The Place of Virtue Ethics within the Post-Classical Discourse on ḥikma
Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s al-Nafs wa-l-rūḥ wa-sharḥ quwāhumā
Preserved in what seems to be a unique manuscript at the Bodleian Library, al-Nafs wa-l-rūḥ wa-sharḥ quwāhumā (The Soul and the Spirit together with an Explanation of Their Faculties) of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606/1210) is a curious book. At the beginning, the author decribes the text as part of the philosophical sciences (as opposed to the religious ones) and clarifies that it deals with ʿilm al-akhlāq, meaning Aristotelian virtue ethics. The text is divided into two parts, the first explaining subjects of philosophical psychology, such as the nature of the soul, its faculties, and its survival after the death of the body. The second part explains how one can “treat” or “heal” the soul from certain negative character traits or vices. In both parts, the book makes liberal use of quotations from the Qur’an, from prophetical ḥadīth, and from sayings by other prophets and sages. This is quite unlike any other “book on philosophy” that Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī wrote.
The article explains the distinction between philosophical and non-philosophical books in Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī and what it means for a book to belong to the former group. Al-Rāzī’s works in the theoretical fields of philosophy (logic, the natural sciences, metaphysics, and theology) do not use evidence derived from revelation and hardly ever refer to it. The relationship between revelation and the practical disciplines of philosophy (among them ethics), however, is different from the relation between revelation and theoretical philosophy. This difference leads in Avicenna to an almost complete abandonment of the practical disciplines. In authors who follow Avicenna in his Farabian approach to the relationship between philosophy and revelation, it leads to hybrid works such as al-Nafs wa-l-rūḥ wa-sharḥ quwāhumā that follow a philosophical agenda but employ means and strategies that mimic and imitate revelation.
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