Mahmoud Khatami

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Mahmoud Khatami محمود خاتمی
Mahmoud. Khatami.jpg
Born Tehran, Iran Flag of Iran.svg Iranian
Era 21st-century philosophy
Region Philosophy
Main interests
Metaphysics · Humanity
Axiology ·
Notable ideas
Ontetic Philosophy
"Illuminative Vitalism"

Mahmoud Khatami(Persian: محمود خاتمی) is an Iranian philosopher. He is best known for developing "Ontetic Philosophy."


Mahmoud Khatami grew up in Tehran. Showing an early interest in humanities, he attended the Seminary of Islamic Studies which gained him the traditional degree of Ijtihad, the highest level in Islamic religious and theological learning. Concurrently, he attended the University of Tehran to pursue his secular education for BA, MA and MS, and finally a PhD in philosophy. Afterwards, he continued his further education in England, where he was awarded his second PhD and post- doc in the field of Philosophical Psychology.

Returning to Iran, he was appointed to the Department of Philosophy at University of Tehran in 1997 where he is now a Professor of Contemporary Philosophy. In 2002, he was appointed as Fellow of Iran’s Academy of the Arts. In the meantime, Khatami has been invited, and visiting professor at Iranian as well as Western universities, and has been rewarded and awarded for his academic excellence both inside and outside Iran.

Plagiarism Charge

In November 2014, some reports were published which charged Mahmoud Khatami with extensive plagiarism.[1] Some philosophy researchers followed up on this claim and compared his papers with the others' ones and published the results, which confirmed the claim, on their blogs.[2][3] The Organon F, international journal of analytic philosophy, has officially announced that "The paper entitled “The Epistemological Quest: From the Possibility of Experience to the Possibility of Communication” (Organon F, 10, 2003, No. 4, 357-379) published under the name of Mahmoud Khatami was withdrawn from our web page. It turned out that the paper was almost a verbatim copy of another work which appeared as a book chapter written by someone else". [4] On December 1, 2014, the University of Tehran has issued a statement on the plagiarism allegations against Mahmoud Khatami declaring that "should charges be proved, the university would punish the wrongdoer severely, and refer the case to the proper authorities. However, if the allegations are proved wrong, the University, as always, has the obligation to defend its faculty members". [5] [6]

Philosophical influences and development

Trained in phenomenology as well as classical Islamic philosophy, and profoundly affected by the philosophies of Suhrawardi and Mulla Sadra, and encouraged by philosophy of Martin Heidegger, Khatami developed a distinctive approach that rejects subjectivism and relativism, abjures any simple notion of interpretive method, and focuses on the study of the nature of being.

His work is concentrated in the development of what Khatami terms "ontetic philosophy", encompassing cognitive and conative aspects of being. Khatami's main concern is humanity and human being. His works provide a specific interpretation of humanity, the self and consciousness, and an understanding of the idea of subjectivity. Khatami argues for the efficiency of action as primordial constituent of human being.His philosophy provides an account of the proper ground for human subjectivity while rejecting modern subjectivism. This is not a rejection of modern concerns, but an insistence on the limit of modern understanding.He has also worked intensively on morality and religion as well as the theory and application of art. Khatami's thinking began and remained connected with the Persian thought. The "Persian" character of Khatami's approach is evident, not merely in the central theoretical role he gives to the concept of philosophy in his thinking, but also in his own personal commitment to intellectual engagement and exchange. Indeed, he is one of the few philosophers for whom the "Persian" has become a significant category to "supply" a positive output of modern philosophy. His early engagement with this tradition determined much of the character and direction of his thinking.

Ontetic philosophy

Coined by Khatami himself, the term "ontetic" does not merely mean "ontological" or "existential" in the western sense; in addition to these, this term also means "fuzzy" and "hierarchic". It indicates the order of Being and its purity. Consequently, the ontetic philosophy is the intellectual articulation of human approach toward a complete grasp of the order of Being. "ontetic" in his terminology refers to the old understanding Persian conception of light which simultaneously indicates being,consciousness,life and action. this conception constituted on a graded logic which is called in hiss terminology the logic of "Tashkik". All the way, this conception and logic is fundamental for human being and his relations. Being contemplated by philosophy is expressed by man himself, and therefore man's relations with the world, as also with Him, become central for the sphere of philosophy. Man is an acting subject, a free agent, capable of choosing between various ends compatible with the circumstances of his life, and insofar he is responsible for those relations; and, on the other hand, he has an end appointed him by nature which is obligatory upon him as his moral end. A philosophical knowledge of the world, then, must entail a philosophical knowledge or thorough explanation of the reasons of man's duties flowing from his relation to things and to Him.

Furthermore, man has the power of reflecting on his own knowledge; as is seen from the fact that the understanding of what knowledge is, is distinct from knowledge, that the study of the logical structure of science is distinct from the knowledge he acquires of real things. Hence do we arrive at the more comprehensive definition, that philosophy is the full understanding of the order of Being, and in its shadow, of man's situation in it, and of his moral duties and responsibilities resulting from it, and of his knowledge of reality.

Khatami's concept of philosophy requires man to be central for the philosophical discussion, and he is faithful to this requirement. However, he enters to the philosophy scene from the "modernity door." Influenced by Heidegger, Khatami radically understands modernity as a subjectivistic process in which a very specific concept of man has developed. He writes: "Heidegger who questioned the subjectivistic foundation of modern concept of man and the world called for an original thinking to determine what and how man is." Khatami tries to respond to his quest. Not dealing with Heidegger's answer, but not disregarding it, Khatami suggests an otherwise notion of Man and Subjectivity by stepping back toward Persian illuminative thought within which he tries to glimpse a hint of a human subject which is the source of the world, and even created and in this respect he is nothing without God, yet he is eternal, absolute, prior to the world, master of the world, and all the things are manifested from his light.

Khatami's reference to this perspective provides "an interesting frame, and a spur to look for patterns that other accounts of the material treated in modern time were likely to miss." In this matter, Khatami offers a hermeneutic reading of the conception of Man in the Persian illuminative philosophy. Khatami innovatively inquires about the potential philosophical possibilities by virtue of which this philosophy would assist the current debates that attempt to overcome the influences of modern subjectivism on the conception of Man, of his self and of his subjectivity. To reach this goal, Khatami has reconstructed a method tacitly employed by Mulla Sadra in his doctrine of the illuminative existentialism.

This reconstruction happens to Khatami in the light of Persian Illuminative Philosophy and his hermeneutic assessment of phenomenology. Khatami's chief aim of this reconstruction was to present a transcendent notion of fuzzy reduction that is crucial for his discussion of his ontetic model. Herein, his hermeneutic reading of Sadra’s philosophy is set within a broader consideration of the course of development of theories of subjectivity as manifested in the works of Descartes, Hume, Kant, and Husserl. In this context, he reaches the conclusion that the modern conception of subjectivity, that has no corresponding field of experience, or of empirically based qualities, does not amount to being more than a vacuous concept.

Against this, Khatami shows how he is able to overcome this conception in the name of an ontetic subjectivity gained by stepping back to the Persian traditional philosophy. There are two crucial elements to Khatami's appropriation of Persian philosophy: first, the focus on cognition, and the connection of cognition with Being; second, the focus on Being itself as the event of prior and partial disclosure in which we are already involved and that can never be made completely transparent. Both of these elements are connected with Khatami's response to the subjectivist element in modern thought. By turning back to the direct experience, and to the concept of Being as prior and partial disclosure, Khatami was able to develop an alternative to subjectivism that also connected with the ideas taken from Suhravardi, and Mulla Sadra, and of the hermeneutical ontology of Heidegger.

Just as the human being is taken as central and determining in the experience of Being, so is cognition similarly determined by the matter to be recognized; as the experience of Being reveals, not in spite of, but precisely because of the way it also conceals, so cognition is possible, not in spite of, but precisely because of its prior involvement. In Khatami's theory, the concept of "presence" has an important role here. Khatami takes presence as the basic clue to Being, emphasizing the way in which presence something that has its own order and structure to which man is given over. Presence has obvious affinities with all of the other concepts at issue in his ontetic philosophy. Indeed, one can take it as providing slightly different elaboration of what is essentially the same basic conception of mind that takes our finitude, that is, our prior involvement and partiality, not as a barrier to human "being", but rather as its enabling condition. It is this conception that is worked out in detail in Sadraean Meditations.

One might react to Khatami's emphasis on our "ontetic presence" involvement, that such involvement cannot but remain subjectivistic simply on the grounds that it is always determined to experience things in certain ways rather than others. Such an objection can be seen as a simple reiteration of the basic tendency towards subjectivism that Khatami rejects, but Khatami also takes issue directly with this view, and the negative connotations often associated with the notion, arguing that, rather than closing us off, our presence is what open us up to what is to be recognized.

In Sadraean Meditations and in From a Sadraean Point of View, Khatami redeploys the notion of our presence as it is worked out in more particular fashion than in Sadra's Asfar. Khatami's positive conception of presence can be seen as connected with a number of different ideas in his philosophy. The way in which our presence opens us up to matter at issue in such a way that our presence capable of being revised exhibits the character of this concept, and its role in human life. The ontetic priority Khatami assigns to presence is also tied to Khatami's emphasis on the priority of the question in the structure of human being. Moreover, the indispensable role of presence in human being connects directly with Khatami's rethinking of the practical life. All human being are necessarily oriented to present concerns and interests, and it is those present concerns and interests that allow us to enter into the communication with the world. The presence character of man means that, he is involved in a connection that encompasses both his own self-realization and his cognition of the environment. Our self-realization and cognition always occurs against the background of this prior presence.

On this basis, Khatami thus advances a view of subjectivity that rejects the idea of subjectivity as achieved through modern philosophy that indicates gaining access to some inner realm of subjective meaning. For him, subjectivity is an ongoing process, rather than something that is ever completed, so he also rejects the idea that there is any final determinacy to human subjectivity.

Ontetic model of subjectivity

Briefly, Khatami is seeking for a model of subjectivity capable of meeting modern requirements, and convening the privileges of modern subjectivism, but has more to say about man and its spiritual nature. Regarding this goal, one may organize his endeavour in three steps; first he tries to reevaluate modern subjectivism and ventures to amend it by interpreting the legionnaires of modernity; second, he tries to construe the classic Persian conception of man as an ontetic absolute subject who can be reformulated in modern terms; third, he tries to show a rhezomatic turn in the depth of modern subjectivism toward a neutral spirituality and divinity.

Step one: Rethinking the Transcendental Subjectivity

Supporting Heidegger, Khatami says that modernity is philosophically characterized by subjectivism whose history began with Descartes. Historically speaking, the modern sense of man formulated later by Kant's Copernican Revolution, according to which man become an autonomous agent of knowledge and action. Kant's pluralistic approach to the problem of subject and object relation led him to presuppose a transcendental characteristic for human subjectivity. Khatami considers Kant's "subjectivistic turn" to analyze this characteristic in order to go beyond its formal sense and revise either aspects of subjectivity. While he regards Hegel’s early critique of Kant’s transcendental reflection as a significant step in surpassing the formal approach to the transcendental subjectivity, he nevertheless continues to deformalize the transcendental and consider it as "latent". The latent, in Khatami's view, is what I am because I am essentially memory, full of my past; this plenitude is not, however, specified into images, but determines the meaning of my being in the present. Khatami argues that, by attributing the transcendental as latent to memory, we seem to make it empirical. Nevertheless, Khatami retains an ontological meaning for memory—meaning for which memory is not only the recollection of my own history or the résumé of my own experience, but also the very possibility of experience: the transcendental as latent. Consequently, he infers, when the transcendental is considered in its activity with respect to the object, we must say that it is implicitly known, and in its relation with the subject, it is this implicit knowledge, the latent, itself. This knowledge, according to the formal reality, is the structure of subject. This structure has an activity: it guarantees for the subject a profound being both universal and singular, and it promotes intersubjectivity – understood as the communication of the similar subjects.

Step two: Human Subjectivity as Absolute

Following the first step, Khatami tries to reformulate the human subject as absolute. He reconsiders here the illuminative tradition of Persian thought a notion of man who is both more than the world and less than the world. As for the former, man, descending from God, is a comprehensive totality as macrocosm within which and through which the world is created; while as for the latter, he, ascending to God, is a singular individual as microcosm shattered and fallen down to the earth, but still has the same colour of the divine essence within him. Khatami highlights the former aspect of this notion which is the source of the latter, and, at the same time, sheds light on the "concealed" essence of human being which is "forgotten" in modern subjectivism. This notion of man constitutes his essence as the integration of the divine inward as well as outward names. Thus, the illuminative man is homocosm of the divine and the worldly realities. He was created as God's vicegerent while the entire world is a particularization of what exists in him. The world was thus created through man and for man, even though in the visible world man appeared the last. The illuminative man, in this capacity, can like Him create by uttering the command "be", is keen on exhibiting his ability to control nature, and above all an absolute subject who comprehends all creation and, by means of that comprehension, comes to dominate over the world and name that which it comprehends. He is Absolute in the sense of God's vicegerent: The only Created Creator.

Step three: Subjectivity and Technology

The ontetic model of subjectivity offered by Khatami led him to a very crucial point in the modern world: technology. Khatami tries to support this idea that an ontetic subject is still alive behind the technological veil of the modern world.

In sum, Khatami's ontetic model suggests that we can discern not only a shadow of the ontetic subject in today's technological world but also a figure of the technological subject already in more traditional metaphysics.

The Body-Mind Relation

14. Philosophy of Mind, Tehran: Elm Publisher 2008 (p)

15. Background of Modernity, Tehran: Elm 2009 (p)

16. Metaphysics of Man: Outline of a Philosophy, Published by Dr.Muller House, 2010(E)

17. Psychosomatology: Cognition and Conatiomn, Published by Dr.Muller House, 2010(E)

18. From Consciousness to Conscience: An Introduction to the Transcendence of the Self, Published by Dr.Muller House, 2010(E)

19. The Ontetic Self, Published by Dr.Muller House, 2010(E)

20. Transcendental Subjectivity:A Reflection, Published by Dr.Muller House, 2010 (E)

21. Beauty: An Aesthetic Approach,Published by Dr.Muller House, 2010(E)

22. Morality, Published by Dr.Muller House, 2010(E)

23. The Ethical, The Aesthetical: Essays, Published by Dr.Muller House, 2010(E)

24. Basic Problems of Epistemology, Published by Dr.Muller House, 2010(E)

25. Axiology of Art: A Prolegomenon, Published by Dr.Muller House, 2010(E)

26. From a Sadraean Point of View: Towards an Elimination of the Subjectivistic self, London Academy of Iranian Studies, London 2004 (E)

27. Sadraean Meditations: Toward a Transcendent Philosophy of Mind, Lekton 2003(E)

28. Affections: Preliminaries For A theory, LAP Lambert Academic Publishing ( 2013)(E)

28. Prolegomena for a Philosophhy of Persian Art, Iranian Academy of Arts Publication, Tehran,Iran (2011) (P)

See also


Mostafavi Seyyedeh Maryam, Khatami as an Illuminationist Philosopher of Art 2011.

Taylor Sophia, Mahmoud Khatami: A Primer of His Ontetic Philosophy of Human Subjectivity, Müller, 2010.

“Mahmoud Khatami” in Dictionary of International Biography, published by British International Biographical Centre, Cambridge 2006.

External links