[3.10] Ibn Khaldun on Phases of the Civilisations

Ibn Khaldun (1332 – 1406 AD) in the first book “Introduction” (Al-Muqaddimah) for the work “Book of Lessons, Record of Beginnings and Events in the History of the Arabs and the Berbers and Their Powerful Contemporaries” (Kitāb al-ʻIbar wa-Dīwān al-Mubtadaʼ wa-l-Khabar fī Taʼrīkh al-ʻArab wa-l-Barbar wa-Man ʻĀṣarahum min Dhawī ash-Shaʼn al-Akbā) elaborated a universal theory of the lifecycle of civilizations, according to which all civilizations evolve through five stages from a simple and forceful beginning to an optimal point, and decline.

Ibn Khaldun’s theory of the cyclical development of civilizations is presented in the following OntoUML diagram:

Ibn Khaldun on phases of civilizations
CivilizationCivilization, or the culture centered around life in the cities, is the natural completion of the life begun in the primitive culture. Primitive culture is an incomplete form of culture. It satisfies only man’s immediate needs. Sedentary culture is complete. The conveniences and luxury can develop when large numbers of people live together in dense clusters, where some produce for all and a large amount of surplus labor is freed to produce the luxuries. There is now time and energy for the fulfillment of man’s higher aspirations in the domains of the spirit and the intellect.”
“In the beginning, the first stage is the period af establishment. Group solidarity here is based on ties of family and on religion and is essential for the preservation of the state. The ruler is more a chief than a lord or a king. He himself has to folIow the rules of religion.”is phase of Civilization
“In the second stage, the ruler succeeds in monopolizing power. He becomes an absolute master. This monopoly of [personal] power by the ruler is the natural and necessary end of the rule that began on the basis of natural group solidarity. The ruler can now build a well ordered state. To achieve monopolization of power, he destroys those who share power with him, gets rid of the natural solidarity that supported him in the beginning, and purchases the support of bureaucrats and mercenaries who are loyal to him -their employer- and not to a kinship-solidarity or a religious cause. In addition to the paid army and administrative bureaucracy, a group of learned advisors beromes instrumental in preserving the state according to the rllier’s wbhes. On the matter of the advisory corps, Ibn Khaldun emphasizes that scholars make bad political advisors. Since they are trained to see the universals rather than the particulars, the species rather than the individual specimen, since they grasp social and political phenomena in analogy to others rather than on their own merits and in their own, particular, uniqueness, they are prone to give bad political advice. Good political advice for the ruler comes from ‘ordinary, sound men of average intelligence.”is phase of Civilization
“The third is one of luxury and leisure when the ruler uses his authority to satisfy his personal needs. He reorganizes the finances of the state to increase his own personal income by lowering the tax burden on his subjects: this results in large revenue from small assessments. He then spends lavishly on public works and on the beautification of his cities. There is economic prosperity for everyone, the crafts, fine arts, sciences are encouraged, the new ruling dass and even the upper strata of the middle class become avid patrons for cultural pursuits and projects. The atmosphere is one of leisure and self indulgence, all men enjoy the comforts and pleasuers of the world”is phase of Civilization
“The fourth stage is a stage of contentment, satiation, and complacency, [stagnation]. Luxury and comfort have become a habit. Ruler and ruled are confident that they will last forever. And they may indeed last for quite some time, as the length of this period depends upon the power and the solidity of the achievements of the founders of the state. But during this stage, the state is already, imperceptibly, starting to decline and to disintegrate, and the fifth and last stage of prodigality and waste begins”is phase of Civilization
“it now becomes painful1y evident that the vital forces of solidarity and religion were destroyed in the beginning and that the strong natural loyalty of the kinsmen was replaced with the purchased support of the army and the bureaucracy who are not willing to sacrifice themselves for the ruler. To ensure their continued support and to maintain the luxuries, the ruler has to raise the taxes, with the result that the newly increased tax assessments yield a small and ever-decreasing amount of revenue, because this tax policy discourages economic activity. As the income of the state declines, it ultimately becomes impossible for the ruler to support his new followers. The habits of comfort and luxury have generated physical weakness and vice. The rough and courageous manners of the early primitive life are forgotten. The population has become effeminate. The hopes of the ruled are weakened, public opinion is marked by despair, economic activity, building projects are halted. People refrain from making long-range plans. The birth rate drops. The entire population, physically weak and living in large crowded cities with enviromental problems, becomes subject to diseas and plague. The state begins to disintegrate. From the outlying regions, princes, generals, dissatisfied kinsmen, and foreign conquerors snatch pieces of territory from the control of the state. The state is divided and subdivided into small provinces. Even in the capital, the military and the bureaucrats engage in intrigues to wrest the actural authority form the ruler, leaving him only with the insignia of his office and the name. Finally, an outside invasion by a young, healthy group may put an end to the life of the state, or it may decline further and further until it withers away ‘like a wick dying out in a lamp whose oil is gone.'”is phase of Civilization


First published: 30/04/2020

[2.7.3] Boethius on Universals

Boethius (477-525 AD), in his second commentary on Porphyry’s Isagoge (see [2.5]) presented a theory of universals characterized by moderate realism, responding to Porphyry’s questions:

Porphyry’s questionsUniversals according to Boethius
(a) whether genera and species are real or are situated in bare thoughts aloneare in the mind
(b) whether as real they are bodies or incorporealsare incorporeals
(c) whether they are separated or in sensibles and have their reality in connection with themare in connection with the sensibles

Boethius model of universals is in the following OntoUML diagram:

Boethius on universals
MindThe “separation in thought of those things that cannot be separated in reality is the process of abstraction. In general, by means of the process of abstraction, our mind (in particular, the faculty of our mind Aristotle calls active intellect (nous poietikos, in Greek, intellectus agens, in Latin) is able to form universal representations of particular objects by disregarding what distinguishes them, and conceiving of them only in terms of those of their features in respect of which they do not differ from one another.” (Klima 2017)
Universalsuniversals are regarded as universal mental representations existing in the mind […]. On this Aristotelian conception, universals need not be thought of as somehow sharing their being with all their distinct particulars, for their being simply consists in their being thought of, or rather, the particulars’ being thought of in a universal manner. This is what Boethius expresses by saying in his final replies to Porphyry’s questions the following:
‘… genera and species subsist in one way, but are understood in an another. They are incorporeal, but subsist in sensibles [individuals], joined to sensibles [individuals]. They are understood, however, as subsisting by themselves, and as not having their being in others.” (Klima 2017)
Genus“The genus is the part of the real definition that answers the broad question What is it? What is man? Man is an animal.” (see also [2.5])(Spade 2009)in the (part of the) Mind; is in a recursive association with itself; each level splits the superior level in 2 or more, based on the attributes marked in Difference
Species“Man is a most specific species. Below man there are only individual men, not yet lower species. What this means, of course, is that the differences among individual men are not essential differences but accidental ones. If they were essential differences, then we would have lower species after all.” (see also [2.5]) (Spade 2009)subkind of Genus; subsists in, joined to Individual
Individual“Below man [as species] there are only individual men, not yet lower species. What this means, of course, is that the differences among individual men are not essential differences but accidental ones.” (see also [2.5]) (Spade 2009)

Related posts in theory of Universals: [1.2.2], [1.3.1], [1.3.2], [2.5], [2.7.3], [4.3.1], [4.3.2]


  • Klima, Gyula, “The Medieval Problem of Universals”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Spade, Paul Vincent, “History of the Problem of Universals in the Middle Ages”, Indiana University 2009

First published: 04/06/2020