Thursday, October 07, 2010

On Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy

I'm progressing quite nicely with Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy whilst on holiday in Syria. One of the things I like about him is that his style is fluid and his thought lucid. Critical and irreverent, he approaches the subject like an intelligent layperson and with what can only be described as the common sense of the average "man on the Clapham omnibus". In spite of my admiration for his style, he is possessed of an annoying, and very English, smugness in his approach of the subject. This smugness is infused throughout his writing, his contempt for radical or revolutionary politics, particular affection for modern English and American philosophers, and utter disregard of Islamic or, as he calls it, Mohammedan philosophy to which he dedicates 9 pages only. Most of these 9 pages are concerning the history and religion itself, leaving at best a page or two to some of the more widely known philosophers such as Avicenna or Averroes.

It is unclear why he thinks that Western philosophers approached the topic any differently to the way Arab or Muslim philosophers did, or whether in fact he is even aware of the subject as well as he is familiar with that of Western philosophers. Still, one might comment, in a book on Western philosophy perhaps it is not surprising that so little be dedicated to Muslim philosophers. The answer to such a comment is that, in fact, Western philosophy until very recently was joined at the hip with Muslim philosophy and, not only would not exist without it, but also has absolutely no right in referring to Greek philosophy as an exclusively 'Western' tradition which was merely preserved for when the White Man was in a position to resume free-thinking. Russell's irreverence to dogma and intellectual dishonesty in all its forms leads him to make comments that the ignorant would call bigoted, and which make him all the more admirable for it, but he fails magnificently in dealing with a very important part of the history of philosophy and for this reason, more than any other, he is a prat.

1 comment:

Zay said...

Its quite strange why he would not talk about Ibn Rushd more since much of Catholic theology is derived from the works of Ibn Rushd. However, we as Muslims must remember that our "philosophical" outlook is more in line with Imam Al-Ghazzali as opposed to Ibn Rush (whose works on philosophy the ulema have not accepted).