(Maimonides) Makalah Fi-Sina-At Al-Mantik (Treatise on Logic)


In its own way a page-turner, his Treatise on Logic is a useful little guide to Maimonidean thought. This version of the 1938 English translation by Israel Efros for the American Academy of Jewish Research comes with the Arabic original and three Hebrew translations (ibn Tibbon, Ahitub, and Vivas). As presented by the author in the short introduction, the Treatise on Logic is an outline explaining the meanings of terms used in logic. The treatise is a little universe in its own right. Reminding the reader of the concision brought to bear upon the vast apparatus of Jewish law in the Mishne Torah, this is accomplished with “extreme brevity” without the indulgence of overly long discourse.

The Treatise on Logic is a catalogue for thinking thoughts by way of putting them together by way of propositions. At the end of each little chapter is a list of the terms introduced therein (predicate, subject, proposition, enunciative sentences, affirmatives, negatives, and so on) and then words added to predicates that indicate the manner of the predicate’s inherence in a subject (e.g. possible, impossible, probably, necessarily, obligatory, necessary, ugly, beautiful, fitting, incumbent and so on) (chaps. 1-3). Undoubtedly, the bone of many a philosophical disagreement is buried in the differences between these simple terms.

I’m highlighting the following features below:

Throughout the treatise, the interest in animals, sentience, and techne that animates the simple propositions offered by Maimonides by way of illustration reflect an Aristotelean conception of human being in the world. “Zayd is wise.” “Zayd is strong.” “Zayd is not wise.” “Zayd is not strong.” “Every man is an animal.” “Some men write.” “Some men do not write.” “Zayd stood.” “Zayd killed Abu Bekr.” “Zayd did not stand.” “He did not kill Abu Bekr.” “Every man is necessarily an animal.” “Zayd must stand.” It is ugly for Zayd to insult.” “It is fit that Zayd should learn.” “Every man is a bird.” “No man is a bird.” “Every animal is sentient.” “Every man is sentient.” Aristotle’s De Anima colors so much of this short work.

In chapter 8 readers are introduced to the notion that there are propositions that are known to be true and require no proof. These are perceptions, innate (first) ideas, conventions (e.g. we know that that uncovering the privy parts is ugly and that compensating a benefactor generously is beautiful), and traditions. Perceptions and ideas are said to be agreed upon universally by those with normal senses and intuitions [sic]. Conventions are subject to difference and rivalry for superiority, varying as they do between community and community. Also mentioned are syllogisms used for deception and falsehood (sophism) and syllogisms whose premise is used by way of imitation (poetry)

Chapter 11 is interesting. Echoing Aristotle, it is where Maimonides makes the distinction between remote potentiality, near potentiality, and actuality. That a child who is born is a writer represents a remote potentiality, whereas a boy [sic] being a writer before he begins to study represents a near potentiality and an even closer potentiality once he has begun to study, or one who has already written but is currently asleep. But in actuality, he is only a writer at the times when he writes. Let there be no mistake here. Unfit to reason is anyone who cannot distinguish between the potential and actual, between the conventional and the natural, between per se (essentially) and per accidens, and between the universal and the particular!

Chapter 12 is concerned with priority –in time, nature, order, excellence, and cause (including when “two things reciprocate as to the consequence of existence and neither exists without the other, and yet one is the cause of the other’s existence.”

Readers of the Guide will find in chapter 13 a colorful discussion of distinct terms (one word meaning one word), synonyms (two words meaning one thing), and homonyms (one word meaning two or more things). Of homonyms there are subdivisions, including absolute homonyms (which applies to “two things between which there is nothing in common to account for their common name,” like the word ‘ain which in Hebrew means eye and fountain.) Univocal homonyms include the term “animal” which refers to humans, horses, scorpions and fish due to common essence they share, being nourishability. An amphibolous term is one applied to two or more objects when that which they share in common is not the essence of any of them. For example, “man” is the term given to Reuben the rational animal, also to a particular man who is dead, and also to an image of man carved in wood or painted. What they share is the human figure and outline, which, according to Maimonides, does not constitute the “meaning of man.” Also included in this chapter are metaphorical terms (e.g. lion) and extended terms (e.g. tefilah which can mean request, a special form of request).

Chapter 14 is the final chapter. Here the term logos (ibn Tibon: devar) (Ahitub: hegion) is introduced, being a homonym with three meanings. The first is the peculiarly human faculty by which ideas are conceived, the arts are learned, and the difference is made between the ugly and the beautiful; the second is the idea itself qua inner speech; and the third is its interpretation in language or external speech.

In due order, reason includes:

–“Art,” which is a homonym referring to both theoretical science and mechanical workmanship. Each philosophical science is an “art,” as is carpentry and stonecutting.

–“Philosophy” is also a homonym, sometime meaning demonstration, sometimes referring to the sciences.

Theoretical philosophy is divided into mathematics, physics and theology.

–Mathematics is the study of material things not as they are but as they are abstracted from matter while always existing therein; mathematics includes arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music.

–Physics is the study of material things existing in nature, not as products of human will.

–Theology is the study of every being which is not matter or force in matter, i.e. whatever appertains to God and, according to the philosophers, angels. The other part of theology is the study of the remote causes of the subject matter of the other sciences, called divine science or metaphysics.

Practical or human philosophy or political science is divided into four. These are:

–The government of the [individual] self (the acquisition or removal of habits, i.e. virtue and vice).

–The government of the household (concerned with mutual assistance and basic sustenance).

–The government of the city (concerned with the knowledge of true happiness, as opposed to evil and illusory happiness and illusory evil)

–The government of the great people or peoples (nation and empire?).

Last but by no means least, by nomoi, Maimonides means something specifically the more or less perfect rules and regulations made by the sages of antiquity by which people are governed. Many of these books have been translated into Arabic. Perhaps most of these have never been recorded. In his own time, they are unnecessary since divine laws now govern human conduct –and that is the abrupt, concluding words of the Treatise on Logic.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish though and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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One Response to (Maimonides) Makalah Fi-Sina-At Al-Mantik (Treatise on Logic)

  1. AJS says:

    Not to be “that guy,” but my impression was that there are serious doubts about whether this was actually written by Maimonides… Obviously still a worthy specimen of medieval Aristotlean thought.

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