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Greek philosophy: impact on Islamic philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-H011-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 12, 2024, from

Article Summary

During the Hellenistic period (323–43 bc), classical Greek philosophy underwent a radical transformation. From being an essentially Greek product, it developed into a cosmopolitan and eclectic cultural movement in which Greek, Egyptian, Phoenician and other Near Eastern religious and ethical elements coalesced. This transformation is best symbolized by the role Alexandria played as the hub of diverse currents of thought making up the new philosophy.

When the Abbasid Caliphate was founded in Baghdad in 750 ad, the centre of learning gradually moved to the Abbasid capital, which became in due course the heir of Athens and Alexandria as the new cultural metropolis of the medieval world. About two centuries later Cordoba, capital of Muslim Spain, began to vie with Baghdad as the centre of ‘ancient learning’. From Cordoba, Greek–Arabic philosophy and science were transmitted across the Pyrenees to Paris, Bologna and Oxford in the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries.

The initial reception of Greek–Hellenistic philosophy in the Islamic world was mixed. It was frowned upon at first as being suspiciously foreign or pagan, and was dismissed by conservative theologians, legal scholars and grammarians as pernicious or superfluous. By the middle of the eighth century ad the picture had changed somewhat, with the appearance of the rationalist theologians of Islam known as the Mu‘tazilites, who were thoroughly influenced by the methods of discourse or dialectic favoured by the Muslim philosophers. Of those philosophers, the two outstanding figures of the ninth and tenth centuries were al-Kindi and al-Razi, who hailed Greek philosophy as a form of liberation from the shackles of dogma or blind imitation (taqlid). For al-Kindi, the goals of philosophy are perfectly compatible with those of religion, and, for al-Razi, philosophy was the highest expression of man’s intellectual ambitions and the noblest achievement of that noble people, the Greeks, who were unsurpassed in their quest for wisdom (hikma).

Citing this article:
Fakhry, Majid. Greek philosophy: impact on Islamic philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-H011-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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