The Path to Virtue The Ethical Philosophy of al-Raghib al-Isfahani By Yasien Mohamed (Kuala Lumpur: ISTAC, 2006. 589 pages.)

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Modern hermeneutics, specifically H.-G. Gadamer’s hermeneutics, asks
what kind of meaningful horizon a text opens to us and what happens to us
when we interpret and understand that particular horizon. The same questions
arise when we read Yasien Mohamed’s The Path to Virtue, a scholarly
organized text full of fine historical and philosophical analyses. Not only
does this book meet internationally accepted research standards, but it also
deserves to be a missing link between the philosophical ethical thought of
medieval Islamic culture and our own modern ethical culture.
When we read The Path to Virtue, we quickly find ourselves within the
so-called “hermeneutical circle” as regards the text’s major topic. This circle
reveals itself in two distinct viewpoints: the structure and the horizon of
the text. As regards its structure, Mohamed’s text discloses both the most
general aspects of al-Isfahani’s ethical thought and the critical detailed
corners of his way of thinking. Hence he is able to show us how the relationship
between general aspects of al-Isfahani’s thought fulfills itself in a
logically coherent manner with the particularities of the same thought. He
does so not only in terms of referring to the internal relations between general
and particular aspects of al-Isfahani’s thought, but also by disclosing the
external references of al-Isfahani’s thought, among them Plato, Aristotle,
basic Islamic texts like the Qur’an and the hadith literature, Miskawayh, and
others. When we focus on the text’s structure, we soon find ourselves as
silent participants of a grand discussion on character ethics among Plato,
Aristotle, al-Kindi, al-Farabi, Miskawayh, the Ikhwan al-Safa, al-Isfahani,
al-Ghazali, and others ...

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