The Rise and Fall of Analogy in Premodern Islamic Science
It has frequently been noted that hardly any form of thought has been as pervasive in science as analogy: its theorization can be traced back as early as Aristotle, and it runs like a golden thread through the writings of scientists till the present day. One famous and often-cited example is Galileo Galilei, who drew an analogy between the condition of the earth's surface and that of the moon, when seeking to explain his observation through the telescope of light and dark spots on the lunar surface. Despite the perceived ubiquity of analogy in science, little attention has been paid in the academic literature to scientific traditions other than the European. This paper will, therefore, shed light on the role of analogical reasoning in premodern Islamic science. Focusing on the two branches of science (thus conceived of by our historical actors), kalam ("speculative theology") and falsafa ("Hellenizing philosophy"), the paper will trace how analogy, once perceived as a mode of reasoning that could yield scientific knowledge of the world, was denigrated to a mere rhetorical device that was of little use in the pursuit of scientific knowledge.
Hannah Erlwein obtained her PhD in Islamic Intellectual History from SOAS University of London in 2016 with a dissertation entitled Arguments for the Existence of God in Classical Islamic Thought: A Reappraisal of Perspectives and Discourses (De Gruyter, 2019). From October 2017 to September 2019, she was a postdoctoral researcher with Prof. Peter Adamson at LMU Munich, being part of the DFG-funded research project "Natur in politischen Ordnungsentwürfen." Her research focused on Avicenna's conception of the function of the law of the ideal state. In 2019, Dr. Erlwein joined Prof. Katja Krause’s research group "Experience in the Premodern Sciences of Soul & Body ca. 800–1650" at the MPIWG Berlin. Her current research focuses on the role of experience in premodern Islamic science, and in particular the use of analogies between experienceable phenomena and phenomena beyond sense experience. Hannah currently teaches a course on "Islam and Science" at TU Berlin.
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