Persian Philosophers: Abu Al Hassan Amiri

  September 01, 2021   Read time 3 min
Persian Philosophers: Abu Al Hassan Amiri
 Without doubt the most important figure in mashshā’ī philosophy between Fārābī and Ibn Sīnā is Abu’l-Ḥasan Muḥammad ʿĀmirī, a native of Khurāsān who spent most of his life in that land, where he died in 381/992.

He did, however, make two journeys to Baghdad, until then the centre for study of Islamic philosophy; he also lived in Rayy between 350/961 and 365/976. In Baghdad, ʿĀmirī debated with the philosophers and scholars of the city—such men as al-Ṣīrāfī, who became hostile toward him and whom he criticized later in his life. He was also quoted but criticized by Ibn Sīnā, who did not hold ʿĀmirī’s philosophical acumen in great esteem.

Although Ibn Sīnā’s criticism eclipses the writings of ʿĀmirī to an extent, some of his works and ideas survived and played a role in later Islamic philosophy. ʿĀmirī wrote several well-known treatises, such as al-Amad ʿala’l-abad (Time Within Eternity) dealing with the soul and its destiny; al-Saʿādah wa’l- isʿād (On Seeking and Causing Happiness) on ethics; and a work unique in the annals of Islamic Peripatetic philosophy, al-ʿIlām bi-manāqib al-Islām (An Exposition of the Virtues of Islam). This latter work is a philosophical defence of the religion of Islam and also contains important sections on other religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Sabaeanism.

Of particular interest among ʿĀmirī’s philosophical theses is the unity of the intellect and the intelligible (ittiḥād al-ʿāqil wa’l-ma‘qūl), rejected by Ibn Sīnā but espoused by Afḍal al-Dīn Kāshānī and especially Mullā Ṣadrā, who quotes ʿĀmirī in his al-Asfār al-arba‘ah (The Four Journeys). ʿĀmirī calls for a rational approach to the question of knowledge, arguing that the final cause of knowledge is virtuous action. It is ʿĀmirī’s view that Islamic doctrine is receptive to rational discourse and goes on to maintain the superiority of religious sciences over secular ones. It is for this reason that he vehemently attacks the Ismailis and other adherents to esoteric Islam who, according to him, do not emphasize the significance of the Sharīʿah.

Relying on a lost Neoplatonic commentary of Plato’s Phaedo and the Aristotelian classification of psychology, ʿĀmirī offers arguments for the immortality of the soul. He is also important in the history of philosophy, since he offers a summary of the thought of such figures as Empedocles, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Also, ʿĀmirī sought to develop a political philosophy based more on the integration of pre-Islamic Persian ideas, as contained in the tāj-nāmah literature of the Sasanid period and Islam and less on Greek sources, as we find in Fārābī and other Islamic political philosophers. Free will and determinism, superiority of prophetic intellect over reason, optics, and theology are among other issues upon which ʿĀmirī comments. His works are an attempt to reconcile his brand of Neoplatonism, reason, and discursive philosophy with faith and revelation. Although his works were overshadowed by Ibn Sīnā’s, ʿĀmirī remains a significant figure in the history of Islamic thought. This chapter presents two selections. The first is a translation of a segment of ʿĀmirī’s al-Iʿlām bi-manāqib al-Islām (An Exposition of the Merits of Islam). Following a prolegomenon on ‘What Must Be Known First’, the author treats such issues as the nature of knowledge and the nobility of the religious sciences. The second selection, a portion of ʿĀmirī’s al-Amad ʿala’l-abad, translated by Everret Rowson as A Muslim Philosopher on the Soul and Its Fate, deals with questions of an eschatological nature. Of particular interest here are ʿĀmirī’s numerous references to the Greek philosophers, in particular Socrates, Plato, and many of the pre-Socratics.