Ibn Taymiyya’s Criticism of Aristotelian Definition

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Sobhi Rayan



Aristotle wrote of two “points of definition”: one posited in negative and the other in positive terms. The negative formulation argues that concepts can be comprehended only through definition, while the positive point stresses the consequences of definition by focusing on the benefits to the sciences achieved through those “concepts.” Ibn Taymiyya criticizes these ideas on the grounds that definition neither necessarily leads to the revelation of the facts and truths of things and their quiddities, nor does it necessarily help in developing the sciences. We notice that his main criticism is directed at specific metaphysical elements of definition, such as genus, species, differences (differentia/ divisions), quiddity, and universality. He argues that these elements are purely mental and do not necessarily correspond to existence. Ibn Taymiyya differentiates between metaphysics and the concrete physical world for, in his opinion, not all that comes to mind necessarily corresponds to existing objects in the concrete physical world. Therefore, human knowledge should be established on concrete rules subject to experiment. He therefore refutes the logic of quiddity, which depends upon pure intellect, and calls for an experimental logic devoid of metaphysics.

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