Noor Cultural Centre

Course | Islamic Philosophy: Part II

Sep 24th 2011


A Historical Survey of Islamic Philosophy

With Sayeh Meisami

This course is designed to throw light on the rich heritage of philosophy as a vital component of intellectual tradition within the world of Islam. The story of Islamic philosophy is a very illuminating one, since it shows how Muslim traditions have been influenced by the relationship between the rational and the revealed. Interestingly, their encounter even at its very hostile moments has added up to our consciousness as Muslims and become a part of our intellectual treasure.

Throughout this course we shall see that although the role of Greek philosophy in the rise and development of Islamic philosophy cannot be underestimated, reducing Islamic philosophy to the former is an intellectual injustice. Islamic philosophy owes as much to the prophetic experience and spiritual traditions throughout Muslim history as to Aristotelian rationality and logic. On the other hand, it is also not correct to equate philosophical endeavors with the mere theological defense of Muslim faith. Were it so, philosophy would not have been the target of theologians’ attacks for ages.

This survey of Islamic philosophy is divided into eight sessions. The first four sessions focused on the rise of Islamic philosophy, its founders and its major exponents. It began with al-Kindī and ended with Ibn Rushd. The second half is an investigation into later Islamic philosophy, which is called Post-Avicennan and is commonly characterized by the introduction of “intuitive wisdom” and spiritualism into philosophical methodology. Illumination philosophy and transcendental philosophy will be discussed. The major concern in both parts of the course lies with not only introducing the key figures along the historical line, but also their innovations in dealing with philosophical problems as both philosophers and Muslims.

Dates: Sundays September 11, 18, 25, and October 2, 2011
10:30-12:30 pm
Upper classroom, Noor Cultural Centre
$100 (does not include cost of recommended textbook)
Course book (recommended):
Peter Adamson and Richard C Taylor. 2005. The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press
Class cap:
25 students
To register: Email or phone 416.444.7148 ext. 222

Part 2 | Later Islamic Philosophy

SESSION 1 Sunday September 11
Suhrawawrdi and his philosophy of illumination

Shahāb al-din al-Suhrawardī (d.1191) is the master of Illumination philosophy which is characterized by its strong Platonic views as well as Persian wisdom. His philosophy is based on the ontology of light which is the core reality of all beings from the Divine world down to the natural. We discuss his philosophic methodology as a combination of intuitive wisdom and discursive knowledge, his luminous hierarchy emanating from the Light of Lights, his innovative theory of knowledge based on immediate presence of the object for the knowing subject, and his view on imagination as ontologically independent.

We also discuss briefly Suhrawardī’s commentators such as Shahrāzūrī and Qutb al-din al-Shīrāzī who made a great contribution to the philosophy of Illumination leaving a rich heritage for later philosophers of the Safavid era.

SESSION 2 Sunday September 18
The influence of Ibn ‘Arabi on philosophers and eclectic approaches to philosophy

Ironically for a Sufi who looks down upon philosophy, Ibn ‘Arabi (d.1240) is indebted to philosophers in shaping theoretical Sufism. Moreover, he helps later philosophers to build up new system at the time when Ibn Rushd was seen the end of Islamic philosophy. In discussing Ibn ‘Arabi we focus on his doctrine of the unity of being and the ontological importance of Platonic Ideas. Ibn’Arabi’s speculative ideas are fitted into the Islamic picture by two important figures, Haydar Amulī (d. 1385) in theology and Sa’in al-din Ibn Turkah (d.1432) in philosophy. We discuss their works as a transition from Sufism to Transcendental philosophy. In the case of Ibn Turkah, we also emphasis his eclectic approach in combining Ibn Sina, Suhrawardi and Ibn’Arabi.

SESSION 3 Sunday September 25
The School of Isfahan

The restoration of philosophy during the Safawid period in 16th century takes place in Isfahan in the hands of great thinkers such as Mir Dāmād (d. 1361), Bahā al-din al-Amilī (d.1621) and Mir Fendereskī (d.1640). They are all well-versed in both peripatetic and illumination philosophies and in the case of Mir Dāmad, illuminationist essentialism is particularly very prominent. Mir Dāmad, the founder of the school, has certain philosophical innovations most important of which is his solution to the problem of the relation between the eternal and the temporally originated. Mir Fendereskī is famous for connecting the arcane art and oriental spiritualism to philosophy. He discusses the notion of Mohammadan Reality within the peripatetic context of the Intellects. This is part of his general concern about the relation between philosophy and prophecy. As for Amilī, he was an all-rounded scholar with a great role in the development of the School and training students in religious sciences of the day. In him we can also see the coming together of Sufism and theology.

SESSION 4 Sunday October 2
Mulla Sadra and his followers

Mullā Sadrā’s magnum opus al-Asfār is an encyclopedia of almost all the past philosophers together with the authors’ interpretations and commentaries, as well as his objections. Most importantly, Mullā Sadrā builds up a huge system which he calls “transcendental” philosophy in which the efforts of past philosophers in reconciling philosophy, theology, and mysticism come into full flowering. In discussing Mullā Sadrā, we start with his methodology, and then focus on the major premises of his system, that is, the primacy and unity of existence, and existential gradation. Our main concern is to see the extent of his success in bridging the gap between philosophy and religion. We also investigate into the historical conditions under which Mullā Sadrā has turned into the philosopher in the Shi’ite world.

Among his later followers, the philosophical endeavors of Mullā Hādi Sabzivārī (d.1873) and Allāmah Tabatabāie (d.1981) are briefly explained.

Dr. Sayeh Meisami is a research associate at the Department and Centre for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, where she is leading the Islamic Philosophy Reading Group. Before immigrating to Canada in 2010, she was assistant professor at the Philosophy Department of Islamic Azad University in Tehran, where she taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses on metaphysics, epistemology, and transcendental philosophy. She received her PhD from Tehran University in 2005, where she had also done an MA in philosophy and an MA in English literature. She is the English editor of The Journal of Philosophy at Tehran University and has so far published a number of translations, including Saint Augustine’s Confessions, A Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, and Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy, the last of which was nominated for the Islamic Republic Book of the Year’s Award in 2006. Meaning and Truth in the Philosophy of W.V Quine is her last published book in Iran, and attracted positive attention in academia. Her current research interest, which she has been pursuing over the past few years, is the philosophy of Mulla Sadra. She is writing a book on the basics of his philosophy, which includes ontology, epistimology, cosmology, eschatology, and theology.

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