Mini-review: Philosophy in the Islamic World

I love reading books. That’s why this site features entries from my video book club, essay-based book club, as well as reviews of individual books. Sometimes, though, I can’t get around to a full fledged review, or the book requires only a few paragraphs of commentary. In those cases, I used to publish mini-reviews on Amazon. But since I’ve started boycotting the company (because of their awful labor practices, destructive near-monopoly, and willful avoidance of taxes), I decided to move this practice to my blog. So here we go with the latest entry.

Philosophy in the Islamic World, by Peter Adamson, is another entry in the author’s ongoing series, “History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps,” in turn based on his successful, and also ongoing, podcast. I’ve read, and highly recommend, two earlier volumes in this series, Classical Philosophy and Philosophy In The Hellenistic And Roman Worlds. And I fully intend to read the next two installments that are already available: Medieval Philosophy and Classical Indian Philosophy.

The volume on Islamic (and medieval Jewish) philosophy is particularly hefty, in part because that happens to be Adamson’s own specialty. But it is fascinating because it will dispel a number of myth and misconceptions about philosophy in the Islamic world, as well as elucidate several intricate connections between it and the resurgence of Western philosophy in the late Middle Ages.

The book is divided into three parts: the so-called “formative period,” which includes discussions of the gigantic influence of Aristotle on Islamic philosophy; “Andalusia,” which features, among others, the philosophies of Averroes and Maimonides; and “the later traditions,” with chapters on Illuminationism, debates on Avicenna’s metaphysics, and — surprisingly and very interestingly — philosophy and science in the Mongol age.

While I don’t usually react very well to that part of philosophy that is essentially theological in nature — and a lot of Islamic philosophy of the period covered by Adamson falls into that category — Philosophy in the Islamic World is highly readable, peppered by Adamson’s usual humorous references to giraffes and Buster Keaton, and more importantly represents a must have entry in your library, on penalty of developing some serious gaps in your understanding of philosophy.

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

One thought on “Mini-review: Philosophy in the Islamic World”

  1. The last part sounds interesting on both philosophy and history grounds. The Mongol world was interesting religiously as well. “Mongols” themselves were not so named, collectively, until the rise of Genghis. They were of course still animist. Some of the larger tribes to the west of them were Nestorian Christian. There were also Buddhists in the area, Muslims filtering in, and a few Central Asian Jews.

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