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Wad' Motive


In the 14th century, seemingly out of the blue, a new discipline appeared on the madrasa scene: ʿilm al-waḍʿ, the “science of imposition”, or more precisely, the “science of the imposition of language”. Over the subsequent centuries, this discipline developed into a core area of madrasa teaching. What is ʿilm al-waḍʿ and why did it become so important? ʿIlm al-waḍʿ can be described as a discipline which studies the problem of linguistic reference, i.e., the meaning of words; the extension of terms; the impact of the context in which words are embedded or uttered; and – presupposing a discursive setting – the intention of the speaker as well as the hearer’s predisposition. Thus, ʿilm al-waḍʿ is the hermeneutical tool par excellence for any scholar who must rely on texts, but most specifically, for Islamic legal scholars. It is likewise a semantic and a pragmatic discipline.


Despite its centrality and tremendous impact, to this date the rise of ʿilm al-waḍʿ has hardly found any scholarly attention (with the notable exception of Bernard Weiss who published three seminal articles on this discipline in the 1970s and 80s), and this in two regards: first, concerning the chief characteristics of the emerging discipline; second, and to an even greater extent, its genesis, i.e., the various traditions and elements that actually shaped it. For contrary to what its sudden appearance at the 14th-century madrasa might suggest, ʿilm al-waḍʿ did not fall out of the blue. Rather, it draws on concepts and methods already developed during the classical period (9th-13th centuries), for instance, the problem of ʿāmm wa-khāṣṣ (the general and the particular) as discussed already by 10th-century scholars of Islamic law, such as al-Jaṣṣāṣ; the theory of signs and their specific modes of signification as advanced, for instance, by kuttāb (secretaries) like Ibn Wahb around the same period; and the relation of lafẓ wa-maʿnā (utterance and meaning) in function of their qarīna (contextual indication), thoroughly analyzed, for example, by the most renowned philosopher of the 10th century, al-Fārābī.


As preliminary studies evince, there are three main areas during the centuries preceding the emergence of ʿilm al-waḍʿ in which core concepts of the new discipline were developed and elaborated, namely, in correspondence with the just-mentioned examples of al-Jaṣṣāṣ, Ibn Wahb, and al-Fārābī: (1) uṣūl al-fiqh; (2) the language-related disciplines (chiefly, naḥw and literary theory, i.e., adab and, as of the 11th century, balāgha); and (3) falsafa (particularly, manṭiq). Accordingly, PHILAM's aim consists, on the one hand, in a study of the roots of ʿilm al-waḍʿ across these three areas; on the other hand, in revealing the characteristics of the new discipline by virtue of a close examination of the Risāla along with its first commentaries (including an edition of al-Jurjānī's commentaries).




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Postal Address

Philosophisches Seminar
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
Platz der Universität 3
79085 Freiburg im Breisgau


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