The Routledge Companion to Islamic Philosophy

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Editor(s): 
Richard C. Taylor, Luis Xavier López-Farjeat
Routledge Companion Series
  • New York, NY: 
    Routledge
    , January
     2018.
     452 pages.
     $49.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781138478268.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Islamic philosophy is a highly contested subject. Dozens of introductory works—histories, anthologies, handbooks, encyclopedias—have been written since the 1960s, a number that reflects both the diversity of perspectives in the field as well as the rapid rate of new discovery. Some have doubted the Islamic character of the Peripatetic approach to philosophy that was widespread for much of Islamic history. This is a view that equally reflects native opinions as it does those of medieval European observers, the latter tending to see this philosophy as Greek philosophy in Arabic. The editors of The Routledge Companion to Islamic Philosophy (hereafter TRCIP), Richard C. Taylor and Luis Xavier López-Farjeat, have given us another corrective to that old opinion.

This handsome volume, collecting thirty-three essays from a diverse and international group of scholars, presents themes and issues in Islamic philosophy. Taylor and López-Farjeat, ranking members in the field and contributors themselves, have sought to provide a sampling of Islamic philosophy “as philosophy in its own right” rather than as a historical continuation of Greek philosophy or a source for medieval European philosophy (1). The belief underlying this approach is that philosophers in Muslim lands engaged ideas of Greek philosophy in their own way, and consciously brought Islamic sources to bear on their reformulations of the issues of philosophy. The editors of the volume have also attempted to cover thinkers and traditions in the so-called post-classical period, an area usually beyond the interest of Europeanists since its ideas and texts were not transferred to the West until very recently. 

The editors have succeeded in providing thorough coverage of themes and issues in several branches of Aristotelian-Neoplatonic philosophy: logic, rhetoric, poetics, natural philosophy (physics, psychology), metaphysics, ethics, and political philosophy. They have also helpfully gathered contributions under areas of contemporary interest that do not map directly to traditional divisions within Peripatetic philosophy: epistemology, philosophy of mind, and mysticism. The essays vary in approach and level of assumed background knowledge, as is typical of large edited volumes. As a whole, TRCIP is suitable for advanced undergraduates and graduate students in ancient, medieval, or Islamic philosophy.

Scholars and students of religion will have the best luck with the eminently readable essays of Peter Adamson (treatment of animals in philosophical ethics), Rumee Ahmed (jurisprudence and political philosophy), and Azim Nanji (ethical issues in the Quran and hadith). More dedicated readers of religion will find valuable insights in the essays of other contributors: Rosalind Ward Gwynne (types of reasoning in the Quran), Toby Mayer (the epistemological status of reason in Islamic theology), Michael Chase (understandings of creation in theology and philosophy), Mariam al-Attar (divine command theory in Islamic theology and ethics), Steven Harvey (philosophical thinking on the role of religion in society), Frank Griffel (psychological explanations of prophecy), Mohammed Rustom (philosophy transformed by mysticism), and Ayman Shihadeh (theological understandings and critiques of philosophy).

The volume falls somewhat short in its promise to cover the post-classical period and the long history of philosophical engagement with Islamic sources and indigenous traditions of reasoning. Most of the contributions, typically the ones assuming the most specialized knowledge, focus on the ideas of four Muslim figures—al-Kindī (d. 873), al-Fārābī (d. 950), Ibn Sīnā (d. 1037), and Ibn Rushd (d. 1198)—all of whom fall within the classical period (before about 1200), with two other Spanish Muslim philosophers (Ibn Bājja, and Ibn Ṭufayl) rounding out the group. These thinkers have been helpfully contextualized within their specific Islamic contexts, but the reader will still feel a gravitational center of interest around Aristotle and his late antique and medieval European commentators in many of the essays.

The presence of several contributors (Elkaisy-Friemuth, Bonmariage, Rustom, Shihadeh) dealing in depth, cursorily, or in passing with figures connected to the post-classical period—Fakhr al-Dīn Rāzī (d. 1210), Shihāb al-Din Suhrawardī (d. 1191), Ibn ʿArabī (d. 1240), Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), and Mullā Ṣadrā (d. 1635)—is a welcome development. Readers, however, will have to rely on other surveys, perhaps the recently published Oxford handbooks of Islamic theology and philosophy, for coverage of dozens of other thinkers from this period. Readers will also have to look elsewhere for richer material on pre-modern traditions of reasoning outside of Aristotelian-Neoplatonic philosophy or Ashʿarite and Muʿtazilite theology (e.g., Ismāʿilī thought, Twelver Shīʿite theology, anti-philosophical “traditionist” currents of thought, etc.).

Lack of coverage, of course, is an easy criticism. Scholars are forced to make cuts and cannot be faulted for limitations felt by the entire field, particularly the cavernous gaps in scholarship in the period after 1200. Nevertheless, it is worth pointing these out if only to suggest a target toward which scholars might agree to move future presentations of Islamic philosophy.

A limitation that some scholars and students of religion will sense in TRCIP is that Islamic philosophical ideas are not separately treated under the philosophy of religion. Routledge has a separate volume on philosophy of religion, which includes a section on issues and figures in Islam. Several contributions in TRCIP also make gestures to that approach to the study of religion. Readers will nevertheless sense a reluctance among many others to move beyond history of philosophy to philosophy proper, not to mention the philosophy of religion.

Non-western traditions of philosophy seem to be helping scholars in the philosophy of religion carve out new directions of inquiry in that part of the field. As Peter Adamson has also described in a recent blog entry for the American Philosophical Association, professional philosophers are increasingly teaching non-Western traditions in their classes, an interest that is likely to gain momentum in years to come. They need helpful conversation partners among researchers of these traditions, as well as suitable readings in different areas: the philosophy of language, epistemology, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, and ethics, among others. The existence of TRCIP, which covers some of these areas, surely means that a future companion to the Islamic philosophy of religion is not too far off.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Arjun Nair is Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Southern California.

Date of Review: 
December 12, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Richard C. Taylor is Professor of Philosophy at Marquette University and is former editor of History of Philosophy Quarterly.

Luis Xavier López-Farjeat is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Universidad Panamericana in Mexico City and editor of Tópicos, Journal of Philosophy.

Keywords: 

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