ʿAbd al-Latif al-Bagdadi’s Philosophical Journey From Aristotle’s Metaphysics to the ‘Metaphysical Science’

  • Book Title:
 Abd Al Latif Al Bagdadi Philosophy
  • Book Author:
Cecilia Martini Bonadeo
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ʿAbd al-Laīf al-Baġdādī’s Philosophical Journey:

From Aristotle’s Metaphysics to the ‘Metaphysical Science

When ʿAbd-al-Laṭīf ibn Yūsuf Muḥammad ibn Yūsuf al-Baġdādī, a young scholar educated in Arabic grammar and the ancillaries of Islamic law— Koranic studies, and Muslim tradition—left his home town, Baghdad, in the year 1190, for a life-long journey “in quest of knowledge” (alab al-ʿilm) to be acquired from the best teachers of his age, he opened up for himself the universe of the rational sciences of the Ancients.

 At the age of twenty-seven, he came to Mossul and found a teacher of law well versed in mathematics and fascinated by alchemy. Going on to Damascus, and hence to Cairo, he perfected his studies of Greek philosophy, medicine and the natural sciences to become a true polymath. He met the powerful and the learned in the Ayyūbid capitals, the new centers of Islam rivalling with, and soon eclipsing Baghdad.

 He studied with the authorities of medical learning who propagated Avicenna’s medical teaching as well as his philosophy; but then he made friends with a philosopher who referred him to the original sources of Aristotle and his true interpreters, Greek and Arabic; and in pursuing his relentless quest for learning he went for absolute knowledge: metaphysics.

His critical mind, and his continued training in the logic and dialectic of Aristotle, led him to the foundation of Arabic Islamic philosophy achieved by al-Fārābī, conceiving of philosophy as a school of sound reasoning: the science of demonstration.

He became a defender of true Aristotelianism and a fierce critic of Avicenna and the growing number of his admirers whom he accused of blind obedience before his assumptions. Invoking the authority of reason, ʿAbd-al-Laṭīf refused to accept as a true philosopher one lacking not only true insight, but also a truly moral personality. True philosophy is in the service of reli-gion, verifying both belief and action—apart from this, the philosophers’ ambitions are vain.

Metaphysics is the primary focus of Cecilia Martini’s study: ʿAbd al-Laṭīf’s commentary of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, intended as a faithful interpretation of his teaching, and including the writings of such Greek authors as are deemed representative of his doctrine—notably Alexander of Aphrodisias (under whose name, as also under Aristotle’s own name, the sources of Arabic Neoplatonism were transmitted).

The author is presenting the history of the Metaphysica in Arabic translations, commen- taries and systematic approaches, and through a painstaking analysis of ʿAbd-al-Laṭīf’s Kitāb fī ʿilm mā baʿd al-abīʿa and his further writings, she has reconstructed the ‘metaphysics corpus’ of early Arabic philosophy, outshone and superseded through the overwhelming success of Avicenna’s writings.

But beyond this contribution to the history of Aristotelian philosophy and its transformation in the Arabic Islamic milieu, it is the remarkable merit of the author of the present study to have retraced for us the life’s journey of ʿAbd-al-Laṭīf in the light of his own autobiographical reports—some of the most remarkable texts of personal history from the Islamic Middle Ages—and at the same time, to have expounded his philosophical and spiritual outlook as a reflection of his age and society.

In placing his intellectual journey into context, the present study transcends the limits of an anaemic history of ideas, and has made alive the intellec- tual networks of teaching and scholarly exchange in Arabic Islamic cul- ture during its final heyday before the Mongol invasion.

The vast learning of ʿAbd-al-Laṭīf al-Baġdādī was exemplary, and it was exceptional. He comprised the whole of traditional Islamic education and Arabic erudition, and he encompassed the heritage of the rational sci- ences of the Greeks. In all of this, he was a critical mind, while revering the Ancients, he refused blind adherence to authority, ancient or ‘modern’.

With sharp observation and sober empiricism he confuted many accepted opinions based on the repetition of transmitted doctrine. Metaphysics as a disciplina is no more but a school of clear thinking. ʿAbd-al-Laṭīf al-Baġdādī shunned the scholasticism of Avicenna’s contemporary read- ers presuming to integrate philosophical discourse with Ashʿarite Kalām under the roof of the law college.

“The object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a theory but an activity” (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus logico-philosophicus, trans. C.K. Ogden, § 4.112).

In this way, the reader will find in ʿAbd al-Laīf al-Baġdādī’s Philosophical Journey a shining example of Islamic rationalism, brought to bear in sound thought and virt ting portrait of one of the lumi- naries of his age.

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