The Soul in Ibn Kammuna s Kalimat Wajıza - PDF

The Soul in Ibn Kammuna s Kalimat Wajıza Y. Tzvi Langermann * Abstract: Ibn Kammūna, a late thirteenth-century Jewish philosopher, had a special interest, bordering on an obsession, in the human soul,

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The Soul in Ibn Kammuna s Kalimat Wajıza Y. Tzvi Langermann * Abstract: Ibn Kammūna, a late thirteenth-century Jewish philosopher, had a special interest, bordering on an obsession, in the human soul, especially as regards its eternal endurance. One-quarter of his short ethical-philosophical treatise, the Kalimāt wajīza, is given over to ilm al-nafs. In this paper, I present an annotated translation of the second of the five chapters that make up that section of the treatise. Keywords: Ibn Kammūna; Ibn Sīnā; soul; ilm al-nafs. * Prof., Bar-Ilan University, Department of Arabic. Correspondence: DOI /nazariyat.3.1.m0027 Atıf Langermann, Y. Tzvi, The Soul in Ibn Kammuna s Kalimat Wajīza, Nazariyat Journal for the History of Islamic Philosophy and Sciences 3/1 (November 2016): NAZARİYAT Journal for the History of Islamic Philosophy and Sciences Part One: Introduction Sa d bin Man~ūr Ibn Kammūna (d. 1284) was a Jewish religious thinker and philosopher who spent most of his life in the vicinity of Baghdad. 1 In common with most other thinkers of his age, his writings exhibit the imprint of Ibn Sīnā. Like Ibn Sīnā (though, as it seems to me, more intensely and probably for different reasons), Ibn Kammūna was greatly concerned with the human soul, especially its afterlife. And again like Ibn Sīnā, he took self-awareness to be the surest item of knowledge available, as well as the starting point for acquiring additional knowledge. But by no means is Ibn Kammūna s opus a mere calque upon the work of his illustrious predecessor, for he drank deeply from many sources untouched by Ibn Sīnā: Jewish writings, especially Moses Maimonides and Judah Halevi; Christian writings; and texts by Fakhr al-din al-rāzī, an important critic of Ibn Sīnā. Moshe Perlmann demonstrated that Ibn Kammūna utilized all of these, and more, for his inquiry into the three monotheistic faiths. 2 Moreover, Ibn Kammūna was the first exponent of the Ishrāqī (Illuminationist) school founded, so to speak, by Shihāb al-dīn al-suhrawardī, which was offered as an alternative to Avicennan philosophy even if, as is so often the case, it owes a tremendous debt to the school that it criticized. 3 But he was also in touch with Na~īr al-dīn al-tūsī, one of the leading intellectuals of his age, and a staunch defender of Ibn Sīnā. 4 Finally, one cannot emphasize enough that Ibn Kammūna, like most or all thinkers worthy of our consideration, was not merely a pastiche of various influences. True, some of his writings are composed of near-citations or paraphrases of the writings of others. 5 Nevertheless, within the Avicennan tradition, he often 1 For a biography and annotated catalogue of his writings, see R. Pourjavady & S. Schmidtke, A Jewish Philosopher of Baghdad, Leiden-Boston 2006; on the possibility that Ibn Kammūna spent time in Aleppo (Halab) as well, and the significance of this fact for his intellectual biography, see Y. T. Langermann, Ibn Kammūna at Aleppo, in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, third series, 17 (2007), M. Perlman, Ibn Kammūna s Examination of the Three Faiths, Berkeley 1971, 1-5. Ibn Kammūna s engagement with Islamic theology is further demonstrated by the commentary published in Critical Remarks by Najm al-dīn al-kātibī on the Kitāb al-ma ālim by Fakhr al-dīn al-rāzī, together with the Commentaries by Izz al-dawla Ibn Kammūna, ed. S. Schmidtke and R. Pourjavady, Tehran Note, however, that al-talwīhāt, the text commented upon by Ibn Kammūna, is the most Aristotlelian of Suhrawardī s major writings; see now J. Lameer, Ibn Kammūna s Commentary on Suhrawardī s Talwīhāt. Three Editions, in: Journal of Islamic Manuscripts, 3 (2012), , for the place of Ibn Kammūna within this tradition and a detailed review of manuscripts and editions. 4 The correspondence between the two is discussed and published by Pourjavady and Schmidtke, A Jewish Philosopher, , See in particular the painstaking analysis of H. Eichner, The Chapter On Existence and Non-existence of Ibn Kammūna s al-jadīd fī l-hikma: Trends and Sources in an Author s Shaping the Exegetical Tradition of al-suhrawardī s Ontology, in Avicenna and his Legacy. A Golden Age of Science and Philosophy, ed. Y. T. Langermann, Turnhout 2009, Y. Tzvi Langermann, The Soul in Ibn Kammuna s Kalimat Wajīza exhibits a critical, independent approach. Most significantly for the topic of this paper, he broke with Ibn Sīnā on the question of the soul s pre-existence, for he he considered this doctrine critical for his conception of the soul s indestructibility. Lukas Muhlethaler has shown how Ibn Kammūna refines Ibn Sīnā s famous flying man argument. 6 In general, for all of his large debt to Ibn Sīnā, Ibn Kammūna s writings exhibit his study of a diverse body of extra-avicennan religious and philosophical literature as well as a certain measure of originality and critical insight. Ibn Kammūna s literary output has been thoroughly investigated by Pourjavady and Schimdtke, whose study includes not just biobibliographical information, but also critical editions of hitherto unpublished texts. The most important of these are two ethical-religious treatises, a field in which Ibn Kammūna was not known previously to have been particularly interested. The present paper focuses on the longer of the two, the Kalimāt wajīza mushtamila alā nukat latīfa fī al- ilm wa-l- amal (Brief Words covering some subtle witticisms concerning knowledge and practice). This tract was written on the order of Shams al-dīn al-qazwīnī, presumably someone well connected at the Mongol court, on behalf of Bahā al-dīn al-juwaynī, governor of Isfahan and its environs. The contents of this interesting tract have yet to receive any serious attention. 7 The fourth and final section does contain some advice on how to govern, much in line with the so-called genre of mirrors for princes. However, the bulk of the tract adheres closely to Ibn Kammūna s metaphysics and psychology, with an addition of a great deal of ethics, drawn largely from al-ghazālī. The Kalimāt wajīza is divided equally between knowledge ( ilm) and practice ( amal). This pairing is very common in Islamicate ethics, including, but by no means limited to, Sufism. Ibn Kammūna s treatise gives equal space to both, placing knowledge first, in line with the philosophers view that meaningful practice must be grounded in knowledge. Part 1 has two sections. The first one discusses the deity, referred to here as mudabbir al- ālam (governor of the cosmos, cosmocrator), one of labels preferred by the philosophers, and the other section treats of the human soul. Part 2 also has two sections, one concerned with the individual s ethical obligations toward himself and the other with his relations with others. Each of the four sections is divided into five relatively brief chapters; this symmetry in literary structure is characteristic of Ibn Kammūna. 6 L. Muehlethaler, Ibn Kammūna (D. 683/1284) on the Argument of the Flying man in Avicenna s Ishārāt and al-suhrawardī s Talwīhāt, in Langermann, op. cit., To date, one can point only to a few scattered remarks in the book by Pourjavady and Schmidtke, and several paragraphs in my own entry on Ibn Kammūna in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:ūna/ 25 NAZARİYAT Journal for the History of Islamic Philosophy and Sciences An outstanding feature and defining characteristic of the Kalimāt wajīza is a very sophisticated and sincere Abrahamic philosophical pietism that lies at its heart and directs Ibn Kammūna s presentation of the sundry topics that he takes up in the course of his exposition. Abrahamic is, of course, an anachronism. What I have in mind is the fact that Ibn Kammūna, both skilfully and deliberately, wrote a treatise that would seem totally Islamic to his patron but at the same time would be equally appealing to a philosophically inclined Christian or Jew. It is a variant of the type of philosophical piety expressed by thinkers in Antiquity and in medieval Islam, one that has been ably described in a number of academic publications. 8 I choose nonetheless to call it Abrahamic philosophical piety, because Ibn Kammūna combines philosophy with significant and unmistakable references to a religious approach to life, specifically to the Abrahamic traditions, but shows no bias toward any one tradition. Here are some examples of how this has been done. To begin with, the reader is identified (using the third person, as is the customary address in treatises of this sort) by non-denominational terms that refer to his quest for guidance: mustarshid (he who takes proper guidance), mustarfid (he who looks for support), or Tālib al-najāt wa-l-kamāl (he who seeks salvation and perfection). Similarly, Ibn Kammūna employs philosophical connotations of the deity, such as al-awwal (the First) or al-wājib (the Necessary), rather than Allāh (a divine name acceptable to Jews and Christians as well as Muslims), which is used only once or twice. Ethical injunctions are formulated in such a way that each individual may interpret them in line with his own tradition, for example: Don t allow any food or drink that is forbidden to you to enter your belly. The rare citations fit all of the Abrahamic scriptures: He is the First and the Last, the Apparent and the Hidden (Qur an 57:3; cf. Isaiah 48:12, Revelation 1:8), or Fear of God is the Beginning of Wisdom (Psalms 111:10; a weak Islamic hadith). In preparation for his Inquiry, Ibn Kammūna closely studied the literature held sacred by all three Abrahamic faiths, and so we may conclude that his selection of these particular passages was quite deliberate. Finally and most tellingly, a number of explicit statements claim that a broad consensus exists among the traditional 8 See most recently, M. Azadpur, Reason Unbound: On Spiritual Practices in Islamic Peripatetic Philosophy, Albany 2011; and the comments of N. al-bizri. B. Mou, and S. Pessin and Azadpur s response in Comparative Philosophy, 3.2 (2012). Azadpur acknowledges his debt to the seminal book of P. Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, Oxford Should anyone think that Azadpur is hearkening back to the notion of a perennial philosophy, s/he is correct! In his response to al-bizri Azadpur states, In other words, my stance has been, to put it polemically, that philosophy is perennial. I heartily endorse Azadpur s position, and reject the claim to the contrary, which argues that all philosophical positions are socially determined. 26 Y. Tzvi Langermann, The Soul in Ibn Kammuna s Kalimat Wajīza religions and the philosophers concerning fundamental beliefs, notably this passage found near the beginning: The masters of traditional religions (al-diyānat al-naqliyya) as well [the masters] of intellectual tenets (al- aqā id al- aqliyya) agree that salvation and eternal felicity depend upon belief in God, the end of days, and doing good works. 9 At the time of writing Pourjavady and Schmidtke fix this date at some time before 1279 the Mongols had not yet converted to Islam. 10 Though the rulers at the top were pagans, officials were drawn from other faiths. Many members of the large and powerful Christian minority felt that after half a millennium of subjugation, they had finally freed themselves from the Muslim yoke; for their part, however, the Muslim majority was unused to being ruled by others and did not like it one bit. 11 Jews also were able to obtain positions of influence at the court. Mob violence was not uncommon; Ibn Kammūna himself was victimized by an angry mob in 1284 that was infuriated by his Inquiry. 12 It is with this in mind that we must look at his striking piece of advice to the Muslim official in the final section of Kalimāt wajīza: In giving out what is due, he should not give preference to the high-ranking over the low-ranking, nor to the powerful over the weak, nor to the elect over the commoner, nor to the Muslim over the dhimmī; he must rather pay more attention to the one who behaves arrogantly. Should he see the commoners behaving fanatically towards a [certain] group, aiming to harm them on account of a school of thought [or doctrine or even ideology ; Arabic madhhab], religion, or their following an individual or party, then he should side with the weaker group. Then the powerful 9 Pourjavady and Schmidtke, A Jewish Philosopher, 142. All translations are my own from the Arabic. A nearly identical statement is found in the preface to al-jadīd fī al-hikma. 10 Ibid., Recent scholarship indicates that it is Armenian sources that convey the sense of Christian collusion with the Mongols; the Syriac sources, which reflect the outlook of Christians actually living under Mongol rule, show Christians to have continued to exercise the caution one would expect of a religious minority. See David Bundy, The Syriac and Armenian Christian Responses to the Islamification of the Mongols, in Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam: A Book of Essays, ed. John Victor Tolan (New York: Garland Publications, 1996), 33-55; I thank Salam Rassi for this reference. 12 Much has been written on the religious policies of the Mongols; I believe that the remarks I have made in this paragraph lie well within the current consensus. For further reading, see P. Jackson, The Mongols and the Faith of the Conquered, in Mongols, Turks, and Others: Eurasian Nomads and the Sedentary World, edd. R. Amitai and M. Biran, Leiden-Boston 2005, ; C. P. Atwood, Validation by Holiness or Sovereignty: Religious Toleration as Political Theology in the Mongol World Empire of the Thirteenth Century, in International History Review 26 (2010), ; and, for a broader perspective, A. M. Khazanov, Muhammad and Jenghiz Khan Compared: The Religious Factor in World Empire Building, Comparative Studies in Society and History 3 (1993), On the episode from Ibn Kammūna s own life, see Pourjavady and Schmidtke, A Jewish Philosopher, NAZARİYAT Journal for the History of Islamic Philosophy and Sciences will not be able to seize control over them, nor to harm them in any way. Putting an end to the desire of the commoners [the rabble] to take over is mandatory! 13 Just what his motivation may have been in preparing a treatise of this nature is, of course, a matter of speculation. Given the shifting fortunes of the different religious communities at the time, one could well argue that his stance in the Kalimāt wajīza was dictated by political expediency. I nonetheless favour the view that he is making a sincere statement about the shared values and objectives held in common by all monotheists those, that is, who share as well a commitment to philosophy. The clearly pro-jewish bias of his Inquiry notwithstanding, my feeling is that Ibn Kammūna sincerely believed that there was a common ground shared by all philosophically minded monotheists, and that this ground was firm and extensive. The present paper examines the place of the soul within Ibn Kammūna s Kalimāt wajīza, which is indeed a very important one. Half of the section dealing with knowledge, or one-quarter of the book, is given over to the soul. Ibn Kammūna states that this section has the following five goals: To establish a group of features (ahwāl) of the immaterial soul, especially what pertains to the precise determination of her being free [of matter], her transposition after death, the impossibility of her non-existence, and the mode of her felicity and perfection. 14 The five chapters cover these topics in order. The first chapter scores two important points: the correct conception of the soul, and the exclusive control exercised by the soul or, if one chooses to speak in this manner, the chief soul over the body and its actions. The soul is defined as the subject or referent of a statement made in the first person. Whenever I say that I did something, the I refers to my soul. 15 One single soul has control over the entire range of bodily faculties and also receives all of the information necessary to decide what to do. Two sorts of input or perception (idrāk) are specified: information conveyed means of the bodily organs and those directions that are not transmitted in this manner. The latter includes lust, aversion, pleasure, pain, will, ability, and action. 13 Ibid., Ibid., 151. Though ahwāl is usually translated states, and this is the common rendering of the term in a treatise on the soul ascribed to Ibn Sīnā (concerning which see D. Gutas, The Making of the Avicennan Tradition, Leiden 1988, 305) the context dictates the translation we present, as, indeed, it would be more apt for the pseudo-avicennan tract as well. 15 It is well-known by now that the Arabic nafs means self as well as soul ; but it is clear enough, even from the list of topics given in the preceding paragraph, that Ibn Kammūna is using the term here consistently to denote the soul. The role of self-knowledge or self-awareness in Avicenna and post- Avicennan philosophy is fundamental and much has been written about it; see Muehlethaler. op. cit., and notes. 28 Y. Tzvi Langermann, The Soul in Ibn Kammuna s Kalimat Wajīza The stated purpose of the second chapter is to show that that the soul is neither a body nor does she inhere within one; that she is simple, with no external complexity; and that she is a self-standing substance. 16 In fact, Ibn Kammūna spends most his time here refuting a range of incorrect conceptions of the soul. The third chapter, on the impossibility of the soul s ceasing to exist, contains arguments for her indestructibility, an important issue, one, in fact, bordering on obsession, for Ibn Kammūna. Chapter 4 takes up the soul s perfection, and, in particular, how she is able to come into contact with and obtain knowledge from the highest world. Some of her special properties and effects, or rather, those of some gifted souls, are also explained. Here Ibn Kammūna refers to prophets, Sufis, and others who are born with, or acquire by means of training, extraordinary psychic powers. The fifth and final chapter discusses pleasure and pain, demonstrating that the intellectual varieties of both are more powerful than the sensual ones. Generally speaking, the views he espouses in the present treatise do not differ from those he expresses elsewhere. However, the orientation of this treatise is evidently pietistic or religious. In my opinion, this emphasis exacerbates tensions between the metaphysical conception of the soul as an unchanging substance engaged in unending self-awareness and the pietistic outlook, which sees the soul as striving for self-improvement, especially by freeing herself from this-worldly concerns, and which sees self-awareness as momentary blessings to which she must be constantly urged. In fact, I sense this tension already in Ibn Sīnā, who labels the passage in which the Flying Man thought experiment is described as a tanbīh, what we would call today a wake-up call, and begins the passage with the command to the reader to irjā ilā nafsika, Return to your soul! 17 A fuller exploration of this must be left, perhaps, to another time. Part Two: Text and Commentary In the second section of this essay, I present a translation of and commentary on the second chapter. 18 I divide the chapter into a series of numbered passages and place my remarks immediately after each passage, exactly as was done in the 16 See below for commentary on this passage. 17 Ibn Sīnā, Al-Ishārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt, ed. S. Dunya, Cairo 1992, vol. 2, 343. On the Flying Man, see Muehlethaler, op. cit, and the literature cited there. Muehlethaler, following earlier scholars (especially M. Marmura), speaks often of the soul s constant self-awareness, and there are good textual grounds for this remark. However, it seems to me inconceivable that Ibn Sīnā, in the work wherein
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