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Iranian philosophy

Iranian philosophy (Persian: فلسفه ایرانی) or Persian philosophy[1][2][3][4][5] can be traced back as far as to Old Iranian philosophical traditions and thoughts which originated in ancient Indo-Iranian roots and were considerably influenced by Zarathustra's teachings. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, the chronology of the subject and science of philosophy starts with the Indo-Iranians, dating this event to 1500 BC. The Oxford dictionary also states, "Zarathustra's philosophy entered to influence Western tradition through Judaism, and therefore on Middle Platonism."

Throughout Iranian history and due to remarkable political and social changes such as the Arab and Mongol invasions of Persia, a wide spectrum of schools of thoughts showed a variety of views on philosophical questions extending from Old Iranian and mainly Zoroastrianism-related traditions, to schools appearing in the late pre-Islamic era such as Manicheism and Mazdakism as well as various post-Islamic schools. Iranian philosophy after the Muslim conquest of Persia, is characterized by different interactions with the Old Iranian philosophy, the Greek philosophy and with the development of Islamic philosophy. The Illumination School and the Transcendent Philosophy are regarded as two of the main philosophical traditions of that era in Persia.

Ancient Iranian Philosophy


The teachings of Zarathustra (Zoroaster) appeared in Persia at some point during the period 1700-1800 BCE.[6][7] His wisdom became the basis of the religion Zoroastrianism, and generally influenced the development of the Iranian branch of Indo-Iranian philosophy. Zarathustra was the first who treated the problem of evil in philosophical terms.[7] He is also believed to be one of the oldest monotheists in the history of religion.[8] He espoused an ethical philosophy based on the primacy of good thoughts (andiše-e-nik), good words (goftâr-e-nik), and good deeds (kerdâr-e-nik).

The works of Zoroaster and Zoroastrianism had a significant influence on Greek philosophy and Roman philosophy. Plato learnt of Zoroastrian philosophy through Eudoxus and incorporated much of it into his own Platonic realism.[9] In the 3rd century BC, however, Colotes accused Plato's The Republic of plagiarizing parts of Zoroaster's On Nature, such as the Myth of Er.[10][11]

Zarathustra was known as a sage, magician and miracle-worker in post-Classical Western culture, though almost nothing was known of his ideas until the late eighteenth century. By this time his name was associated with lost ancient wisdom and was appropriated by Freemasons and other groups who claimed access to such knowledge. He appears in Mozart's opera The Magic Flute ("Die Zauberflöte") under the variant name "Sarastro", who represents moral order in opposition to the "Queen of the Night". Enlightenment writers such as Voltaire promoted research into Zoroastrianism in the belief that it was a form of rational Deism, preferable to Christianity[citation needed].

In 2005, the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy ranked Zarathustra as first in the chronology of philosophers.[12][13] Zarathustra's impact lingers today due in part to the system of rational ethics he founded called Mazda-Yasna. The word Mazda-Yasna is Avestan and is translated as "Worship of Wisdom" in English. The encyclopedia Natural History (Pliny) claims that Zoroastrians later educated the Greeks who, starting with Pythagoras, used a similar term, philosophy, or “love of wisdom” to describe the search for ultimate truth.[14]

Greco-Persian Era

Little is known of the situation of philosophy during the time of the ancient Greek philosophers. We know that the Persian culture had an influence on the creation of Stoic school of thought, but nothing has been left in Persian writings.


Manichaeism, founded by Mani, was influential from North Africa in the West, to China in the East. Its influence subtly continues in Western Christian thought via Saint Augustine of Hippo, who converted to Christianity from Manichaeism, which he passionately denounced in his writings, and whose writings continue to be influential among Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox theologians. An important principle of Manichaeism was its dualistic cosmology/theology, which is shared with Mazdakism, a philosophy founded by Mazdak. Under this dualism, there were two original principles of the universe: Light, the good one; and Darkness, the evil one. These two had been mixed by a cosmic accident, and man's role in this life was through good conduct to release the parts of himself that belonged to Light. Mani saw the mixture of good and bad as a cosmic tragedy, while Mazdak viewed this in a more neutral, even optimistic way.


Execution of Mazdak

Mazdak (d. 524/528 CE) was a proto-socialist Persian reformer who gained influence under the reign of the Sassanian king Kavadh I. He claimed to be a prophet of God and instituted communal possessions and social welfare programs.

In many ways Mazdak's teaching can be understood as a call for social revolution, and has been referred to as early "communism"[15] or proto-socialism.[16]


Zurvanism is characterized by the element of its First Principle which is Time, "Zurvan", as a primordial creator. According to Zaehner, Zurvanism appears to have three schools of thought all of which have classical Zurvanism as their foundation:

Aesthetic Zurvanism

Aesthetic Zurvanism which was apparently not as popular as the materialistic kind, viewed Zurvan as undifferentiated Time, which, under the influence of desire, divided into reason (a male principle) and concupiscence (a female principle).

Materialist Zurvanism

While Zoroaster's Ormuzd created the universe with his thought, materialist Zurvanism challenged the concept that anything could be made out of nothing.

Fatalistic Zurvanism

Fatalistic Zurvanism resulted from the doctrine of limited time with the implication that nothing could change this preordained course of the material universe and that the path of the astral bodies of the 'heavenly sphere' was representative of this preordained course. According to the Middle Persian work Menog-i Khrad: "Ohrmazd allotted happiness to man, but if man did not receive it, it was owing to the extortion of these planets."

Classical Islamic period

The intellectual tradition in Persia continued after Islam and was of great influence on the further development of Iranian Philosophy. The main schools for such studies were, and to some extents still are, Shiraz, Khurasan, Maragheh, Isfahan, Tehran.[17]


Manuscript of Avicenna's Canon of Medicine.

In the Islamic Golden Age, due to Avicenna's (Ibn Sina's; born near Bukhara) successful reconciliation between Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism along with Kalam, Avicennism eventually became the leading school of Islamic philosophy by the 12th century. Avicenna had become a central authority on philosophy by then, and several scholars in the 12th century commented on his strong influence at the time:[18]

"People nowadays [believe] that truth is whatever [Ibn Sina] says, that it is inconceivable for him to err and that whoever contradicts him in anything he says cannot be rational."

Avicennism was also influential in medieval Europe, particularly his doctrines on the nature of the soul and his existence-essence distinction, along with the debates and censure that they raised in scholastic Europe. This was particularly the case in Paris, where Avicennism was later proscribed in 1210. Nevertheless, his psychology and theory of knowledge influenced William of Auvergne and Albertus Magnus, and his metaphysics influenced the thought of Thomas Aquinas.[19]


Illuminationist philosophy was a school of Islamic philosophy founded by Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi in the 12th century. This school is a combination of Avicenna's philosophy and ancient Iranian philosophy, along with many new innovative ideas of Suhrawardi. It is often described as having been influenced by Neoplatonism.

Transcendent theosophy

Transcendent theosophy is the school of Islamic philosophy founded by Mulla Sadra in the 17th century. Mulla Sadra bought "a new philosophical insight in dealing with the nature of reality" and created "a major transition from essentialism to existentialism" in Islamic philosophy, several centuries before this occurred in Western philosophy.[20]

Contemporary Iranian philosophy

Philosophy was and still is a popular subject of study in Iran. Previous to Western-style universities, philosophy was a major field of study in religious seminaries. Comparing the number of philosophy books currently published in Iran with that in other countries, Iran possibly ranks first in this field but it is definitely on top in terms of publishing philosophy books. [2][3]

Main Trends

On the diversity and expansion of philosophy in Iran, Khosrow Bagheri has stated "One part of philosophical endeavor in Iran today, and perhaps the main one is concerned with the local philosophy which is dominated by the school of Mulla Sadra. He has provided a philosophy in line with the old metaphysical inclination but in the feature of a combination of mysticism, philosophy, and the Islamic religious views. On the other hand, a relatively strong translation movement has been shaped in which the Iranian readers are provided by some of the important sources of contemporary philosophy in Persian including both the analytic and continental traditions. In the former, Wittgenstein, Searle, and Kripke, and in the latter, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Foucault can be mentioned. There have also been concentrations on a local polar contrast between Popper and Heidegger, and, due to the religious atmosphere, on the philosophy of religion."[21]

It is also important to note that Sufism has had a great amount of influence on Iranian/Persian philosophy.

Impact on World Philosophy

There are some instances where the effect of Iranian philosophy is traceable in contemporary world philosophers.

Henry Corbin is one such instance whose major work on Central Asian and Iranian Sufism appears in The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism. His magnum opus is the four volume En Islam Iranien: Aspects spirituels et philosophiques. It has been translated into Persian twice from French.[22]

Slavoj Žižek is another example who has expressed the significance of Iranian and Islamic philosophy in the case of subjectivity and how Iranian philosophers had already beaten the path which was later completed by modern philosophy. In this regard he has emphasized the role of Nadia Maftouni in shedding the light on early views of Islamic philosophers about Imagination:[23][24]

Now I come with what the work of Nadia Maftouni means to me. Maybe this is a little bit of a wild reading but I will brutally impose my view. In her dealings of imagination, she demonstrates that already ancient Islamic philosophy went this way; namely she goes beyond Aristotle.

Aristotle has a theory of imagination and if we take away some subversive hints it's a pretty traditional theory of imagination. My main point is this one: In the West we usually reduce imagination to something subjective as opposed to objective reality. Things are out there, they are what they are in their identity, maybe this identity is not fully known to us but it exists out there. And then imagination is subjective. We project something on the objects, we fill in the gaps in our knowledge and so on.

But I think what we learn from the tradition which is close to me from German idealism, Hegel and others in the 20th century, up to—if I may engage in this wild speculation—up to philosophical implications of quantum physics, is that objectively also things are not simply what they are. What a thing is imminently implies the space of some kind of ontological imagination—imagination in the thing itself—what this thing might have been but didn't become; what is a secret potential in the thing. So, to understand a thing means not only forget about your mind, focus just on what that thing really is. To understand a thing means to include into its identity, all its potentialities. Maftouni demonstrates that already ancient Islamic philosophy went this way.

Philosophical Journals

Among journals being published in Iran on philosophy, there are FALSAFEH-The Iranian Journal of Philosophy[4][permanent dead link] published by the department of philosophy of the University of Tehran since 1972 and Hikmat va Falsafeh published by Allamah Tabataba'i University in Tehran, Ma'rifat-e Falsafeh published by the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute in Qom, and many others. Also worthy of mention is the journal, Naqd o Nazar published by Daftar Tablighat in Qom, which often includes articles on philosophical topics and other issues of interest to religious thinkers and intellectuals.

List of schools and philosophers

Ancient Iranian philosophy

Islamic period

In history of Islamic philosophy, there were a few Persian philosophers who had their own schools of philosophy: Avicenna, al-Farabi, Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi and Mulla Sadra. Some philosophers did not offer a new philosophy, rather they had some innovations: Mirdamad, Khajeh Nasir and Qutb al-Din Shirazi belong to this group.

Iranian Baháʼí philosophy

`Abdu'l-Bahá, son and successor of the founder of the Baháʼí Faith, has explained the Baháʼí philosophy in the work Some Answered Questions. This text has been analyzed by Baháʼí scholars Ian Kluge[28] and Ali Murad Davudi.[29]

See also


  1. ^ Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Persia. Edited by Mehdi Amin. Razavi. (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1996). Pp. xv, 375
  2. ^ Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Mehdi Amin Razavi, An Anthology of Philosophy in Persia, Volume 1: "From Zoroaster to Omar Khayyam" I.B. Tauris/Ismaili Studies, February 2008. ISBN 978-1-84511-541-8
  3. ^ Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Mehdi Amin Razavi, An Anthology of Philosophy in Persia, Volume 2: "Ismaili Thought in the Classical Age", I.B. Tauris/Ismaili Studies, October 2008 ISBN 978-1-84511-542-5
  4. ^ Philip G. Kreyenbroek: "Morals and Society in Zoroastrian Philosophy" in "Persian Philosophy". Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy: Brian Carr and Indira Mahalingam. Routledge, 2009.
  5. ^ Mary Boyce: "The Origins of Zoroastrian Philosophy" in "Persian Philosophy". Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy: Brian Carr and Indira Mahalingam. Routledge, 2009.
  6. ^ Jalal-e-din Ashtiyani. "Zarathushtra, Mazdayasna and Governance". ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ a b Whitley, C.F. (Sep 1957). "The Date and Teaching of Zarathustra". Numen. 4 (3): 219–223. doi:10.2307/3269345. JSTOR 3269345.
  8. ^ "Zarathustra". World History Encyclopedia. 28 May 2020. Retrieved December 23, 2021. Zarathustra (also given as Zoroaster, Zartosht, Zarathustra Spitama, l. c. 1500-1000 BCE) was the Persian priest-turned-prophet who founded the religion of Zoroastrianism (also given as Mazdayasna "devotion to Mazda"), the first monotheistic religion in the world, whose precepts would come to influence later faiths. He was a priest of the Early Iranian Religion who received a vision from Ahura Mazda – the chief deity of that faith's pantheon – telling him to correct the error of polytheistic religious understanding and proclaim the existence of only one true god – Ahura Mazda – the Lord of Wisdom.
  9. ^ A. D. Nock (1929), "Studien zum antiken Synkretismus aus Iran und Griechenland by R. Reitzenstein, H. H. Schaeder, Fr. Saxl", The Journal of Hellenic Studies 49 (1), p. 111-116 [111].
  10. ^ David N. Livingstone (2002), The Dying God: The Hidden History of Western Civilization, p. 144-145, iUniverse, ISBN 0-595-23199-3.
  11. ^ A. D. Nock (1929), "Studien zum antiken Synkretismus aus Iran und Griechenland by R. Reitzenstein, H. H. Schaeder, Fr. Saxl", The Journal of Hellenic Studies 49 (1), p. 111-116.
  12. ^ Blackburn, S. (2005). p 409, The Oxford dictionary of philosophy. Oxford University Press.
  13. ^ Frankfort, H., Frankfort, H. A. G., Wilson, J. A., & Jacobsen, T. (1964). Before Philosophy. Penguin, Harmondsworth.
  14. ^ Jones, W.H.S. (1963). "Pliny Natural History Vol 8; Book XXX". Heinemann. Archived from the original on 2017-01-01. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
  15. ^ Wherry, Rev. E. M. "A Comprehensive Commentary on the Quran and Preliminary Discourse", 1896. pp 66.
  16. ^ Manfred, Albert Zakharovich, ed. (1974). A Short History of the World. Vol. 1. (translated into English by Katherine Judelson). Moscow: Progress Publishers. p. 182. OCLC 1159025.
  17. ^ Seyyed Hossein Nasr,"Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin to the Present: Philosophy in the Land of Prophecy", SUNY Press, 2006, ISBN 0-7914-6799-6, Chapters 10-13.
  18. ^ Nahyan A. G. Fancy (2006), p. 80-81, "Pulmonary Transit and Bodily Resurrection: The Interaction of Medicine, Philosophy and Religion in the Works of Ibn al-Nafīs (d. 1288)", Electronic Theses and Dissertations, University of Notre Dame.[1] Archived 2015-04-04 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Avicenna/Ibn Sina (CA. 980-1037)".
  20. ^ Kamal, Muhammad (2006). Mulla Sadra's Transcendent Philosophy. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 9 & 39. ISBN 0-7546-5271-8.
  21. ^[permanent dead link]
  22. ^ Corbin, Henry (1978) En Islam Iranien: Aspects spirituels et philosophiques Gallimard, Paris, OCLC 6776221
  23. ^ "UT's Colloquium: Slavoj Žižek on Iranian Tradition".
  24. ^ Slavoj Žižek on Iran, philosophy to politics
  25. ^ Dobroruka, Vicente (April 2020). "Mithridates and the Oracle of Hystaspes: Some dating issues (Cambridge)". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 30 (2): 188.
  26. ^ a b c Ogden, Daniel (2002). Magic, witchcraft, and ghosts in the Greek and Roman worlds : a sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 36. ISBN 9780198034483.
  27. ^ Edward Aune, David; Brenk, Frederick (2012). Greco-Roman Culture and the New Testament: Studies Commemorating the Centennial of the Pontifical Biblical Institute. Leiden: Brill. p. 197. ISBN 9789004226319.
  28. ^ Kluge, Ian (2009). Some Answered Questions: A Philosophical Perspective, in Lights of Irfan, Volume 10.
  29. ^ Davudi, Ali Murad (2013). Human Station in the Baháʼí Faith: Selected Sections: Philosophy and Knowledge of the Divine. Juxta Publishing Co., Hong Kong.
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Iranian philosophy
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