Islamic metaphysics: Wikis

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Islamic metaphysics refers to the study of metaphysics within Islamic philosophy.

Contents

Early Islamic metaphysics

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Cosmological and ontological arguments

Avicenna's proof for the existence of God was the first ontological argument, which he proposed in the Metaphysics section of The Book of Healing.[1][2] This was the first attempt at using the method of a priori proof, which utilizes intuition and reason alone. Avicenna's proof of God's existence is unique in that it can be classified as both a cosmological argument and an ontological argument. "It is ontological insofar as ‘necessary existence’ in intellect is the first basis for arguing for a Necessary Existent". The proof is also "cosmological insofar as most of it is taken up with arguing that contingent existents cannot stand alone and must end up in a Necessary Existent."[3]

Distinction between essence and existence

Islamic philosophy, imbued as it is with Islamic theology, distinguishes more clearly than Aristotelianism the difference between essence and existence. Whereas existence is the domain of the contingent and the accidental, essence endures within a being beyond the accidental. This was first described by Avicenna's works on metaphysics, who was himself influenced by al-Farabi.

Some orientalists (or those particularly influenced by Thomist scholarship) argued that Avicenna was the first to view existence (wujud) as an accident that happens to the essence (mahiyya). However, this aspect of ontology is not the most central to the distinction that Avicenna established between essence and existence. One cannot therefore make the claim that Avicenna was the proponent of the concept of essentialism per se, given that existence (al-wujud) when thought of in terms of necessity would ontologically translate into a notion of the Necessary-Existent-due-to-Itself (wajib al-wujud bi-dhatihi), which is without description or definition, and particularly without quiddity or essence (la mahiyya lahu). Consequently, Avicenna's ontology is 'existentialist' when accounting for being qua existence in terms of necessity (wujub), while it is 'essentialist' in terms of thinking about being qua existence (wujud) in terms of contingency qua possibility (imkan; or mumkin al-wujud: contingent being).[4]

Some argue that Avicenna anticipated Frege and Bertrand Russell in "holding that existence is an accident of accidents" and also anticipated Alexius Meinong's "view about nonexistent objects."[5] He also provided early arguments for "a 'necessary being' as cause of all other existents."[6]

The idea of "essence precedes existence" is a concept which dates back to Avicenna[7] and his school of Avicennism as well as Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi[8] and his Illuminationist philosophy. The opposite idea of "Existence precedes essence" was later developed in the works of Averroes.[7]

More careful approaches are needed in terms of thinking about philosophers (and theologians) in Islam in terms of phenomenological methods of investigation in ontology (or onto-theology), or by way of comparisons that are made with Heidegger's thought and his critique of the history of metaphysics.[9]

Resurrection

Ibn al-Nafis wrote the Theologus Autodidactus as a defense of "the system of Islam and the Muslims' doctrines on the missions of Prophets, the religious laws, the resurrection of the body, and the transitoriness of the world." The book presents rational arguments for bodily resurrection and the immortality of the human soul, using both demonstrative reasoning and material from the hadith corpus as forms of evidence. Later Islamic scholars viewed this work as a response to Avicenna's metaphysical argument on spiritual resurrection (as opposed to bodily resurrection), which was earlier criticized by al-Ghazali.[10]

Soul and spirit

The Muslim physician-philosophers, Avicenna and Ibn al-Nafis, developed their own theories on the soul. They both made a distinction between the soul and the spirit, and in particular, the Avicennian doctrine on the nature of the soul was influential among the Scholastics. Some of Avicenna's views on the soul included the idea that the immortality of the soul is a consequence of its nature, and not a purpose for it to fulfill. In his theory of "The Ten Intellects", he viewed the human soul as the tenth and final intellect.

Avicenna generally supported Aristotle's idea of the soul originating from the heart, whereas Ibn al-Nafis on the other hand rejected this idea and instead argued that the soul "is related to the entirety and not to one or a few organs." He further criticized Aristotle's idea that every unique soul requires the existence of a unique source, in this case the heart. Ibn al-Nafis concluded that "the soul is related primarily neither to the spirit nor to any organ, but rather to the entire matter whose temperament is prepared to receive that soul" and he defined the soul as nothing other than "what a human indicates by saying ‘I’."[11]

Thought experiments

While he was imprisoned in the castle of Fardajan near Hamadhan, Avicenna wrote his famous "Floating Man" thought experiment to demonstrate human self-awareness and the substantiality of the soul. He referred to the living human intelligence, particularly the active intellect, which he believed to be the hypostasis by which God communicates truth to the human mind and imparts order and intelligibility to nature. His "Floating Man" thought experiment tells its readers to imagine themselves suspended in the air, isolated from all sensations, which includes no sensory contact with even their own bodies. He argues that, in this scenario, one would still have self-consciousness. He thus concludes that the idea of the self is not logically dependent on any physical thing, and that the soul should not be seen in relative terms, but as a primary given, a substance.[12]

This argument was later refined and simplified by René Descartes in epistemic terms when he stated: "I can abstract from the supposition of all external things, but not from the supposition of my own consciousness."[12]

Time

In contrast to ancient Greek philosophers who believed that the universe had an infinite past with no beginning, medieval philosophers and theologians developed the concept of the universe having a finite past with a beginning. This view was inspired by the doctrine of creation shared by the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Christian philosopher, John Philoponus, presented the first such argument against the ancient Greek notion of an infinite past. His arguments were adopted by many, most notaby; Al-Kindi (Alkindus); the Jewish philosopher, Saadia Gaon (Saadia ben Joseph); and the Islamic theologian, Al-Ghazali (Algazel). They used two logical arguments against an infinite past, the first being the "argument from the impossibility of the existence of an actual infinite", which states:[13]

"An actual infinite cannot exist."
"An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite."
" An infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist."

The second argument, the "argument from the impossibility of completing an actual infinite by successive addition", states:[13]

"An actual infinite cannot be completed by successive addition."
"The temporal series of past events has been completed by successive addition."
" The temporal series of past events cannot be an actual infinite."

Both arguments were adopted by later Christian philosophers and theologians, and the second argument in particular became more famous after it was adopted by Immanuel Kant in his thesis of the first antimony concerning time.[13]

Truth

In metaphysics, Avicenna (Ibn Sina) defined truth as:

"What corresponds in the mind to what is outside it."[14]

Avicenna elaborated on his definition of truth in his Metaphysics:

"The truth of a thing is the property of the being of each thing which has been established in it."[15]

In his Quodlibeta, Thomas Aquinas wrote a commentary on Avicenna's definition of truth in his Metaphysics and explained it as follows:

"The truth of each thing, as Avicenna says in his Metaphysica, is nothing else than the property of its being which has been established in it. So that is called true gold which has properly the being of gold and attains to the established determinations of the nature of gold. Now, each thing has properly being in some nature because it stands under the complete form proper to that nature, whereby being and species in that nature is."[15]

Early Islamic political philosophy emphasized an inexorable link between science and religion and emphsized the process of ijtihad to find truth.

Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen) reasoned that to discover the truth about nature, it is necessary to eliminate human opinion and error, and allow the universe to speak for itself.[16] In his Aporias against Ptolemy, Ibn al-Haytham further wrote the following comments on truth:

"Truth is sought for itself [but] the truths, [he warns] are immersed in uncertainties [and the scientific authorities (such as Ptolemy, whom he greatly respected) are] not immune from error..."[17]
"Therefore, the seeker after the truth is not one who studies the writings of the ancients and, following his natural disposition, puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration, and not to the sayings of a human being whose nature is fraught with all kinds of imperfection and deficiency. Thus the duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and, applying his mind to the core and margins of its content, attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency."[17]
"I constantly sought knowledge and truth, and it became my belief that for gaining access to the effulgence and closeness to God, there is no better way than that of searching for truth and knowledge."[18]

Modern Islamic metaphysics

Transcendent theosophy

Transcendent Theosophy is the school of Islamic philosophy founded by Mulla Sadra in the 17th century. His philosophy and ontology is considered to be just as important to Islamic philosophy as Martin Heidegger's philosophy later was to Western philosophy in the 20th century. Mulla Sadra bought "a new philosophical insight in dealing with the nature of reality" and created "a major transition from essentialism to existentialism" in Islamic philosophy, several centuries before this occurred in Western philosophy.[19]

The idea of "essence precedes existence" is a concept which dates back to Avicenna[7] and his school of Avicennism as well as Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi[8] and his Illuminationist philosophy. The opposite idea of "Existence precedes essence" was thus developed in the works of Averroes[7] and Mulla Sadra[20] as a reaction to this idea and is a key foundational concept of existentialism.

For Mulla Sadra, "existence precedes the essence and is thus principle since something has to exist first and then have an essence." This is primarily the argument that lies at the heart of Mulla Sadra's Transcendent Theosophy. Sayyid Jalal Ashtiyani later summarized Mulla Sadra's concept as follows:[21]

"The existent being that has an essence must then be caused and existence that is pure existence ... is therefore a Necessary Being."

More careful approaches are needed in terms of thinking about philosophers (and theologians) in Islam in terms of phenomenological methods of investigation in ontology (or onto-theology), or by way of comparisons that are made with Heidegger's thought and his critique of the history of metaphysics.[22]

Sufi metaphysics

Major ideas in Sufi metaphysics have surrounded the concept of Wahdat or "Unity". Two main Sufi philosophies prevail on this controversial topic. Wahdat-ul-Wujood (Unity of Being) essentially states that in God lies everything and God lies in everything. Wahdat-ul-Shuhud (Apparentism, or Unity of Witness), on the other hand, holds that God and his creation are entirely separate. Some Islamic reformers have claimed that the difference between the two philosophies differ only in semantics and that the entire debate is merely a collection of "verbal controversies" which have come about because of ambiguous language. However, the concept of the relationship between God and the universe is still actively debated both among Sufis and between Sufis and non-Sufi Muslims.

Contemporary Islamic metaphysics

The Malaysian Islamic philosopher Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas maintains that modern science sees things as mere things, and that it has reduced the study of the phenomenal world to an end in itself. Certainly this has brought material benefits, however it is accompanied by an uncontrollable and insatiable propensity to destroy nature itself. Al-Attas maintains a firm critique that to study and use nature without a higher spiritual end has brought mankind to the state of thinking that men are gods or His co-partners. "Devoid of real purpose, the pursuit of knowledge becomes a deviation from the truth, which necessarily puts into question the validity of such knowledge." [Islam and Secularism, p. 36]

Al-Attas views Western civilization as constantly changing and ‘becoming’ without ever achieving 'being'. He analyzes that many institutions and nations are influenced by this spirit of the West and they continually revise and change their basic developmental goals and educational objectives to follow the trends from the West. He points to Islamic metaphysics which shows that Reality is composed of both permanence and change; the underlying permanent aspects of the external world are perpetually undergoing change [Islam and Secularism, p. 82]

For al-Attas, Islamic metaphysics is a unified system that discloses the ultimate nature of Reality in positive terms, integrating reason and experience with other higher orders in the suprarational and transempirical levels of human consciousness. He sees this from the perspective of philosophical Sufism. Al-Attas also says that the Essentialist and the Existentialists schools of the Islamic tradition address the nature of reality. The first is represented by philosophers and theologians, and the latter by Sufis. The Essentialists cling to the principle of mahiyyah (quiddity), whereas the Existentialists are rooted in wujud (the fundamental reality of existence) which is direct intuitive experience, not merely based on rational analysis or discursive reasoning. This has undoubtedly led philosophical and scientific speculations to be preoccupied with things and their essences at the expense of existence itself, thereby making the study of nature an end in itself. Al-Attas maintains that in the extra-mental reality, it is wujud (Existence) that is the real "essences" of things and that what is conceptually posited as mahiyyah ("essences" or "quiddities") are in reality accidents of existence.

The process of creation or bringing into existence and annihilation or returning to non-existence, and recreation of similars is a dynamic existential movement. There is a principle of unity and a principle of diversity in creation. "The multiplicity of existents that results is not in the one reality of existence, but in the manifold aspects of the recipients of existence in the various degrees, each according to its strength or weakness, perfection or imperfection, and priority or posteriority. Thus the multiplicity of existents does not impair the unity of existence, for each existent is a mode of existence and does not have a separate ontological status". He clarifies that the Essence of God is absolutely transcendent and is unknown and unknowable, except to Himself, whereas the essence or reality of a thing consists of a mode of existence providing the permanent aspect of the thing, and its quiddity, endowing it with its changing qualities.

See also

References

  1. ^ Steve A. Johnson (1984), "Ibn Sina's Fourth Ontological Argument for God's Existence", The Muslim World 74 (3-4), 161–171.
  2. ^ Morewedge, P., "Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Malcolm and the Ontological Argument", Monist 54: 234–49  
  3. ^ Mayer, Toby (2001), "Ibn Sina’s ‘Burhan Al-Siddiqin’", Journal of Islamic Studies (Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Oxford Journals, Oxford University Press) 12 (1): 18–39  
  4. ^ For recent discussions of this question see: Nader El-Bizri, "Avicenna and Essentialism", The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 54 (June 2001), pp. 753-778.
  5. ^ Alejandro, Herrera Ibáñez (1990), "La distinción entre esencia y existencia en Avicena", Revista Latinoamericana de Filosofía 16: 183–195, http://www.formalontology.it/avicenna.htm, retrieved 2008-01-29  
  6. ^ Fadlo, Hourani George (1972), "Ibn Sina on necessary and possible existence", Philosophical Forum 4: 74–86, http://www.formalontology.it/avicenna.htm, retrieved 2008-01-29  
  7. ^ a b c d Irwin, Jones (Autumn 2002), "Averroes' Reason: A Medieval Tale of Christianity and Islam", The Philosopher LXXXX (2)  
  8. ^ a b (Razavi 1997, p. 129)
  9. ^ For recent studies that engage in this line of research with care and thoughtful deliberation, see: Nader El-Bizri, The Phenomenological Quest between Avicenna and Heidegger (Binghamton, N.Y.: Global Publications SUNY, 2000)
  10. ^ Fancy, p. 42 & 60
  11. ^ Nahyan A. G. Fancy (2006), "Pulmonary Transit and Bodily Resurrection: The Interaction of Medicine, Philosophy and Religion in the Works of Ibn al-Nafīs (d. 1288)", p. 209-210, Electronic Theses and Dissertations, University of Notre Dame.[1]
  12. ^ a b Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman (1996), History of Islamic Philosophy, p. 315, Routledge, ISBN 0415131596.
  13. ^ a b c Craig, William Lane (June 1979), "Whitrow and Popper on the Impossibility of an Infinite Past", The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 30 (2): 165–170 [165-6]  
  14. ^ Osman Amin (2007), "Influence of Muslim Philosophy on the West", Monthly Renaissance 17 (11).
  15. ^ a b Jan A. Aertsen (1988), Nature and Creature: Thomas Aquinas's Way of Thought, p. 152. BRILL, ISBN 9004084517.
  16. ^ Bradley Steffens (2006). Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist, Morgan Reynolds Publishing, ISBN 1599350246. (cf. Bradley Steffens, "Who Was the First Scientist?", Ezine Articles.)
  17. ^ a b Sabra (2003). Ibn al-Haytham: Brief life of an Arab mathematician, Harvard Magazine, October-December 2003.
  18. ^ C. Plott (2000), Global History of Philosophy: The Period of Scholasticism, Pt. II, p. 465. ISBN 8120805518, Motilal Banarsidass Publ.
  19. ^ Kamal, Muhammad (2006), Mulla Sadra's Transcendent Philosophy, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., pp. 9 & 39, ISBN 0754652718  
  20. ^ (Razavi 1997, p. 130)
  21. ^ (Razavi 1997, pp. 129-30)
  22. ^ For recent studies that engage in this line of research with care and thoughtful deliberation, see: Nader El-Bizri, The Phenomenological Quest between Avicenna and Heidegger (Binghamton, N.Y.: Global Publications SUNY, 2000)

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