The Incoherence of the Philosophers

The Incoherence of the Philosophers ("Tahāfut al-Falāsifaʰ") in Arabic (تهافت الفلاسفة) is the title of a landmark 11th century polemic in Islamic philosophy by the Sufi sympathetic Imam al-Ghazali of the Asharite school against Avicennism. cite encyclopedia|last= |first= | authorlink= | title=Avicenna |year=| encyclopedia=Encyclopedia Iranica | accessdate=2007-12-30|location=|publisher=|url=http://www.iranica.com/newsite/articles/v3f1/v3f1a046.html] Philosophers like Ibn Sina and al-Farabi are denounced in this book. The text was dramatically successful, and marked a milestone in the ascendance of the Asharite school within Islamic philosophy and theological discourse.

Background

This book was preceded by a summary of Muslim philosophical thought titled: Aims of the philosophers "Maqasid al-falasifah". This book is the summary of Avicenna's philosophical doctrine. Al-Ghazali stated that one must be well versed in the ideas of the philosophers before setting out to refute their ideas.

Al-Ghazali also stated that he did not have any problem with other branches of philosophy like physics, logic, astronomy or mathematics. His only axe to grind was with metaphysics, in which he claimed that the philosophers did not use the same tools, namely logic, which they used for other sciences.

Contents

The "tahafut" is organized into twenty chapters in which al-Ghazali attempts to refute Avicenna's doctrines.

He states that Avicenna and his followers have erred in seventeen points (each one of which he addresses in detail in a chapter, for a total of 17 chapters) by committing heresy. But in three other chapters, he accuses them of being utterly irreligious. Among the charges that he leveled against the philosophers is their inability to prove the existence of God and inability to prove the impossibility of existence of two gods.

The twenty points are as follows:
#Refuting the doctrine of the world's pre-eternity.
#Refuting the doctrine of the world's post-eternity.
#Showing their equivocation of the following two statements: God is the creator of the world vs. the world is God's creation.
#The inability of philosophers to prove the existence of the Creator.
#The inability of philosophers to prove the impossibility of existence of two gods.
#The philosopher's doctrine of denying the existence of God's attributes.
#Refutation of their statement: "the essence of the First is not divisible into genus and species".
#Refutation of their statement: "the First is simple existent without quiddity".
#Their inability to demonstrate that the First is not a body.
#Discussing their materialist doctrine necessitates a denial of the maker.
#Their inability to show that the First knows others.
#Their inability to show that the First knows Himself.
#Refuting that the First does not know the Particulars.
#Refuting their doctrine that states: "the heavens are an animal that moves on its own volition.
#Refuting what they say regarding the reason that the heavens move.
#Refuting their doctrine that the heavens are souls that know the particulars.
#Refuting their doctrine that disruption of causality is impossible.
#Refuting their statement that the human soul is a self-sustaining substance that is neither a body nor an accident.
#Refuting their assertion of the impossibility of the annihilation of the human soul.
#Refuting their denial of bodily resurrection and the accompanying pleasures of Paradise or the pains of Hellfire.

Beyond Heresy

The three irreligious ideas are as follows:
# The theory of a pre-eternal world. Ghazali argued that God created the world in time and just like everything in this world it will cease to exist as well.
# God only knows the universal characteristics of particulars - namely Platonic forms.
# Bodily resurrection will not take place in the hereafter only human souls are resurrected.

ummary

The late 11th century book brings out contradictions in the thoughts of philosophers about God and the universe, favoring faith instead. In some ways, it can be seen as a precursor to Søren Kierkegaard's "Either/Or".

Responses

Ibn Rushd (Averroes) wrote a response to al-Ghazali's work entitled "The Incoherence of the Incoherence" ("Tahafut-al-Tahafut") in which he defends the doctrines of the "philosophers" and criticizes al-Ghazali's own arguments. It is written as a sort of dialogue: Averroes quotes passages by al-Ghazali and then responds to them. This text was not as well received by the wider Islamic audience.

Another response to al-Ghazali's arguments was written by Ibn Rushd's predecessor Ibn Tufail (Abubacer) as part of his Arabic philosophical novel, "Hayy ibn Yaqzan" (later translated into Latin and English as "Philosophus Autodidactus"). Ibn Tufail cites al-Ghazali as an influence on his novel, especially his views on Sufism, but was critical of his views towards Avicennism. Ibn al-Nafis later wrote another novel, "Theologus Autodidactus", as a response to Ibn Tufail's "Philosophus Autodidactus", defending some of al-Ghazali's views.

Continued discussion in the Muslim World

Far from stifling philosophy in the Muslim world, the "tahafut" has piqued Muslim interest in philosophy: jurists are no longer afraid to study the works of Avicenna and al-Farabi as is evident in the works of Averroes and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi.

The "tahafut" and Averroes' refutation continue to be studied in the Muslim world. The Ottoman sultan Mehmed II (a.k.a. "el-Fatih") commissioned two of the realm's scholars to write a book summarizing the ideas of the two great philosophers as to who won the debate across time.

Legacy

Al-Ghazali's insistence on a radical divine immanence in the natural world has been posited as one of the reasons that the spirit of scientific inquiry later withered in Islamic lands. If "Allah's hand is not chained", then there was no point in discovering the alleged laws of nature. For example:

...our opponent claims that the agent of the burning is the fire exclusively;’ this is a natural, not a voluntary agent, and cannot abstain from what is in its nature when it is brought into contact with a receptive substratum. This we deny, saying: The agent of the burning is God, through His creating the black in the cotton and the disconnexion of its parts, and it is God who made the cotton burn and made it ashes either through the intermediation of angels or without intermediation. For fire is a dead body which has no action, and what is the proof that it is the agent? Indeed, the philosophers have no other proof than the observation of the occurrence of the burning, when there is contact with fire, but observation proves only a simultaneity, not a causation, and, in reality, there is no other cause but God.

So, while later Islamic civilizations, notably the Ottomans, made adroit use of the technology they acquired, it was the Christian West, influenced by earlier Hellenistic and Islamic philosophies from the Islamic Golden Age, that later took the lead in natural philosophy, pure research, and discovery.

Footnotes

References

* [http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ip/rep/h002.htm#H002BIBENT7 Aristotelianism in Islamic philosophy]
* [http://www.ghazali.org/works/taf-eng.pdf The Incoherence of the Philosophers] Lahore, 1958, 1963 English translation by S. A. Kamali. [large pdf file]
*Marmura: "Al-Ghazali's The Incoherence of the Philosophers", (2nd ed.). Brigham Young University Press, 2002. A new English translation of "tahfut al-falasifa" includes the Arabic text. ISBN 0-8425-2466-5.
* [http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ir/tt/index.html The Incoherence of the Incoherence] translation by Simon van den Bergh. ["N.B.": This also contains a translation of most of the tahafut as the refutations are mostly commentary of al-Ghazali statements that were quoted verbatim.]


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