Philosophers of the Arabs
Professor Taha Abdurrahman (b. 1944), a Moroccan thinker, specialized in logic and linguistics, a pro of 'Multiple Modernities', works on founding an ethical humanistic modernism on the basis of the ethical basics and values of the Islamic religion.
Professor Abdurrahman was born in Aljadida, Morocco, on 1944, in which he studied for his elementary school. He studied his preparatory and secondary school in Casablanca and finished his license in philosophy at Muhammad V University. He continued his study at Sorbonne, Paris, where he earned another license in philosophy and finished his PhD on 1972 with a theses titled "Language and philosophy: a treatise on the linguistic structure of existence study", then he earned his State PhD on 1985 with a thesis titled "A treatise on deductive and natural argumentation and its models". He taught logic in Muhammad V University since the beginnings of the seventies. Won the Moroccan book prize twice, and the 'ISESCO' prize in Islamic philosophy on 2006.
He is a visiting professor in several Moroccan Universities, and the president of 'the wisdom forum for thinkers and researchers'.
His Philosophical Project
The philosophical project of professor Abdurrahman may be divided, logically not chronologically, into three elements. First, unfolding the presumed identity relation between philosophy, in general, and modernism, in particular, and Western thought. Hence, it becomes possible for every specific culture to constitute its own philosophy as well as its own modernity. Second, establishing the relation between 'Ethics', as a living experience, and theoretical thought, in general, and the concept of modernism, in particular. Hence, theoretical thought and Ethical living experience become two faces of the same coin. Third, founding the concept of the 'Ethical experience' on the basics and values of the Islamic religion and on a new reading of the 'Holy Qur'an' (Muslim's sacred text), considering that the message of the Islamic religion is a humanistic one in the first place.
It should be noted here that, for Professor Abdurrahman, the move from the first to the second element is logical. For, in his view, it is irrational to separate theoretical thought from real Ethical activity. However, the move from the second to the third is more like a preference or a belief choice. For him, the Islamic Ethical system, for reasons he advances, is the most complete one, but it is not irrational to choose other Ethical system as long as it expresses the philosophical position in real life.
This view has lead him to criticize Modernist Western thought on the basis of lacking a true Ethical basis, as well as the Islamic thought, ancient and modern, on the basis of lacking sufficient theorization of this Ethical principle. Consequently, it became imperative for him to construct a new 'Modernist – Ethical' system that undertakes the responsibility of completing the shortages of the two views.
Professor Taha Abdurrahman introduces his concept of 'Multiple Modernities' as follows,
What we see in our intellectual live is transferring 'Modernism' as it is in its utilitarian manifestations in the West, this transfer doesn't represent neither novelty nor beauty… How should we act to deal with this situation, how not to be mere transporters of 'Modernity' but creators of it? In my view we should differentiate between realities of things and its soul… What the soul mean? It is the whole of the principles and values which such reality constitute an application and realization of it. This means that we should look for 'Modernism" as values not as realities; this reality exists; we don't deny it; we get in contact with it, learn from it, and replicate it, and so on, but this reality is not what will get us into 'Modernism'. Hence, we should look for these principles and values which reality constitutes an application for it. (a dialogue with Aljazeera T.V. channel, part6)
As a confirmation of this view, Professor Taha criticizes 'Western Modern Civilization', the civilization of the 'Logos', on the basis of its lack of the Ethical principle,
As a whole, what the civilization of the 'Logos' has produced is three harms that hit human being in his Ethical entity: the harm of siege which made the Ethical act limited, and the harm of freeze which mad it an isolated act, and the harm of reduction which made it a rejected act. Hence, these three harms 'limitation', 'isolation' and 'rejection' are what Ethical act has gained from the civilization of 'Logos'. This represents the most unjust position for the human being, specifically, when we know that the essence of humanity is not defined except through 'Ethics'. Therefore, we should work to alleviate this unjust from the shoulders of man until he restores his identity. (The question of Ethics – a contribution to Ethical criticism of Western Modernity, P 79-80)
At the same time, Professor Abdurrahman points out to the lack of theorization, in general, in contemporary Islamic thought,
Contemporary 'religious resurgence', in which the Islamic world has entered in the last two decades, has invoked different reactions either within its proponents or within its opponents. However, such a religious resurgence, despite its widespread in the horizons and its effect in the people, lacks the required theoretical basis that fulfills strict rational methodology and newly introduced scientific norms. For, we don't find at its founders neither a complete methodological framework, a productive scientific theorization, nor a founded philosophical vision. (Religious Work, and Renewal of the Mind, P. 9)
Within this double-sided criticism, Professor Abdurrahman finds the starting point in the newly introduced theories that prove that 'Logic', in the Western's formal sense, has limits, and that the way out is through searching behind these limits,
When I have been specialized in Rationalism and Logic, I came to know that 'Logic" has limits… and my philosophical nature compels me to search for truth even if it were behind these limits and that philosophy requires expanding its inquiry to the limits… All of this derived me to require another rout to uncover what is behind the limits of 'Logic', I was certain that the language of such a level of reality can't be the language of expression, because expression is the language of the 'limited' Reason which have been revealed to me. Hence, such a language should be a language of sign, an authentic sign and an eloquent metaphor, so that it can get through the limits of reason. (Dialogue, Aljazeera, part1)
And what is behind the limits of reason is the 'Religious' values and Ethics, and this, in Professor's Abdurrahman's view, is found in its most complete form in the Islamic religion viewed as a humanistic call. (Dialogue, Aljazeera, part4)
Consequently, the final purpose is to construct an Ethical Islamic theory that is capable of confronting the un-Ethical position of the Western civilization, and to cover the failure of the other non-religious as well as non-Islamic Ethical theories in realizing such a goal. (The question of Ethics, P. 171)
Professor Abdurrahman depends essentially on formal logic in approaching the subject, and this is naturally due to the fact that he is one of the prominent logicians in contemporary Arabic thought. Therefore, his approach depends, first, on dealing with the problematic of the 'philosophical terms', then on logical division of the subject, and finally, on logical inference and deduction to prove the issues under consideration. However, at the same time and considering his specialization, he is aware of what contemporary philosophical thought has reached with respect to the limits of Logic, Mathematics, and Philosophy of Science. In addition, he is aware of what this thought has reached with respect to surpassing the concept of the 'subject/object division', which is the central embedded axiom in Formal Logic.
Therefore, we can divide his methodology into, first, approaching the problematic of 'Terminology', second, the issue of the limits of knowledge, and third, the issue of the 'subject/object divide'.
The Need to Coin New Terms
Professor Abdurrahman introduces the problematic of 'Terminology', with respect of the Arab/Islamic culture, as follows,
We have been used to implement Terms of the classical Arab/Islamic intellectual works, whereas others use Terms that follow the Western philosophical counterparts in a literal way… This has lead to a form of ambivalence in contemporary Arab/Islamic thought, which we have gained from this way nothing except stagnation and posing at what they have transferred. As a result, they have prevented themselves from practicing their rights of pursuing creativeness in philosophy. (the Question of Ethics, P. 30)
Hence, in accordance to this point of view, it becomes imperative to depend on Terms that emanated from our own culture and to create or coin what is needed of new Terms (Dialogue, The House of Wisdom). Accordingly professor Abdurrahman, throughout his entire philosophical works, coins new terms in order to fulfill the needs of his 'creative' scheme of thought that he introduces. For example, in accordance to the notion of the limit of reason, he expands the notion of 'Reason' to exceed the usual Term 'abstract reason'. Instead, there are three levels of Rationality, rationality in theoretical thought (abstract reason), rationality of action (guided reason), and rationality in acquiring basic beliefs (supported reason).
Professor Abdurrahman constructs his central thesis of making a relation between Rationality as such and Ethics on the basis of the fall of the concept of complete 'Subject/Object' division. Consequently, his methodology is marked by different forms of relations between the different manifestations of the two sides. He proves this concept as follows,
Statement in religion is not separated from Ethical values… and complete separation between statement and values can not be accepted because of the following fact. Separation between statement and value, in knowledge in general, if not has been refuted, the majority is against it. For, a great deal of the 'divides', that have been acceptable intuitively, became highly doubtful. Such as, 'fact/theory divide', 'observation/theory divide', 'definition/theory divide', analysis/synthesis divide', realistic/idealistic divide', 'reality/belief divide' and 'formal/experiential divide'. And the 'fact/value divide' was the one that have evoked the most deep and fruitful discussions between philosophers. (the Question of Ethics, P. 47)
The Rational Scientific Method
The direct result of utilizing the methodology of 'non-complete subject/object divide' is his objection to the prevailing scientific/rational methodology, which depends on such a divide. Hence, the Ethical dimension of the human being undertakes an essential position in the scientific/rational methodology. He introduces this situation as follows,
The Modern Western epistemological framework depends since its beginnings in the seventeenth century on two basic concepts that dispense with two considerations that every religious person accepts. The first one can be formulated as follows: 'no ethics in science'… the second can be formulated as follows: 'no knowledge is behind the mind'. (the Question of Ethics, p.92)
As a result, it becomes possible to articulate on another 'scientific' method that doesn't depend on such a 'divide',
It became evident for me that the possibility of following another scientific method that activate a form of rationality other than 'abstract mind', or say, create a new scientific/rational methodology other than the prevailing one today, a methodology that isn't less rational or scientific than the existing one, is a reality that should be admitted. (Religious Work, and Renewal of the Mind, P. 21)
His Philosophical Position
The efforts of professor Abdurrahman to realize this philosophical project is based on advancing a specific conception of 'Reason' and 'Rationality' that leads logically to the required result. On the basis of this central concept, it becomes possible for him to criticize Western Modernity; to criticize both the classical and modern Islamic thought; to transfer (i.e., translate) Western thought correctly; to read (i.e., understanding) the Islamic intellectual heritage correctly. And, most importantly, to introduce the right Ethical conception that is needed to confront the Ethical problematic of Western Modernity and found an alternative Islamic form of Modernism.
His Concept of Rationality
The concept of Rationality for Professor Abdurrahman is based, first, on rejecting the notion that the Mind (and consequently reason) is an entity by itself, for this represents a form of partitioning of the human being. Rather, Mind (i.e., Rationality) is an ability or power, not an autonomous active entity. (Religious Work, and Renewal of the Mind, P. 18)
Then, he depends, secondly, on the newly admitted knowledge that proves the limits of abstract reason, especially on the well known theories of Curt Gödel, of 'incompleteness' and 'Undecidability', as well as the newly admitted concepts of 'complementarity' in philosophy of science, consequently, he says,
If it is right that formalization of theories is equal to making it 'Rational', then the limits of such a formalization is a limit of Reason itself, in the meaning that it is impossible to subject reality to a complete Rationalization, as long as there are still facts that can't be Rationalized. Since 'Abstract Reason' is identical to 'Rationality', then it becomes clear, with no doubt, its deficiency of reaching real scientific facts. (Religious Work, and Renewal of the Mind, P. 43)
The remedy for this situation, in his view, is to complement the 'Abstract Rationality' through relating Rationality with living experience in accordance to religious guidance. (Religious Work, and Renewal of the Mind, P.53)
Thirdly, He depends on dividing the 'Rational ability' into three basic levels, which is 'Rationality of abstraction', 'Rationality of living experience', and 'Rationality of Sophist belief', for which he coined the terms 'Abstract Reason', 'Guided Reason' and 'Supported Reason', as mentioned above.
Hence, the 'Abstract Reason' is limited to description of things, the 'Guided Reason' is devoted to doing things, whereas the 'Supported Reason' represents the capability of knowing its internal identity,
If the 'Abstract Reason' purports toward Rationalizing the phenomenal description of things, and the 'Guided Reason' purports to Rationalize the phenomenal living experience of things, then the 'Supported Reason', differently, purports to Rationalize, in addition, its internal description and actions, or its 'Self', or say, its identity. (Religious Work, and Renewal of the Mind, P. 121)
In view of this conception of Rationality, which doesn't make a complete 'subject/object divide', the issue of acquiring knowledge from 'other' systems of knowledge, i.e. translation, becomes an essential one. Hence, what is required is neither 'literal' translation, nor transferring the 'content' of the text, but a creative transportation of the text in a way that is consistent with the language to which the text is translated. Hence, Professor Abdurrahman considers that the issue of translation is crucial for the Arab/Islamic Modernity, for it is important to understand Western Modern thought correctly through creative translation not stiff meaningless literal one. (Dialogue, Aljazeera, part5)
His Position from Traditional Islamic Philosophy
On the basis of his aforementioned philosophical positions, Professor Abdurrahman criticizes contemporary traditional Islamic thought for depending essentially on the 'Abstract Reason', he says,
From what we mentioned before, it becomes clear that the Islamic traditional movements [Salafya in Arabic, which means literally to follow back the original texts] has followed two routs to refer to the original Islamic texts: the 'theoretical Salafya', which has been especially followed by the 'Wahabya Salafya', and the rout of the 'critical Salafya', which has been followed by the national and renaissance Salafya. Both of them have followed the methodology of 'Abstract Reason' with different applications. In the 'theoretical Salafya' categories of abstract reason have been applied without resorting to living experience… The 'critical Salafya' has been more cautious of the importance of the experience but it is not less inclined to 'Abstract Reason'…
Such an inclination to 'Abstract Reason' is not but a trace of the influence of 'Western Rationality' with its Cartesian basis. (Religious Work, and Renewal of the Mind, P. 102-103)
At the same time, he criticizes the ancient Islamic thought on the basis of its marginality of the notion of Ethics. Islamic philosophers have been divided between the notion that religion is a product of Ethics, and the notion of autonomy of Ethics from religion. On the other hand, the Fuqaha (i.e., Islamic religion knowledgeable) have given to Ethics a complimentary state to "people's benefits". Consequently, he says,
If they followed correct logic in understanding the reality of religion they would have recognized that Ethics deserve the status of 'people's essential benefit' than other notions, for it is not reasonable for a heavenly religion, such as Islam, to put more importance on material needs of human beings than their spiritual lives! Is there for their benefits what is related to spirit other than Ethics! Moreover, is there anything that points to their 'humanity' other than their Ethical life! The correct notion is that religion and Ethics are the same thing, there is no religion without Ethics, and there is no Ethics without religion. (the Question of Ethics, P. 51)
Western Modernity Critique
On the basis of his Ethical position Professor Abdurrahman criticizes Western Modernity along with its scientific/technical rationality, rejecting the concept of 'control of man over nature', and requesting to replace it by an Ethical notion of 'being in obedience to the master of nature',
The conclusion is that the three levels of the rationality of the western scientific/technical system, which is organization, forecasting, and subjugation, support principles of behavior that harm the religious Ethics in accordance to these successive levels. The level of organization excludes Ethics, the level of forecast controls its, and the level of subjugation replaces it with a naturalist alternative.
However, these harms of the religious Ethics have reflected its negative effects on the scientific/technical system of the world. For, this system didn't reach its aim behind cutting its relation with Ethics, which is, forecasting, control and taking action. Rather, it became unable to prevent itself from gradual fall into a rout that is surrounded by horrors from each side. A situation that lead philosophers of Ethics to think of the means of correcting such a rout that would drag humanity, sooner or later, into its fate, and this thought has lead to the appearance of several new Ethical theories. (the Question of Ethics, P. 123)
The solution, in view of Professor Abdurrahman should be constructing an Ethical theory that is articulated upon religion,
Thus, it becomes clear that the Ethical theory that deserve to be implemented to confront the scientific/technical system, that is capable of abolishing the negative effects of this system in its continual evolution, is not that which depend on 'Abstract Reason', such as the theory of responsibility and theory of communication. These theories lack together the condition of consistency; the correct theory should replace 'rationality' [means depending on theoretical Ethics] by 'practical Ethical behavior', and replace 'ignorance' [means ignoring the supernatural origin of Ethics] by 'acknowledgement' [means acknowledging the supernatural origin and support for the Ethical behavior]. And since such a theory is based upon giving up the notion of subjugating nature in favor of the notion of obedience of the real master of nature then we may call it the theory of 'obedience'. (the Question of Ethics, P. 133-134)
The Future of Arabic Philosophy
On the basis of his philosophical position, as expressed above, Professor Abdurrahman sees that contemporary Arabic thought should purport to found an Arabic modernity instead of trying to replicate Western Modernity in its manifestations. Hence, advancement is basically in the Ethical dimension not in the industrial – technical rout. In his words,
I don't see the opinion that Islamic renovation should be through constructing great industrial corporations, technical centers, modernist programs and accumulating material capabilities. This may be true if we were aiming at making the Islamic society a replicate of the Western society, albeit this is what most of the Arab/Islamic leaders are inclined to. For, if they think in the issue deeply they will find that this rout will not bring more than being followers to the west, in addition to freezing our own bequeathed way of life…
If it is true that following the same rout of modernization as the West will not bring us except 'following' then it will be also true that we should take another rout that is based upon our own way of life. (the Question of Ethics, p. 195-196)
His Most Important Works
Language and philosophy: a treatise on the linguistic structure of the existence study (in French), 1979
A treatise on deductive and natural argumentation and its models (in French), 1985
Formal Logic and Grammar
On the basics of Dialogue and Renovation of the Islamic theology, 1987
Religious Work, and Renewal of the Mind, 1989
Renovation of the Method in Assessing the Heritage, 1994
Philosophy and Translation, 1994
Language and Balance, or Multiplicity of Reason, 1998
The Philosophical discourse, the book of the Concept and authentication, 1999
The question of Ethics – a contribution to Ethical criticism of Western Modernity, 2000
Dialogues for the Future, 2000
The Arabic Right to differ in Philosophy, 2002
The Islamic Right to be Intellectually Different, 2005
The Soul of Modernism, an Introduction to founding an Islamic Modernity, 2006
Modernism and Resistance, 2007
Articles and Dialogues (Mostly in Arabic)
A dialogue with Malek Altereki, Aljazeera T.V. channel
Global Ethics: Its Scope and Limits (in English)
Taha Abdurrahman speaks about Qur'an and the modernists' readings (1/2)
Taha Abdurrahman speaks about Qur'an and the modernists' readings (2/2)
The civilization of the 'Logos': How to cure its Ethical harms? – the third chapter of his book 'the Question of Ethics'
Wisdom Forum for Thinkers and Researchers
By: Samir Abuzaid