What Is Arabic Philosophy?

The Islamic world contains an extraordinary range of intellectual traditions

There is, let us admit, something faintly comical about an academic field that cannot even decide what to call itself. It conjures up the sort of absurd scene that is so common in university life: the lengthy committee meeting devoted to working out what the committee’s remit should be, the tussle over the title of an endowed chair, the passionate debate waged over the placement of a comma. Yet serious intellectual disagreements can lie behind disputes over nomenclature. One such disagreement rages in my own field of speciality, which depending who you ask might be called “Arabic Philosophy” or “Islamic Philosophy.” Views on the question are so deeply held that when I co-edited the Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy with Richard C. Taylor some years ago, one book review confined its remarks almost exclusively to complaining about the title.

This is ironic, since the beauty of the phrase “Arabic philosophy” should in theory be

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