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The Fate of Ancient Greek Natural Philosophy in the Middle Ages: Islam and Western

Christianity
Author(s): Edward Grant
Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 61, No. 3 (Mar., 2008), pp. 503-526
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THEFATEOF ANCIENT
GREEKNATURAL
PHILOSOPHY
ANDWESTERN
INTHEMIDDLE
AGES: ISLAM
CHRISTIANITY
EDWARDGRANT

JLHE ENDURING impact


phy

on

the

of ancient
of

civilizations

Greek

into Latin

ence

in the Middle

us

compels

philoso
is one of the
Christianity
trans
The successful
of the world.

impossible.
to Arabic
Greek
way

process,

from Arabic
no

of science

and from Greek

a one-way

belt

to Greek

significant

of Greek

and Arabic

and

and Arabic

of transmission.

for the Scientific


otherwise

Rev

have

been

philosophy
to Latin was
largely

from

natural

There

a one

was

if any,

little,
no meaningful
translations
is, there were
and from Latin to Arabic
and Greek?and
there

movement?that

backward

fore

transmittal

then

set the stage


which would

ral philosophy
that unquestionably
of the seventeenth
olution
century,
The

and

to speak of "Greco-Islamic-Latin"
sci
Greco-Islamic-Latin
science
and natu

It was

Ages.

and natural

and Latin

Islam

in the history
stories
great success
into Arabic
mission
of Greek
science
science

science

between

interactions

Western

and

Christianity

Is

lam.

But

no mutual

if there were

philosophy
which
I shall

between

interactions

Latin

Christianity
there were
important

and

in science

Islam,
contrasts

and

natural
on

the two

religions
in the way each

re
focus,
re
it
tradition
and
the
scientific
to,
utilized,
responded
ligious
heritage
in their long-term
ceived.
the differences
to secu
responses
Perhaps
were
a lesser
to
lar pagan philosophical
and scientific
shaped
learning

or greater
extent
by
born and the manner

ence,

Correspondence
130 Goodbody

The Review

of Metaphysics

the

culture

in which

and

each

in which

civilization

came

each

was

into being.

to: Department
of History and the Philosophy
of Sci
Indiana University,
Indiana 47405
Bloomington,

Hall,

61

(March

2008):

503-526.

Copyright

2008

by The Review

Metaphysics

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of

EDWARD
GRANT

504

I
that Transcend

Major

Differences
was
Christianity

phy.
slowly
tianity

Science

and Natural

Philoso

born inside the Roman


and was
Empire
spread
but persistently.
with
and quietly,
By comparison
Islam, Chris
was
at a snail's pace.
disseminated
Not until 300 years after

the birth of Christ was Christianity effectively represented throughout


the Roman Empire. Only in 313, by the Edict of Milan, or Edict of Tol
eration,

was

full equality
392?almost

Christianity
given
not until
it was
And

Empire.
birth of Christ?that
Emperor
bade pagan

in the
religions
centuries
after the

other

four
the state

became
Christianity
ordered
the closing

Theodosius

with

when

religion,

of pagan

and

temples

the
for

worship.
Islam was
contrast,
in a remarkably
short

In striking
area
graphical

spread
time.

over

an

In less

enormous

than

geo
hundred

one

in 632, Islam became


the domi
years after the death of Muhammad
nant religion
in a vast area stretching
from the Straits of Gibraltar
in
to India in the East. Such a rapid spread
could only have oc
the West
Where
curred by conquest.
Christianity
spread
slowly,
by proselytiz
as an alien intruder,
the Roman world
ing, Islam came from outside
were
its converts
and often
former
and although
pagans
Christians,
as
set of the invaders was one which
viewed Greek
the mind
learning
by the fact
alien, as is illustrated
of sciences:
the Islamic
sciences,
and the foreign
and traditions,
Greek

which

made

distinguished
on the Koran
and

based

or
sciences,
and natural

Islamic

"pre-Islamic"

philosophy.
of Christianity
Christians
provided
whereas
Islam's
secular
learning,

encompassed
that the slow spread
to Greek
tunity to adjust

say

semination

science

two kinds

that Muslims

its relations

with

Greek

much

learning

law

sciences,
We might
an oppor

rapid dis
more
prob

lematic.
dramatic

Another
church
distinct
mentous
which
22:21).
followers
tending

state.

and
from

words

difference

From

independence

relationship

between

the state as
Christianity
recognized
in these mo
The separation
is encapsulated
unto Caesar
the things
therefore
"Render

of Jesus:

are Caesar's;
and unto God
Thus did Jesus acknowledge

powers

the

the outset,

the church.

to be good

concerns

citizens.

throughout
of the other.

the

things
the state

that

are God's"

(Matt.
urge his
implicitly
con
and state were

and

Church
Although
the
each acknowledged
the Middle
Ages,
as
two
themselves
swords,
They regarded

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505

ANDWESTERNCHRISTIANITY
ISLAM
all too often,
they were
pointed
although,
over the
the church
asserted
supremacy
a theocracy
to establish
by
tempted
as secular
were
to
who
function
also
man

state within

plicit biblical
on unbridled

which

when

it never

however,

at

and the absence


of ex
developed
state were powerful
constraints
ambitions
above
the
and,
all, made

Christianity
for a theocratic

church

state

and

are one.

from politics,
and vice versa.1
of the Muslim
the
guarantee
well-being
the state

activities,
least one

Even

and priests
bishops
appointing
rulers.
The tradition
of the Ro

apart

is strong,

state,

other.

support
and grandiose
papal
state implausible.
of a theocratic

imposition
In Islam

within

at each

as

be good,
in medieval

it was

as natural

such
of

could

cannot be understood
Religion
"The function
of the state was
religion,

to

lived

Where
Muslims."2
religion
it is likely to dominate
secular
at
To avoid
this consequence,

practicing
Islam,

philosophy.
conditions

would
be essential:
following
(1) regard
as a discipline
natural
that is distinct
and
philosophy
independent
or (2) a secular
or
from theology;
state protects
natural
philosophy;
authorities
favorably. While we
(3) religious
regard natural philosophy
see

shall
none

the

so that all who

that the first

of the three
A

third

Christian

West

and

conditions

was

met

difference
and

to determine
to insure

met

Islam

structural.
its orthodoxy,
to the

In brief,
Islam is a kind of democratic
was
whereas
medieval
Christendom
consensus,
a
the
headed
by
individual,
Pope, who,
single
and

and

Islam

the medieval
no overrid

has

whereas

adherence

heresy.

to determine
authority
a
such
structural
major

in the Latin West,


Islam.

in medieval
between

significant
is organizational

authority
ing, central
West
had the papacy

were

third conditions

faith

the Latin

and

that
religion
a centralized
in principle,

to combat
relies

on

religion,
had su

and belief.
opinion
religious
one
that pa
suppose
difference,
might
more
re
centralized
would
have
been
far
pal-dominated,
Christianity
consen
strictive
and oppressive
toward
secular
Greek
than
learning
The
record
Islam.
that
the
Church was
shows,
however,
sus-seeking
toward
secular
Aristotelian
favorably
disposed
learning,
especially
preme
From

natural
phy

shape

In Islam, however,
philosophy.
and the philosophers
who
studied

Aristotelian
it were

natural
often

philoso
treated with

1See
A Literary
Reynold A. Nicholson,
History
of the Arabs
(Cam
Press, 1953), 182.
bridge: Cambridge University
2Edward
in the Middle
Science
Grant, The Foundations
of Modern
Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1996), 183.

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EDWARD
GRANT

506
As we

hostility.
that

West,

it was

see,

in Islam,

rather

philosophy,
and,
learning,
to significant
constraints
subject

were

general,
siderable

shall

secular

and prejudice.
there are hadiths,

the

than

in the Latin
in

sciences"

"foreign
and confronted

con

obstacles

Although

for knowledge,
quest
unending
edge itself,"3 there are others
At

rating.

least

two

hadiths

or traditions,
in Islam that praise
the
the
knowl
endlessness
of
"implying

that see

a world

that

is steadily
deterio
In the first,
this attitude.
the
full circle back to where
itwas

express

come
Prophet
proclaims
on the day when
first the heavens
and the earth were
and in
created,"
is my generation,
he declares
that "The best generation
the second
follow
then the ones who
follow and then those who
them."4 Both ha
that

were

diths

often

"time has

cited

and

an

a universe

"They suggest
all his works."5

Such

were

commentaries

down,
running
hadiths
may have

made

imminent

them.
upon
end to man and

as powerful

served

elements

and custom.
those who
They may have encouraged
thought
or
to
status
who
wished
to
turn
the
the clock
quo,
preserve
sought
as close as possible
to create a society
to that
back as far as possible
in Islamic

that

suppose
Greek
not

in the days of the Prophet


an
exerted
such hadiths

existed

which

and natural

science

philosophy,
it began.
Islam when

exist within
Indeed,

the

influence

of such

Muhammad.
influence
the foreign

hadiths

may

to
It is plausible
on attitudes
toward
which

sciences,

have

affected

did

the way

to the invention
it
of the printing
press.
responded
Although
us beyond
to
is
time
the Middle
it
relevant
mention
the
Ages,
was
into Islam.
in which
introduced
and manner
printing
Although
use
in
in
been
the
West
since
around
had
the printing
press
1460, and
Islam

takes

its virtues
when

were

Ibrahim

obvious,
M?teferrika,

it was

not

described

introduced

into

as "a renegade

Islam
from

until
1727,6
the Hungar

3See Tarif
in Classical
Islam," Journal
of
Khalidi, "The Idea of Progress
40 (Oct. 1981), 280.
Near Eastern Studies
4A.J.
et Indices
de la Tradition Musulmane
Concordance
Wensinck,
s.v.
York:
E.J.
Brill, 1936-1988),
'Zaman,' 'Umma.'" Cited in:
(Leiden/New
in Classical
Islam," 279.
Khalidi, "The Idea of Progress
5A.J.
A Handbook
Alpha
Tradition,
Wensinck,
of Early Muhammadan
E.J.
hadiths
Brill, 1960), s.v. 'Hour,' where
(Leiden:
betically Arranged
in the last days are cited. Cited in: Khalidi,
about knowledge
disappearing
279.
"The Idea of Progress,"
6See Lord
The Rise and Fall of the
Centuries:
Kinross, The Ottoman
Turkish Empire
1977), 381.
(New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks,

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ANDWESTERNCHRISTIANITY
ISLAM

507

the first press.


Even when
ian nobility,"7
established
the
introduced,
a
it exacted
forces
that had always
price: only secular works
opposed
not sacred
the Koran.
In The Otto
could be printed,
texts,
including
man
Lord Kinross
declares
that
Centuries,
the aid of a committee
of twenty-five
he [M?teferrika]
translators,
a
of
works
flow
the mys
published
revealing to his adopted compatriots
in which
teries of such objects of study as geography
and cartography,
he himself specialized;
physics and astronomy,
including a translation of
Aristotle with information
for the first time on the telescope
and micro
on the theories of Galileo; on
and the compass,
scope, on magnetism
in its various branches, with the discussion
of the ideas of
mathematics
on
and
medicine.8
finally
Descartes;

With

As

an

indication

that

of the printing
cessation
of printing

power

still did not realize


the
government
in the
in 1745 resulted
death
M?teferrika's

the Ottoman
press,

1783, a hiatus of nearly 40 years.9


are undoubtedly
There
other
differences
between
Is
significant
we
now
narrow
our
must
lam and Christianity,
but
focus.
Although
as for
Greek
science
and natural philosophy
have
been
may
regarded

the

in Islam, most
of Greek
science
and natural
over the centuries.
into Arabic
and studied

sciences

eign
were

translated
Islamic

world

ral philosophy.

higher

philosophy
Scholars

in

to science
contributions
and natu
significant
to
from
around
1100
sciences
such as
Indeed,
1500,
a
and medicine
reached
mechanics,
mathematics,
made

astronomy,
state in Islam

optics,

until

than

in the medieval

West.

In what

follows,

how

which
doc
ignore the exact sciences,
posed no significant
or
on
for
Islam
and
focus
rather
natural
problems
Christianity,
almost
Aristotle's
natural
which
philosophy,
exclusively
philosophy,
did indeed pose major
for
Islam
and
problems
Christianity.
ever,

I shall

trinal

was
the Middle
natural
in
During
Ages, Aristotelian
philosophy
more
than
exact
In
identifiable
science.
any single
herently
important
was
the broadest
natural
the study of change
and
sense,
philosophy
motion
sions
very

in the physical
world.
of theoretical
knowledge,
name

of nature.
embrace

suggests,
It did not
bits

the domain

one

of Aristotle's

three

subdivi

or knowledge
for its own sake. As the
was
of natural
the whole
philosophy

but could,
single science,
of all sciences.
In this sense, natural

represent

and pieces

It was

any

7 Ibid.
8
Ibid., 382.
9 Ibid.

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and did,
philoso

EDWARD GRANT

508
phy was
phy was

of All

"The Mother
far more

In a culture

than

significant
it were
bits

such

otherwise

most

available

weapon
powerful
manner
that Aristotle

had

then

unknowable
was
it.

used

to determine

philoso
fact that

modern

sciences.

in which

largely absent,
to arrive at some

to be?and

seemed

what
things
means?and

be

the mere

the tools

how

and

interpreted
that would
world

natural

by
of different

inquiry were
in order
and analyzed

research

entific

But medieval
is indicated

and pieces
as that of the Middle Ages,

within

embedded

Sciences."

be
of a

understanding

and

The

inexplicable?
in the
reason,
employed
to come
to know
idea was

human
The

this
what

for sci

nature

could

could

be

done
by
that way,

them

made

empirical
a process

that was

and apriori
considerations.
by metaphysical
largely guided
works
Aristotle's
the
and medieval
In the ancient
represented
worlds,
cannot
It is the
exist.
of reason.
Without
science
reason,
apotheosis
element

first

indispensable
the characteristic

feature

in the development
natural
of medieval

a comparison
of the status
reasons,
should
Islam and in the Latin West
for

science

sight
reached

within

each

a perennially
a higher
state

into

the Latin West,


started much
which
than

of any

comparison
istotelian
natural

West,
even

Aristotelian
existence.

of science

it was

and
For

philosophy.

these

in medieval

of natural

philosophy
about
the potentiality
some
in
therefore
provide

tell us much
and

civilization,

Islam, which
in the Middle
development
Ages
the West,
its development,
while
result
Islam by 1600. One major
question:

perplexing
of scientific

fail to continue

later, surpassed
between
the relations
will
philosophy
natural
philosophy

why

of these

reveal

did

to Ar
religions
in contrast
with
the

that,
in Islam had

two

an uneasy

and un

Let us see why.

II
the role of
of medieval
the history
Islam,
Throughout
was problematic.
At any particular
Greek philosophy
time, there were
a consider
while
it favorably,
viewed
those who
undoubtedly
others,
even
and perhaps
viewed
able majority,
indifference,
it, at best, with
Islam.

of this or that
the attitude
of hostility.
Occasionally
degree
natural
toward
in
attitudes
instrumental
philoso
altering
caliph
more
and
Greek
natural
toward
often
attitudes
but
philosophy
phy,
were
who
exercised
Muslim
leaders,
by
religious
thought
governed

with

some

was

great

influence

in particular

regions

or cities.

Not

only was

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Greek

phi

ANDWESTERNCHRISTIANITY
ISLAM
losophy

as a foreign

regarded
was often

lasufs)
In the
distinguish
level was

science,

but

509
the term philosopher

pejoratively.
employed
Islamic
of medieval
intellectual
hierarchy
society,
a nomocracy,
Islam was
Because
three
levels.10

(fay
scholars
the first

The religious
law and traditions
of legal scholars.
comprised
were valued
even more
than the
valued
above all else, and, therefore,
came
who
used
the mutakallimun,
scholars
in order
Next
ology.

to interpret and defend the Muslim

Greek philosophy

religion.

The

to which
the
rational
discourse,
they added
emphasized
were
at
the
the
of
revelation.
bottom,
falasija,
And, finally,
authority
followed
rational Greek
who
the Islamic philosophers,
espe
thought,

mutakallimun

cially the thought of Aristotle.

an Islamic
"often

on

reliance

placed
greatest
revelation.
The

philosophers

environment,

and,
of suspicion

in the face

Not surprisingly,

the philosophers

while
argument
downplaying
to
in
natural
develop
philosophy
sought
as Abdelhamid
I. Sabra has put it, did so,
in
and opposition
from certain quarters
reasoned

Islamic

society."11
Of the three Islamic
were

ars, who
philosophers,

phy, largely
lamic faith.

groups

almost
the

just distinguished,

namely

legal

schol

the mutakallimun,
and
traditionalists,
no
use
real
of Greek
made
philoso
found it a threat to revealed
truth and the Is

always
traditionalists

because

they
In their bitter

each other and with


the tradi
struggle with
use of
made much
and the philosophers
were
The mutakallimun
with
concerned
primarily

the mutakallimun

tionalists,
Greek philosophy.
the Kalam, which,
the world
placed
Kalam

to Sabra,
is "an inquiry into God, and into
as the special
creature
and into man
creation,
in the world
to
under
his
Thus
creator."12
obligation
according

as God's

by God
is a theology

and defend

the Islamic

that used

Greek

philosophical

ideas

to explicate

faith.

of mutakallimun
have been
identified:
the Mu'tazi
groups
more
were
who
the
and
the
Both
Ash'arites.13
extreme,
groups
lites,
an attitude
shared
in mat
of authority
acceptance
"against the passive
ters of faith."
their intention
to replace
Itwas
the "passive acceptance
Two

10
Toby Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science
(Cambridge: Cambridge
University
Press, 1993), 69.
11Abdelhamid
I. Sabra, "Science and Philosophy
in Medieval
Islamic
in Zeitschrift
der Arabisch-Islamischen
Wissen
f?r Geschichte
Theology,"
schaften, vol. 9 (1994), 3.
12
inMedieval
Islamic Theology,"
5.
Sabra, "Science and Philosophy
13 See
in theMiddle Ages: The Chrisian,
and Jew
Islamic,
Philosophy
ish Traditons,
ed. Arthur Hyman and James J. Walsh,
(Indianapolis: Hackett
Co., 1973), 205.
Publishing

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EDWARDGRANT

510

of authority"
with
"a state of knowledge
in reason."14
rooted
?ilm)
were
as
The Mu'tazilites
Islamic
who
rationalists
equated
regarded
are
the power
of reason with
that of revelation.15
to have
said
They
an outstanding
contribution
of a large number
of Greek

to Islamic

"made
tion
These
but

were
and methods
not
arguments
in understanding
rather for their utility

ninth

by the assimila
of argument."16
for their own sake

thought
and methods

ideas

adopted
the Islamic

religion.

In the

of caliphs
the support
like al
gained
as influential
intellectuals.
The sup
those who
the Mu'tazilite
belief
opposed

the Mu'tazilites
century,
as well
and Mutassim,

Mamun

portive
caliphs
that the Koran
Because

persecuted
was
created.

a virtual
They
implemented
inquisition.
was
rationalism
the Mu'tazilites
extreme,

their
thought
as
ascen
heretics
Their
Sunni Muslims.17
by many
regarded
the rule of the Sunni caliph al-Mutawakkil,
who de
dancy ended with
their movement.18
stroyed
who
The Asharites,
followed
the teaching
of al-Ash'ari
(d. 935),
many

were

are

group of mutakallimun.
as
it
the main
representatives
replaced
was
a complicated
with
ever,
movement,
the second

and

They broke
of kalam.

with

Mu'tazilism

how
Ash'arism,
some of its followers
empha
in the traditionalist
mode.19

while
others
rationalism,
argued
were
se
and Asharites,
the mutakallimun,
both Mutazilites
Although
vere
re
in
critics
of the philosophers,
themselves
they were,
turn,
as
were
more
conserva
too rational
and
bitterly
opposed
by
garded
both from the Sunni and Shiite sides.
tive Muslims,
sizing

In treating
medieval
ships
were

of attitudes
it is essential

Islam,
Muslim
between

engaged

toward

traditionalism

in an ongoing,

and science
in
philosophy
a good
sense
of the relation
and Muslim
which
rationalism,

natural

to have

and bitter,

struggle

about

the role

of

Is

14
inMedieval
9.
Islamic Theology,"
Sabra, "Science and Philosophy
15
111.
Science,,
Toby Huff, The Rise of Early Modern
16
and Theology: An Ex
William Montgomery
Watt, Islamic Philosophy
54.
tended Survey
University
Press, 1985),
(Edinburgh:
17
Ibid., 55.
18See Pervez
and
Islam and Science: Religious
Orthodoxy
Hoodbhoy,
Zed
Books
99-100.
the Battle for Rationality
Ltd, 1991),
(London:
19For a
in
"Ash'ari and the Ash'arites
good account, see George Makdisi,
vol. 17 (1962),
Islamic Religious History," Parts I and II, in Studia
Isl?mica,
in George Makdisi, Religion,
Reprinted
37-80; and vol. 18 (1963), 19-39.
Islam (Hampshire, Great Britain: Variorum
in Classical
Law and Learning
Vermont: Gower Publishing
Studies Series; Brookfield,
Collected
Co., 1991),
I.

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ANDWESTERNCHRISTIANITY
ISLAM
in intellectual

lam

tinguish

between

plaining

that:

511

a useful way
provides
and Muslim
rationalism

life.

Makdisi
George
traditionalism
Muslim

to dis
by ex

made use of reason in order to understand what they


The traditionalists
as the legitimate
sources of theology:
considered
scripture and tradi
tion. What they could not understand
they left as it stood in the sources;
they did not make use of reason to interpret the sources metaphorically.
the use of reason on scrip
advocated
On the other hand, the rationalists
ture and tradition; and all that they deemed to contradict
the dictates of
reason they interpreted metaphorically
in order to bring it into harmony
with

reason.20

The

antithetical

Muslim

of the Muslim
traditionalists
and the
approaches
can be illustrated
from the mutakallimun
directly
and Asharites.
from the Mutazilites
What was one

rationalists

namely
themselves,
to make
of anthropomorphic
"the face of Allah, His eyes
being
Islam was

seen

for whom

reason

His

statements

in the Koran

and hands, His sitting


in Paradise."21
the Faithful
The

by
to take

statements

such

was

in theology

Thus

literally.
still

that

and

throne,
in
tendency
strong
al-Ash'ari
himself,

declared

important,

of

speak

on His

that:

We confess
that God is firmly seated on His throne. ... We confess
that
. . We
.
God has two hands, without
confess
that God has
asking how.
two

without

eyes,

which
senses
Eyes
ceive

They also say


can be applied
do not
do not
Him

reach

viewed

Him,

nor

confess

that

God

same

statements

describe

Him

these

a face...

has

.22

can man

by analogy.
cannot
phantasy

Him,
I am unaware

. . .
con

of any analo

in the Christian West during the Middle Ages. Medi

theologians

as metaphorical

We

see Him, sight does not reach


can He be heard by ears."23

nor

gous discussion
eval Latin

how....

metaphori
He is not
parts; He has no parts or divisions;
that "He cannot
be described
by any description
to creatures,
in so far as they are created...
The

however,
no bodily

Mutazilites,
cally. God has
finite.

asking

regarded

anthropomorphic

descriptions

of God

pronouncements.

20
in Islamic Religious
"Ash'ari and the Ash'arites
His
George Makdisi,
inMakdisi, Re
vol. 18 (1963), 22. Reprinted
tory," Part II, in Studia Isl?mica,
in Classical
ligion, Law and Learning
Islam,
I, 22.
21See Arthur John
and Reason
in Islam: The For
Arberry, Revelation
wood Lectures for 1956, Delivered
in the University
of Liverpool
(London:
Co., 1957), 22.
George Allen & Unwin Ltd.; New York: The Macmillan
22Ibid.
23
Ibid., 23.

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512

EDWARD GRANT
III
Of

The Philosophers.
were
least popular

three

the

groups
earlier,
distinguished
whom
the mutakallimun

the

and

philosophers,
attacked
because

Muslims

conservative

the

they used natural philosophy


and logic to acquire
truth for its own sake, which
that
usually
signified
were
most
One of the
Ash'arite
they
ignoring
religion.
significant
a
at
al-Ghazali
the
famous
leveled
thinkers,
(1058-1111),
devastating
was
on
tack against
He
fearful of the detrimental
effects
philosophy.
the

Islamic

of subjects
like natural
logic, and mathematics.

religion

tually metaphysics),

philosophy,
(ac
theology
In his famous
quasi-au

treatise, Deliverance
from Error,
tobiographical
the rejection
of natural
ligion does not require
to
nature
there are serious
it
because
objections
to God, and no part of it can act from its own
Aristotelian
natural
tion is obvious:
philosophy
cause

and

causation?that
other
cause

physical
it uses

philosophy,
is completely
essence.

that re
but

that

subject

The

implica
is unacceptable
be

can act by virtue of their own es


in secondary
Aristotle
believed
is,
are capable
in
of causing
effects
physical
objects
mathematics
be
Al-Ghazali
found
objects.
dangerous
the innocent
to think
thus leading
clear demonstrations,

it assumes

sences

he explained

that natural

natures.

objects

That

are equally
sciences
lucid. A man will say to
that all the philosophical
not have es
"if religion were
al-Ghazali
true, it would
himself,
related,
men
of
the
since they
the
notice
these
[that is,
mathematicians]
caped
are
man

that such a
further
explains
the techniques
he hears
about
the conclu
of the mathematicians
that "he draws

so precise
in this science."24
with
will be so impressed

and demonstrations
the

truth

is the denial

sion

that

have

I seen,"

al-Ghazali

ences

within

the class

Ghazali

what

and

of religion.
How many
rejection
"who err from the truth because
of

continues,
the
and without
of
this high opinion
any other basis."25
philosophers
is
of mathematics
allowed
that the subject matter
al-Ghazali
Although
not directly
to religion,
he included
the mathematical
sci
relevant
logic, natural
and
concluded
ics)
with
be "infected
ics,

of philosophical

sciences

(these

are: mathemat

or metaphysics,
and eth
politics,
science,
theology
would
studied
these sciences
that a student who
the

evil

and

corruption

of

the philosophers.

24Translated
and Practice
in William Montgomery
Watt, The Faith
al-Ghazali
(London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1953), 33.
25Ibid.

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Few

of

ANDWESTERNCHRISTIANITY
ISLAM
are who

there
of

devote

and

religion

having

themselves
the

bridle

513

to this

study without
stripped
being
fear removed
from their
godly

of

heads."26

In his

great
al-Ghazali

phers,

The Incoherence
philosophical
work,
of the Philoso
attacked
ancient
the views
of
philosophy,
especially

Aristotle. He did this by describing

and criticizing

the ideas of al

two of the most


and Avicenna,
Islamic philosophical
important
on
on twenty
commentators
Aristotle.
After criticizing
their opinions
the eternality
of the world,
that God
problems,
philosophical
including

Farabi

knows

and not particulars,


declares:
death, al-Ghazali

universals

only
resurrected

after

and

that bodies

will

not be

All these three theories are in violent opposition


to Islam. To believe
in
them is to accuse the prophets of falsehood,
and to consider their teach
to appeal
to the
misrepresentation
ings as a hypocritical
designed
masses.
to which no Muslim
sect would
And this is blatant blasphemy
subscribe.27

Al-Ghazali
ous

to

the

and
regarded
theology
faith. He had an abiding

the "unsophisticated
to following
the

praised
aversion

masses

natural
distrust

as danger
philosophy
of philosophers
and

of men," who
of misguided

"have an instinctive

example
Indeed,
genius."
can be."28 As
to salvation
"their simplicity
is nearer
than sterile genius
one of the greatest
and most
thinkers
in the history
of Islam,
respected
were
not
taken
al-Ghazali's
opinions
lightly.
In light of al-Ghazali's
attack on the philosophers,
it is not surpris
were
to persecution
often subject
ing to learn that philosophers
by re
scholars
leaders.
Many
ligious
religious
regarded
philosophy,
logic
as
and the foreign
Greek
sciences
and even un
generally,
useless,
not directly
to religion.
useful
they were
godly, because
they
Indeed,

might

even make

one

disrespectful
ash-Shahrazuri

cen
of religion.29
In the thirteenth
in the
leader
(d. 1245), a religious
or
in afatwa
that "He who
studies

tury, Ibn as-Salah


field of tradition
declared
(hadith),
will be abandoned
teaches
philosophy
overpower

him.

What

field

of learning

by God's
favor, and Satan will
could be more
than
despicable

26Ibid., 34.
27Cf. Al-Ghazali's
Tahafut
[Incoherence
al-Falasifah
phers}, trans. Sabih Ahmad Kamali (Pakistan Philosophical
cation, No. 3, 1963), 249.
28
Ibid., 3.
29
68.
Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science,

of the Philoso
Publi
Congress

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514

EDWARD GRANT

one

that blinds

those who

cultivate

it and darkens

their hearts

against
the prophetic
of Muhammad."30
also targeted,
be
teaching
Logic
as Ibn as-Salah,
a
means
access
is
to
"it
of
cause,
put it,
philosophy.
to something
Now
bad is also bad."31 Ibn as-Salah
the means
of access
was

was

not

content

to confine

hostility
action
vigorous

he urges
and logic,

chilling passage,
ers of philosophy

to words

his

against

alone.

In a rather

students

and

teach

because:

and logic
Those who think they can occupy themselves with philosophy
are be
interest or through belief in its usefulness
merely out of personal
is
the
of
to pro
It
the
and
Satan.
civil
authorities
duty
trayed
duped by
can cause.
tect Muslims
of
Persons
against the evil that such people
for their culti
this sort must be removed from the schools and punished
vation of these fields.
All those who give evidence
of pursuing
the
alterna
teachings of philosophy must be confronted with the following
tives: either (execution)
by the sword or (conversion
to) Islam, so that
and the traces of those people and their sci
the land may be protected
ences may be eradicated.
it. However,
May God support and expedite
is to identify all of those
the most
important concern at the moment
those who have written about it, have taught it,
who pursue philosophy,
insofar as they are employed
and to remove them from their positions
as teachers in schools.32
Although
logic continued
ogy

(Kalam)

numerous

others

to be used
and

in many

shared
the attitude
of Ibn as-Salah,
as an ancillary
in
theol
scholastic
subject
orthodox
schools.
But there was
religious

and logic in Islam to prompt


toward philosophy
phi
hostility
so
a
to
to
who
did
low
Those
profile.
taught
privately
keep
losophers
the translations
have sought
them out. Following
students
who might
of Islam, Greek philosophy,
in the early centuries
primarily
Aristotle's,
a
of
individuals
scattered
from
number
received
its strongest
support

enough

about

the Islamic

world.

Ibn Sina (Avicenna)


All were

1198).
Al-Kindi's
lam.
at

The

first

first

Numbered

are al-Kindi

ural philosophers

of the

favorably

(801-873);

Al-Razi

to some

of Islamic

(ca. 854-925

and Ibn Rushd

(980-1037);

persecuted
case reveals

the greatest

among

(Averroes)

nat

or 935);

(1126

extent.

of intellectual
life in Is
aspects
important
on Aristotle,
commentators
al-Kindi was
Islamic

received

by

two

caliphs

(al-Mamun

and

al-Mu

Islam Toward the 'Ancient


"The Attitude of Orthodox
30Ignaz Goldziher,
on Islam, ed. and trans. Merlin L. Swartz (New York: Ox
Sciences,'" Studies
ford University
Press, 1981), 205.
31Ibid.
32Ibid., 206.

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ANDWESTERNCHRISTIANITY
ISLAM
but

tassim),
mentioned

his

ran

luck

earlier.

515

out with

the

al-Mutawakkil,
to Pervez Hoodbhoy,

According

Sunni

caliph

Itwas not hard for the ulema to convince


the ruler that the philosopher
soon ordered the confiscation
had very dangerous
beliefs. Mutawakkil
of the scholar's personal
But that was not enough. The sixty
library....
also
received
year old Muslim
philosopher
fifty lashes before a large
crowd which had assembled.
Observers who recorded the event say the
crowd roared approval with each stroke.33
The

other

four

Persecutions
reason

traditional
Bernard

had

to some degree
subjected
to flee for their safety.
of those

theologians
undoubtedly
In his

relentless

reliance

assault

on reason,

on Peter

as he

heresies,

"He has

the use

in the medieval

Bernard

saw

as he makes

defiled

of perse

advocated

Abelard,
them, were
clear

the Church,"

of

Latin West

of Clairvaux

and

the application
of reason
in common
with
Islamic

opposed
had much

an excessive

of the Church.

when

century,

that Abelard's

who

are unknown

revelation

theologians.
convinced

dinal

also

of them

and harassment

to explicate
the mid-twelfth

after

were

scholars

and a number

cution

other

to theology.
traditionalist
Bernard

in a letter
Bernard

was

the result

of

to a Car

declares,

[H]e has infected with his own blight the minds of simple people. He
tries to explore with his reason what the devout mind grasps at once
with a vigorous
faith. Faith believes,
it does not dispute. But this man,
God
not
will
believe anything until he has
suspect,
apparently
holding
itwith his reason.34
first examined
on into the first forty years of
lingered
the thirteenth
but only at the University
of Paris
not
century,
(though
at Oxford),
where
Church
authorities
first banned
the books
of Aristo
Bernard's

hostile

attitude

or private
to censor
use, then sought
public
unsuccessfully
the
Aristotle's
books
of
natural
By
1240's, however,
philosophy
of Paris.
taught and read at the University
they had be
Indeed,
the core of the curriculum
in the arts faculty of that great medi

tle from
them.
were
come

eval university.35
After
the
on
reason
attacks
would

1240's, and for the rest of the Middle


Ages,
as
have
been
bizarre
and
regarded

33See Pervez
Islam and Science^ 111.
Hoodbhoy,
34Bernard of
Clairvaux, The Life and Letters
of St. Bernard
of Clair
vaux, trans. Bruno Scott James (London: Burns Oates,
1953), letter 249, p.
328.
35 For a brief account
of the reaction to Aristotle's works at the Univer
Science
in the Middle
sity of Paris, see Grant, The Foundations
of Modern
Ages, 70-80.

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516

EDWARD GRANT

were
to certain
of Aristo
theologians
opposed
St.
used
Aristotelian
natural
but,
they
Bonaventure,
and fully recognized
that they could not do theology
with
philosophy,
were
out it. Scholars
sometimes
of heresy,
accused
and occasionally
Some

unacceptable.
tle's ideas,

the Church

like

to curb

tried

use

the excessive

of logic and natural philos


of no instance
where
reli

in theological
but I know
treatises,
to
authorities
the study of natural philosophy
be
prevent
sought
as
it threatened
time passed,
Aristotelian
Indeed,
religion.

ophy
gious
cause

more
in the medieval
uni
entrenched
only became
philosophy
affair in the seventeenth
versities.
By the time of the Galileo
century,
natural

went

the Church

to great

ural philosophy.
How different

roes posed

to defend

lengths

it was

in Islam,

ifwe

and protect

by a question

judge

nat

Aristotle's

that Aver

in the twelfth century in his treatise On The Harmony


In this

and

Averroes

treatise,
of philosophy
and logic
or commanded?either

Religion
Philosophy.
mine
the study
"whether
or
prohibited,
lamic] Law,

of

to deter

seeks

is allowed

by the [Is
of recom

by way
or as obligatory."36
In the thirteenth
Ibn as-Salah
century,
an
on
of
the tradition
Islam and whom we have
expert
ash-Shahrazuri,

mendation

issued
already met,
in Ignaz Goldziher's

a written

reply

(fatwd)

to a question

which

asked,

words,

to
from the point of view of religious
whether,
law, it was permissible
or
was
it
teach
and
and
whether
further,
philosophy
permis
study
logic
of logic in the elaboration
of religious
sible to employ the terminology
authorities
political
law, and whether
ought to move
against a public
on philosophy
to discourse
and write
teacher who used his position
about

What

it.37

is remarkable
and

in all this

tury, Averroes,
the question
pling with
was
law, it
legitimate
the ninth

that

in the

twelfth

cen

were
Ibn as-Salah,
grap
century,
the
from
the
of
whether,
standpoint
religious
to study science,
philosophy,
logic, and natural

even though these disciplines


since

is the fact

in the thirteenth

century.

Averroes

had been readily available


felt compelled

to justify

in Islam

their

study,

36
A transla
and Philosophy,
On the Harmony
Averroes,
of Religion
and notes, of Ibn Rushd's Kitabfasl
tion with introduction
al-maqal, with
'an manahij
and an extract from Kitab
its appendix
al-kashf
(Damima)
trans. George F. Hourani
al-adilla,
(London: Luzac, 1976), 44.
Islam Toward the 'Ancient
"The Attitude of Orthodox
37Ignaz Goldziher,
Sciences,'"

205.

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ANDWESTERNCHRISTIANITY
ISLAM

517

their
denied
Ibn as-Salah,
astonishingly,
in
the
Middle
Late
Latin
discussions
analogous

while

or
philosopher
Bible
the
permitted
that it did.
sumed

ural

theologian
the study

I know of no
legitimacy.
which
in
any nat
Ages

to determine
felt compelled
of secular
It was
subjects.

whether
simply

as

IV
and

The Madrassas
faced

stacles
the form

difference,
natural philosophy
mentioned

the Universities.

Despite
and

the enormous

ob

in
scientists,
philosophers
or simply as in
and even persecution,
harassment
and
Islamic
science
feature about medieval
the remarkable

by
of active

Islamic

the

natural

was
level

the high level they attained.


in the sciences
of achievement

1500was higher in Islam than in the Christian West.

either

As

I have

between

already
1100 and

It ismore difficult

the Latin West


derived
partly because
In the exploration
of Aristo
treatises.
from Aristotle's
and in the departures
tle's works
they made
thought,
scholars.
But
in other
Muslim
the West may have advanced
beyond

to compare
natural philosophy,
some of its ideas from Islamic

in
scholars went
contemplated
beyond
anything
true in the attitudes
of some Islamic natu
is especially
and religion.
toward
ral philosophers
theologians
or 935), known
as Rhazes
in the
854-925
al-Razi
For example,
(ca.
work was
trans
whose
major medical
physician
West, was a famous
ways,

certain

the West.

lated
uted
have

Muslim

This

attrib
attacked
actually
religion,
denying miracles
of Islam, Judaism,
and Christianity
to the prophets
(he is said to
a treatise
He refused
titled The Tricks
the
written
Prophets).
of
into Latin.

to accept
sciences

He

authority
continually

or science
and believed
religion
because
build
scientists
progressed

in either

their predecessors.
inherit
from
they
knowledge
to
matter
that of Democritus.
of
akin
atomic
theory

that
upon

He accepted
Because
of his

the
the
an
in

and
criticized
al-Razi was
severely
by his successors
dependent
views,
in
Avicenna
the
have
of his works
many
disappeared.38
thought,
to
"should have confined
that al-Razi
himself
words
of Shlomo
Pines,

38
is drawn from the article "Al-Razi, Abu
about al-Razi
My information
Bakr Muhammad
Ibn Zakariya" by Shlomo Pines in the Dictionary
of Scien
tific Biography
(New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970-90), vol. 11, 323-6.

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EDWARD GRANT

518

and should not have dabbled


urine, and excrement
the range of his capacity."39
on Aristotle,
wrote
Averroes
famous
commentaries
(Ibn Rushd)
are
or
in
known
Latin
Hebrew
translations.
He is unusual
which
only
dealing with boils,
in matters
beyond

in his

because
he

insisted

treatise

that

because

only
they
are

ture,
mutakallimun

based

reasoning
ity that al-Razi

On

the Harmony

the philosophers
demonstrative

use

the
contrast,
they use dialectical
The kind of hostil

arguments.
to do so because

By

incompetent
on popularly
accepted
showed
and Averroes

on religion,
have
Ibn Khaldun
contrast,

attacks

Razi's

By
defended

and Philosophy,
to judge Scrip

of Religion
are competent

premises.40
as well
as al
to the theologians,
no counterparts
in the medieval
West.
(1332-1406)

was

more

like al-Ghazali

But his great


philosophy
religion
against
logic.
of religion
the foreign
from any defense
fame does not derive
against
as
his
known
it
derives
from
sciences.
extraordinary
treatise,
Rather,
which
consisted
of the intro
the Muqaddima
("The Introduction"),

and

duction
Rosenthal,
to analyze

and

of a lengthy
was
"The Muqaddima

and first

book

world

history.
According
indeed
the first large-scale
that govern human political

the group relationships


on the basis of environmental
cial organization

to Franz
attempt
and so

and psychological
fac
terms about
Ibn Khal

in superlative
Toynbee
spoke
in
"he has
and
his
conceived
that
Muqaddima
dun,
declaring
a
is undoubtedly
of history which
the greatest
formulated
philosophy
in any
mind
created
work
of its kind that has ever yet been
by any
tors."41

Arnold

or place."42
assessment
Sarton's
George
did not
Sarton
nonetheless
laudatory.
highly
as:
him
but regarded
great historian,
time

is more
rate

critical,
Ibn Khaldun

but
as

of man's ex
the greatest theorician of history, the greatest philosopher
of
not
of
Middle
but
the
whole
the
period extending
only
perience,
Ages,

39
Ibid., 326.
40
24.
and Philosophy,
On theHarmony
of Religion
Averroes,
41Franz
in Dictionary
"Ibn Khaldun,"
Biogra
of Scientific
Rosenthal,
phy, vol. 7 (1973), 321.
42
is cited in An Arab Philosophy
of Ibn Khaldun
assessment
Toynbee's
Selections
the Prolegomena
of Tunis
of Ibn Khaldun
from
of History:
The
Darwin
ed.
Issawi
NJ:
trans,
and
Charles
(Princeton,
(1332-1406),
remarks were taken from his A Study of History,
Press, 1987), ix. Toynbee's
vol.

3.

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519

ISLAMAND WESTERN CHRISTIANITY

from the time of the great classical historians


down to that of Machia
as the
velli (1532), Bodin (1576), and even Vico (1725). Badly composed
to
and poorly written
sometimes
Muqaddama
is, with many repetitions,
the point of obscurity,
it remains one of the noblest and most impressive
monuments
Ibn Khaldun
of medieval
between
thought. A comparison
is not to the disadvantage
of the earlier writer.43
and Machiavelli
are difficult,
comparisons
were
natural
philosophers

Although
that Islamic
in the

West

late Middle

But

Ages.
from that

is no

there

reason

to those

inferior

to believe
in the Latin

in Is
philosophy
a proper
sense of

the fate of natural

in the West.
lam differed
To gain
radically
we must
the
the difference,
madrasas
in Islam with
the uni
compare
was a charitable
in the West.
A madrasa
versities
trust, which was es
an
a waqif
as
en
tablished
individual
known
who
freely by
Muslim,
dowed

the trust with

substantial

he
of the madrasa
operation
"The legal status of the madrasa
over

plete control
stitution."44
tion:

the

But

terms

had

the

founder
the

of

founded

and

of a madrasa

foundation

with

his

instructional
had

could

not

purpose.

the conditions

the founder

allowed

the administrative

for a public

to be used

funds

The founder had great latitude in determining

for the

own

property.
to retain com
staff

to accept
violate
the

of the
one

in

condi

tenets

of

Islam.45

gious sciences
its curriculum
and natural

a school
essentially
subordinate
and related

was

The madrasa
and
were

the

sciences.46

or the sciences

for their

sciences,"
"foreign
Those who wished
own

sakes

had

for

the

study of the reli


Excluded
from

subjects.
that is the philosophical
to study natural philosophy

to either

teach

themselves,

or

someone
for private
instruction
with
arrangements
knowledge
courses
in such matters.47
were
Occasionally
nonreligious
taught
on an optional
in the madrasas
basis.
In his splendid
book, The Man
tle of the Prophet,
that
Roy Mottahedeh
explains

make
able

43
to the History
Sarton, Introduction
of Science
George
(Baltimore:
Williams & Wilkins Company,
1927-1948), vol. 3,1775.
44Article "Madrasa" in
of Islam, vol. 5, 1128, col. 2.
Encyclopedia
45See
The
Rise
in
George Makdisi,
of Colleges: Institutions
of Learning
Islam and the West (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University
Press, 1981), 36.
46
Ibid., 77.
47Ibid., 78.

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EDWARDGRANT

520

Madreseh
of higher learning,
learning had formerly been a conspectus
with its optional courses
in Ptolemaic
astronomy, Avicennian
medicine,
even the mullahs
and the algebra of Omar Khayyam.
But...
recognized
that their learning
and only a few
really was
'religious'
learning,
enthusiasts
studied the traditional nonreligious
such as the old
sciences
in private.48

astronomy

were
those subjects
illuminated
the Ko
However,
only taught which
ran or the religious
was
law. One such subject was
which
found
logic,
errors
useful
in semantics
and in avoiding
of inference,"
al
"simple
was
in
the
philosophical
popular
West,
logic,
usually
though
avoided.49
preserve

was
function
of the madrasa,
primary
however,
and
defend
In
the
madrasas
Iran,
orthodoxy."50
learning
The

"to
ex

isted into the twentieth century, limping on until the end of World War
II.

V
The Medieval
works
edge

of Aristotle's
of Aristotle's

that

the Latin

it made

of Greek

a part of its intellectual


heritage.
of
science
in
less
than
Greek
priation
by

1000 had

Apart

from

a few

Itwas not until the twelfth and thirteenth

the bulk

ence

and

West.

no knowl
West
had virtually
logic, the Christian
for approximately
natural philosophy
1100 years af

ter the birth of Christianity.


centuries

in

University

translated

into Arabic

natural
Islam

two

and sci
philosophy
its serious
appro
began

centuries

virtually

after
all

that

its founding
re
it would

ceive.

But

if the West

tle's natural
hundred
received.

took

philosophy,
the West

years,
By

the Cathedral

1200,
school

approximately
where
Islam
wasted

the new
system

no

1100 years

to receive

Aristo

it in only two to three


acquired
time in making
the most
of what
it

translations

facilitated

to the university

the transition

system,

represented

from
ini

48Cf.
The Mantle
Roy Mottahedeh,
of the Prophet
(New York: Pantheon
237
Books,
1985),
49On the
arti
excellent
subject of logic in Islam, see John Walbridge's
in Is
cle, "Logic in the Islamic Intellectual Tradition: The Recent Centuries,"
On attitudes
toward philo
lamic Studies,
39, No. 1 (Spring 2000), 55-75.
sophical
logic, see p. 68.
50
91.
The Mantle
Mottahedeh,
of the Prophet,

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ANDWESTERNCHRISTIANITY
ISLAM

521

some
of Paris, Oxford
and Bologna.
tially by the universities
Despite
at the University
of Paris,
difficulties
the new universities,
and numer
ous others
in the course
follow
of the next
that would
three centu
75 existed
chose Aristo
by 1500?unhesitatingly
ries?approximately
to
tle's logic and natural
form
the
curriculum
of their arts
philosophy
we find four faculties:
In a complete
faculties.
university,
arts, theol
were
and
law.
All
to
students
obtain a bache
ogy, medicine,
required
to enter one of the three higher
If they wished
lor's degree
in arts.
fac
were
to
ulties of theology,
and law, they
obtain
the
medicine,
expected
not
This meant
Master
of Arts degree.
that virtually
if
theolo
all,
all,
in logic
and lawyers
had been
trained
gians, physicians,
thoroughly
natural

and
only
three

philosophy,
a master
of arts
faculties.

higher

as were

those

and
degree
A university

who

therefore

were

content

did not

education

enter

in the Middle

in no way

to acquire
one of the
Ages
was

was

or theology.
to teach religion
intended
only
Theology
was
a
to
in
faculties
students.
It
theology
jealously
taught
theology
intellectual
guarded
preserve.51
were
all theologians
in logic and Aris
Because
trained
thoroughly
totle's
natural
in
these
subjects
philosophy,
they used
extensively
were
which
all theological
students
commentaries,
theological
to produce.
that were
answerable
questions
expected
They posed
the
of
and
natural
One of the
only by
application
philosophy.
logic
their

tools theologians
used was
the law of noncon
powerful
logical
was
even
a
where
tradiction
it
assumed
that not
God could perform
contradiction.
of Middleton,
for example,
Richard
asks "whether God

most

could
He

do

contradictory

cannot.
or

Theologians
that act.

form

this

could

or could

not

things

incessantly
Their
object

do something

and

simultaneously,"52

whether

inquired
was
to determine

by applying

the

concludes
God

could

whether

that
per
God

law of noncontradic

51For a brief
of the medieval
and its faculties and
description
university
see Grant, The Foundations
in the Middle
Science
curriculum,
of Modern
a
ch.
3
Medieval
33-53.
For
Ages,
("The
University"),
lengthy, detailed ac
ed. A History
in Europe,
count, see H. de Ridder-Symoens,
of the University
vol. 1: Universities
in the Middle
Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press,

1992).
52
facer?." Ri
"Quarto quaeritur utrum Deus possit simul contradictoria
chard of Middleton,
Clarissimi
de Media
Ricardi
th?ologie magistri
Villa,
libros Sententiarum
Petri Lombardi
subtilissi
Super quatuor
questiones
mae, vol. 1, bk. 1, dist. 42, qu. 4, pp. 374 (col. l)-375 (col. 2); cited from Fac
simile Reprint: Frankfurt: Minerva,
1963.

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EDWARD GRANT

522
If no

tion.

there was

was

contradiction

God could perform


the act; if
involved,
could not. For example,
of Or
Hugolin
the law of noncontradiction
century,
applied

a contradiction

He

in the fourteenth
vieto,
to determine
"Whether
"Whether

God

Gregory

God

exist

to be?"53 and

an instant?"54

for only

it to a question

someone

not

the future

in which

he

and

inquired

sin.55

an analytical
became
dis
Ages
theology
a heavy
on
and
natural
In
emphasis
philosophy.
logic
to the extent
that medieval
increased
the analytic
theologians

deed,
content

of

the Latin Middle

their

diminished

mentaries
time

make

a creature

make

could make

During
cipline with

were

could

of Rimini applied

whether

have

could

God

they seem
treatises,
theological
content.
their spiritual
Medieval

became

exercises

to time Church
intended

authorities

to curtail,

on natural

in natural

com
theological
and
From
philosophy
logic.
to stem the tide by edicts
that

sought
if not prevent,
excessive
and logic.56 Their efforts

philosophy
on
too dependent
had
become
ogy
of medieval
the history
During

to

simultaneously

of theology
in vain.
Theol

reliance
were

and natural

philosophy.
Islam, a continual
struggle
raged
and
teachers.
reli
Only
among
philosophers,
religious
theologians,
of the madrasas,
the
the curriculum
while
constituted
gious subjects
and
the
exact
sciences?
natural
philosophy,
foreign
sciences?logic,
were

logic

or taught only as ancillary


to shed light
subjects
ignored
was
in
the
Christian West
The university
system
radically
a
curriculum
Universities
analytic
nonreligious
taught
on logic, science,
the
So great was
and natural
philosophy.
was
into a large
transformed
that theology
toward
analyticity,

either

on religion.
different.
based

surge
collection

of problems

that could

53
de Urbe Veteri
Hugolini
edited by Willigis
Sententiarum,
gustinus Verlag, 1980-1988), Vol.
341.
54
of Orvieto,
ibid.,
Hugolin
tion,

art.

only

be resolved

by the use

of logic

Libros
OESA Commentarius
in Quattuor
O. S. A., 4 vols. (W?rzburg: Au
Eckermann
2: Book 1, Distinction
3, art. 3,
40, Question
Vol. 3: Book

2, Distinction

2, Unique

3, 97-9.

ques

55
et Secundum
Sen
OESA Lectura
super Primum
Gregorii Arimensis
vol. 3, bk. 1, dis
7 vols. (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter,
tentiarum,
1979-1987),
tinctions 42-4, qu. 1, 359.
56For a
to the invasion
summary account of the reaction of churchmen
"The Fac
and logic, see Monika Asztalos,
of theology by natural philosophy
in H. de Ridder-Symoens,
ed. A History
of the University
ulty of Theology,"
in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge
vol. 1: Universities
in Europe,
Press, 1992), 420-33.
University

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ANDWESTERNCHRISTIANITY
ISLAM
and

natural

centuries
Islam

523
for

This practice
continued
routinely
philosophy.
a
and laid the basis for
rationalistic
society.
the West

and

not

differed

one

because

four

civilization

taught,
that the other
and wrote
about
analytic
subjects
studied,
ignored.
and wrote
about
Both
civilizations
phi
studied,
logic, natural
taught,
But in contrast with
and the sciences.
Islam, the West
taught,
losophy,
in universities
about
these disciplines
that fully
and wrote
studied,
because
the university
curriculum
them. This was possible
supported
a
was
state.
with
church
and
enthusiastically
approved
by
Anyone
even commented
and perhaps
education
had studied,
on,
university
and done so for its own sake, not for the
Aristotle's
natural philosophy
sake

or explicating
Scripture.
understanding
which
the
analytic
sciences,
comprised
subjects
were
in
from the Greeks,
rarely taught
religious

In Islam, the
derived
ulti

of better

foreign

schools
such
mately
as the madrasas,
which
the core of Islamic higher
formed
education.
But why
The analytic
they were marginal.
subjects were
there, though
were
not
status
have equal
with
Why did they
they marginal?
religious

subjects? Why did they have to be taught as ancillary

and theological

or taught privately
subjects,
the answer
full circle,
since
all

the

and unobtrusively?
to these questions
that I have
quotations

and

arguments

light of the obstacles


level

of achievement

as

that

it attained

opposed
the required
degree
in Islamic society.

religious
could not attain
force

like to conclude

I should
sume

that a reassessment

drasas

should

reveal

if it were

ies. What

is quite
or

now

have

already

of
In

presented.

in Islam, the high

remarkable.

ignored
of acceptance

come

reiteration

requires

faced by natural philosophy

traditionalists

lectual

We

as long

But

analytic
studies,
to be a potent

they
intel

a hypothetical
scenario.
Let us as
traditional
of
the ma
interpretation
Islamic
did embrace
stud
society
analytic
with

of the
that

shown

that

the madrasas

on
laid heavy
emphasis
natural philosophy,
mathe

such as Aristotelian
subjects
logic,
us
cur
and
And
let
that this rationalistic
suppose
astronomy.
matics,
has been extremely
riculum
stable
since
of seven hun
1300, a period
dred years!
And
like the West
these rationalistic
had as one
subjects
of their functions
the explication
of Islamic revelation.
In effect,
let us
rational

assume

that

nalistic

as that which

If this
education
Islamic

educational

Islam's

should
since

education

was
in the madrasas
system
in the medieval
Latin West.

prevailed
to be an accurate

prove

certain

1300,
remain

so

fundamental
static

for

of Islamic

characterization
questions
seven
centuries,

as ratio

arise.

Why did
in the
while

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EDWARD GRANT

524

on medieval
based
the analogous
Aristotelian
learn
curriculum,
in the seventeenth
after approxi
century,
largely abandoned
ing, was
a
new
to
to science
four centuries,
be replaced
by
mately
approach

West,

that

with

is associated

the Scientific

Revolution?

With

the

of the new

science
in the West, why did Islamic schol
implementation
ars not appropriate
from the new science?
what
could
they
Why did
on for centuries
with an outmoded
curriculum
that had
they continue
been

abandoned

ence

and

in the West?
from

learning
just as

centuries,

the West

natural philosophy
Were

that Western
terested?

Or did
Did

evant?
the

science
even

haps
dard?

This
curriculum

they
they
viewed

had

not

Islam

the seventeenth

borrowed

of

much

to borrow

from

the West?

sci

to nineteenth
their

Were

science

and

fearful

they

the faith? Were


they simply unin
endanger
as
even irrel
and
it
they regard
unimportant
perhaps
as adding
to
little or nothing
regard the new science
already
Western

had

in the madrasas

and

beyond,
backward
from

as a step

science

make
would
the hypothesis
last possibility
seem
and
far-fetched
in the madrasas

yet Professor
is so radically

the new

borrow

from Islam in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries?

too proud
ideas would

Muslims

Why did
the West
during

Seyyed
different

Hossein

Nasr

is convinced

from Western

science

and

per

that stan

of a rationalistic

And
implausible.
that Islamic
science

that

it could

not

have

it, Islamic science was as im


profited
as
for the acquisition
of
and spiritual
it was
for religious
life,
portant
sciences
world.
Islamic
about
the
cosmol?gica!
physical
knowledge
for par
and knowledge
not only provided
"the necessary
background
from

ticular
ture,"
man,"

it. As Professor

of practical
disciplines
but they had "a direct

Nasr

sees

import

as medicine

such

practical

effect

upon

the

and
inner

agricul
life of

because
is to
real existential
problem which
they are directly related to man's
traverse the perilous caves and valleys of the 'mountains' of the physical
to reach safely the sky of the world of the Spirit.57
and psychic worlds
Continuing

in the same

vein,

Professor

Nasr

explains

that:

. . . concern man in an ultimate


sciences
The traditional
cosmological
sense and on a level not to be compared with the modern
The
sciences.
are related to man's
and to his
inner perfection
traditional cosmologies
from angelology
and eschatology.
ultimate
end. They are inseparable
of spiritual maturing
for that process
the background
They provide

57
Study
Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Science: An Illustrated
(Wester
Co. Ltd., 1976), 236.
ham, Kent, England: World of Islam Festival Publishing

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ANDWESTERNCHRISTIANITY
ISLAM
enables man

which

potentially

only

to become

God's

525
in actuality

vice-regent

rather than

...58

Nasr science
and religion merge,
and even fuse, to
Seyyed Hossein
If his characterization
form a vast spiritual
of Islamic
sci
enterprise.
ence
we
is reasonably
that Muslims,
conclude
satis
accurate,
might
have had no desire,
fied with
their own science,
would
and indeed, no

For

to import Western
to regard
science.
Professor
Nasr seems
Is
as the product
of a more
in
contrast
science
holistic
approach,
more
to the narrower,
science
in the West.
focused
produced

need,
lamic

recent

support

investigation
to those who would

science

cultural

into

cultural

distinguish
Dr. Richard

lines.

differences
between

may

Western

offer
and

some
Islamic

a social

Nesbitt,
along
psychologist
at the University
of Michigan,
and his colleagues
the widely
challenge
held view among Western
and
that "the
philosophers
psychologists
same
all human
in the
basic
underlie
whether
processes
thought,
mountains
processes

or the grasslands
of the Serengeti."59
were
to embrace
that all humans
followed
alleged
of Tibet

The

basic

a devotion
a penchant
to logical reasoning,
for categorization
and an
situations and events in linear terms of cause and ef
urge to understand
fect.

in comparing
However,
and his colleagues
Nesbitt
They
think

"found
about

East

Asians

and European
Dr.
Americans,
at a radically
different
assessment.
cultures
do not just
grow up in different
think
they
differently."
they
Easterners,

arrived

that people who


different
things:

discovered,
to context
appear to think more
"holistically," paying greater attention
and relationship,
than ab
relying more on experience-based
knowledge
stract logic and showing more tolerance
for contradiction.
Westerners

58
Nasr also believes
that modern
that is
Ibid., 237. Professor
science,
Western
of nature. By contrast,
"...
Is
science, has led to the destruction
were able to create an extensive
lamic metaphysics
and cosmology
science
of the physical and of the psychic worlds which
nature
far from destroying
the equilibrium
that exists in the cosmic order and emphasized
only accented
the harmony between man and his environment.
While the Islamic sciences
taught man a great deal about the world about him and enabled man to rule
over this world,
the earth and
they also set limits to his power to destroy
in a thousand ways to the fact that man's end is to journey to a world
pointed
beyond and not to be satisfied through pride or ignorance with imprisonment
within the cosmic crypt which man's forgetfulness
has made to appear as his
natural state" (Ibid., 239).
59Erica
"How Culture Molds Habits of Thought," Science Times,
Goode,
New York Times, August
are
in this paragraph
8, 2000. All the quotations
from Ms Goode's article.

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EDWARDGRANT

526
are more
"analytic" in their thinking,
their context,
to avoid contradictions
mal logic.
This

intriguing
of
understanding

Nasr's
know

is an

about

Western

analysis
Islamic

from
tending to detach objects
and to rely more heavily on for

and

is compatible
with
Professor
science
and certainly
fits what we
But

analyticity.
and discussion

it would

a great deal
and Western

require
Islamic

more

investigation

natural

and theology
before we can assert with any confi
philosophy
that the differences
between
them derive
from cultural
differ

dence
ences

between

East

and West

of medieval

of the kind

described

by Dr. Nesbitt

and

his colleagues.
In light
that we
course
has

to conclude
of all these uncertainties,
it seems
proper
are as yet unable
to answer
the most
vital questions
the
about
in Islam. Was
it the kind of science
of science
Professor
Nasr

described:

physical
natural
tionalistic

as much

concerned

or was

world;
philosophy,

it more

and

akin

the spiritual world


to medieval
Western
a strong

therefore

If the

the

science
current

and
of ra

incorporating
did Islam ignore Western
sci
latter, why
to such questions
would
contribute
might

thought?
for so long? Answers
of Islamic
ily toward a proper understanding
and natural philosophy
from the Middle
Ages
ence

as with

with

Indiana

attitudes

toward

science

to the present.

University,

Bloomington

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