The Eight Qualities Of The Man Of Understanding

One of the first and greatest classics of Arabic prose is the Book of Kalila and Dimna.  It is a collection of fables told with an allegorical purpose, but it is presented with such wisdom, poetic eloquence, and engaging humor as to make it one of the treasures of world literature.  Its pedigree verifies its merit.  The stories it contains were originally derived from a Sanskrit classic called the Panchatantra, but a Persian scholar and translator named Ibn Muqaffa’ (ابن المقفع‎‎), writing around 740 A.D., reworked the stories into something that was entirely original.

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The Wise Sayings Of Al Muhallab

The Arab military commander Al Muhallab Ibn Abi Sufra (المهلّب بن أبي صفرة الأزدي) was born around A.D. 632, but not much is known of his early life beyond anecdotes.  His biographer Ibn Khallikan tells us on good authority that “His surnames al-Azdi, al-Ataki, [and] al-Basri indicate that he descended from al-Atik, member of the tribe of al-Azd, and that he was a native of Basra.”  We are also told that he was distinguished for his generosity and graciousness.  His military prowess was beyond question; he defended the city of Basra so effectively from its enemies that some took to calling the city “The Basra of Al Muhallab.”

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Why We Should Not Rely On First Impressions

It is often said that a man should rely on his first impressions of things when trying to form a final judgment.  There is some merit to instinct; but it seems to me that reasoned deliberation will always provide more accurate results than the shifting sands of sense-perception.  We cannot know all things, or even many things, at a glance.

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The Wisdom Of Fakhr Al-Din Al-Razi

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (1149–1210) was a Persian theologian and philosopher whose fecundity was only surpassed by his depth of understanding of various disciplines.  He is credited with over one hundred works, although it is likely that this number was considerably higher.  Learned in astronomy, philosophy, theology, chemistry, and a variety of other subjects, he was also said to have been a man of great humanity and understanding.  His inclinations were rationalist and scientific; for this reason he found more to his liking in the natural sciences than in airy theological speculations.

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Petrarch Reflects On Ignorance And Happiness

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The great humanist Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) had opportunity to reflect on the fact that the more he gained in knowledge and experience, the less and less certain he became of his own judgments.  These thoughts were recorded in an essay called On His Own Ignorance And That Of Many Others (De sui ipsius et multorum ignorantia).  Some of these observations are incredibly frank.

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