Al-Ghazāī on the Signification of Names

In: Vivarium

Abstract

Al-Ghazālī’s most detailed explanation of how signification works occurs in his treatise on The Beautiful Names of God. Al-Ghazālī builds squarely on the commentary tradition on Aristotle’s Peri hermeneias: words signify things by means of concepts and correspondingly, existence is laid out on three levels, linguistic, conceptual, and particular (i.e. extramental). This framework allows al-Ghazālī to put forward what is essentially an Aristotelian reading of what happens when a name successfully picks out a being: when a quiddity is named by some kind term, its referent in the mind is formally identical to the quiddity of an individual existent which belongs to that natural kind. Al-Ghazālī then proceeds to tease out the implications of this scheme for the special problem of signifying God. It turns out that the Peripatetic theory, which al-Ghazālī appropriates from Ibn Sīnā, is ill equipped for the task as al-Ghazālī envisions it.

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