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 V
Of their inability to probe by rational arguments that God is one, and that it is not possible to suppose two necessary beings each of which is uncaused


THEY argue this point in two ways


In the first place, they say

If there were two gods, each would be called necessary. Now, a being is called necessary in one of the following senses.

Either the necessity of its existence is essential to it. But such necessity cannot belong to anyone else.

Or there may be a cause for the necessity of its existence. So the essence of the necessary being will be the effect of a cause, which demanded the necessity of its existence. But by the necessary being we do not mean any thing whose existence is connected with a cause in any manner.


(And they further assert):

The species 'man' is predicated of Zaid and 'Amr. Zaid is not a man per se. For if he were, 'Amr could not be a man. On the contrary, Zaid is a man through a cause which made him, as well as 'Amr, a man. Thus humanity multiplies with the multiplication of the Matter bearing it. And its relation to that Matter is the effect of a cause: for this relation is not essential to humanity.

The same is true of the necessity of existence which belongs to a necessary being. For if it is essential to a necessary being, no one else can have it. But if it were the effect of a cause, the necessary being would itself be a caused thing, and would therefore cease to be necessary. From this it is clear that the necessary being must be one.

Your statement, that the species 'necessity of existence' is either essential or derived from a cause, is a fundamentally wrong division. We have shown that the word `necessity' is ambiguous, unless it be used to show the absence of a cause. Using it in that sense, we will say: Why is it impossible that there should be two beings which are uncaused and do not cause each other? Your statement that that which is uncaused is uncaused per se or per causam is a wrong division. One does not seek a cause of the absence of or of the freedom of a being from a cause. What meaning can be conveyed by the words that the uncaused thing is uncaused per se or per causam? When we say that something has no cause, the meaning is a pure negation; and pure negation itself has no cause, and one cannot ask whether it is per se or per causam.

If, however, you mean by the necessity of existence an ascertainable and positive attribute of the necessary being — over and above the uncaused existence of that existent — then that meaning will not be intelligible in itself. The meaning which emerges from the denial of the cause of being, and which is a pure negation, cannot itself be called caused or uncaused. And, therefore, no purpose can be served by the division of necessary beings on this ground. Indeed, the conclusion at which we have arrived is that such a division is a foolish and groundless way of arguing.

What we mean by a necessary being is that there is no cause of its existence, and of its uncaused character. Its being uncaused is not the effect of any cause whatsoever. One can only say that its existence is uncaused, and so is its uncausedness uncaused. The division of attributes into those which are derived from some causes, and those which are essential cannot be applied to positive attributes, let alone those which are negative. One cannot say

Is blackness a colour per se, or per causam? If per se, then redness cannot properly be called a colour. For this species, i.e., colouredness, should exclusively belong to the essence of blackness. But if blackness is . colour through a cause which makes it a colour, then it will follow that it is reasonable to have a blackness which is not a colour — i.e., the cause of colouredness has not made it a colour. For if that which exists together with the essence has been added to the essence by an external cause, it is possible in the Imagination to suppose the non-existence of such an additional thing, even though the supposed non-existence may not be observed in experience.

The answer to this would be: This division is fundamentally wrong. When it is said that blackness is a colour per se, the statement does not imply that nothing else can possess this attribute. Similarly, when it is said that a certain being is necessary, i.e., uncaused, in itself, the statement will not imply that nothing else can possibly possess the attribute of necessity.


In the second place, they say:

If we suppose two necessary beings, they can be either alike in all respects, or different from each other. If they are alike in all respects, then numerical dissimilarity or duality will not be intelligible. For two black things are two, only when they are in two different places, or in the same place but at different times. Or blackness and motion in the same place and at the same time are two things — because of their different natures. But if the nature does not differ — e.g., in the case of two black things — and if time and place are the same, numerical dissimilarity is not intelligible. If it were possible to speak of two black things in the same place and at the same time, it would be possible to say that each person is two persons, and that the distinction between the two is generally overlooked for it is not very striking,

Now, similarity (of two necessary beings) in all respects being impossible, it follows that some difference must be taken for granted. This difference cannot be that of time or place. What, therefore, remains is the difference of nature.

Again, if the two necessary beings differ in something, the difference can take one of two forms: Either the two will have nothing common to them : or they will have. It is impossible that there should be nothing which is common to them. For in that case, neither existence, nor the necessity of existence, no reach one's being a self-subsisting entity independent of a subject, will be common to them.

But if something is common to them, while they differ in respect of something else, then that which is common to them will not be identical with that which distinguishes them. This means that there will be composition in the necessary beings, and that their definitory formula will be analysable into several parts. But there can be no composition in the necessary being. Neither is it divisible in quantity, nor can its definitory formula consist of divisible parts. The essence of the necessary being is not composed of those things whose multiplicity is indicated by the (divisibility of the parts of the) definitory formula. For instance, 'animal' and 'rational' express what constitutes the quiddity of man. For man is an animal, and he is also rational. What in a man corresponds to the word 'animal' is different from what (in him) corresponds to the word 'rational.' Therefore, man is composed of parts which are joined together in the definition of man by the words meaning those parts. And the name 'man' is applied to the Whole (of those parts). But this is inconceivable in the case of the necessary being. And without this duality is inconceivable.


The answer:

Granted that duality is inconceivable, unless there be distinction between two things in respect of something; and that there is no distinction between two things which are alike in all respects. But your assertion that this kind of composition is impossible in the case of the First Principle is an arbitrary assumption. What is the argument to prove it?

(Let us consider this question in detail. For it is the philosophers' well-known position that the First Principle cannot be analysed through the definitory formula, even as quantitative division is inapplicable to Him. And it is on this assertion that they base their own doctrine of Divine unity.)


Even so, they assert

The belief in Divine unity is imperfect, unless it is affirmed that the Divine being is one in all respects. And oneness in all respects is affirmed by denying plurality in all respects. And plurality is introduced into the essence of things in five ways

Firstly, by division in fact, or in the Imagination. It is for this reason that a body is not absolutely one. A body is one in virtue of its continuity which exists in the body, and which is liable to decrease. Therefore, a body can be divided in the Imagination with respect to its quantity. And such division is impossible in the case of the First Principle.

Secondly, by a non-quantitative division of something in the Intellect into two different concepts — e.g., the division of body into Form and Matter. For, although neither Form nor Matter can conceivably exist without the other, still they are two different things, by definition and in reality. This, too, ought to be denied in the case of God. For it is not proper that the Creator should be either a Form in a body, or Matter in a body, or the combination of the two. There are two reasons why He cannot be a combination of Form and Matter. In the first place, such a combination is divisible — actually or in the Imagination — as it is analysed into different parts. Secondly, this combination is also divisible conceptually into Form and Matter. Next, God cannot be Matter : for Matter depends on Form. And the necessary being is independent in all respects, and it is not possible to connect its existence with any cause beyond itself. Finally, God cannot be Form; for Form depends on Matter.

Thirdly, plurality comes in by way of attributes: e.g., when knowledge, power and will are supposed to be the attributes of God. If these attributes are supposed to be necessary, necessity of existence would be common to them and to the (Divine) essence. In this way, plurality would arise in the Necessary Being, and unity would consequently disappear.

Fourthly, there is plurality which results from the composition of genus and species. For instance, a black thing is 'black' and 'colour.' And to the Intellect, blackness is not identical with colouredness. On the contrary, colouredness is a genus, and blackness a difference. Therefore, a black thing is composed of a genus and a difference. Similarly, animality is not identical with humanity — from the Intellect's point of view. So man is an animal and a rational being and 'animal' being the genus and 'rational' the difference, man is composed of a genus and a difference; and this is plurality of another kind. And this, too, (they assert) ought to be denied of the First Principle.

Fifthly, plurality follows from the supposition of a quiddity and, then, the supposition of the existence of that quiddity. For instance, man has a quiddity prior to his existence. And his existence is related to, and explained in terms of, his quiddity. Similarly, a triangle has a quiddity — viz., that it is a figure enclosed by three sides. And the existence of a triangle is no part of the essence of its quiddity; nor does existence constitute the quiddity. For this reason, it is possible for a man to know the quiddity of a man or a triangle, without knowing whether it does or does not exist in reality. If existence were to constitute the quiddity of a triangle, the existence of the quiddity in the Intellect, before its actualisation, would be inconceivable.

So existence is related to the quiddity, regardless of the fact whether the quiddity is always in existence — e.g., in the case of the Heaven — or comes into existence after not having been — e.g., the quiddity, i.e., humanity, in Zaid and 'Amr, or the quiddity of accidents and temporal forms. (And they assert:) This kind of plurality is again to be denied of the First Principle. It must be said that in

His case there is no quiddity to which existence should be related: for His necessary existence is to Him what quiddity is to any other being. So His necessary existence is a quiddity: a universal reality, or a real nature, just as manness, or tree-ness, or heaven-ness is a quiddity. If we were to affirm His quiddity as separate from His existence, then necessary existence would have to be regarded as a consequence, not as a constitutive principle, of that quiddity.

And a consequence is a subordinate, or an effect. Therefore, necessary existence would in that case be an effect; and that would be contradictory to necessity. [In spite of this explanation, the philosophers say that the Creator is (a) principle : (the) First: (a) being: (a) substance: (the) One: (the) Eternal: (the) Everlasting: (a) knower; (an) intelligence: (an) intelligent: (an) intelligible: (an) agent: (a) creator: (a) willer: powerful: living: (a) lover (a) beloved (one): pleasant: pleased: generous, and pure Good. And they assert that all these words mean one and the same thing wherein there is no plurality. This is a strange notion. Before we take objection to it, let us elucidate this doctrine further, so that it may be understood. For before complete understanding is gained, an objection to a doctrine is like an arrow shot in the dark.]

The best way to understand their doctrine is to consider the explanation, wherein they say

The essence of the First Principle is one. But a plurality of names for this one essence arises either from the relation of things to it, or from its own relation to things, or from the negation of things as its predicates. The negation of something as a predicate does not necessitate plurality in the subject. Nor does a relation indicate any plurality. (So they do not deny the plurality of negations and relations; but the contribution to this problem they would make consists in the attempt to explain all the attributes in terms of negation and relation.)


They say

To call Him the First is to show His relation to all the beings after Him.

To call Him a principle is to point out that all other beings derive from Him, and that He is the cause of their existence. So this is a relation to His effects.

To call Him a being has a meaning which is obvious.

To call Him a substance means an existence of which the subsistence in a subject is denied. So this is a negation.

To call Him the Eternal means the negation of a preceding non-existence in His case.

To call Him the Everlasting denies a non-existence which in the case of other beings would follow existence at last. 'The Eternal' and ' the Everlasting,' taken together, mean an existence which is neither preceded by non-existence, nor will be followed by it.

To call Him the Necessary Being means that His existence is uncaused, and is the cause of the existence of all other beings. Here we have a combination of negation and relation; the former being represented by uncausedness, and the latter by the character of being the cause of others.

To call Him an intelligence means that He is a non­material being. Every such being is an intelligence, i.e., it has self-knowledge and self-consciousness, and knows what is other than itself. So this, i.e., being free from Matter, is an attribute of the Divine being. Therefore, He is an intelligence. And being an intelligence and being free from Matter both mean the same thing.

To call Him an intelligent means that He, being an intelligence, has an object of intelligence, or an intelligible, which is His own essence. For He is conscious of Himself, and knows Himself. So His essence is the Intelligible, the Intelligent, and the Intelligence. And all these three are really one; for

He is also called the Intelligible — inasmuch as His quiddity, which is divested of Matter, is not obscure to, or hidden from, His essence which is intelligence in the sense that it is a non-material quiddity from which nothing is hidden, and to which nothing is obscure. Himself being known to Himself, He is the intelligible. And His self-knowledge not being additional to His essence, He is the Intelligence. And it is not impossible that an intelligent and his intelligence and the intelligible should be one. For when an intelligent person knows himself as an intelligent person, he does so because of his being an intelligent person. And thus the intelligent and the intelligible become one — whatever the manner of that union may be. Undeniably, this union will be different in the case of God. For the object of Divine intelligence is perpetually actual: whereas ours is sometimes potential, sometimes actual.

To call Him a maker, or an agent, or a creator, or any other thing which possesses the attribute of action means that His existence is the noble existence from which universal being proceeds — in the manner of inevitable procession; and that the existence of all other beings is derived from, and subordinate to, His existence — like the relation of light to the Sun, or that of heat to fire. But the only comparison between the relation of the world to Him and the relation of light to the Sun is with respect to the fact that the world as well as light is an effect. Apart from this fact, there is no comparison. For the Sun is not conscious of the emanation of light from itself; nor is fire conscious of the emanation of the heat. For the emanation in either case is pure nature. But, on the contrary, God knows Himself; and knows that His being is the Principle of the existence of all other beings. Thus, the emanation of that which emanates from Him is known to Him; and He is not unaware of what proceeds from Him. Further, He is not like any one of us, who stands between a sick man and the Sun, thus causing the heat of the Sun to be cut off from the sick man — against his choice and liking. On the contrary, God knows His effects, and does not dislike them. In the case of the man who casts the shadow, the agent of the shadow is his body; while it must be his soul, not his body, which knows the falling of the shadow, and likes it. This cannot be so in the case of God. For the doer in Him is also the knower and the liker — i.e., the not — disliker. He knows that His perfection consists in that other beings should emanate from Him. Even if it were possible to suppose that the body which casts the shadow is itself the knower of the falling shadow and the liker of it, still there would be no parallel between this case and the Divine action. For God is not only the knower and the doer, but His knowledge is the principle of His action. For His self-knowledge, i.e., the knowledge that He is the Principle of the Universe, is the cause of the emanation of the Universe. Thus, the existing System follows the intelligible system, in the sense that it occurs because of the latter. So God's being the Agent is not additional to His being the Knower of the Universe. His knowledge of the Universe is the cause of the emanation of the Universe from Him. And His being the knower of the Universe is not additional to His self-knowledge. For He does not know Himself without knowing that He is the Principle of the Universe. By His first intention, His own essence is the object of His knowledge. By His second intention, the Universe is known to Him. And this is what His being an agent means.

To call Him the Omnipotent means His being an agent in the manner we have determined. That is, His is the being from which emanate all those things to which Omnipotence extends, and by whose emanation the order of the Universe is shaped forth in such a way that the possibilities of perfection and beauty are realised in the highest degree. To call Him a willer means nothing but that He is not unaware of, or displeased with, whatever proceeds from Him. He knows that His perfection consists in the emanation of the Universe from Him. In this sense, therefore, it is permissible to say that He likes what emanates from Him.

And He who likes his effects can also be called the willing one. Thus, the Divine will is identical with Omnipotence. And Omnipotence is identical with Divine knowledge. And the Divine knowledge is the Divine essence. Therefore, all the Divine attributes are ultimately to be identified with the Divine essence. And this is so, because of His knowledge of things is not derived from things. For if it had been, God would have had to be regarded as the recipient of a benefit, or an attribute, or some perfection, from other beings. And that is impossible in the case of the Necessary Being.

Even our knowledge is of two kinds. In the first place, there is the knowledge of a thing which (knowledge) is derived from the form of that thing — e.g., our knowledge of the form of the Heaven or the Earth. In the second place, there is a knowledge which we spontaneously acquire — e.g., the knowledge of a thing whose form we have never observed, but to which we gave a form in our souls, so that it was originated by us. In this case, the existence of the form is derived from knowledge, not knowledge from the existence of the form. And the Divine knowledge is of this kind. For the ideal representation of the System in His essence is the cause of the emanation of the System from His essence.

Undoubtedly, if the mere appearance of the form of a line or a letter in our soul were sufficient for the production of that form, our knowledge too would be identical with power, and, therefore, with will. But because of our imperfection, our giving a form to something in our soul is not sufficient for the production of the form of that thing. Accordingly, together with knowledge, we need an act of will which appears as a new factor. This originates from the faculty of desire. As a result of it, there comes into operation the faculty which causes the movement of the muscles and the tendons in the outer limbs. So with the movement of the muscles and the tendons, the hand or some other limb begins to move. With the movement of the hand arises the movement of a pen, or. whatever external instrument there may be. With the movement of the pen arises the movement of Matter — e.g., the ink in this case, or some other thing. And then comes into being the form of the thing to which we had given a form in our souls. And this is the reason why the mere existence of a form in our souls is neither power nor will. On the contrary, our power is with the principle which moves the muscles. So the form moves another mover — i.e., the principle of our power. And this cannot be true of the Necessary Being; for He is not composed of bodies within whose limits powers are diffused. His power and will and knowledge are one and the same as His essence.

To call Him a living being means that He is a knower in such a way that from His knowledge emanates the being which is called His action. A living being is an agent and a knower in the highest degree. Therefore, what is meant by calling Him a living being is His essence — in relation to His actions (the relation to be explained in the manner we have stated). His life is not like ours which needs for its completion the two different powers which are manifested through our knowledge and actions. On the contrary, His life, too, is identical with His essence.

To call Him generous means that the Universe emanates from Him — not because of a purpose He might have in view. Generosity includes two things. Firstly it is necessary that he who receives a gift should be able to profit by it. To give something to one who does not need it cannot be called generosity. Secondly, the generous person should not have an ulterior need to be fulfilled by his generosity. He should perform an act of generosity, as if it were the fulfilment of its own need. He who is generous in order to be praised and extolled, or in order to avoid blame, is a bargainer, not a generous person. And God's generosity is the true generosity; for He does not seek through it to avoid blame, or to gain the perfection which is the result of praise. Thus the word 'generous' is an expression for His being — in relation to the action, i.e., generosity, and in privation of a purpose. Hence it does not mean any plurality in His essence.

To call Him the pure Good may mean that His being is free from imperfection and the possibility of non-existence. Evil, which has no being, means either (a) the non-existence of a substance, or (b) the non-existence of the fitness of the condition of a substance. Existence, qua existence, is good. Therefore, when the word 'good' is used, it means the priva­tion of the possibility of imperfection and evil.

Alternatively, good may be used as the name of some­thing which is the cause of the system of things. The First Principle is the Principle of the system of every thing. Therefore, He is good; and the name signifies the Divine being as bearing this particular relation.

To call Him the Necessary Being means the Divine being — denying a cause of it, and affirming the impossibility of non-existence before or after it.

To call Him a lover and a beloved one: and pleasant and pleased means that all beauty and grandeur and perfection is dear and lovely to the Perfect (and Beautiful and Grand) One. And pleasure means nothing but an agreeable consciousness of perfection. He who is aware of his perfection — perfection which flows from his comprehension of all knowable things (suppose that he does comprehend them): from the beauty of his form: from the greatness of his power: from the strength of his physique; in short from his consciousness of being the possessor of every possible cause of greatness (suppose that all these things could conceivably belong to one man) — will certainly love his perfection, and derive pleasure from it. But the pleasure of man is imperfect, because the non-existence or the loss of his perfection is an inevitable fact; and the causes of pleasure or delight do not include those things which are liable to decrease, and whose loss can always be foreseen. But the First Principle has perfect grandeur and the completest beauty; for every perfection which is possible for Him is actually present. And His consciousness of this perfection is safe from the possibility of decrease and loss. And the perfection which He always actually enjoys is superior to any other perfection. It follows that His love for, and interest in, this perfection are superior to all other cases wherein love is felt for, or interest is taken in, perfection. And the pleasure He derives from it is greater than the pleasure anyone else may derive from perfection. Nay, there is no comparison between our pleasures and His. Words like 'delight,' 'joy' and 'bliss' are too coarse to describe His pleasures. But there being no adequate words we might use for the Divine meanings, it becomes inevitable to use even the remotest metaphoras we metaphorically use words like 'a willer' or 'a free agent' for Him, thus unwarrantably cutting short the distance between His will and power and knowledge and ours. It is, therefore, likely that the word 'pleasure' should not be approved of. In that case, some other word might be used instead of it. However, what is intended here is to show that His state is nobler — and, therefore, much more enjoyable — than that of the angels. And the state of the angels is nobler than ours. If the satisfaction of physical and sexual appetite were the only cause of pleasure, the condition of an ass or a pig could be nobler than that of the angels. For the angels — i.e. the Principles or the beings divested of Matter — have no other pleasure than that of a joyful consciousness of the perfection and beauty which specially belongs to them, and which is not liable to decrease.

That which belongs to the First Principle is superior to that which belongs to the angels. For the existence of the angels, who are pure intelligences, is possible in itself, and necessary by virtue of something other than itself. And possibility of non-existence is a kind of evil or imperfection. No one except the First Principle being absolutely free from all evil, He alone is the pure Good, and His alone is the perfect beauty and grandeur. Further, He is a beloved one, regardless of whether anyone loves Him, or not — as He is the Intelligent and the Intelligible, regardless of whether any other intellect knows Him, or not. And all these meanings are resolved into His essence, and into His self-consciousness and self-knowledge. For His self-knowledge is identical with His essence. He being a pure intelligence, all the names (we have given to Him) mean one and the same thing.

(So this is the way to expound their doctrine. Now these things can be divided into

(a) those which may be believed. With respect to such things, we will show that they are not compatible with the philosophers' fundamental principles.

(b) those which cannot be believed. With respect to such things, we will criticise the philosophers.

And we will recur to the five categories of plurality. Criticising the philosophers' rejection of each category (as applied to God), we will show how they fail to adduce rational arguments to prove their contention. Let us, therefore, consider each category in detail.]


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