Chelli contends that the success of European countries in fostering
science & technology stems from the differences between Western
and non-Western languages.
Moncef Chelli was born in 1936 in Tunisia. As a boy, he immigrated to France with his parents.
During all his childhood, he had to live with two languages simultaneously (French
and Arabic), which disturbed him, but was the basis of his future philosophical work.
Moncef Chelli got a PhD in philosophy. He taught human sciences at preparatory classes at HEC Paris.
(Preparatory classes are the preliminary steps needed to join the best of French
high education schools.) He died around 2002 in Tunisia.
Chelli wrote a few philosophy books, mainly focusing on the specificities of
Arab language and culture as opposed to those of France.
Major works related to the European Miracle
(1) 1980: La Parole arabe, Ed. Sindbab, 1980, La Bibilothèque arabe.
(2) 1987: L’Evolution des idées dans la culture occidentale, Ed. Ellipses.
(3) 1993: Trois Visions du temps, co-author, Ed. du Centurion, 1993.
(4) 1997: Le Mythe de cristal ou le secret de la puissance de l’Occident,
collection "Les empêcheurs de penser en rond", édition Institut Synthélabo pour
le progrès de la connaissance, Le Plessis-Robinson (6km south of Paris), Feb 1997.
A main website for Chelli is found under
comment by Abdelouadoud El Omrani .
In Le Mythe de Cristal (The Cristal Myth), Chelli contends mainly that:
(1) the languages of "the West" (i.e. of France) led it
to develop science and technology. The influence in the language acted along three lines:
the clear-cut consouns, the cristalline vocals and the verb "to be".
These would be the blueprints for the belief that reality can be separated into
clear-cut objects, as distinct from each other as concepts. Within this belief,
there are clearly distinguishable and knowledgeable objects out there,
in particular an empty space separated from the objects within.
(2) that this advance in science relies on a wrong belief, the "cristal myth"
of the title, because reality cannot be cut into pieces (space, objects, movement, etc).
The myth is invisible or transparent, because it is dictated by the language,
thus the "cristalline" aspect.
My absolutely subjective review of Chelli's contribution to the Grand Issue
Very poor. Chelli's theory is reductionist and weak, to say the least.
It would imply that the Arabs have never taken part
and shall never take part into scientific development. This is obviously wrong. There were
times when Arabic science was shining, leading the world science, for example
in the Middle East around 900-1100 and 1200-1300, and in North Africa around 1250-1350.
Chelli's theory cannot account for these brilliant periods, as opposed to my book
Le Secret de l'Occident
in which I explain both the rising as well as the declining phases of the Arabic-Muslim world.
Besides, Chelli's argumentation is very deficient. There also are vocals and
consouns in Arabic, albeit pronounced differently. The difference is not so large.
Finally, lots of other, non-Western, languages display such "cristalline" features
as French, without having triggered as much scientific progress, contrary to what would be
expected in Chelli's theory.
Another limitation of Le Mythe de Cristal is that, while pretending to talk
about "Western" languages, Chelli actually talks exclusively about the French
Furthermore, to pretend that scientific progress relies on a wrong belief, on a myth,
is at the very least misleading. Technology is not philosophy. Wrong assumptions could
not lead to so many new powerful technical devices, over so many centuries.
A true, successful, developpment may barely stem from erroneous assumptions,
from a "myth" a proof that the author has no clue about technology.
Last, but not least, Chelli poor command of the French language makes his book a grueling
task to read. Self-contradictory or elliptic sentences leading nowhere fill up most of the
book. This lousy semantics is compounded with much hot air and empty grand style ("langue de bois"),
intended to impress the reader, and to mask the emptiness of the thoughts.