The Philosopher Responds An Intellectual Correspondence from the Tenth Century by Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi and Abu 'Ali Miskawayh
Edited by Bilal Orfali and Maurice A. Pomerantz. Translated by Sophia Vasalou and James E. Montgomery
Why is laughter contagious? Why do mountains exist? Why do we long for the past, even if it was scarred by suffering? Spanning a vast array of subjects that range from the philosophical to the theological, from the philological to the scientific, this is the record of a set of questions put by the littérateur Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī to the philosopher and historian Abū ʿAlī Miskawayh, and of the answers provided by the latter. Both figures were foremost contributors to that remarkable flowering of cultural and intellectual life that took place in the fourth/tenth century in the Islamic world during the reign of the Būyid dynasty. Part of the rich legacy left behind by that cultural moment, this correspondence holds a mirror to many of the debates and preoccupations of the time, and reflects the intellectual breadth and spirit of rationalistic inquiry that animated it. No less importantly, it also provides a unique insight into the intellectual outlooks of two thinkers who were divided as much by their distinctive temperaments as by the very different trajectories of their professional careers. Alternately whimsical and tragic, wondering and brooding, trivial and profound, al-Tawḥīdī’s questions provoke an interaction whose interest lies as much in its spirit as in its content. Offering a new edition and the first full-length English translation of this important text, the present book aims to bring this interaction to life for the English reader.