Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy

2011 Edition
| Editors: Henrik Lagerlund

Presocratics in the Arab World

  • Carmela Baffioni
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-9729-4_416


Aristotle is the main source for the so-called Presocratics in the Arab world; other important references can be found in biographers and bibliographers. In general, only the Presocratics whose doctrines can be reconciled with Muslim theology are considered by the Arabs. The names of the Presocratics are variously transcribed in Arabic; their chronologies are uncertain, and sources say nothing about their education, philosophical activity or disciples, their physical appearance or the titles of their writings. The Presocratics approach nature from an eternalistic perspective; in spite of this, the Muslims chose some of these thinkers with a view to seeing in their doctrines a prefiguration of their own philosophical views: for example, the water of Thales becomes the water on which the throne of God is placed. Pythagoras is said to be “a monotheist from Ḥarrān.” Heraclitus is mainly known as the author of a cyclical ontological system beginning and ending with God. Anaxagoras’ doctrine of panta homou is developed into the theory of kumūn and ẓuhūr – of “latency and appearance,” which proposes a creation of all things together that are destined to evolve from one form to another. Atomism is a view shared in Islam in a strictly scientific perspective, for example, by Abū Bakr al-Rāzī (d. c. 925) and by orthodox theologians, to assert the absolute freedom and will of God against the Aristotelian theory of secondary causality.

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Authors and Affiliations

  • Carmela Baffioni
    • 1
  1. 1.Dipartimento di Studi e Ricerche su Africa e Paesi Arabi Facoltà di Studi Arabo-Islamici e del MediterraneoUniversità degli Studi di Napoli L‘OrientaleNapoliItaly