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Dr. Vaezi

Islamic Intellectuality and Political Philosophy (On Justice)


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Islamic Intellectuality and Political Philosophy (On Justice)

Dr. Vaezi

· Translated and Edited By Amir Abbas Salehi



First of all I want to explain about the topic of my lecture and I must emphasize on the difference between intellect (‘aql) and rationality. I will not talk about the role of intellect in political philosophy but will talk about the role of rationality in political philosophy. It should be noted that we have different systems of rationality, for instance we can discuss about western rationality or Islamic rationality. But before entrance to this topic I’m going to provide you very brief definition and explanation about the political philosophy, what I mean by political philosophy. We have various types of political studies; different academic branches are under the title of political studies. Some of these branches in their nature are sciences; such as political sociology, political analysis, international politics and so on. The method that dominated these types of political studies is the scientific method but there is a branch of political studies that is called political philosophy that aims to answer some important philosophical questions concerning the field of politics.

Main issues in political philosophy :

 I can divide the main problems that concern political philosophy into three major divisions:

1. Conceptual clarification of key important words of politics. For example, political philosophers start to conceptual analyzing of terms such as state, power, authority and so on. During the domination of logical positivism in early decades of 20th century, they deny the meaningfulness of any normative and philosophical propositions. This type of positivism was dominated in many academic departments in the west. Since they maintain that all philosophical and normative propositions (like ethical propositions) are meaningless so the only task of philosophers, they claim, is to clarify philosophically the meaning of the key words and terms. So thanks to logical positivism, the only task of political philosophers, for many years, were to conceptual clarification of terms such as state, power, authority and so on. The first field of political philosophy, therefore, concerns this type of activity; conceptual clarification and conceptual analysis.

 2. Descriptive issues in the field of politics. There are some questions such as what is the origin of public life or civil society? Why we as human being start to build a society and state? Or what is the concept of self that is behind the political life? Every political philosophy is based on a specific concept of man. For example, liberalism as a political philosophy has its specific concept of man. Socialism, Islamic concept of politics and other political philosophies each inevitably is built upon specific concept of man. So what is the concept of self or man behind any political philosophy is a descriptive discussion that political philosophers must definitely involve. Another descriptive issue in political philosophy is the problem of legitimacy.

 3. There is also a normative side which deals with issues such as virtues and values of public life. The key issue in this normative side is how we can maximize the virtues and values of life. What is the best political system that supports these virtues and values? That is why I call this section of political philosophy as normative side. Actually this side of political philosophy must introduce what is the concept of good life? What things are the ends and values of political life? How can we establish a political system that increase and maximize these values and virtues of life? In liberalism, for instance, since the individual freedoms are the ultimate values so the top priority of political system must to support the individual liberties and other values that liberalism emphasizes like the principle of ownership. According to liberalism, for instance,  since social justice is not ultimate value of public life, the main stream of liberalism has no concern to social justice. There is a difference between justice and social justice. They approve justice as a value but they don’t endorse social justice as a value.

The mainstream of liberalism do not recognize social justice as a virtue of life as a value of political and social system but they accept justice but according to them justice is due to individual liberties and when you support individual liberties somehow you have supported justice but not social justice because it means a specific pattern of social relationship that inevitably establishes some limitations for individual liberties and that is why they ignore or reject any concept of social justice. There are egalitarian approach among liberals that they support some concept of social justice; for instance John Rawls. He advocate, in theory of justice, the specific concept of social justice and that is why his idea is categorized as egalitarian liberalism and his approach is different from the mainstream of liberalism. The normative side of political philosophy, thus, concerns first what is the values and virtues of public life so what is the best political system that can support and maximize these virtues and values. Many different political philosophies are distinguished according to differences they have about the concept of life, virtues of life and the system that can support these virtues.

Rationality and it’s meanings :

In many fields and subjects, we attribute two important attributions; e.g. this plan is rational, that plan is irrational. Sometimes we attribute rationality to belief; for example we say this proposition is irrational or that belief is rational. I may say that I disagree with you but your idea is rational. In epistemology, in fact, there is a distinction between three important terms: Rationality, Justification and Knowledge. A rational proposition might be wrong but still it is rational. For example when you get up at the morning and you look at the clock and say it is 9AM. This belief that the time is 9 o’clock is quite rational since this belief is depend on a source, your perception, which means you looked at the clock and you see it is 9 o’clock. But you still might be wrong because it could be something wrong with the clock or it might be 10 o’clock and I don’t look at it properly. But since there is a source for your belief, your belief is rational, in other words, your belief is not arbitrary.

Sometimes you get up and without any look at the clock you say it is 9 o’clock. This expression is irrational because you firmly believe that it is 9 o’clock without any source. Sometimes you have a rational belief but you fail to justify it for your belief for others. To justify a belief for others means that you must have good reasoning and you must provide good arguments to support your belief. Sometimes you have a rational belief but you don’t have good arguments to convince the others that your belief is right. It means that you have a rational belief but you don’t have a justified belief due to your failure in convincing others. Sometimes you successfully provide good convincing arguments to justify your belief. It means that your belief is rational as well as justified. But here, still, you might be wrong so you have no knowledge.

You just have rational and justified but not true belief due to the fact that it is not knowledge because knowledge is justified true belief. Justification is not enough for truthiness. In the history of philosophy and science, for example the physics of Newton that dominated for centuries the minds of all physicists was not knowledge. It enjoyed very good justification and convinced all scientists for many years. It was justified rational belief but without being a knowledge.

Therefore we have to distinguish between rationality, justification and knowledge (truth). It was just about theoretical rationality. All my examples were about belief propositions that describe the world. But the rationality has other side. We also have practical rationality which its subject is not just rationality but actions, desires, choices because they are not beliefs. We have theoretical rationality as well as practical rationality. The criteria in calling something rational or irrational depend upon the sources. If there is a source for some beliefs, so they are rational even if they are wrong because that belief is created through that source. So we must ask what the sources for theoretical rationality are. Classically they mentioned Perception, Memory, Conscience and Intellect as sources for theoretical rationality. So any belief that rely on one of these sources it is a rational belief.

What sources are there for practical rationality? This is a complicated issue due to the nature of practical rationality. Things such as actions, desires concern things such as values, virtues, permission, and duty. For example sometimes you say what I did was rational because I suppose it was my duty. In the case of practical rationality we concern some concepts such as permission; i.e. the action that is rational must be permitted to do. Practical rationality also concerns concept of Good because we do what is supposed to be good. Human being, before doing anything, definitely has the concept of good regarding that action. Allameh Tabatabaee in his article, Edrakat E’tebari, maintains that before doing something, we have two concepts, first it is good to do and second it is obligatory to do. So the agent before doing anything convinces himself that it is good and I must do it. No matter it is a good deed or a bad one. So we do not enter in the process of doing something without having these two concepts.

Any practical rationality depends upon sources such as theory of good, system of values, theory of right and practical reason. Since there exist many systems of goods, many systems of values and many different concepts of good life and of goals of life and of self so then we see many different system of rationality. The sources of theoretical rationality are somehow fixed, For instance, perception, reason, memory and conscience. But with regard to the sources of practical rationality we have great differences due to the fact that we have different theories of goods, different concepts of life, different concepts of aims of life, different concept of man.[1] These differences create systems of rationality. That is why we talk of western rationality, Islamic rationality or Christian rationality which means these kinds of rationality are different from each other thanks to their differences in their sources of rationality.[2]We, however, cannot just speak about different types of rationality but rather we must decide between various types of rationality. For example, if we take a look into the theory of self behind liberalism we will find out that they look at the self as a person who has some rights in the field of political philosophy and in the public life. So the political system must be shaped to protect these individual rights, and that is all the task of government. That is why they support the tiny concept of state. They say that state has no right to interfere many aspect of life because its duty is to protect the individual rights. So what they believe and what they do about political systems is not irrational because they have some foundations for their beliefs; they have their specific concept of good life, man, ends of life. We cannot attribute irrationality to them but we can say to them that their concept of man, for example, is so narrow and we need to have a comprehensive concept of man, self, etc. that includes other aspect of man. We have no rights to confine human being as some persons who have some rights. What about spiritual aspect of human life. What about ethical aspect of human beings. So a comprehensive concept of man rejects the one side looking at human beings. So we need to discuss and we do believe that liberals had no good reasons to justify their concept of self. Another example is that when we look at a tribe and they do some behaviors which in our eyes are wrong we have no right to attribute irrationality to their behaviors. If I say their behavior is irrational it means that I impose my rationality to them and I have no right to do that. They themselves have their reasons to do whatever they want to, but I have the right to call them into a comparative discussion and a critical reasoning and analyzing. This is not fair to blame them for their rationality in the first step. Western civilization due to their authority in technology, politics and in economy, they impose their rationality to other nations. So many international institutions have been established, in the 20th century, upon western rationality. We can talk about the declaration of human rights in this respect. So they blame other nations for their rationality. But they must recognize the other nation’s rationalities and the room for critical thinking and critical discussion must always be open which means the entrance into other level, the level of justification. What is dominated nowadays between east and west is that they blame each other. Blasphemy is unacceptable in Islam and there is a very harsh punishment for that. Something similar was in Middle Ages in Europe but right now blasphemy is not illegal in England.[3]

Secular Rationality and Religious Rationality :

With regard to different types of rationality we can divide different systems of rationality into two categories: secular rationality and religious rationality. And by religious rationality I mean Islamic rationality. Secular rationality is very important because many modern political theories and various versions of liberalism are under the umbrella of secular rationality. For better understanding of Islamic rationality it would be necessary to see the elements of secular rationality. The term “secular” has a long history. In Westphalia there was an agreement between some states and the church to separate some land from church. In Westphalia agreement it was said these lands must be under supervision of seculars. “Secular” at that moment means non-clergy but not the anti-religion person. And they establish some schools that were not under the supervision of church. This term, gradually, used to refer to a specific kind of rationality.  We are not going to define secularism as an anti-religion approach. Actually it would be better to think that secularism try to privatize religion which means it tries to limit the scope of religion not to deny or reject the religion. We can mention many famous seculars in the west who were religious e.g. Emmanuel Kant. In other words we have to define secularism according to secular rationality.   


The key elements of secular rationality:

Human beings are self-autonomous. The structure and shape of social relationships is in hands of human beings. The relationships between human beings can be divided into two groups: 1.the relationship between Man and world 2.the relationship between Man and Man 3.the relationship between Man and God. Seculars believe that the relationship between Man and Man could be categorized under fields such as law, ethics, economy, politics and everything we need in our social life. They maintain that these types of relationships are merely in hands of Man. Man is self-autonomous in shaping these relationships which means there is no source behind human beings to help them how to shape these relationships. In other words being self-autonomous means that we don’t need any help from God to shape and to organize all of these relationships. Thus we don’t need revelation in any aspect of social life and with regard to human relationships.

Self-sufficiency of human intellect. It means with regard to the relationship between Man and world, we, as human, can understand the world thanks just to our intellect and our intellect is self-sufficient which exclude any help of revelation. So our understanding of the world is merely based on our human intellect.

Privatization of religion. It means, with regard to the three types of relationships, religion can only shape the relationship between Man and God. We need them just to know how to worship God. Secularism based on secular rationality and it support privatization of religion. So seculars have been divided to two part: some of them are atheist and some of them are theist but both agree that the religion must be limited to private life.

So human reason, according to secular rationality, and human experience are the exclusive sources of knowledge. There are no more sources for knowledge as revelation. So in public life and in understanding the world we are just in need of our intellect and our sciences; human sciences, natural sciences and reasoning.

The secular rationality can be summarized into this statement “there is no room for religion in any cases that are subject to human reason and experience.” So we don’t need religion, God, revelation with regard to the issues of education, legislation, Ethics, economy, etc. the separation of religion and politics, therefore, is not the correct definition of secularism due to the fact that secularism not only support the separation of religion from politics but also endorse separation of ethics, economy, law, politics, art, science, philosophy and all aspect of human life from religion. This is just the relationships of Man and God that remains in the domain of religion.

Early seculars in the period of enlightenment, since they were naïve in realism, they think of science as the only way to truth and the theories of scientists as the mirror of reality. They were exaggerating the role of human intellect in obtaining knowledge. But the recent approach of seculars is under the influence of post-modernism in denying this type of realism. The recent secularism and its thinkers support instrumentalism instead of realism in the field of science. They don’t believe that the theories of scientists are the mirror of reality but just instruments which created by scientists to interpret the world and pave the ground for technology. They see these theories in a way that human being can better use the nature by them and manipulate it through technology. This shift has been happened within the western rationality. That is to say, despite of their emphasis on the role of intellect and human experience in the process of obtaining knowledge, most seculars, nowadays, are under the influence of post-modernism approach that they deny the access to truth. Yet they believe that we have no other choice; human being should use his intellect and experience. This confession shows that they still believe in sufficiency of human intellect and experience as sources of knowledge. The only difference is that they change their thought about the relationship between truth and intellect. Thus they don’t replace the human intellect and experience with other alternatives although they don’t count on them as sources for knowledge rather as sources that provide us instruments to use the world. There is no difference, therefore, between current secularism and early secularism in the emphasis on human intellect and experience. They are different with regard to the ability and capacity of human reason.

Main elements of Islamic rationality:

Recognition of revelation- as well as intellect- as the source of knowledge :

 This is to say, Islamic rationality endorses the role of intellect as the source of knowledge but is not confined to it. Revelation also provides us knowledge about how to live and the better life, how to manage the basic structure of the society and also provides the knowledge about the world and everything we need for our perfection.

Accountability of man to God in all aspects of his life :

 That is to say, we are not completely free and not self-autonomous. We are responsible to God which means not only in private life but also in public life we must harmonize our life with God’s teachings and we are responsible for that. We, definitely, have free will but we are not morally free. We are, with regard to use our free will, morally responsible. We should have response and reason for what we have done in front of Allah.

Current secularism which is under the influence of skepticism and relativism denies the access to truth and the cognitivism and intellect’s capacity to gain knowledge but Islamic rationality is based on cognitivism and the refutation of skepticism and epistemic relativism.[4]   

Objectivism in politics and ethics :

 There are some objective ends and goods for human life and in the field of politics and ethics. By a glance into the books of political philosophers we may wonder that how they justify freedom? For example if we take a look into the book of Hayek or Berlin we must ask ourselves how they define liberty as fundamental value for human life. They maintain that since our intellect fails to understand good life and since there are no objective ends and goods for human life in one hand and since we face relativism in the other hand so people must be free to decide about what they themselves think about the good life. The good life must be in hands of each individual and there is no specific concept of good life that we could understand through our intellect. In other words, they use skepticism, relativism, the failure of intellect and disbelieve in objective goals of life as bases to justify the individual liberty to justify the liberal concept of state. This thought is totally different from Islamic concept which believes in the existence of some goods, some values and some ends for human life and these matters, subsequently, affect our concept of the state, our concept of social relationships, our concept of basic structure of the society. For instance, one of the basic structures of society is the law system and legislation, policy making. If we believe that there are some goods and ends for life and there exist some specific concepts of good life and that the perfection of human depends on achieving these goals, all of these elements would affect our policy making. It will influence our legislation and the content of law and the system of training and education. If we accept, for instance, the ideas of Freud the system of education derived from them will be totally different from that of Islamic rationality.

The authority of Shari’a (Islamic legislation) :

 Say, Islamic rationality accepts the free will that people have authority about their life, but individual’s authority must be under the supervision of Shari’a. That is to say we should harmonize between our decisions- which we make by our free will- with the demands of Shari’a. We have to respect the rules and the values of Shari’a. That is why according to Islamic rationality, we believe in religious democracy not liberal democracy. This is one result of Islamic rationality as western rationality pave the ground for liberal democracy.

Analysis and criticism :

We must seek the rationale behind these two types of thinking. By clarifying the rationality of these two sides we can have a better image of the choices that we can make. We can consider democracy in two ways: 1.Democracy as a method 2.Democracy as a lifestyle.

Democracy as a method tells us that based on social disagreements we can use democracy as a solution to remove public disagreement. For instance, in a society every political party emphasize on their exclusive right for governing the society. Democracy as a method which is based on majority rules is the solution. Democracy as a method needs constitution which clarifies the responsibility of each group.

   Democracy as lifestyle does not confine to the social disagreement. Being democrat is a value, according to this attitude. So it demands being democrat in all aspect of life. It prohibits any dogmatic belief and welcomes any new idea. We must respect pluralism and differences instead of emphasizing on truth. There is no room for the logic of wrongness and rightness. We must welcome the logic of differences otherwise we are not democrat. So a religious man cannot be labeled as democrat. If a person believes in a specific type of ethical system or a specific religion he would not be considered as democrat. A democrat will not decide about any theory by the logic of rightness and wrongness and he is open toward any opinion.

Here we concentrate on democracy as the method. Democracy as a method is confined to the field of politics. Early liberals were worry about pure democracy- as we can address these worries in Kant and some others- and they were speaking about it as tyranny of majority. That is to say if the society face any problem in any field it must refer to the majority rule. We have to refer what the majority of people decide. It implies that the rights of minority must be ignored. This is why the early liberals firmly denied the pure democracy but they, gradually, could just limit the democracy. They supported limited democracy instead of pure democracy. So this project- to limit democracy- needed some framework. Finally liberals succeeded to limit democracy within the framework of liberal principles and values so that they could establish liberal democracy instead of pure democracy. They respect the authority of people, they respect the majority rule but all of them will not end to this conclusion that people are free to destroy or undermine the principles and values of liberalism. So the parliament which is elected by the majority rules they have right to legislate but they don’t have the right to legislate against individual liberty, e.g. they have no right to undermine the free market, they have no right to legislate against basic liberal concepts due to the fact the authority of people is under the supervision of liberal rules and values. There are, therefore, two authorities in liberalism:

1. Authority of people

2. Authority of rules and values of liberalism. The latter has priority over the first one. Within the framework of liberal rationality, this political system is quite reasonable and is compatible with liberal rationality.

Religious democracy, as well, doesn’t believe in pure democracy[5]. Majority, in lots of cases, have not the legitimacy to decide about the truth and they cannot guarantee achieving the truth. So religious democracy approves limited sense of democracy as well, but it differs from liberal democracy in a sense that religious democracy claims that the authority of people must be limited within the framework of Islamic rules and values. In other words, it respects the role of people and the will of the people but the majority rule must not be purely accepted. The shape of basic structure of the society must be under the supervision of the religion which means unlike liberal democracy which respects the liberal rules and values as the framework for the authority of people, we, as advocators of religious democracy, believe in Islamic rules and values as such a framework. We respect the authority of people and believe that people should decide. People are free to decide so long their decision is not against the Islamic rules and values; this is like parliament in modern western societies which is free to legislative so long as it is not against the fundamental principles and values of liberalism. In their political systems, therefore, they supervise the decisions of parliament to find out whether they are against the constitution or not and the constitutions of these countries are shaped in accordance with the teachings of liberalism. So their rationality influenced the constitutions of these countries.

There are lots of issues that could be put into debate and discussion from these two sides. What is important is the fact that we cannot, as sometimes have been seen from liberal democracy side, judge about other political systems without seeking through the rationalities behind them.[6] Western rationality, unfortunately, has been dominated not only in western countries but also in many other societies as well as Islamic society and some modern Muslim thinkers are under the influence of this rationality. What should we, as Muslim, do regarding this domination of western rationality? There are two main strategies; the first one is endorsed by some Muslim intellectuals which is reinterpreting of Islam according to modernity. This is to say, they accept and endorse the western rationality and try to see Islam in this frame. There are two types of interpretation of Islam: one from God’s perspective and the other from human perspective- humanistic interpretation of Islam. These later group sees the concept of Man, Good life and so on which were born within modernity as facts and with should consider them as facts.[7] They claim that the concept of man has been truly changed in respect of life and its values and what are inside Islamic rules and values belong to the past and they do refer to previous concept of man and society so that we should respect these new concepts as new facts and try to reinterpret Islam according to them. The text-oriented understanding, therefore, cannot be fruitful anymore. This strategy may be called “liberal Islam” and the main concern in this trend is to interpret Islam in accordance and these new facts and in favor of the demands of modernity.

The second strategy which has been followed by many thinkers like Motahari, Sadr, and Imam Khomeini is to engage in a comparative, critical discussion with the outcomes and achievements of western rationality i.e. we can gain some positive points from western rationality and customize some of their good experiences within our framework and also reject logically some basic elements of their rationality and justify some key elements of our rationality.[8] They, thus, never blindly deny every achievements of western rationality –as fundamentalists and Salafii do- and open to any experience and idea. 

[1] Power is not a source for rationality but we can say it can manipulate the rationality

[2] With regard to practical rationality we have to keep the level of discussion and here we are talking about the rationality. With regard to rationality we are facing pluralism and there are different concepts of rationality. This is just the first level and we need, in a kind of comparative discussion, to ask which type of rationality is justified? So having sources for our deeds and desires guarantee the rationality of our deeds but not justify them. After that which is the justification stage, we need to evaluate which of them are right or wrong. In the field of practical rationality we are not talking about truthness but the logic of wrongness and rightness.

[3] In the history of liberalism we can specify three movement; 1.the classic liberalism 2.the modern liberalism which is well known by figures such as Green and the welfare state is the outcome of this second movement 3.libertarianism the main figures of which is Hayek or Nozik . We can also mention egalitarian liberalism which is close to modern liberalism like Rawls. But the mainstream is the classical liberalism and libertarianism. Libertarians have many things in common with classical liberalism. Despite these differences they have something in common; with regard to public life the ignorance and neutrality regarding any comprehensive concept of Ethics and any comprehensive concept of religion is a common aspect in all trends of liberalism. It is important to note that what distinguish modern and egalitarian liberalism in one hand and classical and libertarian liberalism in the other hand is the intervention of government in the field of economy and the prosperity of the society. According to the mainstream of liberalism the free market is the field of competition, so some lose and some win and there is no trace for injustice regarding this competition. So no one is responsible for a failure. So the government should not interfere the field of free market in order to support the losers or to get more taxes from better-off in order to redistribute the wealth. This is what the mainstream of liberalism thinks but the egalitarianism and modern liberalism that support welfare state maintain that the government should sometimes interfere the field of economy and should sometimes receive more taxes to support the worse of the people. But both sides agree that there is no room for government to interfere in the field of Ethics or in the field of religion in order to increase the spirituality of people. They claim that the concept of good life is in the hands of individuals. There is no specific concept of good life that a government should be committed to, so both agree that the field of intervention of the government into individual’s life is limited.

[4]- There are different types of relativism; cultural, anthropological,… the refutation of epistemic relativism is an element of Islamic rationality.

[5] Quran in this regard says” واکثرهم لایعقلون” ( lots of them  don’t think) this verse and similar verses show that we cannot trust the majority; there were lots of cases in which we can witness that majority were disobeying and rejecting prophet’s commands.  For example, the majority deny the prophecy of the prophet just because the Prophet and his followers were in minority. We cannot accept this because they were wrong.

[6]- For example liberal democracy blames the concept of Hijab or the punishments of blasphemy, disregard the Islamic rationality which has been placed behind it.

[7]- This approach is wrong. Berlin and Hayek, as mentioned, do not believe that liberty is fact.

[8]- Democracy is not confined to liberal democracy. We can speak of another democracy which has some other specific values. That is why we spoke about democracy as a method and we can mention lots of other democracies in the history which were not value-laden according to liberalism; ancient democracy in Greece.

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