Revelation over rationalism: the thought of Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

Author:Butterworth, Charles E.
Position:Book Review

Since the Library of Living Philosophers series was founded in 1938, only twenty-eight individuals, or fewer than one every two years, have been selected as subjects. The format of each volume calls for an intellectual autobiography or authorized biography of the person so honored, a number of essays by critics and allies that probe the individual's teaching along with that person's replies to each, and an extensive bibliography of his or her writings (a volume on Marjorie Grene is in preparation). Seyyed Hossein Nasr first came to scholarly attention in the U.S. in 1964 with the publication of his Science and Civilization in Islam and Three Muslim Sages, and his scholarly activity has continued un abated ever since. He is best known for his espousal of what he calls traditional or perennial philosophy, an approach that collapses ordinary distinctions between philosophy and religion to emphasize the core of similarity within all religions or at least all orthodox ones. Nasr thus privileges intuition--intellect as he would prefer to say--without completely dismissing reason or rational thought, though he does subordinate the latter to the former.

Nasr focuses his intellectual autobiography on his family background and its influences on him, his educational itinerary, the stages of his career (with special emphasis upon his forced exile from Iran since the Islamic revolution of 1979), and on individuals who shaped his thought in one way or another. Although he writes in English, apparently without the assistance of an editor, he deems himself a man of the East and considers one of his tasks to be reconciling the different worlds of East and West or at least serving as an intermediary between them. In this respect, Nasr is highly attentive to the common meaning of traditionalism--the unexamined opinions and customs that distinguish peoples and cultures--and seems to suggest that they cannot be overcome even in pursuit of the truth. Indeed, for him, people must be understood as pursuing truth differently insofar as they start from, and never fully overcome, their traditional opinions and customs.

Privileged to be born into a prominent, socially important, and affluent family in Teheran, Nasr received an excellent early education and had the determination as well as the ability to profit from it. His natural gifts and sound habits served him well when he was sent to the U.S. for secondary school, then continued through undergraduate training in...

To continue reading