May 27, 2015

Wed Review (Paul E. Walker - Early Philosophical Shiism: The Isma'ili Neoplatonism of Abu YA'Qub Al-Sijistani)

This is written in such an obtuse fashion. It's definitely for people already in the know - too many strange terms and name drops (most transliterated from Persian or Arabic, like I said this book doesn't explain much for the uninitiated).

I'm also listening to the History of Philosophy without any gaps podcast. The podcaster covers the Islamic world quite thoroughly. I'd recommend that to people, like me, trying to dip their toes into this strange new ocean of ideas.

Saying all of this, I do realize this is a very esoteric topic on a very obscure philosopher (what the hell was this book doing in my small downtown bookstore?). The wikipedia article has this much to say about Abu: "Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani was an Persian Ismaili missionary and Neo-Platonic philosopher, who died sometime around 971 CE". That's it. The only thing else they have on the man is a warning to not confuse him with some other guy with a similar name.

An online philosophy encyclopedia had a lot of info on the guy. I'm not sure how trustworthy this site is, but it looks pretty good.

al-Sijistānī is a Persian philosopher. Ancient Persia is probably best known for being the guys that attacked Greece a bunch of times (5th bc century) (as depicted in that movie that featured oily men with six-packs). The empire stayed around long enough to also rival Rome and the Byzantines in later centuries (7th). So lots of Greek works were lost to the later Europeans (who didn't read Greek), but the Persians - being clever - had already translated much of the Greek works into Arabic and Persian.

Coming up to the 10th century the Persian empire is doing well, and our al-Sijistānī comes onto the scene. He put forth a few interesting metaphysical claims that harkens back to Plato more so than the more popular Aristotle.

This book is quite scholarly in that it discusses the ideas al-Sijistānī put forth and why they are significant to the Ismaili historic tradition. Saying that his works are mostly about God and mystical cosmology - aspects of philosophy that I find mundane due to the fact that its all baseless conjecture. al-Sijistānī main contribution is to reconcile the philosophy of his time with the neoplatonic doctrines of Plotinus. The author is definitely thorough, and the book is a good treatise, I just ended up having no interest in al-Sijistānī. Perhaps I'll revisit this philosopher in the years to come.

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