The Arabic trajectory in the Carolingian period of Medieval philosophy

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Abstract

This article, by analysing, annotating and interpreting the most recent research in all relevant departments, provides a fresh and updated overview of the most important philosophical developments during the early Middle Ages, the "real Dark Ages", which the author periodises as the Carolingian period (742 [birth Charlemagne] – 877 [death Eriugena]).

After a thorough introduction of philosophical developments in the Latin West, meagre as they were (with the exception of Alcuin and Eriugena), the article proceeds to a systematic review of the rich and erudite Arabic developments in philosophy, mainly from the centre of Baghdad, during the Abbasid caliphate (750–1258).

Alcuin is presented as an outstanding facilitator of philosophy at the court of Charlemagne, with reference to his development of the Alchuine curriculum (the trivium and quadrivium): not a speculative philosopher himself in the true sense of the word, Alcuin nevertheless can be regarded as the critical informant of the speculative philosophical outputs of his later kindred: Eriugena, Anselm and Abelard.

Eriugena is presented through the lens of the laborious efforts of SPES (Society for the Promotion of Eriugenian Studies) over the past five decades, providing an overview of the outstanding work done by Sheldon-Williams, O'Meara and Jeauneau in particular. Eriugena's Periphyseon is then read, summarised and represented via the most recent commentaries on the text, specifically from the most recent publications of SPES.

Alkindi, the so-called father of Arabic philosophy, is the first Arabic scholar to be addressed and this is done with reference to the magnificent translation and preparation by Adamson and Pormann (2012) of the extant Alkindi texts, edited into 24 titles or themes. For the first time it has become possible to read the primary texts as a coherent corpus in a Western language, and the article discusses the following themes from Alkindi, in addition to providing a summary of his thought, by reworking the most recent secondary texts: the circles of Alkindi and Hunein, the background of the Arabic reception and translation of Neoplatonism, the role of mathematical analysis in Medieval philosophy and the surprising rehabilitation of Philoponus in Medieval Islam.

Proceeding chronologically, the article presents Albumasar and Alrazi as two very different successors to Alkindi. The background to Albumasar’s being named Auctor in Astronomia is discussed, before a short exposition of his Introductorium in astronomiam is provided. The possible effects of the legitimisation of astronomy as a form of Hellenistic natural science are considered against the backdrop of the reception of Albumasar in the 13th century, in the works of Albertus Magnus and Francis Bacon in particular. Albumasar resumes the basic Aristotelian strains found in Alkindi. Alrazi, on the other hand, is read and presented exactly as he would have wanted it: awkward, tricky and against the grain. The relevant discussion focuses on the Platonic insistence in virtually every aspect of Alrazi's output and finds Alrazi important because of the promise a Platonic element held in epistemology at the time, while utilising Alrazi to demonstrate that the Arabic strand in Medieval philosophy was by no means consistently Aristotelian.

Alfarabi is presented on the basis of the relatively recent translations of the primary texts, with new introductions and commentaries by Mahdi (2001) and Butterworth (2001), while giving proper attention to the recent (2005) works of Burnett, Harvey and Reismann. This overview, in the discursive sense, addresses translation (Greek-Arabic-Latin) issues, crossovers to Jewish philosophy and the establishment of an Arabic prolegomena to the philosophical curriculum. In addition to discussing Alfarabi in terms of his independent speculative philosophy proper, this section gives attention to his idealistic and inclusive approach, the close connection between language and logic and, in conclusion, his Platonic-based political philosophy.

Israeli, the first Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages, is the last noteworthy Arabic scholar the author isolates within the Carolingian period. He is presented on the basis of an updated republication of the celebrated (1958) translation and commentary of Altmann and Stern at University of Chicago Press in 2009, with a stunning foreword by Ivry. After clearing up the seemingly self-evident notion (of Wolfson in particular) of an independent Jewish medieval philosophical tradition, from Philo to Spinoza, which the author depicts as highly problematic within the Medieval rubric and encyclopaedia, Israeli's philosophy is represented in a reworked version of the analyses of Altmann, Pessin and Rudavsky. The continuity of Alkindi's neo-Aristotelian notions in "Jewish Neoplatonism" is discussed by means of a thorough analysis of Israeli's metaphysics and cosmology.

The article argues, in a subtle polemic which is to be found silently between the lines and in modest suggestions in the endnotes (as understating scholastics do), against "two registers" in Medieval philosophy, "West" and "East". Though the importance of niche research from and within Arabic and other Semitic languages and contexts is acknowledged, the lack of Medieval Arabic scholars in almost every introduction and compilation of Medieval philosophy over the past century (even after Copleston's grand effort in 1972 to accentuate the importance of an Arabic trajectory beyond Avicenna and Averroes in his celebrated Medieval philosophy), casts a shadow on the integrity of the "Western" Medieval register as a philosophical discourse from, in and about itself. Can we as Westerners ever speak of "Medieval philosophy" as a historical-discursive given, without our Other voice?

Fortunately, changes are happening, albeit slowly, as can be seen in the recent introductions and readers of inter alia Bosley et al.(2005), Gracia et al. (2006) and Hyman et al. (2010). All of these recent introductions provide a full recognition of the importance of the Arabic trajectory in early Medieval philosophy – and importantly, "Islamic philosophy" is included without any disciplinary reserve, thematically and chronologically, alongside the work of Western thinkers. This article contributes to that inclusive kind of reappraisal of the Arabic voices in Medieval philosophy, beyond the "canonised" Avicenna, Averroes and Maimonides, in the expectation of the establishment of a single register in Medieval philosophy, and not in the too distant future.

Keywords: Alchuine curriculum; Arabic reception of Neoplatonism; Carolingian Renaissance; Emanation; Jewish Neoplatonism; "One-ness" of God; Periphyseon; Platonic political philosophy; Renaissance of Islam; Syric neo-Aristotelian tradition

 

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Die Arabiese trajek in die Karolingiese periode van Middeleeuse filosofie

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