Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Philosophy, Science and the Sciences

Nicholas Allan Aubin

My project focuses on a tradition of Christian Syriac and Arabic philosophers and theologians spanning the 9th-11th centuries, in order to see how their work was influenced by late-antique Greek arguments for and against the eternity of the world.  The debate over whether or not the cosmos was pre-eternal was still a point of active contention in the Syriac/Arabic-speaking world long after Philoponus’ famous challenges to Aristotle and Proclus in the sixth century. This debate took on new dimensions in the world of Islam, particularly in the hands of Christian Syriac/Arabic thinkers, who faced the challenge of defending a demiourgic creator-God in an otherwise largely Aristotelian system of natural philosophy. These figures--in many cases simultaneously heads of their philosophical schools and spokesmen of their respective Christian communities--negotiated the fine line between falsafa and kalām, and in so doing, produced works in a language rich with both philosophical and theological overtones, works that defy easy classification and have (perhaps because of this) received inadequate scholarly attention till now.

The heart of this investigation consists of a close reading of the primary sources; the Syriac/Arabic translations and commentaries on (chiefly Aristotelian) Greek natural philosophy, cosmology, metaphysics and logic (including prolegomena and other introductions to philosophy); original Syriac/Arabic works of philosophy and theology; and even some synthetic collections/compilations of translations and original works arranged for Syriac/Arabic audiences. The major Arabic figures of this period include, among others, Theodore Abū Qurra (, Yaḥyà b. ʿAdī (d.974), Abū l-Faraǧ ʿAbdallāh b. aṭ-Ṭayyib (d.1043), Elias of Nisibis (d.1046), and Ibn al-Faḍl al-Anṭākī (d.1052). The form, content and language of the arguments put forward by these figures and others will be examined in the light of the arguments laid down by their forbears (especially al-Fārābī, Abū Bakr Muḥammad b. Zakarīyā ar-Rāzī, and al-Kindī) and contemporaries (particularly Avicenna), and this investigation will also be supplemented by later witnesses to otherwise lost material (including Bar Hebraeus, Ibn Rušd and Maimonides).


2015-19 Doctoral Candidate, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

2014-15 Pre-Doctoral Research Fellowship, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

2014 B.A. cum laude in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Yale University, New Haven CT, USA. Under the supervision of Dimitri Gutas, I wrote my Bachelor’s thesis on the development of poetics in medieval Arabic literary culture, and the influence exerted on this development by the translation of Aristotle’s Poetics from Greek into Syriac/Arabic.