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  • Philosophie in der Islamischen Welt, Band 1, 8.-10. Jahrhundert (Philosophy in the Islamic world, volume 1, Eighth to tenth centuries) edited by Ulrich Rudolph, with the assistance of Renate Würsch
  • Tony Street
Philosophie in der Islamischen Welt, Band 1, 8.-10. Jahrhundert (Philosophy in the Islamic world, volume 1, Eighth to tenth centuries). Edited by Ulrich Rudolph, with the assistance of Renate Würsch. Completely revised, new edition, edited by Helmut Holzhey. Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie, established by Friedrich Ueberweg. Basel: Schwabe Verlag, 2012. Pp. xxxv + 612. Hardcover SFr. 200, €167.50, isbn 978-3-7965-2632-9.

Philosophie in der Islamischen Welt, Band 1, 8.-10. Jahrhundert, edited by Ulrich Rudolph, is the first in a series of four volumes devoted to the history of philosophy in the Islamic world from earliest times down to today.1 Part of a larger project that has been under way, in one way or another, for 150 years, this volume marks an epochal moment in the study of Arabic philosophy. Never before in the field has [End Page 515] there been a summary exposition so comprehensive, bibliographically rich, and conceptually well-defined. This volume will henceforth be the first port of call for those setting out to work on the three centuries that saw the inception of Arabic philosophy. The series could not have had a more promising beginning. This volume, then, covers the eighth to tenth centuries c.e., volume 2 will cover the eleventh and twelfth, volume 3 the thirteenth to eighteenth, and volume 4 the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The introduction to this, the first volume, is intended to serve as an outline of the goals and methods of the entire series, and is in itself a minor masterpiece. Distinguishing three significant earlier paradigms of research into Arabic philosophy (Renan’s, ‘Abdarrāziq’s, and Corbin’s) and taking lessons from their respective shortcomings, Rudolph has decided to adopt an open-ended account that resists the tendency to stop at 1198 (the death of Averroes), and that considers output from everywhere in the Islamic world (rather than just from Iran, for example), but which isolates falsafa as a distinct scholarly tradition that can be considered apart from the Islamic sciences that developed alongside it such as jurisprudence and theology. (There is, indeed, a short essay concluding the introduction [pp. xxx–xxxii] in which cogent reasons are given for taking falsafa to be distinct from theology.) The work especially of Gutas and Endress drives the introduction of a new paradigm of research, built around the recognition in the 1980s of the pre-eminence of Avicenna (d. 1037) (dealt with in the next volume), whose philosophy continued to be developed for several centuries after his death.

One of the reasons why the older paradigms of research offered limited coverage of philosophical activity in the Islamic world comes down to how narrowly the term “philosophy” has been understood. Because due weight is given here to the fact that philosophy is an essentially contested notion (though nonetheless capable of being broadly defined [p. xxv]), preconceived accounts of what constitutes philosophy in the Islamic world (e.g., that it be necessarily derived from Greek antecedents, or expressive of an Islamic specificity) are set to one side. In the same spirit, the editor has also decided to evade the question of how best to designate the object of study (whether as Arabic philosophy or Islamic philosophy), and has instead adopted a neutral solution that dates back at least as far as Gardet and Anawati: the series is—as declared in the title—on philosophy in the Islamic world.

I confess that I am slightly uneasy with this decision, though it may be that I have failed to learn the lessons of history set out earlier in the introduction. I understand the problem of using “Arabic philosophy” (my own preferred term): it might be taken to exclude work since the thirteenth century in Persian and other vernaculars. It would be inexcusable for the present series not to cover, say, Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī’s Asās al-Iqtibās (a major work on logic written in Persian in...