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Ibn Khaldun


Ibn Khaldūn or Ibn Khaldoun (May 27, 1332 AD – March 19, 1406 AD), was a famous Arab Muslim polymath: a social scientist, sociologist, historian, historiographer, demographer, economist, linguist, philosopher, political theorist, military theorist, Islamic scholar, theologian, diplomat and statesman born in present-day Tunisia. He is considered the father of demography, cultural history, historiography, the philosophy of history, sociology, and the social sciences, and is viewed as a father of modern economics.

Ibn Khaldun's life is relatively well-documented, as he wrote an autobiography. Generally known, he was born into an upper-class Andalusian family. His family, which held many high offices in Andalusia, had emigrated to Tunisia. Under the Tunisian Hafsid dynasty some of his family held political office; his father and grandfather however withdrew from political life and joined a mystical order. His family's high rank enabled Ibn Khaldun to study with the best teachers of the time. He received a classical Arabic education, studying the Qur'an and Arabic linguistics, mathematics, logic and philosophy, where he above all studied the works of Avicenna and al-Tusi. Following family tradition, Ibn Khaldūn strove for a political career. Ibn Khaldūn's autobiography is the story of an adventure, in which he spends time in prison, reaches the highest offices and falls again into exile.

WorksIbn Khaldūn has left behind few works other than his history of the world, al-Kitābu l-Sibār. Significantly, such writings are not alluded to in his autobiography, suggesting perhaps that Ibn Khaldūn saw himself first and foremost as a historian and wanted to be known above all as the author of al-Kitābu l-Sibār. His first book, Lubābu l-Muhassal, was a commentary on the theology of al-Razi. A work on Sufism, Sifā'u l-Sā'il, was composed around 1373. Whilst at the court of Sultan of Granada, he composed a work on logic, Sallaqa li-l-Sultān.

The Kitābu l-Sibār (Book of Evidence, Record of Beginnings and Events from the Days of the Arabs, Persians and Berbers and their Powerful Contemporaries), Ibn Khaldūn's main work, was originally conceived as a history of the Berbers. Later, the focus was widened so that in its final form (including its own methodology and anthropology), it represents a so-called "universal history". It is divided into seven books, the first of which, the Muqaddimah (the Introduction), can be considered a separate work. Books two to five cover the history of mankind up to the time of Ibn Khaldūn. Books six and seven cover the history of the Berber peoples, which for the present-day historian represent the real value, as they are based on Ibn Khaldūn's personal knowledge of the Berbers.

Concerning the discipline of sociology it is interesting to note that he conceived of a theory of social conflict. It can be suggested that the Muqaddimah is essentially a sociological work; six books of general sociology. Included topics embrace politics, urban life, economics, and knowledge. The work is based around Ibn Khaldun's central concept of 'asabiyyah ("social cohesion", "group solidarity", "blood ties," or "tribalism"). This social cohesion arises spontaneously in tribes and other small kinship groups; and it can be intensified and enlarged by a religious ideology. Ibn Khaldun's analysis looks at how this cohesion carries groups to power but contains within itself the seeds – psychological, sociological, economic, political – of the group's downfall, to be replaced by a new group, dynasty or empire bound by a stronger (or at least younger and more vigorous) cohesion. Perhaps the most frequently cited observation drawn from his work is the notion that when a society becomes a great civilization (and, presumably, the dominant culture in its region), its high point is followed by a period of decay. This means that the next cohesive group that conquers the diminished civilization is a group of barbarians. Once the barbarians solidify their control over the conquered society, however, they become attracted to its more refined aspects, such as literacy and arts, and either assimilate into or appropriate such cultural practices. Then the former barbarians will be conquered by a new set of barbarians, who will repeat the process. Some contemporary readers of Khaldun have read this as an early business cycle theory, though set in the historical circumstances of the mature Islamic empire.

Interesting also is the precursor to Marx's labour theory of value in Ibn Khaldun's work. Ibn Khaldun puts forward the insight that all value (profit) comes from labour. He outlined an early (possibly even the earliest) example of political economy. He made the distinction between "profit" and "sustenance", in modern political economy terms. He also calls for the creation of a science to explain society and goes on to outline these ideas in his major work the Muqaddimah.

Ibn Khaldūn's assessment on different civilizations in relationship to their habitation and way of life has drawn the attention of some scholars.

On the Greek contributions to science and philosophy: "The sciences of only one nation, the Greeks, have come down to us, because they were translated… Eventually, Aristotle appeared among the Greeks. He improved the methods of logic and systematized its problems and details. He assigned to logic its proper place as the first philosophical discipline and the introduction to philosophy. Therefore he is called the First Teacher."

On the culture of Bedouin nomads Ibn Khaldūn writes: "Arabs dominate only of the plains, because they are, by their savage nature, people of pillage and corruption. They pillage everything that they can take without fighting or taking risks, then flee to their refuge in the wilderness, and do not stand and do battle unless in self-defense. So when they encounter any difficulty or obstacle, they leave it alone and look for easier prey. And tribes well-fortified against them on the slopes of the hills escape their corruption and destruction, because they prefer not to climb hills, nor expend effort, nor take risks."

On the Jewish civilization: "(Unlike Muslims), the other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty to them, save only for purposes of defense... They are merely required to establish their religion among their own people. This is why the Israelites after Moses and Joshua remained unconcerned with royal authority for about four hundred years. Their only concern was to establish their religion... During that time political leadership was entrusted to the elders among them...They did not have any royal power and were harassed by attacks from foreign nations. Therefore, they asked God through Samuel, one of their prophets, that he permit them to make someone king over them. Thus, Saul became their king. He defeated the foreign nations and killed Goliath, the ruler of Philistines. After Saul, David became king, and then Solomon. His kingdom flourished and extended to the borders of the land of the Byzantines. After Solomon, the tribes split into two dynasties. One of the dynasties was that of the ten tribes in the region of Nablus, and the other that of the children of Judah and Benjamin in Jerusalem. Their royal authority had had an uninterrupted duration of a thousand years."

Here he uses the term "Arabs" to refer to the nomadic Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula, and "Persians" to refer to the sedentary Persian culture of the Iranian plateau (including all Iranian peoples).


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