30- When your Lord said to the angels: “I will place a successor on earth.” They said: “Will you place one there who
will commit disorder and shed blood, while we praise You,
and extol Your holiness.” He said: “I know what you do
31- And He taught Adam all the names. Then presented
them to the angels, saying: “Tell me the names of these if
you are truthful.”
32- They said: “Glory to you, we have no knowledge except
what You have taught us. You are Knowing, Wise.”
33- “O Adam, give them their names.” When he told them
their names, He said: “Did I not tell you that I know the
secrets of the heavens and the earth? I know whatever you
reveal and whatever you conceal.”
2-The Cow, 30-33
So far we have dwelt on subject matters related to such natural sciences as physics, chemistry, biology, medicine and geology as miraculously developed in the Quran. In this chapter and in the next three
chapters, we will embark on important philosophical considerations
coming within the compass of the Quran.
In the verses quoted above the subjects treated are the creation of
man by God and His placement of him on earth. Angels who fail to
conceive the reason for man’s creation – a potential for committing
disorder and shedding blood – bring up the problem of evil and ask
God for a justification. God says that He knows things that they do not know and that there is wisdom in everything He creates.
Whereupon God emphasizes the superiority of man in that he is
taught how to use language.
In this chapter we are going to tackle the importance of man’s use
of language. The superiority of man as a being depends on his capacity to use a language. The philosophy of language developed in the
20th century and the vast studies carried on the issue asserts that without language we could not exist as persons as such. Once, Bertrand
Russell in the 1920s (he was in his 40s then and had already produced
most of the works which had given him prominence) acknowledged
that he considered language as a means at the disposal of man, that he
could handle without giving it special attention. Bryan Maggee
claimed that this held true not only for philosophers, but also for novelists, poets and playwrights. Self-consciousness in the use of language
developed, especially in the twentieth century, and became one of the
philosophical characteristics of the age.
This development is not limited to a superficial interest in words
but also includes in its scope beliefs related to basic issues. The
abstract thought made possible by language has proven to be the most
important factor in conceptualizing all the aspects of reality in which
we had not participated directly, and in handling it as well as in our
communication with our environment. The general consensus is that
this is the major characteristic that differentiates us from animals.
Thus, learning a language enables us to become ourselves. The importance of language had not been conceived as so great, both as regards
mankind in general and the individual in particular.
The Quran, 1400 years ago, stressed this importance. Those who
take an interest in philosophy should know that most of the new ideas
are based on the depository of past acquisitions. Wherever there are
hot debates, wherever ideas clash, new concepts arise, be they correct
or irrelevant. During the Prophet’s time, there seems not to have been
significant philosophical discourse. The Quran’s reference to the relevance of language at such a time – which people would only realize
long afterwards – is an interesting statement indeed. At the time and
place of the descent of the Quran, there were neither concerns about
language nor about its philosophical profundity
CONTRIBUTION OF WITTGENSTEIN
Using and understanding a language is the distinctive characteristic of
man that separates him from other living beings. This forms the
essence of our inner existence. The questions raised by Ludwig
Wittgenstein played a great role in conceiving the importance of language in the history of philosophy. Wittgenstein asked questions
which at first sight would seem platitudes, just like in the case of
Newton inquiring into the reason of the planets’ not changing their
courses and of the falling of stones thrown in the air back on the
ground. Wittgenstein had his precursors, like Locke and Leibniz, as
well as Frege and Russell. However, it was Wittgenstein who first
brought the issue of “language” into focus in the history of philosophy.
In Tractatus, a work belonging to his first phase, he tried to construct an ideal definition of language that gave a picture of the world.
According to him, a sentence that said something (a proposition) had
to be “a picture of reality.” Wittgenstein thinks that if we analyze what
is said, we can reduce it to words that are but names of things and the
connection established between the words of a sentence would represent the connections between things in the world. In this way, the
sentence may draw the picture of the world.
Wittgenstein believed he had solved all the philosophical problems.
Nevertheless, later on as he advanced in years, he began feeling out of
step with Tractatus. In his second period, he began to conceive of
language as a kind of tool. In this period he claimed that language was
a social phenomenon and activity. The commonality between
Wittgenstein’s former view and the latter is that the language skill
occupies the center of his concern and that it is transformed into the
philosophy of language. Wittgenstein is one of the rare philosophers
who managed to gather around him a large number of disciples,
despite his two contradictory periods. Wittgenstein saw, during his
second period, that language had more meaning than he had originally thought. In our opinion, the merits of a language and the targets that it conveys exceed his belief, even at this period. I shall dwell
on this point longer in a book devoted to this subject. These studies
are important since they direct our attention to the importance of language, a special gift of God to mankind.
HOW DOES THE BABY BEGIN TO SPEAK?
Frege’s and Russell’s studies of the philosophy of mathematics led to
the emergence of the philosophy of language. Noam Chomsky’s statements about language had a considerable impact in the 50s. To be
able to handle something as complex and difficult as language cannot
be explained just with the hypothesis that the baby learns it only after
he is born without any a priori tendency. Formerly, it was believed
that a language consisted of a series of habits, skills and aptitudes and
was acquired by exercises, repetitions, generalizations and associations. The undeniable fact is that the majority of the public receive no
systematic education. In other words, the parents, in general, do not
teach their children about pre-established linguistic principles. This
becomes all the more apparent if one considers that the great majority of the world’s masses lack a proper education. Yet, this does not
rule out the fact that babies do learn how to speak in their tender age.
I agree with Noam Chomsky. The baby must be fully equipped
and ready to learn how to speak as soon as it wants to communicate
with its environment. As our eyesight is made ready to perceive the
world at large, so is our mind prepared to use its innate capacity to
acquire what is being spoken around it. As the eye begins to see,
wherever there is light enough, so are the ear and the mind exposed
to hear the language spoken, in an environment ready to acquire it. As
Humboldt says, we acquire as a baby the skill to use finite means in
infinite ways. Even intellectually restricted children do the same.
The following example demonstrates the innateness of this aptitude: The mind can be visualized as a function at first, when the
empirical data are entered as input; one has the linguistic output, just
like the number 5 is obtained when the square root of the number 25
is sought. The mind is even ready to learn how to speak like a calculator. When it meets a language, it acquires it and makes all sorts of
3- He has created the human beings.
4- He has taught him speech.
Language is an innate gift of God to Adam and his offspring. If we
go back to the days of our babyhood and inquire into the ways by
which we acquired the faculty of speech and built a vocabulary, would
we not be in a difficulty to account for the process? How is it then that
we learn how to speak without any conscious contribution on our
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THERE HAD BEEN
NO SUCH THING AS LANGUAGE?
To appreciate the value of language, we must look for an answer to
the question “What would happen if there had been no language?”
Had there been no such thing as language, there would have been no
states, cities, villages or even families. In a milieu deprived of all social
institutions, no production would ever take place. Consequently,
there would be no textile products, cars, glassware, pencils, notebooks, etc.
Our mere conception of the importance of language is made possible by linguistic expression. An article on the importance of language is the result of our use of it. Language is not an invention of
human beings. Language requires as premise a will and an orientation.
Given the fact that the importance of language finds its expression in
language, would man be in a position to create a language when the
very concept of it was absent? Language is a social phenomenon, and
where there is no language, there is no society.
The development of language is certainly possible. But this is possible only when one has the rudiments of a language. A language can
develop just like a plant that sprouts. The absence of a language would
mean the absence of seeds, the consequence of which would be the
absence of vegetation. Just consider (for a while) the coinage of a
word to mean a particular concept. On the assumption that men were
deprived of a “language,” the fancied word would be doomed to sink
into oblivion. The invention of writing was a subordinate process.
Where there is no concept of a language, accumulation and transmission of information would be impossible. Given the fact that the
importance of language cannot be conceived without it, the socialization of occasionally uttered unintelligible words or sounds emitted
cannot be made into a coherent common means of communication. Language is a means calling for consensus of a community. In a milieu
deprived of social consciousness, the invention of a language based on
consensus is unimaginable.
The newborn is the most helpless creature among the creatures of
the earth. It is dependent on its parents for survival. In the absence of
a common language there would be no communication, and, therefore, no family. The paternity of the child could not be established.
Only the mother could be identified. Where knowledge does not
exist, it is difficult to establish any connection between the sexual act
and the birth, notwithstanding the period of nine months that elapses before the child is born. Even this connection is made possible by
the use of language. The establishing of the family unit and the
restriction of sexual relations to couples in humans require the use of
language. In such a milieu, the child can only recognize its mother. It
would not be easy for a mother to feed her child all by herself. Man
cannot be compared with other living beings. Most of the living creatures begin to walk, to fly and seek food a very short time after they
are born. The majority of the species of animals are programmed to
protect themselves. The long lasting maintenance of the human baby
– the weakest of all living beings – is secured thanks to the culture and
the communication the language provides. The faculty of thinking
through the use of words replaces the innate programming of other
Had men been deprived of speech from the beginning of their
days, they could hardly have survived. The Quran’s statement that the
first human being was taught to speak is very important in this respect.
Man is born equipped with the mental capacity, with an ear ready to
receive what he hears, and a mouth and tongue to express his intentions. Coincidences cannot account for the perfect and complex creation of our ear, mouth and tongue. To all these, however, has to be
added the endowment by our Creator of the potential a priori faculty
of speech. A more detailed study of this issue will be tackled in a further
37- Then Adam received from his Lord words…
2-The Cow, 37