By Javad Heirannia

Islamic philosophy had immense impact on western philosophy during medieval period: Chad Meister

August 4, 2019

TEHRAN - Chad Meister, Chair of Department of Religion and Philosophy of Bethel University says “The Muslim world was culturally superior to the Christian world in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of the Common Era, and this supremacy was evident in the humanities.”

Professor of Philosophy and Theology also adds that “The immense impact of Islamic philosophy on western philosophy during the medieval period influenced virtually all of the philosophical disciplines, most notably natural philosophy (the study of nature and the physical universe), logic, ethics, metaphysics, political philosophy, and philosophical theology.”

Following is the full text of the interview:

Q: What was the impact of Islamic philosophy on western philosophy in the medieval age?

A: The immense impact of Islamic philosophy on western philosophy during the medieval period influenced virtually all of the philosophical disciplines, most notably natural philosophy (the study of nature and the physical universe), logic, ethics, metaphysics, political philosophy, and philosophical theology. This influence came primarily through two main sources. First, the Islamic translation movement made available to western philosophers the writings of the ancient Greek philosophers, notably Aristotle, whose works had been largely lost to the West. Second, western philosophers began reading not only commentaries on the ancient Greeks crafted by the Islamic thinkers, but also the Islamic primary writings themselves, with which the West began to seriously engage during this period.

Q: What was the impact of the translation movement in the Islamic world on transforming Classic texts, such as philosophical texts of ancient Greece, in the modern world?

A: The Arabic-Latin translation movements, spearheaded by the Abbasid caliphate which intended to make the classic Greek texts available to the Arab world in order to import Greek philosophy and science into Islamic culture, began in the eighth century and lasted for over two hundred years. They were quite successful in translating most of the major classical works from Greek into Arabic. In doing so they created a massive library of texts from across the disciplines, notably philosophy and science. The leading intellectuals who were involved in this translation program had a great impact on Islamic society, but also on the western society to which they were introduced. This led to philosophical and scientific advances, both in the East and the West, including the later scientific revolution.

Q: In which branches of the humanities has the impact of Islamic thought been more impressive on western thought in the medieval age?

A: The Muslim world was culturally superior to the Christian world in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of the Common Era, and this supremacy was evident in the humanities. Islamic thought during this period transformed not only western disciplines such as philosophy, but also psychology, art, music, history, politics, science, medicine, and mathematics. In mathematics, for example, we in the West owe a great debt to medieval Islamic thinkers for the invention of Arabic numerals, algebra, and trigonometry. 

Q: How many western philosophers, such as American philosophers, know about Islamic philosophy?

A: It is difficult to know precisely how many western philosophers are knowledgeable of Islamic philosophy. However, from anecdotal evidence in working with hundreds of western philosophers on various writing and editing projects, it seems to me that the number is not yet large. However, an increasing number of western philosophers and other scholars are becoming aware of the insights offered by Islamic philosophers, both medieval and contemporary. In fact, many volumes in the philosophy of religion in the West now include Islamic philosophy, a rarity only a couple of decades ago, and it would be imprudent to publish a philosophy book series or an edited collection in the philosophy of religion in the West today without including Islamic thinkers.
 

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