Summary of Chapter 4

  • • The texts by Sextus and Cicero on skepticism were not translated into Arabic in the Middle Ages.
  • • Early skepticism in the Islamic tradition was, foremost, religious.
  • • Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (1056-1111) uses skeptical arguments against the philosophers of his time.
  • • The two most important works where he uses these arguments are The Refutation of the Philosophers (Tahafut al-falasija) and Deliverance from Error (al-Mimqidh min ad-Daldl).
  • Deliverance from Error provides an account of his search for knowledge and a struggle to overcome personal doubt. It develops classical skeptical arguments like perceptual illusions and dreams.
  • • In the Refutation of the Philosophers, he develops arguments against causality.
  • • He also uses arguments involving God’s omnipotence to argue for skepticism in philosophy.
  • • Only through faith in God can skepticism be overcome.
  • • Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) develops arguments against Aristotelian logic and scientific demonstrations.
  • • He argues that even though a syllogism is a perfectly valid argument, it is useless, since it does not lead to any new knowledge.
  • • Maimonides (1135-1204) develops an argument for skepticism towards metaphysics and cosmology, which derives from the observation that all knowledge derives from sensible images and that we cannot have such apprehensions of things that are purely immaterial.
  • • Even though Byzantine philosophy is basically an uninterrupted continuation of late Ancient Greek philosophy, Sextus’ works were not very influential until the fourteenth century.

Further Reading

Translations of the Works of Chazali

The Incoherence of the Philosophers / Tahafut al-faldsifa, a Parallel English-Arabic Text, ed. and trans. M.E. Mannura, 2nd ed., Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2000. (This is an excellent translation of Ghazali’s most famous work.)

Deliverance from Error. Five Key Texts Including His Spiritual Autobiography al-Munqidh min al-Dalal, trans. R. McCarthy, Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2000. (This is a translation of his autobiography, which contains the discussion of skepticism.)

Other Writings on the Skepticism of Chazali

Avenues’ Tahafut al-tahafut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence), trans. S. van den Bergh, 2 vols., London: Luzac, 1954. (A translation of Averroes’ rejection of Ghazali. It was read during the fourteenth century and later in Latin as well.)

van Ess, Josef, “Skepticism in Islamic Religious Thought”, in God and Man in Contemporary Islamic Thought, ed. C. Malik, Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1972: 83-98. (A seminal discussion of skepticism in the Arabic/Islamic tradition to date.)

Kukkonen, Taneli, “Al-GhazalT’s Skepticism Revisited”, in Rethinking the History of Skepticism: The Missing Medieval Background, ed. Henrik Lagerlund, Leiden: Brill, 2010: 29—59. (An excellent chapter on Ghazali’s skepticism and a serious attempt at placing it in the context of his religious faith.)

Heck, Paul, Skepticism in Classical Islam. New York: Routledge, 2014. (This is an overview of skepticism in Islam during the Middle Ages, and contains discussions of both Ghazali and Taymiyya. It is a thorough overview.)

Translation of the Works of Ibn Taymiyya

Against the Greek Logicians, ed. and trans. Wael B. Hallaq, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001. (This is the only English translation of Ibn Taymiyya’s rejection of Aristotelian logic.)

Translation of Maimonides

The Guide for the Perplexed, trans. M. Friedlander, New York: Dover Publications, 1956. (The Guide has been translated many times into English. I have used this one, which is a little freer than some later translations.)

Other Writing on the Skepticism of Maimonides

Stern, Josef, The Matter and Form of Maimonides’ Guide, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013. (The argument in this book is for a strongly skeptical reading of Maimonides.)

Writing on Skepticism in Byzantine Philosophy

Byden, Borje, ‘“To Every Argument There Is a Counter-Argument’: Theodore Meto-chites’ Defence of Scepticism (Semeiosis 61)”, in Byzantine Philosophy and Its Ancient Sources, cd. Katerina lerodiakonou, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002: 183-218. (This is one of the few articles in English on skepticism in the Greek/Byzantine tradition.)

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