During earlier periods, the Islamic world was very highly developed scientifically, and the translation project from Greek to Arabic that took place in Baghdad was primarily to translate scientific, not philosophical, texts. This led to a rich discussion of the classification of the sciences and different kinds of knowledge. One of the main tasks of the Peripatetics was determining the nature of knowledge and how it could be organized in such a way as to make science possible. They opposed occasionalism, the idea that causal links were arbitrary and depended entirely on the decisions of God. Ibn Rushd argued that this doctrine would make science impossible and our awareness of the world chaotic. Ibn Sina identi- fied causal laws with necessary propositions, and saw the operation of the world as like a system of logical syllogisms, where everything has to take the course it does since it is necessitated by something prior to it. By contrast, al-Ghazali questioned the belief in science as ignoring the primary responsibility of God for everything, a responsibility that must not be ignored in our account of apparent scientific regularity.
   There is a modern discussion of whether or not there is anything unique about the Islamic approach to science, very much taken up by those committed to Sufism. After all, if Muslims look at the world differently from other people, they should view science differently, since science is the study of how the world works. Western science is atomized and manipulative in its relationship to nature, since it does not see it as having any spiritual meaning. It is just there to be used and observed. By contrast, Islam encourages the view that the world is the product of God, so a deeper reality lies behind it, and its structure reveals to those who approach it in the right way an inner meaning. One aspect of this is to refer to the unity of the world as reflecting the unity of God, something it is diffi- cult to understand but vital if we are to understand something vital about the world, how it all hangs together esoterically. Once we grasp this we will find it less easy to exploit or mistreat it, since it is in fact representative of its divine Creator, and we are entrusted with looking after it. The modern thinker Seyyed Hossein Nasr has argued in this way, and he certainly manages to differentiate sharply between western approaches to science and what he argues the Islamic approach ought to be.
   See al-Biruni; epistemology; Ibn Rushd; Ibn Sina; metaphysics; psychology; rationalism; al-Razi, Abu Bakr; al-Tusi
   Further reading: Bakar 1991, 1992; Hahn et al. 2001; Nasr 1968, 1976

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.


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