To refute their proof that the First is incorporeal


Ghazali says:

There is a proof only for him who believes that body is only temporal, because it cannot be exempt from what is temporal and everything that is temporal needs a creator. But you, when you admit an eternal body which has no beginning for its existence, although it is not exempt from temporal occurrences, why do you regard it as impossible that the First should be a body, either the sun, or the extreme heaven, or something else?

If the answer is made ‘Because body must be composite and divisible into parts quantitatively, and into matter and form conceptually, and into qualities which characterize it necessarily so that it can be differentiated from other bodies (for otherwise all bodies in being body would be similar) and the necessary existent is one and cannot be divided in any of these ways’ we answer: ‘We have already refuted you in this, and have shown that you have no proof for it except that a collection is an effect, since some of its parts require others, and we have argued against it and have shown that when it is not impossible to suppose an existent without a creator, it is not impossible to suppose a compound without a composing principle and to suppose many existents without a creator, since you have based your denial of plurality and duality on the denial of composition and your denial of composition on the denial of a quiddity distinct from existence, and with respect to the last principle we have asked for its foundation and we have shown that it is a mere presumption. ‘

And if it is said: ‘If a body has no soul, it cannot be an agent, and when it has a soul, well, then its soul is its cause, and then body cannot be the First’, we answer: ‘Our soul is not the cause of the existence of our body, nor is the soul of the sphere in itself a cause of its body, according to you, but they are two, having a distinct cause; and if they can be eternal, it is possible that they have no cause. ‘

And if the question is asked, ‘How can the conjunction of soul and body come about? ‘, we answer, ‘One might as well ask how the existence of the First comes about; the answer is that such a question may be asked about what is temporal, but about what is eternally existent one cannot ask how it has come about, and therefore” since body and its soul are both eternally existent, it is not impossible that their compound should be a creator. ‘

I say:

When a man has no other proof that the First is not body than that he believes that all bodies are temporal, how weak is his proof, and how far distant from the nature of what has to be proved!-since it has been shown previously that the proofs on which the theologians build their statement that all bodies are temporal are conflicting; and what is more appropriate than to regard an eternal composite as possible, as I said in this book when speaking of the Ash’arites, i. e. in saying that according to them an eternal body is possible, since in the accidents there is some eternal element, according to their own theory, for instance, the characteristic of forming a compound; and therefore their proof that all bodies are temporal is not valid, because they base it exclusively on the temporal becoming of the accidents. ‘ The ancient philosophers do not allow for the existence of a body eternal through itself, but only of one eternal through another, and therefore according to them there must be an existent eternal through itself through which the eternal body becomes eternal. But if we expound their theories here, they have only a dialectical value, and you should therefore instead ask for their proofs in their proper place.


And as to Ghazali’s refutation of this, and his words:

We answer: ‘We have already refuted you in this, and we have shown that you have no proof for this except that a collection is an effect, since some of its parts require others.

I say:

He means that he has discussed this already previously, and he says that the philosophers cannot prove that the existent necessary through itself is not a body, since the meaning of ‘existent necessary through itself’ is ‘that which has no efficient cause’, and why should they regard an eternal body which has no efficient cause as impossible-and especially when it should be supposed to be a simple body, indivisible quantitatively or qualitatively, and in short an eternal composite, without a composing principle? This is a sound argument from which they cannot escape except through dialectical arguments. z But all the arguments which Ghazali gives in this book either against or on behalf of the philosophers or against Avicenna are dialectical through the equivocation of the terms used, and therefore it is not necessary to expatiate on this.

And as to his answer on behalf of the Ash’arites that what is eternal through itself does not need a cause for its eternity, and that when the theologians assume something eternal through itself and assume its essence as the cause of its attributes, this essence does not become eternal because of something else,

I say:

It is a necessary consequence to be held up against Ghazali that the Eternal will be composed of a cause and an effect, and that the attributes will be eternal through their cause, i. e. the essence. And since the effect is not a condition for its own existence, the Eternal is the cause. And let us say that the essence which exists by itself is God and that the attributes are effects; then it can be argued against the theologians that they assume one thing eternal by itself and a plurality of things eternal through another, and that the combination of all these is God. But this is exactly their objection against those who say that God is eternal through Himself and the world eternal through another, namely God. Besides, they say that the Eternal is one, and all this is extremely contradictory.

And as to Ghazali’s statement that to assume a compound without the factor which composes it, is not different from assuming an existent without a creator, and that the assumption either of a single existent of this description or of a plurality is not an impossible supposition for the mind, all this is erroneous. For composition does not demand a composing factor which again itself is composed, but there must be a series leading up to a composing factor composing by itself, just as, when the cause is an effect, there must finally be a cause which is not an effect. Nor is it possible, by means of an argument which leads to an existent without a creator, to prove the oneness of this existent. ‘

And as to his assertion that the denial of the quiddity implies the denial of the composition, and that this implies the assertion of composition in the First, this is not true. And indeed the philosophers do not deny the quiddity of the First, but only deny that it has the kind of quiddity which is in the effects, and all this is a dialectical and doubtful argument. And already previously in this book we have given convincing arguments, according to the principles of the philosophers, to prove that the First is incorporeal, namely that the possible leads to a necessary existent and that the possible does not proceed from the necessary except through the mediation of an existent which is partly necessary, partly possible, and that this is the body of the heavens and its circular motion; and the most satisfactory way of expressing this according to the principles of the philosophers is to say that all bodies are finite in power, and that they only acquire their power of infinite movement through an incorporeal being. ‘

Ghazali answering the objection which infers that according to the philosophers the agent is nothing but the sphere, composed of soul and body, says:

If it is answered: ‘This cannot be so, because body in so far as it is body does not create anything else and the soul which is attached to the body does not act except through the mediation of the body, but the body is not a means for the soul in the latter’s creating bodies or in causing the existence of souls and of things which are not related to bodies’, we answer: ‘And why is it not possible that there should be amongst the souls a soul which has the characteristic of being so disposed that both bodies and incorporeals are produced through it? The impossibility of this is not a thing known necessarily, nor is there a proof for it, except that we do not experience this in the bodies we observe; but the absence of experience does not demonstrate its impossibility, and indeed the philosophers often ascribe things to the First Existent which are not generally ascribed to existents, and are not experienced in any other existent, and the absence of its being observed in other things is not a proof of its impossibility in reference to the First Existent, and the same holds concerning the body and its soul. ‘

I say:

As to his assertion that bodies do not create bodies, if by ‘creating’ is understood producing, the reverse is true, for a body in the empirical world can only come into being through a body, , and an animated body only through an animated body, but the absolute body does not come into being at all, for, if it did, it would come into being from non-existence, not after non-existence. ‘ Individual bodies only come into being out of individual bodies and through individual bodies, and this through the body’s being transferred from one name to another and from one definition to another, so that for instance the body of water changes into the body of fire, because out of the body of water is transformed the attribute through the transformation of which the name and definition of water is transferred to the name and definition of fire, and this happens necessarily through a body which is the agent, participating with the becoming body specifically or generically in either a univocal or an analogical ways and whether the individual special corporeality in the water is transformed into the individual special corporeality of the fire is a problem to be studied.

And as to Ghazali’s words:

But the body is not a means for the soul in the latter’s creating bodies or in causing the existence of souls,

I say:

This is an argument which he builds on an opinion some of the philosophers hold, that the bestower of forms on inanimate bodies and of souls is a separate substance, either intellect or a separate soul, and that it is not possible that either an animated body or an inanimate body should supply this. And if this opinion is held and at the same time it is assumed that heaven is an animated body, it is no longer possible for heaven to supply any of the transitory forms, either the soul or any other of these forms. For the soul which is in the body only acts through the mediation of the body, and that which acts through the mediation of the body can produce neither form nor soul, since it is not of the nature of the body to produce a substantial form, either a soul or any other substantial form. And this theory resembles that of Plato about forms separate from matter, and is the in theory of Avicenna and others among the Muslim philosophers; their proof is that the body produces in the body only warmth or cold or moisture or dryness, ? and only these are acts of the heavenly bodies according to them. But that which produces the substantial forms, and especially those which are animated, is a separate substance which they call the giver of forms. ‘ But there are philosophers’ who believe the contrary and affirm that what produces the forms in the bodies is bodies possessing forms similar to them either specifically or generically, those similar specifically being the living bodies which produce the living bodies of the empirical world, like the animals which are generated from other animals, whereas those forms produced by forms generically similar, and which are not produced from a male or a female, receive their lives according to the philosophers from the heavenly bodies, since these are alive. And these philosophers have non-empirical proofs which, however, need not be mentioned here.

And therefore Ghazali argues against them in this way:

And why is it not possible that there should be among the souls a soul which has the characteristic of being so disposed that both bodies and incorporeals are produced through it?

I say:

He means: ‘Why should it not be possible that there should be among the souls in bodies souls which have the characteristic of generating other animate and inanimate forms? ‘ And how strange it is that Ghazali assumes that the production of body out of body does not happen in the empirical world, whereas nothing else is ever observed.

But you must understand that when the statements of the philosophers are abstracted from the demonstrative sciences they certainly become dialectical, whether they are generally acknowledged, or, if not, denied and regarded as strange. The reason is that demonstrative statements are only distinguished from statements which are not demonstrative, by being considered in the genus of science which is under investigation. Those statements which can be subsumed under the definition of this genus of science, or which comprise in their definition this genus of science, are demonstrative, and those statements which do not seem to fulfil these conditions are not demonstrative. Demonstration is only possible when the nature of this genus of science under investigation is defined, and the sense in which its essential predicates exist is distinguished from the sense in which they do not, and when this is retained in mind by keeping to that sense in every statement adopted in this science, and by having the identical meaning always present in the mind. And when the soul is convinced that the statement is essential to this genus or a necessary consequence of its essence, the statement is true; but when this relation does not enter into the mind, or when it is only weakly established, the statement is only an opinion, and is not evident. And therefore the difference between proof and convincing opinion is more delicate than the appearance of a hair and more completely hidden than the exact limit between darkness and light, especially in theological questions which are laid before the common people, because of the confusion between what is essential and what is accidental. Therefore we see that Ghazali, by relating the theories of the philosophers in this and others of his books and by showing them to people who have not studied their works with the necessary preparation the philosophers demand, changes the nature of the truth which exists in their theories or drives most people away from all their views. And by so doing he does more harm than good to the cause of truth. And God knows that I should not have related a single one of their views, or regarded this as permissible, but for the harm which results from Ghazali’s doings to the cause of wisdom; and I understand by ‘wisdom’ speculation about things according to the rules of the nature of proof.

Ghazali says, on behalf of the philosophers:

If it is said that the highest sphere, or the sun, or whatever body you may imagine, possesses a special size which may be increased or decreased, and this possible size needs for its differentiation a differentiating principle and can therefore not be the First, ‘ we answer: By what argument will you refute the man who says that this body must have the size it possesses for the sake of the order of the universe, and this order could not exist if this body were smaller or larger-since you philosophers yourselves affirm that the first effect’ determines the size of the highest sphere because all sizes are equivalent in relation to the essence of the first effect, but certain sizes are determined for the sake of the order which depends on them and therefore the actual size is necessary and no other is possible; and all this holds just as well when no effect is assumed. Indeed, if the philosophers had established in the first effect, which is according to the philosophers the cause of the highest sphere, a specifying principle, as for instance the will, a further question might be put, since it might be asked why this principle willed this actual size rather than another, in the way the philosophers argued against the Muslims about their theory of the relation between the temporal world and the Eternal Will, an argument which we turned against them with respect to the problems of the determination of the direction of the heavenly movement and of the determination of the points of the poles. And if it is clear that they are forced to admit that a thing is differentiated from a similar one and that this happens through a cause, it is unessential whether this differentiation be regarded as possible without a cause or through a cause, for it is indifferent whether one puts the question about the thing itself and asks why it has such-and such a size, or whether one puts the question about the cause, and asks why it gave this thing this special size; and if the question about the cause may be answered by saying that this special measure is not like any other, because the order depends on it exclusively, the same answer may be made about the thing itself, and it will not need a cause. And there is no escape from this. For if the actual size which has been determined and has been realized were equivalent to the size which has not been realized, one might ask how one thing comes to be differentiated from a similar one, especially according to the principle of the philosophers who do not admit a differentiating will. If, however, there is no similar size, no possibility exists, and one must answer: ‘This has been so from all eternity, and in the same way therefore as, according to the philosophers, the eternal cause exists. “ And let the man who studies this question seek help from what we said about their asking about the eternal will, a question which we turned against them with respect to the points of the poles and the direction of the movement of the sphere. It is therefore clear that the man who does not believe in the temporal creation of the bodies cannot establish a proof that the First is incorporeal.

I say:

This indeed is a very strange argument of Ghazali’s. For he argues that they cannot prove another creator than the heavenly body, since they would have to give an answer by a principle in which they do not believe. For only the theologians accept this principle, since they say that heaven receives the determinate size it has, to the exclusion of other sizes it might have, from a differentiating cause, and that the differentiating principle must be eternal. He either attempted to deceive in this matter or was himself deceived. For the differentiation which the philosophers infer is different from that which the Ash’arites intend, for the Ash’arites understand by ‘differentiation’ the distinguishing of one thing either from a similar one or from an opposite one without this being determined by any wisdom in the thing itself which makes it necessary to differentiate one of the two opposite things. The philosophers, on the other hand, understand here by the differentiating principle only that which is determined by the wisdom in the product itself, namely the final cause, for according to them there is no quantity or quality in any being that has not an end based on wisdom, an end which must either be a necessity in the nature of the act of this being or exist in it, based on the principle of superiority. ‘ For if, so the philosophers believe, there were in created things a quantity or quality not determined by wisdom, they would have attributed to the First Maker and Creator an attitude in relation to His work which may be only attributed to the artisans among His creatures, with the intention of blaming them. For when one has observed a work with respect to its quantity and quality, and asked why the maker of this work chose this quantity or this quality to the exclusion of all other possible quantities and qualities, there is no worse mistake than to answer ‘Not because of the intrinsic wisdom and thoughtfulness in the product itself, but because he willed it, ‘ since according to this view all quantities and qualities are similar with respect to the end of this product, which in fact the maker produced for its own sake, namely for the sake of the act for whose purpose it exists. For indeed every product is produced in view of something in it which would not proceed from it, if this product had no definite quantity, quality and nature, although in some products an equivalent is possible. If any product whatever could determine any act whatever, there would exist no wisdom at all in any product, and there would be no art at all, and the quantities and qualities of the products would depend on the whim of the artisan and every man would be an artisan. Or should we rather say that wisdom exists only in the product of the creature, not in the act of the Creator? But God forbid that we should believe such a thing of the First Creator; on the contrary, we believe that everything in the world is wisdom, although in many things our understanding of it is very imperfect and although we understand the wisdom of the Creator only through the wisdom of nature. And if the world is one single product of extreme wisdom, there is one wise principle whose existence the heavens and the earth and everything in them need. Indeed, nobody can regard the product of such wonderful wisdom as caused by itself, and the theologians in their wish to elevate the Creator have denied Him wisdom and withheld from Him the noblest of His qualities.