Ibn Khaldun's Philosophy of History

14th-century Arab historian Ibn Khaldun founded a special science to deal with the problem of history and culture based on the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle and their Muslim followers. This work examines the philosophic foundation and principles of Ibn Khaldun's new science of culture, to show that an adequate understanding of his contribution to the study of the various aspects of human society requires an understanding of his all-comprehensive approach to sociology.
Author: Muhsin Mahdi
$13.75 (USD)


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 325
  • Publisher: Islamic Book Trust (July 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9839541528
  • ISBN-13: 978-9839541526

 In no other field has the revolt of modern Western thought against traditional philosophy been so far-reaching in its consequences as in the field of history. The case between the ancients and their modern critics in its extreme form can be formulated as follows: For the ancients, historical knowledge is impossible; while for their modern critics all knowledge is historical. For the ancients, history means the description and explanation of actual events which are useful both as examples for men of action, and as material for the practical and theoretical sciences. Since the end of philosophy or science is the demonstration of necessary and explanatory conclusions which claim universal validity, history is, at best, the most humble of sciences because its conclusions are necessarily relative to particular events. For their modern critics, philosophy par excellence is the philosophy of history or the ' complete philosophy conceived from an historical point of view. The modern critics of traditional philosophy assert, not only that all facts are historical, but also that all reality is historical.

Thus the issue between the ancients and the moderns seems to raise the deeper issue of the nature of scientific knowledge and of Being. The ancients assert that behind the facts of history and experience there are universal and objective essences, natures, and causes, to which the concepts and judgments of the mind should correspond. These essences, natures, and causes are intrinsically and logically prior to the mutable facts of history and experience despite the fact that, in the order in which they are known, they are posterior to these: for they are the principles that underlie them and give them their intelligibility. The moderns start with the denial of objective essences, natures, and causes. Thus the horizon of the real is reduced to the facts of history and experience. Science and philosophy, insofar as they venture beyond the facts of history and experience, are hypothetical constructions which have no objective counterparts.

To those for whom the revolt of the moderns against the ancients is not merely an event of the past which has been settled in favour of one party or another, but a disturbing present reality raising the deepest and most significant problems of human life and thought, and demanding humble and conscientious enquiry, there is one question among others which requires serious consideration : What did the ancients think of the possibility of a science of history and what would be the precise character of such a science when developed according to their general conception of the nature of science or philosophy ? Or to reformulate this question in terms of the history of thought: Is it true that such a science has never been attempted, and, therefore, we have no factual grounds upon which to answer the preceding question ?

The fact that Ibn Khaldün (a Muslim disciple of the ancients [qudama] and their Muslim followers, especially Averroes) not only attempted to consider the problem of history, but also developed a science of history, or a science of culture' (`ilm al-`umran) as he called it for important reasons, must, therefore, have more than antiquarian interest. Ibn Khaldün realized that history is more immediately related to action than political philosophy because it studies the actual state of man and society. He found that the ancients had not made history the object of an independent science, and thought that it was important to fill this gap. But he did not think that the construction of the new science required considerable changes in the established principles of scientific investigation, or questioning the validity of the norms established by political philosophy. On the contrary, he found that only by admitting the validity of these principles and norms as developed by the ancients could the new science be constructed. This is clearly shown by the fact that he applied these same principles and norms in constructing the new science of history.