HUMAN RIGHTS & MODERN HUMANISM
Cross-Pollination: Civilizational Transfers
One of the points I would like to underscore not only in this context, but in any context, is the view that—regardless of time and place—Man lives throughout history as a universal citizen. In spite of the ethnic, social, and religious differences, people have always lived in communion no matter the distance. Living in isolation simply was not an option in previous historical periods, just as it is not an option now. The world is made out of communities, each with its set of values and norms, but those values and norms must pass the test of universality in order to survive. Some norms may stubbornly persist in isolated pockets, but they certainly cannot lead universally, for that role is for the fittest and best amongst the collective. Knowledge and intellectual growth represent the most potent of currencies among civilizations; the free flow of knowledge is essentially the largest transaction, and as in every transaction, someone will give, and another will take in a deal that is theoretically beneficial for both parties. It should not be our endeavor however to judge, as the time will never be right for us to make that final ruling. Only subscribers to the culture of arrogance and isolationism would think that they are in the position to issue such a judgment thinking that they sit on the peak of the cycle of evolution.
History does recycle itself, and communities do pass the baton to each other in this everlasting marathon. It is clear that the Islamic civilization reached the end of its stretch during the Abbasid era. Once the Caliphate moved to Anatolia with the emerging of the Ottoman Empire, the cultural and intellectual exchange between the Islamic East and Christian West—that was started earlier in Spain—has accelerated. During the Abbasid era, one can speak of the absorption of Western knowledge and the process of assimilation of Greek sciences into the Islamic civilization. During the Ottoman era however, we could observe the Western adaptation of Islamic knowledge it transferred to the West. It would seem that the Islamic empire looked then as if it had reached the saturation point, or a level of high density wherein the rate of outflow far exceeded the inflow, hence knowledge moving out of the Islamic world at a bigger rate than the amount of information coming in. Within a couple of centuries, the West managed to have full access not only to the Islamic sciences proper, like math, medicine, astronomy, and alchemy, but also to the ancient Greek, Indian, and Persian heritage that was translated into Arabic in the Abbasid courts. The first area to be influenced is the Christian theology that stimulated Western thought, which led to the renaissance ideals. Thomas Aquinas’ thought is just one good example of this new trend. Aquinas’ writings are considered by many as the first seeds of the natural law theory that will dominate Europe for some time.
Saint Thomas Aquinas was born in Italy in 1224. At a relatively young age, he was able to enter a Dominican order. He taught at the University of Paris, lectured at a number of other institutions in Cologne, Rome, Naples. During this time, the church was faced with the problem of reconciling its theology with the teachings of the Greeks. Aquinas grasped this task, leading him to develop an all-embracing philosophical system that sought a synthesis of faith and reason. As far as law is concerned, Aquinas, being an admirer of Aristotle, assumed that each creature has its own natural purpose. By fulfilling that purpose, each being then would define what is good.