The incoherence of the philosophers
Although Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali lived a relatively short life (1058-1111), he established himself as one of the most important thinkers in the history of Islam. The Incoherence of the Philosophers, written after more than a decade of travel and ascetic contemplation, contends that while such Muslim philosophers as Avicenna boasted of unassailable arguments on matters of theology and metaphysics, they could not deliver on their claims; moreover, many of their assertions represented disguised heresy and unbelief. Despite its attempted refutation by the twelfth-century philosopher Ibn Rushd, al-Ghazali's work remains widely read and influential.
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We need more!, February 16, 2006 We need more! The `Incoherence of the Philosophers' (Tahafut al-falasifa) is part of a series of books in which Ghazali intended to explain his position vis-a-vis philosophy and kalam. (For our purposes here, Kalam is speculative theology.) The first book, `The Aims of the Philosophers' (Maqasid al-falasifa), is a fair and neutral exposition of the philosophy of Avicenna. Indeed, as Marmura notes, Ghazali "wrote this work of exposition to explain the philosophers' theories as a prelude to his refuting them in the Tahafut." Note that although Ghazali speaks of both al-Farabi and Avicenna in the Incoherence he usually is speaking of Avicenna. The next book in the series is this book, the Incoherence, and it is intended to be the refutation of philosophy. Then comes `the Standard for Knowledge' (Mi'yar al-'ilm) which, according to Marmura, "is an exposition of Avicennan logic, the most comprehensive of such expositions that al-Ghazali wrote." Ghazali considered logic philosophically neutral and thus a fitting tool for both theologians and jurists. Note that this position is itself controversial among the defenders of orthodoxy - see, for example, what Ibn Taymiyya says about Greek logic. Now, Ghazali considered his work on logic an appendix to the Tahafut. Lastly, in this series, Ghazali writes his `Moderation in Belief' (Al-iqtisad fi al-i'tiqad) which is an exposition of Kalam, specifically, Ash'arite theology. This Ash'arite theology is the type of Kalam that Ghazali then adhered to. Of this Marmura says that in, "the Tahafut al-Ghazali intended to refute and negate; in the Iqtisad, to build and affirm what he declared to be true doctrine." So you see that the Tahafut is only part of a series of books that presented Ghazali's comprehensive position on philosophy (and kalam) at this point in his career. We now need the Islamic Translation Series to publish these companion pieces of the Tahafut so we too can see Ghazali's comprehensive view. ...But keep in mind that this is not his final view; after writing these books (1091-1095) Ghazali had his spiritual crises that led to his turn toward mysticism. This is, btw, a fine bilingual edition superbly translated; both Marmura and the Islamic Translation Series deserve to be proud. For those of you that still want more turn to the reply of the falasifa in Averroes, `the Incoherence of the Incoherence' (Tahafut al-Tahafut), which has been translated by Simon Van Den Bergh and contains over 200 pages of notes! I only give 4 stars (instead of 5) until the three books that were meant by Ghazali to be read with the Incoherence are translated and published.
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