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 XIV
To show their inability to prove that the heavens is living, and obeys God through it's rotatory motion


They say:

The Heaven is living, and has a soul which is related to the heavenly body in the same way as our souls are related to our bodies. Just as our bodies move by will towards our purposes under the motive influence of our souls, so does the Heaven the purpose of its rotatory motion being the worship of the Lord of the Universe in a way to be described later.

(Their views on this question belong to a class whose possibility cannot be denied. For God does have the power to create life in any body. Neither the size of a body, nor its being round will preclude life. For no particular shape is an indispensable condition for life. In spite of their different shapes, all the animals are alike recipients of life. What, however, we do assert is that the philosophers are unable to know these things by rational demonstration. If these things were true, the prophets would know them through inspiration or revelation; but rational arguments cannot prove them. Or perhaps rational arguments can prove these things if and when a suitable argument is available. But what the philosophers use as an argument is not fit to produce certainty; it only gives a probability.)


In their unconvincing theory, the philosophers say:

The Heaven moves. This is an empirical premise. Every body which moves has a mover. This is a rational premise. If a body were to move because of being body, then every body should move. Now, every mover either

(i) resides in the moved body e.g., nature which brings about the downward movement of a stone; or will which causes the movement of an animal; or

(ii) lies outside the moved body, but moves it by constraint e.g., in the case of the upward movement of a stone. If a body is moved by something within itself, then either

(i) it will not be conscious of the movement. We call the mover in this case 'nature' e.g., in the case of the downward movement of a stone; or

(ii) it will be conscious of the movement. We call such movement volitional and psychic.

From this exhaustive division, which revolves between affirmation and negation. we obtain three kinds of movement: constrained, natural, and volitional. If in any case two of them are inapplicable, the third must be applicable.

Now, it is impossible that the movement of Heaven should be constrained. For the constrainer which causes the movement must itself be another body caused to move either by constraint or by will. In any case, therefore, the series must stop at will. And if it is proved that somewhere among the heavenly bodies there is movement by will, what is the use of positing constrained movements anywhere? Ultimately, it will be just impossible to do without will. It is impossible to say that the Heaven is caused to move by constraint, and that God is its immediate mover. For if it were to be moved because of its being body, it would be necessary that every other body should be moved by the Creator in the same way. Consequently, in order to prove its distinction from other bodies, it must be assumed specially to have been invested with a distinguishing quality. And then this quality would be either by will or by nature the nearest cause of its movement. Nor is it possible to say that God causes the Heaven to move by His will. For His will is related to all the bodies in the same way. How can the body of the Heaven in particular get prepared specially to have its movement willed, while others were not? A special character is not acquired in vain. For that is impossible as shown in the problem of the creation of the world. So when it is proved that it is proper for this body to have a quality which will be the principle of its movement, the first kind of movement viz., constrained movement is excluded.

There remains the natural movement. This is impossible, for nature by its bare self is never the cause of movement. Movement means the running away from one place, and the seeking after another. If the place in which a body is agreeable, the body will not move. This is the reason why a wine-skin filled with air and floating on the surface of water does not move. If it is dipped into the water, it will move upwards to the surface of water. For when it finds an agreeable place, it comes to rest, and nature stands still. When it is transferred to a disagreeable place, it runs away from it to an agreeable one, as it did from the heart of water to the sphere of the air. Now, it is inconceivable that rotatory motion should be natural. For any site or position from which a body in rotatory motion may be supposed to run away will be returning to it. And that from which it runs away by nature cannot be the object of its seeking. This is why the wine-skin filled with air does not return to water, and why the stone which has reached the ground does not return to the air.

Therefore, the only alternative to be chosen is the third kind of movement viz., volitional movement.

In addition to your theory, we can lay down three hypotheses which you will find no argument to disprove

Firstly, the movement of Heaven may be supposed to be the result of the constraint exercised by another body which wills its movement, and causes it to revolve perpetually. This motive body may be neither a round body nor a circumference. So it will not be a heavenly body at. all. This will refute the philosophers' dictum that heavenly movement is volitional, and that the Heaven is living. This suggestion of ours is possible; and nothing but the mere assumption of improbability can be brought against it.

Secondly, it might be said that heavenly movement is constrained, and that God's will is its principle. We do say that the downward movement of a stone is also constrained, which originates when God creates movement in the stone. And the same holds of the movements of all other inanimate bodies.

There remains their assumption of improbability with respect to the special relation of the will to the heavenly body, while all other bodies shared corporeality in common. We have shown that the eternal will has the function of distinguishing something from its like. And the philosophers themselves had perforce to posit an attribute with such a function, when they specified the direction of rotatory motion and the position of the Pole. That we will not repeat here. To clinch the issue, it may be pointed out that their assumption of improbability with respect to the special determination of a body to which the will is related, but which has no attribute to distinguish it, recoils upon them when they introduce an attribute to make distinction. To be more explicit, we will say: Why did the heavenly body come to possess a distinguishing attribute because of which it is differentiated from other bodies? All other bodies are also bodies. Why did this one come to have what they do not? If the cause of this is found in another attribute, the inquiry will be directed to that 'another attribute,' and so on, until at last the philosophers will be forced to regard the will as self-explanatory admitting that among the Principles there is something which singles out one thing, so as to invest it exclusively with a distinguishing attribute.

Thirdly, it may be granted that the Heaven is specifically determined to have an attribute which is the principle of its movement, as they believe with respect to the downward tendency of a stone. But, then, possibly, like the stone, the Heaven will not be conscious of the movement. The philosophers' statement that that which is sought by nature cannot be that which is avoided for the same reason is a deliberate misrepresentation. For there are no numerically disparate places, even according to them. On the contrary, the body is one, and its rotatory motion is one. Neither the body nor its movements actually have parts; it is only in the Imagination that it can be divided. So this movement is neither a seeking after a place, nor a running away from another. It is possible that there should be created a body which has within itself an aptitude which demands circular motion. So the movement itself will fulfil the requirement not that the aptitude will demand the seeking after a place to attain which movement is to be made.

When you say that every movement is made either because a place is sought, or another avoided, and if you think that this relation is necessary, then you make the 'seeking after' the end of nature, and make movement itself a secondary factor which is desired not in itself, but as a means to it. And we say that it is not improbable for movement itself to be the end, and not merely a means to the place supposed to be sought. What is there to disprove such an assumption?

Therefore, it is clear that the position adopted by the philosophers even if it is supposed to be more probable than any other hypothesis does not definitely exclude the alternative hypotheses. If follows that their assertion that the Heaven is living is an arbitrary and groundless assumption,


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