The Epistemology of Ibn Khaldun

The Epistemology of Ibn Khaldun

The Epistemology of Ibn Khaldun

The Epistemology of Ibn Khaldun

Synopsis

This is an analytical examination of Ibn Khaldun's epistemology, centered on Chapter Six of the Muqaddima. In this chapter, entitled 'The Book of Knowledge' (Kitab al'Ilm), Ibn Khaldun sketched his general ideas about knowledge and science and its relationship with human social organization and the establishment of a civilization.

Excerpt

Ibn Khaldūn is a thinker it is very difficult to classify. He is chiefly known today as a social thinker, and there is no doubt about the perspicacity of his writings on politics and the sorts of rules which we should employ when analysing the state. What we notice when we examine his political thought is his capacity to balance his theoretical constructions with his practical observations on everyday life, and throughout the Muqaddima we see that sort of balance being established. Here we find Ibn Khaldūn in his role as the critic of philosophy, yet using philosophical methods to attack the pretensions of what he sees as an overambitious reliance on reason. In other places, he represents a form of Sufism which eschews the sort of subjectivity and esoteric extravagance of which he so much disapproved. For him Sufism was only respectable if it was practised firmly within the context of orthodox Islam, in line with the normal rules and institutions of the sunni world. In fact, the very name of this text, the Muqaddima, implies the attempt to lay out a prolegomenon to something more axiomatic in structure, a volume of principles, based solidly on historical fact, which was in fact a text produced in due course by Ibn Khaldūn.

On the other hand, we should not get too enmeshed in the title of the work which came to be called the Muqaddima, since this is obviously supposed to be more than just a preparatory text. In his historical work Ibn Khaldūn produces a careful balance between descriptions of fact and his explanations of the wider principles which those facts exemplify. and in his Muqaddima he explains how that balance is to be constituted. In a well-known expression, he suggests that human reason, which is appropriate to weigh gold, is often used to weigh mountains. A suspicion of theory runs throughout Ibn Khaldūn's work, a suspicion which is based on the idea that we often allow our enthusiasm for a particular form of thought to run away with us. The Muqaddima is intent to put everything in its place, and we see this outlined in the analysis which is presented here of Chapter 6 by Dr Ahmad. It is to be hoped that similar studies will in time be produced of other parts of this key work. Only through . . .

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