Books of Definition in Islamic Philosophy: The Limits of Words

Books of Definition in Islamic Philosophy: The Limits of Words

Books of Definition in Islamic Philosophy: The Limits of Words

Books of Definition in Islamic Philosophy: The Limits of Words

Synopsis

Islamic Philosophy has unusual origins. Originally a hybrid of Greek philosophy and early Islamic theology, its technical language consisted of a number of words translated from the Greek. This book studies how Islamic philosophers of the ninth century AD, such as al-Kindi, al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, developed an indigenous set of terms and concepts. Their Books of Definition influenced the revision of the Arabic language to incorporate these new fields of knowledge. Books of Definition in Islamic Philosophy: The Limits of Words uses the work of these philosophers as a basis from which a comparison with their Greek precedents is enabled. The book presents a framework for incorporating an Islamic and historically contextualised philosophy into a continuum of world philosophers. At the core of this framework is Ibn Sina's Kitab al-hudud which the author has translated into English and situates it in its correct geopolitical framework. In establishing a historical and literary context for the writing and circulation of Ibn Sina's definitions, the book breaks new ground in the integration of Islamic philosophy within a general history of philosophies. This fascinating and comprehensive study will be of interest to scholars and postgraduate students of Islamic Philosophy.

Excerpt

This book is a study of an underexposed aspect of philosophy, definition. At first blush the question of definition may appear so self-evident as to be unnecessary, but little work has been done in the field recently. Definition is the key to understanding how the falasifa looked at their universe, as envisioned in Islamic philosophy. Due to the unusual origin of philosophy in the Islamic world, originally a hybrid of translated Greek philosophy and early Islamic kalam (theology), it was in particular need of a technical vocabulary. If rational thinking is the tool of thought, words are the medium for its expression. Contrary to the opinion expressed by the Red Queen to Alice, words must mean exactly what they say; for development in philosophy to occur meanings must not shift in the hands of each successive writer.

Part 1 of this book grew out of my dissertation, “Definition in the Philosophy of al-Kindi, al-Farabi and Ibn Sina.” the translation of Ibn Sina's Kitab al-hudud that forms the core of Part 2 was a logical extension, since it was one of the primary texts used in Part 1. It is always hard to step back from a project that one has worked on so intensely and try to explain it to non-specialists, but that is indeed my hope. For me and for some of my colleagues, the story of Islamic philosophy that now needs to be told is as an integral part of the continuous history of world philosophy. Thus, although in spatiotemporal terms we stand outside the world of classical Islamic philosophy, it forms part of the tradition that has come down to us. the seduction of philosophy is that we the readers are tuning in on a conversation that has been continuing through the centuries. Ibn Sina picks up a dialogue with al-Kindi, although the latter had been dead for about a century and a half by the time of Ibn Sina's writing. However, because these treatises are written in philosophical Arabic, they tend to be fresh and adorned with a modern sleekness.

Through an investigation of the first three major philosophers, Part 1 of this work follows the development of definition theory in Islamic philosophy. I examine and compare the same terms in their historical development. Chapter 1 begins with a study of definition in its historical and analytic

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