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AL-FARABI BOOK OF LETTERS ابونصر محمد بن محمد فارابی(Kit~b al-H urãf) PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 10 December 2014 13:34

X - Alfarabi: Book of Letters





Alfarabi Book of Letters[1]

Translated by Muhsin Mahdi and Charles E. Butterworth




Al-Fārābı ̄, in the Kitā b al-H*urūf , is apparently the first person to maintain that existence, in one of its senses, is a second-order concept [ma‘qūlthānı]. As he interprets Metaphysics , ‘‘being’’ [mawjūd] has two meanings, second-order ‘‘being as truth’’ ( including existence as well as propositional truth ), and first-order ‘‘being as divided into the categories.’’ The paronymous form of the Arabic word ‘‘mawjūd’’ suggests that things exist through some existence [wujūd] distinct from their essences: for al-Kindı ̄, God is such a wujūd of all things. Against this, al-Fārābı ̄ argues that existence as divided into the categories is real but identical with the essence of the existing thing, and that existence as truth is extrinsic to the essence but non-real ( being merely the fact that some concept is instantiated ). The H*urūf tries to reconstruct the logical syntax of syncategorematic or transcendental concepts such as being, which are often expressed in misleading grammatical forms.

Al-Fārābı ̄ thinks that Greek more appropriately expressed many such concepts, including being, by particles rather than nouns or verbs; he takes Metaphysics to be discussing the meanings of such particles ( comparable to the logical constants of an ideal language ), and he takes these concepts to demarcate the domain of metaphysics. This explains how al-Fārābı̄’s title can mean both ‘‘Book of Particles’’ and ‘‘Aristotle’s Metaphysics.





Part Two


[The Origin of Language, Philosophy, and Religion]


[Chapter XIX. Religion and philosophy are spoken of as being prior and being subsequent]

 108. Because demonstrations are such that they are noticed only after these [dialectical and sophistical arguments], it follows that the faculties for dialectic, sophistry, and presumed philosophy or fanciful philosophy were prior to certain – namely, demonstrative – philosophy in time. If religion is set down as something human, then it is on the whole subsequent to philosophy in time; for by it one seeks to teach the multitude the theoretical and practical things inferred in philosophy, but by means of the ways that bring about an understanding of that – by means of persuasion, imagining, or both together.


109. The arts of theology[2] and jurisprudence are subsequent to religion in time and dependent on it. Whenever religion depends on ancient presumed or fanciful philosophy, the corresponding theology and jurisprudence that depend on it will conform to, or be even lower than, the two types of philosophy.[3]

This is especially so if it leaves out the things it adopted from the two [types of philosophy], or from one of them, and replaces them with images and likenesses of them, and if the art of theology takes those likenesses and images as though they themselves are true and certain and seeks to validate them with arguments.

Moreover, it may happen that a subsequent lawgiver,[4] in legislating about theoretical things imitates a lawgiver who was prior to him and had adopted theoretical matters from a presumed or fanciful philosophy. He adopts the likenesses and images by which the first lawgiver made it imagined that what he had adopted from that philosophy was true and not likenesses. And he seeks to make them imagined [132] as well by means of likenesses that make those things imagined. Now if the practitioner of theology adopts those likenesses in his religion as though they are true, then what the art of theology in this religion looks into is further from what is true than in the first case. For there what was sought was only to validate an image of something presumed to be true or fancied as being true.


110. It is evident that the arts of theology and jurisprudence are subsequent to religion and religion is subsequent to philosophy, whereas the faculty for dialectic and sophistry is prior to philosophy and dialectical and sophistical philosophy are prior to demonstrative philosophy. Thus philosophy as a whole is prior to religion in the way the one who uses instruments is prior to the instruments in time, the faculty for dialectic and for sophistry is prior to philosophy in the way the tree being nourished is prior to the fruit or in the way the blossom of the tree is prior to the fruit, and religion is prior to theology and jurisprudence in the way the ruler who uses a servant is prior to the servant and the one who uses an instrument is prior to the instrument.


111. Since religion teaches theoretical things by means of evoking images and persuasion, and those who depend on it are not cognizant of any method of teaching other than these two, it appears that the art of theology depending on religion takes note only of persuasive things and thus validates anything theoretical only by means of persuasive methods and arguments – especially when the intention is to validate images of what is true as though they were themselves true. Persuasion comes about only through premises that are generally approved and generally accepted according to unexamined opinion, through enthymemes and examples, and on the whole through rhetorical methods – whether these are arguments or external matters.

The theologian[5] is therefore limited to validating theoretical things according to what is common with respect to unexamined opinion. So he has this in common with the multitude. However, he sometimes scrutinizes unexamined opinion as well; yet he scrutinizes unexamined opinion only by means of some other thing that is unexamined opinion as well. At most, his scrutiny of that opinion succeeds in making it as reliable as one that is dialectical. So in this respect, he sets himself apart somewhat from the multitude. Moreover, he sets down as his goal in life what can be acquired through the art of theology. So in this, too, he sets himself apart from the multitude.

Moreover, since [133] he is a servant of religion, and the status of religion with respect to philosophy is that status, the relationship of theology to philosophy also becomes, in a certain way, that of a servant, likewise through the intermediary of religion. For, in order to attain to a teaching common to all, it defends and seeks to validate, by means of what is generally accepted by all according to unexamined opinion, what was originally validated by demonstrations in philosophy. So in this, too, he sets himself apart from the multitude.

For this reason, it is presumed that he is one of the elect, not one of the multitude. It ought to be known that he is one of the elect also, but only in relation to the adepts of that religion, whereas the philosopher’s being [one of the] elect is in relation to all men and to [all] nations.


112. The jurist is similar to the prudent man; they differ only in the principles they employ to infer the correct opinion with respect to particular practical things. That is because the jurist employs as principles only premises adopted and generally received from the founder of the religion[6] with respect to particular practical things, whereas the prudent man employs as principles premises that are generally accepted by all and premises he has attained through experience. For this reason, the jurist becomes one of the elect in relation to a particular religion, while the prudent man becomes one of the elect in relation to all.


113. Therefore, the elect who are unqualifiedly so are the philosophers who are unqualifiedly philosophers. The rest of those who are reckoned among the elect are so reckoned only because they have a similarity to the philosophers. For instance, everyone who is put in charge of political ruler ship or takes it upon himself, is qualified to take it upon himself, or is disposed to take it upon himself considers himself one of the elect. Thus, he has a certain similarity to the philosophers in asmuchas the practical ruling art is one of the parts of philosophy.

Likewise, among the adepts of each practical art, he who is skilled considers himself to be among the elect because he has exhaustively scrutinized what the adepts of that art adopt on the basis of appearance. Further, not only does the skilled adept of every art call himself by this name, [134] but sometimes the adepts of every practical art call themselves “elect” in relation to someone who is not an adept of that art. For he discusses and looks into his art only by means of things particular to his art, while the others discuss and look into it only by means of unexamined opinion and by means of what is common to everyone in all the arts. Moreover, physicians call themselves “elect,” too, either because they have taken upon themselves the governance of seriously sick invalids, because their art has natural science in common with philosophy, because they need to scrutinize the unexamined opinions present in their art more exhaustively than happens in the rest of the arts on account of the danger and harm that may befall people from the slightest error on their part, or because the art of medicine turns to its service many of the practical arts such as the arts of cooking and chilling[7] and in general the arts beneficial to human health.



So in all of these arts there is a similarity to philosophy in a particular way. Yet not one of these people ought to be called “elect” except metaphorically. To be set down as elect first of all with respect to unqualified goodness are the philosophers, then the dialecticians and sophists, then the lawgivers, and then the theologians and jurists. The vulgar and the multitude are those we defined, regardless of whether or not there is among them someone who takes political rulership upon himself or is qualified to take it upon himself.


[XX. The Emergence of a Nation’s Letters and Utterances]


114. It is evident that the vulgar and the multitude are earlier in time than the elect. Commonly shared cognitions that are the unexamined opinions held by all are earlier in time than the practical arts and than the cognitions that are particularly characteristic of each of these arts: taken together, these comprise the ordinary cognitions. The vulgar and the multitude are the first to emerge and come into being. 

They live in a definite abode and country. With respect to their bodies, they are constituted and created according to definite forms. Their bodies have definite qualities [135] and temperaments. Their souls are disposed and directed toward cognitions, concepts, and imaginations in measures made definite according to quantity and quality. So these will be easier for them [to acquire] than others. And their souls are affected in ways and measures made definite according to quantity and quality. So these will be easier for them [to acquire than others]. And their limbs are disposed soto move more easily in particular directions and ways than in other directions and ways.


115. When a human being is left to himself from when he is first constituted, he embarks on and moves toward the thing to which, by his constitution, it is easier for him to move and according to the kind of movement that is easier for him. His soul will embark upon knowing, thinking about, forming a concept of, imagining, or intellecting everything for which, by his constitution, he has a more intense and greater disposition. For this is what is easiest for him. And he will move his body and his limbs in the direction and according to the kind of movement for which, by his constitution, he has a more intense, greater, and more perfect disposition. For this is also what is easiest for him. When he first does one of these things, he does it by means of a faculty that is in him by his constitution and by a natural state, not by an earlier habituation [that he had] before that and not through art. When he repeats an action of the same kind many times, a habitual state emerges in him [that is] either moral or technical.


116. If he needs to make others aware of what is in his mind or of his inner intention, he will first use a gesture to signify what he has in mind and what he wants from whomever he is seeking to make understand [something], so long as the one to whom he seeks to pass on that understanding is situated so as to see his gesture. After that he will use speech-sound. The first speech-sound to be used is direct address, for by this he alerts the one to whom he seeks to pass on understanding that he is the one intended for that understanding [136] rather than someone else. That occurs when he restricts himself to signifying what he has in mind by means of a gesture about sense perceptions that are in his mind.

Then after that he uses different speech-sounds by each of which he signifies one of the things he signified by gesturing to it or to sense perceptions of it, so that he establishes for each definite thing gestured to some definite speech-sound and does not use that speech-sound for anything else. This will be the case in every instance.


117. It is apparent that these speech-sounds result from rapping the inhaled air against one or more parts of the pharynx or against one of the interior parts of the mouth and the nose or the lips; for these are the organs that are rapped with the inhaled air. That which raps is, in the first place, the force that makes the inhaled air flow from the lung and the cavity of the throat by stages to the extremity of the throat that is next to the mouth and the nose and to [the space] between the lips. Then the tongue catches that air-stream and pushes it against one or the other interior part of the mouth, against one or the other part at the base of the teeth and against the teeth. It raps that particular part with the air-stream; and from each part against which the tongue pushes the air-stream and on which it raps with it, a definite speech-sound emerges. The tongue carries it by means of the air-stream from one part to another inside the mouth, and many successive and definite speech-sounds emerge.


118. It is apparent that the tongue at first moves only to that part to which it is easier for it to move. The tongues of those who live in the same place and whose organs are approximate in character are so constituted as to have precisely the same kinds of movements to certain parts inside the mouth, and these are easier for them than movements to other parts. And if the character and temperaments of the organs of people who live in another place or country are different from the character of the organs of the former, they are so constituted that it is easier for them to move their tongues to other parts inside the mouth than to move them to the parts to which the people who live in the other place move their tongues. Hence the speech-sounds that they set down as signs for signifying to one another what they have in mind will differ from the sense perceptions they would formerly gesture to. This [137] is the first reason for the languages of nations being different. For these first speech-sounds are the alphabetical letters.[8]


119. Given that these letters will be limited in number when first set down as signs, they are not sufficient to signify everything [the speakers] happen to have in mind. Thus they will be compelled to combine them with one another by having one letter follow the other, at which point utterances consisting of two [or more] letters each will be formed. They will use these also as signs of other things. Hence the first letters and utterances will be signs of sense perceptions to which one can gesture or of intelligible that rest upon sense perceptions to which one can gesture - for to every universal intelligible belong individuals that are not the individuals belonging to another intelligible. Many different [simple and complex]speech-sounds will emerge, some of which are signs of sense perceptions - these are appellations of concretes - while others signify universal intelligible that have perceptible individuals belonging to them. One begins to understand that this or that speech-sound signifies this or that intelligible when precisely the same speech-sound recurs with respect to a particular individual and with respect to everything that is similar to that intelligible, and then another speech-sound is used with respect to another individual subordinate to another particular intelligible and with respect to everything else that has something similar to that [other] intelligible.


[XXI. The Beginning and Perfection of a Nation’s Language]

120. In this way, then, the letters of a nation and the utterances generated from those letters first emerge. This is done at first by any chance person among them. Thus it happens that one of them will use a speech-sound or an utterance to signify something, and the listener will retain that. The listener will then use precisely that [speech-sound or utterance]when addressing the one who was the first to construct that utterance: the first listener will have emulated the latter and so wins his approval. Thus the two of them will have adopted that utterance and reached an agreement about it. They will then address others with it until it spreads among a group. [138]Then, whenever something emerges in the mind of one of these humans that he needs to make someone else close to him understand, he will contrive a [complex] speech-sound, communicate[9] it to his companion, and hear him repeat it.

So each one of the two will retain it, and they will both set it down as a [complex] speech-sound signifying that thing. The [complex] speech-sounds go on emerging one after the other by means of any chance inhabitant of that country until someone emerges who governs their affairs and devotes himself to making emerge the [complex] speech-sounds they need for the remaining matters that no one among them happened to signify by speech-sounds. He, then, will be the one who sets down the language of that nation. Those who govern their affairs will go on taking turns in doing this until utterances are set down for everything they need for the necessities of life.


121. This occurs first for the common sense perceptions of theoretical matters they are already aware of through unexamined common opinion and through sense perception, such as the sky, planets, earth, and what is in it; then for what they infer from that; then, after that, the activities resulting from the faculties they possess by natural make-up; and then for the states, whether moral habits or art, that are attained through habituation in those activities and for the activities resulting from these states after they are attained through habituation; then, after that, for the matters common to all of them that they become aware of step by step through experience and for what is inferred from what they have become aware of through experience; then, after that, the things - instruments and so forth - that are particularly characteristic of each one of the practical arts; [and] then for what is uncovered and found through each art- until everything that nation needs is encompassed.


122. Now if the natural make-up of [the people of] this nation is moderate and tends towards acumen and knowledge, they will search - by means of their natural make-up, not by design -to make the utterances that [139] are set down to signify meanings represent the meanings and to make them bear a closer resemblance to the meanings and to what exists. And by means of their natural make-up, their souls will be moved to try to organize these utterances in accordance with the organization of the meanings as far as utterances allow. Thus they will endeavour to bring the conditions of the utterances close to what resembles the conditions of the meanings. If this is not done by some chance person among them, those who govern their affairs will do so in the utterances they legislate.


123. It becomes evident from the very beginning that there are percepts here that are apprehended by perception, that these percepts contain things that are similar and things that are dissimilar, and that similar percepts are similar in virtue of one intelligible meaning they share in common, which is characteristic common to all similar things and is intellected in each of them even as it is intellected in the other. Let this intelligible be called “predicated of many,” “universal,” and “general meaning.” The percept itself, on the other hand, is every unique meaning, which is not a characteristic common to number of things, and no two things at all are similar by virtue of it. Let [such things] be called “individuals” and “concretes.” Let all universals be called “genera” and “species.” Some utterances, then, are utterances that signify genera and species and, in general, universals, while others are utterances that signify concretes and individuals. Universal meanings have a hierarchy of generality and specificity. As the people seek to have utterances bear a resemblance to meanings, they will make the expression that stands for one meaning that covers many things, precisely the same utterance covering these many things; for meanings that are hierarchical in generality and specificity there will be utterances that are hierarchical in generality and specificity; and for meanings that are dissimilar, utterances that are dissimilar. Just as among meanings there are those that remain precisely the same while their coincidences change successively, similarly, utterances are made to have letters that remain fixed and other letters [that change], as though the latter letters were changing coincidences of precisely the same utterance, each [140] changing letter standing for some changing coincidence. Thus if the same meaning persists and its coincidences change successively, the expression will be made the same utterance that persists [in its basic letters], together with changing letters each of which signifies one of the modifications. If meanings are similar due to a certain common coincidence or condition, they will be expressed through utterances that have similar patterns and similar suffixes and prefixes, and all their suffixes or prefixes will be made a single letter, which is made to signify that coincidence. In this way one constantly searches for a way to organize utterances with a view to expressing certain meanings with utterances that are similar to those meanings.


124. The endeavor to search for organization and make utterances similar to meanings will reach the point that the same utterance will be made to signify essentially dissimilar meanings when they are similar by virtue of something else, and to represent them even though [the thing by virtue of which they are similar] is only remotely connected with them - thus “ambiguous” utterances emerge.


125. In addition, we can not only make utterances similar to meanings and imitate meanings by means of utterances when dealing with utterances that express those meanings, but we can also imitate meanings by means of utterances when dealing with utterances that are not used to express those meanings. Thus one seeks to have certain utterances, as utterances, cover many things [which will then have only the name in common] in the same way that there are meanings that cover [many] things and have many meanings. Thus “equivocal” utterances emerge: these are equivocal utterances none of which signifies an equivocal meaning. Similarly, one will have certain utterances that, as utterances, are dissimilar [but signify the same thing] in the same way that there are meanings that are dissimilar. Thus “synonymous” utterances result.


126. Precisely the same thing occurs when utterances are combined, so that the combination of utterances becomes similar to the combination of combined meanings signified by those combined utterances. Certain [141] things will be established in combined utterances that connect them one to the other when the utterances signify combined meanings connected one to the other. And one will try to make the arrangement of utterances correspond to the arrangement of meanings in the soul.


127. When utterances are used regularly for the meanings for which they were established as signs - one utterance for one meaning, many utterances for one meaning, or one utterance for many meanings - and become fixed for the meanings whose essences they were made to signify, people will begin to use utterances to express themselves by way of license and trope. Thus a meaning will be expressed by a name other than the one originally established for it; and the name that stood for a certain meanings, was fixed for it, and signified its essence will be made to express something else when that other thing has some connection with the former - even if the connection is slight, either due to a remote similarity or due to something else -without the name becoming fixed to signify the latter’s essence. This is when there will emerge (1) metaphors; (2) tropes; (3)omission (a) by using the utterance that stands for a certain meaning and not stating explicitly the utterance that stands for a second meaning when the latter is understood from the former, and (b) by stating explicitly the utterances that stand for a number of meanings and not stating explicitly utterances that stand for other meanings normally connected with the former, when the latter can be understood as a result of understanding the former; (4) extending the range of the expression through the proliferation of utterances, and substituting some of them for others, and arranging and embellishing them. This is when there begin to emerge first rhetorical and then gradually poetical [modes of expression].


128. The youngsters grow up developing the habit of pronouncing their [nation’s] letters, utterances generated from them, and sentences composed of these utterances, in such a way that they do not violate their own habitual way nor depart from anything they have become accustomed to using. Their psychical and linguistic habituation establishes all this firmly so that they know nothing else and so that their tongues avoid every utterance other than these, every patterning of these utterances other than the patterning that is firmly established among them, and every arrangement of sentences other than the ones they have become accustomed to using. Utterances that are firmly established [142] on their tongues and in their souls by habit -as acquired from their elders, who acquired it again from their elders, and these acquired it again from their elders, who acquired it finally from those who had originally coined the utterances for these people, [each generation successively] perfecting the original coinage - these utterances of theirs are correct and right; they constitute the idiom of the nation; whereas utterances of theirs that disagree with these are incorrect and wrong.

[XXII. The Origin of the Ordinary Arts]


129. It is evident that the meanings understood by these people are all rhetorical, since all of them are based on unexamined opinion; their premises, utterances, and sentences are all at first rhetorical also. Rhetorical means, then, are the very first things to arrive. With the passage of time, incidents occur requiring them to [fashion] speeches and parts of speeches. These continue to develop gradually until, of the syllogistic arts, the art of rhetoric first emerges in their midst. With its growth, or after its growth, there begins the use of the meanings’ paradigms and images as means of making them understood or as substitutes for them, and so poetical meanings emerge. This use continues to grow little by little until gradually poetry is created. Of the syllogistic arts, the art of poetry develops in their midst owing to the human being’s natural inclination to seek out order and organization in everything; for utterances’ rhythms give them a certain ornament, harmony, and organization in relation to the [length of] time it takes to utter them. So with the passage of time there develops also the art of poetry. Thus there develop in their midst these two syllogistic arts [of rhetoric and poetry] which are two [of the three] syllogistic arts that are meant for everyone.


130. [143] Furthermore, they extend the range of speeches and poems and use them to narrate historical reports about past and current affairs they need [to preserve]. Thus oral transmitters of speeches and oral transmitters of poems emerge in their midst as well as those who memorize the historical reports narrated in these forms. These persons will be the ones who use correct language in that nation and its eloquent persons: they become that nation’s first wise men, the ones who govern it, and those to whom recourse is had concerning the language of that nation.

     They are the persons also who combine for that nation utterances previously not combined and establish these as synonyms for current utterances. They make extensive and frequent use of this [process], developing uncommon utterances familiar to themselves, which they learn from one another and which every generation of them adopts on the authority of its elders. Along with this, they turn also to matters that fall under a certain genus or species, yet do not happen to have been named: sometimes they notice certain coincidences and contrive names for them. Similarly, they turn to things for which there was not urgent need and on that account did not happen to have names, and they combine [utterances to make] names for them. Aside from them, the rest of that nation is not familiar with these names; thus all of this will be uncommon. These, then, are the persons who reflect on this nation’s utterances and correct those of them that are defective. They look for what was difficult [144] to pronounce the way it was first coined, making it easier to pronounce; for what is unpleasant to the ear, making it pleasant to hear. And [they look] for what becomes (1) difficult to pronounce when placed in certain combinations – a difficulty the originators did not notice and could not be familiar with because it did not arise in their time - or (2)unpleasant to the ear, and they resort to remedies in both cases till they make the former easier to pronounce and the latter pleasing to hear. They look for the various classes of combinations and arrangements that are possible in their utterances, consider which of them more perfectly signify the combination and arrangement of the meanings in the soul, pick these out and draw attention to them, and leave aside the rest, not using them except when necessity demands.

    At this point this nation’s utterances become more correct than they were, and the idiom and language of this nation is now perfected. Then the youngster adopts these things on the authority of his elders just as he hears them from his elders. He grows up with them and, along with his contemporaries, becomes accustomed to them until they are so firmly established in him that he avoids pronouncing any but the most correct utterances. The succeeding generations memorize the speeches and poems, and the historical reports and moral teachings contained in them, that were current among their predecessors.

131. They will continue to transmit from memory until what they want to memorize becomes extensive and unwieldy. This makes it necessary for them to think of some way to make the transmission easier for themselves. Thus writing is discovered. At first it will be jumbled and then it is improved gradually with the passage of time: it is made to imitate, resemble, and come as close as possible to [spoken] utterances, in the same way as [spoken] utterances were treated earlier and made to resemble the meanings as closely as was possible. They will then use it to record in books what they find difficult to memorize, and what risks being forgotten with the passage of time, what they seek to preserve for their descendants, and what they seek to teach to, and have understood by, those who are far away from them in another country or habitation.132. [145] Then after that the art of the knowledge of language begins to emerge little by little. Some human being will desire to memorize the single significant utterances [of the language] after having memorized the poems, speeches, and composite sentences. He will try to isolate the utterances after they have been combined. Or, he may wish to gather them up by hearing them from a large number of people and from those who are well known for using the most correct utterances in everything they say, who have labored to memorize their speeches, poems, and historical reports, or who have heard these from the latter. Thus he will hear the utterances from each of these individuals over a long time and write down everything he hears from them and memorize it.


    133. It may therefore be necessary that one know who [the speakers] are on whose authority he ought to receive that nation’s language. So we say: it ought to be received on the authority of those whose linguistic and psychical habits have become so firmly established with the passage of time that they avoid imagining or pronouncing letters other than their own and avoid imagining or pronouncing utterances other than those combined from letters that are their own, who heard none but their own language and idiom, or heard them but their minds avoided imagining them and their tongues avoided pronouncing them. As for the ones whose tongues are pliable for pronouncing any letter they wanted foreign to their own letters, any utterance they wanted combined from letters other than their own, and any sentence they wanted composed of utterances other than their own, they run the risk of saying things in a way foreign to the habits originally established among them and become accustomed to this way of saying things. Thus, the way they express themselves becomes foreign to the way their nation expresses itself: it will be wrong, ungrammatical, and incorrect. If additionally they have associated with foreign nations and heard their languages or pronounced them, they will be even more likely to make mistakes and they run the risk of picking up the habit of not following the idiom of the nation to which they belong. Similarly, if those who used to avoid pronouncing and imagining [146] the letters and utterances of other nations - that is, who used to avoid what they had not been habituated to doing in the first place, to violating the patterns and declensions of their own utterances - associate frequently with other nations and hear their letters and utterances, they too run the risk of having their [original] speech habit change and what they hear from others establish itself in them so that there comes a point where one cannot rely on what one hears from them.


     134. In every nation the inhabitants of the desert who dwell in large tents of hair or wool and in small tents and in huts constructed of tree branches are too rude and less likely to abandon their established habits. Their souls are more likely to avoid imagining and their tongues pronouncing the letters and utterances of other nations. And other nations are less likely to associate with them on account of their wildness and savagery.

The inhabitants of towns and villages and mud houses, on the other hand, are more adaptable. Their souls are more open to understand and conceive of and imagine, and their tongues more ready to comply in pronouncing, that to which they have not become habituated. Therefore when the nation consists of these two groups, it is best that the idioms of the nation be received on the authority of the desert-dwellers. From among these, one should seek out the people who live in the middle of their land; for those who live on the borders are more likely to associate with neighboring nations, so that their idioms become jumbled with the idioms of the latter; or else [they are more likely] to fancy the barbarism of their neighbors. For when they do business with their neighbors, the latter will need to converse in an idiom strange to their own tongues, their tongues will not yield to many of its letters, and so they will resort to expressing the letters that come easily to them, leaving aside what they find difficult. Consequently, their own utterances will be incorrect and will exhibit a strange element and barbarousness taken over from their neighbors’ idioms. When they keep on hearing what is wrong from these neighboring nations and become accustomed to understanding it as if it were right, they risk changing their [speech] habits. Therefore it is not proper to receive a nations’s idiom on the authority of these people. When a nation has no desert-dwellers, its idiom is to be received on the authority of those who dwell in the very central part of its land.


135. [147] You will realize all this clearly when you consider the situation of the Arabs in these things: for they comprise those who dwell in deserts as well as those who dwell in cities and villages. It is when the Arabs settled in cities that they began to develop their language as an art - which process occupied them, for the most part, from the year ninety to the year two hundred of their calender.0.5.

The persons who attended to it were inhabitants of the Arab cities of Kufa and Basra in the land of Iraq. They transmitted their idiom and its correct usages from the desert-dwellers rather than from the towns people, more particularly from those desert dwellers who lived in the central part of their land, and from among these, the wildest and rudest, and furthest from submission and compliance - that is,[the tribes of] Qays, Tamim, Asad, and Tayy, and then Hudhayl; for it was largely on the authority of these tribes that the Arabic language was transmitted. Nothing was received on the authority of the rest because they lived on the borders of the Arabs’ land, had associated with other nations, and their tongues had become adapted to complying easily with the utterances of the other nations surrounding them, such as the Ethiopians, Indians, Persians,  Syriac speakers, and the people of Syria and the people of Egypt.


136. So [to return to the development of the art of a people’s language], at first the single utterances used by them are to be received until all of them, uncommon as well as current, are collected and memorized or written down, and subsequently all the combinations of utterances used by them in both poems and speeches. Then after that the person who inquires into utterances will begin to reflect on which of these two are similar as single utterances or when combined, and ascertain the different classes of similar utterances, that by virtue of which they are similar in each class, and the concomitances of each class. At this point the utterances’ general [characteristics] and general rules emerge in his soul. For these general [characteristics] of utterances and rules of utterances that have emerged in his soul, one will need utterances with which to express them so that it becomes possible to teach and learn them. At this point one will have to do one of two things: either be inventive and combine letters into utterances that have not been spoken at all before, or transfer - either [148] haphazardly and for no reason, or for a particular reason - some of the utterances that they had used before to signify other meanings. Both of these procedures are possible and in common use, but it is best that one calls the rules by the names of the [primitive]meanings that are most similar to them - by finding out for each one of the rules of utterances a primitive meaning that is most similar to it and calling that general [characteristic] or that rule by the name of this primitive meaning - till in this fashion one calls all those general [characteristics] and rules by the names of similar primitive meanings for which people had names already.


137. Thus they encompass their language and idiom by an art that can be learnt and taught through speech, and it becomes even possible to give reasons for everything they say. The same is true of the scripts they have been using to write their utterances. If there are general [characteristics] and rules concerning them, all these are ascertained and names are sought for all of them so that they can be articulated and it becomes possible to teach and learn them through speech. The utterances that now express those rules will be utterances that are in their secondary setting, while the original utterances were utterances that had been in their primitive setting - that is, utterances that are in their secondary setting are transferred from the meanings they had originally signified.


138. So now they will have five arts: the art of rhetoric, the art of poetry, the capacity for memorizing their historical reports and their poems and of transmitting them orally, the art of the knowledge of their language, and the art of writing. Rhetoric is the excellence of persuading the multitude about things in which the multitude deal, using their limited notions, premises that are generally approved by the multitude on the basis of unexamined opinion, and utterances in their primitive setting as the multitude is accustomed to use them. The poetical art projects images through speech about precisely these things. The art of the knowledge of language comprises only utterances in their primitive setting that signify meanings with which the multitude are familiar and in which they deal, and utterances in their secondary setting by which the meanings and rules[mentioned above] are expressed. The art of writing, too, is the art through which [written] utterances that signify precisely these meanings are marked accurately and preserved.


139. [149] Therefore those who engage in [these five arts]are to be counted with the multitude, for none of them is concerned in his art with anything theoretical nor with any part of the art that rules all the arts in the strict sense. They may well have rulers and ruling arts: the latter are the arts with which one gets to govern their affairs - either an art that serves them by looking after the arts they practice so that each one many attain his purpose from the art he practices and not be obstructed from his purpose, or an art with which their ruler employs them in their arts so that they may attain their [common]purpose from their arts or with which he employs them in their arts so that through them he may attain his purpose and what he craves for himself, such as wealth or honor. His status in relation to them will be the same as the status of someone who rules over agricultural workers in that he has the ability to excel in making efficient use of agricultural workers and to excel in counseling them about agriculture in order that they may attain their purpose from the various sorts of work they do in agriculture or in order that through the various sorts of work they do in agriculture he himself may attain his purpose and what he seeks. This is how he, too, is counted as one of them. The ruler of the multitude and the person who governs their affairs acts in a similar way when he employs them in the particular practical arts, serves them by looking after their arts for them, and in general employs them in those arts for their own sake or for his, or for the benefit of both. Thus he too, is one of them; for his ultimate purpose is their purpose also. His art, then, is precisely their art in genus and species, except that it is the highest in that genus or species. The rulers of the multitude who serve them by looking after the things by virtue of which they are a multitude and employ them in the things by virtue of which they are a multitude are, then, themselves of the multitude when the ruler’s purpose in serving them by looking after those arts and employing them in those arts is the same as their purpose. Whether this is to be attained for himself alone or is to be attained for all of them, he is one of them. The rulers of the multitude who are of this sort are, then, also part of the multitude. This is just another one of the arts of the multitude. It, too, is an ordinary art, except that those who practice it and engage in it count themselves among the elect. The kings of the multitude are, then, also of the multitude.


[XXIII. The Origin of the Syllogistic Arts among the Nations]


140. [150] After the practical arts and all the ordinary arts that we mentioned are completed, human souls desire to become familiar with the causes of perceptible matters in the earth, on it, and surrounding it, and of everything that is perceived and appears in the heavens, and to become familiar with many matters discovered by the practical arts, such as figures, numbers, visual rays reflected from smooth surfaces, colors, and so forth. Thus there will grow up those who will explore the reasons for these things. At first they will use rhetorical methods to investigate these things and to validate, on their own, opinions about them, and to teach others what they validate in their exploration, because these are the syllogistic methods of which they became aware to begin with. Thus there will emerge the investigation of mathematical and natural matters.


141. Those who inquire into these matters will continue to use rhetorical methods and, consequently, will hold diverse opinions and doctrines. They will frequently discuss with one another and question each other about the opinions that each one has validated on his own. Whenever one of them faces an opponent who contradicts the opinion he holds, he will need to secure the methods he is using and try to make them such that they cannot be contradicted or are difficult to contradict. They will continue to make an earnest effort and seek out firmer and firmer methods until after a time they recognize dialectical methods. They distinguish dialectical methods [151] from sophistical methods whereas previously they used both indiscriminately because both partook of and were mixed with rhetorical methods. Rhetorical methods will then be rejected and dialectical ones will be used. Because sophistical methods appear to be similar to dialectical ones, many people will use sophistical methods to investigate and validate opinions. Then inquiry into, and investigation and validation of, theoretical matters ends up being dialectical, and sophistical methods will be discarded and used only when one is put to the test.


142. Thus dialectical methods will continue to be employed until dialectical discussions are perfected. Then the application of dialectical methods will make it clear that dialectical discussions are not yet sufficient to attain certainty. At this point the investigation of the methods of instruction and of the certain science will emerge. In the meantime people will have recognized mathematical methods, and these will have become almost perfect or come close to perfection. Along with this, the difference between dialectical methods and the certain methods will become visible to them and the two will be distinguished somewhat. Further, along with this people will turn to the science of political affairs - that is, things whose principle is will and choice - which they investigate with dialectical methods mixed with methods that lead to certainty - dialectical methods having become as firm as possible, to the point of being almost scientific. This continues until the condition of philosophy comes to be what it was in the time of Plato.


143. Then all this will be debated until the affair ends up as it ended up in the days of Aristotle. Scientific inquiry into the distinguishing marks of all the methods will then reach its goal; [152] theoretical philosophy, as well as general practical philosophy, will be perfected, with no room left in them for investigation. Hence philosophy will become an art that is only learned and taught. It will be taught through one sort of instruction meant for the elect and another sort of instruction that is common and meant for all. The instruction meant for the elect takes place with demonstrative methods only, while the common instruction, which is for everyone, takes place with dialectical, rhetorical, or poetical methods. However, rhetorical and poetical methods are more likely to be used in teaching the multitude theoretical and practical things that have been settled and validated by demonstration.


144. After all these things, there will be need to set down laws and to instruct the multitude in the theoretical matters that have been discovered, treated fully, and validated by demonstration, and in the practical matters that have been discovered by the faculty of prudence. The art of setting down laws requires the ability to excel in imaging forth such theoretical intelligibles that are difficult for the multitude to conceive, to excel in discovering each one of the political activities useful for the attainment of happiness, and to excel in using all the means of persuasion about the theoretical and practical matters that are appropriate to teach to the multitude. If laws dealing with these two classes [namely, the theoretical and the practical] are set down, and the means of persuading, instructing, and forming the character of the multitude are added to them, then a religion [milla] will have been realized by which the multitude is taught, its character is formed, and it is made to do everything with which to achieve happiness.


145. If after that a group of people emerges who reflect on the contents of the religion, including some who take the particular practical things that the founder stated explicitly in that religion as given and seek to infer from them what the founder did not happen to state explicitly; [153] and, in making such inferences, use the founder’s purpose as revealed in his explicit statements as a model - this will give rise to the art of jurisprudence. If in addition a group of people try to infer the theoretical and general practical matters that the founder of the religion did not state explicitly on the basis of the ones he did state, using his explicit statements as a model - this will give rise to a certain other art: let this be the art of theology. If there happens to be a group of people who try to refute what is contained in this religion, the practitioners of theology will need a [further] power with which to defend that religion, defend those who support it, and contradict the numerous misreasonings with which the others have sought to refute what was stated explicitly in the religion. With this the art of theology will be perfected and the art based on these two powers realized. It is evident that all this cannot be done except by the common methods, that is rhetorical methods.


146. This, then, is the order in which the syllogistic arts emerge in nations when they do so of a nation’s own innate gifts and natural make-up.


[XXIV. Religion and Philosophy]


147. If a religion depends on a philosophy perfected after all the syllogistic arts have been distinguished from one another in the way and the order that we have recounted, it will be an excellently valid religion. However, if philosophy has not yet become excellently demonstrative and certain, but continues to validate its opinions instead by rhetorical, dialectical, or sophistical [arguments],it is possible as a consequence that all, most, or a large part of it incorporates opinions that are all false without this being noticed so that it is a philosophy based on belief or false reasoning. If a religion is constructed [154] on the basis of such a philosophy, it will incorporate numerous false opinions. If in addition many of these false opinions are imaged and their paradigms are taken instead of them - as religions usually do with what is difficult for the multitude to conceive – that religion will be still further from what is real and will be a corrupt religion whose corruptness is not noticed. A religion that is even more corrupt than that religion will result when, subsequently, a lawgiver comes who does not adopt the opinions in his religion from the philosophy that happens to exist in his own time, adopting instead the opinions set down in the earlier religion on the assumption that they are what is real, images them, and adopts their paradigms to teach the multitude. If after him there comes yet another lawgiver who depends on this second lawgiver, the corruption will be still worse. Hence a valid religion will be realized in a nation only when it is realized in it according to the first manner; a corrupt religion will be realized in a nation when it is realized according to the second manner. However, in both cases religion emerges only after philosophy, whether after certain philosophy, which is genuinely philosophy, or after the philosophy based on belief, which is believed to be philosophy even though it is not genuinely philosophy. This, then, is the situation when religion emerges in a nation out of its own innate gifts and own natural make-up.


148. On the other hand, if religion is transferred from a nation where it belongs to a nation without a religion- or if a religion belonging to a certain nation is adopted and improved by additions, deletions, or some other change being made, and then is made the religion of another nation - and its character is formed by that religion, it is taught that religion, and it is governed by it, then it is possible that religion will emerge in this nation before philosophy is realized and even before dialectic and sophistry are realized. As for philosophy, when it does not emerge in a nation out of its innate gifts, but is transferred to it from another people where it had belonged, it can emerge in this nation after the religion that has been transferred to it.



149. [155] Now if the [original] religion depended on a perfect philosophy, yet the theoretical matters in the philosophy were not set down in the religion in the same way as they were in the philosophy, using the very utterances with which they were expressed in the philosophy; rather, the religion had adopted the paradigms of all or most of those theoretical matters in their place.

If this religion was transferred to another nation without this nation recognizing that it depends on philosophy or that its contents are paradigms of theoretical matters validated in philosophy through certain demonstrations; rather, all this was passed over in silence so that this nation came to believe that the paradigms contained in that religion are what is real and the theoretical matters themselves.

If subsequently the philosophy on which this religion’s excellence depends is transferred to this nation. [Were this chain of events to take place], there is the risk that this religion will be contrary to philosophy and its adherents will oppose philosophy and discard it. The adherents of philosophy will also oppose this religion so long as they do not know that this religion consists of paradigms of what is in philosophy. Once they come to know that they are paradigms of what is in philosophy, they themselves will not oppose the religion. Nevertheless the adherents of the religion will still oppose the adherents of this philosophy. Philosophy and its adherents will have no authority over this religion nor over its adherents; rather, philosophy will be discarded, as will its adherents, and the religion will receive no great support from philosophy. And there is the risk that philosophy and its adherents will suffer enormous harm at the hand of this religion and its adherents. Therefore at this point the adherents of philosophy may be forced to oppose the adherents of the religion for the sake of the safety of the adherents of philosophy. They will try to oppose, not the religion itself, but only its adherents’ belief that religion is contrary to philosophy; they will make an earnest effort to cure them of this belief by seeking to make them discern that the contents of their religion are paradigms of the contents of philosophy.

150. On the other hand, if the religion that was transferred to them is a religion that originally depended on an earlier, corrupt - rhetorical, dialectical, or sophistical philosophy.

If subsequently, valid and demonstrative philosophy is transferred to them. In this case philosophy will oppose that religion in every respect, and the religion will be totally opposed to this philosophy. Each one of them will attempt [156] to eliminate the other. Whichever of the two triumphs and becomes firmly established in their souls will eliminate the other: whichever of the two overwhelms this nation will eliminate the other from it.

151. If dialectic or sophistry are transferred to a nation having a religion that has taken root and is firmly established in it, then each of these two [arts] will harm this religion and will belittle it in the souls of the faithful, regardless of whether the religion was based on a philosophy that is genuinely philosophy or on a corrupt philosophy that was only believed to be philosophy. For, given that the activity of these [two, namely, dialectic and sophistry] has the force of proving and disproving precisely the same thing, it happens that the application of dialectical and sophistical methods to the opinions that have become firmly established in [people’s] souls through the religion will destroy their hold on them, cast doubts about them, and confer on them the status of what is not yet valid but awaiting validation, or make them matters of perplexity to the point where it is believed that neither they nor their contraries can ever be validated. This is why most lawgivers came to prohibit and very strenuously forbid dialectic and sophistry. Similarly, the princes appointed to preserve religion - whatever religion it may be - strenuously forbid its adherents these two methods and warn them most severely against them.

152. As for philosophy, some people urged that it be pursued; others permitted it; and still others passed over it in silence. Others, finally, prohibited it for the following reasons. The nation in question is not such that it may be taught what is real in an unadulterated fashion or theoretical matters as they are; instead - due to the natural make-up of its people or due to the purpose that it pursues or that [the lawgiver or prince intends to achieve] through it – the nation may not come across what is itself real but only have its character formed exclusively by paradigms of what is real. Or the nation in question is such that its character may be formed by activities, occupations, and practical things exclusively and not by theoretical matters or, at any rate, rarely by these.

Alternately, the religion the founder introduced is corrupt and ignorant: he did not use it to seek out the nation’s happiness but his own, wanting to exploit it as a means to his own happiness exclusively. He was therefore afraid, were he to permit it to inquire into philosophy, the nation would recognize the corrupt character of what he attempted to establish in their souls.

153. [157] It is apparent in the case of every religion that opposes philosophy that the art of theology in that religion will oppose philosophy and that those who pursue theology will oppose those who pursue philosophy to the extent that that religion opposes philosophy.


XXV. Coining and Transferring Names

154. If a religion should emerge in a nation previously without a religion, and that religion did not belong to an earlier nation, then it is evident that the laws (Sha'aria [ شريعة ]) in the religion were previously unknown to that nation and therefore it will have no names for them. If the founder of the religion needs to establish names for these laws, he can either contrive names for them that were not familiar to that nation before his time or he will transfer to it the names of things for which they do have names, that are most similar to the laws he has set down. However, if they had another religion before this one, then he will perhaps transfer the names of the laws of that first religion to similar laws in his own religion. And if his religion or some of it was transferred from another nation, then he will perhaps use the [foreign] names to signify the transferred laws, after changing those utterances in a way that makes their letters and formation the same as the letters and formation of the utterances of his nation in order to make them easier to pronounce. If dialectic or sophistry should emerge in this nation and those who pursue them need to express the meanings they infer that do not have names among them - for these meanings were unknown to the nation previously - then they will either contrive utterances for them out of this nation’s own letters or transfer to them the names of things most similar to them. Similarly if philosophy should emerge, those who pursue it will of necessity need to express meanings that were previously unknown among them, and they will act, accordingly, in one of the above two ways.

155. However, if philosophy was transferred to them from another nation, then those who are adept in it must look for the utterances with which the first nation expressed philosophic meanings [158] and familiarize themselves with the [ordinary] meanings commonly recognized by both nations, from which the first nation transferred those utterances. When they become familiar with these, they must adopt the utterances with which their own nation expresses the same ordinary meanings and establish them as names for those philosophic meanings.

But if philosophy is found to contain meanings to which the first nation had transferred the names of ordinary meanings unknown to the second nation and for which it therefore does not have names, and if those [philosophic] meanings resemble some other ordinary meanings known to the second nation and for which it does have utterances, then the best course is to disregard their original names and look for such ordinary meanings in the second nation that are most similar to those philosophic meanings, adopt the utterances they use for them, and call those philosophic meanings by these utterances. If philosophy is found to contain meanings for which the first nation used the names of ordinary things that - as far as it was concerned and in the way it imagined things - were most similar to these philosophic meanings, but, as far as the second nation was concerned and in the way it imagined things, these philosophic meanings are most similar to other ordinary meanings different from those of the first nation, then in the second nation these philosophic meanings should not be called by the names [that correspond to the names] they had in the first nation. Indeed one should not talk about such names in the second nation and instead call these philosophic meanings by the names of the ordinary things that are most similar to them as far as the second nation is concerned. But if philosophy contains meanings for which the second nation has no ordinary meanings that are similar to them in any way – although this rarely happens – then one should either contrive utterances for them made up from this nation’s letters, express them equivocally with [utterances that signify] any other chance meaning, or express them with the utterances of the first nation after changing these in order to make them easier for the second nation to pronounce. Such a philosophic meaning will be extremely strange in the second nation, since it has neither it nor anything similar to it. And if it happens that a philosophic meaning is similar to two ordinary meanings both of which have names in both nations and, even though it is more similar to one of the two, it is more appropriate in the language of the second nation that we call it by the name of the one that is less similar to it than that we call it by the name of the one that is more similar to it, then it ought to be called by the name of the one that is less similar to it.

156. [159] The philosophy existing among the Arabs today has been transferred to them from the Greeks. In naming the meanings contained in it, those who transferred [or translated] it tried to follow the methods we have mentioned. We ourselves find that there are many who exaggerate and go overboard in insisting that philosophic meanings should all be expressed in Arabic. Sometimes they do allow certain things to keep their Greek names, which they Arabize by changing them in order to make them easier for the Arabs to pronounce, such as al-ist aqis . [stoicheion: element] and al-hayãl~ hole: material]. (Nevertheless, they tried to give these two meanings names in Arabic also. They called al-ist aqis “al-'uns ur” and they called . . al-hayãl~ “al-'uns ur” also, as well as “al-madda” whereas al-ist . . aqis is never called “al-madda”; yet [and this is likely to lead to some confusion] these people use al-hayãl~ sometimes and sometimes they use al-'uns ur in place of al-havãl~.) However, . the things they allowed to keep their Greek names are very few. Now, those [transferred] philosophic meanings for which the first naming procedure (1) is carried out are said to be adopted on the assumption that they are signified by the utterances of the two nations, respectively; and if the ordinary meanings from which the names of the philosophic meanings were transferred should have names in all nations, then these philosophic meanings are adopted on the assumption that they are signified by the utterances of every nation, respectively. As for the philosophic meanings for which the remaining naming procedures are carried out, these are adopted on the assumption that they are signified by the utterances of the second nation only.

157. Philosophic meanings ought to be adopted either as being not signified by any utterance at all but as being intelligible only; or, if they are adopted as being signified by utterances, then one ought to adopt them as being signified by utterances - any chance utterances or the utterances of any chance nation - only [incidentally] and, when engaged in teaching, one ought to be particularly careful whenever he utters [the expression standing for] the philosophic meanings on account of their seeming similarity to the ordinary meanings from which the utterances standing for the philosophic meanings have been transferred. For sometimes they are confused with the latter and one is made to fancy that they are precisely one and the same as the ordinary meanings and that they are synonymous with the latter in [view of] the utterances that stand for both. Therefore some were of the opinion that they should not express philosophic meanings with utterances standing for ordinary meanings that are similar to them; rather, they were of the opinion that the best course is to establish for them contrived names not used by the nation before to signify anything at all, combined from its letters, and having the customary patterns of its utterances. Yet these various [160] manners of similarity are of some use when teaching the newcomer the art (of philosophy], for making him understand philosophic meanings more quickly by expressing them with utterances that stand for [ordinary] meanings similar to them, familiar to him prior to approaching the art. However, one ought to be on one’s guard against these utterances leading to error in the same way that one guards against errors caused by the names that are spoken equivocally.

158. A great many utterances that are transferred from ordinary meanings to philosophic meanings are used by the multitude equivocally for a number of ordinary meanings, and in philosophy, too, they are used equivocally for a number of meanings. Meanings that have the name in common

(1) in some cases are homonymous, having only that equivocal name in common.

(2) In other cases they possess similar relations to a number of [different] things.

(3) In yet other cases they have a systematic relation to one thing - that is, either

(a) they are ranked in relation to that one thing coordinately or

(b) they are ranked in relation to it hierarchically such that the ranks of some are nearer and the ranks of others further from it.

In both these instances (a and b) they may either be called by a name that is different from the name of the one matter to which they are related, or both they and that one matter may be called by precisely the same name – that one matter will have the strongest claim to priority, and its priority may be in existence or it may be in familiarity. If there is among them one matter that is prior in familiarity, every one of the rest will be arranged in an order of familiarity: each will be measured against that one matter that is most familiar so that, of any two of them, the one that is more familiar and in this respect closer to that one matter which is the most familiar of them all is the one that has a stronger claim to priority, especially if in addition to being more familiar it is also a cause of the other one’s being or having been familiar. When that one matter is called by the same name as the rest, what is worthiest of that name or worthiest of having that name in the strict sense will be that one matter; then from among the remaining matters the most suited [to have that name] will be the one that is more familiar or that is both more familiar and a cause of the rest being familiar – until one covers everything that is called by that name. In the same way, if there is among them one matter that is prior in existence or, additionally, is a cause of the existence of the remaining matters, then it is most deserving and suited to have that name in the strict sense, followed by whichever is nearest in existence to that one matter, then the next nearest and the next nearest are more deserving of that name, especially if the more perfect of any two of them is a cause of the existence [161] of the other, in which case the former is more deserving of the name than the latter. In many matters it may happen that what is most prior in familiarity is far posterior in existence, while what is most hidden [that is, least familiar] has a stronger claim to priority in existence, and both will have the same name because of the similarity in their relations to a number of things

(2), or because they are related to one thing

(3), whether

(a) coordinately or

(b) hierarchically, whether that one thing is called the same name as theirs or called by a name other than theirs.

These (2-3) are different from the homonymous (1), and different also from the synonymous; they are intermediate between these two and are sometimes called “ambiguous.”




The English text version of Chapters 19-25 of the Book of Letters by Al Farabi.
Al Farabi, one of the world's great philosophers, is known as the 'Second Master' after the 'First Master', Aristotle.
We chose to feature this translation by Muhsin Mahdi of Chapters 19 through 25 of Part 2 of the Book of Letters as they cover a small portion of Al-Farabi's teachings and writings as concerns languages and language differences in the development of society and nations.
You can read information about Al Farabi by visiting the
"Notes" section of the "Book of Letters" website.




al-Farabi, Abu Nasr (c.870-950)

Al-Farabi was known to the Arabs as the 'Second Master' (after Aristotle), and with good reason. It is unfortunate that his name has been overshadowed by those of later philosophers such as Ibn Sina, for al-Farabi was one of the world's great philosophers and much more original than many of his Islamic successors. A philosopher, logician and musician, he was also a major political scientist.

Al-Farabi has left us no autobiography and consequently, relatively little is known for certain about his life. According to some accounts, he was born in Otrar, Kazakhstan, but there is controversy as to his actual birthplace. Otrar is mentioned in numerous sources such as medieval Arab, Persian and Turkish authors. These sources refer to it as one of the Zhetysu (Seven Rivers) towns. The town was situated at the junction of different geographical landscapes and was at the intersection of the caravan ways of the Great Silk Road.
Despite the controversy over his birthplace, it is agreed that he was born in Central Asia and serves to highlight the contributions of scientists, writers and scholars from this part of the world who have made major contributions to the advancement of civilization.

His philosophical legacy is large. In the arena of metaphysics he has been designated the 'Father of Islamic Neoplatonism', and while he was also saturated with Aristotelianism and certainly deploys the vocabulary of Aristotle, it is this Neoplatonic dimension which dominates much of his corpus. This is apparent in his most famous work, al-Madina al-fadila (The Virtuous City) which, far from being a copy or a clone of Plato's Republic, is imbued with the Neoplatonic concept of God. Of course, al-Madina al-fadila has undeniable Platonic elements but its theology, as opposed to its politics, places it outside the mainstream of pure Platonism.

In his admittedly complex theories of epistemology, al-Farabi has both an Aristotelian and Neoplatonic dimension, neither of which is totally integrated with the other. His influence was wide and extended not only to major Islamic philosophers such as Ibn Sina who came after him, and to lesser mortals such as Yahya ibn 'Adi, al-Sijistani, al-'Amiri and al-Tawhidi, but also to major thinkers of Christian medieval Europe including Thomas Aquinas.

We chose to feature Chapters 19 through 25 of Part 2 of the Book of Letters as they cover a small portion of Al-Farabi's teachings and writings as concerns languages and language differences.

If you are interested in learning more about Al Farabi, a good starting point is
The Philosophy of Alfarabi And Its Influence on Medieval Thought By REV. ROBERT HAMMOND.


Mlfcham editor’s note: Sections above are copied from the following source :







































[1] This translation is based on a newly edited, albeit as yet unpublished, version of the text prepared by Muhsin Mahdi. The new edition builds on and improves Mahdi’s original edition of the text:

AbãNas.r al-F~r~b§, Kit~b al-H .urãf(Beirut: D~r al-Mashriq, 1969), which is also entitled Alfarabi’s Book of Letters(Kit~b al-H .urãf), Commentary on Aristotle’s

 Metaphysics , Arabictext, edited with introduction and notes, Muhsin Mahdi(Recherches publiées sous la direction de l’Institut de Lettres Orientales de Beyrouth, Série 1: Pensée Arabe et Musulmane, TomeXLVI; Beirut: Dar el-Mashreq Publishers, 1969). The division of the text into parts, chapters, and sections followed here is that proposed by Mahdi in the original edition, and numbers in square brackets within the translated text refer to the page numbers of that original edition.



[2] The term is kal~m, most often translated as “dialectical theology” so as to emphasize the particular approach used within Islam. Here, however, Alfarabi seems to be speaking about theology in a more general sense, that is, not in a purely Islamic sense. Unless otherwise noted, this term will always be translated here in the generic sense.


[3] Namely, presumed or fanciful.

[4] Literally, “the one who sets down conventions” (w~d .ial-naw~m§s).

Naw~m§s (sing.n~mãs) is the Arabic translation of nomoi (sing.nomos), the Greek word for conventions or laws.



[5] The term is mutakallim and is thus related to the term kal~m

;see n. 2, above. Though usually translated as “dialectical theologian,” the term will be translated here in the more generic sense as “theologian” unless otherwise noted.



[6] Literally, “the one who sets religion down” (w~d .ial-milla); see n. 4, above.



[7] Reading al-bard for sense, rather than al-h.ard  (“intensifying” or “straining”).



[8] Namely, the consonants and the short or long vowels following them that make up the different languages.


[9] Literally, “signify” (dall).



Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 06:47

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