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Arabic Aristotelianism

By the ninth century practically the entire corpus of Aristotle's works, together with those of his Greek commentators, had been made available in Islam. Aristotle's classification of the natural sciences supplied the structure for an encyclopedia in which classical authors like Hippocrates (c. 460–c. 377 B.C.E.) and Galen (129–c. 199), Euclid (fl. c. 300 B.C.E.) and Ptolemy (second century C.E.) also found a place. The understanding of science as a body of strictly demonstrated conclusions was decisive for Islamic Aristotelianism. In their commentaries on this enormous body of new doctrine, Arabic philosophers tended to comment on the logic, metaphysics, and natural philosophy as parts of a philosophical encyclopedia; few commentaries on the practical philosophy were written. Muslim thinkers opposed studies concerned with their own way of life, called the "Arabic or traditional sciences" (the Koran; traditions; kalam, or dialectical theology; and the like), to the "Greek or rational sciences," associated for the most part with Aristotle's name. Kalam's task was to supply the faithful with logical proofs for their belief, but its methods of proof forced the Aristotelian philosophers to refine their idea of scientific methodology.

In his Catalogue of the Sciences, the Persian philosopher, al-Farabi (c. 878–c. 950) attempted to fit the "traditional sciences of the Arabs" into the Aristotelian division of the sciences. The doctrine of God is taken up under the theoretical science of metaphysics, whereas kalam is regarded as a part of politics, with the function of defending the articles of faith. Al-Farabi demanded that the theologians provide strict demonstrations in defense of Muslim doctrine. About a century later, another Persian philosopher, the famous physician Avicenna (980–1037), undertook to reform kalam in accordance with the Aristotelian theory of demonstrative science and understood kalam not as a part of politics, but rather as metaphysics. Through the Persian theologian al-Ghazali (1058–1111), Avicenna's conception of logical proof was influential in Muslim theology. Averroës (1126–1198), writing in Muslim Spain, also confronted the theologians with Aristotle's idea of demonstrative science, stressing the truth and certainty of Aristotle's presentation of theoretical science.

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