Self-Awareness in Islamic Philosophy: Avicenna and Beyond.

Author:Rustom, Mohammed
Position:Book review
 
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Self-Awareness in Islamic Philosophy: Avicenna and Beyond. By JARI KAUKUA. Cambridge: CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2015. Pp. x + 257. $95.

It would be an understatement to say that the study of Islamic philosophy is very much alive today in the modern academy. A staggering amount of work is published or undertaken yearly, including an unprecedented amount of textual and philological research that facilitates the establishment and publication of reliable texts, which in turn become the objects of further analysis and study. All of this activity has helped foster a growing awareness in the field of Islamic intellectual history that the discipline of Islamic philosophy is far more expansive than has hitherto been conceived. This also entails that Islamic philosophy's own, indigenous concerns are brought to the forefront of the discussion, demanding from the researcher both a wider historical lens and a deeper philosophical apparatus in order to fully appreciate the complexity of the problems dealt with in a variety of thinkers and intellectual perspectives, particularly from Avicenna (d. 1037) onward.

With this latter point in mind, Jari Kaukua's Self-Awareness in Islamic Philosophy covers much uncharted territory, probing the problem of self-awareness as conceived by Avicenna and as received and reformulated by his illustrious successors, chief among them Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (d. 1191) and Mulla Sadra (d. 1640). Although the premodern, non-European occupation with the self has already been aptly demonstrated by Richard Sorabji (Chicago, 2006), Kaukua seeks to fill in the gaps with a more sustained account of Islamic models of self-awareness. He approaches this topic with impressive historical range, sensitivity to the many technical nuances inherent in the subject matter, sound philological skills, and forensic philosophical precision.

A good majority of Kaukua's study is rightly dedicated to Avicenna, who carved out a distinctly unique notion of self-awareness that cannot be concretely traced back to the ancient Greeks. Although Aristotle's De Anima III.2 charts out a general sense of phenomenal awareness (or, to be exact, "perception of perception"), Avicenna may have relegated Aristotle's treatment of this problem to his cognitive theory of the internal senses. The notion of self-awareness seems, at least in some way, to be indirectly indebted to De Anima III.2 and a variety of other psychological texts that made their way into Arabic and with which Avicenna was familiar. Yet Kaukua cautions against reading too much into this, arguing for the unique nature of Avicenna's explanation and defense of human self-awareness.

Kaukua demonstrates his intimate familiarity with the large body of secondary scholarship on this very topic, taking account of the contributions of Michael Marmura, Deborah Black, and Dag Hasse, and offering his own unique reading of the relevant Avicennian texts along the way. It can be noted in passing that Ahmed Alwishah, in particular in "Avicenna on Self-Cognition and Self-Awareness" (in Aristotle and...

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