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 XII
To show their inability to prove that God knows Himself either


We say:

Having recognised the origin of the world because of God's will, the Muslims proceed to infer knowledge from will, and life from knowledge and power. From life they further infer that, since all living beings are self-conscious, God Who is the Living must also know Himself. This is a position which is intelligible and sound. But you deny the Will and the Creation; and assert that whatever emanates from Him emanates of necessity and by way of nature. Therefore, what is the difficulty for you in believing that His being is a being which had the function of causing forth the first effect only: that from the first effect necessarily followed the second effect, and so on down to the end of the Order of Being; and that, in spite of all this, the First Cause does not know Himself — as fire (from which heat necessarily follows) and the Sun (from which light necessarily follows) do not know themselves or any thing else?

He who knows himself knows what emanates from him; thus he knows what is other than himself. And we have shown that, according to the philosophers' principles, God cannot know what is other than Himself. To those who would not agree with the generally held opinion, we have made such opinion inescapably binding, in accordance with their basic postulates. And when God is not to know the Other, it is not difficult to believe that He should not know Himself either.


If it is said

Ever one who does not know himself is dead. How can God be lie the dead?


we will answer

This is what necessarily follows from your basic thought. There is no difference between you and one who would say: (a) that everyone who has no volitional action; no power; no choice, and who does not hear and see, is dead; and (b) that he who does not know what is other than himself is dead. If it were possible to consider God as devoid of all these attributes, why need it be supposed that He could know Himself either?

If they revert to the position that all that is divest­ed of Matter is essentially intelligence, and thus knows itself, we have made it clear that this is an arbitrary assumption for which no argument is available.


If it is said

The argument is as follows: Beings are divided into the living and the dead. The living are worthier and nobler than the dead. God, Who is the Worthiest and the Noblest, must therefore be living. And every living one has self­consciousness. It is impossible that there should be living ones among His effects, while He Himself should not be living.


we will answer

These are arbitrary assumptions. Why, let us say, is it impossible that from one who does not know himself should proceed another who knows himself — through many intermediaries, or through none? If the impossibility arises from the fact that (on this view) the effect will be nobler than the Cause, why is it impossible for the effect to be nobler than the Cause? Such an impossibility is not axiomatic.

Then, how will you disprove one's saying that God's nobleness consists, not in His knowledge, but in the fact that universal being is subordinate to His being? This can be proved as follows: The Other knows things besides himself, and sees, and hears; whereas God does not see or hear. If somebody were to say

Beings are divided into the seeing and the blind; and the knowing and the ignorant. And those who see or know are worthier, then it would follow that God can also see, as He knows things. But you would reject such a conclusion, saying that worth or nobleness does not consist in seeing or knowing things, but in being able to do without sight and knowledge, and in being of such a character as to produce the universe wherein there might be many who could see and know.

Similarly, therefore, worth and nobleness may not consist in self-knowledge, but in being the principle of other beings gifted with knowledge. And such nobleness is to be considered as peculiar to Him.

Thus, perforce, will the philosophers be driven to deny God's self-knowledge, since self-knowledge can only be inferred from will, and will can only be inferred from the temporal origin of the world. If there is error in regard to the question of the origin of the world, all the rest is bound to be erroneous — on the part of those who would understand things by means of theoretical investigations.

Thus, all that the philosophers have to say — to prove some of the Divine attributes, or to disprove others — has for its basis, not any cogent arguments, but sheer conjecture and surmises — too wild to be admitted even by the jurists in their avowedly conjectural work. No wonder if the Intellect is confounded in its inquiries concerning the Divine attributes. The wonder is that the philosophers are so proud of their arguments, and flatter themselves with the idea that they know these things with certainty — whereas, in fact, their knowledge is vitiated by conceit and frivolity.


Table of Contents