(Incoherence of the Philosophers)
Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111 CE)
Translated into English from Urdu Translation by Sabih Ahmad Kamali
BARRING the Atheists, all the philosophers are agreed that the world has a maker: that God is the Maker or the Agent of the world, and that the world is His action or product. But this is a dishonest distortion of their principles. There are three reasons why, according to their principles, the world's being the action or the product of God is inconceivable. One of these reasons is to be found in the nature of the agent: another in the nature of the action, and the third one in the relationship between the action and the agent.
The reason to be found in the nature of the agent is that it is necessary for an agent to have the will for the action: to have free choice, and to know what he wills. But, according to the philosophers, God has no will. Nay, He has no attribute at all. Whatever proceeds from Him is a necessary consequence.
Secondly, the reason found in the nature of the action is that an action must have a beginning in time. But the philosophers consider the world to be eternal.
Thirdly, the reason found in the relationship between he action and the agent is that, according to them, God is one in all respects, and only one proceeds from one. But the world is composed of different things. How can it proceed from Him?
Let us investigate each one of these three reasons, and see how fallacious their reasoning is, when they endeavor to defend their position.
An agent is he from whom an action proceeds because of the will for action: by way of free choice, and alongside of the knowledge of what is willed. But in your view the world bears the same relation to God as an effect to its cause. So it follows from Him by way of necessary causation. And, therefore, it is not conceivable that God should have been able to avoid His action, even as the shadow is unavoidable to a person, or light to the Sun. Now, this has nothing to do with an action. He who says that the lamp does' the light, or that a person 'does' the shadow, will be extending the sense of the word beyond its definition. He will be borrowing a word used in a different context, having been too easily contended with the relation between the two things in respect of only one attribute — namely, that an agent is on the whole a cause, and the lamp is the cause of illumination, and the Sun is the cause of light. But the agent is not called the agent merely because of his being a cause, but because he is a cause in a special manner, viz., in the manner of will and free choice. Thus, it is that when one says that the wall is no agent: the stone is no agent: the inorganic Matter is no agent for an action exclusively belongs to an animal, then this statement will not be disputed, and his words will not be untrue. But in their view, the stone does have an action — namely, the inclination, or the gravitation, or the tending towards the Centre — and so does fire have an action — viz., production of heat. And they believe that that which proceeds from God is like all these things. But this is absurd.
If it is said :
We call every existent which is not a necessary being in itself, but owes its existence to another, an agendum: and call its cause the agent. We do not care whether the cause is an agent by nature, or by will — just as you would not care whether an agent is an agent by an instrument, or without an instrument. An action is a genus divisible into those actions which occur with the help of an instrument, and those without the help of an instrument. Similarly, it is a genus divisible into those actions which occur by nature, and those which occur by free choice. The argument to prove our contention is this: When we say 'action by nature,' the words 'by nature' are not contradictory to, or incompatible with, the word 'action.' On the contrary, they just describe a species of action: as our words 'action without an instrument' will not be contradictory to, or incompatible with, each other, but will be only a description or a specification. Again, when we say 'action by free choice,' it is not a tautology, as the words 'animal man' would be: on the contrary, it is only the description of a species of action, like the words: 'action by instrument.' If the word 'action' were to include will, and if will were essential to action, qua action, then the words 'action by nature' would be contradictory, even as the words 'action' and 'non-action' are.
we will answer
This terminology is false. It is not proper to call every cause an agent, and every effect an agendum. It it were proper to do so, it would not be right to say that the inorganic Matter has no action, and that an action belongs to an animal alone. But this proposition is one of the most widely accepted and, therefore, true dicta. If sometimes, inorganic Matter is called an agent, it is purely metaphorical. For instance, inorganic Matter is called an aspirant, or willer, e.g., a stone is said to incline, because it desires or seeks the Centre. But will or seeking is, something which is inconceivable, if not accompanied by the knowledge of the object willed or sought. And, therefore, it cannot conceivably be applied in case of any thing other than an animal.
Your assertion that action is a general thing which can be divided into actions by nature and actions by will is inadmissible. It is like one's saying that will is a general thing which can be divided into cases in which will is accompanied by the knowledge of the object willed and those in which it is not. That is false, for will must needs include the knowledge of the object willed. Similarly, action must needs include will. As regards your statement that the words 'action by nature' are not contradictory to the first term; i.e., 'action,' this is not so. They are contradictory, as far as reality is concerned. But the contradiction does not strike the understanding: nor is the heart's aversion to it very great, for after all in a metaphorical sense it remains true. This is so, because a cause, whatever its nature may be, is at least metaphorically called an agent, for an agent is also a cause. And the words 'action by free choice' are certainly redundant, like saying: 'He willed, and had the knowledge of what he willed.' But because it is not unusual to speak of an action which is only metaphorical, and another which is real, the mind is not averse to hearing of an 'action by free choice.' What, however, it means is that the action is real, not metaphorical. One might say: 'He spoke with his tongue, and saw with his eye,' for it is permissible to speak of seeing in case of the heart, and of speaking in case of the movements of the head and hand. Thus, metaphorically, it is said: 'He said by his head, i.e., nodded, Yes.' And this is the reason why he who says: 'He spoke with his tongue, and saw with his eyes,' will not be taken to task. And the meaning of this expression will be a denial of the metaphorical import of the words. This is the stumbling block. A warning must be given here, for this is the place where these idiots have fallen into error.
If it is said:
To call an agent an agent is something the knowledge of which can be derived from language. And even if language were not hopeful, it could be made clear by reason that a cause may be either a willing, or an unwilling cause. Our dispute turns on the question whether action is in reality the word for (the result of) the two kinds of causes. Now, the applicability of the word 'action' cannot be denied, since the Arabs say: 'Fire burns': 'A sword cuts': 'Ice cools': 'Scammony (Scammony is a bindweed native to the countries of the eastern part of the Mediterranean basin) loosens the bowels': 'Bread satisfies hunger': 'Water quenches thirst,' etc. When we say: 'strikes,' we mean: 'does strike': and by: 'burns,' we mean: 'does burn,' by: 'cuts,' 'does cut,' etc. If you say that all these actions are metaphorical, you make an arbitrary and groundless assumption.
All these actions are metaphorical: for the real action depends on will. Following is an argument to prove this contention. Suppose an event which, in order to happen, depends on two things — one volitional, and the other non-volitional. Here reason will attribute the action to the volitional factor. And the same position will be taken by language. For he who throws a man into fire, whereupon that man dies, is called the murderer: but fire is not. And this is so completely true that no objection is taken to one who says: 'No one, except this man, is the murderer.' If the word 'agent' could be applied to the willing and the non-willing cause in the same way (not in the sense that the one was originally, while the other was metaphorically, so), then language, convention and reason would not all he at one in attributing the responsibility for the murder to the willing cause — notwithstanding the fact that the fire was the nearer cause of murder, and that the man who threw the victim into the fire did nothing besides putting the victim and fire together. Seeing that the volitional action which consists in putting together the victim and the involuntary influence of fire, is held responsible for the murder, and fire is not called the murderer, except in a metaphorical sense, it follows that the agent is he from whose will an action proceeds. And since, in their view, God has neither will nor free choice of action, they can call Him an agent or a maker only in a metaphorical sense.
If it is said:
What we mean by God's being the Agent is that He is the Cause of the existence of every other being : that He sustains the world : that if He had not been, the existence of the world would have been inconceivable; and that if His non-existence could be supposed, the world should cease to exist, as with the supposition of the non-existence of the Sun, light should cease to exist. So this is what we mean by His being the agent. If the opponent refuses to use the word 'action' in this case, let there be no dispute over words, once the meaning has been made clear.
we will answer:
It is our purpose to show that this meaning cannot be called an action or a product. What an action or a product means is something which really proceeds from will. You have denied the reality of the meaning of an action, retaining the word itself in order to find favor with the Muslims. But religious obligations cannot be fulfilled merely by applying words which are devoid of meaning. Therefore, do assert that God has no action, thus making it clear that your belief is opposed to that of the Muslims. Do not dishonestly say that God is the maker of the world, and that the world is His Product. For you have not discarded this word, yet you have denied its reality, And the purpose of this problem was to expose this dishonesty.
The second reason — why on the philosophers' principles, it is self-contradictory to believe that the world is an action of God — is to be found in a condition for an action. Namely, an action must have a beginning in time. But in their view, the world is eternal, not temporal. An action means causing something to come out of non-existence into existence, by giving it a temporal origin. This is inconceivable in the case of an eternal thing. For that which eternally exists cannot be produced by being given a temporal origin. So a temporal origin is an indispensable condition for an action. And they consider the world to be eternal. How, therefore, can it be an action of God?
If it is said
Temporal existence means being after non-being. Now, let us ask: When the agent caused forth a being in time, was that which proceeded from him — and which, therefore, bore a relation to him — pure existence, or pure non-existence, or both? It is false to say that the preceding non-existence could bear a relation to him. For no agent has influence over non-existence. Also, it is false to say that both could be related to him. For it has been seen that non-existence can never be related to him, and non-existence, qua nonexistence, does not stand in need of an agent at all. It, therefore, remains to say that that which proceeds from the agent is related to him by virtue of its being an existent that pure existence proceeds from him: and that nothing but existence can bear a relation to him. If the existence is supposed to be everlasting, its relation to the agent must also be supposed to be everlasting. And if this relation is everlasting, then — inasmuch as non-existence has never been related to the agent — he to whom the relation is sustained will be all the more efficient, and his influence will be all the more enduring.
It remains to say that that which proceeds from the agent is related to the agent by virtue of its having an origin in time. But its having an origin in time only means that it exists after non-being. But non-being has never borne a relation to the agent. If the precedence of nonbeing is made an attribute of being, and if it is said that what is related to the agent is a particular existence — viz., an existence preceded by non-existence — not all existence, then the answer would be: Its being preceded by nonexistence is not the action of any agent, or the work of any maker. If this existence cannot proceed from the agent, unless it were preceded by non-being, and seeing that the precedence of non-being is not the action of any agent, it follows that the character (of this existence) of being preceded by non-existence is not the action of the agent, and, therefore, bears no relation to him. So if the precedence of non-being is regarded as a condition required to be fulfilled in order for existence to be actualized, then this means the imposition of a condition over which the agent has no influence.
Your statement that the production of an existent is not possible is true, if you mean that no existence which has been preceded by non-existence begins to run its course. But if you mean that in the state of being an existent, it cannot be the object of production, then it must be borne in mind, as has been shown by us, that it is produced in the state of being an existent, not in that of being a non-existent. For something is produced, when the agent is able to produce, not in the state of the non-existence of the object of production, but in the state of its existence (because of the agent). Production is coincident with the agent's being able to produce, and the object's being able to be produce. For production is only the relationship between the producer and the object of production. And all this is together with existence, not before it. Thus, it is clear that nothing but an existent can be the object of production, if production means the relation by which the agent is able to produce, and the object able to be produced. Therefore, (they add) we have judged that the world is an action of God from eternity to eternity, and that there is no state in which He is not the agent of the world; for that which is related to the agent is existence. If this relation is perpetual, the existence will also be perpetual: if the relation is severed, existence will cease. This is not the same thing as you imagine it to be — namely, that the. world can remain even when the Creator is supposed not to exist. To you, He is like the builder in relation to the building: the latter remains even when the former has perished. The continuity of the building is not owing to the builder; it is the result of the structural system which holds all the components of the building together. If such a power of cohesion — e.g., that provided by water — is not there, mere action of an agent will not be successful in keeping any edifice intact.
The action is related to the agent by virtue of its being a temporal event, not by virtue of the non-existence which preceded it, nor by virtue of its merely being an existent. So it is not related to the agent in what we could call the second state of its existence — i.e., when (even at the time of the action) it was an existent. On the contrary, it is related to the agent in the state of its temporal origination. And it is so related, because it is a temporal phenomenon, a transition from non-existence. If its temporal character is denied, its being an action will be unintelligible, and it will bear no relation to the agent. As regards your statement that its being a temporal event ultimately means its being preceded by non-existence, and that its being preceded by non-existence is no action of an agent: no work of a maker, there is no doubt that this is so. But this being preceded by nonexistence (which itself is no action of an agent) is a condition for an action to become an action of an agent. For, existence which is not preceded by non-existence is not fit to be the action of an agent. Not every thing, which is a condition for an action to be what it is, is necessarily owing to the efficiency of an agent. For instance, the essence and the power and the will and the knowledge of an agent is each a condition for his action to be an action; but none of these things is effected by the agent himself. Even so, an action is intelligible only when it is performed by an existent. Therefore, like his will and power and knowledge, the existence of an agent is also a condition for his efficiency; regardless of whether it is an effect of his efficiency, or not.
If it is said:
If you admit the rule that it is proper for the action to be together with, not posterior to, the agent, then it will follow that the action must be temporal if the agent is temporal, and eternal if the agent is eternal. If you lay down the condition that the action must be posterior to the agent in time, then it will be an impossible condition. If you move your hand inside a basin full of water, the water will move together with, not before or after, the movement of your hand. If the water were to move after the movement of the hand, then the moving hand and the water-at-rest — i.e., before its being stirred — would be together in the same place. If it were to move before the movement of the hand, then the movement of the water would again be separate from that of the hand. But this would be incompatible with the one's being an effect of the other: an action resulting from the other. So if we suppose the hand moving in water to be eternal, the movement of the water will also be perpetual. And, in spite of its perpetuity, the movement of the water will still be an effect. For being an effect is not incompatible with the supposition of perpetuity. This is how the world is related to God.
we will answer
We do not find it impossible that the action be together with the agent — after having originated in time. For instance, the movement of water is a temporal event arising out of non-existence: it can properly be an action, and it is immaterial whether it is posterior to the agent's being, or coexistent with it. But we cannot concede the possibility of an eternal action. For that which has not arisen out of non-existence cannot be called an action — except in a metaphorical sense, having no basis in reality. As regards the relation between the cause and the effect, it is possible that both should be eternal, or both temporal. For instance, it is said that the eternal knowledge is the cause of the Eternal's being a knower. This is indisputable. But what is to be disputed is that which is called an action. The effect of a cause is not called the action of that cause — except in a metaphorical sense. For it is a condition for an action to have arisen out of non-existence. If someone ventures to call an eternal and everlasting being an action of some other being, he will be using unwarranted metaphorical language. Your assertion that if the movement of a finger together with the movement of water is supposed to be eternal, still the movement of the water will not cease to be an action, is a deliberate attempt at creating confusion. For the finger has no action. Action belongs to him who has the finger. And he is the willing agent. If he is supposed to be eternal, still the movement of the fingers will be his action — inasmuch as each unit in this movement is a temporal event which arises out of non-existence. So in this sense, it will be an action. As regards the movement of water, we would not say that it is the action of the person who moved his hand in water. On the contrary, it is an action of God — whatever may be the description of this relation. And its being an action is determined by its having had a beginning in time — not by the perpetuity of the process of the origination of the units of which it is composed. It is an action only because it begins in time.
If it is said
If you admit that the relation between the action and the agent, which is based on the former's being an existent, is like the relation between the effect and its cause, then you will have conceded the idea of the perpetuity of causal relation. We do not mean by the world's being an action any thing other than that it is an effect which bears an everlasting relation to its cause, i.e., God (exalted be He). If you do not call such a thing an action, we will not have a dispute over the application of names whose meaning has been made clear.
we will answer
The only purpose of this problem is to show that you pretend to believe in these names for the sake of the merit acquired by one who believes in them. But you do not think that in reality any thing corresponds to them. To you, God is not an agent in the real sense of the word; nor is the world His action in reality. The use of the word 'action' in your theories is only a piece of metaphorical language, having no basis in reality. So our purpose has been achieved inasmuch as this subterfuge has been exposed.
In the relationship between the agent and the action is to be found the third reason why on principle the world's being an action of God is impossible in the philosopher's view. They say that only one proceeds from one. But the Principle is one in all respects; while the world is composed of different things. Therefore, according to their fundamental principles, it is inconceivable that the world should be an action of God.
If it is said:
The world as a whole does not proceed from God without intermediaries. What proceeds from Him is one, it is the first creature which is a pure intelligence: a self-subsisting substance which is not extended: knows itself: knows its Principle, and in theological language is called an angel. From it proceeds the second intelligence; from the second, the third: from the third, the fourth: and thus through intermediaries, the beings multiply. Now, the difference and multiplicity in an action may result from
All these kinds are inapplicable to the first Principle. As we will see in the arguments for Divine unity, there is neither difference, nor duality, nor multiplicity in His being. Nor is there any difference of Matters in the first Principle; we have yet to discuss the origin of the first effect — i.e., let us say, Prime Matter. Nor is there any difference of instruments; for there is no being together with God and in the same position as He has : and we are yet to discuss the origin of the first instrument. The only thing which remains is, therefore, that multiplicity in the world proceeds from God through intermediation, as we have shown earlier.
we will answer
From this it would follow that there is in the world not a single thing which is composed of individuals, but that all the beings are units, each of which is an effect of some other unit above it, as it is the cause of some other unit below it, and so on, till the series comes to an end with an ineffective effect at the bottom, and a causeless cause at the top. But in fact this is not so. For the philosophers say that body is composed of Form and Matter, both of which combine to make one thing. Similarly, man is composed of body and soul, neither of which owes its existence to the other, for both depend for their existence on some other cause. The same is true of the spheres. For they too are composed of body and soul; and the soul has not originated from the body, nor the body from the soul, but both have emanated from external causes. How, then, do all these composite things come into existence? Does each one have only one cause? If the answer is in the affirmative, it will refute .their assertion that only one proceeds from one. Or, does a composite thing have a composite cause? In that case, the inquiry will be directed to the composite character of the cause, until the point is reached where the composite necessarily meets the simple. The Principle is simple; whereas the effects are characterized by composition. And this is inconceivable, unless the simple and the composite were to meet. And whenever such meeting occurs, their assertion that from one only one proceeds will be refuted.
If it is said
The difficulty will be removed when our theory is understood. All beings can be divided into: (a) those which are in substrata — e.g., Accidents and Forms — and (b) those which are not in substrata. These latter can be divided into: (c) those which are substrata for others — e.g., bodies — and (d) those which are not. To (d) belong such beings as are self-subsisting substances. These substances can be divided into: (e) those which influence bodies — let us call such substances 'souls' — and (f) those which influence souls, not bodies — let us call such substances 'pure intelligences.' The beings, which subsist in substrata — e.g., Accidents — have a temporal origin, and their causes are also temporal. The series of their causes and the causes of the causes comes to an end with a principle which is temporal in one respect, and everlasting in another. This principle is rotary motion; and it is an indisputable principle. It is, however, the self-subsisting Roots with which we are here concerned. They are three,
Bodies are ten in number: the nine heavens, and Matter which is the stuff filling the concave of the sphere of the Moon. The nine heavens are living beings, composed of bodies and souls. Let us now describe the order of existence among them.
From the being of the first Principle emanated the first intelligence. It is a being existing in itself, neither body nor impressed upon bodies. It knows itself as well as its Principle. We have called it the first intelligence: but it makes no difference whether it is called an angel, or an intelligence, or whatever one likes. From the being of this intelligence three things followed: another intelligence, the soul of the highest sphere which is the ninth heaven, and the body of that sphere. From the second intelligence followed the third intelligence, the soul of the. stellar sphere, and the body of that sphere. From the third intelligence followed the fourth intelligence, the soul of the sphere of Saturn, and the body of that sphere. From the fourth intelligence followed the fifth intelligence, the soul of the sphere of Jupiter, and the body of that sphere. And so on, till there was an intelligence from which followed the last intelligence, the soul of the sphere of the Moon, and the body of that sphere. This last intelligence is called the Agent Intellect. From it followed the stuff of the sphere of the Moon — viz., the Matter which receives generation and corruption — and the constitutions of the spheres. The Matters combine, because of the movement of stars, into different combinations which produce minerals, vegetables, and animals. It is not necessary that from each intelligence follows another intelligence, and that the series thus become infinite. For the intelligences have specific differences : what is true of one does not necessarily hold of others.
It must have been seen that, apart from the first Principle, the intelligences are ten in number. And the spheres are nine. The total of these noble principles, apart from the first Principle, comes to nineteen. Also, it must be clear that each intelligence has under it three things: an intelligence, the soul of a sphere, and the body of that sphere. Obviously, there must be ground for threefold-ness in its principle. Now, plurality in the first effect is inconceivable. But there is an exception to the rule. The first effect knows its principle, knows itself, and is possible in itself — inasmuch as it derives the necessity of its existence from someone other than itself. These are three different meanings. It is proper that the noblest meaning should belong to the noblest of all the three aspects of the first effect. Thus, an intelligence proceeds from it, because it knows its principle: the soul of a sphere proceeds from it, because it knows itself; and the body of a sphere proceeds from it, because it is possible in itself. We must now ask: What is the source of threefold-ness in the first effect whose Principle is one? The answer is: From the first Principle only one proceeds — i.e., the essence of the first intelligence by which it knows itself. Now, its knowledge of its principle is, evidently, necessary, although the necessity is not derived from the Principle. Again, being possible in itself, the first intelligence owes its possible character to itself, not to the first Principle. To us, it is not improbable that, while only one should proceed from one, the first effect may still acquire — not from the first Principle — some evidently necessary things, which express some relation, or no relation, and which give rise to plurality. This will make it the principle of plurality. And in this way will it be possible for the simple to meet the composite. There is no escape from such a conjunction: and only in this way can it take place. Hence the necessity to adopt this view. (This much is necessary in order to expound their theory.)
we shall answer:
All you have said here is arbitrary reasoning. To be more exact, it is darkness piled upon darkness. If someone says that he saw things of this kind in a dream, it will be inferred that he was suffering from some disease. Or if such things are introduced in the discussion of the problems of Fiqh — the only place where conjecture is the ultimate end — it will be said that these things are wild guess — work which does not raise even a presumption as to its validity.
The points from which objection can be taken to these things are innumerable. Let us, however, be content with only a few of the reasons for which we find this theory to be unsatisfactory.
A. We will say: You have asserted that one of the meanings of plurality in the first effect is that it is possible. Now, let us ask: Is its being possible identical with its being, or other than it? If it is identical, no plurality will arise from it. If it is other than its being, then why do you not say that there is plurality in the first Principle? For He is a being, and at the same time He is necessary.
The necessity of being is other than being itself. Therefore, this plurality in the first Principle can make it possible for different things to proceed from Him. If it is said that necessity of being does not mean any thing other than being itself, it will be said that the possibility of being in like manner does not mean any thing other than being itself. If you say that we can know its possible character, and that this shows that possibility is other than being, then the same holds of the Necessary. For in His case, too, it is possible to know of existence, while the necessity of existence is not known (unless a different argument should be used); and, therefore, His being necessary is other than His existence itself. In fine, being is a general thing which can be divided into necessary and possible being. If the differentia of one of the two divisions is additional to the generic character, so will the differentia of the other be. The two cases cannot differ.
If it is said
The possibility of being springs from the nature of the possible : whereas it owes its existence to someone other than itself How, then, can the two things — one of which is natural, while the other is external — be the same?
we will answer
But, then, how can the necessity of being be identical with existence either? It is possible to deny the necessity of being, affirming existence at the same time. The absolutely true one does not admit of the affirmation and the denial of the same thing at the same time. It is not possible to say that it is being and non-being: or that it is necessary and not-necessary. But one might say that it is a being, and that it is not necessary — just as one could say that something is a being, and that it is not possible. This is how oneness is determined. And the supposition of such a thing in the case of the first Principle is invalid, if, as they have maintained, it is true that the possibility of existence is not identical with the existence of the possible.
B. The second objection: we will say: Is the first effect's knowledge of its Principle identical with its existence and with its knowledge of itself, or other than the two? If it is identical, then there will be no plurality in its nature, except insofar as its nature itself is to be interpreted in terms of plurality. But if it is other than the two, then such a plurality also exists in the first Principle, for He too knows Himself as well as what is other than Himself.
If they assert:
His self-knowledge is identical with His essence. lie cannot know Himself, unless He knew that He is the Principle of other beings. His knowledge being coincident with the object of knowledge, the whole thing is resolved into His being.
we will answer
Similarly, the first effect's self-knowledge is identical with its essence. For by its substance, it is an intelligence; hence its self-knowledge. And in its case, too, the knower, the knowledge and the object of knowledge form a unity. Its self-knowledge being identical with its essence, it knows itself as the effect of its cause. Therefore, knowledge being coincident with the object of knowledge, the whole thing can be resolved into its being. It follows that either there can be no plurality at all; or if it is there, it will exist in the first principle as well. And from Him, therefore, the beings characterized by diversity and plurality will directly proceed. Let us give up the doctrine of His unity-in-all-respects, if unity is adversely affected by this kind of plurality.
If it is said:
The first Principle does not know anything other than Himself. His self-knowledge is the same thing as His essence. So the knowledge, the knower and the object of knowledge are all one. And He does not know anyone other than himself.
The answer from two points
Firstly, this tenet is so obnoxious that Ibn Sina and all other great thinkers of later times have actually repudiated it. They say: The first Principle does know Himself as the Principle of the emanation of all that emanates from Him. He knows all the beings — in all their species — by a knowledge which is not particular, but universal.
They were led to this position, for they had recoiled in horror from the theory that from the first Principle only an intelligence proceeds. He does not know what proceeds from Him. From His effect, which is the first intelligence, proceed another intelligence, the soul of a sphere, and the body of that sphere. The effect knows itself, its three effects, and its cause or principle. So the effect is nobler than the Cause — inasmuch as from the Cause only one proceeds, while from the effect three things proceed : and the Cause does not know anything other than Himself, while the effect knows itself, its cause, and its three effects.
He, who is content with making his conception of God imply only this much of glory, actually makes Him lower than any other being which knows itself as well as what is other than itself. For that which knows Him as well as itself will be nobler than He is with only self-knowledge to His credit.
The final result of all their investigations into Divine Glory is that they have destroyed all that Glory signifies. They have made His condition comparable to that of a dead man who has no awareness of — what goes on in the world — the only difference between Him and a dead man being that He knows Himself. This is how God confounds those:
who diverge from His path:
who try to subvert the ways of right guidance
who call into question the truth of His words: "I did not call them to witness the creation of Heavens and the Earth, or their own creation":
who entertain ignoble thoughts about God
who fancy that man has the power to grasp Divine things
who have a misguided faith in their intellects; and
who claim that in matters of intellectual inquiry they are under no obligation to follow the prophets.
It is but natural that they have found themselves constrained to admit — as the sum and substance of their intellectual investigations-something which would surprise one who came to hear of it even in a dream.
The second objection
He who would say that the first Principle does not know any thing except Himself does thereby succeed in avoiding plurality. (For, if he were to believe in His knowledge of other beings, it would follow that self-knowledge is not identical with the knowledge of other beings-in the case of the first Principle, as in that of the first effect.) But then the first effect must not be considered to have knowledge of any thing other than itself; for if it were to have the knowledge of the first Principle or of any thing other than itself, such knowledge would not be identical with itself, and therefore would need a cause other than the cause of its own being. Since there is no cause other than the cause of its being — viz., the first Principle — it follows that the first effect cannot know any thing other than itself. And thus the plurality made possible from this point of view stands rebutted.
If it is said:
Once the first effect comes into being, and comes to know itself, it necessarily follows that it should know its Principle.
we will answer
Is it by a cause, or without one, that such a thing necessarily follows? If it needs a cause, there is no cause other than the first Principle — who is one. It is inconceivable that from the One more than one thing should proceed. Since the being of the first effect is the one thing which has already proceeded, how can any other do so? If, however, no cause is needed for the knowledge of the Principle to be a concomitant of the first effect's being and self-knowledge, then we are inevitably led to the conclusion that a plurality of uncaused beings somehow follows from the being of the first Principle, and that, therefore, a multiplicity of beings — as set over against the One Being — is the cause of the plurality in the world. If such an explanation of plurality be rejected — on the ground that the necessary being is one, and that an addition to one is a contingency, which needs a cause — then the same thing will be applicable to the first effect. For if the knowledge possessed by the first effect is necessary per se, that will refute their dictum that the necessary being is only one. If, however, it is possible, it must have a cause. Since no cause of it can be discovered, it must have a cause. Evidently, such knowledge is not a necessity of the possible nature of the first effect. Possibility of existence is a self-evident element of the nature of any effect. But its being cognizant of its cause is not a self-evident element of its nature, even as the knowledge by a cause of its effect is no self-evident element of the nature of a cause. Nay, the necessity of the knowledge possessed by a cause of its effect is more clear than the necessity of the knowledge by an effect of its cause. So it has now been shown that the plurality derived from the knowledge by the first effect of its Principle is impossible, because there is no principle to explain it, nor is it a necessity of the nature of the effect. And this is an inescapable conclusion.
The third objection:
Is the self-knowledge possessed by the first effect identical with its essence, or other than it? It is impossible to say that it is identical, for knowledge cannot be the same thing as that which is known. But if it is other than the essence, the same difference should obtain in case of the first Principle. From Him, therefore, will plurality follow.
Moreover, there is not only a threefold but a fourfold character (by reference to which the procession of many things from the first effect can be explained). Thus, (i) it has being: (ii) knows itself: (iii) knows its Principle, and (iv) is possible in itself. Nay, to these four aspects yet another can be added — namely, that it is a necessary being whose necessity is derived from an external source.
That will give us a fivefold character as the principle of the explanation of plurality. And from this it should be clear how idle the speculations of these philosophers are.
The fourth objection
The threefold character of the first effect is not enough for the explanation of plurality. Take for example the body of the first heaven. They would ascribe its procession to one aspect of the essence of its Principle. But there is a threefold composition in it — namely
Firstly, it is composed of Form and Matter — as, according to them, all bodies are. Now, Form and Matter must have different principles, because they are so dissimilar to each other. And the philosophers deny that either Form or Matter can be a permanent cause of the other in such a way that no additional cause transcending them would be needed.
Secondly, the body of the uppermost sphere has a definite size. The adoption of this definite size, as distinguished from all other sizes and quantities, is additional to its own being; for its being larger or smaller than the actual size was possible. It is, therefore, necessary that there must have been a cause of the adoption of this particular size, and that the cause must be additional to the simple thing which necessitated the existence of the body of the first heaven. The existence of the body of the first heaven cannot be like the existence of its Principle, which is an intelligence pure and simple. An intelligence does not adopt a particular quantity as set over against all other quantities. Hence it is properly said that an intelligence depends on only a simple cause.
If it is said
The cause of the adoption of a particular size is that if the body of the first heaven were larger, it would exceed the requirements of the universal system: and if it were smaller, it would not be fit for the desired system.
we will answer
Is the definite character of the system sufficient reason for the existence of that which constitutes the system, or does it need a cause to produce it? If you think that it is sufficient, you will have dispensed with all causal explanations. And then you must say that the system immanent in universal being demanded, by itself and independently of any additional cause, the existence of universal being. But if you say that the definite character of the system is not a sufficient reason for the existence of that which constitutes the system, then you must also admit that it will be equally insufficient for the adoption of one of many similar quantities, and that we will need, not only a cause of the adoption of one of the quantities, but also a cause of the composition of Form and Matter in the body of the first heaven.
Thirdly, the highest sphere has two points which are the two Poles. These Poles are fixed, and never depart from their positions. But other parts of the Zone have different positions. Now, only one of the two hypotheses can be adopted. In the first place, it may be said that all the parts of the highest sphere are similar. But then how was it that only two points were chosen, in preference to all others, to be the Poles? Or, alternatively, it may be said that the parts of the sphere are different. This means that some of these parts have properties which are not possessed by others. Now, what is the principle of these differences, if the first sphere has proceeded from one simple thing? The simple can only give rise to a simple and homogeneous shape, i.e., a circle. And such a shape is bound to be free from varied properties. This is, therefore, a dilemma which cannot be resolved.
If it is said:
Perhaps the first effect, as the principle of other effects, has within itself a certain kind of plurality which, however, does not come to it from the first Principle. We have been able to know only three or four kinds of plurality, any others still being hidden from us. But our failure to know them does not shake our belief that there must be plurality within the principle itself, for out of the One the many do not come.
we will answer
If you admit this, do say that all the beings in all their multiplicity — which run in thousands — directly proceed from the first effect. You need not confine the procession from the first effect to the body and the soul of the first sphere. It must be considered possible that there should emanate from it all the heavenly and the human souls as well as all the terrestrial and celestial bodies. And the multiplicity of all these souls and bodies should be of such a kind as has not been discovered with the first effect.
And thence it will follow as a necessary consequence that the first Cause can also be dispensed with. For if you admit the appearance of plurality — which is said to follow without a cause, and yet is not a self-evident element of the nature of the first effect — you can also admit that such plurality can exist together with the first Cause, its own existence being uncaused. And it will be said that it necessarily follows, and that its number cannot be known. If it is possible to imagine the uncaused existence of such plurality in case of one, it will be equally possible to imagine it in case of the other. Nay, even the words 'one' and the other' have no meaning; for they are not separated in time or space. So, that which does not cause the first cause and first effect to be separated in space or time, and which can possibly exist without a cause, does not belong to either of the two in particular.
If it is said
The plurality of things exceeds thousands. But it is improbable that plurality in the first effect should go to that extent. Therefore, we have increased the number of the intermediaries.
we will answer
To say that it is improbable is only guess-work, which cannot form the basis of an intellectual judgment. You should have said that it is impossible. But then we would ask: Why is it impossible? When unity has been exceeded, and we have come to believe that two or three things may possibly be the inseparable accidents of the first effect — not resulting from the first Cause — then how can we retreat, and what will be our criterion? What is there to prevent us from extending the number to four, or five; or even to a thousand? He who has exceeded the unity, and yet posits one particular number as the limit, must bear in mind that the retreat has been cut off. And this is a fatal objection.
Moreover, we will say, this explanation breaks down in the case of the second effect. For it is the stellar sphere which is said to proceed from this effect. And that sphere has about twelve hundred stars which are different in respect of size, shape, position, color, influence, and good or evil fortune. Some of them have the form of a ram, or a bull or a lion, while others have the form of a man. Even in the same place in the terrestrial world, the influence of these stars differs — in respect of heat or cold, or good or evil fortune. And their quantities are fundamentally different from each other. So it is not possible to say that all these stars form a single species, in spite of the differences among them. If such a thing were possible, it would be in like manner possible to say that all the bodies in the world form a single species characterized by corporeality and adequately governed by one cause. But in fact it is clear that the difference of attributes, of substances, and of constitutions among the bodies proves that the bodies are different from each other. Similarly, the stars are different from each other. And each one of them needs a separate cause-for its Form: its Matter : its definite and distinct adaptation to a hot or cold nature, or an auspicious or inauspicious nature: its definite position; and its definite adaptation to the figures of different animals. If such a plurality can conceivably have its origin in the second effect, it can also do so in the first effect. And thus the hypothetical value of either of these two disappears.
The fifth objection:
We will say: Even if we allow these idle postulates and arbitrary assumptions, why are you not ashamed of saying that the possible nature of the first effect demanded the procession from it of the body of the highest sphere: that its self knowledge demanded the procession from it of the soul of that sphere, and that its knowledge of the first Principle demanded the procession of an intelligence? What is the difference between this and one's saying that, since he knew that any non-existent man could possibly exist, and have self-knowledge and the knowledge of his Creator, therefore it might be inferred that from his being possible would follow the existence of the body of a sphere, and from his self-knowledge and the knowledge of the Creator would follow the two other things? To such an assumption the answer would be: What is the connection between being possible and body of a sphere? If such a thing will be laughed at when spoken of a man, it must be laughed at when it is spoken of any other being. For the possibility of existence is a judgment which does not differ, whether the possible being is a man or an angel or a sphere. I wish I could see how even an insane person could rest satisfied with such postulates, let alone these intellectual thinkers who take pride in their hair-splitting theorizing.
If one were to say:
Now that you have refuted the theories of the philosophers, what do you yourself say? Do you assert that from the absolutely One two different things may proceed? If so, you will be opposed to the intelligible reality. Or do you say that there is plurality in the first Principle? That will be a renunciation of the doctrine of Divine unity. Or do you say that there is no plurality in the world? That will be a denial of sensible fact. Or do you say that plurality follows from the first Principle through intermediaries? That will perforce bring you round to the position the philosophers bad taken.
we would answer:
Ours was not the point of view of a system-builder. On the contrary, we only intended to throw their theories into confusion. And that purpose has been achieved. Nevertheless, we would say: He who thinks that a belief in the procession of two from one is opposition to the intelligible reality, or that the supposition of some eternal and everlasting attributes of the first Principle is repugnant to the Divine unity, must bear in mind that both these assertions are groundless. The philosophers have not been able to prove these propositions. The impossibility of the procession of two from one is not as evident a fact as is the impossibility of the presence of one person in two places at the same time. In general, it is known neither as a self-evident truth, nor as a matter of inferential knowledge. So what is there to prevent one from believing that the first Principle is an omnipotent and a willing agent: that He does what He wills, and ordains as He likes, and that He creates the similar and dissimilar things alike, whenever and in whatever manner He wills? The impossibility of such a belief is neither a self-evident truth, nor a matter of inferential knowledge. On the contrary, the prophets, whose strength lay in their miracles, have lent their authority to it. Hence it is obligatory on us to believe them. As regards the inquiry into the manner in which the world proceeded from God's will, it is an idle and aimless venture. Those who sought to discover the connection between that which proceeds and its principle have only been able to sum up their investigations by saying that from the possible nature of the first effect proceeds the body of a sphere, and from its self-knowledge proceeds the soul of that sphere. But that is a stupid thing, not the explanation of a connection.
Therefore, let us accept the authority of the prophets in regard to the fundamentals of these things. Let us submit to that authority; for reason has not been able to contradict it. Let us give up the inquiry concerning the 'Why?' and and How much?' and 'What?'. For these are things beyond the power of man. This is the reason why the Law-giver said: "Think over the product of God's creative activity do not think over His essence."