Freedom of thought and prophecy, in Razi’s thought

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Al-Razi was the least orthodox and most inconclastic of the major philosophers of Islam. To be a philosopher, he had to explain, does not mean belonging to a sect or school, modeling one’s actions and ideas on those of a master. One learns from one’s predecessors but can also hope to surpass them. Al-Razi knew that he would never be a Socrates, and cautioned against anyone’s expecting in short order Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Eudemus, Chrysippus, Themistius or Alevander of Aphrodisias. (The philosophical Life, trans. A. J. Arberry: 704, spiritual Physick, rans.Arbery:67.) But he denied the view, widely held in his time and gaining ground once in our own, that human beings are trapped within the teachings of the great founders of traditions: he told a histile contemporary, who reports his words incredulously,

You must understand that every later philosopher who commits himself creatively [ ijtahada], diligently and persistently to philosophical inquiry where subtle difficulties have led his predecessors to disagree will understand what they understood and retain it, having a quick mind and much experience of thought and inquiry in other areas. Rapidly mastering what his predecessors knew and grasping the lessons they afford, he readily surpasses them. For inquiry, thought and originality make progress and improvement inevitable. ( Munazarat bayn al- raziyayn, in Kraus: 301: “idh kana’l- bahth wa’l-nazar wa’l ijtihad yujibu’l ziyadah wa’l- fadl”)

Extravagance of independent thinking by Razi
Al- Razi’s interlocutor counters that, without intellectual authorities, men would rapidly succumb to hopeless confusions and contradictions. Like cities of philosophy before and since, he sees philosophical disagreements not as seedbeds of intellectual possibilities but as scandals of intellectual irresponsibility. But al- Razi values independent thinking above consensus. Indeed, he sees it as the key to the liberation of the soul, even if one’s thought remain inconclusive. All people, he argues, can think for themselves. They do not need a leader or guide to show them how to live or what to think. Asked how philosophy comports with faith in a revealed religion, he replies: “How can anyone think philosophically while committed to those old wives tales, founded on contradictions, obdurate ignorance, and dogmatism? Special prophecy, he insists, is imposture, a bone of needless contention:”How can you imply that God would prefer one people as the standard bearers of mankind, making all the rest despondent on them? How can you reconcile with the wisdom of the All wise God’s singling out one people in this way, setting mankind at one another ‘s throats, fomenting bloodshed, warfare and conflict!” Turning the tables on the favourite Mu’tazilite argument, Stoic in origin, that God morally must give guidance to humankind, al- Razi argues that divine benevolence precludes special revelation. Prophetic experience is the work of work of dead souls too ignorant and evil to make a clean break with physicality. Such demonic spirits linger in the world, bound to physicality by sensuous appetites and passions. Finding some vile body as a vehicle, they appear in the guise of angels to deceive and mislead us, so as to cause bloodshed, dissension and destruction among humankind.

Sufficiency and uneven sanity of intelligence acts as a guides for all
This is provided, though the universal gift of intelligence. In the democratic tradition of Epicurean epistemology, heightened by his antagonism to the Isma’ili mystique of the infallible Imam, al-Razi insists that no one is wiser that another:

I have no special claim to philosophy over anyone else. I have simply pursued it where others neglected it. They are deprived only by their restiveness with theory, not by any inner deficiency. The proof id people understand things relevant to their trade and livelihood and handle them perfectly well, applying their ingenuity to devise things that would be much too subtle for many of us. That is because they are interested. If they applied their interest where I have applied mine and pursued what I have sought, they would grasp what I have.

Sources

History of Islamic philosophy – seyyed Hossein Nasr- pages:202to203

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