Sunday, September 13, 2009

Brague on the role of "digestion" in the disappearance of philosophy from the Islamic world

"I attach the greatest importance to a fact that Jean Jolivet has stressed: the 'philosopher' (philosophus) who debates with a Jew and a Christian in Abelard's [Dialogue between a philosopher, a Jew, and a Christian] is a Muslim. That personage, who is circumcised and claims descent from Ishmael, attempts to set up an ethics independent of revelation. . . . What is important is that this human type--one that some find a temptation and others, a type to be exorcised--continued to haunt Latin Christianity. As it happens, that model was by then exclusive to Andalusia, which stood out as different from the Islamic East; in its land of origin, it was already petering out.
"This means that it was precisely at the time when the Latin philosophus--when it did not designate Aristotle--came to signify faylasuf that, in the Islamic world, the use of the Arabic word faylasuf began to give way to other terms. Call that development what you will. The fact remains that, in the East, the word for 'philosophy' declined in favor of other words. In parallel fashion, in the same period the relationship with the Philosopher par excellence--Aristotle--ceased to have a textual dimension in that world. The twelfth century is the age in which Islamic thought fully digested Greek philosophy, the same Greek philosophy that Europe, somewhat later and perhaps to our own times, was to find hard to digest."

RĂ©mi Brague, "The meaning and value of philosophy in the three medieval cultures," chap. 2 of The legend of the Middle Ages: philosophical explorations of medieval Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, trans. Lydia G.Cochrane (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009): 55 (41-55). "'inclusion' is an appropriation in which the foreign body is maintained in its full alterity but is enveloped by procedures of appropriation, the presence of which highlights that alterity; . . . 'digestion' is an appropriation in which the foreign body is assimilated to the point of losing its independence" (51). Christianity "included" Aristotle, whereas Islam "digested" him, thereby abandoning philosophy--though not thought (47)--in the process.