Classics The Arabic “Theology of Aristotle”
Cristina D'Ancona
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 April 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0360


The Theology of Aristotle is an Arabic adaptation of parts of Plotinus’s Enneads IV–VI. Both the translation into Arabic of treatises from these Enneads and their reworking, which originated the text known as Theology of Aristotle, were produced within the first philosophical circle of the Arabic-speaking world: that which was animated in the ʿAbbasid Baghdad by Abu Yusuf Yaʿqub ibn Ish aq al-Kindi (d. c. 870). Together with another adapted translation, that of Proclus’s Elements of Theology that originated the so-called Liber de causis, the Theology conveys under Aristotle’s name the Neoplatonic doctrines of the One-Good as the first cause of reality as a whole, of the Intellect as a separate substance near the One, and of the Soul both as a cosmic principle endowed with the power to rule nature, and as the rational immortal principle of human beings. The first chapter of the Theology of Aristotle contains a long introduction independent of Plotinus, which reflects the convictions of the milieu it stems from. The work is described as Aristotle’s “Theology” (transliterated from the Greek as Uthulujiya) plus the “commentary” by Porphyry. Then “Aristotle” takes the floor, introduced by the words “The Sage says.” He declares his intention to complete by this theological account his previous treatment of the four causes—material, formal, efficient, and final cause; this treatment, says “Aristotle,” has been already provided in the Metaphysics. The Uthulujiya will now be devoted to the three higher principles: the One, the Intellect, and the universal Soul. The causality of the One expands over reality in its entirety but first over the Intellect; then, through the mediation of the Intellect, over the universal Soul; then again, through the mediation of the Intellect and Soul, over nature, which in its turn contains the things that come to be and pass away. This doctrine forms the backbone of “Aristotle’s” Uthulujiya (henceforth ps.-Theology). The ps.-Theology has come down to us in Arabic and in a Latin version, dating from the Renaissance, that differs from the Arabic on various counts. The Arabic text comprises ten chapters, each of them dependent upon sections of Plotinus’s treatises that are reorganized in a layout often very different from the Greek original. Not only the order of the treatises is altered, but also Plotinus’s wording and doctrines are modified to convey the idea that the One is pure Being and the Creator all of reality. The ps.-Theology deeply influenced the subsequent development of Arabic-Islamic philosophy: al-Farabi (d. 950) structured his work Opinions of the Inhabitants of the Perfect City according to the Neoplatonic hierarchy described in it, and Avicenna (d. 1037) commented upon it. In the Western Muslim world, Averroes rejected Avicenna’s emanationism, but was still committed to the doctrine of the Agent Intellect, a doctrine which is rooted in the ps.-Theology at least as well as it is in Alexander of Aphrodisias’s interpretation of Aristotle’s De Anima (see Doctrine).

General Overviews

Aouad 1989 contains the most systematic survey of the scholarship on the ps.-Theology up to Kraye, et al. 1986, a volume entirely devoted to this and other texts falsely attributed to Aristotle. Adamson 2002 examines the philosophical content of the ps.-Theology. (see Doctrine). D’Ancona 2017 updates the debate about the origins, purpose, and content of the ps.-Theology.

  • Adamson, Peter. 2002. The Arabic Plotinus: A philosophical study of the Theology of Aristotle. London: Duckworth.

    Based on the author’s PhD dissertation, surveys the doctrines attributed to “Aristotle” in the ps.-Theology. This volume examines the three main philosophical topics that Adamson detects in the ps.-Theology: (i) the adaptation of the Neoplatonic doctrine of the soul, (ii) the influence of negative theology and partial revision of it in the light of the Aristotelian doctrine of the First Principle, and (iii) the transformation of the Neoplatonic causality into an account of creation out of nothing.

  • Aouad, Maroun. 1989. La Théologie d’Aristote et autres textes du Plotinus Arabus. In Dictionnaire des Philosophes Antiques. Vol. 1, Abam(m)on à Axiothéa. Edited by Richard Goulet, 541–590. Paris: Éditions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

    An outstanding analysis of the scholarship on the ps.-Theology since its beginnings. Provides extensive commented bibliography up to 1986.

  • D’Ancona, Cristina. 2017. The Theology attributed to Aristotle: Sources, structure, influence. In The Oxford handbook of Islamic philosophy. Edited by Khaled El-Rouayheb and S. Schmidtke, 8–29. New York, Oxford Univ. Press.

    A survey of the historical and doctrinal issues concerning the ps.-Theology, based on the research preparatory to the critical edition.

  • Kraye, Jill, W. F. Ryan, and C. B. Schmitt, eds. 1986. Pseudo-Aristotle in the Middle Ages. The Theology and other texts. London: The Warburg Institute.

    Contains, together with essays on other texts falsely attributed to Aristotle, groundbreaking studies on the ps.-Theology (see Sources, Translations, and Influence).

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