- Lexique historique de la langue scientifique arabe ed. by Roshdi Rashed
This beautifully laid out dictionary will be very useful to anyone seriously interested in Arabic philosophy. Philosophers in Islamic lands often wrote classifications of the sciences or used examples taken from various scientific disciplines, particularly mathematics, that can be somewhat puzzling for scholars in philosophy. For instance, in his autobiography, Avicenna tells us that his father sent him to a vegetable seller to study Indian calculation. I always wondered what exactly Indian calculation was and finally found the answer to this puzzle in this book (195–97): it was a system of calculation on a tablet with dirt that allowed for easily deleting intermediate calculations. Besides, considering the close link between mathematics and logic, Roshdi Rashed, who focuses mainly on mathematics and philosophy of mathematics, has asked Ahmad Hasnaoui to collaborate on issues of logic. Hence, some entries, such as that on demonstration (burhân, 54–57), highlight both similarities and differences between the mathematical and philosophical conceptions of demonstration.
The book begins with a study in English of the translation of the Greek heritage and the development of scientific language in Arabic, followed by a study in French of the constitution of the Arabic mathematical language. The entries that follow are ordered according to the Arabic roots, but people who do not read Arabic can find what they are looking for by consulting the index of terms, based on French. For instance, any philosopher interested in knowing more about the conception of the syllogism could find the appropriate entry (697–702) and then, if he or she looks to the following pages, would discover that the very same Arabic term (qiyâs) has different technical meanings in mathematics and pharmacology. Entries provide the Greek background in function of the texts that were translated from Greek into Arabic; and they then often provide quotations from various medieval authors in both Arabic and French. The entries end with a list of correlated terms in both French and Arabic. Besides, any "Arabist" puzzled by a technical passage in a specific text may well be lucky and find a translation of it with an explanation of the technical terms if he or she consults the index of treatises.
Up to fairly recently, logic has been a much neglected field in Arabic philosophy. One is, therefore, very pleased to find that the entry for 'syllogism' divides into 1. definition and delimitation; 2. categorical syllogistic; and 3. hypothetical syllogistic—thus presenting a synthetic approach. But the entry does not neglect the historical evolution and shows how, for instance, Avicenna thought Aristotle's definition of the syllogism could also apply to hypothetical syllogisms, whereas Averroes did not think so. The same entry explains that Aristotle had only three figures of the syllogism while Avicenna and Averroes discussed the possibility of a fourth figure, which Averroes attributes to Galen, though rejecting it as non-natural. Yet, it indicates that, from the twelfth century on, several logicians will adopt this fourth figure attributed to Galen.
The amount of information gathered in this book is very impressive. As Rashed rightly points out, the best medieval Arabic dictionaries did not pay much attention to scientific vocabulary and the scientific meanings of a term often differ markedly from the ordinary meaning(s). Therefore, the painstaking work of determining how mathematicians, astronomers, logicians, and the rest defined their own technical terms, renders a great service to readers of medieval texts. Rashed focuses on the transfer from Greek into Arabic, but a similar work needs to be done about the transfer from Arabic into Latin. [End Page 174]