Arabic Cosmology and the Physics of Cosmic Motion

Authored by: David Twetten

The Routledge Companion to Islamic Philosophy

Print publication date:  September  2015
Online publication date:  August  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415881609
eBook ISBN: 9781315708928
Adobe ISBN: 9781317484332


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One of the hallmarks of the philosophical versus the religious outlook in classical antiquity was the explanation of cosmic change in terms of simple, universal principles and unchanging first causes. This article focuses on the Aristotelian account of cosmic change and its metamorphosis in classical Arabic philosophy under the influence of Neoplatonism and monotheism. In effect, as monotheist philosophers in the wake of al-Kind? focus on Neoplatonic argumentation for a first “agent cause” of all being, “the true One,” they come to reject change as providing access to the primary and universal efficient cause of all things. Thus, Ibn S?n? denies that the argument from motion proves the unique God and cause of all being. Subsequently, however, Ibn Rushd gives an elaborate account of Aristotle’s reasoning such that the prime mover, even if it is improperly called an efficient cause, is nevertheless the one, divine cause of all being. Presenting Ibn Rushd’s account in some detail will allow us to set forth the Aristotelian philosophy of cosmic change in its fullest development within an Islamic context. The issue of the First Cause, however, must not blind us to the degree to which the thought of Ibn Rushd arises out of sophisticated use of Aristotelian cosmology by al-F?r?b?, Ibn S?n?, and Ibn B?jja, whose work itself has surprising continuity with, even while it represents a departure from, al-Kind?’s affirmation of a Neoplatonic triad of primary causes (God, intellect and soul).

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