Aristotle Absent

Tony Street, Cambridge University

Graeco-Arabic Rationalism in Islamic Traditionalism: The Post-Classical Period (ca. 1200-1900)

Keynote address: Saturday, December 3 at 4:00 pm

Keynote Speaker:  Tony Street (Cambridge)
Participants:  Asad Q. Ahmed (Washington University in St. Louis), Ihsan Fazlioglu (McGill), Ahmet Karamustafa (Washington University in St. Louis), Joep Lameer (Independent Scholar), Toby Mayer (Institute for Ismaili Studies), Jon McGinnis (University of Missouri, St. Louis), Lukas Muehlethaler (Free University, Berlin), Reza Pourjavady (McGill), Tony Street (Cambridge)

Dr. Tony Street is the Hartwell Assistant Director of Research in Islamic Studies at the Faculty of Divinity and Fellow of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. He finished his doctorate in 1988 on doctrines on the angels in the writings of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1210), under the supervision of Tony Johns (ANU) and Georges Anawati (IDEO). Seduced by Razi's logical approach to theological problems, he began to work on Razi's logical writings, which ultimately led to work on Avicenna's foundational texts on logic. A leading scholar of his generation on Arabo-Islamic logic, Dr. Street has published a number of seminal studies on aspects of the logic of Avicenna, Suhrawardi, Razi, Tusi and Katibi.

Post-classical logicians writing in Arabic faced the humbling and daunting task of working in the shadow of the magisterial philosophical synthesis of Avicenna (d. 1037). The Shaykh Ra’is or the Preeminent Scholar, as Avicenna was known, had confidently broken free of the logic of Aristotle in a number of ways—e.g. in his statistical modalization of the absolute proposition, in his descriptive reading of a proposition, and his division of syllogisms into connective and repetitive. Many of these innovations by Avicenna were undergirded by an implicit metaphysics that seems to subscribe to some form of the Principle of Plenitude—the claim that there can be no possibilities that remain as possibilities and yet are unrealized either mentally or extra-mentally throughout all eternity—and an ontology that recognized only near-world possibilities—the view that physical laws much like those of the actual world set constraints on what “real possibility” is. All these innovations were also extremely attractive to post-classical logicians, who nevertheless felt great unease about the rough edges and inconsistencies of Avicenna’s system as a whole. Thus, for example, the Principle of Plenitude and the ontology of near-world possibilities did not allow syllogisms with minor possibility premises to conclude. A concrete instance then would be that while, according to Avicenna, one should be able to infer “Necessarily, all humans are animals” from the premises “Necessarily, whatever is sleeping is an animal (Major) and “Possibly, all humans are sleeping” (Minor), post-classical logicians were not wont to allow such syllogisms with Minor possibility premises. Moreover, since such syllogisms are central to conversion rules and so to the development of the syllogistic (or proof theory), the post-classical tradition, in its impressive program of systemization, developed an entirely new syllogistic.

The recent Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy in a number of chapters has hinted that similar major system-wide transformations, critiques, and shifts in the focus of post-classical rationalist disciplines such as metaphysics, theology, and physics are also observable. But we know only the surface of the internal workings of these disciplines and their internal disputes; and we know even less about the nature of such systematic and cross-disciplinary interface as indicated in the example above. Seminar One, divided into two workshops, will therefore bring together a number of scholars from outside to collaborate with St. Louis-based scholars for a deeper penetration of logic, physics, metaphysics, and theology.

All events are open to the public.  Sponsored by the Department of Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Washington University in St. Louis. For more information:
Phone: 314-935-5110 or 314-935-8567