|Muqaddimah - The Muqaddimah by
ابن خلدون), Prolegomena in Latin, is the famous introduction to the Kitabu al Ibar, a general history of the
world, written about 1377. The introduction was elaborated into a strikingly modern treatise on history, society and
science that foreshadowed Western works and concepts of the 19th and 20th centuries, including the invention of the
discipline of sociology, an attempt to find lawfulness in history, a labor theory of value, theories of taxation and
governance, a scientific critique of the bible and other aspects of modern economics and historiography. The Muqaddimah
soon came to be a work in its own right, overshadowing the history that it supposedly introduced.
The plan of the Muqaddimah shows its ambitious scope:
Chapter I: Human civilization in general
Chapter II Bedouin civilization, savage nations and tribes and their conditions of life, including several basic and
Chapter III: On dynasties, royal authority, the caliphate, government ranks, and all that goes with these things. The
chapter contains basic and supplementary propositions
Chapter IV: Countries and cities, and all other forms of sedentary civilization. The conditions occurring there. Primary
and secondary considerations in this connection
Chapter V: On the various aspects of making a living, such as profit and the crafts. The conditions that occur in this
connection. A number of problems are connected with this subject
Chapter VI: The various kinds of sciences. The methods of instruction. The conditions that obtain in these connections.
The chapter includes a prefatory discussion and appendices
These passages from the prefatory remarks of the Muqaddima give a bit of the relatively modernistic flavor of the work and
It should be known that history, in matter of fact, is information about human social organization, which itself is
identical with world civilization. It deals with such conditions affecting the nature of civilization as, for instance,
savagery and sociability, group feelings, and the different ways by which one group of human beings achieves
superiority over another....
afflicts historical information. There are various reasons that make this unavoidable. One of them is partisanship for
opinions and schools... Prejudice and partisanship obscure the critical faculty and preclude critical
investigation. The result is that falsehoods are accepted and transmitted.
Another reason making untruth unavoidable in historical information is reliance upon transmitters...
Another reason is
unawareness of the purpose of an event. Many a transmitter does not know the real significance of his observations or of
the things he has learned about orally. He transmits the information, attributing to it the significance he assumes or
imagines it to have. The result is falsehood.
Another reason is
unfounded assumption as to the truth of a thing. This is frequent. It results mostly from reliance upon transmitters.
Another reason is
ignorance of how conditions conform with reality. Conditions are affected by ambiguities and artificial distortions. The
informant reports the conditions as he saw them but on account of artificial distortions he himself has no true picture
Another reason is
the fact that people as a rule approach great and high-ranking persons with praise and encomiums. They embellish
conditions and spread the fame (of great men). The information made public in such cases is not truthful. Human souls
long for praise, and people pay great attention to this world and the positions and wealth it offers. As a rule, they
feel no desire for virtue and have no special interest in virtuous people.
making untruth unavoidable - and this one is more powerful than all the reasons previously mentioned is ignorance of the
nature of the various conditions arising in civilization...
The sociology of the Muqaddimah and its economic theories presage the dialectics of Marx and Hegel and the analysis of
Toynbee. Ibn Khaldoun, like these later western historians, was interested in what moved history, and devised a cyclic
theory based on coalescence of al 'Asabbiyah - a group, national or tribal enthusiasm in those who dwell on the
periphery of great civilizations. This gave peoples power and energy beyond their numbers and allowed them to conquer
the more civilized and effete cities. However, the conquerors in turn were softened by civilization and vulnerable to
Ibn Khaldun was fascinated and worried by the problem of the observer in history, and by many other problems of modern
historiography. However, we should take care not to read too much of modern methods and approaches back into the
Muqaddimah. His method was often deductive, rational and Aristotelian, not necessarily inductive or empirical. He is
preoccupied with essences and substances like any good Aristotelian. For example, he wrote in his preface to the
Every event (or phenomenon), whether (it comes into being in connection with some) essence or (as the
result of an) action, must inevitably possess a nature peculiar to its essence as well as to the accidental conditions
that may attach themselves to it. If the student knows the nature of events and the circumstances and requirements in
the world of existence, it will help him to distinguish truth from untruth in investigating the historical information
critically. This is more effective in critical investigation than any other aspect that may be brought up in connection
October 11, 2008
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