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HUMANITIES 175 al-GhazalL The Incoherence ofthe Philosophers A parallel English-Arabic text translated, introduced, and annotated by Michael E. Marmura. Brigham Young University Press, distributed by University of Chicago Press 1997. xxxii, 494. us $29·95 Few works in the history of philosophy have had as profound an impact as the Tahafut al-falasifa, or Incoherence ofthe Philosophers, by the Persian-born mystic and theologian Abu Hamid al-Ghazall (1058-1111); and yet, few works have remained so incompletely known and studied, especially in the West. This is not for lack of a critical text. A superb edition, prepared by the eminent Ghazall expert Maurice Bouyges, was published as early as 1927. There have been two previous translations into English, but both display conspicuous defects, either in being incomplete or in failing to capture adequately the style and tone of the original. It is a pleasure therefore to welcome this new translation by a leading expert in medieval Islamic philosophy. Michael E. Marmura has produced an English version that is lucid, precise, and surprisingly readable; particularly commendable is the fact that his translation appears with the Arabic text en face, legibly and indeed beautifully printed. Though his textis based on the Bouygesedition, Marmura has emended it throughout with new readings based on manuscript sources. The translation, accompanied by a succinct introduction and notes, is a triumph of clarity. AI-GhazalI composed the Tahafut as the second volume of a trilogy; the first volume comprised a remarkably dispassionate exposition of the doctrines of al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, and the third volume expounded the principles of dogmatic theology in a way which drew on the philosophers' methods while avoiding their errors. In the Tahafut, al-GhazalI deals with the most egregious of these errors, involving heretical teaching on the world's eternity, God's knowledge of particulars, secondarycausality, and bodily resurrection, among others. In the process, though, he reveals his own immersion in philosophy as well as his deep indebtedness to it. The Tahafut thus represents not only a destructio, as medieval translators rendered the title, but a purgation of philosophy; after al-GhazalI, and largely because of him, philosophy would decline as an autonomous discipline in the Islamic West, despite a fierce counter-attack by Averroes. Paradoxically, however, philosophy enjoyed a certain covert continuance for its methods and terminology became interwoven with theological discourse and found a new and chastened currency in the summae of later 'scholastic' theologians writing in Arabic. The translator of such an author as al-GhazalI faces a number of obstacles, not all of which are immediately evident. There is the matter of tedmical terminology in Arabic, still insufficiently studied. In addition, classical Arabic is a language of great concision which almost always forces 176 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 a translator into EngJish, a wordier language, into clumsy periphrasis. More subtly, the writing of a versatile author like al-Ghazall contains a wide rang~ of tones and references; these include blunt, ad hominem polemics, abstract, finely nuanced philosophical terms, :interspersed Qur'arnc verses, and concrete factual examples drawn from medicine or astronomy or jurisprudence . In philosophical Arabic, sentences can be long and convoluted; it is often hard to ascertain the referents of pronouns. Tone of voice, especially in so pugnacious a work as this, varies from the sarcastic to the sublimely transcendent. Finally, as Marmura himself astutely notes in his introduction, al-GhazalI is often difficult to translate just because he is so good a writer. Marmura succeeds admirably in rendering al-Ghazali's arguments and shifts ofvoice and he gives a vivid sense of his peculiar style, a rare feat. He does not disdain the colloquial, as when he translates al-Ghazalrs stated purpose: 'When I perceived this vein of folly throbbing within these dimwits , I took it upon myself to write this book in refutation of the ancient philosophers, to show the incoherence of their belief and the contradiction of their word in matters relating to metaphysics.' But when al-GhazalI speaks of God, or the 'Pirst,' Marmura rises with him to the heights: 'nothing is absolutely free from every evil except the First. For He is the Pure Good. To Him belong...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 175-176
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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