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The Contemplative Ideal in Islamic Philosophy: Aristotle and Avicenna MAJID FAKHRY I. BY THE CONTEMPLATIVE, or philosophical ideal, as Jaeger has called it, 1 I mean the threefold contention: (a) that intellectual activity is the highest activity (in some normative sense of highest), (b) that it is a self-rewarding and self-sufficient activity, and (c) that it is the activity of which God either partakes (as all forms of rational theism presup
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  The Contemplative Ideal in Islamic Philosophy Aristotle and Avicenna M JID F KHRY I. BY THE CONTEMPLATIVE, or philosophical ideal, as Jaeger has called it, 1 I mean the threefold contention: (a) that intellectual activity is the highest activity (in some normative sense of highest), (b) that it is a self-rewarding and self-sufficient activity, and (c) that it is the activity of which God either partakes (as all forms of rational theism presuppose), or the one which constitutes his very essence (as Aristotle, Anaxagoras, Hegel and others have asserted). A clear implication of (a) and (c) is that to the extent man aspires to partake of this activity, he partakes of the divine life, or archieves a condition of self-divinization which some forms of mysticism and idealism have set up as their ultimate ethical or spiritual objective. It is well-known how Plato in the Theaetetus (176b) 2 has advanced the ideal of 6lxofcoatg xq~ 0cO as man's loftiest goal in his heavenward flight; but throughout most of his life Plato's thought had remained so close to life, as Jaeger has put it, that he could ill afford to allow the practical, and especially the political life, to be absorbed by the contemplative, at least up to the time of writing the Republic. It was probably late in life that Plato had moved away from the Socratic ideal of a life of virtue illuminated by knowledge of the good, as is attested by his identification of the good with the Pythagorean one, in his lectures On the Good. 'a The same vacillation between the theoretical and practical ideals that had marked the development of Plato's thought characterized that of Aristotle as well; from the Protrepticus through the Eudemian Ethics and on to the Nicomachean we witness a gradual rarefaction or refinement of the theoretical ideal in a more pronounced fashion than in Plato. 4 The ultimate severing of the bond between the practical and theoretical ideals that had conditioned the 'Platonic' phase of his thought is finally effected in the Nicomachean Ethics and appears at any rate to be the logical consequence of Aristotle's identification in the Metaphysics of God with No~s. This metaphysical development in Aristotle's thought was the decisive signal of the emancipation of his thought from Plato and of his ability boldly to cut the knot tying the ethical and the theoretical. 1 See Werner Jaeger, Aristotle. Fundamentals of the History o/ his Development (Oxford, 1948), pp. 426 et passim. a CY. Laws IV 716e. See Aristoxenus' report, as quoted by Jaeger, Aristotle p. 434, n. 3. 4 See Aristotle p. 435, where Jaeger says of Aristotle: In a certain sense he is an even purer representative of the theoretic life than Plato. Cf. also, pp. 393f., 80f., and 239f., for Aristotle's ethical development. [137]  138 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY It is my purpose in the present paper to highlight some aspects of Aristotle's ethical iatellectualismg and some of the problems it raises, on the one hand, and the manner in which Arabic Peripetetic philosophers, represented by Ibn Sina (Aviceuna, d. 1037), tried to solve them, on the other. A by-product of this analysis, I hope, will be the added sharpening of the antithesis between what must be regarded as two generically different ideals: the theoretical and the practical. Our text is the well-known passage in the Nicomachean Ethics, X, 7, l17a 12f. in which Aristotle states that the highest activity (xax& rilv x0~-alv) (~0Erilv) of which man partakes is the activity of reason, which more than anything else in man is man (~eQ ~o~o tdxhom ?2vOQco:roO (N.E. 1178a 8). 6 This activity is then characterized (N.E. X, 1177b 20f.) as: (a) superior in worth (o~to, b~); (b) being its own end (oa3~svrg ~qg~eo0at xgZoug); (c) pleasant in itself; (d) self-suflicient; (e) leisurely; (f) unwearisome (~xQ,rov); and (g) divine. The last characteristic is introduced conditionally into the discussion, but follows logically from the equation in Metaphysics L, 1072b 17f. of the activity of thought with the best in itself (ã abrb &~s life eternal and complete blessedness, which are then identified with God (xo~ro ~,dt 6 0E6g) in a mode of direct transposition. This metaphysical characterization of God would have had no direct bearing on the contemplative ideal of life, but for the fact that man, like God, is declared to be reason (N.E. X, 1178a 8); with the inevitable qualification that he is, nevertheless, imperfect reason compared with God, who is always in that state in which we sometimes are (Met. X, 1072b 24). We are called upon by what one might call the imperative of divine excellence to partake of the divine perfection, which is really the perfection of thought. In this respect the cycle appears to be fully closed. However, in other respects, it leaves undetermined the precise object of the human activity of contemplation. The object of divine thought, we know from Met. X, 1074b 34 to be God himself, again identified with the most excellent of things (a~3rbv ~0o~ vorZ, r~te0 ~or~ -c6 ã The object of human contemplation, we are briefly in- formed in N.E. X, 1177a 15, is things noble and divine (xct[ ~vvotctv ~Xrtv ~ts0[ ã ã 0r~wv); 7 whereas the logical consequence of the identification of divine and human activity with reason would have required that it should also be God himself. Aristotle stops short of this conclusion for what appears to be an instinctive aversion to mysticism, and he is satisfied to assert instead that it is certain noble and divine things, rather than God himself, s II. In the Arabic Neo-Platonic tradition which stems ultimately from Plotinus and Proclus, but is thoroughly conditioned by Aristotelian elements, the object of the con- templative activity is specified with far greater precision, and the inevitable mystical implications of the original Aristotelian thetis are fearlessly drawn. For the purposes of 5 To avoid engaging in well-known exegetical controversies, I will confine my remarks, with few qualifications, to the Nicomachean Ethics, which is generally regarded as Aristotle's most characteristic ethical writing. Cf., e.g., Jaeger, Aristotle, p. 229. 0 Cf. N.E. IX, 1166a 17 and 23. 7 Cf. also N.E. VI, l141a 20 and l141b 3, where the object is described as rOy xtlxt~ox&~o~t s In the Eudemian Ethics, VIII, 1249b 20, 38, the good of m n is declared to be xbv 0ebv 0e0cx~e~eLv ~ 0eo~0e~v. Cf. Jaeger, Aristotle, pp. 240-243. The noble and divine things of the N.E. can only be the stars, the intelligences, or the etern l first principles of knowledge.  ARISTOTLE AND AVICENNA 139 this paper, I will take the great Arabic Neo-Platonist Ibn Sina as a representative of this current in Islamic thought, although other equally important figures, such as Ibn Bgjjah (d. 1138) and Ibn Rushd (d. 1198) will be referred to. The cornerstone of Ibn Sings metaphysics is a complex emanationist scheme, at the top of which stands the One of Plotinus, identified with the Unmoved Mover of Aris- totle and designated by Ibn Sina as the Necessary Being. What emanates from this Necessary Being is: (a) a series of separate intelligences, (b) a series of celestial souls, and (c) a series of heavenly bodies. The function of each one of the intelligences is to impart to the corresponding heavenly body the universal, circular motion in which, as part of the cosmic system of concentric heavenly spheres, it is involved; the function of the celestial souls is to impart to these spheres the particular and voluntary motions which belong to them. All together there are ten spheres, starting with the outermost sphere and ending with the sublunary world; and there are ten corresponding intel- ligences (or intellects), each of which, like Aristotle s separate intelligences, is unmoved and immaterial, and yet is aNe to impart motion to its sphere through the power of its attraction, like the object of desire (6pexxrv), as Aristotle expresses it in Met. X, 1072a 25. 9 Of these intelligences, the most important is unquestionably the last, called the active intellect by Ibn Sina and the Arab Neo-Platonists generally. In the elaborate emana- tionist scheme which they developed, and which appears to have no specific Greek predecessor, this active intellect performs three fundamental functions. First, as a cosmic principle, it imparts, as already mentioned, motion and development to the sublunary world of generation and corruption, which lies under its direct jurisdiction. Second, as an ontological principle, it endows the terrestrial entities with their substantial forms once they are disposed through the action of their elemental compounds and the in- fluence of the heavenly bodies. Finally, as an epistemological principle, it imparts to the human intellect, once it has been disposed likewise, through study or instruction, the intelligible forms which constitute the very stuff of knowledge. It is in that latter respect, as Ibn Sina has it and as St. Thomas was to comment in Summa Theologica I, q. 84, a. 4 (resp.), the storehouse in which all the intelligibles are eternally placed, t~ The whole process of human cognition thus becomes a gradual progression or ascent from the lowest condition of potentiality to the highest condition of actuality, or the apprehension of those intelligibles stored away in the active intellect. The name that Ibn Sina and his successors gave to this progression is not union with, or even vision of, but rather conjunction or contact with the active intellect. 11 When the human 9 See Ibn Sina, al-Najat (Cairo, 1938), p. 277, and K. al-Shifa (llahiygzt) (Cairo, 1960), p. 410. Cf. M. Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philosophy (New York and London, 1970); pp. 176f. 10 St. Thomas contrasts Plato's and Avicenna's views of cognition as follows: Avicenna, setting this opinion (i.e., Aristotle's) aside, held that the intelligible species of all sensible things, instead of subsisting in themselves without matter, pre-exist immaterially in some separate in- tellects ... From the Agent Intellect, according to him, intelligible species flow into our souls, and sensible species into corporeal matter. And so Avicenna agrees with Plato in this, that the intelligible species of our intellect are derived from certain separate forms; but these Plato held to subsist in themselves, while Avicenna placed them in the Agent Intellect. See Summa Theol. I, q. 84, a. 4 (Resp.). 11 See lbn Sina,/lhwgd al-Na (Cairo, 1952), p. 130; al-Na]glt (Cairo, 1938), p. 293. Cf. M. Fakhry, Three Varieties of Mysticism in Islam, International Journal [or Philosophy of Re- ligion, II (1971), 198.
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