Tuesday, July 27, 2010

630)"Plato, Platonism, and Neo-platonism" by Dr Nader El-Bizri of the Institute of Ismaili Studies; Quotes of Aga Khans IV and III and Others.

Quotes and Excerpts that include references to the Intellect and Soul of Neoplatonism:

"Time is eternity measured by the movements of the heavens,whose name is day, night, month, year. Eternity is Time not measured, having neither beginning nor end…The cause of Time is the Soul of the World….; it is not in time, for time is in the horizon of the soul as its instrument, as the duration of the living mortal who is “the shadow of the soul”, while eternity is the duration of the living immortal – that is to say of the Intelligence and of the Soul(Nasir Khusraw, 11th Fatimid Ismaili Cosmologist-Philosopher-Theologian-Poet)

"The Divine Intellect, Aql-i Kull, both transcends and informs the human intellect. It is this Intellect which enables man to strive towards two aims dictated by the faith: that he should reflect upon the environment Allah has given him and that he should know himself. It is the Light of the Intellect which distinguishes the complete human being from the human animal, and developing that intellect requires free inquiry. The man of faith, who fails to pursue intellectual search is likely to have only a limited comprehension of Allah's creation. Indeed, it is man's intellect that enables him to expand his vision of that creation"(Aga Khan IV, Aga Khan University Inauguration Speech, Karachi, Pakistan, November 11, 1985)

"Islamic doctrine goes further than the other great religions, for it proclaims the presence of the soul, perhaps minute but nevertheless existing in an embryonic state, in all existence in matter, in animals, trees, and space itself. Every individual, every molecule, every atom has its own spiritual relationship with the All-Powerful Soul of God"(Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954)

"The Intellect is the substance of (God's) unity and it is the one (al-wahid), both cause and caused, the act of origination (al-ibda) and the first originated being (al-mubda al-awwal); it is perfection and perfect, eternity and eternal, existence and that which exists all in a single substance"( Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, 11th centuryFatimid Ismaili cosmologist (Kitab al-Riyad, pp. 221-222))

"Tarkib' is composition as in the compounding of elements in the process of making more complex things, that is, of adding together two things to form a synthesis, a compound. Soul composes in the sense of 'tarkib'; it is the animating force that combines the physical elements of the natural universe into beings that move and act. Incorporating is an especially apt word in this instance. It means to turn something into a body, as in 'composing'. But it is actually the conversion of an intellectual object, a thought, into a physical thing. Soul acts by incorporating reason into physical objects, the natural matter of the universe and all the things composed of it"(Abu Yakub Al-Sijistani,10th century Fatimid Ismaili cosmologist, d971CE, from the book, 'Abu Yakub Al-Sijistani: Intellectual Missionary', by Paul Walker)

"God – may He be Glorified and Exalted – created Intellect ('aql) first among the spiritual entities; He drew it forth from the right of His Throne, making it proceed from His own Light. Then he commanded it to retreat, and it retreated, to advance, and it advanced; then God proclaimed: 'I created you glorious, and I gave you pre-eminence over all my creatures.'"(Imam Jafar as-Sadiq, Circa 765CE)

"The beginning of all things, their origin, their force and their prosperity, is that intellect ('aql), without which one can profit from nothing. God created it to adorn His creatures, and as a light for them. It is through intellect ('aql) that the servants recognize God is their Creator and that they themselves are created beings …It is thanks to intellect ('aql) that they can distinguish what is beautiful from what is ugly, that they realize that darkness is in ignorance and that light is in Knowledge"( Imam Jafar as-Sadiq, (al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi, Vol. 1, pp. 34), circa 765CE)


Plato, Platonism, and Neo-platonism

Dr Nader El-Bizri

This article was originally published in Medieval Islamic Civilization, An Encyclopaedia, Vol. II, p. 614-616, ed. Josef W. Meri, Routledge (New York-London, 2006).

The school of philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century CE, based on the teachings of Plato and the commentators on his work, received a new intellectual impetus when its texts became available to scholars in the Islamic civilization through translations from Greek to Arabic, starting from the 9th century CE. Philosophers and thinkers in Islam assimilated this philosophical legacy, and innovatively expanded the theoretical and practical applications of its ideas, as well as brought new directions to its conceptual unfolding, which resulted in significant intellectual contributions, particularly in philosophy and ethics.

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Key words:

Neoplatonism, Syriac, Plotinus, Plato, Republic, Phaedo, Symposium, Aristotelian, Stoic, neo-Pythagorean, Enneads, Nous (intellect), methaphysics, Platonists, creatio ex nihilo, the World Soul, Laws, Sophist, Timaeus, history of ideas in Islam, al‑Madina al-Fadila (The Virtuous City), Corpus Platonicum, Tandhib al-akhlaq (The Cultivation of Morals), Ibn Miskawayh, Liber de Causis (Kitab al-Khayr al-Mahd), al-Kindi, Ikhwan al-Safa’, al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, al-Sijistani, al-Kirmani, Suhrawardi, Ibn ‘Arabi, Mulla Sadra.

Plato, Platonism and Neo-platonism

Neoplatonism was a philosophical movement that primarily belonged to the Hellenist Alexandrian and Syriac schools of thought. Its founder, Plotinus (ca. 205-270 CE), an Egyptian of Greek culture, was pro­foundly influenced by Plato’s Republic, Phaedo, and Symposium, as well as being inspired by Aristotelian, Stoic, and neo-Pythagorean doctrines. Plotinus’ own monumental corpus, the Enneads, was partly drafted in response to the objections raised by Aristotle against Plato’s theory of ideas. Therein, Plotinus ar­gued that the Platonic forms subsist in what Aristotle referred to as Nous (intellect). Giving a metaphysical primacy to abstract ideas, the realm of the intelligible was construed as being the ground of the ultimate reality, which was radically independent from sensible beings. This ontology led to a belief in the existence of absolute values rooted in eternity. Further elabora­tions of Plotinus’s teachings were undertaken by his disciple, Porphyry of Tyre (ca. 232-305 CE), and were supplemented by the work of the latter’s pupil, the Syrian Iamblichus (ca. 250-330 CE). However, Proclus (ca. 411-485 CE) introduced the most rigor­ous systematization of this tradition.

The impetus of Neoplatonism in philosophy confronted many chal­lenges following the closing of the Athenian Academy (ca. 526 CE) by the Roman Emperor Justinian. The momentum of this tradition was renewed with the philosophers of the medieval Muslim civilization who imbued it with monotheistic directives. Follow­ing Socrates, in a critique of the Sophists, Platonists believed that knowledge cannot be derived from appearances alone, and that it can only be properly attained through universal ideas. Heeding the medita­tions of Parmenides, they held that the realm of being was unchanging, eternal, and indestructible; while following Heraclitus, they took the sensible realm as being subject to a constant flux of transformational becoming. Establishing a distinction between truth and belief, they asserted that the intelligible was apprehended by reason and the sensible by mere opinion. With this Platonist heritage, the ethical code of goodness became a cosmological principle.

Eventually, Neo-Platonists held that The One, as the indeterminate perfection of absolute unity, simplicity, and goodness, imparts existence from itself due to its superabundance. This event was grasped as being a process of emanation that accentuated the primacy of Divine transcendence over creation and represented an alternate explication of generation that challenged the creatio ex nihilo doctrine. Endowed with vision, the One, as the First undiminished Source of exis­tence, imparts Nous, the immanent changeless Intel­lect, as its own Image. From this effused Nous issues forth the World Soul, which acts as a transition be­tween the realm of ideas and that of the senses. Refracting itself in materiality, the Soul generates all sensible composite beings, while matter represents the last station in the hierarchy of existence as the unreal substratum of the phenomenal universe. Emanation, as a processional descent, was itself to be followed by an ascent that expressed the longing of the rational soul to return to its Source and a yearning to inhabit the realm of ideas. This reversible movement acted as the basis of the moral code of the Neoplatonist system, which advocated a dualist sepa­ration of mind and body, as well as affirmed the immortality of the soul.

Philosophers in medieval Islam came to know Plato through the Arabic translations of his Laws, Sophist, Timaeus, and Republic. His influence on the history of ideas in Islam is most felt in the domains of ethics and political philosophy, whereby his views offered possibilities for reconciling pagan philosophy with monotheistic religion in the quest for truth and the unveiling of the ultimate principles of reality. His Republic and Laws presented an appealing legislative model that inspired political thought in Islam, particularly the line in thinking that is attested in al-Farabi’s (ca. 870-950 CE) treatise al‑Madina al-Fadila (The Virtuous City), which gave prominence to the role played by philosophy in setting the legal arrangements and mores of the ideal Islamic polity. The Corpus Platonicum also impressed humanists like Ibn Miskawayh (ca. 940-1030 CE), who, in his Tahdhib al-akhlaq (The Cultivation of Morals) espoused the Platonic tripartite conception of the soul, along with its ethical-political ramifica­tions. As for the Neoplatonist doctrines, these found their way into the intellectual history of Islam through Plato’s dialogues, as well as being channeled via the tracts known as Aristotle’s Theology and Liber de Causis (Kitab al-Khayr al-Mahd). Although both texts were erroneously attributed to Aristotle, the former reproduced fragments from Plotinus’s Enneads, and the latter rested on Proclus’ Elements of Theology. This misguiding textual transmission led to imbuing Aristotelianism with Neoplatonist leitmo­tifs, which impacted the thinking of authorities such as al-Kindi (d. ca. 873 CE), Ikhwan al-Safa’ (tenth century CE), al-Farabi (d. ca. 950 CE), and Ibn Sina (d. 1037 CE), who in their turn influenced the onto-theological systems of al-Sijistani (d. 971 CE), al-Kirmani (d. 1020 CE), Suhrawardi (d. 1191 CE), Ibn ‘Arabi (d. 1240 CE), and Mulla Sadra (d. 1640 CE).

Primary Sources

al-Farabi (Alfarabius). De Platonis Philosophia. Edited by Franz Rosenthal and Richard Walzer. London: The Warburg Institute, University of London, 1943.

Galenus, Claudius. Compendium Timaei Platonis. Edited by Paul Krauss and Richard Walzer. London: The War­burg Institute, University of London, 1951.

Plato. Plato Arabus. Edited by Paul Krauss and Richard Walzer. London: The Warburg Institute, University of London, 1943.

Further Reading

Krauss, Paul. “Plotin chez les arabes.” Bulletin de 1’Institut d’Égypte 23 (1941): 236-295.
Netton, Ian Richard. Muslim Neoplatonists: An Introduc­tion to the Thought of the Brethren of Purity. London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1982.

Rosenthal, Franz. “On the Knowledge of Plato’s Philoso­phy in the Islamic World.” Islamic Culture 14 (1940): 398- 402.

Walzer, Richard. “Aflatun.” In The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol I. Leiden: Brill, 1960.
— — Greek into Arabic: Essays in Islamic Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962.



Plato, Platonism, and Neo-platonism – Dr Nader El-Bizri Institute of Ismaili Studies

A 600-Post Blog Summarized: The Story Of My Blog Told Through Collections Of Posts To Date; Spring And Summer Reading For Those Who Are Interested

Easy Nash http://apps.facebook.com/blognetworks/blog/science_and_religion_in_islam_the_link/ http://gonashgo.blogspot.com/2009/08/500blogpost-five-hundred-is-blogpost.html http://gonashgo.blogspot.com/2009/03/453a-blog-constructed-within.html

In Shia Islam, intellect is a key component of faith. Intellect allows us to understand the creation of God: Aga Khan IV(2008)
The Qur'an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
The Quran tells us that signs of Allah's Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives: Aga Khan IV(2007)
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2006)
The Holy Qu'ran's encouragement to study nature and the physical world around us gave the original impetus to scientific enquiry among Muslims: Aga Khan IV(1985)
The first and only thing created by God was the Intellect(Aql): Prophet Muhammad(circa 632CE)