Workshop II: Metaphysical Realism in the Post-Classical Period



ETI held its second international workshop between the dates 14-15th of January 2019 in Finnish Institute in Paris titled “Metaphysical Realism in the Post-Classical Period“. The topics and abstracts are presented below.




14 January: Monday

9:15 Opening words by Jari Kaukua

9:30 Robert Wisnovsky: ʿAbduh on intrinsically necessary existence

10:30 Cecilia Martini Bonadeo: How does the perceived multiplicity come from the One according to ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baġdādī’s Kitāb fī ‘ilm mā ba‘d al-ṭabī‘a, Chapter 21

11:30 Lunch

13:00 Fedor Benevich: No Entity without Identity: Metaphysical Anti-Realism in Post-Classical Islamic Philosophy

14:00 Richard Todd: A Sufi Defence of Metaphysical Realism: the status of universals in Qūnawī’s letters to Ṭūsī

15:00 Coffee/tea

15:30 Asad Ahmed: Postclassical Commentaries and the Dialectic over Mental Objects:  A Case Study


15 January: Tuesday

9:30 İbrahim Halil Üçer: Nature and Representation: Quṭb al-Din al-Rāzī on the Onto-Epistemological Status of Mental Exemplars

10:30 Yusuf Daşdemir: Quṭb al-Dīn al-Rāzī on the Problem of Universals

11:30 Lunch

13:00 Mariam Shehata: Abū l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī’s on Divine Omniscience and Human Freedom

14:00 Cécile Bonmariage: The world outside us: a Sadrian approach

15:00 Coffee/tea

15:30 Davlat Dadikhuda: Rule of the one; Avicenna, Bahmanyār, and Rāzī on the argument from the Mubāḥathāt

16:30 Nathan Spannaus: Post-Classical Theology and Metaphysics in Yusuf Qarabaghi’s Supercommentary on the Sharh al-‘adudiyya





Robert Wisnovsky

ʿAbduh on intrinsically necessary existence

Muḥammad ʿAbduh (d. 1323/1905) is most famous for his writings on Islamic reform. Less well known is that early in his career, he composed a lengthy scholastic treatise: his Ḥāshiyah (Supercommentary) on Jalāl al-Dīn al-Dawānī’s (d. 907/1501) Sharḥ (Commentary) on ʿAḍud al-Dīn al-Ījī’s (756/1355) ʿAqāʾid (Creed). ʿAbduh’s Ḥāshiyah was published in Cairo in 1904-5, in the same volume as the Ḥāshiyah of ʿAbd al-Ḥakīm al-Siyālkūtī (d. 1067/1656). After reviewing the history of the commentary tradition arising from Ījī’s ʿAqāʾid, my paper will focus on ʿAbduh’s discussion of how the distinction between essence and existence maps onto the distinction between intrinsically necessary and extrinsically necessary existence. Time permitting, a comparison will be made with discussions of this problem in earlier Ḥawāshī on Dawānī’s Sharḥ.

Cecilia Martini Bonadeo

How does the perceived multiplicity come from the One according to ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baġdādī’s Kitāb fī ‘ilm mā ba‘d al-ṭabī‘a, Chapter 21

In Chapter 21 of his Book on the science of Metaphysics (Kitāb fī ‘ilm mā ba‘d al-ṭabī‘a), entitled On the Theology That is the Science of Divine Sovereignty (Fī Uṯūlūğiyā wa-huwa ʿilm al-rubūbiyya) ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baġdādī (1162-9 November 1231) addresses the topic of the emergence of perceived multiplicity and variety from the One. He re-elaborates a series of propositions taken from the well-known Proclus Arabus ’s work entitled What Alexander of Aphrodisias Extracted from the Book of Aristotle Called Theology, Namely the Doctrine of Divine Sovereignty (Mā staḫrağa-hu l-Iskandar al-Afrūdīsī min kitāb Arisṭūṭālīs al-musammā Ṯūlūğiyā wa-ma‘nā-hu l-kalām fī l-rubūbiyya). As parts of this selection there are also four quaestiones from Alexander of Aphrodisias and the adaptation of John Philoponus’ De Aeternitate mundi contra Proclum IX. ‘Abd al-Laṭīf seems to set for himself three objectives which will be analyzed. In the first place, he wants to stress the crucial aspects of the doctrine of the First Cause understood as One. In the second place, he discusses the relationship between the One and the many. As for these two objectives, he stresses the basic features of the First Cause: it is One in itself and it is the cause of all that which is multiple in that, although it is by essence One, its causal action propagates in a multiplicity of effects. Then paraphrasing Arabic Alexander’s Quaestiones, he turns to the providence of the First Cause with regard to its effects: this providence is mediated by the spheres and preserves the species on earth.

Fedor Benevich

No Entity without Identity: Metaphysical Anti-Realism in Post-Classical Islamic Philosophy

Do such universal notions as ‘redness’, ‘humanity’, and ‘animality’ exist in the real world? Avicenna’s solution to the everlasting problem of the ontological status of universals was a distinction between universals as such, which exist only in our minds, and essences qua essences, which may exist extramentally. In my presentation, I will trace two readings of Avicenna’s theory of universals in the twelfth and thirteenth century. The first reading, characteristic of Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1209), understands Avicenna as a realist. It particularly insists that essences qua essences must exist outside the mind, since they are parts of particulars and correspond to universal notions in the mind. The second reading, whose most famous representative is Šihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrawardī (d. 1191), denies the reality of any generic notions. If ‘animality’ existed outside the mind, it would need to be a concrete entity ‘animality’, which it is not. I will discuss possible reasons for the emergence of these two readings as well as further complications over making a distinction between them. These complications will be particularly clear in the case of Aṯīr al-Dīn al-Abharī (d. 1264), who will appear rather confused about the harmony or disagreement between Rāzī and Suhrawardī.

Richard Todd

A Sufi Defence of Metaphysical Realism: the status of universals in Qūnawī’s letters to Ṭūsī

Famed both as Ibn ʿArabī’s chief disciple and as a sophisticated thinker in his own right, Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī (d. 673/1274) had a major impact on post-classical Islamic metaphysics in Sunni and Shi’i circles alike. Coupled with his critique of the limitations of syllogistic reasoning, Qūnawī’s insistence on the possibility of supra-rational intuition, which he deemed the sole guarantor of metaphysical certitude, contributed to a significant reshaping of the epistemological premises underpinning philosophical inquiry in the Ottoman/Safavid era. His engagement, moreover, with the debates arising from the Aristotelian-cum-Avicennan tradition (debates that were common to late medieval Christian and Jewish philosophy too) lends his work a historical relevance that resonates beyond the immediate context of the Muslim world.
This is notably true of his novel approach to the vexed question of whether universals are merely mental constructs, as nominalists contend, or whether they are in fact endowed with real existence outside the mind, an issue he discusses in his correspondence with the pre-eminent Avicennan philosopher of his day, Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī. While emphasising – as would the nominalist movement of fourteenth-century Christian scholasticism – the shortcomings of rationalist metaphysics, Qūnawī nevertheless argues strongly in favour of the extra-mental reality of universals, claiming that the latter may be apprehended directly by souls, such as those of the Sufi saints, that have transcended the limitations of the individual state with its sense-dependent faculties.
Focusing on Qūnawī’s interpretation of passages from Avicenna’s Taʿlīqāt this paper argues that, despite his frequent criticism of philosophical propositions and methodology, Qūnawī’s defence of metaphysical realism is, in effect, largely a defence of Fārābian and Avicennan noetics, since he sees realism as a natural concomitant of Avicenna’s concept of universal intellects, which know universal essences without having to abstract them from the objects of sense-perception.  

Asad Ahmed

Postclassical Commentaries and the Dialectic over Mental Objects:  A Case Study

This paper examines a cryptic lemma of the Sullam al-‘ulum, an Indian logic text of the late seventeenth century that gave rise to tens of commentaries. The lemma states that a thing is predicated of another insofar as it is derivative of its actuality and that it entails its existence. Hardly any further clue is offered by the matn itself about the relevance of this principle or how it may be deployed usefully for an analysis of logical propositions. It is in the commentaries, in the course of their diachronic unfolding of and appropriation of the lemma, that the significance of the claim is revealed: it is meant to avert conundrums that arise with predicates, such as existent, possible, and impossible and with determined subject terms, such as the confluence of two contradictories, the Participant with the Creator, and the absolutely unknown, and their supposed instances. This paper carries out two tasks: it examines the issues and the resolutions offered in the texts and it offers a theoretical framework for commentaries within which the solutions are offered as a function of the genre.

İbrahim Halil Üçer

Nature and Representation: Quṭb al-Din al-Rāzī on the Onto-Epistemological Status of Mental Exemplars

Onto-epistemological status of mental representations can be seen among the most controversial problems of Post-Avicennan philosophy. The problem has its roots in Ibn Sīnā’s attempt to achieve a predicational unity between the layers of being on the one hand, and in Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s criticisms of mental existence and universality of mental exemplars on the other. Al-Rāzī’s criticisms have led prominent followers of Ibn Sīnā to reconsider Avicennan principle of “preservation of essences in multi-layered being” and his conception of knowledge as an immaterial representation of nature. Against al-Rāzī’s criticism, al-Ṭūsī tried to narrow the ontological extension of essences and redefined universal predication. His attempt can be seen as a kind of idealist transition from Avicenna’s conception of “nature equal to representation” to “nature as representation”. Quṭb al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s involvement in the discussion took the narrowing efforts to the next level. In addition to al-Ṭūsī’s narrowing the ontological extensions of essences through giving them only an epistemological role, Quṭb al-Dīn al-Rāzī downgraded their epistemological roles as well and identified them just as individual exemplars (mithāl) in an individual mind. In addition to Al-Ṭūsī’s hesitant rejection of universal natures in external world, he clearly rejects the existence of universal natures in the external world. His first position led him to redefine the notion of correspondence and universality, and his second position led him to propose a non-explanatory interpretation of Ibn Sīnā’s hylomorphic substances. In this paper, I will discuss the continuities and discontinuities of his interpretations in respect to Ibn Sīnā’s strong metaphysical realism and his philosophical project aims to construct the unity of essences in multi-layered being.

Nathan Spannaus

Post-Classical Theology and Metaphysics in Yusuf Qarabaghi’s Supercommentary on the Sharh al-‘adudiyya

In the later post-classical period, discussions of ontology and metaphysics were prominent in Central Asian kalam. These discussions were influenced by ideas from ibn ‘Arabi, which had been developed and spread by his followers in the Akbarian school, shaping the theological and philosophical discourse in the region. Akbarian notions were in the process of being incorporated into mainstream Sunni kalam in this era, articulated through the framework of Avicennian ontology.
One of the main textual vehicles for approaching these metaphysical issues was Jalal al-Din Dawani’s commentary on the creed of ‘Adud al-Din Iji, the Sharh al-‘aqa’id al-‘adudiyya. It was a primary text in Central Asian theological education, and Dawani’s discussions of existence and ontological categories served as a platform for broader investigation into these issues. An example of this is the super commentary by Yusuf Qarabaghi, which dates from the first half of the 17th century. One of the most important scholars of 17th-18th-century Bukhara, Qarabaghi used his supercommentary to explore ontological questions—about being, God’s existence, the Avicennian modes—within Sunni orthodoxy, in ways influential for later theological debates in Central Asia, as well as India and the Ottoman Empire.

Mariam Shehata

Abū l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī’s on Divine Omniscience and Human Freedom

This paper explores the position of Abū l-Barakāt, a twelfth-century philosopher and critic, on the question of divine omniscience and human freedom. Through criticizing the preceding Muslim philosophical and theological views on the God-human relationship, Abū l-Barakāt introduced an original view of the divine omniscience and its relationship to human freedom, where he excluded human voluntary activity from God’s knowledge. One may argue that such exclusion undermines the divine perfection. However, Abū l-Barakāt’s view of God is that He is prefect and omniscient, even though He does not know what humans are going to do in the future.
The paper is divided into three sections. Section I provides a brief historical background of the question of predestination. Muslim scholars’ debates on predestination are of importance in understanding Abū l-Barakāt’s position, since he argued that some of their views entail divine imperfection while others are rationally inconceivable. Section II illustrates Abū l-Barakāt’s position on divine attributes, with special emphasis on the attribute of knowledge. The final section elaborates Abū l-Barakāt s view on the God-world relationship. It details Abū l-Barakāt understands of the extent and restriction of God’s knowledge in His relationship with creatures, including human beings and their choices and actions.

Cécile Bonmariage

The world outside us: a Sadrian approach

The significance of Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī’s metaphysics is often portrayed as a shift from essence to existence. But this is a consequence of a deeper shift, from a world seen and experienced as an organized multiplicity to a world unified by a common underlying ground. Yet Ṣadrā deems it fit to express his understanding of reality through the lenses of the essence/existence debate, and insists on the distinctive knowledge that we get whether we look at things from the point of view of māhiyya or from the point of view of wujūd. This paper explores what this means for Ṣadrā’s understanding of reality and of our comprehension of it: what is it that we grasp when we look at māhiyyāt? How do we get to what things are in themselves, their huwiyya or singular act of being (wujūd khāṣṣ)? Are these different understandings of a same universe, pursuing maybe different purposes? It also examines whether and how Ṣadrā’s metaphysics constitutes a novel approach to the participation models presented by earlier Ishrāqī and Akbarī thinkers.

Davlat Dadikhuda

Rule of the one; Avicenna, Bahmanyār, and Rāzī on the argument from the Mubāḥathāt

Avicenna is a strong proponent of what some of the later ones call qā ͑ida al-wāḥid or ‘rule of the one’ (RO). The gist of RO states: from the one only one can proceed. In the secondary literature, discussion of this Avicennian rule is usually limited to a particular application of it i.e., the issue of emanation. As result, it’s not really clear what RO means, nor why Avicenna endorsed it. In this paper, I try and remedy this situation by doing two things – one on the taṣawwur front, the other on the tasdīq. First, explain just what the terms of RO amount to – that is, its subject and predicate. In doing this, I distinguish between a narrow and a broad understanding of RO, and the show that, on the Avicennian view, the scope of RO is broad; it is meant to be a general principle of efficient causality. This is why it is appealed to in various contexts to establish substantial philosophical theses. Second, I consider an argument Avicenna offers for RO in the Mubāḥathāt. In unpacking it, I uncover some of its realist presuppositions, and then further clarify it in light of a critique first raised by Bahmanyār and then later made famous by Fakhr al-Dīn Rāzī. I then conclude by seeing whether the Avicennian has the resources within the initial premises of the argument to meet the issue they raise.

Yusuf Daşdemir

Quṭb al-Dīn al-Rāzī on the Problem of Universals

Briefly described as concepts that might be predicated of many, universals have been a central topic for philosophers and logicians since the ancient times of philosophy. The Problem of Universals, which gained a certain formulation in the Eisagoge of Porphyry, one of the classics of philosophy no doubt, has occupied the philosophers of both the Islamic and Christian-Western world throughout the Middle Ages. Although the problem includes the nature and definition of universals, its most controversial area is the existence of universals in the external world. This presentation, which aims to show a telling example of how the Islamic philosophers have treated the problem in the post-Classical period, will deal with the approach of Quṭb al-Dīn al-Rāzī (v. 1365), one of the most important logicians of the period, to the problem of the universals. The main question that the study aims at answering is whether al-Rāzī accepts the existence of universals in the external world. This study will also discuss different positions held by Muslim philosophers on the definitions, classifications, and external existence of universals.


*Detail from ‘The Meeting of the Theologians’ by Musawwir, mid 16th century, Bukhara. Courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.



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