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Open Access Meta-ethics: A Quest for an Epistemological Basis of Morality in Classical Islamic Thought

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Meta-ethics: A Quest for an Epistemological Basis of Morality in Classical Islamic Thought

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The aim of this article is to critique the meta-ethical foundation of the purposes of law theory (maqāṣid al-sharīʿa). It starts by introducing the Ashʿarite meta-ethics, and in two sub-sections briefly elucidates the perceived relation between meta-ethics and normative ethics and the relation between ethics, Islamic jurisprudence (uṣūl al-fiqh) and speculative theology (ʿilm al-kalām). The article examines the meta-ethical presuppositions of the Qurʾan, arguing that Qurʾanic ethics allows for rethinking the meta-ethical foundation of the maqāṣid, since it accepts objective moral values and allows for moral epistemology that is based on reason. The last and the longest section of the article develops arguments that would admit human reason in formulating the maqāṣid and suggests that this requires a different ethical foundation, one that is closer to the Muʿtazilite conception of morality. The arguments are based on the work of some classical and contemporary scholars who have noted the contradiction in the traditional maqāṣid theory, and on the views of those scholars whose ethical views and principles expressed an understanding of morality that contradicts with ethical voluntarism or ‘divine command theory’ in ethics. The theory of maqāṣid is here clearly presumed to be a normative one rather than simply descriptive.

Affiliations: 1: PhD in Islamic Philosophy, University of Leeds, 2008. Teaches Arab Heritage at the American University of Sharjah malattar@aus.edu

10.1163/24685542-12340003
/content/journals/10.1163/24685542-12340003
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The aim of this article is to critique the meta-ethical foundation of the purposes of law theory (maqāṣid al-sharīʿa). It starts by introducing the Ashʿarite meta-ethics, and in two sub-sections briefly elucidates the perceived relation between meta-ethics and normative ethics and the relation between ethics, Islamic jurisprudence (uṣūl al-fiqh) and speculative theology (ʿilm al-kalām). The article examines the meta-ethical presuppositions of the Qurʾan, arguing that Qurʾanic ethics allows for rethinking the meta-ethical foundation of the maqāṣid, since it accepts objective moral values and allows for moral epistemology that is based on reason. The last and the longest section of the article develops arguments that would admit human reason in formulating the maqāṣid and suggests that this requires a different ethical foundation, one that is closer to the Muʿtazilite conception of morality. The arguments are based on the work of some classical and contemporary scholars who have noted the contradiction in the traditional maqāṣid theory, and on the views of those scholars whose ethical views and principles expressed an understanding of morality that contradicts with ethical voluntarism or ‘divine command theory’ in ethics. The theory of maqāṣid is here clearly presumed to be a normative one rather than simply descriptive.

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2017-07-27
2017-10-18

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