This book offers a series of inroads into the rich tradition of Islamic philosophy. Those familiar with this tradition have long recognized its profound influence on medieval Christian and Jewish thought, as well as the pivotal role that Islamic philosophers played in preserving and transmitting the legacy of classical Greek thought to Europe. True as this picture is, it is incomplete, because it overlooks the intrinsic value of Islamic philosophy. This is a vital, flourishing tradition in its own right, one that needs to be approached not just from the perspective of its European beneficiaries, but on its own terms as well.
   The tradition of Islamic philosophy is remarkably diverse. Far from being monolithic or homogeneous, it comprises a wide range of positions and approaches, and brings with it a lively history of disputation. In this book, we have tried to do justice to the many different ways in which philosophy has expressed itself within the Islamic context. The reader will find entries on Greek-influenced Peripatetic thinkers and their major ideas, various schools of theology, Isma‘ilis, Sufis, Illuminationists, and later synthetic developments such as the School of Isfahan, as well as some modern thinkers. We have also included a handful of Jewish and Christian philosophers whose work was profoundly influenced by, and in some cases contributed significantly to, the Islamic intellectual tradition. Finally, we have tried to convey some sense of the traditionalists’ critique of philosophy, which can be quite sophisticated and powerful, and which is essential to a proper understanding of the relative place of philosophy within the larger intellectual life of Islam.
   It is important to recognize the permeability of philosophy and religion within the Islamic tradition, a fact that may at first be perplexing to the contemporary student of philosophy. As moderns, we often assume that these two approaches to the good and the true are by their very nature distinct and antagonistic towards one another. Yet this is a relatively recent development, and a rather culturally specific one at that. At the same time it would be a mistake to see Islamic philosophy as identical with, or somehow reducible to, Islam as a religion. Islamic philosophy has no uniquely ‘Islamic’ essence. It might simply be described as philosophy that emerges within a context predominantly informed by the religious, social, political and cultural dimensions of Islam. As such, its presuppositions and conclusions may or may not be Muslim. Even when philosophy begins by reflecting upon the revealed truths of Islam, it can move in decidedly different directions. Sometimes it preserves and clarifies and defends these insights, sometimes it appropriates but radically reinterprets them, and sometimes it rejects them altogether.
   Thus, while recognizing the ways in which philosophy and religion are intertwined in the Islamic tradition, we have tried to keep the focus on the former rather than the latter, delving into theology, Sufism and the traditional sciences only when they had some crucial bearing on points of philosophical interest. We have also opted for longer rather than shorter entries on the whole, in order to (1) uncover the questions, disputations and assumptions that gave rise to the major claims, (2) capture something of the rationale or argumentative force behind them, (3) show what is at stake philosophically, and (4) convey some sense of their abiding universal interest. Such an approach, combined with the necessarily limited scope of a small introductory reference volume such as this, has required that we leave out certain figures and concepts. Given the intrinsic constraints of the work, our choices about what to include were made with an eye to the student or newcomer, rather than the specialist. If this book helps those readers to appreciate the vital insights and resources of the Islamic philosophical tradition – and perhaps even prompts them to want to learn more about it – it will have succeeded in its modest task.

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.


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