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 VI
Refutation of their denial of the Divine Attributes


LIKE the Mu'tazilah, the philosophers agree in rejecting as impossible the affirmation of knowledge, power and will of the First Principle.


They assert:

These names have been used by the Sacred Law, and their application is etymologically defensible. Nevertheless, they all mean — as has been shown above — the same thing, viz., the one essence. It is not right to affirm attributes which are additional to the Divine essence, as our knowledge or power is an attribute additional to our essence. For (they assert) such a thing necessitates plurality.

If our attributes had occurred to us, we should have known that they are additional to our essence — insofar as they had subsequently emerged. Therefore, even if they are supposed to be coextensive with, and not posterior to, our being, still their coexistence will not change their character of being additional to the essence. For of any two things, if one occurs to the other, and if it is known that This is not That: nor can That be This, then — notwithstanding their co­existence — their being two different things will remain an intelligible fact. So the Divine attributes, even if coexistent with the Divine essence, will not cease to be additional to the essence. And this will necessitate plurality in the Necessary Being. But that plurality is impossible. Hence the (unanimous) denial (by the philosophers) of the Attributes.


It should be said to them:

How do you know that plurality of this kind is impossible? You are opposed to all the Muslims, except the Mu'tazilah. What is the argument to prove that this opposition is justified? If one says that the essence (which would bear the attributes) being one, plurality in the Necessary Being is impossible, then all he means is that plurality of attributes is impossible. And that is the point at issue. For such impossibility is not known by rational necessity. An argument must be produced to prove it.

And they argue the point in two ways.




Firstly, they say

Following is an argument to prove our point: Of the two things — viz., an attribute and its subject — This is not That, and That is not This. Now, (a) either the existence of each of the two will be independent of the other; or (b) each will need the other; or (c) one will be independent, while the other is not. If each is supposed to be independent, both will be necessary. That amounts to absolute Duality, which is impossible. But if each of the two needs the other, neither will be a necessary being. For a necessary being means one which subsists by itself, as independent of other beings. So that which needs another being has its cause in that being; for if the latter were to disappear, its own existence would be impossible. That is, its existence is not derived from itself, but from another being. Finally, if only one of the two depends on the other, then that which depends will be a caused being, and the other a necessary being. As a caused being, the dependent one will have an external cause. And this will lead to the conclusion that a dependent being comes to be connected with a necessary being by an external cause.


Objection to this may be taken as follows

Of these three alternatives, the last one must be chosen. But even in regard to the first one — viz., Duality — we have shown (in the preceding problem) that your rejection of it is not supported by an argument. For the rejection of duality can only be based on a denial of plurality — i.e., the subject of this problem, and the following one. So, that which is a corollary of this problem cannot be the basis of this problem. However, the alternative to be chosen here is that in its constitution the essence does not depend on the attributes, while the Divine attributes — as well as ours — depend on their subject.


It remains for them to say:

That which depends on someone else cannot be a necessary being.


To this, the answer should be:

Why do you say so, if by the necessary being yon mean a being which has no efficient cause? Why should it be impossible to say that, just as the essence of the Necessary Being is eternal and independent of an efficient cause, so are His attributes eternal and independent of an efficient cause? If by the necessary being you mean a being without a receptive cause, then the attributes are not necessary in that sense. Nonetheless, they are eternal and have no efficient cause. What is the contradiction involved in this view ?


If it is said

An absolutely necessary being has neither an efficient nor a receptive cause. If you admit that the attributes have a receptive cause, you admit that they are caused things.


we will answer

To call the essence which receives the attributes a recep­tive cause is your terminology. Rational arguments do not prove the existence of a necessary being to which these terms of yours could be applied. What they prove is only that there must be a limit at which the series of causes and effects comes to an end. Nothing beyond this can be proved. And the series of causes and effects can be brought to an end by the One who has eternal attributes, and whose attributes and essence are both independent of an efficient cause. Although eternal, His attributes reside in His essence. Let the word 'necessary being' be discarded, for it is likely to create confusion. Rational arguments only prove that a series must stop. Nothing beyond this can be proved. Therefore, the claim of any thing beyond this is an arbitrary claim.


If it is said

Just as the series of efficient causes must stop somewhere, so must the series of receptive causes stop. For if every being needs a substratum in which to exist, and if the substratum itself were to need another substratum, an infinite regress would follow — as would be the case if every being needed an efficient cause, and the cause itself needed another.


we will say:

This is true. But we did bring the series to an end by saying that the Divine attributes are in the Divine essence, and that the Divine essence does not depend on any thing else. And this is like the position of our own attributes. For instance, the substratum of our knowledge is our essence, but our essence itself is not in another substratum. So in the Divine essence the series of the efficient causes of the attributes reaches its end; for neither the essence nor the attributes have an efficient cause. And the uncaused essence as well as its uncaused attributes never ceased to exist. As regards the series of receptive causes, it does reach its end in the essence. Whence does it follow that, in order to deny a cause, a substratum should be denied? Rational arguments do not compel one to believe any thing but that a series must stop. Every method through which a series can be cut short is faithful to the judgment on which the rational demonstration of a necessary being is based. If, however, by the rational being you mean something other than a being which is independent of an efficient cause, and in which the series of efficient causes reaches its end, we will not concede that such a being is necessary at all. Finally, if reason admits the idea of an eternal being which is uncaused, it will also admit the idea of an eternal possessor of attributes whose attributes and essence are both uncaused.




Secondly, they say

Our knowledge or power does not enter into the quiddity of our essence; for it is only an accident. Therefore, if such attributes were affirmed of the First Principle, they would not enter into the quiddity of His essence either, but remain mere accidents related to His essence — maybe, for ever. Many an accident is inseparable — i.e., it belongs to the quiddity inevitably. But that does not make it a constituent of the essence. Being an accident, it is always subordinate to the essence, which is, therefore, a cause of it. This makes an accident a caused thing. How, then, can you call an accident —  i.e., an attribute — a necessary being?

(This is the same thing as the first argument changed in words.)


We will answer:

If by its being subordinate to the essence, and by the latter's being a cause of it you mean that the essence is an efficient cause of it, and that it is an effect of the essence, then this sense is not true. And such a thing is not necessary even in the case of our knowledge, as related to our essence For our essence is not an efficient cause of our knowledge. But if you mean that the essence is a substratum, and that the attributes cannot exist in themselves (if they do not exist in this substratum), then that sense has already been granted, and there is no reason why it should be called impossible. Whether the attribute is called a subordinate, or an accident, or an effect, or whatever one likes to call it, the meaning cannot be changed. For these words will not mean anything, if they do not mean that the Divine attributes exist in the Divine essence in the manner in which all attributes exist in their subjects. And there is no reason why it should be regarded as impossible that the attributes exist in the essence, and still be eternal and in dependent of an efficient cause.

All the arguments advanced by the philosophers aim at scaring us by using (for the Divine attributes) such words as 'possible,' 'contingent,' 'subordinate,' 'inseparable accidents,' 'effects,' etc., and by suggesting that these words are undesirable. It must be said to them: If the meaning is that the attributes have an efficient cause, then that meaning is unacceptable. But if the meaning is that the attributes have, not an efficient cause, but a substratum in which they exist, then whatever words one may choose to express this meaning there is no impossibility involved in, it.

Sometimes, the philosophers try to scare us by using repulsive words of another kind. Thus, they say

This leads to the conclusion that the First Principle needs the attributes. Consequently, He will not be the absolutely Unneedy. For the absolutely Unneedy does not need any thing which is external to Himself.

This is the most unconvincing literal-mindedness. The attributes of perfection cannot be separated from the essence of the perfect one, so as to occasion one's saying that the per­fect one needs something which is external to him. If God has never ceased to be, nor will ever cease to be, perfect by virtue of His knowledge, power and life, how can it be said that He has a need for them? How can one read a need into the perfection which is an inseparable accompaniment? The philosophers' assertion is like one's saying

The perfect one is he who needs perfection. And he who needs — even the attribute of perfection — is essentially imperfect.

To this the answer would be: What is meant by one's being perfect is nothing but the actual existence of perfection in relation to his essence. Similarly, therefore, what God's being unneedy means is the actual existence of those attributes which preclude all wants and needs in relation to His essence. How, therefore, can you deny — through such verbal niceties — those attributes of perfection whereby the Divine realises itself?


If it is said:

If you affirm (a) an essence; (b) an attribute, and (c) the subsistence of the attribute in the essence, then you introduce composition. And wherever there is composition, there must be one who produces composition. This was the reason why we did not find it permissible to call the First Principle a body, which is subject to composition.


we will answer:

To say that all composition needs one who produces composition is like saying that every being needs one who causes being. To that assertion the rejoinder will be: The First Principle is a being which is eternal, uncaused and independent of 'one who causes being.' Similarly, therefore, it should be said: The First Principle is a possessor of attributes who is eternal and uncaused, and whose (a) essence; (b) attributes, and (c) the subsistence of the attributes in the essence are all uncaused, each existing from eternity to eternity.

As far as body is concerned, it cannot be the First Principle, for it has a temporal character. And it has a temporal character, for it is never free from changes. But he who does not believe in the temporal character of body is bound — as we will show later-to admit the possibility that the First Cause should be body.

It must be clear now that all the methods of demonstra­tion adopted by the philosophers are fantastic.

Moreover, they have failed to show how all the positive statements they make about God can be reduced to His essence. For instance, they affirm that He is a knower. But they must admit that being a knower is additional to existence. One should ask them: Do you admit that the First Principle knows any thing but Himself? To this, they make different answers. Some admit this; whereas others say that He knows Himself only.

The position that God knows what is other than Himself was adopted by Ibn Sina. He said that God knows all the things in a universal manner which does not fall under Time. He argued that the particulars are not known to God, for the knowledge of particulars necessitates change in the essence of the knower.


Taking objection to this theory, we will say

Is God's knowledge of all the Species and Gonera, whose number is unlimited, identical with His self-knowledge, or not? If you say that it is not identical, you will break the rule by affirming plurality. But if you say that it is identical, why should you not have yourself classed with one who claims that man's knowledge of what is other than himself is identical with his self-knowledge and with his essence? And he who makes this statement must be a fool.

To him it will be said: The definition of 'one' thing is that it is impossible — even in the Imagination — to suppose the combination of Affirmation and Denial in it. The knowledge of 'one' thing being one, it is impossible to imagine it to exist and not to exist at the same time. Since it is not impossible to suppose — in the Imagination — a man's self­knowledge, without supposing his knowledge of things other than himself, it is said that his self-knowledge is not identical with his knowledge of things other than himself. If the two cognitions were identical, the denial of one would deny the other, and the affirmation of one would affirm the other. It is impossible that Zaid should be and not be at the same time. But such a thing is not true of the two cognitions — viz., self-knowledge and the knowledge of the other. Similarly, God's self-knowledge and the knowledge of the Other cannot be identical. For it is possible to imagine the existence of one of them, without imagining the existence of the other. They are two different things. It is not possible to imagine the existence of His essence, without imagining the existence of His essence. If the self-sameness of His essence were like the alleged identity of the two cognitions, this imagining would be impossible. Therefore, any philosopher, who claims that God knows any thing other than Himself, thereby affirms plurality.


If it is said

He does not know the Other by primary intention. But He knows Himself as the Principle of the Universe. From this knowledge follows — by second intention — the knowledge of the Universe. It is impossible that He should know Himself, without knowing that He is the Principle of the Universe. For being the Principle of the Universe is the reality of His essence. And it is not possible that He should know Himself as the Principle of that which is other than Himself, without the Other entering into His knowledge — by way of implication or necessary consequence. There is no reason why His essence should not have necessary consequences. Nor does the having of necessary consequences necessitate plurality in the quiddity of essence. What is impossible is only that there should be plurality in the essence itself.


The answer from several points:

Firstly, your statement that He knows Himself as the Principle of the Universe is an arbitrary assumption. It would be proper that He knew just the existence of His essence. The knowledge of His being the Principle is additional to the knowledge of existence. For being a principle is a relation of the essence. It is possible for one to know his essence, without knowing its relations. If the state of being a principle were not a relation, the essence would be multiple — i.e., there would be existence and the state of being a principle. For existence and the state of being a principle are two different things. As it is possible for a man to know himself, without knowing that he is an effect (for that knowledge depends on his knowledge that being an effect is a relation he bears to his cause), so God's being the Cause is a relation He bears to His effects. Even if the effects are left aside, the objection to their statement, that He knows Himself as a principle, stands. For the statement means the knowledge of essence and the knowledge of being a principle. Being a principle is a relation of the essence. A relation of the essence is not identical with the essence. Therefore, the knowledge of the relation cannot be identical with the knowledge of the essence. Our argument for this conclusion has already been given — namely, that, on the one hand, it is possible to imagine the knowledge of essence, without imagining the knowledge of its being a principle; and that, on the other hand, it is not possible to imagine the knowledge of essence, without imagining the knowledge of essence (for essence is one).

Secondly, their statement that the Universe is known to Him by a second intention is rational. For if His knowledge encompasses the Other, as it encompasses His own essence, then there will be two distinct objects of His knowledge. And the number and distinction of known things will necessitate the numerical increase of knowledge. Since it is possible in the Imagination to keep the objects of knowledge apart from each other, the knowledge of one cannot be identi­cal with the knowledge of another. If it were not, it would not be possible to suppose the the existence of one without the other. If all the cognitions were one, there would be no ' other ': and variation in phraseology — by using the words  'a second intention' — would not create any difference.

I wish I could understand how one who says

'Nothing — not even as much as a particle of dust, in the heavens or on the earth — is hidden from His knowledge.' But He knows things in a universal manner. The universals which can be known are infinite in number. But in spite of the multiplicity of, and the differences among, the objects of knowledge, His knowledge of these objects is one in all respects.

dares to deny plurality. And Ibn Sina is opposed on this point to other philosophers, who, in order to avoid plurality, adopted the view that God does not know any thing other than Himself. How can Ibn Sina agree with these philosophers in denying plurality, and disagree with them in affirming God's knowledge of the Other. He would be ashamed of saying

God does not know any thing in this world, or in the Hereafter. He knows Himself only. But every other being knows (a) God; (b) itself, and (c) what is other than itself. So all other beings are nobler than God, so far as knowledge is concerned.

So he rejected this doctrine, for he was disgusted with it. But then, he was not ashamed of insisting on the denial of plurality in all respects. He asserted that God's self-knowledge and His knowledge of any — rather, every — thing other than Himself are precisely the same as His essence. This is the contradiction — detectable at the first sight — of which all other philosophers would be ashamed. And thus we arrive at the conclusion that both Ibn Sina and those with whom he disagreed end by saying things which are disgraceful. And this is how God confounds those who go astray from His path, thinking that their reason or imagination can help them to grapple with the Divine things.


If it is said

If it is established that He knows Himself as a principle by way of relation, the knowledge of the thing to which a relation is borne must be one. For he who knows 'son' knows him by 'one' knowledge which is also — by implication the knowledge of 'father,' 'fatherhood' and 'sonship.' Thus, in spite of the multiplicity of the objects of knowledge, knowledge remains one. Similarly, God knows Himself as the Principle of the Other; and, in spite of the multiplicity of the objects of knowledge, knowledge remains one. And since such a thing is intelligible in the case of one effect and its relation to God, and seeing that it does not necessitate plurality, it follows that increase in the number of that which is not generically a cause of plurality will not necessitate plurality either.

The same thing happens when one who knows a thing also knows the knowledge of that thing. He knows his knowledge of the thing by knowing the thing; for every knowledge is the knowledge of itself, as of its object. Therefore, the objects of knowledge multiply; but knowledge remains one.

Another. proof of our thesis is the fact that you believe that, although the objects of God's knowledge are infinite in number, yet His knowledge is one. You do not say that He has a correspondingly unlimited number of cognitions. If the multiplicity of the objects of knowledge necessitated numerical increase in knowledge itself, there would be an unlimited number of cognitions in the Divine essence — which is impossible.


we will answer:

Whenever knowledge is one in all respects, its relation to two objects is inconceivable. The relation of knowledge to more than one object demands plurality, if the postulates laid down by the philosophers in their theory of plurality are to be followed. For they have exaggerated (the sense of plurality) by saying that, if God had a quiddity as the possessor of the attribute of existence, plurality would arise. They have claimed that 'one' thing which has a reality, and to which existence is then attributed, is unintelligible. They have asserted that, if existence is related to a reality; the two would be different things, whence plurality will arise. So on this ground, it is impossible to suppose the relation of one knowledge to many objects — without thence arising a kind of plurality which is more clear and distinct than the plurality following from the supposition of an existence related to quiddity.

As regards the knowledge of 'son,' or any other relative term, there is plurality in it. For the knowledge of 'son' and the knowledge of 'father' are two different cognitions. And there is a third knowledge, viz., that of the relation between the two. This third knowledge is implied in the first two cognitions; for they are its conditions, and provide its necessity. Without knowing the things which are related, you cannot know the relation. So all these cognitions are numerically distinct ; and some of them are conditioned by others.

Therefore, if God knows Himself as related to the Genera and Species by virtue of His being their Principle, this knowledge will require that He should know (a) Himself; (b) the Genera and Species, one by one, and (c) His relation to the Genera and Species — by virtue of His being the Principle of the Genera and Species. Otherwise, it would be unintelli­gible to say that the relation is an object of His knowledge.

As regards their statement that he who knows something knows his knowledge by this very knowledge (which shows how, in spite of the multiplicity of the objects of knowledge, knowledge remains one), it is not true. One who knows his knowledge of something, knows it by another knowledge (and knows the second knowledge by a third knowledge), and so on, till the series comes to an end at a knowledge to which he is inattentive, and which is, therefore, not known to him. So he is (ultimately) inattentive to knowledge, but not to the object of knowledge. For instance, when one knows a black thing, his soul is at the time of knowing absorbed into this object; and, therefore, he is inattentive to, or unaware of, his knowledge of this object. For if he were to be aware of his knowledge, it would require another knowledge — whereby his awareness would cease.

As regards their statement that our objection may turn against us in the case of the objects of Divine knowledge (which we consider to be infinite in number, although Divine knowledge is one), we will say : In this book, ours is not the point of view of (system) builders, but only that of those who destroy things, or criticise them. For this reason, we have called the book The Destruction Of The Philosophers, not "An Introduction To Truth." Therefore, we are not bound to reply to your objection.


If it is said:

We do not mean that you must adopt a definite point of view — e.g., the position of a particular Sect. But a difficulty which presents itself to all mankind, and which is equally baffling to all, should not be dismissed by you. The difficulty we have raised is such a difficulty. Therefore, neither you, nor any other Sect, can ignore it.


we will say:

No, our purpose is only to show your inability to justify your claim to the knowledge of the realities of things by conclusive arguments. We wanted to shake your faith in your own claims. Now that your inability has been shown, let it be borne in mind that there are some people who believe that the realities of the Divine things cannot be discovered through intellectual investigations, and that, on the contrary, it is beyond man's power to discover them. For this reason, the Lawgiver has said: "Think over the product of God's creative activity ; do not think over His essence." How will you disprove the people

who believe in the truth of the Apostles, regarding the miracles performed by them as their arguments

who refrain from expressing an intellectual judgment concerning Him who sent the Apostles

who refrain from attempting intellectual investigations into the Divine attributes

who assent to whatever the Lawgiver has told them with respect to God's attributes

who follow the Lawgiver's example in using words like 'the knowing One': 'the willing One': 'the Omnipotent,' etc., about God

who refuse to apply to Him words which have not been recommended to them; and

who confess that they are unable to understand these things with the help of reason?

You disagree with these people, because you think that they are ignorant of the methods of rational demonstration, and cannot arrange their premises in the form of syllogisms. And you claim to have discovered the realities of the Divine things by your rational methods. But your helplessness has been shown; the incoherence of your methods has been exposed; and your claim to definite knowledge has been reduced to absurdity. And this is what we aimed at in this discussion. Where is he who claimed that metaphysical arguments are as conclusive as mathematical arguments?


If it is said:

This difficulty should be presented to Ibn Sina who asserted that God knows what is other than Himself. The 'masters' among the philosophers agree that He does not know any thing but Himself. So the difficulty raised by you is removed.


we will answer

Beware this infamous doctrine! If it were not extremely obnoxious, the latter philosophers would not refuse to support it. Let us explain what makes it so disgraceful. It implies that the effects of God are worthier than God. For an angel, or a man, or any intelligent being, knows (a) itself; (b) its principle; and (c) other beings. If God does not know any thing other than Himself, He must be imperfect — in comparison with man (not to speak of the angels), or even the beasts (who, in addition to self-consciousness, know many other things). Obviously, knowledge is a cause of worth, and its absence is an imperfection. Where is now the philosophers' assertion that He is a lover and a beloved one, for perfect grandeur and the completest beauty belongs to Him? What beauty can belong to a simple being which has no quiddity or reality, and which does not know what goes on in the world, or what necessarily follows or proceeds from it? What imperfection in the world of God can be more imperfect than this? All intelligent people must be surprised to see that the philosophers, who claim a profound knowledge of the intelligibles, end by saying that the Supreme Deity, the Cause of all causes has no knowledge of what goes on in the world. What, apart from His self-knowledge, can be the difference between Him and a dead person? What is the point in calling His self-knowledge a perfection, if He is ignorant of what is other than Himself? This doctrine is so evidently disgraceful that no detailed description is required to prove the fact. Finally, it must be said to the philosophers: In spite of steeping yourselves into these disgraceful things, you have not been able to get rid of plurality. We must ask you: Is His self-knowledge identical with, or other than, Himself? If you say that it is other than Himself, plurality comes in. But if you say that it is identical, what will be the difference between you and him who says that man's self-knowledge is identical with himself? To such a statement, our answer will be: This is nonsense. The existence of the essence of a man is intelligible — even at a time when he is inattentive to himself. When his inattention ceases, he awakens to himself. This again shows that his self-consciousness is other than himself.


If you say

Man is sometimes devoid of self-knowledge, which, however, occurs to him afterwards. It follows that self-knowledge is other than himself.


we will answer

Otherness is not determined by occurrence or coexistence. The identity of a thing does not occur to it. And that which is other than something does not become that thing — i.e., it does not cease to be other than that thing — because of coexistence with it. Therefore, if God has never ceased to be a knower of Himself, it does not follow that His self-knowledge is His essence. The Imagination admits the supposition of an essence, and then the occurrence of consciousness. If consciousness were identical with the essence, this imagining would not be possible.


If it is said

His essence is intelligence and knowledge. There is no such thing as: "Essence: then knowledge existing in essence."

This is evidently stupid. Knowledge is an attribute or an accident which requires a subject. To say that in Himself, He is intelligence or knowledge is like saying that He is power or will. The latter statement will amount to saying that power or will exists in itself. And if it is seriously maintained, it will be like saying that blackness, or whiteness, or Quantity, or threefoldness, or fourfoldness, or any other accident exists in itself. The argument which proves the impossibility of attributes existing, not in bodies (which are other than the attributes), but in themselves, is also the argument to prove that the attributes of living beings — e.g., knowledge, life, power, will, etc. — exist, not in themselves, but in an essence. For instance, life exists in an essence, whose life it is. And the same holds of all other attributes.

The philosophers are not content with denying all the attributes of God, nor with denying His reality and quiddity; they go further to deny His self-subsistence — by reducing Him to the nature of accidents and qualities which cannot exist in themselves. But we intend to show (in some other problems in this book) that they are unable to prove (by rational arguments) that He even knows Himself, or that which is other than He.


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