MA BA'D al-TABI'A, or Ma Ba'd al-tabi'-iyyat, a translation of the Greek ta metu ta
fusikt 'the things which come after physical things', i.e. metaphysics, an expression which can
have two meanings, each of which envisages a particular conception of that science ('ilm or
sina'a). It can either be a discipline which one embarks upon after physics, utilising the results of
the natural sciences, or else it can be one whose goal lies beyond the apprehendable objects
which are the concern of physics. The two meanings are not mutually self-exclusive, but the first
tends to put the accent on the role of experience and of knowledge of physical things in the
search for metaphysical realities, whilst the second invites one to enter immediately into the
domain of suprasensible principles in order to deduce from them the nature and laws governing
beings of the material world.

One should note at the outset the two synonyms of this expression which denote metaphysics
inqArabic: on one side al-ilahiyyat, 'the divine things', and on the other al-falsafa al-ula, 'the first
philosophy', a title which al-Kindi gave to one of his Rasa'il (cf. Rasa'il al-Kindi al-falsafiyya, ed.
Abu Rida, Cairo 1953, i). These two terms were borrowed from the Greeks. In Plato, the word
yeolog¤a normally denotes metaphysics; in his view, there exists a sphere of the divine (to ye›on),
a term taken up by Aristotle, who identifies theology, the first philosophy and what we call
metaphysics (Metaphysics, 10t6, a 17-18). The translation uses the curious turn of phrase 'ilm
al-ashya' al-ilahiyyat al-qawl 'science of divine things in regard to definition', in which qawl seems to
correspond to the element logikÆ in yeologikÆ (qawl normally translating lÚgow in its sense of
definition). Ibn Rushd comments in these terms: 'Just as the things of nature are those in the
definition of which nature is involved, so are the divine things those in the definition of which
God is involved' (Tafsir Ma ba'd al-tabi'a, ed. Bouyges, ii, 71t). Nevertheless, there does not follow
from this that God is the object of metaphysics, neither for Ibn Rushd, who connects this science
not with God but with the existence of an incorporeal and immobile substance, this substance
being for him al-mawdhud fi 'l-haqiqa huwa 'l-dhawhar 'the being in reality' (ibid., 750), nor for Ibn
Sina, who thinks that God is not a datum, but can be demonstrated starting from the Necessary
Being. Ibn Rushd further follows Aristotle, who brought forward the possibility of a first
philosophy (q prHth filosof¤a) in 10t6 a t3, saying that if there exists no other substance
except those constituted by nature, then it is physics which should be the first philosophy,
concerning which Ibn Rushd comments thus: 'It is equally clear that if there is there a certain
substance distinct from the moving substance, this substance which has existence will be the
first, and the science which one builds upon it will be the primordial science (al-'ilm al-aqdam); it
will be the universal science and the first philosophy (Tafsir, ii, 714). Moreover, for Aristotle,
beyond the general idea of the divine there are only the gods of the ancient poets (Hesiod) who
come into mythological cosmologies remote from demonstrative philosophy. Commenting on
the term yeolÚgoi (Met., 1000 a 9), Ibn Rushd writes (Tafsir, i, t51), 'Those who speak of divine
things (al-umur al-ilahiyya) are those who hold forth upon a discourse beyond what man can
intelligibly understand (kalaman kharidhan 'amma ya'qiluhu al-insan)'. In other words, before speaking
philosophically of God, one must make an intelligible conception, and this is the role of

But how should one understand the expression 'primordial science' which Ibn Rushd uses? All
the question is included there. Indeed, metaphysics comes before the other sciences because it is
universal and is concerned with the cause of everything which exists; should one therefore place
it in front of the others in research and teaching, or on the contrary keep it back till the end?
One may see here merely a difference of method, that of an expository procedure starting from
principles and causes, and of a process of discovery starting from concrete and apprehensible
experiences. This is al-Farabi's approach, who tries by this means to reduce the divergencies
separating Plato and Aristotle. He accordingly remarks in his Kitab al-Dham' bayn ra'ay al-hakimayn
(ed. A. Nader, Beirut 1968, 86) that for Plato, the most noble primordial substances are those
which are near to the intellect and the soul, whilst for Aris-qtotle, the most worthy substances of
this name, by anteriorness and by their value (bi 'l-tafdil wa 'l-taqdim) are the first substances, i.e.
the individual substances (al-dhawahir al-uwal allati hiya al-ashkhas). But the difference arises from
what Aristotle then says from the point of view of the logical and physical sciences, whilst Plato
speaks from the point of view of metaphysics (fi-ma ba'd al-tabi'a) and theological doctrines
(wa-aqawilihi al-ilahiyya). Consequently, one can set oneself within a certain science or within
another, or start from one or start from another, as a matter of indifference, according to one's
intention. In his Falsafat Aristutalis (ed. Muhsin Mahdi, Beirut 1961), al-Farabi sets forth the
Stragirite's thought, following the progressive order of his enquiry as he sees it. After the
questions of logic, and with the intention of discovering what makes for perfection in man,
Aristotle studies the various questions which concern nature (tabi'a), the soul (nafs) and the
intellect ('aql). 'He must also examine profoundly the substances of the heavenly bodies; are they
nature, soul or intellect, or are they indeed some other, more perfect (akmal) thing; also, are
these substances things which are outside physical speculation? The point is that physical
speculation only includes what the categories include. Now it is clear that there are other beings
outside the categories: the Intellect acting as Agent and the Thing (shay'), which give to the
heavenly bodies a perpetual circular movement. This being so, one has to make speculations
about the beings which have a more universal (a'amm) field than those about physics' (ibid., 130).
'This is why Aristotle explains in the book called Ma ba'd al-tabi'iyyat that he is making
speculations and conducting a deep enquiry into beings in a way which differs from physical
speculation' (ibid., 13t). One notes that al-Farabi admits that one can begin by physics, which
does not however prevent him from thinking (in fact, wrongly) that Aristotle recognises the
existence of a domain of the being which is external and superior to the categories which,
according to him, only concern the physical domain. Elsewhere he speaks clearly (131) of a
penetrating enquiry into the beings which are above the natural things in the hierarchy of
being (fi 'l-mawdhudat allati fawq al-tabi'iyyat fi rutbat al-mawdhud).

Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd take up the Aristotelian definition of metaphysics as being the science of
the being as such (al-mawdhud bi-ma huwa mawdhud). But what is meant to be understood by this?

1. Ibn Sina's viewpoint.

The basic principle is that 'the object (mawdu') of all science is something whose existence is
admitted (or conceded: amr musallam al-mawdhud) in that science' (Shifa', al-Ilahiyyat, Cairo 1960, i,
5). It is drawn from the Posterior analytics of Aristotle (7t a t0): 'If I say that a thing exists or does
not exist, it is a hypothesis'. Hence if one says that the object of metaphysics is God or the Prime
cause (Musabbib al-asbab), this is only an hypothesis which must be verified by means of another
science. Now there is no other science, necessarily more particular than metaphysics, which is
able to guarantee the existence of such-and-such an object. The mawdu' of a science is the object
concerning which this science conducts an enquiry (al-mabhuth 'anhu). But since God or the Prime
cause are not data, they are on the contrary the goal of a metaphysical enquiry (matlub). Ibn
Sina concludes that the object of metaphysics is the being as such which is implied by every
science, by everyqquestion, by every thought and by every speech utterance (ibid., 30): it is the
quid (ma), the 'that which' (alladhi) and the thing (shay'). It does not have to be vouched for, since
it is the thing itself which vouches for everything, or it is by means of it that one vouches for
what one vouches for. This being as such can be divided, without one needing recourse to any
category, in several ways: these divisions of it are like intrinsic accidents (ka 'l-'awarid al-khassa),
whilst divisions according to categories are like kinds (ka 'l-anwa'). It can thus be divided in one
and in multiples (al-wahid -al-kathir), in force and in action (quwwa - fi'l), in universal and particular
(kulli - dhuz'i), in what is eternal and what arises from a temporal origin (qadim - muhdath), in what
is completed and what is incomplete (tamm - naqis), in cause and effect ('illa-ma'lul) and in possible
and necessary (mumkin - wadhib). This list has been made up from the metaphysics of the Shifa' (i,
13) and from the Kitab al-Nadhat (ed. ‘abri al-Kurdi, 1938, 199). The last pair of oppositions in this
division will mark out the Avicennan ontology through the distinction of the Being necessary by
itself (wadhib al-wudhud bi-dhatihi), which is to be identified with God, and the being possible by itself
(mumkin al-wudhud bi-dhatihi), necessary by something outside of itself, i.e. the being of the universe.
Consequently, starting from this general ontology, Ibn Sina explains the origins of various
beings, first of all the heavenly ones (intellects, spheres, souls of the spheres) by a process of
emanation (fayd), as far as the Intellect acting as Agent, the intellect of the sphere of the moon;
and then of the sublunary world, which is made out of material elements by a progression from
minerals to man, thanks to the shapes received from the Intellect acting as Agent which is
Wahib al-suwar (Dator formarum). Thanks to reason, man is capable of returning to God, to such a
point that God is, as the qur'an says (LVII, 3), the First and the Last. From the domain of
metaphysics, one passes on to that of connection with the heavens, then with physics, by a
descending movement; then, beginning with connection with minerals, one passes on to that
with plants, and from animals to that with the soul, as far as the rational soul, by means of an
upward movement which ends up by a mysticism of the mind which corresponds in its point of
arrival with that which was metaphysics at its departure point. For Ibn Sina, as for Plato, all
reality is legitimately deducible from metaphysical principles, even though the imperfect nature
of the human understanding does not in fact allow an integral deduction of the universe.

t. Ibn Rushd's viewpoint.

This is a case of recovering the pure Aristotelianism, stripped of all Platonic or Neoplatonic
influence. Since being is not a generic concept, it cannot be defined and apprehended in itself,
but only by means of categories. Thus for Ibn Rushd, the problem is to know what one can say
about it and how one can speak of it. 'Aristotle's aim in this book (D) is to distinguish the details
of the significations to which the names (al-asma') refer, significations which one thinks about in
that science (metaphysics) and which hold there the position of the subject of an art (manzilat
mawdu' sina'a) in relationship to that art. These names are those which are uttered in regard to a
single thing according to different points of view (bi-dhihat mukhtalifa). This is why he makes out of
speculation on the meaning of these names one section of that science (Tafsir, ii, 475). It is thus
that one callsqeverything connected with health 'healthy': balanced temperament, exercise,
remedial measures, 'the same thing is valid for the name of the being (mawdhud) in relationship to
substance and other categories' (ibid., i, 303-4). It is possible therefore to have a single science of
all the diverse beings, on condition that one understands the names designating them
analogically. This is what has been called the analogy of proportionality; being in regard to
substance is what being is in regard to substance is what being is in regard to quantity, etc. 'Just
as the things which are connected (tansubu) with the curative arts fall, on examinations, into one
and the same science, i.e. medicine, likewise all the things which are connected with being are
the object of speculation in a single science (ibid., i, 307). But metaphysics can also be justified by
relying on the analogy of attribution, substance being the first analogue of being: 'Thus the
name of being (huwiyya), a synonym of mawdhud, although it is used of different species of being, is
only used for each of them through the fact of the connection which it enjoys with the prime
being (al-huwiyya al-ula) which is substance'. To be first accordingly means here to be the first
analogue. 'The categories are connected with the substance, not in that they are considered to
be their agentive cause any more than their ultimate one, but in the sense that they subsist in it
(qa'ima bihi) and that the substance is for them a subject (mawdu')' (ibid., 305). Now substance is a
basic concept and in the measure that one accordingly brings together the study of being with
the study of substance, 'since it has been posited that for every unique concept there is a unique
science ... there results necessarily that there is a unique science of being' (ibid., 309).
Metaphysics, being the study of being as such (Ibn Rushd, who prefers huwiyya to mawdhud, often
remarks that its object is al-huwiyya bi-ma hiya huwiyya), ought probably to contain within itself all
the aspects of being. Nevertheless, being in the shape of the accident (bi-'l-'arad) and being in
thought (fi 'l-fikr) are two defective entities (naqisatani). The aim of metaphysics is to examine 'the
real being which exists outside the soul' and it is 'the substance which is the basic principle of
this being' (al-dhawhar huwa mabda' hadhihi 'l-huwiyya). This conforms to the importance which the
substance assumes basically in metaphysical speculation (cf. ibid., iii, 140t). Beginning by the
study of substances which are apprehendable by the sense and are mobile and corruptible, and
then of substances which have these same characteristics except that they are incorruptible (the
heavens), Ibn Rushd hopes to arrive, with Aristotle, at a substance which is not apprehendable
by the senses, is incorruptible and is immobile, the Prime Mover, the cause of all the movements
of the universe.

Ibn Rushd thus carries beyond the apprehendable world an idea of substance which he has
drawn from physics and which seems to him to be the basis of all existence: all that exists is
substance, an exact correspondence here below. Ibn Sina, on the contrary, thinks that
substance, like all other categories, must receive the quality of existence in order to exist, and
that it can only receive existence by acquiring quantity, quality and all the other categories, for
a substance which had neither quantity, quality and so forth, would be nothing. So it cannot in
itself be taken as the first analogue or the representative of being conceived as existence. For Ibn
Sina, the Necessary being is not a substance since it exists by itself, the qayyum of the qur'anq(II,
t55, III, t). On the other side, we have seen that the problem for the metaphysician is to know
who established the existence of its object. Ibn Sina believes that this object, being implied in all
sciences, does not need be to vouched for by one of them. Moreover, it is for metaphysics to
provide the role of supplying the other sciences with the basis of their object. Ibn Rushd criticises
this viewpoint, but by relying on his own one, namely that the first philosophy poses the
question to itself about substance as the first analogue of being. 'Ibn Sina, believing in the truth
of the doctrine which does not want any of the sciences to set forth its own principles, and
taking that simpliciter, believes that it is the task of the person who concerns himself with the first
philosophy to give a clear exposition of the existence of substance apprehendable by the senses,
eternal or not. He say that the natural scientist posits by hypothesis that nature exists (yada'u
wad'an anna 'l-tabi'a mawdhuda) and that the scholar of divine science is the one who gives the
demonstrable proof of its existence' (Tafsir, iii, 14t3-4). Ibn Rushd then replies: 'Yes, the
specialist in the first philosophy seeks for the principles of substance as substance and sets forth
clearly that the separateness of substances is the principle of the physical substance. But in
making clear this search, he constantly calls for (yusadiru) what physics clearly sets forth, whether
in regard to the substance which can be generated and is corruptible, in the first book of the
Physics (189 B 30-191 b 34), where it is demonstrated that it is made up of matter and form, or
whether in regard to the eternal substance, in Book viii (t60 a t0 ff.), where it is set forth that
the driving force of that substance is stripped of all matter. Then he clearly lays down that the
principles of the substance which are neither the Universal ideas (al-kulliyyat) nor the Numbers
(al-a'dad) [of Plato]' (ibid., 14t4-5). One should mention a final divergence between the two
philosophers. Ibn Rushd notes that Aristotle, in the tenth book of the Metaphysics, has an enquiry
into the unit, the multiple, the identical (huwa huwa), the similar, the opposite and into still
further notions 'which bring out the general concomitants (al-lawahiq al-'amma) of the being as
such' (Tafsir, iii, 1403). In effect, metaphysics is a speculation about the being as such and about
the 'things' which are concomitant with it' (al-umur al-lahiqa lahu) (ibid., iii, 1395). Now we have
seen that what is concomitant with being for Ibn Rushd is the division of being for Ibn Sina. It
seems that this fundamental divergence holds good for all the other oppositions.

Ibn Sina's metaphysics is consequently open to a region beyond the world, the earth and the
heavens; it makes a mystical system possible. For Ibn Rushd, on the contrary, although
metaphysics studies the principles of beings which are objects of other sciences, it is not the
foundation of those sciences, but their completion. He writes in his Tafsir, ii, 701, 'Since ... each
science only concerns itself with studying a certain being which is its special object, it is clear
that there must necessarily exist a science which studies the absolute being (al-huwiyya al-mutlaqa);
if there were not, our knowledge of things would not be completely exhaustive (lam tustawfa
ma'rifat al-ashya')' (Tafsir, ii, 701). Furthermore, whilst Ibn Rushd seeks for the first cause of the
movements of substances apprehendable by the senses, corruptible or incorruptible, and finds it
in the immobile Prime Mover, Ibn Sina sets himself the task of 'making an enquiry into the first
cause from whichqevery being is brought about by causality (kullu mawdhud ma'lul) in as much as it
has been the result of causality, and not simply in as much as it is a mobile being (mawdhud
mutaharrik) or a quantifiable being (mawdhud mutakammim) (Shifa', Ilahiyyat, i, 14). But there is a
problem there; it is not possible for metaphysics to speculate on causes in as much as they are
causes simpliciter (al-asbab bi-ma hiya asbab mutlaqa), in the first place because this science treats of
notions' 'which do not raise the question of proper accidents owed to these causes as such, such
as the notions of universal and particular, of act and capability, of possibility and necessity'
(ibid., 7); and then because the science of causes taken simpliciter presupposes that the existence of
causes has been established for the things which have a cause (ithbat al-asbab li 'l-umur dhawat
al-asbab). Ibn Sina adopts here a very clear view of the problem of causality: it is not sufficient for
the existence of a cause to be demonstrated in the eyes of reason. The existence of causes and
effects is not proved by an intuition of causality; it comes from the division of being into the
necessary and the possible. The first cause is thus the being necessary by itself. This is why there
exists a being necessary so that all other beings have causes, since these exist even at the time
when they are only possibilities. Now if one adopts as the point of departure experience of things
apprehendable by the senses, all the causes that one will find are at the same time effects. One
would not therefore be able, by tracing back the series of cause-effects, to reach the first cause,
whether one went back infinitely or whether one came to a stop, as did Aristotle in his search
for the Prime Mover, by an arbitrary decision: énagkh sthnai! On this point, Ibn Sina has set
forth a highly original idea in his Isharat (ed. Sulayman Dunya, Cairo 1958, iii, 454-5). It concerns
the position of the cause which is not an effect, in relation to the series of cause-effects. If it
forms part of their ensemble (dhumla), it is necessarily an extreme limit (taraf). But if one takes a
series made into a hierarchical chain (silsila murattiba) of causes and effects which is made up
only of cause-effects, 'there is a need for an external cause for this ensemble, but undoubtedly in
continuity with it in regard to limit (ihtadhat ila 'illa kharidha 'anha, lakinnaha tattasilu biha ... tarafan)'.
Ibn Sina envisages the case where this succession is infinite, and then the cause-effects would
form an infinitely limited ensemble. This ensemble is the universe; God is its 'limit', but He is
exterior to it. On the contrary, Ibn Rushd's Prime Mover is probably at the peak of the
hierarchy of substance, but it is a substance and forms part of the world of substances. Just as
metaphysics finishes off the sciences, likewise God supports the universe like the keystone of an
(R. Arnaldez)

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Source: from the Encyclopedia of Islam --© 1999 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands