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 VIII
Refutation of their thesis that God's is simple being
– i.e. it is pure being, without a quiddity or essence to which existence would be related and that necessary existence is to him what quiddity is to any other being


WE WILL criticise this from two points of view Firstly, demand for an argument: let it be said to them:

How do you know this — as a self-evident fact, or by theoretical investigation? It is not a self-evident fact. Therefore, you must set forth the theoretical grounds of it.


If it is said:

If He had a quiddity, His existence would be a relation or a subordinate or an inseparable accident of quiddity. But the subordinate is only an effect. Consequently, necessary existence would be an effect. But that is a contradiction in terms.


we will answer:

By using the words 'necessary being', you are reverting to the source of confusion. We say that He has an essence or a quiddity: that the essence is an existent — in the sense that it is not a non-entity or a negation — and that existence is related to the essence. If they love to call such existence an inseparable accident or a subordinate, names will not matter very much — if it is recognised that such existence had no agent, but continued from eternity without any efficient cause. If by the words 'subordinate' and 'effect' they understand something which has an efficient cause, these words will be inapplicable to His existence. But if any other meaning is assigned to them, that meaning will be allowed, and no contradiction will be involved in it. For rational demonstration has not proved anything besides the termination of the series of causes and effects. And it is possible to terminate the series by an existent essence, a well­defined quiddity. The termination does not require that the quiddity be explained away.


If it is said:

From this it follows that the quiddity is the cause of existence, which, being subordinate to quiddity, will be only an effect or an agendum of it.


we will answer:

Even the quiddity of the originated things is not the cause of their being. How can it be the cause of the Eternal being — if cause means an agent? If, however, by cause they mean something else (e.g., something which cannot be dispensed with), then the quiddity may be the cause of existence, without involving any impossibility. What actually involves impossibility is an infinite regress of causes. When this is cut short, the impossibility is obviated. It is not clear why anything else should be impossible. He who claims that impossibility has not been obviated even after the termination of the causal series must give an argument to prove the point. And all the arguments advanced by the philosophers are only arbitrary assumptions based: (a) upon the use of the words 'necessary being' in a sense from which certain consequences are drawn by them, and (b) upon the assumption that rational demonstration has proved the Necessary Being in accordance with their own description of it. But-as shown above — this is not so.

In short, this argument of the philosophers has its basis in their arguments against the attributes and against the genus — differentia division. It is even obscurer and weaker, for. the plurality attacked here exists only in words. Actually, the supposition of quiddity which is 'one' existent is intellectually admissible. If they say: "Every quiddity which is an existent has already received plurality, since there is existence in addition to quidditv," they only show their utmost ignorance. For in any case, the 'one' existent is intelligible, and there is no existent without an essence, but the existence of the essence is not incompatible with oneness.


The Second Method: we will say:

Existence without quiddity or essence is unintelligible. As we do not understand non-existence which is not related to a being whose non-existence it should be, so we cannot understand unqualified existence which is not related to a definite essence. Specially, when existence is particularised into one essence, how can it have that particular oneness which will be the conceptual basis for its distinction from anyone else — unless it had a reality? To deny quiddity is to deny reality. And if the reality of a being is denied, its existence will be unintelligible. What the philosophers say is like saying: 'Existence, but no existent. And that is a contradiction in terms. To prove the point, if existence without an existent were intelligible, existence without reality could be found among the effects as well. Such existence would be a cosharer with God in the character of having no reality or quiddity; and would be distinguishable from him in that it had a cause while God had none. Now, why is not such a thing among the effects conceivable? Is there any other reason for its being inconceivable than that in itself it is unintelligible? That which is in itself unintelligible does not become intelligible, if its cause is denied. And that which is intelligible does not cease to be so, if it is supposed to depend on a cause.

By going to this extent, the philosophers show how miserably they grope in the dark. They thought that they had arrived at a pure idea of God ; but, in fact, the ultimate result of their investigations is pure negation. The denial of quiddity is the denial of reality. When reality is denied, nothing remains but the word 'existence,' to which no object corresponds, unless it be related to quiddity.


If it is said:

His reality is that He is necessary. So this is the quid­dity.

'Necessary' only means the denial of cause. And that is a negation which cannot constitute the reality of a being. Moreover, the denial of the cause of reality is a property of reality. There must be an intelligible essence to which uncausedness might be related. It follows that the non­existence of reality is inconceivable — since necessity has no other sense than that of being uncaused.

Besides, if necessity is additional to existence, plurality comes in. If it is not additional, how can it be the quiddity? Existence is not quiddity. Therefore, that which is not identical with existence cannot be so either.


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