Models of Desire in Graeco-Arabic Philosophy

From Plotinus to Ibn Ṭufayl


This study argues that late ancient Greek and medieval Islamic philosophers interpret human desire along two frameworks in reaction to Aristotle’s philosophy. The investigation of the model dichotomy unfolds historically from the philosophy of Plotinus through the Graeco-Arabic translation movement in 8th-10th century Baghdad to 12th century al-Andalus with the philosophy of Ibn Bāǧǧa and Ibn Ṭufayl.

Diverging on desire’s inherent or non-inherent relation to the desiring subject, the two models reveal that the desire’s role can orient opposed accounts of human perfection: logically-structured demonstrative knowledge versus an ineffable witnessing of the truth. Understanding desire along these models, philosophers incorporated supra-rational aspects into philosophical accounts of the human being.

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Bethany Somma, Ph.D (2018), is a postdoc at the LMU Munich. Their research focuses on psychology, ethics, and animals in ancient Greek philosophy and philosophy of the Islamic world.

Introduction: Desire and Its Models
 1 Methodology
 2 The Two Models and the Human Goal
 3 Structure and Scope

1 An Inherent Model of Desire: Plotinus on Desire for the Good
 1 Terminology of Desire
 2 Desire in the General Structure of Reality
 3 Desire in Intellect
 4 Desire in Soul
 5 Desire in Judgments and Action
 6 What Does It Mean to Desire the Good?
 7 Being Good-Like
 8 Becoming like the Good
 9 Formless Desire

2 The Plotiniana Arabica and Desire’s Discontents
 1 Desire in Intellect
 2 Soul’s Desire of Intellect
 3 Soul and Body’s Desire
 4 Assimilation and the Ethical Implications of Soul’s Procession
 5 Virtue and the Return
 6 Avicenna on the Theology of Aristotle

3 Aristotle and al-Fārābī on Desire
 1 Aristotle on Desire
 2 Al-Fārābī on Desire
 3 Al-Fārābī on Aristotle on Desire
 4 Models of Desire in Aristotle and al-Fārābī

4 Ibn Bāǧǧa on Desire and Conceptualization
 1 Desire in the Soul
 2 Desire in the Human Being
 3 Striving Soul and the Body
 4 Ibn Bāǧǧa on al-Ġazalī and the Sufis
 5 Human Excellence and Desire

5 Ibn Ṭufayl: Situating Ḥayy Ibn Yaqẓān
 1 The Purpose and Methodology of the Text
 2 Ibn Ṭufayl on His Influences
 3 Origins and Orientation

6 The Desire Inherent to Ibn Ṭufayl’s Ḥayy Ibn Yaqẓān
 1 Ḥayy’s Desire
 2 Ibn Ṭufayl’s Interpretation of Avicenna and al-Ġazālī on Desire
 3 Appetite and Dissection
 4 Holistic Goal of Ḥayy’s Education
 5 Subject of Education, Subject of Desire

Conclusion: Modelling the Study
 1 Drawing the Boundaries of the Book
 2 Ibn Bāǧǧa and Ibn Ṭufayl: Modelling Good Desire

All interested in Philosophy of the Islamic world, ancient Greek philosophy, late ancient philosophy, and medieval philosophy, and anyone interested in perspectives on the role of desire in ethics and anthropology.
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