chapter  3
40 Pages

A Special Relation: Signification

In an improved version of the accepted view on the epistemological properties of medieval Arabic thought, one modern researcher maintained that the learned culture of Arab-Islamic civilisation rested upon three epistemic systems - a linguistic, a gnostic and a rationalist.' Yet the incomplete descriptive justice of this classification of procedures does not in any way insure its validity when it aims, as it does, to be the criterion of interpretation for medieval Arabic thought. The procedures so classified do not constitute three modes of knowledge which severally institute types of discourse, which in their turn rule supreme in the context of a particular science of a particular school of thought. The three types indicated, in addition to others omitted, are in fact three types of epistemological material rather than three theories of knowledge, each of which is generally applied to a particular but not exclusive type of subject-matter, and which almost invariably coexist in the same text. The question thus devolves into the study, not of their analytical separability which is not open to doubt, but of their modes of active combination, and this requires a perspective other than that which takes textbook theories of knowledge as its point of departure.