Chapter 1 Science in Islam and Classical Modernity

In: Mathematics and Physics in Classical Islam
Roshdi Rashed
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This article examines how the knowledge of Arabic science allows a better understanding of “classical science”. The latter is traditionally considered to be the early modern European science which gradually replaced Aristotelian physics and cosmology with a new rationality characterised by mechanism, mathematisation and experiment. Rashed argues that the new rationality of classical science was introduced earlier by Arabic science between the ninth and the twelfth centuries. This new rationality was both algebraic and experimental. It relied upon algebra’s own development after al-Khawārizmī (780–850), as well as in its relationship with other mathematical disciplines. It is based on a new ontology, making possible what was not possible before. For example, the same subject could be determined both geometrically and arithmetically; a problem could have an infinite number of true solutions; an approximate solution could be a true solution and an impossible solution could also be a true solution. As far as experiment is concern, Arabic science conceives a new concept of proof in physics and accepted that the level on which a physical object existed was no longer its “natural” level, but was within the real of the experimental.

This new algebraic and experimental rationality, which characterises classical modernity, was founded between the ninth and the twelfth century by scholars as far apart as Muslim Spain and China, all of whom were writing in Arabic.

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