Aristotle


Aristotle
(Aristutalis, Aristu)
(384–322 bce)
   In the Islamic tradition, Greek philosophy is virtually synonymous with the name of Aristotle, who was traditionally known as both ‘the Philosopher’ and ‘the First Teacher’. Indeed, one of the most influential schools of Islamic philosophy in the classical period was the mashsha’un – the ‘Walkers’ or Peripatetics – among whose ranks can be counted al- Farabi, Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd, along with many others. The mashsha’un sought to appropriate and build upon Aristotle’s philosophical achievements, and their systems are generously infused with myriad elements from his thought, e.g. his conception of (and arguments for the existence of) God, his notions of the eternity of the world, the active intellect, actuality and potentiality, form and matter, the four causes, necessity and possibility, essence and existence (at least implicitly), and the demonstrative syllogism. However, Islamic Aristotelianism was by no means purely Aristotelian, at least in its earlier stages. Despite the fact that most of his considerable corpus had been translated into Arabic (excepting the Politics, the Eudemian Ethics and the Magna Moralia), Aristotle’s system was initially interpreted through a Neoplatonic lens. Indeed, for a number of centuries, two influential Neoplatonic texts were mistakenly attributed to Aristotle: Aristotle’s Theology (a translation of a paraphrase of Books 4–6 from Plotinus’ Enneads) and the Book of the Pure Good (a translation of selected and rearranged chapters from Procus’ Elements of Theology, known subsequently to the Latins as Liber de causis). However, this Neoplatonizing of Aristotle was not unique to the Islamic philosophers; to some extent they inherited it from the Greek Neoplatonic commentators themselves, whose works were also translated into Arabic, and who were wont to posit an essential harmony between the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. It was not until Ibn Rushd’s monumental commentary project in the latter half of the sixth/twelfth century that Aristotle’s thought was effectively retrieved and fully disentangled from Neoplatonic ideas. However, by then Aristotle’s influence within the Islamic tradition had already begun to wane, due to the Ash‘arite theologians’ assault on Greek-influenced philosophy and the emergence of Illuminationism, a school of philosophy that rejected key aspects of Aristotelian logic and metaphysics. In many ways, Christian Latins profited more from Ibn Rushd’s scholarship than subsequent Islamic philosophers did: it played a pivotal role in the West’s rediscovery of Aristotle’s thought, which would breathe new life into medieval Christian philosophy and remain the dominant philosophical and scientific influence until the rediscovery of Plato and the emergence of mathematical physics at the dawn of modernity.
   See active intellect; Ash‘arites; causality; creation vs. eternity of the world; al-Farabi; God; humanism; Ibn Rushd; Ibn Sina; Illuminationism; logic; Neoplatonism; philosophy; Plato
   Further reading: Aristotle 1984; Peters 1968a, 1968b; Walzer 1962

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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