the elements of Razi\'s morality philosophy

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Al- Razi’s ethics, profits from Epicurean elements. Like Epicurean, he is a naturalist and empiricist in ethics, reaching a mildly ascetic hedonism via a familiar Epicurean route. For he argues that a proper understanding of pleasure does not lead us to seek ever more intense sensations or to mass up pleasurable experiences, as though they could be hoarded, but to the recognition that peace of mind and the surest life, from the standpoint of maximizing human happiness, is the life of prudence, in which modest desires, tailored to the demands of nature, are easily satisfied by modest means. The sybaritic life is a trap which leads not to enhance but to ever diminished enjoyment:

You need to know that those who consistently give precedence to their appetites, feeding and fostering them, reach a point, as a result, where they are no longer able to enjoy them, or to give them up. Thus those who are addicted to orgasms with women, or to drinking wine, or listening to music, do not enjoy these things- although they are some of the most powerful and instinctual pleasures of our nature – as do those who are not addicted to them. For to those who are dependent on them they become mere states of mind like other, matters of familiarity and habit. Yet those who are so inured to them are not readily able to shake them off. For they have become, as it were, necessities for them, rather than niceties or refinements.

Pleasure and repose
Al- Razi’s wrote a separate work on pleasure, defining it as form of repose. All (kinetic) pleasures are the sensed of the body to its natural state, from which it has been removed, either suddenly and sensibly, or gradually and insensibly. Thus all pleasures presuppose a prior pain (more properly: a dislocation, since the “pain” need not be felt).The doctrine may be guided by Plato’s Timaeus. But the model, and the confinement of the issue to hedonic concerns, is paradigmatically Epicurean- fed, in part, by the early Sceptic of the good life. For Ibn al- Qifti and others rightly see here a connection with Pyrrho’s doctrine of repose. Perhaps al- Razi, in his naturalism, simply rederives the physiology of pleasure as a return to the resting state from Plato’s analysis of desire, much as Epicurus did. (See Plato, Phaedo, 60 a, Phaedrus, 25e, Republic, 9.583d, Phileus,42-3,51-2 and the resolution at Laws, 1.644c. Epicurus, Kyriae Doxai, 3:”The magnitude of pleasure reaches its limit in the removal of all pain”. of. Vatican Fragments, 14.) For al- Razi plainly relies on Plato’s argument that the greater the appetite the harder it is to fill, making a life devoted to satisfying the appetites (which grow in response to their satiation) about as sensible as tying to carry water in sieve. (Plato, Gorgias, 492-3.) But al- Razi also seem to use an Epicurean model when argues that all pleasures and pains are transitory in so far they are dislocations from and sensed returns to the natural state.(See Kraus: 143, Epicurus, Kyriae Doxai, 4 .)

adjustment of Pleasure and morality
Like an Epicurean, al- Razi finds the optimum of pleasure not in a seesaw of sensations but in a moderate life, meeting the needs of nature, not straying far from the physical norm of natural adjustment to our milieu. In place of Aristotle’s sophisticated and intellectualist anatomy of the virtues, he offers an anatomy and catalogue of human vices: excess in food or drink, sexual activity, or even music, is unhealthy, he argues, trading on his medical authority. But, in an argument echoed by both Saadiah and Maimonides, he holds that denial too can be unwholesome.(Cf, Epicurus, Vatican Fragments, 63: “There is limit even to simplicity, and one who ignores it is as much in error one who goes too far.”) We must seek the middle ground, understood not simply as a Aristotelian mean of appropriateness to be located by reason but largely physiologically, in terms of the requirements of nature. For these alone, al- Razi argues; show us the need to rein in our passions. Anger in excess defeats its biological purpose of self- reservation and becomes self-destructive, like the anger of Galen’s mother, who in the frustration, one tried to bite off a padlock. Social climbing and ambition for rank and office are similarly self- defeating. (Mehdi Mohaghegh, Filsuf-I Rayy (Tehran, 1970): 22, traces al- Razi’s disparagement of the quest for rank to Galen’s On the Passions and Errors of the Soul (Columbus, 1963), a work that al- Razi seems to have followed on a number of points. The rejection of a political life and the argument that the quest for rank finds no natural or inherent limit are both Epicurean, and this work may provide a key link between al- Razi’s ethical calculus and that of Eipicurus.) Lying is rejected not the (deontic) grounds that it is intrinsically wrong but on the prudential, Epicurean grounds that the liar will never be trusted and can never enjoy peace of mind. The Isma’ili author Hamid al- Din al- Kirmani (d.411/1020) criticized al- Razi on this score: Had al- Razi known how ruinous lying is to the soul, he argues, adopting the perspective of virtue ethics pioneered in Islam by Ibn Miskawayh, he would never (as he does, following Plato) have made an exception to the prohibition of lying, for the sake of saving a human life. (See Mohaghegh: 19.)

The role of reason in ethics
Like Epicurus, al- Razi deems it a moral error to base ethical judgments on any considerations beyond personal pleasure in the sense of ataraxia. His entire ethics is focused on the appeal to reason to control passion (al- hawa). And, as Mohaghegh remarks, “Razi uses the world hawa more than any other Muslim moral philosopher.” Speaking of the need to combat, suppress, restrain and rein it in. ( Mohaghegh: 11 notes with amusement that Ibn al-Jawzi misread (or played upon?) zamm, “reining in” as dhamm, “censure or blame” and went on to use the phrase as the title of his well –known Dhamm al- hawa “The Censure of Passion”). He analyses all virtues and vices by way of the resultant prudential standard. Thus, stinginess results from a miscalculation about one’s real desires, and so can refuted (and cured!) by an appeal to reason. Here the Socratic tendency of the soul becomes a kind of moral therapy of the sort that Aristotle sometimes practiced. Al- Razi tells, for example, of treating a stingy man by calling his attention to his true desires and then prevailing upon him to practice spending modest sums. Rational psychiatry does its moral work by placing reason in the service. of our own wholesome hedonic intentions, aiding us to the good life- first by clarifying the true nature of pleasure and then by reminding us (against the unreason of the passions) of the effectual means to our (rationally edited) ends.

Following Razi’s moral method by Maimonides
Maimonides, who excoriates al- Razi’s Epicurean view that evil outweigh goods in this life, none less follows his example in ethics-not the extent of abandoning virtue ethics and eudaimonism or treating pleasures as the only good (the false assumption he exposes at the heart of the Epicurean dilemma), but to the extent that his important ethical work, the Eight Chapters, includes not only an anatomy of the soul but also chapters on its illnesses and their cure, and a prescription for moral weaknesses modified unabashedly from al- Razi’s model:

if a man appears to have developed the trait of depriving himself of anything good (because of niggardliness)…and we wish to cure him of illness, we must order him merely to be more liberal. That would be like treating a man who had a high fever with some mild does that would not break his fever. No what we must do is have him spend extravagantly, over and over again, so many times that his propensity to be stingy disappears and he is nearly a spendthrift. But we do not let him become one, we order him to keep up his generous actions both guard against bout excess and deficiency. ( Eight Chapters, 4, trans. L.E. Goodman, Ram bam, 227.)

Where Maimonides sees some therapeutic value in temporary excess, al-Razi had prescribed only modest spending, lest one feed the passions that are peculiarly drawn to excess. In context, Maimonides is explaining the relative and temporary value of ascetic exercises, although rejecting asceticism as a way of life. His therapeutic model, couched in a disagreement with al-Razi, is entirely Razian.

Ethics and prudence in Razi’s view
Al- Razi’s ethics is consistently prudential. Even the excessive intellectualism that he seems to diagnose in himself, following the advice of Galen, that we may discover our own vices by heeding the criticisms of our enemies, (Al- Razi cites and summarizes Galen’s Good Men Profit by their Enemies and How a Man may Discover his own Vices in Spiritual Physick, chapter 4, Kraus: 35. As Walzer pointed out (Encylopaedia of Islam (Leiden), s.v. akhlaq) the two Galenic titles represent parts of Galen’s On Moral Character, but they circulated s independent works in Arabic and were used by Ibn Miskawayh as well as al- Razi. see Mohaghegh: 13-14.) is recognized as a vice by its destructiveness to our health and peace of mind, and by the inevitable frustration met by too lofty an intellectual ambition. Thus, as I argued years ago, “pleasure” for al-Razi here “becomes the judge of reason, not reason of pleasure.” (See L.E. Goodman, “The Epicurean Ethic of al- Razi:” 17.) Excessive or impatient eagerness to learn is vice because it makes one prone “to delusion and melancholia.” (Spiritual Physick, chapter 11, trans. Arberry: 67.) he analysis is no different from that al- Razi provides of those who are addicted to romance- or power or to the case of the ophthalmic child who compulsively rubs his eyes, eats dates and can’t be kept from playing in the sun, ( Spiritual Physick, chapter 2, trans. Arberry:24.) or the grown man who seems to be unable to stop playing with his beard. (Spiritual Physick,, chapter 6, trans. Arberry:85.) Granted al- Razi does, in the case of romantic love (Al-Razi, like most Arabic writers, including Saadiah after him, clearly distinguishes the erotic dalliances of romantic love form coitus per se, L. E. Goodman, “Saadya’s Ethical Pluralism”, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 100 (1980): 407-19, “The Sacred and the Secular: Rival Themes in Arabic Literature.” In M. Mir (ed). The Literary Heritage of Islam: Studies in Honor of James Bellamy (Princeton, 1993) :287-330) (a special bugbear of Epicureans,) (“The pleasures of love never did anyone any good, and one is lucky if they do him no harm” (Epicurus, Vatican Fragments, 51, cf. Lucretius, De rerum natura, 4. 1056-191.) Lapse into almost pietistic language about the need to keep the soul, and not just the body, clean (Spiritual Physick, chapter 5, trans. Arberry: 48, similarly with gluttony in chapter 13, trans, Arberry: 76-7.) His central theme is clear when he classifies the affliction of the lover, etiologically, alone with that of the alcoholic, as a form of dependency, or, to use his word, addiction. ( Spiritual Physick, chapter 14, al-Razi’s word for an addict is mudmin, Kraus: 23,11.1.2.)

Dispelling religious and moral pathologies by reason
Like Epicurus, al- Razi has an interest in the pathological side of religion and hopes that reason can dispel certain religious compulsions, in the interest of mental health sanity. Ritual (madhhab) he argues, pertains to the passions, not the mind: “Cleanliness and purity must be judged solely by the senses, not deduction, and treated in accordance with perception, not presumption. (Spiritual Physick, chapter 16, ed. Kraus: 79, trans. Arberry :86.) It is compulsive to demand levels of purity that are warranted neither by the demands of religion (!) nor ever by the responses of squesmishness. For, al- Razi argues, neither religion nor sensibility can rationally to impurities that cannot be sensed. Al-Razi ‘s rejection of excessive fastidiousness as a vice is in keeping with his psychiatric understanding, particularly of melancholia, ( See al- Razi ‘s extracts from Rufus of Ephesus, in F. Rosenthal, The Classial Heritage in Islam (London, 1965): 198-200.) It betrays him into a stance whose hygienic dangers will remain unseen until the Semmelweiss and Pasteur. But it reveals both depth and depth and target of his naturalism. For his point is that purity should be a physical not a notional matter, and his remark that neither religion nor revnlsion can respond to what remains unseen has a normative rather than a descriptive force. For religions in general and the Isma’ili Islam al-Razi confronted in particular make quite an issue of unseen, symbolic purity and impurity. That is what al-Razi insists is matter of passion, not of reason In religion, s in life in general, passions (hawa) is the enemy.

The role of pleasure in overcoming the fear of death
Part of the profit of his physiological understanding of pleasure, al- Razi argues, is that frees one from the fear of death. Escaping that fear is of moment to al- Razi not only for the specific and immediate mental peace it brings, but for longer range moral reasons as well. For all vices, he argues, following the lead of Epicurus, result from obsessive desires, which are themselves products of the fear of death: “As long as the fear of death purists, one will incline away from reason and towards passion (hawa)”. (Spiritual Physick, ed. Kraus: 93, trans. Arberry :103, cf. Kyriae Doxai, 11-12,30) Immortality for al- Razi is an object of desire and to be pursued as such, by Socratic, Platonic, Aristotelian means. Its pursuit, which Epicureanism eschewed, is justified on prudential grounds- partly because it is understood here (as it was not in Epicureanism) as a prima facie good –and partly on the grounds that the hope of immortality serves the Epicurean end of freeing us from the fear of death. For monotheism has banished the terror of a pagan, diabolical afterlife, and Islam, at least for al- Razi, has failed to restore it. But for those who cannot accept the reality of immortality, because they believe that the soul dissolves with the body, a more characteristically Epicurean consolation remains: “For pain is a sensation and sensation is a property only of the living being.

Razi’s Prescription for banishing anxiety and sorrow
Al-Razi tires hard to apply al-Kindi’s prescription for banishing anxiety and sorrow –considering one’s loved as already lost, for example, and recognizing that death only removes one to higher place. (Al- Kindi “Essay on How to Banish Sorrow”, ed. with Italian trans. By H. Ritter and R. Walzer, in Uno scritto morale inedito di al-Kindi (Rome, 1938), cf. Spiritual Physick, chapter 11-12. Note al- Razi’s use of al- Kindi’s term daf, banishing or repelling, in the titles of these chapters.) But he admits that this is hard: the fear of death “can never be banished altogether from the soul, unless one is certain that after death it shifts to a better state” – a conclusion al- Razi acknowledge to be fraught with difficulties: “For this rubric would require very lengthy argumentation, if one sought proof rather than just allegations [khabar]. There really is no method whatever for argument to adopt on this topic, least of all in this book. For the subject is too elevated and too broad as well as too long, as I have said. It would require examination of all faith and rites that hold or imply beliefs about an afterlife and a verdict as to which are true and which are false” – a task al- Razi has no intention of attempting. He excuses himself by adopting the committed but mildly and appropriately, agnostic lead of Socrates, treating immortality and dissolution disjunctively: For those who are certain of a better state in the hereafter, death should hold no fear. Yet the Epicurean idea that death “is nothing to us” can still join hands with the Biblical idea (Job.3:13) of death as surcease. Putting aside the vexed (yadtarru) and problematic thesis of an afterlife, al- Razi argues, we can satisfy those who are convinced that the soul perishes with the body, by showing them that even without immortality “death is more salutary for man than life.” concomitant of pleasure.


History of Islamic philosophy – seyyed Hossein Nasr- pages:207to211


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