- The Judeo-Christian-Islamic Heritage: Philosophical and Theological Perspectives ed. by Richard C. Taylor and Irfan A. Omar
A more apt title for this collection would be “Islamic Philosophy and Theology and Their Impact” since most of the essays deal with Muslim thinkers. The Jewish heritage is [End Page 544] represented by one essay, which discusses some examples of Arabic philosophy in Jewish writings (James Robinson), and the scholastic heritage by two essays, which treat topics in Aquinas and Albert the Great, with reference to Averroes and Avicenna (Barnardo Carlos Bazán and Jorg A. Tellkamp). Still, there is enough to support the claim that the essays collectively highlight common ground, if not collaboration, between the Abrahamic “religious and philosophical traditions.” The essays are consistently of a high quality, but this review will single out a few of interest to readers of this journal.
A theme that runs through several of the contributions is the mutual influence of religion and philosophy. After discussing Averroes’s conception of the religious law (sharī’a) peculiar to the philosophers, Taylor examines the continuity between this law and the religious beliefs of the non-philosophers, claiming that in his theological writings Averroes seeks to replace kalaām (Muslim dialectical theology) with his own ‘Almohad kalām,’ understood as “dialectical religious reasoning founding views essential to the formation of a successful religious basis for Muslim political society” (281). One may question whether the use of “dialectical religious reasoning” by an Almohad philosopher is sufficient to label a method ‘kalām.’ After all, Averroes rejects both the method and doctrines of kalām as bad science that muddies up religion. He claims that what scripture requires of the believer are the basic theological truths discovered by philosophy, but in a rudimentary form, to be explained with informal proofs rather than strict demonstrations or technical premises. This suggests that Averroes’s theological writings may be used confidently, if cautiously, as a source for his philosophical views.
The late Michael Marmura reads Avicenna’s formulation of his more theologically problematic doctrines as anticipating subsequent charges of heresy. For example, although the world emanates from God necessarily, Avicenna adds that it is not the natural necessity of the light proceeding from its source; although God knows particulars in their universal aspect, Avicenna cites the Quranic verse that “not even the weight of an atom escapes his notice”; although there is no return of the soul to the body, he cites the opinion of “some scholars” that souls experience something akin to physical pain and pleasure. Whether Avicenna merely wished to forestall criticisms with these formulations, or whether he was religiously or philosophically committed to them, is not clear from the essay.
Avicenna’s “floating man” argument for the soul’s awareness of its existence and its distinctness from the body, which is mentioned in a fourteenth-century Hebrew encyclopedia (Robinson) is the subject of two essays that remove the argument from its psychological context. Aminrazavi proposes a mystical interpretation in which the soul’s self-awareness implies awareness of God, since this self-awareness is awareness of existence in its pure sense, that is, God. Deborah Black offers an intriguing suggestion that the soul’s self-awareness could have been developed by Avicenna as an individuating factor for humans, but he actually describes my understanding of myself as the understanding of “a definition to which is conjoined an inseparable accident” (270), which implies a bundle theory of individuation. This bundle theory underlies Avicenna’s famous claim that God knows particulars “in a universal way,” that is, as a collection of essential and non-essential universals. Even heavenly bodies that are unique instantiations of their species are still known qua their properties that, in principle, admit of multiple instances. Black appears to accept the traditional criticism that knowledge of particulars “in a universal way” is not sufficiently robust either as knowledge of particulars, or as grounds for anything more than a limited providence. When Avicenna claims that “not...