Leaving the Garden: Al-Rāzī and Nietzsche as Wayward Epicureans

Philosophy East and West 64 (4):983-1017 (2014)
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This paper initiates a dialogue between classical Islamic philosophy and late modern European thought, by focusing on two peripheral, ‘heretical’ figures within these traditions: Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakariyāʾ al-Rāzī and Friedrich Nietzsche. What affiliates these thinkers across the cultural and historical chasm that separates them is their mutual fascination with, and profound indebtedness to, ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophy. Given the specific themes, concerns and doctrines that they appropriate from this common source, I argue that al-Rāzī and Nietzsche should be read as Epicureans and seen in relation to their predecessor as part of the subterranean tradition of philosophical naturalism. However, while each figure appropriates the philosophy of Epicurus, they ultimately transform it in important ways: al-Rāzī offers us a qualified “Platonic” Epicureanism, while Nietzsche forges a radicalized “Dionysian” Epicureanism. The point of such a comparative examination is twofold. First, analyzing the divergent paths of these “wayward” Epicureans sheds new light on the historical trajectory of naturalism as a philosophical stance (as well as its current prospects and limitations). Second, by initiating a dialogue between the classical Islamic and modern European philosophical traditions, we can better understand the antagonisms and shared concerns between these two horizons, as well as the ambiguities and self-questioning that occur within them.

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Peter Groff
Bucknell University


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