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~ ابونصر محمد بن محمد فارابی ~



Chapter Twenty-Five

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XXV. Coining and Transferring Names



154. If a religion should emerge in a nation previously without a religion, and that religion did not belong to an earlier nation, then it is evident that the laws (Sha'aria [ شريعة ]) in the religion were previously unknown to that nation and therefore it will have no names for them. If the founder of the religion needs to establish names for these laws, he can either contrive names for them that were not familiar to that nation before his time or he will transfer to it the names of things for which they do have names, that are most similar to the laws he has set down. However, if they had another religion before this one, then he will perhaps transfer the names of the laws of that first religion to similar laws in his own religion. And if his religion or some of it was transferred from another nation, then he will perhaps use the [foreign] names to signify the transferred laws, after changing those utterances in a way that makes their letters and formation the same as the letters and formation of the utterances of his nation in order to make them easier to pronounce. If dialectic or sophistry should emerge in this nation and those who pursue them need to express the meanings they infer that do not have names among them - for these meanings were unknown to the nation previously - then they will either contrive utterances for them out of this nation’s own letters or transfer to them the names of things most similar to them. Similarly if philosophy should emerge, those who pursue it will of necessity need to express meanings that were previously unknown among them, and they will act, accordingly, in one of the above two ways.

155. However, if philosophy was transferred to them from another nation, then those who are adept in it must look for the utterances with which the first nation expressed philosophic meanings [158] and familiarize themselves with the [ordinary] meanings commonly recognized by both nations, from which the first nation transferred those utterances. When they become familiar with these, they must adopt the utterances with which their own nation expresses the same ordinary meanings and establish them as names for those philosophic meanings.

But if philosophy is found to contain meanings to which the first nation had transferred the names of ordinary meanings unknown to the second nation and for which it therefore does not have names, and if those [philosophic] meanings resemble some other ordinary meanings known to the second nation and for which it does have utterances, then the best course is to disregard their original names and look for such ordinary meanings in the second nation that are most similar to those philosophic meanings, adopt the utterances they use for them, and call those philosophic meanings by these utterances. If philosophy is found to contain meanings for which the first nation used the names of ordinary things that - as far as it was concerned and in the way it imagined things - were most similar to these philosophic meanings, but, as far as the second nation was concerned and in the way it imagined things, these philosophic meanings are most similar to other ordinary meanings different from those of the first nation, then in the second nation these philosophic meanings should not be called by the names [that correspond to the names] they had in the first nation. Indeed one should not talk about such names in the second nation and instead call these philosophic meanings by the names of the ordinary things that are most similar to them as far as the second nation is concerned. But if philosophy contains meanings for which the second nation has no ordinary meanings that are similar to them in any way – although this rarely happens – then one should either contrive utterances for them made up from this nation’s letters, express them equivocally with [utterances that signify] any other chance meaning, or express them with the utterances of the first nation after changing these in order to make them easier for the second nation to pronounce. Such a philosophic meaning will be extremely strange in the second nation, since it has neither it nor anything similar to it. And if it happens that a philosophic meaning is similar to two ordinary meanings both of which have names in both nations and, even though it is more similar to one of the two, it is more appropriate in the language of the second nation that we call it by the name of the one that is less similar to it than that we call it by the name of the one that is more similar to it, then it ought to be called by the name of the one that is less similar to it.

156. [159] The philosophy existing among the Arabs today has been transferred to them from the Greeks. In naming the meanings contained in it, those who transferred [or translated] it tried to follow the methods we have mentioned. We ourselves find that there are many who exaggerate and go overboard in insisting that philosophic meanings should all be expressed in Arabic. Sometimes they do allow certain things to keep their Greek names, which they Arabize by changing them in order to make them easier for the Arabs to pronounce, such as al-ist aqis . [stoicheion: element] and al-hayãl~ hole: material]. (Nevertheless, they tried to give these two meanings names in Arabic also. They called al-ist aqis “al-'uns ur” and they called . . al-hayãl~ “al-'uns ur” also, as well as “al-madda” whereas al-ist . . aqis is never called “al-madda”; yet [and this is likely to lead to some confusion] these people use al-hayãl~ sometimes and sometimes they use al-'uns ur in place of al-havãl~.) However, . the things they allowed to keep their Greek names are very few. Now, those [transferred] philosophic meanings for which the first naming procedure (1) is carried out are said to be adopted on the assumption that they are signified by the utterances of the two nations, respectively; and if the ordinary meanings from which the names of the philosophic meanings were transferred should have names in all nations, then these philosophic meanings are adopted on the assumption that they are signified by the utterances of every nation, respectively. As for the philosophic meanings for which the remaining naming procedures are carried out, these are adopted on the assumption that they are signified by the utterances of the second nation only.

157. Philosophic meanings ought to be adopted either as being not signified by any utterance at all but as being intelligible only; or, if they are adopted as being signified by utterances, then one ought to adopt them as being signified by utterances - any chance utterances or the utterances of any chance nation - only [incidentally] and, when engaged in teaching, one ought to be particularly careful whenever he utters [the expression standing for] the philosophic meanings on account of their seeming similarity to the ordinary meanings from which the utterances standing for the philosophic meanings have been transferred. For sometimes they are confused with the latter and one is made to fancy that they are precisely one and the same as the ordinary meanings and that they are synonymous with the latter in [view of] the utterances that stand for both. Therefore some were of the opinion that they should not express philosophic meanings with utterances standing for ordinary meanings that are similar to them; rather, they were of the opinion that the best course is to establish for them contrived names not used by the nation before to signify anything at all, combined from its letters, and having the customary patterns of its utterances. Yet these various [160] manners of similarity are of some use when teaching the newcomer the art (of philosophy], for making him understand philosophic meanings more quickly by expressing them with utterances that stand for [ordinary] meanings similar to them, familiar to him prior to approaching the art. However, one ought to be on one’s guard against these utterances leading to error in the same way that one guards against errors caused by the names that are spoken equivocally.

158. A great many utterances that are transferred from ordinary meanings to philosophic meanings are used by the multitude equivocally for a number of ordinary meanings, and in philosophy, too, they are used equivocally for a number of meanings. Meanings that have the name in common

(1) in some cases are homonymous, having only that equivocal name in common.

(2) In other cases they possess similar relations to a number of [different] things.

(3) In yet other cases they have a systematic relation to one thing - that is, either

(a) they are ranked in relation to that one thing coordinately or

(b) they are ranked in relation to it hierarchically such that the ranks of some are nearer and the ranks of others further from it.

In both these instances (a and b) they may either be called by a name that is different from the name of the one matter to which they are related, or both they and that one matter may be called by precisely the same name – that one matter will have the strongest claim to priority, and its priority may be in existence or it may be in familiarity. If there is among them one matter that is prior in familiarity, every one of the rest will be arranged in an order of familiarity: each will be measured against that one matter that is most familiar so that, of any two of them, the one that is more familiar and in this respect closer to that one matter which is the most familiar of them all is the one that has a stronger claim to priority, especially if in addition to being more familiar it is also a cause of the other one’s being or having been familiar. When that one matter is called by the same name as the rest, what is worthiest of that name or worthiest of having that name in the strict sense will be that one matter; then from among the remaining matters the most suited [to have that name] will be the one that is more familiar or that is both more familiar and a cause of the rest being familiar – until one covers everything that is called by that name. In the same way, if there is among them one matter that is prior in existence or, additionally, is a cause of the existence of the remaining matters, then it is most deserving and suited to have that name in the strict sense, followed by whichever is nearest in existence to that one matter, then the next nearest and the next nearest are more deserving of that name, especially if the more perfect of any two of them is a cause of the existence [161] of the other, in which case the former is more deserving of the name than the latter. In many matters it may happen that what is most prior in familiarity is far posterior in existence, while what is most hidden [that is, least familiar] has a stronger claim to priority in existence, and both will have the same name because of the similarity in their relations to a number of things

(2), or because they are related to one thing

(3), whether

(a) coordinately or

(b) hierarchically, whether that one thing is called the same name as theirs or called by a name other than theirs.

These (2-3) are different from the homonymous (1), and different also from the synonymous; they are intermediate between these two and are sometimes called “ambiguous.”

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