Friday, November 13, 12 Noon (PST)
Early Islamic theologians explored various strategies for articulating the nature and attributes of God. In every case, a set of methodological conditions had to be navigated: the evidence from the Qurʾan, to be sure, had to be accommodated, but a series of increasingly complicated logical concerns also determined the development of theological claims. Contemporary trends in cosmology, epistemology, and metaphysics influenced claims about the divine attributes, and those claims, in turn, resulted in corresponding philosophical commitments in more mundane fields. If we assert that God is knowing, for example, then even if human knowing is of a different order, it must be analysed by compatible rules. Some theologians, of course, fearing that such an approach would tend towards anthropomorphism, resisted any claim about God that could be made about anything else. Problems abounded.
In this talk, David Bennett will show how the earliest systematic theologians (Muʿtazilites, and other early practitioners of kalām) conceived of the possibility of making claims about God. The diversity of thought on this topic is particularly interesting if we expect simplicity in our monotheisms. He will be taking the theme of this series, the “hiddenness of God,” quite literally, considering first the question of whether God can be seen, then the (Qurʾānic) attribute of God as “seeing,” and finally the analogous case of knowledge with respect to God. He will pay special attention to the Islamic treatment of the epistemological puzzles surrounding knowledge (or information) about a transcendent divine principle, and to the ontological status of the divine attributes.
DAVID BENNETT is a specialist in Islamic theology and Arabic philosophy. His most recent position was with the research program “Representation and Reality” at the Department of Philosophy, Linguistics, and Theory of Science at the University of Gothenburg (Sweden), which concluded this year. In addition to contributions to the Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology (2016) and the third edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam, Dr Bennett has published on topics such as the epistemology of dreams, the nature of concepts, and physical constituents in Islamic cosmology. Philosophical Problems in Sense Perception: Testing the Limits of Aristotelianism, a volume edited by Dr Bennett and Juhana Toivanen, is forthcoming this year from Springer. Dr Bennett’s translation of the Maqālāt of al-Ashʿarī, a major doxographical work from the early tenth century, is in progress; he is also writing a monograph about atomism in Islamic thought.