The Metaphysical School Of Isfahan

During the late sixteenth century in Isfahaan, the beginnings of a remarkable, widespread and prolific philosophical activity are in evidence. Safavid rulers initiated a new era in Iranian intellectual life by their lavish endowment of many new centres of scholarship, as in the previous century when the mother of the ruling Timurid Shah, Shaahrokh, had been the prime mover in large endowments given to scholarship and the founding of religious colleges (madrasas). One of the major results of this enhanced level of intellectual life in Iran has been described as a period of ''revival'' in the history of post-Avicennan philosophy. Philosophy in this period took the form of the widespread study and teaching of philosophical subjects, in a way quite distinct from the earlier limited engagement of a few thinkers. Also, many of the falsafa works produced in this period are superior to the scholastic textbooks that were generated in Iran from the thirteenth to the late sixteenth century. As intense as the period was, however, it did not last long, and by the late seventeenth century the creative side of the activity gave way to a scholastic trend that continued the philosophical endeavour through the composition of commentaries, glosses and superglosses.

The impact of the School of Isfahaan is evident in many intellectual domains in Iran up to the present, most of all in the acceptance and incorporation of a reformulated Islamic philosophy into higher level syllabuses of Shi'ite madrasas (studied by a few pre-eminent religious scholars after completing the study of formal theology and law). Twelver Shai'ism, as we know it today, is the result of work done by sixteenth-and seventeenth-century scholars, most of whom were trained in the ''intellectual sciences'' (al-'ulum al-'aqliyya) and in juridical domains called ''transmitted sciences'' (al-'ulum al-naqliyya). Philosophy in this period was believed to be a comprehensive and scientific ('ilmi, which also means ''philosophical'' in the classical sense) system, and intellectual Shai'ism drew from it considerably in many ways that were not confined to jurisprudence and theology, thus distinguishing it from Sunm Islam.

The manifest results of the philosophical activity and creation of the rationalist principles of Shai'ite theology were based on multiple sources. In the domain of political thought, Sha'ite scholars equipped with the method of demonstration defined a place for Faraba's concept of learned reformers of law and elaborated on it by formulating the role of a supreme source of authority, whose authority was established by unified epistemological theories. The view of knowledge employed here combined the Peripatetic with the Illuminationist, and the legalist tradition that drew on revealed authority was also incorporated into the system. The widespread scholarly work of this period gave rise to the recovery and study of the entire range of Islamic philosophy's texts and also led to the definition of the third synthesis and restructuring of a holistic system. This was a major achievement in the development of philosophy in Islam, as it was finally proven to be ''harmonious'' with revelation and therefore accepted by more and more Sha'ite clergy. The seventeenth-century philosophical texts, mostly composed in the Safavid capital of Isfahaan, continued the examination of the earlier trends but also included the elaboration and refinement of a number of added problems, often in line with the period's characteristic preoccupation with uniform theories and holistic systems.

Mir Damad (d. 1630) and his acclaimed pupil Mulla Sadra (15711640) were the two most creative philosophers of this period and together defined the School of Isfahaan's analytic summit. Other members of this school included Mar Fendereska (d. 1640) and Shaykh Baha'a (d. 1621), who excelled in scientific and mathematical discoveries. The main outcome of this period was the construction of a system called ''Metaphysical Philosophy'', which is also part of the name given to Mulla Sadra's best-known text, The Four Journeys (al-Asfar al-Arba'a).27 This system is structurally distinct from both the Peripatetic and the Illuminationist systems. It commences with the study of being and places a special emphasis on metaphysics. The structure of Peripatetic texts, where the study of logic forms the first of the three sciences is changed, and a considerably shortened logic is studied as part of independent textbooks with an emphasis on formal techniques.

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