Page:EB1911 - Volume 02.djvu/292

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
277
ARABIAN PHILOSOPHY

and another. It is not the man that throws a stone who is its real mover: the supreme agent has for the moment created motion. If a living being die, it is because God has created the attribute of death; and the body remains dead, only because that attribute is unceasingly created. Thus, on the one hand, the object called the cause is denied to have any efficient power to produce the so-called effect; and, on the other hand, the regularities or laws of nature are explained to be direct interferences by the Deity. The supposed uniformity and necessity of causation is only an effect of custom, and may be at any moment rescinded. In this way, by a theory which, according to Averroes, involves the negation of science, the Moslem theologians believed that they had exalted God beyond the limits of the metaphysical and scientific conceptions of law, form and matter; whilst they at the same time stood aloof from the vulgar doctrines, attributing a causality to things. Thus they deemed they had left a clear ground for the possibility of miracles.

But at least one point was common to the theological and the philosophical doctrine. Carrying out, it may be, the principles of the Neo-Platonists, they kept the sanctuary of the Deity securely guarded, and interposed between him and his creatures a spiritual order of potent principles, from the Intelligence, which is the first-born image of the great unity, to the Soul and Nature, which come later in the spiritual rank. Of God the philosophers said we could not tell what He is, but only what He is not. The highest point, beyond which strictly philosophical inquirers did not penetrate, was the active intellect,—a sort of soul of the world in Aristotelian garb—the principle which inspires and regulates the development of humanity, and in which lies the goal of perfection for the human spirit. In theological language the active intellect is described as an angel. The inspirations which the prophet receives by angelic messengers are compared with the irradiation of intellectual light, which the philosopher wins by contemplation of truth and increasing purity of life. But while the theologian incessantly postulated the agency of that God whose nature he deemed beyond the pale of science, the philosopher, following a purely human and natural aim, directed his efforts to the gradual elevation of his part of reason from its unformed state, and to its final union with the controlling intellect which moves and draws to itself the spirits of those who prepare themselves for its influences. The philosophers in their way, like the mystics of Persia (the Sufites) in another, tended towards a theory of the communion of man with the spiritual world, which may be considered a protest against the practical and almost prosaic definiteness of the creed of Mahomet.

Arabian philosophy, at the outset of its career in the 9th century, was able without difficulty to take possession of those resources for speculative thought which the Latins had barely achieved at the close of the 12th century by the slow process of rediscovering the Aristotelian logic from the commentaries and verses of Boëtius. What the Latins painfully accomplished, owing to their fragmentary and unintelligent acquaintance with ancient philosophy, was already done for the Arabians by the scholars of Syria. In the early centuries of the Christian era, both within and without the ranks of the church, the Platonic tone and method were paramount throughout the East. Their influence was felt in the creeds which formulated the orthodox dogmas in regard to the Trinity and the Incarnation. But in its later days the Neo-Platonist school came more and more to find in Aristotle the best exponent and interpreter of the philosopher whom they thought divine. It was in this spirit that Porphyry, Themistius and Joannes Philoponus composed their commentaries on the treatises of the Peripatetic system which, modified often unconsciously by the dominant ideas of its expositors, became in the 6th and 7th centuries the philosophy of the Eastern Church. But the instrument which, in the hands of John of Damascus (Damascenus), was made subservient to theological interests, became in the hands of others a dissolvent of the doctrines which had been reduced to shape under the prevalence of the elder Platonism. Peripatetic studies became the source of heresies; and conversely, the heretical sects prosecuted the study of Aristotle with peculiar zeal. The church of the Nestorians, and that of the Monophysites, in their several schools and monasteries, carried on from the 5th to the 8th century the study of the earlier part of the Organon, with almost the same means, purposes and results as were found among the Latin schoolmen of the earlier centuries. Up to the time when the religious zeal of the emperor Zeno put a stop to the Nestorian school at Edessa, this “Athens of Syria” was active in translating and popularizing the Aristotelian logic. Their banishment from Edessa in 489 drove the Nestorian scholars to Persia, where the Sassanid rulers gave them a welcome; and there they continued their labours on the Organon. A new seminary of logic and theology sprang up at Nisībis, not far from the old locality; and at Gandisapora (or Nishapur), in the east of Persia, there arose a medical school, whence Greek medicine, and in its company Greek science and philosophy, ere long spread over the lands of Iran. Meanwhile the Monophysites had followed in the steps of the Nestorians, multiplying Syriac versions of the logical and medical science of the Greeks. Their school at Resaina is known from the name of Sergius, one of the first of these translators, in the days of Justinian; and from their monasteries at Kinnesrīn (Chalcis) issued numerous versions of the introductory treatises of the Aristotelian logic. To the Isagoge of Porphyry, the Categories and the Hermeneutica of Aristotle, the labours of these Syrian schoolmen were confined. These they expounded, translated, epitomized and made the basis of their compilations, and the few who were bold enough to attempt the Analytics seem to have left their task unaccomplished.

The energy of the Monophysites, however, began to sink with the rise of the Moslem empire; and when philosophy revived amongst them in the 13th century, in the person of Gregorius Bar-Hebraeus (Abulfaragius) (1226-1286), the revival was due to the example and influence of the Arabian thinkers. It was otherwise with the Nestorians. Gaining by means of their professional skill as physicians a high rank in the society of the Moslem world, the Nestorian scholars soon made Bagdad familiar with the knowledge of Greek philosophy and science which they possessed. But the narrow limits of the Syrian studies, which added to a scanty knowledge of Aristotle some acquaintance with his Syrian commentators, were soon passed by the curiosity and zeal of the students in the Caliphate. During the 8th and 9th centuries, rough but generally faithful versions of Aristotle’s principal works were made into Syriac, and then from the Syriac into Arabic. The names of some of these translators, such as Johannitius (Hunain ibn-Ishāq), were heard even in the Latin schools. By the labours of Hunain and his family the great body of Greek science, medical, astronomical and mathematical, became accessible to the Arab-speaking races. But for the next three centuries fresh versions, both of the philosopher and of his commentators, continued to succeed each other.

To the Arabians Aristotle represented and summed up Greek philosophy, even as Galen became to them the code of Greek medicine. They adopted the doctrine and system which the progress of human affairs had made the intellectual aliment of their Syrian guides. From first to last Arabian philosophers made no claim to originality; their aim was merely to propagate the truth of Peripateticism as it had been delivered to them. It was with them that the deification of Aristotle began; and from them the belief that in him human intelligence had reached its limit passed to the later schoolmen (see Scholasticism). The progress amongst the Arabians on this side lies in a closer adherence to their text, a nearer approach to the bare exegesis of their author, and an increasing emancipation from control by the tenets of the popular religion.

Secular philosophy found its first entrance amongst the Saracens in the days of the early caliphs of the Abbasid dynasty, whose ways and thoughts had been moulded by their residence in Persia amid the influences of an older Under the Caliphate. creed, and of ideas which had in the last resort sprung from the Greeks. The seat of empire had been transferred to Bagdad, on the highway of Oriental commerce; and the distant