There are two ways of attacking this theory. The first is to demand a proof and to ask how you know this, through the necessity of the intellect, or through speculation and not by immediate necessity; and in any case you must tell us your method of reasoning.
If it is said that, if the First had a quiddity, its existence would be related to it, and would be consequent’ on this quiddity and would be its necessary attribute, and the consequent is an effect and therefore necessary existence would be an effect, and this is a contradiction, we answer: This is to revert to the source of the confusion in the application of the term ‘necessary existence’, for we call this entity ‘reality’ or ‘quiddity’ and this reality exists, i. e. it is not non-existent and is not denied, but its existence is brought into a relation with it, and if you like to call this ‘consequent’ and ‘necessary attribute’, we shall not quibble about words, if you have once acknowledged that it has no agent for its existence and that this existence has not ceased to be eternal and to have no efficient cause; if, however, you understand by ‘consequent’ and ‘effect’ that it has an efficient cause, this is not true. But if you mean something else, this is conceded, for it is not impossible, z since the demonstration proves only the end of a causal series and its ending in an existent reality; a positive quiddity, therefore, is possible, and there is no need to deny the quiddity.
If it is said: Then the quiddity becomes a cause for the existence which is consequent on it, and the existence becomes an effect and an object of the act, we answer: The quiddity in temporal things is not a cause of their existence, and why should it therefore be the case in the eternal, if you mean by ‘cause’ the agent? But if you mean something else by it, namely that without which it could not be, let that be accepted, for there is nothing impossible in it; the impossibility lies only in the infinite causal series, and if this series only comes to a final term, then the impossibility is cancelled; impossibility can be understood only on this point, therefore you must give a proof of its impossibility.
All the proofs of the philosophers are nothing but presumptions that the term has a sense from which certain consequences follow, and nothing but the supposition that demonstration has in fact proved a necessary existent with the meaning the philosophers ascribed to it. We have, however, shown previously that this is not true. In short, this proof of the philosophers comes down to the proof of the denial of attributes and of the division into genus and specific difference; only this proof is still more ambiguous and weak, for this plurality is purely verbal, for the intellect does allow the acceptance of one single existent quiddity. The philosophers, however, say that every existent quiddity is a plurality, for it contains quiddity and existence, and this is an extreme confusion; for the meaning of a single existent is perfectly understandable-nothing exists which has no essence, and the existence of an essence does not annul its singleness.
Ghazali does not relate Avicenna’s doctrine literally as he did in his book The Aims of the Philosophers. ‘ For since Avicenna believed that the existence of a thing indicated an attribute additional to its essence, he could no longer admit that its essence was the agent of its existence out of the possibles, for then the thing would be the cause of its own existence and it would not have an agent. It follows from this, according to Avicenna, that everything which has an existence additional to its essence has an efficient cause, and since according to Avicenna the First has no agent, it follows necessarily that its existence is identical with its essence. z And therefore Ghazali’s objection that Avicenna assimilates existence to a necessary attribute of the essence is not true, because the essence of a thing is the cause of its necessary attribute and it is not possible that a thing should be the cause of its own existence, because the existence of a thing is prior to its quiddity. To identify the quiddity and the existence of a thing is not to do away with its quiddity, as Ghazali asserts, but is only the affirmation of the unity of quiddity and existence. If we regard existence as an accidental attribute of the existent, and it is the agent which gives possible things their existence, necessarily that which has no agent either cannot have an existence (and this is absurd), or its existence must be identical with its essence.
But the whole of this discussion is built on the mistake that the existence of a thing is one of its attributes. For the existence which in our knowledge is prior to the quiddity of a thing is that which signifies the true. Therefore the question whether a thing exists, either (i) refers to that which has a cause that determines its existence, and in that case its potential meaning is to ask whether this thing has a cause or not, according to Aristotle at the beginning of the second chapter of the Posterior Analytics;s or (2) it refers to that which has no cause, and then its meaning is to ask whether a thing possesses a necessary attribute which determines its existence. ‘ And when by ‘existent’ is meant what is understood by ‘thing’ and ‘entity’, it follows the rule of the genus which is predicated analogically, and whatever it is in this sense is attributed in the same way to that which has a cause and to that which has none, and it does not signify anything but the concept of the existent, and by this is meant ‘the true’, and if it means something additional to the essence, it is only in a subjective sense which does not exist outside the soul except potentially, as is also the case with the universal. And this is the way in which the ancient philosophers considered the First Principle, and they regarded it as a simple existent. As to the later philosophers in Islam, they stated that, in their speculation about the nature of the existent qua existent, they were led to accept a simple existent of this description.
The best method to follow, in my opinion, and the nearest to strict proof, is to say that the actualization of existents which have in their substance a possible existence necessarily occurs only through an actualizer which is in act, i. e. acting, and moves them and draws them out of potency into act. And if this actualizer itself is also of the nature of the possible, i. e. possible in its substance, there will have to be another actualizer for it, necessary in its substance and not possible, so that this sublunary world may be conserved, and the nature of the possible causes may remain everlastingly, proceeding without end. And if these causes exist without end, as appears from their nature, and each of them is possible, necessarily their cause, i. e. that which determines their permanence, must be something necessary in its substance, and if there were a moment in which nothing was moved at all, there would be no possibility of an origination of movements The nexus between temporal existence and eternal can only take place without a change affecting the First through that movement which is partly eternal, partly temporal. b And the thing moved by this movement is what Avicenna calls ‘the existence necessary through another’, and this ‘necessary through another’ must be a body everlastingly moved, and in this way it is possible that the essentially temporal and corruptible should exist in dependence on the eternal, and this through approach to something and through recession from it, as you observe it happen to transitory existents in relation to the heavenly bodies. ? And since this moved body is necessary in its substance, possible in its local movement, it is necessary that the process should terminate in an absolutely necessary existent in which there is no potency at all, either in its substance, or locally or in any of the other forms of movement; and that which is of this description is necessarily simple, because if it were a compound, it would be possible, not necessary, and it would require a necessary existent. And this method of proving it is in my opinion sufficient, and it is true.
However, what Avicenna adds to this proof by saying that the possible existent must terminate either in an existent necessary through another or in an existent necessary through itself, and in the former case that the necessary through another should be a consequence of the existent necessary through itself, for he affirms that the existent necessary through another is in itself a possible existent and what is possible needs something necessary-this addition, is to my mind superfluous and erroneous, for in the necessary, in whatever way you suppose it, there is no possibility whatsoever and there exists nothing of a single nature of which it can be said that it is in one way possible and in another way necessary in its existence. ‘ For the philosophers have proved that there is no possible whatsoever in the necessary; for the possible is the opposite of the necessary, and the only thing that can happen is that a thing should be in one way necessary, in another way possible, as they believed for instance to be the case with the heavenly body or what is above the body of the heavens, namely that it was necessary through its substance and possible in its movement and in space. What led Avicenna to this division was that he believed that the body of the heavens was essentially necessary through another, possible by itself, and we have shown in another place that this is not true. And the proof which Avicenna uses in dealing with the necessary existent, when this distinction and this indication are not made, is of the type of common dialectical notions; when, however, the distinction is made, it is of i the type of demonstrative proof.
You must know further that the becoming of which the Holy Law speaks is of the kind of empirical becoming in this world, and this occurs in the forms of the existents which the Ash’arites call mental qualitiesand the philosophers call forms, and this becoming occurs only through another thing and in time, and the Holy Words: ‘Have not those who have disbelieved considered that the heavens and the earth were coherent, and we have rent them . . . ‘and the Divine Words ‘then he straightened himself up to the sky which was smoke . . . ‘, refer to this. But as to the relation which exists between the nature of the possible existent and the necessary existent, about this the Holy Law is silent, because it is too much above the understanding of the common man and knowledge of it is not necessary for his blessedness. When the Ash’arites affirm that the nature of the possible’ is created and has come into existence in time out of nothing (a notion which all the philosophers oppose, whether they believe in the temporal beginning of the world or not), they do not say this, if you consider the question rightly, on the authority of the law of Islam, and there is no proof for it. What appears from the Holy Law is the commandment to abstain from investigating that about which the Holy Law is silent, and therefore it is said in the Traditions: ‘The people did not cease thinking till they said: God has created this, but who has created God? And the Prophet said: When one of you finds this, this is an act of pure faith’, and in another version: ‘When one of you finds this, let him read the verse of the Qur’an: Say, He, God is one. And know that for the masses to turn to such a question comes from the whisperings of Satan and therefore the prophet said: This is an act of pure faith.
The second way is to say that an existence without quiddity or essence cannot be conceived, and just as mere non-existence, without a relation to an existent the non-existence of which can be supposed, cannot be conceived, in the same way existence can be only conceived in relation to a definite essence, especially when it is defined as a single essence; for how could it be defined as single, conceptually differentiated from others, if it had not a real essence? For to deny the quiddity is to deny the real essence, and when you deny the real essence of the existent, the existent can no longer be understood. It is as if the philosophers affirmed at the same time existence and a non-existent, which is contradictory. This is shown by the fact that, if it were conceivable, it would be also possible in the effects that there should be an existence without an essence, participating with the First in not having a real essence and a quiddity, differing from it in having a cause, whereas the First is causeless. And why should such an effect not be imagined? And is there any other reason for this than that it is inconceivable in itself? But what is inconceivable in itself does not become conceivable by the denial of its cause, nor does what is conceivable become inconceivable because it is supposed to have a cause. Such an extreme negation is the most obscure of their theories, although they believe indeed that they have proved what they say. Their doctrine ends in absolute negation, and indeed the denial of the quiddity is the denial of the real essence, and through the denial of this reality nothing remains but the word ‘existence’, which has no object at all when it is not related to a quiddity. ‘
And if it is said: ‘Its real essence is that it is the necessary, and the necessary is its quiddity’, we answer: ‘The only sense of “necessary” is “causeless”, and this is a negation which does not constitute a real essence; and the denial of a cause for the real essence presupposes the real essence, and therefore let the essence be conceivable, so that it can be described as being causeless; but the essence cannot be represented as non-existent, since “necessity” has no other meaning than “being causeless”. ‘ Besides, if the necessity were added to the existence, this would form a plurality; and if it is not added, how then could it be the quiddity? For the existence is not the quiddity, and thus what is not added to the existence cannot be the quiddity either. ‘
This whole paragraph is sophistry. For the philosophers do not assume that the First has an existence without a quiddity and a quiddity without an existence. They believe only that the existence in the compound is an additional attribute to its essence and it only acquires this attribute through the agent, and they believe that in that which is simple and causeless this attribute is not additional to the quiddity and that it has no quiddity differentiated from its existence; but they do not say that it has absolutely no quiddity, as he assumes in his objection against them.
Having assumed that they deny the quiddity-which is false Ghazali begins now to charge them with reprehensible theories and says:
If this were conceivable it would also be possible in the effects that there should be an existence without an essence, participating with the First in not having a real essence.
But the philosophers do not assume an existent absolutely without a quiddity: they only assume that it has not a quiddity like the quiddities of the other existents; and this is one of the sophistical fallacies, for the term ‘quiddity’ is ambiguous, and this assumption, and everything built upon it, is a sophistical argument, for the non-existent cannot be described either by denying or by affirming something of it. And Ghazali, by fallacies of the kind perpetrated in this book, is not exempt from wickedness or from ignorance, and he seems nearer to wickedness than to ignorance-or should we say that there is a necessity which obliged him to do this?
And as to his remark, that the meaning of ‘necessary existent’ is , causeless’, this is not true, but our expression that it is a necessary existent has a positive meaning, consequent on a nature which has absolutely no cause, no exterior agent, and no agent which is part of it.
And as to Ghazali’s words:
If the necessity were added to the existence, this would form a plurality; and if it is not added, how then could it be the quiddity? For existence is not the quiddity, and thus what is not added to the existence cannot be the quiddity either.
According to the philosophers necessity is not an attribute added to the essence, and it is predicated of the essence in the same way as we say of it that it is inevitable and eternal. ‘ And likewise if we understand by ‘existence’ a mental attribute, it is not an addition to the essence, but if we understand it as being an accident, in the way Avicenna regards it in the composite existent, then it becomes difficult to explain how the uncompounded can be the quiddity itself, although one might say perhaps: ‘In the way the knowledge in the uncompounded becomes the knower himself. ‘ If, however, one regards the existent as the true, all these doubts lose their meaning, and likewise, if one understands ‘existent’ as having the same sense as ‘entity’, and according to this it is true that the existence in the uncompounded is the quiddity itself.