History of Understanding The Intentions of the Philosophers

It was just before his departure from Baghdad that Ghazzali began the Intentions of the Philosophers,4 a book apparently composed at the request of his students. In it, Ghazzali provides a systematic exposition of the philosophical sciences with a distinctly Aristotelian angle. The Intentions, an expression of his two years of personal study,5 is a clear and careful work, reflecting the philosophical tradition of al-Farabi (d. 339/950) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (428/1037), whom Ghazzali considered the most accurate representatives of Aristotle.

In fact, the Intentions added little to that tradition. With the exception of the Prologue and Conclusion of the work, the Maqasid is essentially a reformulation of a Persian work on philosophy by Ibn Sina, the Danesh nameh (Book of Wisdom)? In fact, the majority of our work is virtually a translation of the Danesh Nameh, an insight lost on scholars with a penchant for unmitigated praise for Ghazzali. Ghazzali (as is his habit) makes no mention of his source, which must have provided him with a useful reference work on philosophy. His facility with Persian must have allowed him to painlessly adapt an Arabic version.

Yet according to Ghazzali, the Intentions is meant to be a clarification of the suppositions of philosophers, so that such suppositions might be more effectively deconstructed later:

You have desired from me a doubt-removing discourse, uncovering the falling to pieces (tahafut) of the philosophers and the mutual contradictions in their views and how they hide their suppressions and their deceits. But to help you thus is not at all desirable except after first teaching you their position (madhhab) and making you know their dogmatic structure.7

Thus the Intentions of the Philosophers describes itself as merely an introduction to the subsequent "doubt removing discourse." Ghazzali later wrote that discourse, naming it the Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahafut al-falasifa).

The Incoherence became better known and more influential in the Islamic world than its predecessor. In fact, it is a watershed in Islamic intellectual history. The Incoherence's great popularity led to a greater awareness of philosophy and, simultaneously, an increased suspicion of its claims. Its impact was threatening enough to Islamic philosophy that the Andalusian philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes) (d. 594/1198) was prompted to pen a refutation of the work, the Tahafut al-tahafut (Incoherence of the Incoherence), in which he quoted Ghazzali's work from beginning to end.8 The Intentions of the Philosophers, then, was superseded by its successor in the Islamic world and never became particularly influential. This is, apparently, what Ghazzali intended.

The story of the Intentions might have been this simple if it had never reached Medieval Europe. Yet in the twelfth century the Archbishop John of Toledo became aware of the work and commissioned its translation. The well-known translator Dominicus Gundissalinus, with the help of a certain Johannes Magister, carried out the commission.9 They gave their translation the title Liber Algazelis de summa theoricae philosophae.10 The translation was a popular work and was duplicated several times in the thirteenth century and most likely revised in the process.11

Such popularity is not surprising. Being no more than a summary of philosophical views, the Intentions (and hence the Summa theoricae philosophae) is short and clear, while still representing the advanced Islamic philosophical tradition from which medieval Christians were eager to borrow. Indeed, that it was translated into Latin within a century of the author's death reflects the Scholastics' desire for such a work.12 The Liber Algazelis de summa theoricae philosophae became a textbook for Scholastics seeking to understand the classical tradition of philosophy.

Unwittingly, the Scholastics were learning philosophy from one whom Muslims considered an antagonist of the philosophers. Gundissalinus had translated the Intentions alone, without the Incoherence, which did not appear in Europe until a couple of centuries later.13 Moreover, he translated the work with neither the explanatory preface (quoted above) nor the similar note that appears at the end of the work. And nowhere in the body of the text does Ghazzali make it clear that he is simply paraphrasing the views of the philosophers. These absences led medieval Christians to understand Ghazzali in profoundly different fashion than their Muslim contemporaries, for the Scholastics quite naturally took the views expressed in the Intentions as Ghazzali's own.

Accordingly, Ghazzali came to be almost universally understood in medieval Europe not as an opponent of the philosophical tradition represented by Avicenna, but rather as a sequax Avicennae.14 I say "almost," because it seems that at least one manuscript tradition circulated among the Scholastics with the explanatory notes about the book's introductory nature. The Franciscan Roger Bacon and Raymond Martin were both aware of this tradition.15 It seems that we can even trace the point at which Roger Bacon changed his mind about Ghazzali's position towards philosophy.16

So it is that the opponent of philosophy in the Islamic world became one of its representatives in the Christian one. The modern observer can't help but smile to see that Giles of Rome, in his own "Tahafut al-falasifa," that is, the Errores philosophorum, condemns the Liber Algazelis de summa theoricae philosophae.17 Ironically, Giles attacks Ghazzali for his faith in philosophy, writing against his "errores praecipui," thus performing the same act which Ghazzali himself was later engaged in! Giles' list of the eighteen Errores Algazelis was later entered into the Directorium Inquisitorum of Nicholar Eymerich.18

The confusion regarding the Intentions has perdured in the modern period. A.Schmoelders, who wrote the Essai sur les écoles philosophiques chez les Arabes et notamment sur la doctrine d'Algazzel in 1842, was not aware of the Islamic world's understanding of the Intentions of the Philosophers.19 And as D.B.MacDonald pointed out (MacDonald 1937, 9-10), even the editor of the Latin version of the Intentions (published in 1933), J.T.Muckle, did not seem to correctly grasp the history of the text. Muckle, a Latinist, entitled his edition "Algazel's Metaphysics, " misleading not only because it is an edition of the Metaphysics and the Physics, but even more so, MacDonald argues, because it is certainly not Algazel's metaphysics, but rather those of his opponents.

In putting together his work, Muckle looked at six different manuscripts and one printed book. In the preface, he defends his choice of manuscript Vat. Lat. 4481 as the principle source, arguing that it is the oldest and most reliable. Yet he unwittingly passed over another manuscript, Paris B.N. 16096, that contains the crucial explanatory preface. This was quickly pointed out by the Latinist D.Salman in his article "Algazel et les Latins" (Salman 1935-6), who knew that Roger Bacon and other Scholastics were aware of the real nature of the work.

What is particularly unfortunate about Muckle's mistake is that other western scholars had already dealt with the same conundrum. In 1857 the Arabist S.Munk wrote in his Mélanges de philosophic juive et arabe (Munk 1857, 369-72) that the Intentions was not originally intended as an introduction to the Incoherence. He did so by referring to the very manuscript that contains the preface and conclusion, which Muckle would pass over as unreliable.

Muckle's error was the unfortunate result of miscommunication (or a simple lack of communication) between Latinists and Orientalists. MacDonald, writing in 1937 after a career of dealing with such miscommunication, responded to Muckle's mistake (and Salman's correction) by thumbing his nose at the intellectual snobbery of the Latinists: "Will the perfectly conclusive article by Fr. Salman, one of themselves, in one of their own journals, make any impression on them? May it even lead some of them to learn some Arabic!" (MacDonald 1937, 10).

The Intentions was also translated into Hebrew in medieval Europe, but in quite a different context. Isak ibn Albaleg began the project around the end of the thirteenth century, but he did not finish it.20 He completed only the first two sections of the work (the Logic and the Metaphysics) and the beginning of the third (the Physics). The last section was completed by a certain Isak ibn Polgar. A number of Jewish philosophers read the Intentions, such as Hasdai Crescas, who took it as a textbook of Ibn Sînâ's thought.21 It was commentated on many times, most notably by Moses Narbonmensis. Ghazzâlî's presence among Jewish scholars was significant enough that he was later thought by certain Latins to be himself a Jew.22

Yet allow me to return briefly to Albaleg's work, for the nature of it is to this day misunderstood, or at least under-emphasized. Scholars have been much too hasty in referring to it as a translation.23 Albaleg's work was not a translation, but rather a re-editing, directed towards his own aim of defending Aristotelian philosophy against Ghazzâlî.24 Unlikethe Latins, Albalag was fully aware of the relation of Ghazzâlî's work to its sequel, the Incoherence. In his re-interpretation of the Intentions of the Philosophers, he seeks to follow the example of Ibn Rushd and combat Ghazzali's attacks on philosophy.25 Accordingly, Albaleg did not entitle his work the "Intentions of the Philosophers" but rather the "Adjustment of the Philosophers" (Steinschneider 1893, 299). The "adjustment" is the misportrayal that Ghazzali gives in the Intentions in his attempt to invalidate their views.26 Thus, while Giles of Rome was attacking Ghazzali for embracing philosophy, Albalag was attacking him for betraying it.

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