Tahafut al-Falasifa

(Incoherence of the Philosophers)


Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111 CE)

Translated into English from Urdu Translation by Sabih Ahmad Kamali


Problem IX
On their inability to prove by rational arguments that God is not body


One who believes that body is originated in time (for it is never free from changes and all changes need one who originates them in time) can consistently maintain that God is not body. But you accord intellectual assent to the idea of an eternal body which never began, but which, nevertheless, is always subject to changes. Why, therefore, should it be impossible for you to believe that the First Principle is body — e.g., the Sun, or the highest sphere, etc.?


If it is said:

The reason is that body is bound to be composed. It can be divided: (a) quantitatively, into two parts; (b) conceptually, into Form and Matter, and (c) into those qualities which specially belong to a body — so as to distinguish it from other bodies from which, qua body, it is, however, not different. But the Necessary Being is one, and indivisible with respect to all these things.


we will answer:

We have refuted this argument of yours, and shown that the only thing you can prove is that, if some parts of an aggregate need others, then the aggregate must be a caused thing. We have considered this point, and shown that, if it is not untenable to suppose a being which is independent of 'one who causes its being,' it will not be any more untenable to suppose: (a) a compound which is independent of 'one who causes its composition'; or (b) many beings which are independent of 'one who causes their being.' You base your denial of number and duality on the denial of composition; and the denial of composition is based on the denial of a quiddity — as set over against existence. We have refuted your denial of quiddity — which is the ultimate basis of your theory — and shown how arbitrary your assumptions are.


If it is said:

If body is not connected with soul, it will not be an efficient cause. But if it is connected with soul, then soul will be its cause. Therefore, body cannot be the First Cause.


we will answer:

Our soul is not the cause of our body. Nor (according to you) is the soul of the sphere by itself the cause of the body of the sphere. In either case, body is produced by an external cause. And if it can be eternal, it will have no cause at all.


If it is said

But then how did combination of soul and body happen? we will answer:

This question is like one's asking: How did the Prime Being happen? To that question, the answer will be: This question is to be asked concerning an originated thing. 'How did it happen?' cannot be asked concerning a being which never ceased to exist. Similarly, therefore, if neither the soul nor the body ever ceased to be, why should it be impossible that body be the Creator?


If it is said:

The reason is that body, qua body, cannot create any other being. And the soul which is connected with body acts only through the intermediacy of body. And body cannot be an intermediary for the soul for the purpose of (a) the creation of other bodies; (b) the production of other souls, and (c) the production of things uncongenial to bodies.


we will answer:

Why is it not possible that, among the souls, there be a soul which is enabled by a special property possessed by it to be the source for the production of bodies and other things from it? Such an impossibility is not a self-evident fact. Nor can it be proved by theoretical arguments. No doubt. we have not observed such a thing in the case of empirical bodies. But non-observation does not prove impossibility. For instance, the philosophers attribute many things to the Prime Being, which (things) cannot be attributed to a being at all, and have not been observed in the case of any other being. But the fact that they have not been observed in the case of other beings does not prove their impossibility in His case. The same may, therefore, be true of soul and body.


If it is said:

The body of the highest sphere, or the Sun, or whatever other body is supposed, must possess a certain quantity the increase or decrease of which must have been possible. Hence the special choice of a contingent quantity for the body will require a cause of that special choice. And, therefore, the body will not be the First Cause.


we will answer:

How will you disprove one who says

"It is necessary — because of the universal system — that this body should possess the quantity it does possess. It could not have a bigger or a smaller quantity than the present one. This is like your own explanation. You have said: 'The body of the highest sphere emanated from the first effect. This body possesses a certain quantity. In relation to the first effect, all the quantities are equal. But one of them has been specified — by virtue of its relation to the universal system — to be the quantity of the body of the first sphere. Therefore, the quantity which actually exists is necessary, and any thing different from it is rejected.' So the same explanation may be extended to that which is not an effect."?

Nay, the question is not settled even by their affirmation of a principle of special choice in the first effect (which is, according to them, the cause of the body of the first sphere) — e.g., the affirmation of will. Just as they have put the question to Muslims (who relate all things to the eternal will), so can they be asked: Why did the first effect will this quantity, as set over against all others? (In fact, we have turned their objections against them in the discussion of the specific direction of the movement of the Heaven, and in the discussion of the two specific points which are the Poles.)

Since it is now clear that they are bound to admit the possibility of a caused distinction of something from another like it, it follows that the admission of a caused distinction of this kind is like the admission of an uncaused one. For it makes no difference whether the question is about something which has a special quantity — viz., Why does it have it? or about the cause — viz., Why did it give something a special quantity? If the latter question — i.e., the one about the cause — can be answered by saying that this quantity is not like any other quantity (for it has a connection with the system which connection other quantities do not have), then the former question — i.e., the one about the thing itself which has a special quantity — can be answered in the same way, without there being any need for an external cause. And this is an inescapable position. For, if a particular quantity, which has actually happened, is like the one which has not happened, then the question will be: How is something distinguished from another like it? (And the question is particularly relevant to their principles, for they reject the will as a cause of distinction). But if a specific quantity, which has happened, is not like the one which has not happened, then the possibility of the non-existent quantity will not be established. And then it will be said to them that, just as they consider the Eternal Cause to have 'happened,' so did the body (which, in order to refute them, we have assumed to be the First Cause) 'happen' eternally.

(In this discussion, he who argues with the philosophers must make use of the objections raised by them to the eternal will, and the counter-objections we raised to their theory of the Pole, and of the direction of spherical movement.)

And this shows that he who does not believe in the tem­poral origin of bodies cannot prove by rational arguments that the First Principle is absolutely incorporeal.


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