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Understanding Islam - from early western roots to today's fundamentalism (my title)
ISLAMIC THOUGHT IN THE MIDDLE AGES ^ | 2000 | Forrest Baird, Philosophic Classics Vollume II

Posted on 09/18/2001 10:25:47 PM PDT by GOPcapitalist

I am posting the following excerpt off of a university website about the history of Islamic philosophical thought in hopes of providing anybody who is interested a better understanding of the cultural and religous development of the islamic world. It may surprise you, but in its early years, Islam was highly western in its thought. Literally, if it were not for Islam, much of Aristotle (perhaps the greatest and most well known western/european philosopher) would not have survived the fall of Rome and would have been lost to history all together! Yet an Aristotle immursed Islamic world with heavy western ties is hardly what we know today. How did such a drastic change come about? Here are few excerpts on the subject, plus a few of my comments at the end.


When Emperor Justinian closed the schools in Athens in 529, many of the teachers moved east to Syria, taking their books with them. There the works of Aristotle and many of the Neoplatonists were translated into Syriac and, later, into Arabic. These works were to return to Western Europe centuries later in the hands of Islamic thinkers.


The religion of Islam began with Muhammad (571-632), an Arab from the town of Mecca. Repelled by the polytheism of his day and believing himself to be called as a prophet, Muhammad taught that there is no God but Allah. According to Islam, over a period of twenty-three years Muhammad received messages from Allah, which he wrote down in the Qur'an (or Koran). These sacred writings taught an uncomplicated message of submission (which is what the word "Islam" means) to the will of Allah, expressed in a life of obedience and in deeds such as prayer, alms-giving, periods of fasting, and a once-in-a-lifetime Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. Through the work of Muhammad and his immediate successors, Islam spread quickly throughout the Arabian peninsula. Within a century Islam was the dominant religion in the Middle East, Northern Africa, and even European Spain. Throughout this expansion, Islam was relatively tolerant of Christianity and Judaism, holding that the adherents of these monotheistic religions were also "people of the Book."


The Islamic culture of this period was very sophisticated and cosmopolitan--especially when compared to that of Western Europe. When Western Europe was largely illiterate, the Muslims (adherents of Islam) were making advances in astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. There was also a group of Muslim thinkers known as falyasufs ("philosophers") who studied and applied the manuscripts of Aristotle and the Neoplatonists that had come through Syria. As Islamic thinkers worked with these texts, they encountered the problems their colleagues in the West knew well: how to reconcile philosophy with sacred texts; how to combine reason and faith. The falyasufs were centered in two different regions and times. An early group, around Baghdad, included al-Kindi (ca. 800-870), al-Farabi (870-950), al-Ghazali (1058-1111) and, most prominently, Ibn- Sina (or Avicenna, his Latin name, 980-1037). A later group in Spain included Ibn Bajjah (d. 1138), Ibn Tufayl (ca. 1100-1185), and, most prominently, Ibn Rushd (or Averroes, 1126-1198).

It was through Islamic philosophers that Aristotle was reintroduced to the West, an event that radically changed the course of medieval philosophy.

AVERROES (1126-1198)


Ab al-Wald Muhammad Ibn Ahmed Ibn Rushd, better known as Averroës, was born into a prominent family of jurists in Córdoba, Spain. Moving in high society, Averroës made the acquaintance of the sultan of Marrakesh and, through the sultan's favor, became a qadi, or judge, serving first in Seville and later in Córdoba. The sultan also expressed an interest in philosophy and commissioned Averroës to write three sets of commentaries (short, intermediate, and long) on each of Aristotle's writings. These commentaries were to become so influential in Western Europe that Averroës became known simply as "The Commentator."

In addition to the thirty-eight commentaries he produced on Aristotle, Averroës also wrote books on politics, religion, logic, astronomy, and medicine. His expertise in medicine led to his being called to Marrakesh to serve as the sultan's personal physician in 1182. He remained in that post until 1195 when he was forced to leave for religious reasons (apparently because of his glorification of Aristotle). He regained his standing and returned to Marrakesh shortly before his death in 1198. Soon after his death, Islamic culture in Spain virtually disappeared; and even though his thought continued to influence Latin Europe, Averroës had surprisingly little impact on the Muslim world.


Through his writings, Averroës sought to counter two misconceptions. First, he wrote his commentaries to rid Aristotle of the misinterpretations of Avicenna and others. For example, Averroës rejected Avicenna's doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Instead he agreed with Aristotle that individual souls cannot exist apart from a body. But in agreement with the teachings of the Qur'an, Averroës also taught that there is a bodily resurrection. According to Averroës, after death we receive new bodies that "emanate from the heavenly bodies." In this way he denied Avicenna's immortality of the soul and managed to agree with both Aristotle and the Qur'an.

Averroës was opposed to several of Avicenna's teachings, but he was even more opposed to Avicenna's chief critic, al-Ghazali. Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) had opposed Avicenna's three controversial positions (see the previous introduction to Avicenna), claiming that Avicenna had put philosophy above the Qur'an. In his major work, The Incoherence of Philosophy, al-Ghazali had argued that philosophy led to disbelief in Allah. In his rejoinder, The Incoherence of the Incoherence, Averroës sought to refute al-Ghazali by dividing people into three classes. The majority of people can understand truth only in imaginative form. For them philosophy would, indeed, be dangerous and they must take the Qur'an literally. A smaller group of people, the theologians, can understand dialectical arguments and draw probable inferences from the Qur'an. But the elite, the philosophers, are capable of understanding truth in its pure, rational form. For them, the Qur'an can be read for its "deeper" allegorical meanings.

As Averroës' teachings reached Christendom, this last (allegorical) conviction was taken to mean he advocated a "double truth": Truth in philosophy might be entirely different--even opposite--from truth in religion. Averroës himself denied this, claiming that there is only one truth, but that there are many ways to access this truth. Unfortunately for Averroës' reputation, the work that made this clear, his Decisive Treatise Determining the Nature of the Connection Between Religion and Philosophy, was lost to the West until the Renaissance.

TOPICS: Front Page News; Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: clashofcivilizatio; islamicviolence
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If you are starting to get the picture, you can probably guess what happened next. If not, pay attention to Al-Ghazali (also known as Algazel in European sources).

Al-Ghazali in a sense took an argument similar to the one David Hume is famous for (that knowledge is sensory) and ran with it, only in another direction. To Al-Ghazali, human reason is dependent upon human sensation, and therefore man needed something surer than his reasoning abilities upon which to depend as a guide for life. In The Incoherence of Philosophy Al-Ghazali argued that civilizations that rely upon reason to achieve knowledge fall into a state of moral collapse, intellectual bankruptcy, corruption, and uncertainty. He proposed, as an alternative to a reason-based philosophical society, an emphasis on Islamic fundamentalism and literalism. Out of Al-Ghazali came an ultra-literalist approach to reading the Koran, under which a concept of sacredness is the driving force behind how the Koran is read and treated, as opposed to the teachings of others in Al-Ghazali's time where the book was read from a viewpoint of reason. In some areas, the drive of sacredness as the principle consideration when reading the Koran superseded any attempts to engage in reasoning involving its passages, even those that are allegorical.

Averroes, as was noted above, attempted a staunch rebuttal which defended reason's place in society and the universe, and attempted in his own ways to reconcile its coexistance with religion (note that the coexistance of religion and philosophical thought thrived in the Christian world shortly after Averroes' lifetime). Agree or disagree with his 3 categories, far more significant about Averroes' is his approach to the Koran, which fundamentally conflicted with the ultra-literalism that stemmed from the followers of Al-Ghazali's movement.

In case you are wondering who won in the long run, consider the fact that Al-Ghazali is considered today in the Islamic world to be the religion's greatest theologian. And yes, that same fundamentalism dominates largely to this day in several parts of the Islamic world, including Al-Ghazali's home of Persia, or as it as now known, Iran.

As for the torch of Islam's great academic traditions up until the 12th century, shortly after the time of Averroes it passed via Spain into the hands of Europe, where it reignited Aristotelean concepts among Europe's learned community and marked the end of the dark ages. From the 12th century forward, a philosophical revolution occurred in Europe based largely around that which had been preserved from Rome's fall by way of Byzantium and then Islam. Sure enough, only a few centuries later it was Islam that came knocking on the doors of Constantinople in the mid 1400's. Constantinople, plagued with is own share of religious controversies from the Christian world via the schism, not to mention its own political troubles with lingering crusaders, saw a mass exodus as the armies advanced on its walls. It's share of knowledge, preserved as well through the dark ages, and its greatest thinkers fled to elsewhere in Europe, but in particular Italy. I need not remind anybody what began in Italy during the 15th century.

1 posted on 09/18/2001 10:25:47 PM PDT by GOPcapitalist
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To: GOPcapitalist
Good read BUMP
2 posted on 09/18/2001 10:39:31 PM PDT by Storm Orphan
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To: GOPcapitalist
Here's the condensed timeline version for anybody who does not want to read through the lengthy article above...













3 posted on 09/18/2001 10:52:16 PM PDT by GOPcapitalist
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To: Storm Orphan
And during all those boring philosophy classes, I thought all that stuff was essentially useless, yet along comes a practical situation in which it means something and has a real world application! Go figure.
4 posted on 09/18/2001 11:09:05 PM PDT by GOPcapitalist
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To: GOPcapitalist
"Within a century Islam was the dominant religion in the Middle East, Northern Africa, and even European Spain"

How did this happen? Were teams of two young muslims in ties and clean white shirts sent out on camels to various countries? Have you heard the word of Allah today?

Btw you should repost this it didn't get the play it deserved.

5 posted on 09/18/2001 11:59:56 PM PDT by FreedomSurge
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To: FreedomSurge
LOL! The point of the sword runs fast and furious...but never is it without it's ironies. The islamic sword that pushed out reasoned theological discourse in favor of blind literalist faith pushed Europe into a cultural reawakening. The same sword that crushed the walls of Constantinople gave Europe its famous rennaissance.

In more ways than one, the part of islamic culture that so often denounces the west is itself partially responsible through its actions for that same west's being what it is today, and that is the ultimate irony.

6 posted on 09/19/2001 12:05:19 AM PDT by GOPcapitalist
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To: GOPcapitalist
Most of the stuff presented in this capsule history and summary of doctrines is true, though it gets a bit weaker toward the end. But several critical parts of the story are lacking.

First, the article does notice the similarity between Ghazali's arguments and the later arguments of Humean skepticism. But this point deserves amplification. Although the cultural ramifications of Ghazali's arguments against the medieval Islamic philosophers were arguably disasterous, it is pretty clear that he won the argument at a purely intellectual level. He was no crabbed Cato in theological garb, just spouting prejudice or something. He fully understood the philosophy of his age and consciously rejected it based on reasoned arguments.

Second, there was another member of the medieval philosophy crowd who was rather important in the whole affair, including the transmission of doctrines on the reason-revelation question to the medieval west. Moses Maimonides, who was raised in Moorish Spain and later a doctor in Egypt, but Jewish. His arguments had a large indirect effect on those of men like Acquinas.

Third, what really happened with Averroism in the west is not recognizable in the picture presented here. Averroism was a leading philosophic doctrine at places like the University of Paris for a time. But was regarded as dangerously heretical. Those teaching it were regularly proscribed. This led to a great fight in medieval Christian theology and European philosophy, and it was here that Acquinas made his own mark.

Essentially, he tried to "tame" Averroism, and to free Aristotle from being the "property" of that philosophic outlook (whose real roots go back to neo-Platonism of the late Roman period, and also to some aspects of Gnosticism). He rejected the parts of its doctrines he found incompatible with Christian theology. But he defended Aristotle from the attacks of Christian theologians who basically agreed with Ghazali's conclusions, but advanced much less able reasoning in defense of their positions.

Did this end the issue, so that all lived happily ever after in the west? Hardly. Full blown Averroism did not disappear in the west after Acquinas. It went into opposition, and sided with the state against the church - e.g. in the case of Marsilius of Padua. It became an ideology calling for reform of the church and supremacy of the secular over the religious power. In terms of its particular doctrines, it largely passed from the scene, however, before the reformation.

And when the reformation came in the west, it broke with the hierarchy over the question of literalism. The issues involved in that controversy had been seen a long way off and sketched out, in the case of Islam, in the fight between the philosophers and Ghazali. Ghazali saw ahead of time that the principle of interpretation put reason in the driver's seat, that reason in such matters did not mean human certainties (which were, he maintained, unavailable on metaphysical subjects), but on plausibilities prompted by other motives advanced by failing men. Luther to a modest degree, and Calvin rigidly, saw this same problem as leading to corruption of religious doctrine. Indeed, Calvinism and Ghazali's idea of Islamic orthodoxy have many points in common.

It is not like fundamentalism never arose in the west. It did, in the reformation. Without an authoritative human institution to interpret traditions or received law, or adapt to the times, literalism is a natural refuge and expediant. Within Islam this lack was not a matter of theory but of practice. By the late middle ages, the Islamic world was not unified politically, and therefore the Caliphate (a single Islamic "king", joining the highest religious "office" to the highest secular one) could not provide a central authority to direct interpretation. Each province refused to recognize the supposed Caliph erected by the next one. That left the only practical options at diverse reasonings (tending to stray from anything like religious tradition) on the one hand, and literalism on the other. The same issue arose in Christian Protestantism.

And there are two additional wrinkles after that. In the west, the tradition of liberty and limited government arose from at least three sources. Everyone talks about the traditions of town government and such, but there were two other key influences more germaine to this discussion.

One was the tension between church and state in the medieval investiture contests. Both sides in that contest appealed to the people as a third party source of legitimacy to decide the contest. Marsilius, supporting the power of the German Emperor, taught that all legitimate power arises from consent. Acquinas, supporting the power of the Papacy, did likewise - although other, more "ultramontane" (to use a latter term in a way that is not misleading) supporters of the Papacy did not.

A second came from Protestantism, and particularly from opposition to the reformation era political idea called "confessional absolutism". Which was the idea that whatever ruler someone was subject to, they should follow that ruler in matters of religion, and that it was treason to disobey a king in such matters. Which was a doctrine still subscribed to by Thomas Hobbes (not exactly orthodox)in the mid 17th century. He also hated the devotion to Aristotle, incidentally, mocking medieval scholastic philosophy as "Aristotelity". (See part IV of Leviathan, "Of the Kingdom of Darkness"). Confessional absolutism was opposed by puritan Protestants, including of course those who founded this country.

Freedom of conscience and popular government did not arise in the west because people didn't buy the arguments of Ghazali. It is not misleading to say they arose in part because they were still fighting over the matter (cause one above), and because those who -agreed- with him on the subject did not want those who -didn't- to dictate to them in matters of religious conscience (cause two). And then when a third wave of support for popular government, stemming from secular skepticism, arrived on the scene in the 18th century Enlightenment, the skeptics were advancing arguments -against- human reason (both in Hume and Kant), some of which are remarkably close to Ghazalian arguments.

Why did these arguments have such a different cultural tone in the Enlightenment than in medieval Islam? The paradox must be fully faced. The Islamic philosophy that thought relatively highly of the powers of human reason and opposed skepticism, and which relied heavily on Aristotle (and some Platonic notions), was in the west incorporated into -church- doctrine, into Acquinas. Which the later forces were reacting -against-.

The secularizing skeptics (like Hobbes and Hume) were -opposing- that doctrine in the Enlightenment, not endorsing it. They were effectively saying, scholastic philosophy cannot really know about such things, and its pretences that it does are vain. And the Protestants were also opposing it, though for somewhat different reasons. They argued that the church had put falliable human reasoning where it didn't belong and thus distorted scripture, and drew the conclusion that literalism was a safer policy to ensure orthodoxy.

Both points had been anticipated in Islamic history by one man, Ghazali. When he proposed them, though, he was not an outcast and rebel movement of opposition thinkers opposing the doctrine of a centralized religious hierarchy. He was opposing the private opinions of a few brilliant philosophers, and speaking on behalf of most of the theologians of his day. You have to imagine the intellectual power of the skepticism of the Enlightenment, the literalism and desire for purity of doctrine of the protestant reformation, and the authority and deferrence of an established body of learned theologians like the medieval church - all united into the hands of one man, and advanced to support one proposition. That being, that as far as human thinking is concerned, there are only three things - logic which is certain, revelation which is taken on faith, and -vanity-, which comprises everything else.

What is the point of all of the above, other than putting some additional meat on the bare bones of the historical sketch already provided by the article? Simple this: there is more here than a mere "road not taken", random forking of paths. And our own civilization is more involved in these arguments, and less settled about them, than that mere sketch would lead you to believe. And because of all that, it is a larger and harder task to engage and perhaps educate the contemporary Islamic world, than that sketch might lead one to believe. Telling them they just need to go back to Aristotle and they will have a renaissance is unlikely to do the trick.

I hope this is interesting.

7 posted on 09/19/2001 1:26:13 AM PDT by JasonC
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To: GOPcapitalist
Thanks for posting this. I am trying to understand this topic.

Can someone answer this question:
In the commentary of my KJV - Scofield study Bible, It says that Islam presents the biggest challenge to Christians because Islam is most like Christianity.

That statement both surprises and confuses me. I would have thought that Christianity was most closely linked to Judaism - the antithesis of Islam.

Wasn't it Abram's effort to fulfill God's promise in his own way the start of the Arab-Israeli conflict? This being God's promise that the descendents of Ishmael would be against the descendents of Isaac.

Thanks for any response.


8 posted on 09/19/2001 6:52:08 AM PDT by kinsman redeemer
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To: FreedomSurge
I don't want to understand - I want to carpet bomb!
9 posted on 09/19/2001 6:54:48 AM PDT by lodwick (Be a Patriot - donate to FreeRepubic monthly! You will feel Great!)
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To: GOPcapitalist
Now when are they going to stop and take the time to understand us and take our feeling in to account?
10 posted on 09/19/2001 6:57:23 AM PDT by DeckTheHallsHolly
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To: lodwick
Ah, willful ignorance combined with a strong urge to kill people and break things. Right, that is sure to help distinguish civilization from barbarism. That won't send any recruits flocking to the banner of our enemies, no siree bob. I'm sure you can find any number of other threads to pound your chest on. Why you need threads, or Free Republic, or the written word, or even articulate speech for the purpose remains a mystery. Any other place except where people who might actually be interested in what civilizations are made of can examine the real ground of their differences, in human thought. Which thoughts are merely what can lead them to change. "Why change thoughts when we can rearrange the furniture?" Go play outside, child, while the adults have their serious discussions.
11 posted on 09/19/2001 9:03:47 AM PDT by JasonC
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To: DeckTheHallsHolly
Of course some do, and the fact that many of their talented young people are attracted to western culture is a large part of the reason the angry ones in the Islamic world are hostile. And on the other hand, when their writers and thinkers learned things about the west, they do not always look at the more savory aspects of our civilization. They can study anti-westernism in Paris, after all.

Some of the ills of the contemporary Islamic world come from too easy importation of pernicious ideas, which they own culture is less guarded against internally. The jargon of authenticity is imported from 20s and 30s Europe. The Shia fundamentalists are ultramontanes. Syria and Iraq were made tyrannies with the aid of Marxist thought. Said's attacks on western analysis of Islamic history are based on Foucault.

But you may be asking about better reactions. There have been those as well - it is a question of the extent of their influence. Rahman was among the best of them, as a scholar and a farsighted and moderate man. He worked with Lerner on books on medieval philosophy and taught at the University of Chicago. He warned about the shallow tendency to turn Islam into a political slogan and pollute it with justifications of political crimes. Some did useful service in their criticism of wrong-headed ideas in Europe, as when Iqbal turned Nietzsche on his head, by replacing the will to power with love, reversing the many propositions that changes in the structure of Nietzche's thought, and calling the result a consistent idealism.

There are many threads of thought and influence between the two civilizations. But the issues in the article are the central ones. Ghazali's historical influence has been immense, especially on the Islamic mainstream of Sunni, orthodox thought. His skepticism largely crippled indigenous science, which previously had been flourishing. His emphasis on the authority of revelation and the uncertainty of interpretation undermines any settled authority for rational, non-religious law.

Chesterton once said the most vital freedom is the freedom of man to think, meaning by it not absence of repression but the belief that human thoughts matter. In philosophy, skepticism destroys this, where even pragmaticim preserves it sufficiently. In theology, literalism destroys this, where even the most centralised authority allowed interpretation preserves it sufficiently. These issues are still live ones in our own civilization. We usually overlook how much we owe to these arguments not being settled, and in favor of the less fruitful sides.

12 posted on 09/19/2001 9:39:02 AM PDT by JasonC
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To: JasonC
The Islamic philosophy that thought relatively highly of the powers of human reason and opposed skepticism, and which relied heavily on Aristotle (and some Platonic notions), was in the west incorporated into -church- doctrine, into Acquinas. Which the later forces were reacting -against-.

*Very* interesting interpretation. I've not seen the Enlightenment in this way before. Perhaps William of Ockham played a role similar to that of Al-Ghazali: the emphasis on the omnipotence of God swiftly led to an emphasis on the impotence of man.

13 posted on 09/19/2001 10:20:44 AM PDT by Dumb_Ox
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To: Dumb_Ox
The author leaves out the effect of the Mongol invasions which destroyed the infrastructure of Central Asia. Bridges, canals, roads, cities, etc. (Similar to what happened in the South after the Civil War.) The fundamentalists said that this was Allah's punishment for leaning towards reason rather than religion.
14 posted on 09/19/2001 10:36:49 AM PDT by Doctor Stochastic
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To: lodwick
"I don't want to understand..."

Public School education?

15 posted on 09/19/2001 10:37:53 AM PDT by Doctor Stochastic
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To: GOPcapitalist

Don't Be Confused!

Ben Cartwright

Bin Ladin

</shameless attempt>

I am seeking help on this topic.

Could someone look at my EARLIER POST and provide insight?


16 posted on 09/19/2001 1:05:36 PM PDT by kinsman redeemer
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Comment #17 Removed by Moderator

To: JasonC
The problem with Al Ghazali was not his philosophical understanding so long as you accept the premises of the Hume elements of it (though it is ironic that he used his own form of reasoning to debunk reason) but rather with what he posed forth as the "alternative." If reasoning to knowledge is fundamentally flawed for reasons X, Y, and Z, there must appear an alternative way to knowledge, in this particular case divine revelation. Al Ghazali basically looked out and saw the Koran and sure enough, there was all the divine revelation he needed! Please note that I'm not trying to establish whether or not the Koran is divine revelation, but rather simply making the point of it's place into Al Ghazali's scheme of things.

In other words, he reasoned that reason, being sensory, is fundamentally imprecise and flawed and therefore knowledge must be sought elsewhere, and that elsewhere must be divine revelation, so out of all the texts and religions out there from which to find that divine revelation, Al Ghazali simply pointed at the one that was closest to him and said "that's it," and so it was. Argue the Hume premise whatever way you want, I'm simply saying that for those two reasons Al Ghazali's "philosophy" runs into problems because it reasons to debunk reason (a contradiction) and leaps to the nearest religion as reason's replacement (an assumption). In itself, his scheme of things may not be all that bad...but when taken to its radical extremes as has occurred under Al Ghazali's successors, it produces an ultra-literalist viewpoint that is at many times incompatable with reality.

As for Averroes, nobody ever said he had it all straight. His system, when introduced in Europe, created a shockwave of philosophical problems in a largely Augustinian field of scholars. That's why it took years for philosophers to reconcile the two, as essentially reconciling the two meant reconciling the age old differences between Aristotle and Plato. As was noted, this reconciliation came largely in Aquinas and those following him. In many ways, he largely completed the riddle and European philosophy beyond him shifted a large ammoung of its focus elsewhere to reconciling Augustine's concept of signs - a topic that came to dominate the next few centuries up until the rennaissance. What does it all mean for today? Well, it doesn't mean we can go back to some prior place in human thought and ressurrect it. It simply shows how we got where we are now, and how the same occurred in the Islamic world.

18 posted on 09/19/2001 4:07:31 PM PDT by GOPcapitalist
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To: Buckhead
Hope you enjoyed it! It's an interesting subject at this time...I never thought all those boring hours of philosophy class could be used in commenting on Islamic terrorism!
19 posted on 09/19/2001 8:17:09 PM PDT by GOPcapitalist
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To: GOPcapitalist
Oh, I certainly do not accept Ghazali's Humean premises. I don't accept them from Hume either. I am not a skeptic, and I think Hume is just as wrong. That is a story for another time, perhaps (one some of us have discussed here previously, as a matter of fact).

But there is nothing ironic, let alone any "contradiction", in either of them using reason to attack the authority of reason. First, reason must be distinguished from reasoning, in the sense of logic - which neither of them question in the slightest. They simply both understand that logic alone - even with the addition of sense experience - doesn't get anyone to certain knowledge of the external world. Logic is contentless, and sense experience alone cannot fill it up. That much is quite true, and has been known since the time of Aristotle. It isn't equivalent to skepticism or questioning reason, however, because that turns on the issue, do we have any other means of knowledge besides logic and our senses? Which is the whole epistomological problem in the whole history of philosophy, with different people taking different positions on it.

Beside the distinction between reason and logic, though, it is an old and venerable philosophic tradition to reason about the limits of reason. The Eleatics did so, and Plato, medieval rationalism and theology, Humean skeptics, Kantean critical philosophy, modern positivism, and modern relativism. So do entire areas of mathematics, come to that, where proving that a given problem is insoluable is an everyday exercise. How sweeping the conclusions are varies from case to case. Most except logic from whatever conclusions they draw, and that is all they need to reason about the matter without putting the status of their premises into "play".

And even if any of them did arrive at a "contradiction" it would still be perfectly sound reasoning. Assume reason's authority is trustworthy, arrive at a conclusion that reason's authority is not trustworthy, contradiction, means only "therefore reject the initial premise, and conclude that reason's authority is not trustworthy". Not that I defend that conclusion, I merely point out there is no error in reasoning involved in drawing such a conclusion, if that is where the chain of reasoning led. The logic of the deduction is perfectly sound. That is only an aside, but meant to make clear that flip dismissals are not sufficient here.

Next you say "there must be an alternative way to knowledge" if reasoning does not arrive at knowledge. This is, to say the least, not obvious. Knowledge might simply be unavailable to us. I don't happen to think so, but again, it is not something that follows from the previous. I take it here you meant your statement as a sort of commentary and criticism of Ghazali, that he turned to revelation because reason wasn't useful. There is some truth to that. But he recognizes that revelation gives truths that are not certain as logic is certain, but instead only propositions accepted by faith. This seperates revelation from both certainty in logic on the one hand, and the vanity of pretended rational merely human knowledge on the other hand, to Ghazali.

In addition, there is an aspect of Ghazali's position I don't think you've quite noticed yet, that is an important part of its strength, as a practical argument I mean. He has removed an independent standard with which to challenge the positive law of one's community. His acceptance of Islamic revelation is not simply a "gee, here is something else" as you pretend. It is literally the law, when and where he was writing.

Without human rational knowledge (with content, beyond mere logic and mathematics), there is no place for an interpreter or legislator, let alone for a rebel, to challenge the established law of his community. The exception for revelation does allow a place for a "higher law" and appeals to it, but only a very narrow one, to the exact letter of the traditional (revealed) law - because of the prohibition against interpretation, as likely to introduce human distortions that have no defensible claim to truth.


20 posted on 09/19/2001 10:17:26 PM PDT by JasonC
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