Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West

Article excerpt

The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West, by Toby E. Huff. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. xiv + 364 pages. Bibl. to p. 386. Index to p. 409. $54.95 cloth; $18.95 paper.

Any comparative study of genesis and evolution of the paradigmatic form of rational inquiry adds to our understanding of the process of knowledge creation across cultures. In the case of the IslamWest axis, a paucity of such studies has given way to historiographic hype on both sides. Thus, the wittingly titled work by Toby E. Huff, even at the illusion of giving new life to this genre, is a cause for some optimism.

Huff attempts to answer the question of why modern science arose only in the West and not in the civilizations of Islam and China. Notwithstanding that the question itself perpetuates the fallacy that modem science is a purely Western phenomenon, this work has hardly risen above the Weberian dogma. Huff's rather repetitious commentary that the rise of Western capitalism has paralleled the ascent of modern science across Western lands ignores an impressive heritage inspired by a diversity of norms of reason and rationality in the Islamic world and in China.

In the case of Islamic civilization, for instance, Huff argues that religious mystics and practitioners of the occult were major obstacles to the free flowering of science. At the same time, he admits that in the lands of Islam "science was more advanced up until the twelfth and thirteenth centuries." In China, he believes, the centralized state authority was an impediment to the process of scientific inquiry. …

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