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Thursday, 4 December 2014

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The word philosophy comes from two Greek terms philein and sophia, and literally means ‘love of wisdom’. From one point of view, philosophy is ‘a critical, reflective analysis of what we think we know about ourselves and our universe’. Philosophy is based on the attempt to understand reality rationally, whereas theology is based on an appeal to supernatural revelation. In the West during the Middle Ages, philosophy was considered ‘the handmaiden of theology’ and philosophical principles were used to justify religious faith.

Greek and Roman philosophy
The lineages and interconnections within the historical development of Greek and Roman philosophy can be clearly seen. It is generally acknowledged that the first Greek philosopher was Thales of Miletus, who lived in the sixth century BCE.5 Subsequently, Socrates, whose philosophical teachings adhered to an ethically influenced analysis, inspired other philosophers such as Plato, who is best known for his philosophy of ideas and who founded an academy to educate philosophers. Plato’s disciple Aristotle was one of the greatest Empiricists and began his own Peripatetic school.
Subsequent to Aristotle, a number of philosophical trends arose, including the Stoics (who argued that virtue is the only real good and everything else is an illusion), the Epicureans (who held that pleasure is the highest end) and the Sceptics (who believed that nothing can be known for certain). There were other schools that followed these traditions. Some of these schools had a significant influence on Islamic philosophy. A particular example was Neoplatonism, which began with Ammonius Saccas during the third century CE. He forsook Christianity and developed his own conception of Platonic philosophy with Aristotelian and Stoic influences. The Neoplatonists developed the theory of emanation, in which levels of existence come from the existence of the One (Supreme Being).

Near Eastern philosophy at the dawn of Islam
With the spread of Islam, particularly after the death of the Prophet, Muslims came into contact with a range of civilizations. Their conquest of Iraq and Egypt provided the first major contact between Muslims and the learning that was inspired by the Greeks. Centres of learning already present in those lands played a significant role in transmitting both the Greek philosophical tradition and the medical tradition to Muslims. Scholars from Harran and the Nestorian Christians from Jundishapur (a major centre of Hellenistic learning) were influential in the Abbasid court. They provided a link back to Greek science and knowledge for the Arabs. There were two ways in which Greek philosophy was transmitted to the mainly Arab Muslims of that period: through the translation of Greek philosophical works and as a result of the ongoing interest in medical research.
A range of philosophical works had been translated into Syriac and were being taught in Syria at the time of the Muslim conquest there. The conquest did not stop the study of Greek thought, which was continued largely by Christian scholars. It was after the conquest of Syria that a number of philosophical, scientific and medical works were translated from Greek and Syriac into Arabic from the eighth century CE. The Arab conquerors were fascinated by Greek thought and many of them encouraged the translation of works into Arabic. The earliest era of philosophical works in Arabic should be considered the activities of the translators, such as Hunayn b. Ishaq (d. 260/873).

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