Sunday, September 2, 2012

Continuity of the Logical Tradition

There is an ancient debate over whether logic is an instrument of scientific inquiry and explanation, or whether it is an actual branch of philosophy, and each of the sides of the debate drew upon Aristotle to support their position. Even when both logic and the range of philosophical disciplines came into the world of Islam, this debate continued and found champions on each side. Whatever one’s position on the question, and its seems that the philosophers (the falāsifa) favoured the study of logic as a integral aspect of linking together the mental world of ideas with the world of language and extra-mental reality (influenced as they were by the approach of Porphyry’s Isagoge a work that linked the study of the Aristotelian organon to his Metaphysics by providing a theory for how words, thoughts and extra-mental 'things' related to one another), once theologians such as al-Ghazālī (d. 1111) had naturalised the study of logic (through works like Miʿyār al-ʿilm) as a key standard for training in fiqhī reasoning, logic (manṭiq) remained a central feature of the curricula of the seminaries. Even today the traditional Shiʿi seminaries in Iran and Iraq drawing upon the mixed curriculum of scriptural and rational disciplines (al-manqūlāt wa-l-maʿqūlāt) and the Sunni seminaries based on the dars-i niẓāmī established in north India in the eighteenth century continue to teach manṭiq and indeed privilege it as a pinnacle of rational learning. Khaled El-Rouayheb’s book, based upon his British Academy funded post-doctoral fellowship at Cambridge, therefore needs to be read within the intellectual history of the course of philosophy in Islam. 

While it is a specific study of relational inferences (the central feature of the Aristotelian syllogistic), it is also a contribution to the continuing vibrancy of intellectual inquiry beyond the medieval golden age and in fact perpetuates the new approach to the study of Islamic philosophy that argues for an actual golden age of thought that was located in the early modern period – and here the insistence is upon Ottoman and Mughal logicians exemplifying this. It is therefore a challenge to the common notion of an intellectual decline, often associated with studies of Ottoman intellectual history. As a study of the history of logic in Islam, it builds upon and extends the earlier work of Nicholas Rescher (who famously argued that there is nothing to consider in post-fourteenth century logic, a point that El-Rouayheb disproves), and more recently, Tony Street, neither of whom really consider the post-classical or post-thirteenth century traditions. An important corollary of El-Rouayheb’s argument further Robert Wisnovsky’s insight about the vibrant nature of commentary culture in Islam, the focus now of a Mellon project directed by Jon McGinnis and Asad Ahmed at St Louis. A second corollary is to challenge the standard account now that philosophical inquiry came to an end in the Sunni seminary with Averroes but continued only in the Shiʿi seminaries until the present day: El-Rouayheb provides plenty of evidence for the vibrancy of logical thought in Sunni seminaries into the modern period – and as studies of the Indian madrasa will show, creativity in metaphysics and natural philosophy similarly continued into the colonial period.

The work is divided into seven chapters and a conclusion with a useful appendix charting the significant figures discussed in the book and a glossary of logical terms – essential given the lack of any serious consensus on how best to render the technical vocabulary, and useful even for those interested in metaphysical and philosophical theological works that extensively use the same terms. The progression through the work is chronological. The first chapter begins with the classical period from al-Fārābī to Suhrawardī, with a focus upon Avicenna, as he was the only one to deal with a classic anomaly of the syllogism of equality [A is equal to B, B is equal to C, therefore A is equal to C]. As in many other areas of philosophy, the later traditions of thought are responses to the pivotal contributions made by Avicenna. The second considers the development in the age of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī and Khūnjī (whose Kashf al-asrār El-Rouayheb recently edited and published in Tehran). The third moves onto the commentary culture both in North Africa and in the East leading up to the Mughal-Safavid period and establishes the fundamental school texts.  The fourth considers together the Christian-Arabic tradition, the Indian and the Iranian up until the twentieth century. The fifth and sixth chapters move to the Ottoman context, and focuses upon Gelenbevī and the logic of unfamiliar syllogisms, and the final considers whether the late Ottoman tradition was in decline. Much of the volume therefore is concerned with developments in Ottoman thought – and Asad Ahmed’s forthcoming work on logic in India will be a good complement to this study. Part of the focus on the Ottoman is ventured because of the author’s suggestion that it was in that tradition that one finds a more fruitful engagement with the syllogisms of equality than in the Iranian or the India. There is still much to do on logic in the Iranian and Indian East after the 14th century as El-Rouayheb himself acknowledges, with the only serious work conducted specifically on the liar’s paradox (subhat al-jadhr al-aṣamm) by Ahad Faramarz Qaramaleki focusing upon the contribution of Shirazi philosophers of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries.

El-Rouayheb’s book makes a serious contribution to Islamic intellectual history, to our understanding of the course of Islamic philosophy, and to the debate about Ottoman decline. It accounts for a particular case study – and one could easily select another aspect of, for example, modal logic, or elements of metaphysics or even discussion about motion and time and trace them through history to demonstrate that the old myths about the unnatural position of philosophical inquiry in Islam really do need to be put to rest. 

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