The Amazing Arab Scholar Who Beat Adam Smith by Half a Millennium

Dániel Oláh in Evonomics:

In one of the most seminal works in the field of history of economic thought (History of Economic Analysis, 1954), Joseph Schumpeter argued that there is a “Great Gap” in the history of economics. The concept justifies the general ignorance in economics curricula towards economic thinking between early Christian and Scholastic times, emphasizing the lack of relevant positive (“scientific”) economic thinking in this period.

Thanks to this self-created gap the most outstanding islamic figure of the Middle Ages, the Andalusian scholar and politician Ibn Khaldun is neglected in mainstream textbooks (Screpanti and Zamagni 2005, Roncaglia 2005, Rothbard 2006, Blaug 1985). Several of these works often misleadingly start to identify the roots of modern theories with discussing the mercantilists or the Scottish Enlightenment.

The truth is that these weren’t the beginning of economic thinking at all.

Establishing social science in the 14th century

The biggest merit of Khaldun lies in his revolutionary methodological thinking. He completely rejected the methodology of his ancestors, which made him the first “social scientist […] in the strictest meaning of that term” (Fonseca, 1988). Before Khaldun, the role of islamic historians was limited to transmit knowledge without modifying, editing or adding any remarks to the tradition. They never questioned the validity of stories, but analyzed the credibility of the transmitter quite carefully instead.

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