Nietzsche and the Falāsifa

In Marco Brusotti, Michael McNeal, Corinna Schubert & Herman Siemens (eds.), European/Supra-European: Cultural Encounters in Nietzsche's Philosophy. De Gruyter. pp. 333-348 (2020)
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The last twenty-five years or so have seen the emergence of exciting comparative work on Nietzsche and various philosophical traditions beyond the bounds of Europe. So far, however, the emphasis has been primarily on the cultures of India, China and Japan, with an almost exclusive focus on Buddhist, Hindu, Daoist, and Confucian traditions. Surprisingly, little work has been done on Nietzsche and the Islamic tradition. In this paper, I sketch out Nietzsche’s understanding of Islam, the ways in which he uses it as a resource for his critique of Christianity and European modernity and the criticisms he has to make of it as one of the great monotheistic world religions. I then argue for the need to engage Nietzsche with specific Islamic falāsifa of the classical period (9-12th c.) rather than Islam itself, as some recent scholars have attempted to do. Although Nietzsche himself seems to have had no direct familiarity with any of the falāsifa, there are, I argue, many entry points for productive comparison and dialogue. This is at least in part because they share a significant common heritage: both were careful students of classical Greek and Hellenistic thought, and both put the insights they encountered there to work in bold new ways. Indeed, they appropriated, transformed and reanimated Greek ideas in new contexts and towards new ends that their progenitors would scarcely have recognized, and that were often radically challenging to their contemporaries. I focus here on a few select themes—the idea of philosophy as a “way of life,” the ideal of “becoming like God so far as it is possible” and the Platonic figure of the philosopher-ruler, all of which get taken up and re-imagined in radically novel and sometimes antipodal ways.

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Peter Groff
Bucknell University


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