Phil 730: Seminar in Islamic Philosophy (Ethics)
Instructor: Dr. Tamara Albertini, 956-6030 (
Time: M 12:45-3:15 p.m.
Office Hours: TR 10-11:00 a.m. (Sakam D-303)
This seminar is designed to introduce graduate students to the complexity and richness of Islamic thought. Despite its exclusive use of Islamic philosophical sources, this text-intensive course also offers an opportunity to review some aspects of ancient Greek philosophy (in particular Aristotle). This has to do with the unique history of the Islamic tradition of thought in the course of which it became a “hybrid.” On one hand, Islamic philosophy may safely be described as the last chapter written in the history of ancient Greek thought. On the other, it is also to be seen as a tradition in its own right guided by intellectual preoccupations that emerged out of scientific inquiry, theological exegesis, mysticism, humanism, and the many political challenges Islamic empires faced in the past.
The texts to be discussed in this seminar focus on Islamic ethics. They represent a mere selection from a large pool of Sunni and Shi‘a sources reflecting both, the creative use Muslim philosophers made of ancient Greek sources and how they responded to what they perceived to be the most urgent questions of their days. The selection in this seminar includes texts by Central Asian philosopher-scientist al-Farabi (d. 950), Persian philosopher-poet Miskawayh (d. 1030), Persian philosopher-theologian and mystic al-Ghazali (d. 1111), and Shi‘iite scientist-
philosopher and marja Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (d. 1274). Special attention will be given to the connection between ethical thought and autobiography in al-Ghazali and al-Tusi.
Graduate students are expected to
- acquire an in depth knowledge of the history of Islamic philosophy;
- learn how to recognize the hybrid character of Islamic philosophy;
- learn to appreciate Islamic philosophy as a tradition in its own right;
- learn about the variety of ethical theories in Islamic philosophy;
- learn how to find and apply a leading question/hypothesis onto a number of different texts;
- learn how to draw inner and cross-cultural philosophical comparisons;
- learn to review scholarly literature critically;
- be able to connect contemporary issues in the Islamic world with classical positions.
Students need to study both, original and secondary sources. They are, therefore, required to submit a short paper (6-8 pp.) in which they review critically scholarly literature referring to authors and texts discussed in class (30%) and a longer final paper (16-20 pp.) focusing on a topic to be determined after consultation with the instructor. A rich bibliography is to be added to the short paper. The longer paper must include other or more sources than the one discussed in the short paper (60%). There will also be a grade for active participation and class preparation (10%).
The focus essay for this seminar is by Azim Nanji, “Islamic Ethics” (in A Companion to Ethics, edited by Peter Singer, Oxford: Blackwells, 1991, pp. 106-118, also available on line:
This essay offers an excellent introduction to the great diversity of approaches in Islamic ethics.
- Alfarabi [Al-Farabi, Abu Nasr]. The Political Writings: Selected Aphorisms and Other Texts. Trans. by Charles E. Butterworth (Cornell: Cornell U. P., 2001). [ISBN 0-8014-913-X]
- Al-Ghazali. The Deliverance from Error... Translated and annotated by R. J. McCarthy. Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae. [ISBN 1-8057-8167-6]
________ Balance of Action (Mizan al-A‘mal). Partly translated in Majid Fakhry. Ethical Theories in Islam (Leiden, New York...: E. J. Brill, 1991). [Instructor will provide copies]
- Ibn Miskawayh. Refinement of Character. Trans. by Constantine K. Zurayk (Kazi, 2003). [ISBN 1-57644-716-3]
- Al-Tusi, Nasir al Din. Contemplation and Ethics. The Spiritual Autobiography of a Muslim Scholar. Ed. and trans. by S. J. Badakhchani (London, New York: Tauris, 1999). [ISBN 1-86064 523-2]
- Al-Tusi, Nasir al Din. The Nasirean Ethics, trans. G. Wickens (London: Allen and Unwin. 1964). [Instructor will provide copies]
- Dwight M. Donaldson. Studies in Muslim Ethics. (London: S.P.C.K., 1953).
- Majid Fakhry. Ethical Theories in Islam (Leiden, New York...: E. J. Brill, 1991).
- George F. Hourani. Reason and Tradition in Islamic Ethics (Cambridge, London...: Cambridge U, P., 1985).
- Richard G. Hovannisian. Ethics in Islam (Ninth Giorgio Levi Della Vida Biennial Conference, May 6-8 1983). Malibu, Calif.: Undena Publications, 1985.
- On line sources on Fitra (natural predisposition):
This site has several texts pertinent to Islamic ethics:
Click on the fourth bar entitled Fitrah (Natural State of Purity)
And on the fifth bar entitled ‘Ilm al-Akhlaq (Ethics)
1) General introductions:
- Fakhry, Majid. A History of Islamic Philosophy. 3rd ed. (N.Y.: Columbia U. P., 2004).
- Nasr, Seyyed Hossein/Leaman, Oliver. History of Islamic Philosophy. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.
2) Bibliographies and Texts of Islamic Philosophy
- Hans Daiber. Bibliography of Islamic Philosophy. 2 vols. (Leiden...: Brill, 1999).
- General: http://philosophy.cua.edu/faculty/tad/Bibliography%2004-06.cfm
- Al-Ghazali: http://www.ghazali.org/
- Al-Farabi: http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/farabi/index.html
3) Qur’anic text with different English translations, Hadith-compilations, and search engine:
4) Qur’anic interpretation:
Click on "The Great Tafsir Project" (right side).
Phil 730: Seminar on Islamic Philosophy (Ethics)
Dr. Tamara Albertini, 956-6030 (
Office Hours: TR 10-11:00 a.m. (Sakam D-303)
S E S S I O N S
12 General Introduction
19 MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY
26 Introduction to Islamic Ethics (Azim Nanji essay, Fitra-articles on line)
2 The Greek Sources (Fakhry 61-66, 78-92)
16 PRESIDENTS DAY
23 Miskawayh (Fakhry 107-130)
2 Miskawayh (Refinement of Character)
9 Miskawayh (Refinement of Character)
16 Al-Tusi (Fakhry 131-142)
23 SPRING RECESS
30 Al-Tusi (Excerpts from Akhlaq)
6 Al-Tusi (Autobiography)
13 Al-Ghazali (Fakhry 193-206)
20 Al-Ghazali (Excerpts from Book of Knowledge and Balance of Action)
27 Al-Ghazali (Autobiography)
4 Review Session
Midterm papers due Monday, March 30, 2009
Final Papers due Monday, May 11, 2009, Noon