Ibn Taymiyyah's Criticism of Aristotelian Logic (His Attitude Towards Logic)

Ibn Taymiyyahs major  criticism of logic is focused on the logic of Aristotle and of those Muslim philosophers and theologians  who followed him.  This can be seen in his Radd, where  Ibn Taymiyyah attacks not only  the ideas of Aristotle but also those of Fakhr al-DÊn al-RÉzÊ (d.606 A.H./1209), ÓmidÊ (d.632 A.H./1234), UrmawÊ  (d.682 A.H/1283), Ibn SÊnÉ (d.428 A.H./1037) and other speculative theologians. Historically, the logic of Aristotle penetrated the pale of Muslim theology and produced philosophical theologians who employed  logic in the Islamic religious sciences. For this background Rescher infers that logic in Islam was wholly based on Greek tradition as it was transmitted through Hellenistic Aristotelianism.[1]  However, this is not the case, Ibn Taymiyyahs criticism of Aristotelian logic is not the first in the history of  Islamic thought. There had been  refutations by  Muslim scholars of  Aristotelian philosophy and logic since its early period of transmission,[2] and there had been disputes among  Muslim scholars regarding the application of Aristotelian logic in  religious discourse.[3]  This historical facts could be understood that Muslim had their own logical tool before they encounter Aristotelian logic and hence became resistant of it.
From the achievement of his predecessors, Ibn Taymiyyah must have learned much and gained some pivotal inputs that enriched his critical approach towards logic. His criticism, therefore, sometimes refers directly to the logic of Aristotle and sometimes to the Muslim logicians, but essentially his  criticism is centred  on  Aristotles concept of  definition (al-hadd) and syllogism (al-qiyÉs).[4]   In this chapter we shall elaborate first his attitude towards logic and then his criticism of logical definition and syllogism.

His attitude towards logic
Since Ibn Taymiyyah believes that logic ( al-ManÏiq) is  basically Greek and has very little to do with the original Islamic doctrines, he has a negative attitude towards it.[5] He also assumes that when the Muslim logicians speak of definition they know that it was introduced by Aristotle, whom they held in great respect. This belief can be traced from the fact that the subject matter of logic (al-ManÏiq) was a translation and reorganisation of Aristotelian logic, as  can be seen from the fact that the organisation of the subject matter of al-ManÏiq is identical to Aristotles organon.[6]  However,  the Muslims made some important  contributions to the Aristotelian system.  Ibn Taymiyyah believes  that dealing with Aristotelian logic is dangerous and useless; he says:
It (al-ManÏiq) is partly true and partly false.  Most of the truth it contains is not needed. The extent to which it is needed can be afforded by sound fiÏrah  (instinct). The danger is more than the benefit, especially for one who is not conversant with  the knowledge of the prophets. [7]
Furthermore, Ibn Taymiyyah points out  that the art of logic invented by the First Teacher, Aristotle, has two measuring instruments to achieve philosophical ends: speculation and practice. Speculative knowledge  contains truth that has benefit for mankind.  The most reliable speculative knowledge is Mathematical science. But, on metaphysics, or al- ‘lm al-IlÉhÊ,   Ibn Taymiyyah is doubtful that philosophers can attain salvation and happiness, since this science is unable to reach  certitude (yaqÊn), being mere assumption and mostly contrary to  the messages of the prophets. On the practical sciences that include the improvement of morality, family and social life, Ibn Taymiyyah admits that they had notable achievements and true ideas.  However, in his view,  in the area of morality the Greek philosophers are inferior to the prophets, for the latter have more authority than the Greek philosophers who had no revealed book and did  not believe in prophets.[8] This statement arises from his belief, as a theologian, that  knowledge about morality comes only from God through the prophets, since the rank of the prophets is higher than that of any other human being.
Ibn Taymiyyah concluded that the  ideas of Aristotle and Plato were adopted by the Muslim philosophers, especially when such ideas  affirmed the  eternity of the universe and characterised God in  ways that exist only  in the  mind. Elaborating this problem, he refers to the way logicians deal with heological philosophy. He argues that it should employ neither simple  analogical  syllogisms  (qiyÉs al-tamthÊl)  where  the branches  (furË’) and the roots (uÎËl) are similar, nor simple syllogism (qiyÉs al-shumËl) where the individuals are similar. This is because God is not similar to anything and because it is unlawful to make Him identical with others. It is also unlawful to include Him under a universal premise on one level with an individual.[9] Ibn Taymiyyah refutes this method, since he believes  that the mutafalsifah  and mutakallimËn  could not attain certitude,  or might even end in self-contradiction  as they  employ it.
The attitude of Ibn Taymiyyah was most probably inspired by the situation at the time of al-GhazzÉli (450-505 A.H./1058-1111), a century before,  when Aristotelian logic penetrated and was employed in  religious knowledge. al-Ghazzali  was accused of blending Aristotelian logic with al-Fiqh and uÎËl al-Fiqh.[10]   Ibn Taymiyyah, referring to al-Ghazzalis  book al-QisÏÉs al-MustaqÊm, refutes al-Ghazzalis claim that the book derives from the teachings of the Prophet,  stating that in fact it comes from Aristotle through Ibn SÊna.[11]  Further, al-Ghazzali wrote an introduction to  Aristotelian logic in his work al-MustaÎfÉ,[12]  in which he made a most controversial statement on logic, namely that “whosoever does not know logic, his knowledge is not reliable at all.[13]  Perhaps  the prevailing legal opinion that studying logic is a duty of the Muslim (farÌ kifÉyah), is ascribed to al-Ghazzalis statements.[14]  Discussing this situation in his MajmË‘at al-FatÉwÉ,[15] Ibn Taymiyyah stated his legal opinion by  replying to the question whether it is right or wrong that studying logic is a duty (farÌ kifÉyah). To justify his attitude to logic he mentions the arguments of Shafi’ite  and Hanafite  imams and other Muslim scholars.
In short, being a follower of the Salaf,  Ibn Taymiyyah regards the study of logic as unnecessary.  He argues that  Muslim  scholars did not employ Aristotelian logic before it became a part of  Arabic thought, even though he does not deny that at a later period some scholars of Fiqh and UsËl al-Fiqh started using logic.  However, he emphasises that the first three generations in Islam, the period of the  Salaf  did not use logic.
Moving aside from Ibn Taymiyyahs attitude towards logic, we turn to his criticism of logic. However, before we go into the detail of Ibn Taymiyyahs criticism we shall first examine his understanding of Aristotles logic.  In his KitÉb al-Radd alÉ al-ManÏiqiyyÊn,[16]  Ibn Taymiyyah encapsulates the basic principle of the philosophers in their theory of science. He states that according to Aristotelian logic, all scientific knowledge is based on concepts (al-taÎawwur) and judgements (al-taÎdÊq).  This kind of knowledge can be either self-evident ( badÊhÊ ) or speculative ( naz}arÊ ). The two methods of obtaining true knowledge are definition (al-hadd) and syllogisms (al-qiyÉs). Definition is used for obtaining concepts. This mode of analysing reality identifies  the qualities of the defined objects which are essential ( haqÊqiyyÉt or dhÉtiyyÉt ) or  accidental (ardiyyÉt ). Therefore, it must contain genus (al-jins) and differentia ( al-faÎl).[17]  However, since reality is so complex that  definition alone  cannot explain it,  logicians use rational means, namely  syllogism.  It is used for obtaining judgement. Unlike definition, which is used for attaining perceptual knowledge,  syllogism is used for obtaining rational knowledge proceeding from what is given to what is not given. In other words, if some statements are accepted, other statements necessarily follow from them.[18]  Hence definition and syllogism are two fundamental bases on which the whole structure of Aristotelian logic stands. Therefore, the  refutation by Ibn Taymiyyah of Aristotelian logic refers to these two fundamental bases: definition and syllogism. To fully appreciate the important criticisms of Ibn Taymiyyah on logic, his two works Naqd al-ManÏiq  and al-Radd alÉ al-ManÏ}iqiyyÊn, will be referred to in what follows.




[1] Rescher, Nicholas, Studies In The History of Arabic Logic, University of  Pittsburgh Press, 1963, p.13; cf. Rescher, Nicholas, The Development of Arabic Logic, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburg, 1964, p. 15.
[2] Ibn Taymiyyah mentions that Hasan ibn MËsÉ al-NawbakhtÊ (d.300 A.H./912) - the contemporary of ThÉbit ibn Qurrah  (d.288 A.H/900)  -   in his KitÉb al-A<rÉ’ wa al-DiyÉnÉpointed out the fallacy of Aristotelian logic. Interestingly al-NazzÉm (d.231 A.H/845)  and al-Jubba’Ê   (d.303 A.H/915) of  the rationalists Mutazilite were  against  the philosophy of Aristotle. The following criticism was from AbË Zakariyya al-RÉzÊ (d.313 A.H./925) the  eminent opponent of Aristotles philosophy, but at the same time he supported  Pythagoras. Moreover, Ibn Hazm al-AndalËsÊ   (d.456 A.H./1063) also opposed Aristotles philosophy. Hibat Allah Ibn AlÊ  AbË al-BarakÉt al-BaghdÉdÊ  (d.548 A.H/1155) the author of  KitÉb al-Mutabar fÊ al-Hikmah  criticised Aristotle.  For Ibn Taymiyyahs  notion of al-NawbakhtÊ, see al-Radd, ed.R.Ajam,  vol.II. pp.84-86. For the Muslim refutation of Aristotles philosophy,   see   Sirajul Haque, “Ibn Taymiyyah, Life and Works”, in M.M.Sharif, A History of  Muslim Philosophy, Otto Harrassowitz Wiesbaden, 1966, pp. 804-805.
[3] A  lucid example on this case was the attack and censure of  Muslim  scholars, like AbË al-WafÉ Ibn AqÊl  (d.513 A.H./1119),  al-TurtËsÊ (d.520 A.H./1126),  Ibn al-ÎalÉh (d.643 A.H./1245),  al-NawÉwÊ   (d.631 A.H./1233),  towards  al-Ghazzali, one of the most celebrated Muslim  logicians. See al-NashshÉr, AlÊ SÉmÊ, ManÉhij al-Bahth inda Mufakkir al-Islam, DÉr al-MaÉrif, Cairo, p. 143.
[4] The reason for choosing these two theories can be traced through the historical fact that in the fourth/tenth century Arabic logicians had held that definition is used for obtaining new concepts  (taÎawwurÉt)  proceeding from some pre-existent axiomatic knowledge. Moreover, they also believe that syllogism is the only argument capable of yielding apodictic knowledge and the only tool which can result in certitude. See  Ibn SÊnÉ, al-ShifÉ’: al-ManÏ}iq, Madkhal,  ed.al-Abb QanawÉtÊ  et al, MaÏbaah al-AmÊriyyah, Cairo, 1952,  p. 17.
[5]  To prove  this,  Ibn Taymiyyah points out  that in Islam there are sciences like Nahw, (Grammar), Lughah  (language), ArËd (prosody)  Fiqh (jurisprudence) UÎËl al-Fiqh  (principle of jurisprudence),  and others, but to him  none of the scholars of these  sciences  dealt  with  logic. See  Naqd al-ManÏiq,  p. 169.
[6] The organisation of al-ManÏiq   in Arabic terms and its original  Aristotelian texts are:  al-IsÉghujÊ   (Isagoge,  introduction), al-maqËlÉt  (Categoriae, Categories),  al-ibÉrah (De Interpretatione, Hermeneutic), al-qiyÉs (Analytica Priora, Analytics), al-burhÉn (Analytica Posteriora, Apodictics), al-jadal (Topica, Topics), al-mughÉliÏah  or al-safsaÏah (Sophistici Elenchi, Sophistics (al-khiÏÉbah) Rhetorica, Rhetoric,  al-shir (Poetica, Poetics). See  Rescher, Nicholas, Studies In The History of Arabic Logic, pp.13-14.  Ibn Taymiyyah also mentions the eight divisions of logic and  Arabic translations of the terms. See  al-Radd, ed. R Ajam, vol. I, p. 52-53.
[7] MajmË‘at al-FatÉwÉ, vol.IX,  pp. 269-270.
[8] Ibid,  pp. 25-26.
[9] MuwÉfaqat, pp. 14-15.
[10] al-NashshÉr, AlÊ  SÉmÊ, ManÉhij al-Bahth, p. 143.
[11] al-Radd,  ed.Abd al-Îamad,  p. 42.
[12] al-Ghazzali, al-MustaÎfÉ min UÎËl al-Fiqh,  MaÏba’ah al-AmÊriyah,  2 vols.,  Cairo, 1904.
[13] al-Radd, ed.R.Ajam,  vol.I. p. 196; cf. al-Ghazzali, al-MustaÎfÉ, vol. I p. 10.
[14] al- NashshÉr,  ManÉhij al-Bahth,  p. 143.
[15] MajmË‘at al-FatÉwÉ, vol.IX, pp. 5-6; Naqd al-ManÏiq, p. 1.
[16] al-Radd, ed.Abd al-Îamad, p. 4.
[17]al-Radd, ed. Abd al-Îamad,  p. 4   Aristotles definition of definition is a phrase signifying the essence of a thing or the statement of a things nature. See  Farhang Zabeeh, Avicennas Treatise on Logic, Part One, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1971, p. 18.
[18]  Farhang Zabeeh, Avicennas Treatise on Logic, Part One, p. 29. 



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