History of Philosophy in Islam, by T.J. de Boer , at sacred-texts.com
1. Just as the commercial intercourse between India and China and Byzantium was conducted principally by the Persians, so in the remote West, as far even as France, the Syrians came forward as the agents of civilization. It was Syrians who brought wine, silk &c. to the West. But it was Syrians also who took Greek culture from Alexandria and Antioch, spreading it eastward and propagating it in the schools of Edessa and Nisibis, Harran and Gondeshapur. Syria was the true neutral ground, where for centuries the two world-powers, the Roman and the Persian, came in contact with one another, either as friends or as foes. In such circumstances, the Christian Syrians played a part similar to the one which in later days fell to the share of the Jews.
2. The Muslim conquerors found the Christian church split up into three main divisions,--to say nothing of many sects. The Monophysite church, alongside of the Orthodox State-church, preponderated in Syria proper, and the Nestorian church in Persia. The difference between the doctrinal systems of these churches was perhaps not without importance for the development of Muslim Dogmatics. According
to the teaching of the Monophysites, God and Man were united in one nature in Christ, whereas the Orthodox, and in a still more pronounced manner the Nestorians, discriminated between a Divine nature and a human nature in him. Now nature means, above everything, energy or operative principle. The question, accordingly, which is at issue, is whether the Divine, and the human Willing and Acting are one and the same in Christ or different. The Monophysites, from speculative and religious motives, gave prominence to the Unity in Christ their God, at the expense of the human element: The Nestorians, on the other hand, emphasized, in contrast with the Divine element, all that is specially characteristic of human Being, Willing and Acting. The latter view, however, favoured by political circumstances and conditions of culture, offers freer play to philosophical speculations on the world and on life. In point of fact the Nestorians did most for the cultivation of Greek Science.
3. Syriac was the language both of the Western and of the Eastern or Persian Church; but Greek was also taught along with it in the Cloister schools. Rasain and Kinnesrin must be mentioned as being centres of culture in the Western or Monophysite Church. Of more importance, at the outset at least, was the school of Edessa, inasmuch as the dialect of Edessa had risen to the position of the literary language; but in the year 489 the school there was closed because of the Nestorian views held by its teachers. It was then re-opened in Nisibis, and, being patronized by the Sasanids on political grounds, it disseminated Nestorian belief and Greek knowledge throughout Persia.
Instruction in these schools had a pre-eminently Biblical and ecclesiastical character, and was arranged to meet the needs of the Church. However, physicians or coming students of medicine also took part in it. The circumstance that they frequently belonged to the ecclesiastical order does not do away with the distinction between theological study and the pursuit of secular knowledge. It is true that according to the Syro-Roman code, Teachers (learned Priests) and Physicians were entitled in common to exemption from taxation and to other privileges; but the very fact that priests were regarded as healers of the soul, while physicians had merely to patch up the body, seemed to justify the precedence accorded to the former. Medicine always remained a secular matter; and, by the regulations of the School of Nisibis (from the year 590), the Holy Scriptures were not to be read in the same room with books that dealt with worldly callings.
In medical circles the works of Hippocrates, Galen and Aristotle were highly prized; but in the cloisters Philosophy was understood to be first of all the contemplative life of the ascetic, and "the one thing needful" was the only thing cared for.
4. The Mesopotamian city of Harran, in the neighbourhood of Edessa, takes a place of its own. In this city, especially when it began to flourish again after the Arab conquest, ancient Semitic paganism comes into association with mathematical and astronomical studies and Neo-Pythagorean and Neo-Platonic speculation. The Harranaeans or Sabaeans, as they were called in the 9th and 10th centuries, traced their mystic lore back to Hermes Trismegistus, Agathodaemon, Uranius and others. Numerous pseudepigraphs
of the later Hellenism were adopted by them in good faith, and some perhaps were forged in their own circle. A few of them became active as translators and learned authors, and many kept up a brisk scientific intercourse with Persian and Arab scholars from the 8th to the 10th century.
5. In Persia, at Gondeshapur, we find an Institution for philosophical and medical studies established by Khosrau Anosharwan (521-579). Its teachers were principally Nestorian Christians; but Khosrau, who had an inclination for secular culture, extended his toleration to Monophysites as well as to Nestorians. At that time, just as was the case later at the court of the Caliphs, Christian Syrians were held in special honour as medical men.
Farther, in the year 529, seven philosophers of the Neo-Platonic school, who had been driven away from Athens, found a place of refuge at the court of Khosrau. Their experiences there, however, may have resembled those of the French free-thinkers of the 18th century at the Russian court. At all events they longed to get home again; and the king was sufficiently liberal-minded and magnanimous to allow them to go, and in his treaty of peace with Byzantium of the year 549 to stipulate in their case for freedom of religious opinion. Their stay in the Persian kingdom was doubtless not wholly devoid of influence.
6. The period of Syriac translations of profane literature from the Greek extends perhaps from the 4th to the 8th century. In the 4th century collections of aphorisms were translated. The first translator, however, who makes his appearance avowing his name, is Probus, "Priest and physician in Antioch" (1st half of the 5th century?). Possibly
he was merely an expounder of the logical writings of Aristotle, and of the Isagoge of Porphyry. Better known is Sergius of Rasain,--who died at the age of 70 or so, probably in Constantinople, about 536,--a Mesopotamian monk and physician, whose studies, which were probably pursued in Alexandria itself, took in the whole range of Alexandrian science, and whose translations not only embraced Theology, Morals and Mysticism, but even Physics, Medicine and Philosophy. Even after the Muslim conquest the learned activity of the Syrians continued. Jacob of Edessa (circa 640-708) translated Greek theological writings; but he occupied himself besides with Philosophy, and in answer to a question relative thereto he pronounced that it was lawful for Christian ecclesiastics to impart the higher instruction to children of Muslim parents. There was thus a felt need of culture among the latter.
The translations of the Syrians, particularly of Sergius of Rasain, are generally faithful; but a more exact correspondence with the original is shewn in the case of Logic and Natural Science than in Ethical and Metaphysical works. Much that is obscure in these last has been misunderstood or simply omitted, and much that is pagan has been replaced by Christian material. For instance, Peter, Paul and John would come upon the scene in room of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Destiny and the Gods were obliged to give place to the one God; and ideas like World, Eternity, Sin and the like were recast in a Christian mould. The Arabs, however, in subsequent times went to a much greater length with the process of adaptation to their language, culture and religion than the Syrians. This may perhaps be partly explained by the Muslim horror of everything
heathen, but partly too by their greater faculty of adaptation.
7. Apart from a few mathematical, physical and medical writings, the Syrians interested themselves in two subjects,--the first consisting of moralizing collections of aphorisms, put together into a kind of history of Philosophy, and, generally, of mystical Pythagorean-Platonic wisdom. This is found principally in pseudepigraphs, which bear the names of Pythagoras, Socrates, Plutarch, Dionysius and others. The centre of interest is a Platonic doctrine of the Soul, subjected to a later Pythagorean, Neo-Platonic, or Christian form of treatment. In the Syrian cloisters Plato is even turned into an oriental monk, who built a cell for himself in the heart of the wilderness, far away from the dwellings of men, and after three years' silent brooding over a verse of the Bible was led to a recognition of the Tri-Unity of God.
A second subject of interest was added, in Aristotle's-Logic. Among the Syrians, and for a longer period among the Arabs also, Aristotle was commonly known almost solely as a logician. This knowledge, just as in the early scholasticism of the West, extended to the Categories, the Hermeneutics, and the first Analytics as far as the Categorical Figures. They stood in need of the Logic in order to comprehend the writings of Greek ecclesiastical teachers, since these, at least in form, were influenced thereby. But as they did not possess it complete, as little did they possess it pure. They had it before them only in a Neo-Platonic redaction, as may be seen, for example, from the work of Paulus Persa, which was written in Syriac for Khosrau Anosharwan. In that work knowledge is placed above faith,
and philosophy is defined as the process by which the soul becomes conscious of its own inner essence, in which, like a God as it were, it sees all things.
8. What the Arabs owe to the Syrians is expressed by this circumstance amongst others,--that Arab scholars held Syriac to be the oldest, or the real (natural) language. The Syrians, it is true, produced nothing original; but their activity as translators was of advantage to Arab-Persian science. It was Syrians almost without exception, who, from the 8th century to the 10th, rendered Greek works into Arabic, either from the older Syriac versions or from those which had been in part improved by them, and in part re-arranged. Even the Omayyad prince, Khalid ibn Yezid (died 704), who occupied himself with Alchemy under the guidance of a Christian monk, is said to have provided for translations of works on Alchemy from Greek into Arabic. Proverbs, maxims, letters, wills, and in short whatever bore on the history of philosophy, were at a very early time collected and translated. But it was not till the reign of Mansur that a commencement was made with the translation into Arabic--partly from Pahlawi versions--of those writings of the Greeks which deal with Natural Science, Medicine and Logic. Ibn al-Moqaffa, an adherent of Persian Dualism, took a leading part in this task, from whom later workers must have marked themselves off by their terminology. None of his philosophical translations have come down to us. Other material too, belonging to the 8th century has gone amissing. The earliest specimen of this work of translation which we possess dates from the 9th century, the time of Mamun and his successors.
The translators of the 9th century were, for the most
part, medical men; and Hippocrates and Galen were among the first to be translated after Ptolemy and Euclid. But let us confine ourselves to Philosophy, in the narrower sense. A translation of the Timäus of Plato is said to have come from Yuhanna or Yakhya ibn Bitriq (in the beginning of the 9th century), as well as Aristotle's 'Meteorology', the 'Book of Animals', an epitome of the 'Psychology', and the tract 'On the World'. To Abdalmasikh ibn Abdallah Naima al-Himsi (circa 835) is to be ascribed a rendering of the 'Sophistics' of Aristotle, in addition to the Commentary of John Philoponus upon the 'Physics', as well as the so-called 'Theology of Aristotle',--a paraphrased epitome of the Enneads of Plotinus. Qosta ibn Luqa ai-Balabakki (circa 835) is said to have translated the Commentaries of Alexander of Aphrodisias and John Philoponus upon the Physics' of Aristotle, and in part, Alexander's Commentary on the 'De generatione et corruptione', as well as the 'Placita Philosophorum' of the Pseudo-Plutarch, and other works.
The most productive translators were Abu Zaid Honain ibn Ishaq (809?-873), his son, Ishaq ibn Honain († 910 or 911), and nephew Hobaish ibn al-Hasan. Seeing that they worked together, there is a good deal which is ascribed, now to the one and now to the other. Not a little material must have been prepared, under their oversight, by disciples and subordinates. Their activity extended over the whole range of the science of that day. Existing translations were improved, and new ones added. The father preferred to work at versions of medical authors, but the son turned. more to the rendering. of philosophical material.
The work of the translators was still proceeding in the 10th century. Among those who especially distinguished
themselves were Abu Bishr Matta ibn Yunus al-Qannai († 940), Abu Zakarya Yakhya ibn Adi al-Mantiqi († 974), Abu Ali Isa ibn Ishaq ibn Zura († 1008), and finally, Abu-l-Khair al-Hasan ibn al-Khammar (born 942), a pupil of Yakhya ibn Adi's, of whose writings, besides translations, commentaries, and so forth, a tract is mentioned, on the Harmony between Philosophy and Christianity.
From the time of Honain ibn Ishaq the activity of the translators was almost wholly confined to Aristotelian and Pseudo-Aristotelian writings, and to epitomes of them, to paraphrases of their contents and to commentaries upon them.
9. These translators are not to be regarded as specially great philosophers. Their work was seldom entered upon spontaneously, but almost always at the command of some Caliph or Vizir or other person of note. Outside of their own department of study, usually Medicine, they were chiefly interested in Wisdom,--that is, in pretty stories with a moral, in anecdotes, and in oracular sayings. The expressions which we merely hear with in intercourse, in narrative or on the stage, as being characteristic utterances with certain persons, were admired and collected by these worthy people for the sake of the wisdom contained in there, or perhaps even for no more than the rhetorical elegance of their form. As a rule, those men continued true to the Christian faith of their fathers. The traditional story of Ibn Djebril gives a good idea both of their way of thinking and of the liberal-mindedness of the Caliphs. When Mansur wanted to convert him to Islam, he is said to have replied: "In the faith of my fathers I will die: where they are, I wish also to be, whether in heaven or
in hell". Whereupon the Caliph laughed, and dismissed him with a rich present.
Only a small portion has been saved of the original writings of these men. A short dissertation by Qosta ibn Luqa on the distinction between Soul and Spirit (πνεῦμα, ruh), preserved in a Latin translation, has been frequently mentioned and made use of. According to it, the Spirit is a subtle material, which from its seat in the left ventricle of the heart animates the human frame and brings about its movements and perceptions. The finer and clearer this Spirit is, the more rationally the man thinks and acts: there is but one opinion upon this point. It is more difficult, however, to predicate anything sure, and universally valid, of the Soul. The deliverances of the greatest philosophers occasionally differ, and occasionally contradict each other. In any case the Soul is incorporeal, for it adopts qualities, and, in fact, qualities of the most opposite nature at one and the same time. It is uncompounded and unchangeable, and it does not, like the Spirit, perish with the body. The Spirit only acts as an intermediary between the Soul and the Body, and it is in this way that it becomes a secondary cause of movement and perception.
The statement which has just been given regarding the Soul is found in many of the later writers. But by slow degrees, as the Aristotelian philosophy thrusts Platonic opinions more and more into the background, another pair of opposites come into full view. Physicians alone continue to speak of the importance of the 'rule' or Spirit of Life. Philosophers institute a comparison between Soul and Spirit or Reason (νοῦς, ‘aql). The Soul is now reduced to the domain of the perishable, and sometimes, in Gnostic fashion, even
to the lower and evil realm of the desires. The rational Spirit,--as that which is highest, that which is imperishable in man--is exalted above the Soul.
In this notice, however, we are anticipating history: let us return to our translators.
10. The most valuable portion of the legacy which the Greek mind bequeathed to us in art, poetry, and historical composition, was never accessible to the Orientals. It would even have been difficult for them to understand it, seeing that they lacked the due acquaintance with Greek life, and the relish for it. For them the history of Greece began with Alexander the Great, surrounded with the halo of legend; and the position which Aristotle held beside the greatest prince of ancient times must have assuredly conduced to the acceptance of the Aristotelian philosophy at the Muslim court. Arab historians counted up the Greek princes, on to Cleopatra, and then the Roman Emperors; but a Thucydides, for example, was not known to them, even by name. Of Homer they had not picked up much more than the sentence, that "one only should be the ruler". They had not the least idea of the great Greek dramatists and lyric poets. It was only through its Mathematics, Natural Science and Philosophy, that Greek antiquity could bring its influence to bear upon them. They had come to know something of the development of Greek Philosophy, from Plutarch, Porphyry and others, as well as from the writings of Aristotle and Galen. A good deal of legendary matter, however, was mingled with their information; and the account which passed in the East, of the doctrines of the Pre-Socratic philosophers can only be referred by us to the pseudepigraphs which
they consulted, or perhaps even to the opinions which had been developed in the East itself, and which they endeavoured to support with the authority of old Greek sages. But still, in every case, our thoughts must turn first of all to some Greek original.
11. It may be affirmed generally that the Syro-Arabs took up the thread of philosophy, precisely where the last of the Greeks had let it fall, that is, with the Neo-Platonic explanation of Aristotle, along with whose philosophy the works of Plato were also read and expounded. Among the Harranaeans, and for a long time in several Muslim sects, it was Platonic or Pythagorean-Platonic studies which were prosecuted with most ardour,--with which much that was Stoic or Neo-Platonic was associated. Extraordinary interest was taken in the fate of Socrates, who had suffered a martyr's death in heathen Athens for his rational belief. The Platonic teaching regarding the Soul and Nature exercised great influence. The Pythian utterance: "Know thyself",--handed down as the motto of the Socratic wisdom, and interpreted in a Neo-Platonic sense,--was ascribed by the Muslims to Ali, Mohammed's son-in-law, or even put into the mouth of the Prophet himself. "He who knows himself, knows God his Lord thereby": this was the text for Mystic speculations of all kinds.
In medical circles and at the worldly court, the works of Aristotle came more and more into favour, first of all of course the Logic and a few things from the Physical writings. 'The Logic--so they thought--was the only new thing the Stagyrite had discovered: in all the other sciences he agreed throughout with Pythagoras, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Socrates and Plato. Accordingly Christian
and Sabaean translators, and the circle influenced by them, drew their psychologico-ethical, political and metaphysical instruction without hesitation from the Pre-Aristotelian sages.
What bore the names of Empedocles, Pythagoras &c., was, naturally, spurious. Their wisdom is traced either to Hermes or to other wise men of the East. Thus Empedocles must have been a disciple of King David's, and afterwards of Loqman the Wise: Pythagoras must have sprung from the school of Solomon,--and so on. Writings which are cited in Arabic works as Socratic are, in so far as they are genuine, Platonic dialogues in which Socrates appears. Their quotations from Plato--not to speak of spurious writings--have a more or less comprehensive range: they are taken from the Apology, Krito, the Sophistes, Phaedrus, the Republic, Phaedo, Timäus and the Laws. That does not mean, however, that they possessed complete translations of all these works.
This much is certain,--that Aristotle did not reign as sole lord from the very outset. Plato, as they understood him, taught the Creation of the world, the Substantiality of the Spiritual, and the Immortality of the Soul. That teaching did no harm to the Faith. But Aristotle, with his doctrine of the Eternity of the World, and his less spiritualistic Psychology and Ethics, was regarded as dangerous. Muslim theologians of the 9th and 10th centuries, from various camps, wrote therefore against Aristotle. But circumstances altered. Philosophers arose by-and-by who rejected the Platonic doctrine of the One World-Soul, of which the souls of men are only transient parts, and sought grounds for their hope of immortality from. Aristotle who attributed so great a significance to the Individual Substance.
12. The conception which was entertained of Aristotle in the period most remote, is best shown by the writings which were foisted upon him. Not only did they get his genuine works with Neo-Platonic interpretations attached to them,--not only was the treatise: "On the world" unhesitatingly acknowledged as Aristotelian, but he was also regarded as the author of many late-Greek productions, in which a Pythagorising Platonism or Neo-Platonism, or even a barren Syncretism was quite frankly taught.
Let us take here as our first example "the Book of the Apple" 1, wherein Aristotle plays the same part as Socrates in the Phaedo of Plato. As his end draws near, the Philosopher is visited by some of his disciples who find him in a cheerful frame of mind. This leads them to request their departing Master to give them some instruction about the Essence and Immortality of the Soul. Thereupon he discourses somewhat as follows:--"The Essence of the Soul consists in knowing,--in fact, in Philosophy, which is the highest form of knowing. A perfect knowledge of the truth constitutes therefore the blessedness which after death awaits the soul which is devoted to knowing. And just as knowing is rewarded with a higher knowledge,--so the punishment for not-knowing consists in a deeper ignorance. And really, there is nothing in Heaven or Earth, after all, except knowing and not-knowing, and the recompence which these two severally bring with them. Farther,--virtue is not essentially different from knowing; nor does vice differ
essentially from not-knowing. The relation of virtue to knowing, or of vice to not-knowing, is like that of water to ice i.e. it is the same thing in a different form.
In knowing,--which is the divine essence of the Soul,--the Soul finds naturally its only true joy, and not in eating and drinking and sensual pleasure. For, sensual pleasure is a flame which merely warms for a short time; but the thinking Soul,--which longs for its deliverance from the murky world of the senses,--is a pure light that sheds a radiance far and wide. The Philosopher therefore is not afraid of death, but meets it gladly, when the Deity summons him. The enjoyment, which his limited knowledge affords him here is a guarantee to him of the rapture which the unveiling of the great world of the Unknown will procure him. Even already he knows something of this, for it is only through knowledge of the invisible, that the proper estimate of the sensible, on which he prides himself, is at all possible. He who comes to know his own self in this life, possesses in that very knowledge of himself the assurance of comprehending all things with an eternal knowledge,--i.e. of "being immortal."
13. In the second place the so-called "Theology of Aristotle" may be referred to. In it Plato is represented as the Ideal-Man, who gains a knowledge of all things by means of an intuitive thinking, and thus has no need of the logical resources of Aristotle. Indeed, the highest reality--Absolute Being--is not apprehended by thinking, but only in an ecstatic Vision. "Often was I alone with my soul", says Aristotle-Plotinus, on this point. "Divested of the body, I entered as pure substance into my proper self, turning back from all that is external to what is
within. I was pure knowing there, at once the knowing and the known. How astonished T was to behold beauty and splendour in my proper self, and to recognize that I was a part of the sublime Divine world, endowed even with creative life! In this assurance of self, I was lifted above the world of the senses, ay, even above the world of spirits, up to the Divine state, where I beheld a light so fair that no tongue can tell it, nor ear understand".
The soul forms the centre of the discussions in the 'Theology' also. All true human science is science of the soul or knowledge of self,---knowledge of its essence, it is true, coming first, and next in order, though less complete, knowledge of the operations of that essence. in such knowledge, to which exceedingly few attain, the highest wisdom consists, which does not admit of being fully understood in the form of ideas, and which therefore the philosopher like a skilful artist and wise lawgiver represents, for us men, in ever beautiful figures in religious service. In this function precisely, the wise man comes forward as the potent, self-sufficing magician, whose knowledge lords it over the multitude, seeing that they remain always bound in the fetters of outward things, of presentations and desires.
The soul stands in the centre of the All. Above it are God and Intelligence, beneath it--Matter and Nature. Its coming from God through Intelligence into Matter, its presence in the body, its return on high--these are the three stadia in which its life and that of the world run their course. Matter and Nature, Sense-perception and Presentation here lose their significance almost entirely. All things exist by intelligence (νοῦς, ‘aql). Intelligence constitutes
all things, and in Intelligence all things are One. The Soul too is Intelligence, but; so long as it stays in the body, it is Intelligence in hope, Intelligence in the form of longing. It longs for what is above, for the good and blessed stars, which spend their contemplative existence as sources of light, exalted above presentation and effort.
That then is the oriental Aristotle, as he was acknowledged by the earliest Peripatetics in Islam 1.
14. We need not wonder that the Easterns did not succeed in reaching an unadulterated conception of the Aristotelian philosophy. Our critical apparatus for discriminating between the genuine and the spurious was not in their possession. It must have proved even more difficult for them, to familiarize themselves with the world of Greek civilization, than for the Christian scholars of the Middle Ages, which had never entirely lost living touch with antiquity. in the East men remained dependent on Neo-Platonic redactions and interpretations. A part of the scientific system, to wit, the Politics of Aristotle, was a-wanting; and so, as a matter of course, the Laws or the Republic of Plato took its place. Only a few were aware of the difference between the two.
Another determining motive deserves notice. In their Neo-Platonic sources even, the Muslims came upon a harmonizing exposition of the Greek philosophers, and they felt constrained to adopt it. The first adherents of Aristotle were bound to assume a polemical and apologetic attitude. In opposition to, or in conformity with, the voice of the Muslim community; they required a coherent philosophy,
in which the One Truth must be found. The same reverence, which Mohammed in his day had paid to the sacred writings of the Jews and of the Christians, was shewn afterwards by Muslim scholars towards the works of Greek philosophers; but these learned men exhibited greater familiarity with their models, and less originality. In their eyes the old philosophers were invested with an authority, to which it was their duty to submit. The earliest Muslim thinkers were so fully convinced of the superiority of Greek knowledge that they did not doubt that it had attained to the highest degree of certainty. The thought of making farther and independent investigations did not readily occur to an Oriental, who cannot imagine a man without a teacher as being anything else than a disciple of Satan. In accordance, therefore, with the precedent set by Hellenistic philosophers, an attempt had to be made to demonstrate the existence of the harmony between Plato and Aristotle,--and, in particular, to shelve tacitly those doctrines which gave offence, or to exhibit them in a sense which was not too decidedly contrary to Muslim Dogmatics. In order to humour the opponents of Aristotle or of Philosophy in general, prominence was given to wise and edifying sayings out of the philosopher's works,--both the genuine and the spurious,--that so the way might be prepared for the reception of his scientific thoughts. To the initiated, however, the teaching of Aristotle, like that of other schools and sects, was set forth as a higher truth, to which the positive faith of the multitude and the more or less firmly established system of the theologians were merely preliminary steps.
15. Muslim Philosophy has always continued to be an
[paragraph continues] Eclecticism which depended on their stock of works translated from the Greek. The course of its history has been a process of assimilation rather than of generation. It has not distinguished itself, either by propounding new problems or by any peculiarity in its endeavours to solve the old ones. It has therefore no important advances in thought to register. And yet, from a historical point of view, its significance is far greater than that of a mere intermediary between classical antiquity and Christian Scholasticism. To follow up the reception of Greek ideas into the mixed civilization of the East is a subject of historical interest possessing a charm entirely its own, especially if one can forget at the same time that once there were Greeks. But the consideration of this occurrence becomes important also by its presenting an opportunity for comparison with other civilizations. Philosophy is a phenomenon so unique--so thoroughly indigenous and independent a growth of Grecian soil--that one might regard it as being exempt from the conditions of general civilized life, and as being explicable only per se. Now the History of Philosophy in Islam is valuable, just because it sets forth the first attempt to appropriate the results of Greek thinking, with greater comprehensiveness and freedom than in the early Christian dogmatics. Acquaintance with the conditions which made such an attempt possible, will permit us to reach conclusions, by way of analogical reasonings--though with precaution, and for the present at least, to a very limited extent--as to the reception of Graeco-Arab science in the Christian Middle Ages, and will perhaps teach us a little about the conditions under which Philosophy arises in general.
We can hardly speak of a Muslim philosophy in the
proper sense of the term. But there were many men in Islam who could not keep from philosophizing; and even through the folds of the Greek drapery, the form of their own limbs is indicated. It is easy to look down on these men, from the high watch-tower of some School-Philosophy, but it will be better for us to get to know them and to comprehend them in their historical environment. We must leave to special research the tracing of each thought up to its origin. Our aim in what follows can be nothing more than to point out what the Muslims constructed out of the materials which were before them.
24:1 The dialogue has received this name from the circumstance that during the conversation Aristotle holds in his hand an apple, the smell of which keeps awake what remains of his vital powers. At the close, his hand drops powerless, and the apple falls to the ground.
27:1 Farther, an epitome of the στοιχείωσις θεολογική of Proclus, was held even in later times to be a genuine work of Aristotle's.