History of Philosophy in Islam, by T.J. de Boer , at sacred-texts.com
By Muslim scholars of the 10th century the sciences were divided into 'Arab Sciences' and 'Old'- or 'Non-Arab Sciences'. To the former belonged Grammar, Ethics and Dogmatics, History and Knowledge of Literature; to the latter Philosophy, Natural Science and Medicine. In the main the division is a proper one. The last-named branches are not only those which were determined the most by foreign influences, but those too which never became really popular. And yet the so called 'Arab Sciences' are not altogether pure native products. They too arose or were developed in places in the Muslim empire where Arabs and Non-Arabs met together, and where the need was awakened of reflecting on those subjects which concern mankind the most,--Speech and Poetry, Law and Religion,--in so far as differences or inadequacies appeared therein. In the mode in which this came about, it is easy to trace the influence of Non-Arabs, particularly of Persians; and the part taken by Greek Philosophy in the process asserts itself in ever-growing importance.
2. The Arabic language,--in which the Arabs themselves took particular delight, for its copious vocabulary,
its wealth of forms and its inherent capability of cultivation,--was peculiarly fitted to take a leading position in the world. If it is compared, for example, with the unwieldy Latin, or even with the turgid Persian, it is found to be specially distinguished by the possession of short Abstract-forms,--a property of great service in scientific expression. It is capable of indicating the finest shades of meaning; but just because of its richly developed stock of synonyms, it offers temptations to deviate from the Aristotelian rule,--that the use of synonyms is not permissible in exact science. A language so elegant, expressive, and difficult withal, as Arabic was, necessarily invited much examination, when it had become the polite language of the Syrians and the Persians. Above all, the study of the Koran, and the recital and interpretation of it demanded profound attention to be devoted to the language. Unbelievers, also, may have thought that they could point out grammatical errors in the sacred Book; and therefore examples were gathered out of ancient poems and out of the living speech of the Bedouins, to support the expressions of the Koran. To these examples remarks were, no doubt, added upon grammatical accuracy in general. On the whole, the living usage formed the standard, but in order to save the authority of the Koran, it was certainly not applied without artifice. This proceeding was regarded, all the same, by simple believers, with a measure of suspicion. Masudi tells us even of some grammarians from Basra, who, when on a pleasure trip, took to going through a Koran Imperative, and for that reason (?) were soundly cudgelled by country folk engaged in date-gathering.
3. The Arabs trace their grammatical science, like so
many other things, to Ali, to whom is ascribed even Aristotle's tripartite division of speech. In reality the study began to be cultivated in Basra and Kufa. Its earliest development is involved in obscurity, for in the Grammar of Sibawaih († 786) we have a finished system,--a colossal work--, which, like Ibn Sina's Canon of Medicine in after times, could only be explained by later generations as the production of many scholars working in collaboration. We are but ill-informed even on the points of difference between the schools of Basra and Kufa. The Basra grammarians, like the school of Bagdad in subsequent times, must have conceded a great influence to Qiyas (Analogy) in the determination of grammatical phenomena, while those of Kufa allowed many idiomatic forms which diverged from Qiyas. On this ground, to mark the contrast between the Basra grammarians and those of Kufa, the former were called 'the Logic people'. Their terminology differed in detail from that of the Kufa school. Many, whose heads had been turned by logic, in the opinion of the genuine Arabs, must have gone decidedly too far in their captious criticism of the language; but on the other side caprice was raised to the position of rule.
It was from no mere accident that the school of Basra was the first to avail itself of logical resources. Generally speaking, it was at Basra that the influence of philosophic doctrines first appeared, and among its grammarians were to be found many Shi‘ites and Mutazilites, who readily permitted foreign wisdom to influence their doctrinal teaching.
4. Grammatical science, in so far as it was not confined, to the collecting of Examples, Synonyms &c., when so determined by the subjects specially treated, was affected
by the Aristotelian Logic. Even before the Muslim era, Syrians and Persians had studied the treatise it περὶ ἑρμηνείας, with Stoic and Neo-Platonic additions. Ibn al-Moqaffa, who at first was intimate with the grammarian Khalil (v. infra), then made accessible to the Arabs all that existed in Pahlawi of a grammatical or logical nature. In conformity therewith the various kinds of Sentences were enumerated,--at one time five, at another eight or nine, as well as the three parts of speech,--Noun, Verb and Particle. Afterwards some scholars, like Djahiz, included syllogistic figures among the Rhetorical figures; and in later representations there was much disputation about Sound and Idea. The question was discussed whether language is the result of ordinance or a product of nature; but gradually the philosophic view preponderated, that it came by ordinance.
Next to Logic the influence of the preparatory or mathematical sciences falls to he noticed here. Like the prose of ordinary intercourse and the rhymes of the Koran, the verses of the poets were not only collected but also arranged according to special principles of classification,--for example, according to metre. After Grammar Prosody arose. Khalil († 791), the teacher of Sibawaih, to whom the first application of Qiyas to grammatical science was attributed, is said even to have created metrical science. While language came to be regarded as the national, conventional element in poetry, the notion was entertained that what was natural, and common to all populations, would be found in their metre. Thabit ibn Qorra (836-901) therefore maintained, in his classification of the sciences, that metre was something essential, and the study of metre
a natural science, and therefore a branch of philosophy.
5. Grammatical science, nevertheless, limited as it was to the Arabic language, retained its peculiarities, upon which this is not the place to enter. At all events, it is an imposing production of the keenly-observing and diligently-collecting Arab intelligence,--a production of which the Arabs might well be proud. An apologist of the 10th century, who was engaged in combating Greek philosophy, said: "He who is acquainted with the subtleties and profundities of Arab poetry and versification, knows well that they surpass all such things as numbers, lines and points, which are wont to be advanced in proof of their opinions, by people who idly dream that they are capable of understanding the essence of things. I cannot see the substantial advantage of things like numbers, lines and points, if, in spite of the trifling profit which may attend them, they do harm to the Faith and are followed by consequences, against which we have to invoke the help of God." Men would not have their delight in the minutiae of their language disturbed by general philosophic speculations. Many a word-form, originating with the translators of foreign works, was held in detestation by purist Grammarians. The beautiful art of calligraphy, more decorative in its nature than constructive, like Arabic art in general, became developed in noble, delicate forms, and met with a wider expansion than scientific research into the language. In the very characters of the Arabic speech, we may still see the subtlety of the intelligence which formed them, although at the same time we may see a lack of energy, which is observable in the entire development of Arab culture.