Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Henrik Lagerlund

al-Ghazālī’s Maqāṣid al-Falāsifa, Latin Translation of

  • Jules JanssensEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-024-1151-5_181-2


al-Ghazālī’s Maqāṣid was translated at the end of the twelfth century into Latin in Toledo and in all likelihood without the introduction (which in the Arabic tradition might well have been added at a later time). The Latin Scholastics were not completely wrong in considering it a philosophical compendium largely inspired by Avicennian ideas, insofar as the text is indeed largely based on Avicenna’s Dānesh-Nāmeh. In this sense, it is understandable that they used it only as a secondary rather than as a primary source.


In Toledo, toward the end of the twelfth century, Dominicus Gundissalinus, together with the still enigmatic “Magister John (of Spain)” (Burnett 2002), translated al-Ghazālī’s work known as Maqāṣid al-falāsifa (The Intentions of the Philosophers). However, the title of the work given by the Latin translators was not Intentiones philosophorum, but Summa theoreticae philosophiae – the former title only appearing in the translation of the prologue, which is absent in all manuscripts except for Paris, BN, lat. 16096, which dates to the last quarter of the thirteenth century (Salman 1936: 118). On the basis of the stemma codicum, Lohr (1965: 229) inclines to believe that the prologue was not included in the original translation. Important differences in terminology, but, above all, the articulation of al-Ghazālī’s name in the nominative as “Abuhamedin Algazelin” and the use of De philosophorum intentionibus as the (new) title of the work (Salman 1936: 125), make it even less probable that the prologue was translated together with the main text and rather point to an anonymous later translator. Furthermore, the almost complete ignorance of the prologue by the vast majority of the thirteenth (and even fourteenth)-century authors undoubtedly corroborates this view. Roger Bacon seems to constitute the one notable exception, and even then only in one of his later works, that is, the Communium naturalium. Bacon is to be contrasted with the mature Raimundus Marti (d. 1285 c.) a Spanish missionary. When writing his early work Explanatio simboli apostolorum (where he quotes the Maqāṣid under the title “Intentiones physicarum”), Marti considers, in line with the common opinion among the Scholastics, al-Ghazālī as a “philosopher”, but in his major work Pugio fidei (where he quotes passages of several works of al-Ghazālī among which are the Tahāfut, but not the Maqāṣid), he presents the latter as a defender of the faith against the (all too) rational philosophy (Janssens 2015). Bacon in contrast continues to detect in al-Ghazālī a genuine philosopher, and hence he clearly ignored the true nature of the Tahāfut, whose title is translated in the prologue as Liber controversiae philosophorum, not as Ruina philosophorum as Marti had done. For Bacon the prologue, like the introduction to Avicenna’s Shifā’, intends to make clear that the present work does not offer a full exposé of the most profound philosophical insights; nevertheless, beautiful philosophical secrets have been hidden in it (Bacon, III, 250). Finally, the prologue may have already been absent from the Arabic manuscript at the disposal of Dominicus Gundisalvi and Magister John. Indeed, the prologue, in which the title of the work is indicated as Maqāṣid al-falāsifa, in all likelihood was added at a later time (Hana 1972: 892–895), although it might also stem from a will to decontextualize the book (Shihadeh 2011: 88). Moreover, the work reveals itself to be a slightly interpretative translation into Arabic of Avicenna’s Persian encyclopedia Dānesh-Nāmeh and thus shows up as a kind of student’s thesis, commonly designated at the time as ta‘liq (Janssens 2006a: VII, XI). Ultimately, the commonly accepted intimate link between the Maqāṣid and the Tahāfut – the former work being a neutral presentation of the doctrines of the philosophers so that the reader could better understand the refutation of these doctrines in the latter – is, even if one places its redaction after that of the Tahāfut (Griffel 2006: 10), highly questionable, especially in view of important terminological differences as well as the use in the Maqāṣid of only Avicennian texts (Reynolds 2002; Janssens 2006a: X). Hence, the absence of the prologue is not necessarily the result of a historical misfortune in the transmission of the text, whether in the Arabic or in the Latin tradition, or of any deliberate omission. It might simply reflect the oldest state of the text. Also the very title of the work as given by the Latin translation, again, Summa theoreticae philosophiae, offers perhaps an indication of a reliance on a primitive version, insofar as it presents itself almost as a possible, although not very literal, translation of the Persian Dānesh-Nāmeh (Book of Knowledge or Book of Science). Whatever the case may be, the Latin translation was not always transmitted in its original unity. Its various parts were often copied separately, and especially the treatise on logic seems to have been regarded as a more or less independent unit (Lohr 1965: 232). The other two parts – metaphysics and physics (in that order in full accordance with Avicenna’s Dānesh-Nāmeh) – were sometimes designated as Philosophia Algazelis. This helps explaining why in 1506 P. Liechtenstein published the work in Venice under the title Logica et philosophia Algazelis arabis, of which a second edition appeared in 1532 (Daiber 1990: 232). It might also be worthwhile to note that Ramón Llull made a compendium of Arabic logic in Latin, titled Compendium logicae Algazelis, which he based mainly, although not exclusively, on the logical part of al-Ghazālī’s Maqāṣid Llull set it moreover into Catalan verses as Logica de Gatzell (d’Alverny 1994: VII, 7).


The work was well known among most thirteenth-century Scholastic thinkers. The earliest quotations are probably those found in one of the independent works of one of the translators, that is, Gundissalinus’ De divisione philosophiae, although without any explicit reference to the Maqāṣid (Gundissalinus 2007, passim; Janssens 2014: 566). Also the anonymous treatise from around 1225, De anima et de potentiis eius, uses al-Ġazālī’s work without mentioning it (Hasse 2000: 192). This was not an uncommon practice, as can be shown by the case of Godfrey of Fontaines (Wippel 1981: 72, n. 88). Therefore, one may suspect that many other writings of this time include such implicit quotations. Whatever be the case, one also finds a large number of explicit references to it in a wide variety of authors. Many times the reference is simply to “Algazel,” and frequently in direct combination with Avicenna, that is, as Avicenna et Algazel. In this latter form, it appears inter alia in Roland of Cremona (Hasse 2000: 41–42) and John Quidort (Quidort 1964 33: 131), as well as in such major Scholastic thinkers as Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Siger of Brabant. The very intimate link between Algazel and Avicenna is particularly stressed by Albert the Great, who in his De homine, states that al-Ghazālī’s positions are a summary, abbreviatio, of those of Avicenna and that the former follows the latter’s footstep (sequens eius vestigia) (Hasse 2000: 63). In the same vein, Dietrich of Freiburg calls al-Ghazālī an abbreviator of Avicenna (Dietrich 1977: 144). Henry of Ghent, in his turn, presents al-Ghazālī as expositor Avicennae, someone who explains Avicenna (Henry of Ghent 1984: 117). As for William of Auvergne, he sees al-Ghazālī, together with Avicenna and al-Fārābī, as a follower of Aristotle, sequax Aristotelis (William of Auvergne 1674: 112b). Finally Robert Grosseteste refers to him as Algazel philosophus (Grosseteste 1995: 73), and as such he is also considered in the (Pseudo-?)-Giles of Rome’s Errores philosophorum, where in Chapter 9 mention is made of 18 philosophical errors related to his thought (Giles of Rome 1944: 44–47). In 1376, this list of errors was included in the Directorium inquisitorum of Nicholas Eymerich (Lohr 1965: 231). Concerning the work itself, it never seems to have been referred to by a general title, but always by its parts, designated most of the time as Logyca and Metaphysica, as especially attested by Roger Bacon. In the latter’s commentary on the Secret of Secrets, one also finds mentioned the part on Naturalibus (Bacon, V, 11), but this does not seem to have been a very common designation. Matthew of Aquasparta preferred the designation Philosophia when referring to an item related to the physical part (Matthew of Aquasparta 1959: 158) and, thus, in all likelihood, considered both parts of metaphysics and physics as constituting one unity, as seems to be frequently the case with the title Metaphysica. It should also be noted that when John Blund calls al-Ghazālī’s metaphysics commentum primae philosophiae, he is not necessarily referring to a title but may simply be offering a description of the work as written in the tradition of a specific Aristotelian book (Hasse 2000: 20).

On the doctrinal level, in view of the very nature of the work, that is, as a slightly interpretative translation of Avicenna’s Dānesh-Nāmeh that is complemented now and then with variations from other Avicennian writings, it is not surprising that the vast majority of the central ideas have their counterparts in Avicenna as well. This is the case, for example, for the logical thesis that the unknown can only be known by something already known, for the psychological doctrine of the two faces of the soul, and for the metaphysical distinction between essence and existence. The notion of “Giver of forms,” Dator formarum, is one of the rare cases where al-Ghazālī presented a new idea, at least for his Latin readers (since they had no access to Avicenna’s Ta‘līqāt, which constituted most probably al-Ghazālī’s source (Janssens 2006b)). Otherwise one looks in vain for any systematic use of new – at least, compared to the Avicenna Latinus – philosophical ideas in the Maqāṣid, and when they do occur, it is only by minor additions, for example, al-Ghazālī’s introduction of the example of the camel in order to illustrate the theory of the evil eye, mentioned by Robert Grosseteste, Roland of Cremona, and Peter of Spain (Hasse 2000: 168–169 and 290). Hence, one easily understands why for Thomas Aquinas, and almost all Scholastics in agreement with him, al-Ghazālī was neither a very important nor an original thinker (Hanley 1982). In the fourteenth century, explicit references to the Maqāṣid became rare, except perhaps in Spain where one finds an anonymous Castilian manuscript offering many quotations (Lohr 1965: 231). However, al-Ghazālī’s name did not disappear totally in fourteenth-century Scholastic thought, and, in fact, it appears many times in a list of several philosophers, as is the case in John of Jandun (Brenet 2003: 246, n. 1) and John of Ripa (Combes 1956: 166, n. 2). All in all though, the influence of the Latin translation of the Maqāṣid remained rather limited.



Primary Sources

  1. Bacon, R. (1905–1940). Opera hactenus inedita (ed.: Steele, R., et al.). Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  2. Dietrich of Freiburg. (1977). Schriften zur Intellekttheorie (ed.: Mojsisch, B.F.). Hamburg: Meiner.Google Scholar
  3. al-Ġazālī. (1506). Logica et philosophia. Venice (Repr. Minerva, Frankfurt, 1969), P. Liechtenstien.Google Scholar
  4. al-Ġazālī. (1933). Algazel’s metaphysics. A mediaeval translation (ed.: Muckle, J.T.). Toronto: St. Michael’s College (includes in fact the translation of both parts of the metaphysics and the physics).Google Scholar
  5. al-Ġazālī. (1965). Logica Algazelis (ed.: Lohr, Ch.). Traditio, 21, 223–290.Google Scholar
  6. al-Ġazālī. (2005). Algazel on the soul: A critical edition (ed.: St. Clair, E.). Traditio, 60, 47–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Giles of Rome. (1944). Errores philosophorum (ed.: Koch, J.; trans: Riedl, J.). Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Griffel, Fr. (2006). MS. London, British Library Or. 3126. An Unknown Work by al-Ghazālī on Metaphysics and Philosophical Theology. Journal of Islamic Studies, 17, 1–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Grosseteste, R. (1995). Expositio in epistolam sancti Pauli ad Galatas (ed.: McEvoy, J.). Turnhout: Brepols.Google Scholar
  10. Gundissalinus Dominicus. (2007). De divisione philosophiae. Über die Einteilung der Philosophie. Lateinisch-Deutsch (ed., trans. into German and annot.: Fidora, A., Werner, D.). Freiburg/Basel/Wien: Herder Verlag.Google Scholar
  11. Henry of Ghent. (1984). Quodlibet IX (ed.: Macken, R.). Leuven: Leuven University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Lohr, Ch. (1965). Logica Algazelis. Introduction and Critical Text. Traditio, 21, 223–290.Google Scholar
  13. Matthew of Aquasparta. (1959). Quaestiones disputatae. De anima separata. De anima beata. De ieiunio et de legibus (ed.: PP. collegii S. Bonaventurae). Quaracchi: Collegium S. Bonaventura.Google Scholar
  14. Quidort John. (1964). Commentaire sur les Sentences: Reportation (ed.: Muller, J.). Rome: Orbis catholicus.Google Scholar
  15. William of Auvergne. (1674). Opera omnia (ed.: Hotot, F.). Orléans/Paris (repr. Minerva, Frankfurt, 1963), Andreas Prallard.Google Scholar

Secondary Sources


    1. Brenet, J.-B. (2003). Transferts du sujet. La noétique d’Averroès selon Jean de Jandun. Paris: Vrin.Google Scholar
    2. Hasse, D. N. (2000). Avicenna’s De anima in the Latin west. London/Torino: The Warburg Institute/Nino Aragno.Google Scholar
    3. Janssens, J. (2006a). Ibn Sīnā and his influence on the Arabic and Latin world. Aldershot: Ashgate/Variorum.Google Scholar
    4. Wippel, J. (1981). The metaphysical thought of Godfrey of Fontaines. A study in late thirteenth century philosophy. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press.Google Scholar


  1. Daiber, H. (1990). Lateinische Übersetzungen arabischer Texte zur Philosophie und ihre Bedeutung für die Scholastik des Mittelalters. In J. Hamesse & M. Fattori (Eds.), Rencontres de cultures dans la philosophie médiévale. Traductions et traducteurs de l’antiquité tardive au XIV e siècle (pp. 203–250). Louvain-la-Neuve/Cassino: U.C.L./Università degli studi di Cassino.Google Scholar
  2. d’Alverny, M-Th. (1994). Chapter VII. Algazel dans l’Occident latin. In d’Alverny M-Th (Ed.), La transmission des textes philosophiques et scientifiques au Moyen Age (ed.: Burnett, Ch.). Aldershot: Ashgate/Variorum.Google Scholar
  3. Hana, G.-G. (1972). Die Hochscholastik um einer Autorität armer. In Festschrift für Hermann Heimpel zum 70. Geburtstag (pp. 884–899). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht.Google Scholar
  4. Janssens, J. (2014). Le De divisione philosophiae de Gundissalinus: Quleques remarques préliminaires à une édition critique. In E. Coda & C. Martini Bonadeo (Eds.), De l’Antiquité tardive au Moyen Âge. Études de logique aristotélicienne et de philosophie grecque, syriaque, arabe et latine offertes à Henri Hugonnard-Roche, Études musulmanes (Vol. 44, pp. 559–5570). Paris: Vrin.Google Scholar
  5. Janssens, J. (2015). R. Marti and his references to al-Ghazālī. In G. Tamer (Ed.), Islam and rationality. The impact of al-Ghazālī. Papers collected on the 900th anniversary, IPTS 94 (Vol. I, pp. 326–344). Leiden-Boston: Brill.Google Scholar
  6. Reynolds, G. S. (2002). A philosophical odyssey: Ghazzālī’s intentions of the philosophers. In J. Inglis (Ed.), Medieval philosophy and the classical tradition in Islam, Judaism and Christianity (pp. 37–50). Richmond: Curzon.Google Scholar
  7. Shihadeh, A. (2011). New light on the reception of al-Ghazālī’s doctrines of the philosophers (Maqāṣid al-falāsifa). In P. Adamson (Ed.), In the age of Averroes: Arabic philosophy in the sixth/twelfth century, Warburg Institute colloquia (Vol. 16, pp. 77–92). London-Truin: The Warburg Insoitute-Nino Aragno Editore.Google Scholar

Journal Articles

  1. Burnett, C. (2002). John of Seville and John of Spain: A mise au point. Bulletin de Philosophie Médiévale, 44, 61–78.Google Scholar
  2. Combes, A. (1956). Présentation de Jean de Ripa. Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du M-Âge, 23, 145–242.Google Scholar
  3. Hanley, T. (1982). St. Thomas’ use of al-Ghazālī’s Maqāṣid al-falāsifa. Medieval Studies, 44, 243–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Janssens, J. (2006b). The notions of Wāhib al-ṣuwar (giver of forms) and Wāhib al-‘aql (Bestower of intelligence) in Ibn Sīnā. In M. Cándida Pacheco & J. F. Meirinhos (Eds.), Intellect and imagination in medieval philosophy (pp. 551–562). Turnhout: Brepols.Google Scholar
  5. Salman, D. (1936). Algazel et les latins. Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du M-Âge, 10–11, 103–127.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.De Wulf-Mansion CentreKU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium