A New Take on Semantics, Syntax, and the Copula: Note on Qutb al-Din al-Razi al-Tahtani’s Analysis of Atomic Propositions in the Lawami‘ al-asrar


In logic, Quṭb al-Dīn al-Razī was broadly an orthodox Avicennan. However, in his enormously infuential commentary on al-Urmawī’s logic handbook Maṭāliʿ al-anwār, he explicitly criticizes Avicenna and advances a novel analysis of atomic propositions. As a later addition that only survives in two manuscripts shows, Quṭb al-Dīn was troubled by traditional accounts of the syntax and semantics of atomic propositions. For him, the main problem was a confused understanding of the copula. In atomic propositions of the form “A is B,” the copula is the word that indicates that B is predicated of A (“is” in English, “esti” in Greek, but not usually expressed in Arabic). Avicenna had maintained, for lack of an Arabic equivalent to Aristotle’s “esti,” that the Arabic pronoun “huwa” should be used to form complete atomic propositions (e.g., “Jīm huwa bā’”). Quṭb al-Dīn considers this to be mistaken on several levels. To straighten out the mistake, he disam- biguates the predicative nexus of a proposition from its judgment, formulates a unified notion of unsaturatedness for predicates, and gives an account of the judgment-nexus. An upshot of this novel analysis is a re-interpretation of the Aristotelian distinction between secundum adiacens and tertium adiacens propositions.


Qutb al-Din al-Razi al-Tahtani Lawami al-asrar Arabic Logic Predication ḥaml Copula Syntax Semantics Atomic Proposition.