Moral Agents and Their Deserts

Moral Agents and Their Deserts: The Character of Mu'tazilite Ethics

SOPHIA VASALOU
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rkg0
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Moral Agents and Their Deserts
    Book Description:

    Must good deeds be rewarded and wrongdoers punished? Would God be unjust if He failed to punish and reward? And what is it about good or evil actions and moral identity that might generate such necessities? These were some of the vital religious and philosophical questions that eighth- and ninth-century Mu'tazilite theologians and their sophisticated successors attempted to answer, giving rise to a distinctive ethical position and one of the most prominent and controversial intellectual trends in medieval Islam. The Mu'tazilites developed a view of ethics whose distinguishing features were its austere moral objectivism and the crucial role it assigned to reason in the knowledge of moral truths. Central to this ethical vision was the notion of moral desert, and of the good and evil consequences--reward or punishment--deserved through a person's acts.

    Moral Agents and Their Desertsis the first book-length study of this central theme in Mu'tazilite ethics, and an attempt to grapple with the philosophical questions it raises. At the same time, it is a bid to question the ways in which modern readers, coming to medieval Islamic thought with a philosophical interest, seek to read and converse with Mu'tazilite theology.Moral Agents and Their Desertstracks the challenges and rewards involved in the pursuit of the right conversation at the seams between modern and medieval concerns.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2452-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER 1 The Framework: The Mu‛tazilites
    (pp. 1-11)

    Questions about the nature of moral values and the conditions that determine one’s otherworldly destination—whether to paradise or the Fire—had formed an important part of the Islamic theological curriculum from early on, and generated lively debate. Many of the distinctive features of these debates were molded from the earliest days of the nascent Islamic caliphate when political developments revolving around the succession to Muḥammad placed them at the top of the agenda, and the parameters and membership conditions of the Islamic community came under dispute. At the time from which I will pick up the narrative, two types...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Reading Mu‛tazilite Ethics
    (pp. 12-37)

    Whatever the origins of a particular dispute, however, and whether the opponent was a fellow Mu‛tazilite or an Ash‛arite, these disputes and conversations clearly contribute to the distinctive character of Mu‛tazilite theology. Thus, when one seeks to understand Mu‛tazilite views on moral value, it is necessary that due attention be paid to these situating disputes, for many features of these views can only be grasped through their contrary. But now, if Mu‛tazilite ethics can only be understood by being brought into relation with its gainsayers, what consequences does this hold for the student of their texts, and how does it...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Theology as Law
    (pp. 38-66)

    The presence of legal material in the writings of the Baṣran Mu‛tazilites and the heavy seasoning that it gives to their conceptual system offers a riddle to which any student of their theology would have had to apply himself, but this is even more so with the type of student and the type of task we are concerned with here. For while the theological ends that govern their moral formulations are a critical factor to include in any account of the latter, they would not be the only ground of perplexity to be met by one seeking to engage the...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Baṣran Mu‛tazilite Approach to Desert
    (pp. 67-115)

    The last two chapters have supplied many of the ingredients necessary for situating what constitutes the main subject of this study, the Mu‛tazilites’— and more narrowly the Baṣrans’—conception of desert, marking out in bold two frames that bound their intellectual vantage point: their theological purpose and theocentric attention; and the osmosis effected between their ethics and the resources of Islamic law. Enough has already been said to suggest the importance of the concept of desert in the Mu‛tazilite scheme, but not quite enough to elicit the full picture. This picture can be drawn more sharply in this chapter, which...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Moral Continuity and the Justification of Punishment
    (pp. 116-156)

    In the last chapter, I had little to say about the relation between time and desert except insofar as this was implicit when discussing the causal nature of desert and referring to the possibility of later occurrences that might frustrate or in some way affect the realization of moral consequences flowing out of past acts. The frozen sequence of past acts and the ever-unfolding sequence of present acts are engaged in a constant dialogue over the total value of a person’s moral life—a dialogue that extends across the person’s life. Our interest in this chapter lies with a different...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Identity of Beings in Baṣran Mu‛tazilite Eschatology
    (pp. 157-180)

    The picture of Baṣran Mu‛tazilite thinking about desert and its relation to the person as it now stands before us makes clear in what sense one may talk of the absence of any concern with the person as a moral and temporally extended being. This picture will be touched up with fresh color—though its main contours will not be radically altered—in this last stop, in which our interesting task will be that of seeking to enrich it by holding it up to the Baṣrans’ eschatological vision, and a particular aspect of this vision that seems especially well poised...

  11. APPENDIX Translation from Mānkdīm Shāshdīw, “The Promise and the Threat,” in Sharh al-usūl al-khamsa
    (pp. 181-196)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 197-238)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 239-246)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 247-252)