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Spirit and Status: Al-Ghazali and Intellectual Vice


Al-Ghazali (1056-1111), one of the most renowned Muslim scholars of all time, is renowned for his criticism of the scholars of the day. Neither theologians, nor philosophers, nor legal scholars escape al-Ghazali scathing wit, as al-Ghazali mercilessly exposes the base motives underlying the intellectuals’ lofty pronouncements. What is less known is that al-Ghazali’s criticisms are underwritten by a detailed and well-articulated moral psychology. In particular, Al-Ghazali makes innovative use of Plato’s spirited part of the soul in explaining how pride and the desire of status can warp the workings of the intellect. Al-Ghazali’s remarks illuminate how theories of vice can contribute to our understanding of certain unresolved puzzles in virtue ethics–here, the relationship between knowledge and character.

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