Noor Cultural Centre

Course | Islamic Philosophy: Part I

Jun 28th 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 will focus on the rise of Islamic philosophy, its founders and its major exponents. It begins with al-Kindī and ends with Ibn Rushd. The second half (to be offered in September) 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 July 3-24, 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 I | Early Islamic Philosophy and its Founders

SESSION 1 Sunday July 3
How and why did it all begin?

In order to answer this question we start with the acquaintance of Muslims with Greek rationality through the early translations of Aristotle and neo-Platonic philosophers. There is also the question of what problems motivated Muslim thinkers to seek help outside the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Tradition. We shall also focus on how the early Muslim philosophers dealt with the ideological differences between the Greek and the Islamic worldviews with respect to subjects such as the nature of God, creation, knowledge, and the immaterial soul.

SESSION 2 Sunday July 10
Al-Kindī and Fārābī

Al-Kindī (d.873), a promoter of the Translation Movement and the first Islamic philosopher, was an encyclopedic writer. We shall discuss his devotion to Aristotle which he tries to reconcile with orthodox theology. He follows Aristotle in regarding metaphysical knowledge as the knowledge of causes. Fārābī (d.950), as the first systematic Islamic philosopher, is more subtle and by far more innovative than al-Kindī, and also less conservative in dealing with philosophical problems. In the oppositions between theology and neo-platonism, he usually sided with the latter. We shall discuss his emanation theory of the Intellects, his treatment of creation and eternity, and his cosmology.

SESSION 3 Sunday July 17
Ibn Sina and his commentators and detractors

Ibn Sina (d.1037), as the greatest and the most widely read Islamic philosopher, follows Fārābī in drawing on Greek philosophy to produce his voluminous work on different areas of science and philosophy. Our focus will be on his treatment of existence/essence dualism as the basis of his ontology, Neo-Platonic cosmology, theory of knowledge, and his unorthodox view of life after death. His dedication to Peripatetic philosophy is pursued by his students and commentators among whom we shall briefly discuss Bahmanyār (d.1067) and Nasir al-din al-Tūsī (d.1274).

The session closes with a discussion of Ibn Sina’s major detractor, al-Ghazzālī (d.1111), in his Tahāfat al-falāsifa (The Incoherence of Philosphers).

SESSION 4 Sunday July 24
Ibn Rushd and shunning the Neo-Platonic

The Andalusian Muslim philosopher-jurist, Ibn Rushd (d.1198) is the inheritor of an Arab-Spanish movement in Islamic philosophy. His main agenda is to write against all kinds of misunderstanding about Aristotle as a result of either the Neo-Platonic readings of him, or theological prejudices. In dealing with the relationship between philosophy and the Qur’an, Ibn Rushd comes up with his philosophical reading of the scripture so as to show that if you read it correctly, there will be no incoherences between Quranic teachings and those of philosophy. He considers theologians as incapable of reaching the truth of the Qur’an.

We also discuss Ibn Rushd’s views on creation, eternity, human knowledge, and resurrection.

Part II | Later Islamic philosophy

To be offered in September

Suhrawardī and his philosophy of illumination

The influence of Ibn‘Arabi on philosophers and eclectic approaches to philosophy

The School of Isfahān

Mullā Sadrā and his followers

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.