(Incoherence of the Philosophers)
Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111 CE)
Translated into English from Urdu Translation by Sabih Ahmad Kamali
In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
WE BESEECH God, in the name of His greatness which transcends all limits, and His munificence which outruns all measures
To pour upon us the light of guidance, and to remove from us the darkness of ignorance and wrong-doing;
To make us like those who saw truth as truth, and chose to follow it ; and those who saw falsehood as falsehood, and decided to eschew it;
To bestow upon us the felicity which He has promised to His saints and prophets;
To initiate us, on our departure from the House of Delusion, into that happiness the height of which cannot be scanned by the understanding, and the extent of which cannot be conjured up by the imagination ;
To give us, when after deliverance from the horrors of the Doomsday we approach the bliss of Paradise, "that which no eye ever saw, no ear ever heard, and which never occurred to the heart of man" ; and
To invest with peace and bless our Prophet Muhammad, the Chosen one, the best one of all mankind ; and his noble descendants and pure companions, who were the keys to guidance, and the lamps lit in darkness.
Now, I have observed that there is a class of men who believe in their superiority to others because of their greater intelligence and insight. They have abandoned all the religious duties Islam imposes on its followers. They laugh at the positive commandments of religion which enjoin the performance of acts of devotion, and the abstinence from forbidden things. They defy the injunctions of the Sacred Law. Not only do they overstep the limits prescribed by it, but they have renounced the Faith altogether, by having indulged in diverse speculations, wherein they followed the example of those people who "turn men aside from the path of God, and seek to render it crooked; and who do not believe in the life to come." The heresy of these people has its basis only in an uncritical acceptance — like that of the Jews and the Christians — of whatever one hears from others or sees all around. They could not avoid it; for they were born into an un-Islamic atmosphere, and their ancestors had pursued no better ways. In the second place, such heresy results from theoretical inquiries which are the outcome of stumbling — sceptically, misguidedly and stupidly — upon fanciful notions. (A similar case is that of the Disputants who discussed the questions concerning faith and belief raised by the People of willful Innovations.)
The heretics in our times have heard the awe-inspiring names of people like Socrates, Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc. They have been deceived by the exaggerations made by the followers of these philosophers — exaggerations to the effect that the ancient masters possessed extraordinary intellectual powers: that the principles they have discovered are unquestionable: that the mathematical, logical, physical and metaphysical sciences developed by them are the most profound: that their excellent intelligence justifies their bold attempts to discover the Hidden Things by deductive methods ; and that with all the subtlety of their intelligence and the originality of their accomplishments they repudiated the authority of religious laws: denied the validity of the positive contents of historical religions, and believed that all such things are only sanctimonious lies and trivialities.
When such stuff was dinned into their ears, and struck a responsive chord in their hearts, the heretics in our times thought that it would be an honour to join the company of great thinkers for which the renunciation of their faith would prepare them. Emulation of the example of the learned held out to them the promise of an elevated status far above the general level of common men. They refused to be content with the religion followed by their ancestors. They flattered themselves with the idea that it would do them honour not to accept even truth uncritically. But they had actually begun to accept falsehood uncritically. They failed to see that a change from one kind of intellectual bondage to another is only a self-deception, a stupidity. What position in this world of God can be baser than that of one who thinks that it is honourable to renounce the truth which is accepted on authority, and then relapses into an acceptance of falsehood which is still a matter of blind faith, unaided by independent inquiry? Such a scandalous attitude is never taken by the unsophisticated masses of men; for they have an instinctive aversion to following the example of misguided genius. Surely, their simplicity is nearer to salvation than sterile genius can be. For total blindness is less dangerous than oblique vision.
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. (I mean those things which they contributed to beliefs and opinions, and by virtue of which they thought they could be distinguished from the common men.)
Moreover, this book will set forth the doctrines of the ancient philosophers as those doctrines really are. This will serve the purpose of making it clear, to the hide-bound atheists of our day that every piece of knowledge, whether ancient or modern, is really a corroboration of the faith in God and in the Last Day. The conflict between faith and knowledge is related only to the details superadded to these two fundamental principles, the two recurring themes in the teachings of all the prophets — i.e., divinely ordained persons the truth of whose mission is evident from the miracles they performed. It was only a few persons having irresponsible views and perverted minds who denied these principles. But in serious discussions no importance can be attached to such persons; and no notice ought to be taken of them. And they must be branded with diabolical perversity and stupid contumacy, so that their example may be a deterrent to people who tend to think that a vainglorious conversion to unoriginal heresy would be an indication of intelligence and good sense. This book is going to demonstrate that the ancient philosophers, whose followers the atheists in our day claim to be, were really untainted with what is imputed to them. They never denied the validity of the religious laws. On the contrary, they did believe in God, and did have faith in His messengers; although in regard to the minor details, they sometimes faltered and went astray, and caused others to go astray, from the even path. We propose to show how they slipped into error and falsehood. But our examination will not obscure their solid achievements which lie beneath the repulsive facade of their thought. Let God be the sustainer and the helper in the investigations we have undertaken.
Now to begin the book, we proceed to the Prefaces which will presage the general trend of the discussion in this book.
LET it be known that it would be tedious to dwell at length upon the differences among the philosophers themselves. For prolixity is their manner, and their disputes are too many, and their opinions are scattered, and their ways are divergent and devious. Therefore, we will confine our attention to the inconsistencies which are found in the theories of the premier philosopher who is called the Philosopher, or the First Teacher, for he systematised their sciences, and reformulated them, eliminating all that was redundant in the philosophers' opinions, and retaining only that which was close to the basic principles and tendencies of philosophical thought. This is Aristotle, who refuted all his predecessors — including his own teacher, whom the philosophers call the divine Plato. Having refuted Plato, Aristotle excused himself by saying: "Plato is dear to us. And truth is dear, too. Nay, truth is dearer than Plato."
We have related this story in order to show that in their own view there is nothing fixed and constant in the philosophers' position. They base their judgments on conjecture and speculation, unaided by positive inquiry and unconfirmed by faith. They try to infer the truth of their metaphysical theories from the clarity of the arithmetical and logical sciences. And this method sometimes carries conviction with the weak-minded people. But if their metaphysical theories had been as cogent and definite as their arithmetical knowledge is, they would not have differed among themselves on metaphysical questions as they do not differ on the arithmetical.
As far as the translators of Aristotle's works into Arabic are concerned, our problem is even more difficult. For the translations themselves have been subjected to interpolation and changes, which have necessitated further commentaries and interpretations. As a result, the translations are as much in dispute among the philosophers as the original works are. However, the most faithful — as Aristotle's translators — and the most original — as his commentators — among the philosophising Muslims are al-Farabi Abu Nasr, and Ibn Sina. Therefore, we will confine our attention to what these two have taken to be the authentic expression of the views of their misleaders. For what they discarded and refused to follow must undoubtedly have been utterly useless, and should not call for an elaborate refutation.
Therefore, let it be known that we propose to concentrate on the refutation of philosophical thought as it emerges from the writings of these two persons. For otherwise, the scattered character of the philosophical theories should have to be reflected in a proportionately loose arrangement of our subject-matter.
LET it be known that the difference between the philosophers and others is threefold.
In the first place, the dispute is centered upon a mere word. Take for instance their use of the word 'substance' for God, meaning thereby a being which is not in a subject, or a self-subsisting being which does not need an external cause to continue it in existence.
We do not intend here to undertake the refutation of this terminology. For if the meaning of self-subsistence is agreed upon, the applicability of the word 'substance' in this sense will have to be considered from the etymological point of view. If from that point of view, the application of the word is justified, it will still be debatable whether the Sacred Law approves of its use. For the permission to use words as names (of God) or the injunction against their use is based on what appears from the letter of the Sacred Law. Perhaps you will say: "This word was used by the Mutakallimun in the discussion of the Divine attributes. In the Sacred Law, the Jurists never used it. It is, therefore, improper on your part to confuse the realities of things with matters of habit and custom (of which Fiqh treats)." But .(this is inadmissible, because) I know that it amounts to a discussion on whether it is permissible to use a certain name which is truly applicable to the bearer of the name. And hence it is equivalent to a discussion on whether a certain (moral) action is permissible.
In the second place, there are those things in which the philosophers believe, and which do not come into conflict with any religious principle. And, therefore, disagreement with the philosophers with respect to those things is not a necessary condition for the faith in the prophets and the apostles (may God bless them all). An example is their theory that the lunar eclipse occurs when the light of the Moon disappears as a consequence of the interposition of the Earth between the Moon and the Sun. For the Moon derives its light from the Sun, and the Earth is a round body surrounded by Heaven on all the sides. Therefore, when the Moon falls under the shadow of the Earth, the light of the Sun is cut off from it. Another example is their theory that the solar eclipse means the interposition of the body of the Moon between the Sun and the observer, which occurs when the Sun and the Moon are stationed at the intersection of their nodes at the same degree.
We are not interested in refuting such theories either; for the refutation will serve no purpose. He who thinks that it is his religious duty to disbelieve such things is really unjust to religion, and weakens its cause. For these things have been established by astronomical and mathematical evidence which leaves no room for doubt. If you tell a man, who has studied these things — so that he has sifted all the data relating to them, and is, therefore, in a position to forecast when a lunar or a solar eclipse will take place: whether it will be total or partial ; and how long it will last — that these things are contrary to religion, your assertion will shake his faith in religion, not in these things. Greater harm is done to religion by an immethodical helper than by an enemy whose actions, however hostile, are yet regular. For, as the proverb goes, a wise enemy is better than an ignorant friend.
If someone says:
The Prophet (may God bless him) has said': "The Sun and the Moon are two signs among the signs of God. Their eclipse is not caused by the death or the life of a man. When you see an eclipse, you must seek refuge in the contemplation of God and in prayer." How can this tradition be reconciled with what the philosophers say ?
we will answer
There is nothing in this tradition to contradict the philosophers. It only denies that an eclipse has anything to do with the life or the death of a man. Further, it enjoins prayer at the time of an eclipse. The Sacred Law enjoins prayer at the time of sunrise or sunset or during the day; what is unusual if, with a view to finding greater favour (with God), it also enjoins prayer at the time of an eclipse?
If it is said
At the end of the same tradition, the Prophet said: "When God reveals Himself to something, it prostrates itself before Him." Does it not follow from this tradition that an eclipse is an act of prostration caused by Revelation?
we will answer
This addition is spurious. We must condemn its author as a liar. The Prophet's words are only those which have been reported above. However, if this addition were authentic, would it not be easier to interpret it than to reject the evidence (of astronomical and mathematical sciences) which is conclusive and definite? People have interpreted many a plain text by rational arguments which never attained to such clarity and cogency (as the astronomical and mathematical arguments in this case have done).
The atheists would have the greatest satisfaction if the supporter of religion made a positive assertion that things of this kind are contrary to religion. For then it would be easier for them to refute religion which stood or fell with its opposition to these things. (It is, therefore, necessary for the supporter of religion not to commit himself on these questions,) because the fundamental question at issue between him and the philosophers is only whether the world is eternal or began in time. If its beginning in time is proved, it is all the same whether it is a round body, or a simple thing, or an octagonal or hexagonal figure; and whether the heavens and all that is below them form — as the philosophers say — thirteen layers, or more, or less. Investigation into these facts is no more relevant to metaphysical inquiries than an investigation into the number of the layers of an onion, or the number of the seeds of a pomegranate, would be. What we are interested in is that the world is the product of God's creative action, whatever the manner of that action may be.
In the third place, there are philosophical theories which come into violent conflict with the fundamental principles of religion, e.g., the religious doctrines of the world's beginning in time: of the attributes of the Creator; and of the resurrection of bodies. All these things have been denied by the philosophers. Therefore, we propose to leave the rest of the sections (enumerated above) aside, in order to concentrate on this one, and on questions allied to it, in our criticism of philosophical theories.
LET it be known that it is our purpose to disillusion those who think too highly of the philosophers, and consider them to be infallible. Since I have undertaken to expose the incoherence and contradiction involved in philosophical thought, I will approach them in order to attack them, not to defend something of mine own. I will refute what they believe, by showing that it is a mixture of diverse elements which come from such schools as the Mu'tazilah, the Karramiyah, the Waqifiyah, etc. My attitude towards these sects themselves is that, while it is not necessary for me to defend any one of them, we are all equally opposed to the philosophers. For we differ among ourselves only in regard to the details; whereas the philosophers attack the very basis of our religion. Let us, therefore, unite against the common enemy; for at a critical juncture, we must forget our private quarrels.
ONE of the most artful methods employed by the philosophers is that, when in discussion they come up against a difficulty, they say : "The science of metaphysics is extremely subtle. Of all the sciences it is the most difficult even for a sharp intelligence to grasp." Those who follow the philosophers employ a similar trick in order to get rid of their difficulties. When they are unable to explain something in the work of their masters, they still glorify them and say: "Undoubtedly, a solution can be found somewhere in the sciences developed by the ancient masters. Perhaps our failure is the result of our inability to consult Logic and Mathematics on this question."
To these suggestions, we will reply as follows
As far as Mathematics is concerned, one of its two branches, which is an inquiry into discrete quantity — viz., Arithmetic-has evidently nothing to do with Metaphysics. To say that it is not possible to understand Metaphysics without the help of Arithmetic is nonsense — like saying that Medicine, or Grammar, or Literature cannot be understood without the help of Arithmetic: or that Arithmetic cannot be understood without the help of Medicine.
As regards the other branch of Mathematics — viz., Geometry — which is an inquiry into continuous quantity, all that it tells us is that the heavens and all that is below them down to the Centre, i.e., the Earth, are round in shape. Further, it tells us of the number of the strata of these things of the planets revolving in the Sphere; and of the quantity of their movements. Now, we can grant them all these things — from conviction, or for the sake of the argument. They need not adduce scientific evidence to prove them. But there is nothing in, these facts which proves or disproves metaphysical principles. To say that there is something which does so is like saying: "To know whether this house is the product of a knowing, willing, powerful and living builder, it is necessary to discover whether it has six or eight sides, and what is the number of its beams and bricks." Obviously, such an assertion would be sheer nonsense. It would be like saying: "The temporal character of an onion cannot be known, unless the number of its layers be discovered"; or, "The temporal character of this pomegranate cannot be known, unless the number of its seeds be discovered." This sort of argument simply does not appeal to an intelligent mind.
As regards their contention that reference to Logic is unavoidable, it is right. But Logic is not their monopoly. Fundamentally, it is the same thing as in the Art of Scholastic Reasoning we call the Book of Theoretical Inquiry. The philosophers have changed its name to Logic to make it look formidable. We often call it the Book of Disputation, or the Data of the Intellects. Wheel a gullible enthusiast hears the word 'Logic,' he thinks that it is a new subject, unknown to the Mutakallimun and cultivated by the philosophers alone. In order to remove this misunderstanding, we propose to discuss the Data of the Intellects in a separate work, where we will avoid the phraseology used by the Mutakallimun and the jurists, adopting for the time being the terms used by the Logicians, so that the whole thing might be cast into a different mould, and the methods of the Logicians might be followed in the minutest detail. In that book, we will speak to them in their language-I mean their logical terminology. We will show there that neither the conditions for the material validity of Syllogism — laid down by them in the section of Logic devoted to Demonstration — nor those for its formal validity — in the Book of Syllogism — nor the postulates which they have formulated in the Isagoge (Introduction to Aristotle's Categories) and Categories, and which form the parts and preliminaries of Logic are of any help to them in metaphysical sciences. But it is necessary to reserve the discussion of the Data of the Intellects for a separate book. For, although an instrument for the understanding of the purport of this book, it is not indispensable to every reader. Therefore, we are going to postpone it; so that he who does not need it may not be bothered by it here. However, he who fails to understand some of the terms used here will be well advised to begin with mastering the contents of our book called The Standard of Knowledge — viz., the (branch of) knowledge they call Logic.
After the Prefaces, let us give a list of the problems in whose discussion in this book we will expose the contradiction involved in the philosophers' theories.
And these problems are twenty
So these are questions selected from their metaphysical and physical sciences wherein we propose to expose the contradiction involved in their views. As regards Mathematics, there is no point in denying or opposing it; for Mathematics includes Arithmetic and Geometry, and these two sciences are not in dispute here. As regards Logic, it is just an investigation into the instruments of reflection over the ineligibles. And as such, it involves no contradictions which might deserve our consideration. And in the book called The Standard of Knowledge, we are going to introduce as much of this subject as may be helpful towards the understanding of the contents of this book.