A Lecture on Falsafa by Nicholas Heer

Nicholas Heer

There is an informative article titled “A Lecture on Islamic Philosophy” written by Nicholas Heer.

Let me remind you that the “Islamic Philosophy” here refers to the intellectual tradition known as falsafa which is distinct from “Islamic Theology”. Falsafa is distinct from Sufi Philosophy as well.

Early philosophers of the falsafa tradition

al-Kindi: died sometime before 870 A.D.

al-Razi (Rhazes): died about 925 or 935 A.D. He was known for his rejection of revealed religion.

al-Farabi: died in 950 A.D. He was of Turkish descent and was known among Muslims as the “second teacher,” Aristotle being the first. He was most famous for his works on political theory.

ibn-Sina (Avicenna): died in 1037 A.D., he was without doubt the most influential of all the Muslim philosophers on the later development of Islamic philosophy and theology.

ibn-Rushd (Averroes): died in 1198 A.D. He was known mainly for his commentaries on Aristotle.

al-Tusi : died in 1273 A.D. Although not as well known in the West as the previous
philosophers mentioned, was nevertheless very influential in the later development
of Islamic philosophy and theology.

According to al-Khuwarizmi falsafa included these branches:

“It should be noted, first of all, that Islamic philosophy [falsafa] covered a much wider range of subjects than we would consider to be included within philosophy today. According to al-Khuwarizmi, a tenth century encyclopaedist, philosophy [falsafa] was divided into two major branches: theoretical and practical. Each of these branches in turn consisted of three subdivisions. Thus, theoretical philosophy [theoretical falsafa] was made up of (1) metaphysics or theology, which dealt with non-material things, (2) mathematics, which had to do with both non-material and material things, and included arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music, and mechanics, and (3) physics, which dealt with material things, and included such sciences as medicine, meteorology, mineralogy, botany, zoology, chemistry, and finally psychology or the science of the soul. The three subdivisions of practical philosophy [practical falsafa] were (1) ethics, that is, individual or personal ethics, (2) economics, which in those days meant household or family ethics, and (3) politics, which could be said to be the ethics of the city or the state. Logic, which was the basis for all of these sciences, both theoretical and practical, was sometimes considered a third major branch of philosophy [falsafa].” – Nicholas Heer

Sections in Heer’s paper

  • The Proof for the Existence of a First Cause
  • The Proof That There Is Only One Necessarily Existent Being
  • The Positive Attributes of God
  • The Universe as an Emanation from the First Cause
  • The Human Soul and its Perfection
  • The Place of Prophecy and Religion in Islamic Philosophy
  • The Reaction Against Philosophy: Al-Ghazali and other Theologians

The article concludes with these sentences.

“Thus, although many of its metaphysical doctrines were rejected by Muslim theologians, philosophy [falsafa] continued to exert a great influence on Muslim thinkers in later generations. In fact, it may be said that the Muslim theologians who lived after al-Ghazali were so influenced by philosophy [falsafa] that they incorporated the methodology of philosophy [falsafa], especially its logic and epistemology, into their own theological works.” – Nicholas Heer

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