The Philosopher Responds

The Philosopher Responds

An Intellectual Correspondence from the Tenth Century

446 Pages

March 2021

ISBN: 9781479806355




Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī (d. 414/1023) was a prominent litterateur and philosopher in Baghdad.

Abū ʿAlī Miskawayh (ca. 320-421/932-1030) was a philosopher and historian born in Rayy.

Sophia Vasalou is Senior Lecturer and Birmingham Fellow in Philosophical Theology at the University of Birmingham. Her books include Moral Agents and their Deserts: The Character of Mu'tazilite Ethics, Wonder: A Grammar, and Ibn Taymiyya’s Theological Ethics.

James E. Montgomery, author of Al-Jāḥiẓ: In Praise of Books, is Sir Thomas Adams’s Professor of Arabic at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity Hall. His latest publications are Loss Sings, a collaboration with the celebrated Scottish artist Alison Watt, and Dīwān ʿAntarah ibn Shaddād: A Literary-Historical Study.

Jonathan Rée is a freelance philosopher and historian living in Oxford and London. His books include Proletarian Philosophers, Philosophical Tales, I See a Voice, Witcraft, and A Schoolmaster's War.

Questions and answers from two great philosophers

Why is laughter contagious? Why do mountains exist? Why do we long for the past, even if it is scarred by suffering? Spanning a vast array of subjects that range from the philosophical to the theological, from the philological to the scientific, The Philosopher Responds is the record of a set of questions put by the litterateur Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī to the philosopher and historian Abū ʿAlī Miskawayh. Both figures were foremost contributors to the remarkable flowering of cultural and intellectual life that took place in the Islamic world during the reign of the Buyid dynasty in the fourth/tenth century.

The correspondence between al-Tawḥīdī and Miskawayh holds a mirror to many of the debates of the time and reflects the spirit of rationalistic inquiry that animated their era. It also provides insight into the intellectual outlooks of two thinkers who were divided as much by their distinctive temperaments as by the very different trajectories of their professional careers. Alternately whimsical and tragic, trivial and profound, al-Tawḥīdī’s questions provoke an interaction as interesting in its spiritedness as in its content.

An English-only edition.


  • "A fascinating read, particularly for the aspiring scholar of classical Arabic texts, who will benefit from a solid English translation alongside the original Arabic."

    Al Jadid

  • "...Through an elegant and fluent English translation, makes this unique work accessible to an audience of non-specialists."

    Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies