25 Nov

Professor Oliver Leaman on the new second edition of his classic text

Posted By Politybooks

Layout 1 When I was asked to prepare a second edition of my Brief Introduction to Islamic Philosophy I wondered what needed to be added to the existing text. When I looked at the book again it seemed strange that although I emphasized that Islamic philosophy is a living part of world philosophy, I only dealt with earlier aspects of Islamic philosophy, so I thought it would not be a bad idea to have a chapter on some more modern thinkers in the discipline. I wrote such a chapter, and I think it gives a broad view of where Islamic philosophy is today, with the views of a range of contemporary thinkers and the sorts of issues that have become part of the modern curriculum. One of the unusual features of Islamic philosophy is that there has been a protracted debate on what it is throughout the tradition, and that debate persists today.  The controversy brings in interesting features of how Islamic culture differs from other cultures.


The other chapter I added deals with a related issue, something that people constantly say to me, that Islam has yet to experience an enlightenment, and that it needs to go through such an event in its cultural history. As a result, they suggest, Islamic philosophy is too limited in its scope and cannot really take on the challenge of modernity and a commitment to reason. I argue against this approach, and compare and contrast the ways in which Jews and Muslims reacted to the Enlightenment. There is no right or wrong way of dealing with modernity, and different communities will react differently, and there is nothing problematic about that. In any case, it just is not true that Islamic philosophy has not taken the Enlightenment seriously, and the idea that there is something very different about Islamic culture on this and related topics should be questioned. This brings us back to the essentially contested concept of a philosophy being Islamic. All religious philosophy contains within itself a struggle between the traditional rules of religion and the rational principles of philosophy, and how that struggle plays out defines the nature of the religious philosophy. My book tries to sharpen how this plays out in the case of Islamic philosophy.

Oliver Leaman