M. Andrew Sanford ACF Abstract FY11

Metaphysical Origins of Ethics in Medieval Islamic Thought

The ancient Greeks saw the universe as being ordered, therefore in their metaphysics they reasoned back to a first cause of that order. Plato posited an ideal good and Aristotle a prime mover. Concepts of an ideal good or prime mover provided the framework for the Medieval Islamic thinkers to develop a paradigm for describing and understanding God. There God created necessarily and lacked free will. From this they drew parallels between reasoning back to God and the goal of human action. A major paradigm for understanding this is the Divine Command Theory (DCT).  I think there are considerable flaws in the DCT paradigm which presents God’s commands as arbitrary. Examining how Aristotle and the Medieval Islamic Philosophers thought about God and his lack of free allows us to dispose of the arbitrariness problem. Aristotle’s virtue ethics are for the Medieval Islamic thinkers a step beyond the metaphysical origins which I outline in this essay. I suggest that love plays a role in properly fashioning a rational ethical system. For love to be best understood we need a Supreme Love-Giver and such a Love-Giver would necessarily have to be a personal God. Aristotle suggests that it is desire for the unmoved mover that causes motion and the Islamic thinkers have related this to a metaphysical foundation for an ethical system, which solves the arbitrariness problem in the DCT and provides us with a love based ethic.

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