Life[ edit ] Miskawayh was born in Rey , then under Ziyarid control. Miskawayh may have been a Zoroastrian convert to Islam , but it seems more likely that it was one of his ancestors who converted. He was fluent enough in Middle Persian to have translated some pre-Islamic texts in that language into Arabic. In , a group of ghazi marched towards the Library of Rey but Miskawayh managed to save it. Some contemporary sources associated him with the Brethren of Purity , claiming that some of his writings were used in the compilation of the Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity. Matter, therefore, adopted the form of vapour which assumed the shape of water in due time.
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Metaphysics Like so many of his philosophical contemporaries, Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Miskawayh, born in Rayy in Persia c. A historian as well as a philosopher, he served as a Buwayhid official at Baghdad, Isfahan and Rayy. He was a member of the distinguished group of intellectuals including al-Tawhidi and al-Sijistani.
Although not an important figure on the creative side of Islamic philosophy, he is a very interesting adaptor of existing ideas, especially those arising out of the Neoplatonic tradition in the Islamic world see Neoplatonism in Islamic philosophy.
Ibn Miskawayh wrote on a wide variety of topics, ranging from history to psychology and chemistry, but in philosophy his metaphysics seems to have been generally informed by a version of Neoplatonism. He avoids the problem of reconciling religion with philosophy by claiming that the Greek philosophers were in no doubt concerning the unity and existence of God.
Such a creator can only be described in terms of negative concepts, an interesting prefigurement of the tradition of the via negativa in philosophy. He has an unusual account of emanation, wherein the deity produces the active intellect, the soul and the heavens without intermediaries, making one suspect that he did not have a firm grasp of the distinction between emanation and creation. The normal Neoplatonic account of emanation then current in Islamic philosophy used the notion of a scale of being that separates these different divine products far more radically.
It is difficult to see how Ibn Miskawayh really reconciles metaphysical difficulties at this point. The basis of his argument is his account, adopted from Plato , of the nature of the soul, which he sees as a self-subsisting entity or substance, in marked contrast to the Aristotelian notion see Soul, nature and immortality of the. The soul distinguishes us from animals, from other human beings and from things, and it uses the body and the parts of the body to attempt to come into contact with more spiritual realms of being.
The soul cannot be an accident or property of the body because it has the power to distinguish between accidents and essential concepts and is not limited to awareness of accidental things by the senses.
Rather, it can apprehend a great variety of immaterial and abstract entities. If the soul were only an accident it could do none of these things, but could only perform in the limited way of the physical parts of the body. The soul is not an accident, and when we want to concentrate upon abstract issues the body is actually an obstruction that we must avoid if we are to make contact with intelligible reality.
The soul, then, is an immortal and independent substance that controls the body. It has an essence opposite to that of the body, and so cannot die; it is involved in an eternal and circular motion, replicated by the organization of the heavens.
This motion takes two directions, either upwards towards reason and the active intellect or downwards towards matter. Our happiness arises through upwards movement, our misfortunes through movement in the opposite direction. Virtue is the perfection of the aspect of the soul that is, human reason that represents the essence of humanity and distinguishes it from lower forms of existence.
Our virtue increases in so far as we develop and improve our ability to deliberate and apply reason to our lives. We should do this in accordance with the mean, the point most distant from two extremes, and justice results when we manage to achieve this.
Ibn Miskawayh combines the Platonic division of virtues with an Aristotelian understanding of what virtue actually is, and adds to this the idea that the more these virtues can be treated as a unity, the better.
This is because, he argues, that unity is equivalent to perfection, while multiplicity is equivalent to a meaningless plurality of physical objects. This idea is not just based upon a Pythagorean aesthetic see Pythagoreanism. Ibn Miskawayh argues further that the notion of justice when it deals with eternal and immaterial principles is a simple idea, while human justice by contrast is variable and depends upon the changing nature of particular states and communities.
The law of the state is based upon the contingent features of the time, while the divine law specifies what is to be done everywhere and at every time. Ibn Miskawayh uses the notion of friendship to distinguish between those relationships that are essentially transitory and variable in particular those based upon pleasure and those based upon the intellect, which are also pleasurable but not in a physical way.
Our souls can recognize similarly perfected souls, and as a result enjoy intense intellectual delight. This is very different from the normal kind of friendship, in which people form relationships with each other because they want to get something out of it. Still, even those capable of the most perfect form of relationship have to involve themselves in the less perfect levels of friendship, since they must live in society if they are to achieve perfection, and so must satisfy at least some of the expectations of society see Friendship.
The highest form of happiness exists when we can abandon the requirements of this world and are able to receive the emanations flowing from above that will perfect our intellects and enable us to be illuminated by divine light.
The eventual aim seems to be the throwing off of the trappings of our physical existence and following entirely spiritual aims in mystical contemplation of the deity. Practical ethics and humanism This mystical level of happiness seems to rank higher than mere intellectual perfection, yet Ibn Miskawayh is particularly interesting in the practical advice he gives on how to develop our ordinary capacity for virtue.
We ought to keep our emotions under control and carry out practices that help both to restrain us on particular occasions and also to develop personality traits that will maintain that level of restraint throughout our lives. To eradicate faults, we must investigate their ultimate causes and seek to replace these with more helpful alternatives. Take the fear of death, for example: this is a baseless fear, since the soul is immortal and cannot die.
Our bodies will perish, but they must do so since we are contingent; to acknowledge that contingency and also to wish that we were not thus contingent is some sort of contradiction. If we are worried by the pain involved in dying, then it is the pain we fear, not death itself.
We have to use reason to work out what we should do and feel, since otherwise we are at the mercy of our feelings and the varying influences that come to us from outside ourselves see Death. This emphasis upon the capacity of the human mind to use reason to help us determine what we should do and who we are has led the most distinguished commentator on Ibn Miskawayh, Mohammed Arkoun , to call him a humanist and part of the general humanist movement of his time.
This seemed to al-Ghazali to disparage the religious enterprise, since he argued that the significance of religious rituals is that they are specified by the religion, and there can be no other reason. Their rationale is that they are unreasonable.
God indicates the huge gap that exists between him and us by setting us unpleasant and difficult tasks. For Ibn Miskawayh, the reason for the ritual is that it has a part to play in helping us adapt to religious life, using the dispositions that are natural to us, so that the rules and customs of religion are essentially reasonable. A whole range of authorities may be consulted to help us understand our religious duties concerning how we are to live and what we are to believe; some of these are Islamic, while others are not.
Ibn Miskawayh seems on the whole to accord greater respect to Greek rather than specifically Islamic authorities.
His style, combining abstract thought with practical observations, is attractive and remained popular long after his death. At its best, however, his philosophy is highly analytical and maintains a high degree of coherence and consistency. The fact that he mixes together aspects of Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Galen and other thinkers influenced by Greek philosophy is not an indication of cultural looting but rather a creative attempt at using these different approaches to cast light upon important issues.
Ibn Miskawayh shows how possible it is to combine a Platonic conception of the soul with an Aristotelian account of moral development. The idea of a still higher realm of being at which the soul comes into contact with divine reality is a perfectly feasible addition to the account he gives of social and intellectual life.
He never imports the notion of revelation to resolve theoretical difficulties, and we have seen how his approach both annoyed and stimulated al-Ghazali. It is perhaps the combination in Ibn Miskawayh of elegance of style, practical relevance and philosophical rigour that prolonged his influence in the Islamic world.
Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Yaʿqūb Ibn Miskawayh (0933-1030)
Metaphysics Like so many of his philosophical contemporaries, Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Miskawayh, born in Rayy in Persia c. A historian as well as a philosopher, he served as a Buwayhid official at Baghdad, Isfahan and Rayy. He was a member of the distinguished group of intellectuals including al-Tawhidi and al-Sijistani. Although not an important figure on the creative side of Islamic philosophy, he is a very interesting adaptor of existing ideas, especially those arising out of the Neoplatonic tradition in the Islamic world see Neoplatonism in Islamic philosophy. Ibn Miskawayh wrote on a wide variety of topics, ranging from history to psychology and chemistry, but in philosophy his metaphysics seems to have been generally informed by a version of Neoplatonism. He avoids the problem of reconciling religion with philosophy by claiming that the Greek philosophers were in no doubt concerning the unity and existence of God. Such a creator can only be described in terms of negative concepts, an interesting prefigurement of the tradition of the via negativa in philosophy.