Not Many people consider Iran as a land of philosophy. When we talk about that mostly, Greece comes to mind, and that is very true. However, other countries like Iran have philosophical schools and ideologies. In this blog, we try to get you acquainted with Pre-Islamic Philosophy in Iran.
Pre-Islamic Philosophy in Iran, like anywhere else, started with the appearance of shapes, whether in the form of sounds or tangible shapes, conveys a message. That message is related to the human vision of the world. How early people understood this world we live in and the beginning and its end lead to philosophy.
It is true that Pre-Islamic Philosophy in Iran, in comparison with its other features like history, literary and art, was not fortunate enough to be fully introduced.
One reason may be that Pre-Islamic Philosophy in Iran intertwined completely with religion. It was not like Iranians thought lesser than the Greeks or did not have people like Plato and Aristotle, but what they presented to the world was underneath the shadow of religion. The case is many religions of pre-Islamic Iran, especially Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, and Manichaeism philosophical dimensions. In other words, they were philosophical ideologies that turned into religious thoughts.
If we take a deep insight, this was a pattern in the east that pioneers never separated themselves from their spirituality, or at least to take an ideology seriously, it had to go under the name of religion.
In Pre-Islamic Philosophy in Iran, some names like Kay-Khosrow or Jamasb or Bozorgmehr have made it into history or mythology, but they did not write a book about their thoughts. Scholars like Aristotle and Plato had many books regardless of religion. Therefore, there are fewer philosophical books left from Pre-Islamic Philosophy. However, we know that Plato and Pythagoras believed that a profound intellectual tradition existed in Iran.
Anonymous authors wrote many books like “Bondeshan,” “Shekand Gomanik,” or “Drinkard” have a religious aspect, but underneath them, they have discussed valuable philosophical topics.
Two different principles formed the headline of philosophical ideologies of Pre-Islamic Philosophy in Iran. First is the principle of duality. The ancient Iranians believed that two conflicting forces rule the world and are at war against each other from the beginning of time. The essence of the world is both good and evil, and it is the base of the entire cosmology. We are here because the evil force penetrated the good and damaged it. Why do we have to have darkness, why do we get angry, why do we feel ill, or why the fire has smoke when it burns? Why does seawater taste salty instead of being fresh? Because human is in between tow force.
This duality impacted all the aspects of nature and human life and even thrust itself into the Persian Language. Sar in Persian means head, but for the followers of the Good force. Kale is another word for human’s head, but it belongs to the evil ones. A person must be aware of where they stand in this conflict because anything they do would either benefit the Good or the Evil. Why does such an ideology stand its ground so solidly in Pre-Islamic Philosophy in Iran? We don’t know the person behind it, which is why mythology helps to fill in the blanks. Maybe we could discuss the backgrounds in another blog.
The second Pre-Islamic Philosophy in Iran may have had some profound impact on Greek philosophy. This philosophy talks about how this world is a reflection of the divine realm above. In Greek mythology, the gods/goddesses’ actions and thoughts contemplate what humans do on earth. Nevertheless, their philosophy beat that perspective.
In Iran, the Pre-Islamic Philosophy, combined with religion, describes the world and humans as they are, under the adumbration of God all mighty. With such a point of view, human is a disciple of God. Are they under the obligation to be obedient, or can they choose their fate? Have they been pre-informed about what is good and what is evil? We cannot know for sure. Despite the first philosophical concept, we have limited documents about this one. All we know is that there were many angels, each responsible for something, and these angles could contact humans. That means humans were always being guided, whether they knew it or not. The old belief of Khvarenah has roots in this philosophical point of view. Before humans set foot on earth, their Khvarenah existed and agreed to the terms of Ahura Mazda. God embodied their Khvarenah and kept reminding them of the promises they made. Some say Plato’s Theory of forms has a historical connection with Zoroastrian theories.
As for the first concept of Pre-Islamic Philosophy in Iran, Mani and Manichaean set an example of complete duality. That is where Manichaean orthodoxy and pagan cosmology come closer to the Christian concept of salvation. Mani did know and fully understood Christianity; How all humans have sinned, and how Jesus sacrificed himself on behalf of others. Hence, Mani is the first sage who considers the world the result of Satan’s activity and is fundamentally evil.
As to continue Pre-Islamic Philosophy thoughts in Iran, Mazdak’s perspective comes close to a philosophical concept, but he may have ruined it by not defining it more and going straight to an uprising. In today’s terms of is populist and communist, he said that human beings are equal. But the court wants to make the divine world a scene of endless human suffering, and their means for this purpose is to forge the concept of private property. Therefore, the Zoroastrian priests, who felt especially vulnerable in this social and egalitarian aspect of Mazdak, killed him and his many followers.
With this much information, it is fortunate that Pre-Islamic Philosophy in Iran had a materialistic and dualistic view that the light of the moral religion of Zoroaster turned to spirituality and monotheism. What is missing in the thoughts of the ancient Iranians is not very clear to us. However, the Roman emperor in the sixth century AD was harsh with the philosophers and consequently, the neo-Platonic sages (modern Platonic philosophy or Neoplatonism) were the last school of Greek philosophy. It was about six centuries between Plato and Neoplatonic philosophy, which was called inter-Platonic philosophy. They analyzed his theories: Neoplatonic philosophy is essentially metaphysical and cognitive views, a kind of unity and polytheism.
As a kind of mysticism, Neoplatonic philosophy consists of theoretical and practical parts, the first of which is the existence of the immaterial world and the origin of man from that source. It mentions spirituality and includes ways to return to this source. Those who were banished took refuge in the court of Khosrow I Anushiravan Sassanid. They became professors at Gundeshapur university of Pre-Islamic Philosophy.
But without a doubt, the flourishing of abstract thought in general and philosophy in Iran, in particular, is related to the post-Islamic era.