History of Philosophy in Islam, by T.J. de Boer , at sacred-texts.com
1. The Philosophy of Ibn Roshd, and his interpretation of Aristotle, have had extremely little effect upon the Muslim world. Many of his works, in the original, are lost, and we have them only in Hebrew and Latin translations. He had no disciples or followers. In retired corners no doubt many a free-thinker or Mystic might be met with, to whose mind it looked sufficiently fantastic to toil earnestly with philosophic questions of a theoretical kind; but Philosophy was not permitted to influence general culture or the condition of affairs. Before the victorious arms of the Christians the material civilization as well as the intellectual culture of the Muslims retreated farther and farther. Spain became like Africa, where the Berber was ruler. The times were serious: the very existence of Islam in these regions was at stake. Men made ready for fighting against the enemy, or even against one another; and pious brethren everywhere formed unions for mystic observances. In the Sufi orders of these people, a few philosophical formulae at least were still preserved in safety. When, towards the middle of the thirteenth
century, the emperor Frederick II submitted a number of philosophical questions to the Muslim scholars of Ceuta, the Almohad Abdalwahid charged Ibn Sabin, founder of a Mystic order, to reply to them. He did so, drawling forth in a pedantic tone the views both of ancient and recent philosophers, and affording a glimpse of the Sufi secret,--that God is the reality of all things. The only thing, however, which we can learn from his answers, may be said to be, that Ibn Sabin had read books, of which he thought the Emperor Frederick had not the faintest notion.
2. In small State-systems, the Muslim civilization of the West drifted away, now rising, now falling. But before it vanished completely, a man appeared, who endeavoured to discover the law of its formation, and who thought to found therewith a new philosophical discipline,--the Philosophy of Society or of History. That remarkable man was Ibn Khaldûn, born at Tunis is the year 1332, of a family belonging to Seville. There he also received his upbringing, and there he was next instructed in philosophy, partly by a teacher who had been trained in the East. After studying all known sciences, he occupied himself sometimes in the service of the Government, and sometimes in travel, proving everywhere an excellent observer. He served various princes in the capacity of secretary, and he was ambassador at several courts in Spain and Africa: as such he visited the Christian court of Peter the Cruel in Seville. He was also at the court of Tamerlane in Damascus. He had thus acquired a wide and full experience of the world, when he died at Cairo in the year 1406.
In character perhaps he does not take a high rank; but a measure of vanity, dilettantism and the like, may readily be forgiven to the man who, above all others in his time, lived for Science.
3. Ibn Khaldûn was not satisfied with the School-Philosophy, as he had come to know it. His picture of the world would not fit its conventional framing. If he had been somewhat more given to theorizing, he might no doubt have constructed a system of Nominalism. Philosophers pretend to know everything; but the universe seems to him too great to be capable of being comprehended by our understanding. There are more beings and things, infinitely more, than Man can ever know. "God creates what you know nothing of". Logical deductions frequently do not agree with the empirical world of individual things, which becomes known by observation alone. That we can reach truth by merely applying the rules of Logic, is a vain imagination: therefore reflection on what is given in experience is the task of the scientific man. And he must not rest satisfied with his own individual experience; but, with critical care he must draw upon the sum of the collected experience of mankind, which has been handed down.
By nature the soul is devoid of knowledge; but yet by nature it has the power of reflecting on the experience which is given, and elaborating it. In the course of such reflection, there frequently springs forth, as if by inspiration, the proper middle term, by means of which the insight which has been gained may be arranged and explained according to the rules of Formal Logic. Logic does not produce knowledge: it merely traces the path which our
reflection ought to take: it points out how we arrive at knowledge; and it has the farther value of being able to preserve us from error, and to sharpen the intellect and keep it to accuracy in thinking. It is therefore an auxiliary science, and ought to be cultivated even for its own sake by one or two qualified men, called specially to that task; but it does not possess the fundamental importance which is attributed to it by the Philosophers. The path which it indicates for our reflection to take, is at need followed by scientific talent in any individual science, quite independently of logical guidance.
Ibn Khaldûn is a sober thinker. He combats Alchemy and Astrology on rational grounds. To the Mystic rationalism of the Philosophers he opposes frequently the simple doctrines of his religion, whether from personal conviction, or from political considerations. But religion exercises no greater influence upon his scientific opinions than Neo-Platonic Aristotelianism. Plato's Republic, the Pythagorean-Platonic Philosophy, but without its marvel-mongering outgrowths, and the historical works of his oriental forerunners, particularly of Masudi, have had most influence on the development of his thoughts.
4. Ibn Khaldûn comes forward with a claim to establish a new philosophical discipline, of which Aristotle had no conception. Philosophy is the science of what exists, developed from its own principles or reasons. But what the Philosophers advance, about the high Spirit-world and the Divine Essence, does not correspond thereto: that which they say on these subjects is incapable of proof. We know our world of men much better; and a more certain deliverance may be given regarding it, by means of observation
and inner mental experience. Here facts permit of being authenticated, and their causes discovered. Now, so far as the latter process is feasible in History, i.e. so far as historical events are capable of being traced back to their causes, and historical laws capable of being discovered, History deserves actually to be called Science and a part of Philosophy. Thus the idea of History as Science clearly emerges. It has nothing to do with curiosity, frivolousness, general benefit, edifying effect &c. It should, although in the service of the higher purposes of life, determine nothing except facts, endeavouring to find out their causal nexus. The work must be done in a critical, unprejudiced spirit. The governing principle which rules here is this,--that the cause corresponds to the effect,--that is to say, that like events presuppose the same conditions, or, that under the same circumstances of civilization the like events will occur. Now, as it is a probable assumption that the nature of men and of society undergoes no change by the advance of time, or no considerable change, a living comprehension of the present is the best means of investigating the past. That which is fully known and is under our very eyes permits us to form retrospective conclusions in regard to the less fully known events of an earlier time: it promises even a glance into the future. In every instance, therefore, tradition must be tested by the present; and if it tells us of things which are impossible now, we must for that very reason doubt its truth. Past and Present are as like one another as two drops of water. If understood absolutely, that might have been said even by Ibn Roshd. But according to Ibn Khaldûn it is only quite generally valid as a principle of research. In detail it
suffers many a limitation; and in any case it has itself to be established by facts.
5. What then is the subject of History as a philosophical discipline? Ibn Khaldûn answers that it is the Social life,--the collective, material and intellectual culture of Society. History has to show how men work and provide themselves with food, why they contend with each other and associate in larger communities under single leaders, how at last they find in a settled life leisure for the cultivation of the higher arts and sciences, how a finer culture comes into bloom in this way out of rude beginnings, and how again this in time dies away.
The forms of Society which replace one another are, in the opinion of Ibn Khaldûn; 1) Society in the Nomad condition; 2) Society under a Military Dynasty; and 3) Society after the City type. The first question is that of food. Men and nations are differentiated by their economical position, as nomads, settled herdsmen, agriculturists. Want leads to rapine and war, and to subjection to a monarch who will lead them. Thus dynastic authority is developed. This again founds for itself a city, where division of labour or mutual assistance produces prosperity. But this prosperity leads to degenerate idleness and luxury. Labour has in the first place brought about prosperity; but now, at the highest stage of civilization, men get others to labour for them, and often without any direct equivalent, because regard or even servility to the upper classes, and extortionate treatment of the lower, secure success. But, all the same, men are coming to depend upon others. Needs are always growing more clamant, and taxes more oppressive. Rich spendthrifts and tax-payers grow poor, and
their unnatural life makes them ill and miserable. 1 The old warlike customs have been refined away, so that people are no longer capable of defending themselves. The bond,--formed by a sense of belonging to one community, or the bond of Religion,--by the help of which the necessity and the will of the chief knit the individual members together in older days, is relaxed, for the citizens are not pious. Everything, therefore, is ready to break up from within. And then appears a new and powerful nomad race from the desert, or a people not so greatly over-civilized, but possessed of a firmer public spirit; and it falls upon the effeminate city. Thereafter a new State is formed, which appropriates the material and intellectual wealth of the old culture, and the same history is repeated. It fares with States and the larger associations of men, just as with single families: their history is brought to a close, in from three to six generations. The first generation founds; the second maintains, as perhaps the third or even farther generations also do; the last demolishes. That is the cycle of all civilization.
6. According to August Müller the theory of Ibn Khaldûn is in conformity with the history of Spain, West Africa and Sicily, from the eleventh to the fifteenth century,--from the study of which, in fact, it was taken. His own historical work is a compilation, it is true. In detail he is often at fault, when he criticizes tradition with the help of his theory; but there is an abundance of fine psycho-
logical and political observation in his philosophical Introduction, and as a whole it is a masterly performance. The ancients never dealt thoroughly with the problem of History. They have bequeathed to us great works of art in their historical compositions, but no philosophical establishment of History as a Science. That mankind, though existing from all eternity, long failed to attain to much of the higher civilization, was explained by elementary occurrences, such as earthquakes, floods, and the like. On the other hand Christian philosophy regarded History with its vicissitudes as the realization of, or the preparation for, the kingdom of God upon the earth. Now Ibn Khaldûn was the first to endeavour,--with full consciousness and in a statement amply substantiated,--to derive the development of human society from proximate causes. The conditions of race, climate, production of commodities, and so on, are discussed, and are set forth in their effect upon the sensuous and intellectual constitution of man and of society. In the course which is run by civilization he finds an intimate conformity to Law. He searches everywhere for natural causes, with the utmost completeness which was possible for him. He also asserts his belief that the chain of causes and effects reaches its conclusion in an Ultimate Cause. The series cannot go on without end, and therefore we argue that there is a God. But this deduction, as he calls it, properly means this,--that we are not in a position to become acquainted with all things and the manner of their operation: it is virtually a confession of our ignorance. Conscious ignorance is even a kind of knowledge; but knowledge should be pursued, as far as possible. In clearing the way for his new science,
[paragraph continues] Ibn Khaldûn considers that he has merely indicated the main problems, and merely suggested generally the method and the subject of the science. But he hopes that others will come after him to carry on his investigations and propound fresh problems, with sound understanding and sure knowledge.
Ibn Khaldûn's hope has been realized, but not in Islam. As he was without forerunners, he remained without successors. But yet his work has been of lasting influence in the East. Many Muslim statesmen who, from the fifteenth century onwards, drove so many a European sovereign or diplomatist to despair, had studied in our philosopher's school.
206:1 Ibn Khaldûn speaks only of rich people who have grown poor, and says nothing of the misery of the proletariate, and that which prevails in large cities, as we know it. He lived too in smaller cities, for the most part, and till late in life admired Cairo from a distance.