Knowing the Unknown: The Paradox of “The Absolute Unknown” From Fakhr al-Din al-Razi to Tashkoprizada


A paradox that originated from Plato’s Meno and that perpetuated throughout the classical period of the history of Islamic philosophy within the same structure seems to have been reconstructed by Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606/1210), and hence gained a new philosophical context. Upon this, both the statement of the paradox and the scholarly framework within which it came to be addressed were renewed. Rather than the issues surrounding the possibility of the acquisition of knowledge, the issue was centered in this framework on the structural relationship between the parts of knowledge (i.e., conception and assent ), and the impact such a relationship had on how the topics of logic came to be discussed. In this context, providing an explanation on how conception and assent arose became necessary for a suppositional concept such as “the-absolute unknown (al-majhūl mutlaqan)”. This inquiry into finding an explanation, in turn, led to our usage of the expression “knowing the unknowable”. To overcome this problem, esteemed logicians after Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī proposed several effective solutions. One such endeavor had continued up until the Ottoman period. Henceforth, the Ottoman philosopher Tashkoprīzāda (d. 968/1561) heavily critiqued these proposed solutions, and instead provided a much stronger alternative. For in the philosophical system that Tashkoprīzāda used, the proposed solutions provided by early philosophers such as al-Khūnajī (d. 646/1248) and al-’Urmawī (d. 682/1283), and those provided by Ṣadr al-Sharī‘a (d. 747/1346) and al-Sayyid al-Sharīf Al-Jurjānī (d. 816/1413), were equally weak, even though these latter were closer to Tashkoprīzāda in both time and methodology.


Self-referential paradox Absolute unknown Suppositional concepts Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī Tashkoprīzāda