Saturday, November 22, 2008

Uluhiyyat in Tahafut al-Falasifah

Metaphysic in al-Ghazali’s Tahafut al-Falasifah

prepared by : Hasbullah M

The TahÉfut al-FalÉsifah marked a turning point in Islamic philosophy in its vehement rejections of Aristotle and Plato. Al-GhazÉlÊ challenges in his TahÉfut almost all the doctrines of Aristotle and Plotinus and their Muslim representatives such as al-FÉrÉbÊ and Ibn SÊnÉ. He argues, with a dialectical and analytical skill comparable to any in the history of philosophy, that many of their doctrines were positively false and baseless, such as the eternity and everlasting of the world, emanation from God of intelligences and souls of the celestial spheres and these spheres’ possessing the knowledge of particulars and having a purpose in their rotatory motions, etc. He says in his introduction about the purpose of the TahÉfut:

When I saw this vein of folly pulsating among these idiots, I decided to write this book in order to refute the ancient philosophers. It will expose the incoherence of their beliefs and the inconsistency of their metaphysical theories. It will bring to light the flimsiest and the obscurest elements of their thought which will provide some amusement for, and serve as a warning to the intelligent men (which they thought they could be distinguished from the common men).

Al-GhazÉlÊ’s attack is thus judiciously leveled at the two leading Muslim Neo-Platonist directly, and indirectly at Aristotle. Altogether, he enumerates sixteen metaphysical and four physical propositions that have an obvious religious relevance and against which the unguided believer must be warned. Of all these propositions, three of them, al-GhazÉlÊ becomes very bitter with them and charges them with downright infidelity; i.e (1) eternity of the world, (2) denial of God’s knowledge of the particulars, and (3) denial of bodily resurrection. The remaining seventeen propositions according to al-GhazÉlÊ do not justify to be irreligious, but simply that of heresy (bidÑah).

The conflict between al-GhazÉlÊ and the philosophers becomes essentially a conflict of basic metaphysical premises. He often affirms opposing premises if his own based on his capacity as a great theologian as well as philosopher and mutakallimËn. Al-GhazÉlÊ’s methodology is mainly based on the basis of superiority of revelation over reason. But sometimes he demonstrates some philosophical arguments in his discussion particularly with Muslim philosophers and Aristotelian.

Al-GhazÉlÊ uses several terms around which the conflict of metaphysical premises involves in it such as possibility (imkÉn), necessity (ÌarËrah), and causality (sababiyyah). For instance, the word mumkinan imkÉnan (possible) in the first proof of the philosophers is used in the sense of the probable.

Regarding the theory of possibility in the sense of the contingent is central to his metaphysical system. Al-GhazÉlÊ sees that God is not an existence necessary in His essence; God transcends such concepts as possible and necessary. Al-GhazÉlÊ who attacks the concept of necessity as a character of objective reality attacks the very foundation of Aristotelians and is very much harmony in modern empirical school.

The philosophers admit the existence of causes that precede their effects in time, but these are the accidental causes, not the essential. Al-GhazÉlÊ accepts the principle that everything other than God is caused, but with a very important qualification. There is no chain of natural causes. Every change in the world is caused by God’s voluntary act directly, or sometimes through the mediation of his angels. Natural existents have no causal efficacy. It is not fire that burns the cotton when it is in contact with it. It is God Who produces the burning on the occasion of the contact.

As the focus of this study is on the eternity of the world, the theory of essential necessary causation is the fundamental premise for the philosophers’ proofs based on the nature of God for the world’s eternity. For that, if God creates by the necessity of His nature, and if His nature is eternal and changeless, then the effect must proceed eternally from God. Just as the sun cannot give light, God cannot but cause the world. For al-GhazÉlÊ, this is blasphemy. This is not only a limitation of God that deprives His freedom, but it also makes of God an inanimate being. For only the inanimate are said to act by the necessities in their nature and not through volition. Al-GhazÉlÊ goes beyond this and attempts to prove the theory of an eternal world not only unproven, but false.

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