And then after that, you have more Christians who engage with these translations. So a good example is a group that we sometimes call the Baghdad Aristotelians who lived in the 10th century. And they were Christians and known in this metropolis, the center of the Islamic empire of Baghdad, as experts in Aristotelian philosophy. Another example, and maybe a more prominent example, in a way, is that a lot of important Jewish philosophers have lived in the Islamic world, including the most famous and important ever Jewish philosopher, unless you count Spinoza, which-- topic of a whole other talk, with Spinoza, a Jewish philosopher. But even perhaps more famous than Spinoza is Maimonides, who lived in the 12th century, was born in Islamic Spain, and when conditions became unfavorable for Jews, moved to Cairo. So when I wrote the VSI, and in general when I do research on this area, I always try to make a big deal about the fact that if you're going to study philosophy from this cultural context, you have to realize that some of them were Christians and Jews. And you shouldn't, therefore, call the topic Islamic philosophy. That would just be kind of bizarre, right? In fact, it would be more appropriate to call medieval European philosophy Christian philosophy, than to call this Islamic philosophy, because in medieval Christian Europe almost all thinkers were, in fact, Christians. But we don't do that, so I don't call it Islamic philosophy. Sometimes people have suggested calling it Arabic philosophy. And this is in part to highlight something I just said, which is that philosophy in the Islamic world more or less kicks off with the Greek-Arabic Translation Movement in the 9th century. And since a lot of you are engineers, I should mention that this isn't just about philosophy. The Translation Movement also renders many works of science, and even engineering, into Arabic, so you have works by Ptolemy, Euclid, and other mathematicians who are translated into Arabic. They translated not necessarily everything they could get their hands on, but an astonishing amount, to the point that, for example, Aristotle, who for them, just as in medieval Europe was the most important philosopher, they could read pretty much all the Aristotle we can read, but in Arabic. Sometimes you might hear-- if you kind of know anything about the importance of philosophy in the Islamic world, one of the things you might know is that Europeans got their hands on people like Aristotle through the Islamic world. So the idea would be Greek philosophy was translated into Arabic in the 9th and 10th centuries. And then the Arabic versions were translated into Latin around 1200. And as you'll see, that's going to be an important feature of the tradition that I'm going to talk about later on, the translation into Latin around 1200. And so the thought would be, oh, well, the reason we can read Aristotle is because his works were translated into Arabic and then from there into Latin in a kind of medieval version of Chinese whispers. That's actually not true because if you think about it, we have Aristotle in Greek. We don't have to read him in Arabic and Latin. So actually, we get Plato and Aristotle from the Byzantine Empire, which was basically the remnants of the Roman Empire. After it had collapsed in the West, it survived in the East. And they still have-- there are manuscripts of Plato and Aristotle that still exist today. That's how we can read them in Greek. But although it's not true that the Greek is completely lost for these guys, there are some ancient philosophical and scientific works that are only preserved in Arabic. And it is certainly true that for a while in the medieval Christian world, their primary access to ancient philosophy was through the Arabic tradition. And they used Muslim philosophers as commentators and guides to understanding figures like Aristotle. OK. So this whole fact that Arabic plays a crucial role in the transmission of knowledge, both science and philosophy, from the ancient worlds of ancient Greece and then the Roman Empire into the Islamic world, that's certainly true. And so an advantage of calling this field Arabic philosophy is precisely that. I actually am the co-editor of an earlier book called "The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy," which I would now call-- I wish I had called, actually, "The Cambridge Companion to Philosophy in the Islamic World." But this is what we were thinking when we called it that. We were thinking it's either Islamic or Arabic. And we don't want to call it Islamic, so we have to call it Arabic. And this seemed like a good rationale for it. But as we actually already admitted in the introduction to that book, this is actually quite misleading. So maybe the most misleading thing about it is that it suggests that all philosophical and scientific literature in the Islamic world was written in Arabic, which just isn't true. Actually, especially as you go on into the later period, and I'll be saying more about that in a moment, a lot of philosophical literature from the Islamic world is written in Persian. And there are other languages, too, where they write philosophy, so, for example, Syriac, which I've already mentioned. So I'm actually not very happy with Arabic philosophy anymore either. Arabic philosophy has one other problem, which is that whenever you say Arabic philosophy, people then come up to you and very self-righteously say, oh, but you do know that most of them weren't Arabs, right? Which is true, actually. So a lot of the major figures from the Islamic world were not ethnically Arabs but were from Central Asia, including Avicenna who, as we'll see, is the most important figure in philosophy of the Islamic world. But I just think that this just shows that people don't know English because, in my opinion, Arabic is a language. People aren't Arabic. People are Arab. I don't know what you all think about this. But to me, as a sort of native speaker, that's what Arabic an Arab mean. So this is to me, it's sort of a fallacious reason not to call it Arabic philosophy. But it's really annoying to keep getting people who keep saying, well, you know that they weren't all Arabs. So I just don't really want to deal with it. There was actually another phrase, which is a sort of term of art which has been developed within the field of Islamic studies, which is the so-called Islamicate. Islamicate would mean the geographical regions under Muslim dominion, and that's really what I mean. So I would call it Islamicate philosophy if I thought people wouldn't know what the heck I was talking about. But I take it that-- I mean, if this had been called-- you notice how I keep getting back to this slide. As an American, I am a born marketer. I mean, imagine if it was called Islamicate philosophy. You'd have no idea what it was about, right? Like, what is that supposed to mean? So I don't say Islamicate. I say philosophy in the Islamic world. OK. Now, this is a little slide I like to call "Shameless Self-Promotion, Part II." If you actually look at the bottom of the slide, that's where you get-- if you google "history of philosophy." So I've been running a podcast since 2010 whose aim is, as it says at the top of the books, to cover the entire history of philosophy without any gaps in 20- to 25-minute episodes. So it starts with the Pre-Socratics, the earliest Greek philosophers, and it goes until I get hit by a bus or meet some other-- or I get to now. So some people say, well, what will you do, like, when you run out of history of philosophy? And I say, well, I can just, like, cover whatever was just published that week. It comes out once a week every Sunday. And as we already heard, it's up to Episode 273, I think. There's also about 40 episodes on Indian philosophy, which I've been doing with Jonardon Ganeri. So one of the important features of the project is to cover philosophy in other cultures and also to cover philosophy in a way that doesn't just mean talking about the major figures of philosophy. So this is kind of introduction into this wider project. Oh, and maybe I should explain, the relevance to the very short introduction is that, in a way, the very short introduction is kind of like an introduction to the material that I cover much more in-depth in this book because this book is about five times as long as the other one because it's without any gaps. OK. So what does it mean to do the history of philosophy without any gaps? Well, if you sort of think about what the history of philosophy means-- so none of you are philosophers or professional philosophers. But you've all heard of some philosophers, right? And if you conjure in your mind who is a philosopher-- everyone sort of think of a philosopher. Don't think of me. Think of just a kind of generic philosopher. So you're all thinking of a man probably. You're thinking of a white guy. You're probably even thinking of an older white guy with a beard, right? So you're basically thinking of someone who looks like God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, right? And to be fair, there have been plenty of white guys with beards who were philosophers. And in fact, if you start thinking who are some famous philosophers, like if I spent the rest of the time of this talk asking you to name philosophers, I'm sure you would all come up with plenty of names. So you might come up with Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Leibniz, Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, right? These are all names that are presumably known to all of you. If not, you can google them. A little google humor. And of course, these are all, like, huge figures in the history of philosophy. And when I get to them, I give them extra coverage. So for example, Plato and Aristotle got something like 15 episodes apiece. And when I get to Kant, god knows how many episodes it will take me to cover him. Actually, I'm already sort of getting night sweats wondering how I'm possibly going to adequately deal with Kant when I get to him in the podcast. But especially because I work in sort of more-- lesser known, let's say-- areas of history of philosophy, it's important to me to try to communicate the idea that the history of philosophy is not just these brilliant people who turn up every few centuries and, apparently, sometimes after a long period of nothing. So if you think about the list I just gave you, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, that's literally almost 2,000 years that I jumped over there because Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are 5th and 4th century BCE. And Thomas Aquinas is-- anybody? AUDIENCE: 12th? PETER ADAMSON: 13-- oh, so close. 13th century AD, right, so he died in the 1270s. And if we played this game again and I said, OK, name me some philosophers who lived between Aristotle and Aquinas, it would be a very short discussion probably unless you've been listening to my podcasts, because I've done hundreds of episodes on what happened in that gap. OK? And if you think about that-- I mean, let's just step back and talk about that a little bit more. That's more than half of the history of philosophy, I mean, chronologically. Of course, the closer we get to the current day, the more text there is that survives. So we have much more from the 17th century than we have from the 12th century. But we have a lot of information about philosophy, pretty much in an unbroken line stemming from the most ancient of the ancient Greeks all the way up to now. And of course, it's not one single line, because it's actually multiple lines moving from multiple cultures and sometimes independently. So Islamic philosophy, or philosophy in the Islamic world, as I was saying before, draws from Greek philosophy. But there's also philosophy in ancient India and ancient China, which is basically independent of Greek philosophy, although that's sometimes disputed. But it's primarily independent, even if there's some filtering of ideas back and forth. And there's also philosophical tradition of Africa, of South America, et cetera, which never gets covered in courses on the history of philosophy. So I'm trying to cover all of this in the podcast. I've already done philosophy in the Islamic worlds. And I'm now doing Indian philosophy with a co-author named Jonardon Genari, next year with someone named Chike Jeffers, who works in Canada. I'll be starting to cover African philosophy, including the philosophical movements in the African Diaspora. And I'm hoping to do Chinese philosophy after that, and then who knows. So one other thing I should mention about not having any historical gaps is that, as I said, when you imagine a famous philosopher, you imagine a woman-- sorry. You imagine a man, right? But there have been plenty of female philosophers. And to me one of the most important kind of implications of the project is, alongside covering philosophy from other cultures, you cover female philosophers. And you don't cover them because you're being politically correct or something. You cover them because they're there. And you're covering the entire history of philosophy, and why would you skip them, right? So I have, especially in the Medieval Period I've been able already to give a lot of coverage to individual female thinkers, like Hildegard of Bingen, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, who's there on the left, Christine de Pizan, who's there on the right who I haven't gotten to yet but I will. So I think that's Christine de Pizan. So that's a real advantage, I think, of the project and the way I'm doing it. OK. So for the rest of the time, I want to sort of narrow in now on philosophy in the Islamic world and tell you about three, kind of, implications of doing it this way on this topic. So of course, in a sense, like, covering philosophy in the Islamic world already at all is sort of filling a gap because there are arguably no truly famous philosophers from the Islamic world, famous in the sense that Descartes and Plato are famous. So almost everyone has heard of Descartes and Plato. Very few people have heard of more than one or two Muslim philosophers. If you've heard of anyone, you might have heard of Avicenna or Averroes. Avicenna lived from the 10th to the 11th century. He died in 1037. Averroes lived in 12th century Islamic Spain and is the most important medieval commentator on Aristotle. And Averroes is an interesting figure because he's bound up with a kind of narrative that you will often hear about philosophy in the Islamic world, which is that it flourishes with Greek-Arabic translation movements, and then it ends around the end of the 12th century. And it maybe even ends at a very specific-- it actually ends on one day, namely, the day that Averroes has died. And he died in 1198, right at the end of the 12th century. So if you think about it, this is, in a way, a very convenient narrative because the thought would be, oh, well, philosophy was invented in Greece. Actually, it already existed in China and India before that. But let's leave that aside-- and maybe Egypt as well. But let's leave that aside. So it begins in Greece. The Roman Empire collapses. Oh, no, philosophy is dead. Oh, no, it's not, because the Muslims come along and save it and translate it into Arabic. And then, having fulfilled their historical destiny by carrying the torch of philosophy for three or four centuries, they then pass it on to the medieval Christians who translate it into Latin, and then you get Thomas Aquinas, scholasticism, the Renaissance, and et cetera. So one of the things I want to say and emphasize a lot in both the podcast and the very short introduction is that this is just not true and that this whole story about philosophy basically ending around 1200 in the Islamic world, is a kind of myth. Let me just check the time. So that's one thing I want to say. Another thing I want to sort of narrow in on a bit more is to say more about the Christian philosophers I was mentioning before, just as an example of what I was saying earlier, which is that this is kind of an ecumenical historical phenomenon. It's not only the story of Muslims using philosophy to understand the Quran. And the last thing I want to do, just briefly, is say something about Islamic theology, which is a kind of test case for my approach of including absolutely everything you might want to include in the history of philosophy. OK. So first, something about philosophy of the later Islamic world. Here's a map which shows the three-- actually, not all of, but most of the-- because the Ottoman Empire is cut off there-- but the three later empires in the Islamic world. So these are the empires that exist around the time of early modern Europe, so around the time of the Enlightenment, or the late Renaissance and Enlightenment. So, like, Descartes, Leibniz, that period, this is what the Islamic world looks like, and moving up into the 17th, 18th centuries. And if you look at that map, you can see that it's pretty damn big, right? Incidentally, for those who don't know, the clash between Sunni and Shiite Islam today is traceable to some extent, to the fact that the Ottoman Empire-- the green bit is Sunni, and the Safavid Empire, the red, pink, orange bit, is Shiite. So when the Safavids came to power in Iran, they sort of turned Iran Shiite or made sure that Iran would stay Shiite. And it still is today. And Muslims also had control over much of India. And there were philosophers in all three of these areas. Notice that we're way past the 12th century here. Here's a selective list of some philosophers who lived after 1200. OK. Fakhr al-Din al Razi didn't live much after 1200. But I put him on because he's a really important and interesting figure in the history of philosophical theology that I'll be talking about later on. Razi and Tusi are both commentators on Avicenna. The Ibn Khaldun, you might have heard of, actually. He's a very famous theorist of history and wrote this amazing history of the Islamic world, where he prefaces it with an explanation of how civilizations rise and fall. The School of Shiraz, which exists just before the rise of the Safavids in Iran, was kind of a group of Avicenna philosophers who argued about the interpretation of his works. Mulla Sadra is an important later mystic philosopher who lives in the Safavid empire. Katib Celebi is an important Ottoman philosopher. Dara Shikoh is a really amazing guy. He lived in Mughal, India. And he was a prince who was assassinated, or actually had been put on trial and killed by his brothers to get him out of the line of succession. And he was a kind of scholar who was fascinated with ancient Indian thought. So he translated the Upanishads and wrote a book called "The Confluence of the Two Oceans," where he argued that the teachings of the Quran, as sort of filtered through Sufism, and the teachings of the ancient Indian scriptures, like the Upanishads, actually amounted to the same teachings. So he's quite interesting. Khayrabadi is another later Mughal, or Indian, rather, philosopher. And then I put on Mohammed Abduh, who is an interesting turn-of-the-century philosopher and mention Fatema Mernissi because she is one of the more interesting female thinkers in the last century. One of the problems I actually ran into when I was doing philosophy in the Islamic world is that I really wanted to cover-- as I said before, I wanted to cover female thinkers in the Islamic world. And it's not a very good picture there. So you find some interesting female thinkers over the last 150 years or so. Prior to that, there are quite a few female scholars in the Islamic world but not anyone who you could really designate as a philosopher as far as I know. But if anyone has a counter-example, I would love to hear it. OK. So the point of that was just to-- sorry. Before I leave this-- so the point of that was just, I mean, in a way, I can just show you that this narrative of decline is wrong by saying, well, here are some people that the narrative leaves out. Maybe I should say that there is actually a-- because you might be sitting there thinking, well, hang on a second. If these people all exist, then why is it that when we pick up, like, Bertrand Russell's History of Philosophy? Or actually, pretty much almost any textbook on the history of philosophy, if it bothers to mention philosophy in the Islamic world at all, it says, well, it ends around 1200. Why do we get that idea if-- what's with all these people? So how did this happen? And the answer goes back to something I said earlier, which is the Arabic-Latin Translation Movement. So remember, I said that happened around 1200. It was mostly in Spain where the Islamic and Christian worlds were confronting one another. And it actually even involved collaboration between Christian, Muslim, and Jewish scholars who would sort of team up to translate things from Arabic into Latin. And the effect of that was to translate not just Greek works, like Aristotle, but also works by Muslim philosophers, like Avicenna and Averroes. So the death of philosophy in the Islamic world to some extent is an illusion created by the date of that translation movement, because what it meant was that anyone who lived after that, or too far East to be translated around 1200 in Spain, was just unknown in Europe. And because they were unknown in Europe, they played no role in influencing people like Aquinas, and more generally medieval scholasticism. And that further meant that in the 19th and 20th century when modern-day scholars turned their attention to look at philosophy in the Islamic world, they thought, well, what we need to do is study Avicenna and Averroes. They read them in the Medieval Latin translation, or they even learned Arabic and read them in the original. But they weren't interested in looking at later thinkers who had no impacts on Europe, like these people. So in a way, the tradition splits. And until very recently, most scholars have only been interested in the kind of line of Islamic philosophy that gets received in the Medieval West. OK. So Christian philosophers, like I said, one of the most important roles of Christians in the philosophical tradition I've been describing is the translation of works from Greek into Arabic. And I just wanted to mention a few examples. So there's this guy named Hunayn ibn Ishaq who was from Iraq. And his son was named Ishaq ibn Hunayn. Ibn means "son of." And it's actually-- this sort of confusing naming practice is quite common, unfortunately. And they're a very interesting couple of guys. So Hunayn was raised to be able to speak classical Greek in his family. So he tells a story about being told to recite Homer as a child to impress visitors to their home, which I'm sure worked. And he was a specialist in medical literature. He translated the works of the late ancient medical authority Galen from Greek into Arabic, or from Greek into Syriac And then he would often have an assistant translate the Syriac into Arabic because that's easier. And his son, Ishaq ibn Hunayn, was probably the greatest translator of Aristotle into Arabic. So they're a one-family factory for rendering Greek works of philosophy and science into Arabic. And they were both Christians. There were other Christians around the same time who collaborate with Muslims, with the Muslims basically paying them and also telling them what they want translated. One of the interesting things to look at is what things they translate and how early. So for example, one of the choices they make is that, early on, they translate works that will help them engage in dialectical disputation. And the idea here seems to be that they don't want the Christians to be the only people who know how to make good arguments, because then they'll lose in the public debates over whether Islam is better than Christianity. So ironically, they pay Christians to translate books to give them the kind of argumentative weapons to argue with Christians. And a good example of this, actually, is Yahya ibn 'Adi, who is a really fascinating figure for whom we have a lot of works, including a bunch of works that were only just discovered in a manuscript that's held in Tehran just a few years ago. And I've been involved in editing and translating a few of these treatises. He's really interesting because he's a Christian philosopher who lives in Baghdad, but he had Muslim colleagues who were also members of the same school. And we have an exchange between him and a Jewish philosopher, where the Jewish scholar asked him questions about Aristotle and Yahya ibn 'Adi writes back and explains the answer. So it's a really good example of the way that philosophy was a freeway interchange between the three Abrahamic faiths in the Islamic world. Another thing I just wanted to mention briefly, although I mentioned it in passing before, is that this language of Syriac which is, as I said, another Semitic language, was not only an intermediary text for translating from Greek into Arabic, but was actually used to write philosophy. So there's another post-1200 thinker, Bar Hebraeus who actually wrote in Syriac. And as I already mentioned, a lot of important Jewish philosophers lived in the Islamic world I've already mentioned Maimonides, that's Maimonides. Earlier on in the 10th century, there is a philosopher Saadia Goan, who lived in Iraq. And one reason I want to mention him is that, when you read his works, he's commenting on the Hebrew Bible from a philosophical, theological point of view. And some of the ideas he's using are taken from the Greek-Arabic translation movements. But other ideas come from this tradition, and this is the last thing I want to tell you. Still on time. So kalam. Kalam is an Arabic word meaning "word." So it's the Arabic for "word." And it is usually used to refer to an intellectual tradition in the Islamic world, which is sometimes translated as rational theology or Islamic theology. But it may be important to say that Kalam doesn't have anything to do etymologically with the word theology, which actually is a Greek word originally, whereas the Greek the Arabic word for philosophy is falsafa. So it's derived directly from the Greek word for philosophy. And I would say there's a quiet debate going on in my field, this is the kind of thing we argue about at conferences. It's also fascinating. I'm sure you're really jealous about these wonderful arguments we have over coffee. So there's a debate going on about whether the study of philosophy in the Islamic world should include this material, because there's a whole separate intellectual tradition, this kalam tradition, where what they're doing is giving rational elucidations, arguments, and interpretations of the Koran and other Islamic materials. So one way to think about this is that it's very much like the fact that, in medieval Latin Europe, a lot of the philosophers do theology. So for example, the most famous work of Thomas Aquinas, who I've mentioned numerous times, is the Summa Theologica, the summary or the summa of theology, and he was a theologian. There was in the medieval university, there was actually a faculty called the theology faculty, and most of the important medieval Latin philosophers were actually theologians, professionally theologians. So my attitude about this, effectively, is, well, if we're willing to count people like Aquinas and other medieval theologians as philosophers, then we should count these guys, too. And in fact, I have a thought experiment I'd like people to entertain, which is imagine that they hadn't translated Aristotle into Arabic. So you wouldn't have people like Avicenna or Averroes, who are primarily inspired by Aristotle. All you would have had is this, this kalam stuff. Well, what would happen now when historians of philosophy turn to the Islamic world and looked for stuff to study? They would just treat this as part of the history of philosophy. Completely unproblematic, really, just as we treat medieval Christian theology as part of the history of philosophy. But instead, what we get is that, in part because there was this distinction in the Islamic world itself between falsafa, philosophy, and kalam, theology, people tend to treat the falsafa part, the part that's inspired by Aristotle, as the real philosophy, and this stuff not as philosophy. But I think this is just another way of missing a bunch of philosophically interesting material. And so this whole project that I have of trying to fill in the gaps of the history or philosophy, to me, means that you should take things like kalam seriously as a part of the history of philosophy. Also, by the way, things like Sufism, which I also covered in this series, and even things like the physical sciences, like theories of optics, theories of physical motion, and so on and even the history of mathematics, I try to cover that in the podcast series as well. And a little bit in the very short introduction. OK, so just to wrap up, what's the point of all this? So as you might have been able to tell by now, I'm really a history of philosophy nerd. And in fact, the reason I do the podcasts, in a way, is just curiosity about the history of philosophy. And for me, the point of it is to tell the history of philosophy as one continuous story, so a narrative that doesn't miss anything out. But someone might say, well, I'm not really interested in that. It's not like normal history, where you need to know each thing that happens. What we should care about is the big ideas, the greatest figures, and what they said. So I'm perfectly happy to be told about Kant, but I don't want to be told about all of the other random little German figures that Kant was reading and responding to because they're probably quite boring. And to be honest, it's at least tacitly the attitude that most historians of philosophy have, if only because of lack of time and energy. But I think this is a mistake, and there are several reasons I think it's a mistake. One is that if you do genuinely want to understand someone like Plato or Aquinas or Kant, you had better know what they were responding to. And Kant isn't responding to the last most famous philosopher. He's responding to his contemporaries, people in the previous generation, dozens and dozens of authors who are now forgotten. And of course, that's true for everyone in the history of philosophy. It's a lot like the history of art. So if you go to museums, there's the really famous people like Picasso. But then in the same galleries, there's paintings by people you haven't necessarily heard of, and you can see that Picasso's in dialogue with these less famous people. It's the same thing in the history of philosophy. But in addition to that, it's just not true that the really interesting philosophical ideas only turn up in the most famous authors. They have a better hit rate. There's more interesting ideas per page, maybe, or they just have a larger total number of great ideas. And that's why we think they're so awesome. But actually, a lot of supposedly minor or lesser-known figures are just as interesting, like Avicenna, for instance. And even more minor figures may have a brilliant argument or idea somewhere in there. Otherwise, rather derivative and turgid works. So I think if what you're interested in is finding good philosophy, you should look everywhere where it might be. And you should take it wherever it comes, even if it's in a work that's primarily not a philosophical work, like a theological work or a mystical work. And the other thing which I haven't said very much about, but if you want, we can talk about it in the Q&A, is, well, how does all of this relate to what's going on in the contemporary Islamic world? I'm not an expert on contemporary Islamic culture or politics. But even I can see that it's intuitive and obvious in a way that, if philosophy in the Islamic world had ended in 1200, it would be of very minimal relevance for what's going on now, because that was-- I'm not very good at math, you're probably all very good at math, but it was a long time ago. Whereas if we take seriously the idea that philosophy and Islamic world is a continuous tradition that does survive the death of Averroes and go on century after century into empires like the Ottoman and [? Seljuk ?] Empire, whose political structures still, in a way, structure the contemporary political scene in the Islamic world, then that's a big step in the direction of seeing how these historical traditions affect the world we're living in today. OK, thanks very much. [APPLAUSE] SPEAKER 1: Thank you very much. We do have time for questions. Please wait for the microphone. AUDIENCE: Hello. Nice. Very interesting talk. And we have been talking more about the interaction with the West and the Arabic world. And so what about the similar kind of interaction that happened to the east, to India, Persia, or China? We know that, through the art, through the mathematics, a lot of interaction has happened. So what about on the philosophical side? Is there, more specifically, is there anything that the Indian philosophy, whether it has been influenced by Arabic in a major Islamic world philosophy in some major way? And reverse also. PETER ADAMSON: Right, OK. AUDIENCE: Having heard about anything like that in the past? PETER ADAMSON: So what was the last part? The India-- AUDIENCE: In the reverse. How the Indian philosophy affected or influenced or enhanced the Islamic world philosophy. PETER ADAMSON: OK. Yeah, so actually one of the questions I get most often, especially now that I'm doing a podcast on Indian philosophy, is whether Indian philosophy was influenced by Greek philosophy, or vice versa. And I tend to be a skeptic about that because there is no Sanskrit Greek translation movement, or vice versa. You've got a lot of striking similarities. For example, just to take one scientific example, there's a theory of the four humors in ancient medicine. Blood, bile, the two kinds of bile, and phlegm, which constitute the human body. And there's a very similar humoral theory in India, although it's not the same humors, and there's five and not four. So it doesn't match up exactly, but it makes you think. And we also have very concrete cases where Greek astronomy and astrology affects India, and vice versa. So that's clear. But I actually, generally speaking, I don't personally think that the influence of Indian philosophy on Greek philosophy was strong, if it was there at all. And the reverse, as far as I can tell, nothing. With Islam, it's very different. So obviously, first of all, the Islamic world is very different from India and China because it's massively engaged with Greek philosophy, as I've been saying. It is also engaged with Indian culture. So I mentioned Dara Shikuh. He is really late, so he's an interesting case. But there's also a contemporary of Avicenna's named Al-Biruni, who in fact, wrote an exchange of letters with Avicenna, like the other one that I mentioned, where Biruni asks tricky questions about science and philosophy, and Avicenna has to try to answer. And Biruni wrote a work called Al-Hind, meaning India, in which he's basically interviewed-- he lives very near India, and he's speaking to, basically, prisoners of war or guests of the [INAUDIBLE] war lord. And he interviewed them about their culture, and wrote this huge work about Indian culture and religion. And it has some stuff about philosophy in it as well. So that's an early case that's. So that would be 10th or 11th century, so it's around 1100. No, sorry, it's around 1000 AD. And really, from that point on, you have an interweaving of Indian and Islamic culture. And of course, the Mughal Empire is an Indian empire that's Islamic. So there's no doubt that, once you get past the kind of formative early period of Islam, you have a lot of interaction between Islam and India. Prior to that, it's more minimal. But you find very strong influence, especially in the sciences, like in astronomy again. So if you look into Islamic astronomy and astrology, they make constant reference to Indian theories of astronomy and astrology. They even talk about the Indian world cycles and how long they are and things like that. So there's plenty of evidence for that, for the Islam-India exchange. SPEAKER 1: More questions? AUDIENCE: Hi there. One question that you mentioned, just to expand a bit on the Africa side, what is the connection, or is there a connection, with Islamic works, especially with the Library of Alexandria and the Tunisian centers of influence when they were under the Ottoman occupation, basically? PETER ADAMSON: Yeah, OK. So actually, just as, for a while, philosophy in the Islamic world is just part of Indian philosophy, because the Mughal Empire's Indian. So the Ottoman Empire, to a large extent, is African. I mean, not to a large extent. But part of it's African. And I mentioned at least one thinker who's from Africa, namely Ibn Khaldun. So often, people talk about the Maghreb, the Western Islamic world, which for a while, of course, included Spain. And you can think about Islamic Spain, Northern Africa, all the way over to Egypt as a cultural unit, which is the Western analog to the Islamic heartlands in, basically, Iraq and Iran, and then further into Central Asia. So on the one hand, that's true for the Islamic world. But also hearing about late antiquity, the Roman Empire, to a large extent, is North African. By the way, one of my favorite tips to give people is, if you're ever playing 20 questions, you have this game where you think of someone, they have to-- So usually, people will try to narrow down who you are thinking of by finding out where they're from. Pick Saint Augustine, because Saint Augustine is from Northern Africa, from Tunisia, and no one will ever get that. So if they think, OK, I'm trying to think of an African person, they'll never come up with Saint Augustine. Of course, now that we've videoed this and put it on the Internet, it's not nearly as good a tip. OK, and then you just mentioned the Library of Alexandria. So that Alexandria is really the last phase of philosophy in late antiquity. And when these guys translated Greek philosophy into Arabic, they aren't only translating things like Aristotle. They're translating the commentaries written on Aristotle in Alexandria. So actually, both in late antiquity, in the period of the Roman Empire, and then also during the Islamic empire, you have Northern Africa completely involved culturally. And so it's very unhelpful here to think as we normally do about Europe. Because actually what you've got is a Mediterranean sphere, which includes the Byzantine Empire in that period as well until it falls to the Ottomans. And then you've got another sphere, which is the Islamic east, which actually is where most of the action is philosophically, but not all of the action. So really, North African philosophy is constantly involved. And in fact, one of the things I've been talking to with my future co-author Chike about is, how do we deal with the fact that I already covered a bunch of African philosophy? Because we're going to start by talking about ancient Egypt. But actually, I already covered a bunch of African philosophers, like these Alexandrian commentators and Augustine. So we're just going to mention that and say go listen to the old episode if you want to know about that. And then move on. But you're right that that's completely integrated into everything that I was just saying really. AUDIENCE: So what are the different motives that actually drove these philosophers to actually go about their work? So for example, you mentioned some doing it for the purpose of debating religion, say, whereas others may do it just purely academically, as it were? PETER ADAMSON: Yeah. Yeah, so of course, that varies from thinker to thinker. One thing that seems to have happened in both the Latin medieval and medieval Islamic worlds is that you get a kind of person who considers himself, and it's always a him, to be a professional philosopher. So in the Latin medieval context, it's not these theologians. I mentioned there's a theology faculty. There's also something called the arts faculty, where they taught students logic. And by the way, just an interesting fact, the students are teenagers. A medieval university student would have been starting off at 13 or 14, and they would be taught Aristotelian logic. And then they would move up and maybe become a master at the university, either of arts or theology. And these arts guys were not theologians, and were very clear that that's not what they were doing. So for example, there's the 14th century philosopher named Jean Buridan who just says, well, I'm an arts master. I do logic and physics. I do Aristotle. I'm a specialist in Aristotle. And this theology stuff is above my pay grade right. And you have the same kind of thing going on in the Islamic world. So especially someone like Averroes, he was actually a Muslim jurist as well. But in his philosophical works, he very explicitly presents himself as an expert on Aristotle, whose explaining Aristotle is his intellectual mission is to recover and explain the teachings of Aristotle, because he just thinks Aristotle's the greatest thinker who has ever lived. And then when he comes to think about how that relates to the Koran, he says philosophers are the people in the best position to interpret the Koran because they already know what's true. Because they have proofs and everyone else is just kind of lost in the dark. And they should follow the surface meaning of the Koran, but they shouldn't really try to interpret it, because they'll just come up with all kinds of wacky ideas. Whereas philosophers actually know the truth, and so they can sort of explain how the Koran is expressing something they already know to be true. So that's a very radical rationalist project. And it's unusual. Most philosophers have a much more nuanced view about the relationship between philosophy and their Abrahamic faith, whichever of the three that it is. And they may or may not admit that there are certain things you can know through revelation that you wouldn't be able to know through reason. But generally speaking, this may surprise you, the philosophers in the Islamic world in all three faiths tend to be more rationalist than the ones in medieval Europe. So you very commonly get the idea that you wind up with the same truth through revelation or reason, and they agree. And there isn't really much that revelation will tell you that you wouldn't already have known through philosophy. I mean, maybe like how many times a day you should pray or something, you wouldn't be able to figure that out. But that God exists, what God is like, what His relationship to the universe is like, what our soul is like, what virtue is, [INAUDIBLE]. This is all something they think they can get through the Greek-inspired philosophical sources. SPEAKER 1: Yep. Over there. AUDIENCE: I'm wondering if there are any Islamic world-based researchers, philosophers that are writing about the history of philosophy in the Islamic world. Because if you consider yourself slightly Western, are there any biases that you think you might have? PETER ADAMSON: No doubt. Yeah. Yes, definitely. And in fact, one of the things. things-- so actually, if we go back to my lists. This guy, the fifth one on the list, Mulla Sadra, is still seen in Iran as a very major thinker who continues to be studied seriously. Not as a historical figure, but as a serious source of philosophical inspiration in Iran. Not so much in other parts of the Islamic world. I mean, the situation in the Islamic world is very complicated, as you might imagine. There's a lot of different cultures and countries with different university systems and so on. But certainly, there are many universities in the Islamic world where they teach kalam and philosophy, maybe as two separate disciplines, and they do do a history of philosophy. However, of course, they're also very interested in European philosophy. So one of the things that has happened since the late 19th century is that European ideas, philosophical as well as scientific ideas, obviously, have been-- I mean, actually, there's a permanent engagement between the Islamic world and European thought. But specifically, European philosophy, like, say, Marxism, for example, has played a major role in generating many of the political movements that we've seen in the Islamic world over the last century-and-a-half. And that continues to be the case. So historians of philosophy there obviously pay more attention to the history of Islamic philosophy than we do. But they pay a lot of attention to the history of European philosophy as well. Something I'm not so sure about is whether you'd find very many people there who say, oh, I'm just a historian, which is my-- anyway, that's my bias is this pretense of neutrality and like I'm a blank and I'm just telling you what they thought, and I have no pre-suppositions or philosophical biases of my own. Which, of course, can't be true. But by definition, I can't tell you about the biases I have I'm not aware of. So what I'm trying to do is be a neutral, completely open-minded interpreter who is interested in everything, and just wants to explain it in as clear a way as possible.

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