Dag Nikolaus Hasse


On his book Success and Suppression: Arabic Sciences and Philosophy in the Renaissance

Cover Interview of April 05, 2017


The hostility of the humanist movement to Arabic sciences was far from monolithic. There are many examples of humanist scholars who contributed to the flourishing of Arabic sciences and philosophy in the Renaissance. Moreover, humanists did not explicitly oppose Arabic sciences because they were Oriental or because they originated from Islamic culture. Rather, they opposed them partly for scientific reasons, partly as a result of ideological beliefs in linguistic purism and in Greek superiority, and partly because Arabic authors were an obstacle – an obstacle to the humanists’ project of renewing Europe through Greece and Rome.

The fact remains that Arabic traditions were attacked for being Arabic, that is, they were attacked on the basis of a cultural and linguistic labeling. Renaissance humanists are the inventors of cultural clichés that persist even today – that Arabic science amounts to plagiarism; that it is nothing more than Greek thought in Arabic garb; that Arabic scholars were mere transmitters of science from antiquity to medieval Europe; in other words, as Epicurus is said to have claimed, that “only the Greeks are able to philosophize.” This is the sad inheritance of the humanist polemics against Arabic science.

It is one of the tasks of historical research to point out the historical falsity of clichés such as these, especially given that they survive even today. Many medieval and many Renaissance scholars knew better and were fully aware that Arabic scholars, too, are able to philosophize.