Ibn Taymiyyah's Criticism of Aristotelian Logic, On Syllogisms


As  in the case of definitions  Ibn Taymiyyah divides his criticism of syllogisms into two propositions: the negative (al-maqÉm al-salabÊ ) and the affirmative (al-maqÉm al-ÊjÉ). The implicit meaning of the word negative and affirmative is exactly the same as in definition.
a) The negative proposition that  “no  judgement may  be known  except  by means of syllogism  (inna al-taÎdÊq al-maÏlËb lÉ yunÉlu illa bi al-qiyÉs) is refuted by  Ibn Taymiyyah on various grounds.[1]  But, this study will deal only  with three important points.
First, Aristotelian logic admits that some judgements are self-evident (badÊhÊ) while others are speculative (naz}arÊ ); yet no judgements can be speculative as speculative knowledge must be self-evident. The non-self-evident judgement cannot be known except by means of the logical deductions in a syllogism (qiyÉs al-shumËl).[2] This is also called demonstrative inference (al-qiyÉs al-burhÉ) and is regarded as the highest form of syllogism. This is because the demonstration (burhÉn) which is the universal premise (qadiyyah kulliyah) is the best way to obtain  indisputable knowledge (al-ulËm al-yaqÊniyyah).
Ibn Taymiyyahs  refutation focuses on the basis of the  conviction that the premise (qadiyyah) is the pivot of knowledge (manÉÏ al-‘ilm). He says that if the universal premise is necessary one should know whether it is universal or particular. If it is particular, it  cannot  be considered knowledge, since universality is a  condition of producing knowledge. Further,  if it is universal, acquired knowledge is either self-evident or speculative.  In the case that it is self-evident, every one of its individual parts should be self-evident and in the  case that it is speculative, it needs self-evident knowledge.  Undoubtedly, this leads to a continuous circle and endless chain, which are unacceptable. If the universal premises need proof of their soundness, says Ibn Taymiyyah, how can this deduction become the best way to acquire knowledge?[3]
Second, the logicians assert that the syllogistic process of gaining knowledge requires two premises, but Ibn Taymiyyah believes that such knowledge can be attained by one, two, three or even more premises according to the needs and requirements of an argument. Some may not require any premises at all, since they know the matter by some other source,  such as innate knowledge (fiÏrah).  He takes an example of the saying of the Prophet:”Every intoxicating thing is wine (khamr), and all kinds of wine are unlawful (harÉm)”, implying that any intoxicating beverage is included in the designation of the word ‘wine that God has made unlawful to drink, as ordained in the Holy Book of Islam.
Another similar example is in a Hadith narrated by al-BukhÉrÊ and Muslim which says that once the Prophet was asked about a beverage made from Indian  corn called mizr and from honey called bit‘.   The Prophet  answered in an all-embracing formulation (jawÉmial-kalim), “Every intoxicant is unlawful”. This means he wanted to clarify the matter in universal terms or universal premises. In this regard Ibn Taymiyyah agrees with the logicians that these prophetic traditions are included in the designation of syllogistic proof. But he refuses to accept their claim that the Prophet also used Aristotelian logic. He insists that such a method of proof is innate ( fiÏrÊ ) and  can be known without formal learning.[4]
Third, the logicians claim that syllogism gives benefit of perfect knowledge, and that it deals with the knowledge of ‘universal. Theuniversalsare attained by intellectual propositions which are necessary, such as “all men are animal and “every existing thing is either necessary or possible, and the like which do not accept any change.  Refuting this argument Ibn Taymiyyah asserts that since logicians claim that syllogism deals only with intellectual matters having no connection with the physical world, it gives no knowledge of existing thing. Therefore, we may consider it useless for all practical purpose.  Moreover, he questions the validity of logic in exposing the concept of universal, for he believes that in the world of reality there is no such thing as universal, because the external and the internal sense of man perceive only the particular object.  
In conclusion,  Ibn Taymiyyah refutes the claim of the logicians that   judgement  cannot be obtained  by other than syllogistic methods, for he believes that the instinctive method (al-Ïuruq  al-fiÏriyyah)[5] is another possible method of acquiring knowledge and is  simpler  than syllogisms.  Although he refutes the proposition, he does not question the validity of this deductive method in obtaining the truth. The point that he criticises is on the necessity of using universal premises in syllogism, as he prefers to use particular premises based on sensory experience (al-tajribah al-hissiyyah). After all, his main concern is about  the necessity of using two premises in a syllogism, and he argues against this extensively.
b) The affirmative proposition of the logicians about  syllogisms  is that Aa syllogism leads to the certain knowledge of judgements (anna al-qiyÉs yufÊd al-ilm bi al-taÎdÊqÉt ).  The refutations of Ibn Taymiyyah on this proposition are  partly similar to those on  negative propositions discussed previously, yet he tends to assess rather than criticise.  Again in this study only two major points that he makes, which have not been mentioned before,  will be presented.
First, Ibn Taymiyyah argues that if the knowledge we want to obtain by means of a syllogism is the knowledge of universal matters, this actually does not exist  in reality and does not serve  any certain knowledge of reality, since the knowledge of the particular is more certain than the knowledge of the  universal. For this reason Ibn Taymiyyah asserts the importance of using analogy (qiyÉs al-tamthÊl) in obtaining knowledge compared with the other type of syllogism. This point is almost similar to his criticism of negative proposition, but here he emphasises to use particular knowledge so as to lead to the important of using analogy. 
Second, as he does not totally disagree with the syllogistic method, Ibn Taymiyyah emphasises the subject matter of the syllogism, which is the soundness of the indication (dalÊl).[6]  The target is knowledge and the way to achieve it  is indication. Anyone who knows the indication for  the target will know the target, either by the way of syllogism or by other ways. So, for one who does not know the indication for the target, the syllogistic method is useless. To know the indication means to understand the concomitance (al-luzËm).  The example of this is that everyone who knows that everything is a sign of God and necessarily in need of Him, will realise that its existence necessitates the existence of the Creator. This is just precisely similar to the knowledge  that the created things necessitate the Creator.[7]  Here Ibn Taymiyyah rejects the above claim of logicians and emphasises  that one can obtain judgement  by means of sound knowledge of indication and this is even more important than mere form of syllogistic or analogical inference. Thus, relying on the form of syllogism alone will be useless.  
In short, Ibn Taymiyyah partly agrees that a syllogism provides the knowledge of judgements, as he finds that this method may yield a valid or invalid conclusion. In this connection he suggests  that the sound syllogism is fiÏrah. The basis of this suggestion is his belief  that God created man based on fiÏrah, wherein “lies the knowledge of truth and his attestation of it, and the recognition of falsehood and his rejection of it”.[8]   His concept of fiÏrah will be discussed in detail in chapter IV.2.a.
To sum up, reading through  Ibn Taymiyyahs  criticism of Aristotelian logic  we can grasp the salient features  of his attitude towards it.  Firstly, when he launches his attack against Aristotelian logic he alludes to  the earlier polemical writings of theologians, even though he does not limit himself to theological discourse, but enters the realm of philosophical discussion and tries to introduce his own argument.  This means that he is quite conversant with the philosophical discourse and even has a first- hand knowledge of the philosophersthought.  Secondly, unlike his predecessors among the Salaf who simply censured the use of logic in general,  Ibn Taymiyyah approaches the problem with an intellectual framework of his own by introducing a variety of arguments derived from a wide range of sources. Thirdly, his criticism of logic is intended chiefly to undermine the validity of philosophical postulates making up and deriving from logic, especially that of metaphysics.
In addition to the foregoing, it is worth categorising his mode of argument.  First is the argument that follows the logical structure of the logicians, which can be judged from his refutation of definition mentioned above. Another category which is dominant in Ibn Taymiyyahs argumentation is his attack on the content of arguments rather than the structure. In this mode he usually questions the basic concept of a statement or an assumption and then expounds his counter-ideas in the same way. A lucid example of  this is his refutation of the logicians concept of quiddity and existence where he elucidates his own ideas.  Finally comes the argumentation based on religious concepts, where he cites QurÉnic verses or prophetic traditions.  These quotations are consistently introduced as subsidiary arguments, since the ideas he wants to refute are the logical arguments of the logicians.



[1] al-Radd, ed.Abd al-Îamad,  pp. 88, 240.
[2] Ibn Taymiyyah  finds that the logicians had  three methods of qiyÉs, they are  1) Syllogism  ( qiyÉs al-shumËl), meaning the inference that proceeds from  universal to particular and become the procedure of deductive logic, it is also called  qiyÉs al-umË2) Analogy (qiyÉs al-tamthÊl )   meaning the  inference that moves from particulars to particulars, it is also called  qiyÉs al-shabah;   3) Induction ( qiyÉs al-istiqrÉ )   is constructed from particular to universal and is also called is qiyÉs al-tatabbu. See  Naqd al-ManÏ}iq,  pp. 200-211.
[3] al-Radd, ed.Abd al-Îamad,  p. 107.
[4] Naqd al-ManÏiq, pp.200-201; al-Radd, ed.Abd al-Îamad, vol.I,  pp. 123-124.
[5] What Ibn Taymiyyah means by the concept of fiÏrah is that man has the faculty of reason (al-naz}ar) which consist of power of cognizance, perception and comprehension, and the faculty of volition (al-irÉdah) which comprises  the powers of discernment and emotion. According to him by these faculties human beings  can naturally differentiate between truth and falsity, good and bad. See  Naqd al-ManÏiq, p. 29.
[6]  The term ‘indication (dalÊl) acquired several technical connotation among the philosophers and religious scholars. The most general and agreed-upon definition seems to be “that which leads to what is being sought (maÏlËb)”.  In other words, an indication is anything, which, once known, entails the knowledge of another. Logicians in two principle meanings acknowledge this term. The first being a synonym of hujjah, namely, a syllogistic, inductive or analogical inference through which a judgement is formulated, whereas the second is demonstrative syllogism, defined as a set premises which when placed together entail (yalzam) another premise or conclusion. See  TahÉnawÊ, KashshÉf, vol. I, s.v.’dalÊl,  p.429
[7] al-Radd, ed.A.Îamad, p.252;  cf. Mahmud MÉÌÊ, Waqfa maa al-Radd alÉ al-ManÏiqiyyÊn, pp. 132-33.
[8] Naqd al-ManÏiq, p.29; al-Radd, ed.Abd al-Îamad, p. 428.

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