Innumerable as the Starrs of Night,
Or Starrs of Morning,
Dew-drops, which the Sun
on every leaf and every flouer
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
— that is all
Ye know on earth, and all
ye need to know.
E = M
Energy is eternal delight.
Impearls: Ibn Khaldûn - Master Historian of the Arabs
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A characteristic of science and mathematics, including the historical sciences, during high points in the history of the West — both at the time of the dawn of scientific scholarship with the ancient Greeks and science's modern reawakening and takeoff at the close of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance — has been the presence of a “chain” or “constellation” of scientific practitioners. A Western scholar, of greater or lesser genius, typically had predecessors (whether living at the time or not) whose work influenced his thoughts, and the latter's results in turn went on to inspire successors. Thus the phenomenon Newton likened to “standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Among the poignancies of the history of scientific scholarship across the Medieval Arab and Islamic world, however, are those occasions when one encounters a brilliant, penetrating mind, but one who rather than circling as a bright star amongst a constellation of lesser and greater luminaries, instead passed as a lone meteor brightly illuminating the darkness, but having few or no antecedents and leaving equally few successors.
In the realm of mathematics and arithmetic, such a nearly solitary personage would include al-Kashi (i.e., Jamshid al-Kashi, died 1429), a prominent figure in the story of the evolution of our modern decimal numbering system; Impearls will likely do an article someday wherein al-Kashi's contributions will be considered. In the domain of history, though there existed talented Arabic historians before and after him, there were none like Ibn Khaldun (in full, Wali al-Din 'Abd ar-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr Muhammad ibn Khaldûn), born in Tunis, originally of Spanish Arab stock, and lived 1332−1406. Greatest of Arab historians, few historians in any time or place have possessed Ibn Khaldun's breadth and scope of inquiry — which basically included all of society. Indeed, he was the first sociologist of history.
Modern scholars praise Ibn Khaldun extravagantly. Arnold Toynbee in his monumental work A Study of History wrote of him: 1
George Sarton in his Introduction to the History of Science put it similarly: 2
Finally, Robert Flint in his History of the Philosophy of History wrote: 3
Impearls will eventually quote several excerpts from Ibn Khaldun's Prolegomena or Muqaddimah, translated as “An Introduction to History,” but for now we will restrict ourselves to Ibn Khaldun's description of naval affairs, including the circumstances leading up to and encompassing the Crusades of the West; thus, it fits nicely into Impearls' series on the Crusades:
— the Crusades from an Arab point of view.
Scroll down to the next posting for the selection.
Following quotations are from An Arab Philosophy of History: Selections from the Prolegomena of Ibn Khaldun of Tunis (1332−1406), translated and arranged by Charles Issawi, 1950, The Wisdom of the East Series, John Murray, Albemarle Street, London (Butler & Tanner Ltd., Frome and London);
1 Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, Vol. III, 1956, Royal Institute of International Affairs and Oxford University Press, London.
2 George Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, 1962, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Williams & Wilkins Company, Baltimore.
Robert Flint, History of the Philosophy of History, 1893, William Blackwood & Sons, Ltd., Edinburgh.
UPDATE: 2005-08-29 00:40 UT: Geitner Simmons of the ever-rewarding Regions of Mind blog links to Impearls' Ibn Khaldun articles (as well as its recent piece on zero), noting: “Michael explains the intellectual contributions of the medieval Arab scholar Ibn Khaldun and quotes from his historical writings on the Arab admiralty.” In an e-mail to Impearls, Geitner also wrote: “It was a pleasure to read your observations on all those topics. […] Congratulations on the high standard you continue to set at Impearls.”
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