"As the various translation projects got underway in Spain and in Southern Europe, it became obvious that Christian as well as Jewish philosophy had much to gain and to question by the enormous sophistication of Islamic philosophy," Taliaferro tells the Tehran Times.
Following is the text of the interview with Professor Taliaferro:
How much do western scholars know Islamic philosophy and philosophers? If answer is little, why?
Western scholars of the history of ideas would have to be knowledgeable about some of the great Islamic philosophers, including Avicenna or, in Arabic, Ibn Sina, Averoes or Ibn Rushd, Al-Farabi, Al-Ghazali, and probably Al-Kindi and Suhrawardi.
There were massive translation projects in the 12th but especially the 13th century that made numerous Islamic philosophical texts available in Latin to philosophers in the west, and we can see their influence in western concepts of God, arguments for God's existence, the soul, causation, and more.
Muslim philosophers also challenged western beliefs, about for example the Christian understanding of God as triune while the awareness of the riches of Islamic philosophy is more common among historians of ideas, some philosophers, such as William Craig, have employed cosmological arguments traced back to primary Islamic sources to argue for the existence of God.
Probably the reason why more mainstream philosophers do not engage with Islamic philosophy is partly explained by the fact that a great deal of philosophers today in Europe and America are not primarily concerned with the historical roots of the ideas they discuss. Also the exchange between contemporary Islamic philosophers and western philosophers is not assisted by the entrenched secularism in western academics and the difficulties, in today's political climate, of arranging meetings, free and open exchanges among scholars.
Maybe one other explanation as to why there is not more widespread engagement with Islamic philosophy today, is that some philosophers are reluctant to claim expertise in areas where they do not read the primary languages.
In philosophy graduate schools it is far more common to expect students to know Latin, Greek, German, French rather than Arabic or Persian. Still, there is a rise of work in English on Islamic philosophy as witnessed by the Routledge Companion to Islamic Philosophy and the Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy.
Are there any institutes in the west and especially in the US that focus on Islamic philosophy?
Yes, all the great western universities have been sites for fruitful philosophical work on Islam. There is the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies at the Oxford, there is the Centre of Islamic Studies at Cambridge University, at Harvard University there is the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Institute for Islamic Studies there is Islamic Studies at Yale University, Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School, and much, much more.
Which fields of Islamic philosophy are taught in the US?
If you are at a university with a serious commitment to the history of ideas, you would rightly expect to have courses that show how deeply Islamic philosophy influenced the west, and embodies work that is valuable for its own sake. The ground covered would include theism, naturalism, the analysis and critique of Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, the soul, causation, the role and nature of science, virtue theory.
What was the impact of Islamic philosopher on western philosophy especially in the middle age?
Huge. As the various translation projects got underway in Spain and in Southern Europe, it became obvious that Christian as well as Jewish philosophy had much to gain and to question by the enormous sophistication of Islamic philosophy.
The encounter between western and Islamic philosophy in the middle ages was perhaps the most momentous engagements of intellectual cultures in the history of ideas.
Agreed, that the advent in the west of Jewish, then Christian philosophy meeting up with Greco-Roman philosophy was titanic, and the encounter in the Enlightenment between western philosophy and Chinese and Indian philosophy was massive. But in the exchange between Islam and the west the encounter was of special significance because it was an encounter between philosophers who had a shared background in Plato, Aristotle, and to some extent Plotinus, they also carried out philosophy in the context of cultures which shared strong positions on the significance of divine revelation and different views on the relationship between faith and reason.
What is your suggestion for introducing the better of the Islamic philosophy in the west?
I hope you will forgive me, but I highly recommend as a starting point a book that Chad Meister and I commissioned: Islam: A Philosophical Investigation by a young, rising philosopher, Imran Aijaz, who teaches now in the United States at the University of Michigan. I believe that his book, just published, is a great venue for all those interested in engaging Islamic philosophy today, enhancing the communication between Islam and the west.