Amiri as a philosopher in the middle of Farabi and Ibn Sina (‘s time)

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In its methodological sophistication, its metaphysical elaboration and its distinctive approach to the problem of revealed religion, the thought of al- Farabi represents not only an advance on that of al- Kindi but a break with it. The cumulative achievements of the Baghdad translators, and in particular the intellectual discipline of the Baghdad philosophical school led by al- Farabi’s teacher Matta ibn Yunus, would seem to relegate the earlier al- Kindi to the role of a primitive initiator, enjoying some historical importance but little if any abiding philosophical influence. That such was not case, however, is clear from the works of his most prominent epigone, the Khurasanian philosopher Abu’l –Hasan Muhammad ibn Yusuf al- Amiri (d.381/992)

Kindi’s immediate pupils
Of al- Kindi’s immediate pupils we know relatively little, and only two of them can be said to be more than shadows. Ahmad ibn al-Tayyib al-Sarakhsi (d.286/899) was a prolific author of philosophical, scientific and literary works who enjoyed the patronage of the caliph al-Mu’taid but was subsequently imprisoned and then executed for political offences, none of his works appears to be extant, and we have no direct evidence for any of his students. (See Franz Rosenthal, Ahmad as-Sarahsi (New Haven, 1943). Somewhat better known is the Khurasanian Abu Zayd al- Balkhi (d.322/ 934), who after studying for some years with al- Kindi in Iraq, returned to his native Balkh, where he wrote extensively in many fields, including philosophy, science and literary topics, as well as religion and theology. (See Encylopaedia of Islam, new edition (Leiden and London, 1954), s.v.”al-Balkhi, Abu Zaya,” E. K. Rowson, “The Philosopher as Litterateur: al- Tawhidi and His Predecessors”, Zeitschrift fur Geschichte der Arabisch –Islamischen Wissenschaften ,6 (1990): 50-92.) Modern scholars have been chiefly aware of al- Balkhi’s influential geographical work, but a treatise on medicine and ethics, entitled Sustenance for Body and Soul, has also been preserved. ( Masalih al- abdan wa’l-anfus, facsimile edition (Frankfurt am Main, 1984). The legacy of al- Kindi was carried on the following generation by two known pupils of al- Balkhi, the obscure Ibn Farghun, (See Encylopaedia of Islam, new edition, Supplement, s.v. “Ibn Farighun.” ) author of a Compendium of the Sciences, ( Ibn Fari’un, Jawami’ al-ulum, facsimile edition (Frankfurt am Main.985). and al- Amiri.

setting out for the west and coming back to the Eeast
Like al- Balkhi, al- Amiri was a native of eastern Iran, and spent most of his there. As he died only in 381/992, He must have been a very young man when he studied with his aged master, and it was only some two decades after the latter’s death that he set out for the West, spending some five years in Rayy, at the court of the Buyid vizier Ibn al-Amid (d.360/970). a patron of philosophers who also employed Ibn Miskawayk (d.421/1030) as his librarian. From Rayy, al-Amiri made at least two visits to Baghdad, where he came into contact with the philosophers of the local school, now led by the Christian Yahya ibn Adi ( d. 364/974). but according to al- Tawhid (d.414/1023), the brilliant and sardonic chronicler of intellectual life in the city at this time, al-Amiri was not well received by his Baghdad colleagues, who treated him as an unsophisticated provincial, and he soon retreated to the more congenial society of the East. In his later years al- Amiri enjoyed the favour of prominent figures in the Samanid realm of Khurasan and Transoxania, and resided both in the dynasty’s capital, Bukhara, and its leading city, Nishapur, where he died in 381/992. (For al- Amiri’s biography, see Everett K. Rowoson. A. Muslim Philosopher on the Soul and Its Fate: al- Amiri’s Kitab al- Amad ala l-abad (New Haven, 1988): 3-7, and Joel L. Kraemer, Humanism in the Renaissance of Islam: The Cultural Revival during the Buyid Age (Leiden, 1986): 233-41.)

Amiri as a philosopher in the middle of Farabi and Ibn Sina ‘s time
The titles of some twenty-five of al-Amiri’s works are known, and of these six (or seven, depending on a contested attribution) are extant and have been published. With the possible exception of Ibn Miskawayh, then, al- Amiri is the best –documented Muslim philosopher from the half century between al- Farabi and Ibn Sina. That he perceived himself as continuing a Kindi “school” is clear not only from his own explicit statements – he praises al- Kindi and al- Balkhi, contrasting their thought with the “raving” of Abu Bakr al-Razi (d.313/ 925) and avoiding any mention of al- Faradi or other Baghdad philosophers- but also from both the range and content of his oeuvre. We have fragmentary evidence for his commentaries on parts, at least of the Aristotelian Organon, and some titles which suggest direct treatment of topics in Aristotelian and Neolpatinic physics and metaphysics, as well as other titles concerned-like many of al- Kindi’s and al- Balkhi’s works –with such non philosophical subjects as medicine, horticulture and good manners.

Attempt for harmonizing religion with philosophy
But it is striking that in his extant works al- Amiri is concerned above all to show how philosophy can be applied to questions of theological nature, and how philosophy and I Islam can be not only reconciled but treated as complementary avenues to truth. It is this approach, and in his relatively conservative treatment of Islam itself, that al- Amiri shows himself to be true Kindian.

Perhaps the most eloquent testimony to al- Amiri’s views on reason and revelation in his best – known work, An Exposition on the Merits of Islam.(Al-I’lam bi-manaqib al- Islam, ed. A. Ghorab (Cairo, 1967.) Addressing himself to a lay audience, he argues in this work for a rational investigation of religious belief and praxis, and on the basis of his claim that ultimate purpose of knowledge is virtuous action, attempts in programmatic comparison of Islam with other religions to show how Islam is more successful than its rivals at achieving this goal. In his introductory chapters, al-Amirs reviews the utility of both the secular sciences – represented by the quadrivium- and the religious sciences- Tradition, Law and Theology – and defends the value of each of these two kinds of knowledge against attacks from adherents of the other, he further insists on the equal validity of each of the religious sciences, supporting the study of Law against conservative traditionsts, of Theology against conservative jurisprudents and of Tradition against rationalizing jurisprudents and theologians. Singled out by him for particular criticism are philosophers, pseudo- sophisticates and “esoterists” (by which he means certain Isma’ili circles) who claim that the sufficiently enlightened can dispense with observance of religions duties. In general, al- Amiri maintains the superiority of the religious to the secular sciences, while reason can testify to the validity of revelatory knowledge, prophets are superior to sages. He then devotes individual chapters of this book to showing Islam’s superiority to Christianity, Judaism, Magianism and Manichaeism with respect to belief, ritual, political organization, social structure and intellectual endeavor, and in an appendix defends Islam against attacks on its purported approval of violence, its factionalism, theambiguity of its Scripture and its problematic claim to having been prefigured in Jewish and Christian Scripture.

Religion and philosophy between Ikhwan al-safa and Baghdad school
There is an apparent reference to this work in an account by al-Tawhid of a celebrated altercation between al-Maqdisi, a member of the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwan al-Safa’, see next chapter), and the religious conservative al- Jariri, in which the latter’s arguments point up the basic difference in attitude towards the revealed religion between members of the Kindi school and Baghdad philosophers.(Al- Tawhidi, al Imta’ wa’l- mu’anasah, ed. A. Amin and A. al-Zayn (Cairo, 1953), 2: 13-23, see Joel. L. Kramer, Philosophy in the Renaissance of Islam: Abu Sulayman al-Sijistani and His Circle (Leiden, 1986): 230-43, Humanism: 168-74, 237f, Rowson, A Muslim Philosopher. 22- 4.) Attacking the Brehren for their to harmonize philosophy with the religious law, al-Jariri refers to previous attempts to do something of a similar nature, giving three specific examples: Abu Zayd al- Balkhi, who compared philosophy and to the Shari’ah to an mother and a wet-nurse, Abu Tammam al- Nisaburi, an obscure philosopher with Isma’ili ties, and al- Amiri, whom al- Jariri describes as persecuted for his godless views, forced to seek sanctuary with Ibn al- Amid, and attempting to gain favour with the masses by writing books in support of Islam. In this same passage, al- Tawhid depicts his master, Abu Sulayman al- Sijistani of the Baghdad school of philosophy, as equally opposed to the kind of harmonization envisaged by the Brethren, albeit for reason very different from those of al- Jariri: in contradistinction to such philosophers as al-Balkhi and al- Amiri, the interconfessional Baghdad school found it in their interest to keep their the domain of revealed religion as possible.

Applying philosophical arguments for defending of Islam
Besides his general defence of Islam, al-Amiri also applied philosophical arguments to specific theological questions, as can be seen most clearly from his discussion of the fate of the individual soul after death in the book On the Afterlife. (Al-Amad ala’l- abad, in E. K. Rowson, A Muslim Philosopher.) Relying heavily on lost Neoplatonic commentary on Plato’s Phaedo, al- Amir reproduces in this work a series of standard arguments for the immortality of the soul, accompanied by a survey of Aristotelian psychology as modified in the Alexandrian Neoplatonic tradition. Granting that the pagan Greek philosophers did not acknowledge the resurrection of the body, although they accepted both the immortality of the soul and its reward and punishment in the afterlife, al-Amiri present the Qur’anic revelation concerting the Garden and the Fire as a necessary supplement to philosophical analysis, providing crucial information inaccessible to the unaided human intellect, but retains a prudent agnosticism about the exact from of bodily resurrection. In the introductory chapters of this work he offers a survey of early Greek philosophy, summarizing the lives and opinions of Empedocles, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and asserting historical connections between the prophetic and philosophical traditions, these chapters proved to be the single most influential piece of all of al- Amiri’s work, reappearing in some from in most of the major doxographies of the following centuries.

Intellectual explanation of free will and predestination
In another pair of work, al- Amiri applies Aristotelian and Neoplatonic concepts to the fraught question of will and predestination. The Deliverance of Mankind from the Problem of Predestination and Free Will, (Inqadh al- bashar min al- jabr wa’l –gadar, ed. S. Khalifat, Rasa’il Abi’l –Hasan al- Amiri wa- shadharatuhu’l –falsafiyyah (Amman, 1988): 247-71.) the earlier of the two, focuses on this question as formulated by Islamic theologians, but attempts to resolve it though an analysis of Aristotelian causation, the conclusion is presented as a “middle path” between the two extremes, and identified with a celebrated pronouncement by Abu Hanifah denying both divine compulsion (jabr) and unrestricted human delegation of power (tafwid). Here, as elsewhere in al- Amiri’s writings, his theological affiliation seems to be essentially Maturidite, the Mu’tazilites are occasionally attacked by name, the Ash’arites more obliquely by doctrine but anonymously. In this work al- Amiri also explicitly reiterates a fundamental doctrine of al-Kindi, identifying God’s act of creation ex nihilo (ibda) as a unique from of causation, distinct from and superior to the four Aristotelian causes. In his later Determination of the Various Aspects of Predestination ( Al- Taqrir li- awjuh al-taqdir ,ed.. S. Khalifat, op. cit.: 301-41.) he repeats many of these arguments, but treats the entire questions in a more purely philosophical way, relying particularly on Aristotle’s discussion of change in the Physics.

An ostensibly more technical work, Vision and the Visible is primarily devoted to reviewing various Greek theories in optics and the physiology of vision, yet here again al- Amiri shows his concern with theological questions, launching into a spirited attack on theological occasionalism, and framing the entire discussion with two laments on the anti- intellectualism of the present day.

Amiri’s attempt for presenting a philosophical system
While various aspects of al- Amiri’s philosophical tenets emerge in all these works, the only extant example of something approximating an exposition of a philosophical system is his Chapters on Metaphysical Topics, (Fusul fi’l –ma’alim al-ilahiyyah, ed.S. Khalifat, op. cit. 261-79.see also E.K. Rowson, “As Unpublished Work by al- Amiri and the Date of the Arabic De cauis”, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 104(1984): 193-9.) Which consists primarily of a paraphrase of the celebrated Liber de causis, itself a reworking of Proclus’s Elements of Theology. While recognizing, like al- Kindi, the basic hypostases of Pltinian Neoplatonism, al- Amiri’s system lacks both the complexities of Proclean henads and the cascading intellects associated with the celestial spheres which are found in al- Faradi and Ibn Sina. His concentration on the hypostasis of Soul, its intermediary position in the universe and the ethical consequences of this position, is most comparable to what we find in the ethical works of his contemporary Ibn Miskawayk, with whom he undoubtedly shared some basic sources.

Greet effect of Greek (philosophical) sources on Amiri’s thought
Although he rarely cites Greek philosophers or their works by name, al- Amiri clearly had access to wide range of translated Greek materials, particularly pseudonymous ones. Besides the De causis, he quotes passages from the Theology of Aristotle, the Liber de pomo, and the bizarre doxography of pseudo- Ammonius, and the influence of other, unidentifiable works is detectable throughout his auure. The span of Greek sources at his command would be increased even more if we could be sure of his authorship of the work entitled On Happiness and its Creation in Human Life, (Al- Sa’adah wa’l –isad, facsimile of copy by m. Minovi ( Wiesbaden, 1957-8), for the problem of attribution, see Rowson, Philosopher. 15-17.) a major doxography of ethical and political thought in which extensive citations from Plato and Aristotle, as well as various pre-Socratics and later Greek philosophers, are juxtaposed with others from Sassanian wisdom literature and from the Qur’an and Hadith major Islamic religious figures and Arabic poets, to from a coherent disquisition on happiness in both the individual and the polity

Al- Amiri’s interpretation of Greek philosophy as a whole and his particular brand of Neoplatonisim ,can be widely paralleled in works by his contemporaries, in particular Ibn Miskawayh and, with reservations the Brethren of Purity, but in his particular concern to convince the religiously committed of the acceptability and utility of this philosophy, he appears to be the last representative of trend initiated by al- Kindi, To the extent a reconciliation between philosophy and Islam of enduring influence was to be achieved, it was on very different basis, that of the thought of another Khurasanian philosopher from the next generation, Ibn Sina, Ibn Sina had little use for any his predecessors, with the exception of al-Farabi, and he attacked the Kindians in general as well as al- Amiri by name, (See Dimitri Gutas, Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition (Leiden, 1988): 292) whether, and in what ways, al- Amiri’s thought may nevertheless have contributed to Ibn Sina’s new synthesis is a question in need of further investigation.


History of Islamic philosophy – seyyed Hossein Nasr- pages:216to220


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