Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Incoherence Of The Incoherence

The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-Tahafur) by Andalusian Arab, polymath and philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd) is another important work of philosophy in which the author defends the use of Aristotelian philosophy within Islamic thought.

It was written in the style of a dialogue against al-Ghazali's claims in The Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahafut al-falasifa), which criticized Islamic Neoplatonic thought. Originally written in Arabic, The Incoherence of the Incoherence was subsequently translated into many other languages. The book is considered Averroes' landmark; in it, he tries to create harmony between faith and philosophy.

Excerpt on the discussion of cause and effect:
Those philosophers who say that these perceptible existents do not act on each other, and that their agent is exclusively an external principle, cannot affirm that their apparent action on each other is totally illusory, but would say that this action is limited to preparing the disposition to accept the forms from the external principle. However, I do not know any philosopher who affirms this absolutely; they assert this only of the essential forms, not of the forms of accidents. They all agree that warmth causes warmth, and that all the four qualities act likewise, but in such a way that through it the elemental fire’ and the warmth which proceeds from the heavenly bodies are conserved. The theory which Ghazali ascribes to the philosophers, that the separate principles act by nature, not by choice, is not held by any important philosophers; on the contrary, the philosophers affirm that that which possesses knowledge must act by choice. However, according to the philosophers, in view of the excellence which exists in the world, there can proceed out of two contraries only the better, and their choice is not made to perfect their essences-since there is no imperfection in their essence-but in order that through it those existents which have an imperfection in their nature may be perfected.

As to the objection which Ghazali ascribes to the philosophers over the miracle of Abraham, such things are only asserted by heretical Muslims. The learned among the philosophers do not permit discussion or disputation about the principles of religion, and he who does such a thing needs, according to them, a severe lesson. For whereas every science has its principles, and every student of this science must concede its principles and may not interfere with them by denying them, this is still more obligatory in the practical science of religion, for to walk on the path of the religious virtues is necessary for man’s existence, according to them, not in so far as he is a man, but in so far as he has knowledge; and therefore it is necessary for every man to concede the principles of religion and invest with authority the man who lays them down. The denial and discussion of these principles denies human existence, and therefore heretics must be killed. Of religious principles it must be said that they are divine things which surpass human understanding, but must be acknowledged although their causes are unknown.

Therefore we do not find that any of the ancient philosophers discusses miracles, although they were known and had appeared all over the world, for they are the principles on which religion is based and religion is the principle of the virtues; nor did they discuss any of the things which are said to happen after death. For if a man grows up according to the religious virtues he becomes absolutely virtuous, and if time and felicity are granted to him, so that he becomes one of the deeply learned thinkers and it happens that he can explain one of the principles of religion, it is enjoined upon him that he should not divulge this explanation and should say ‘all these are the terms of religion and the wise’, conforming himself to the Divine Words, ‘but those who are deeply versed in knowledge say: we believe in it, it is all from our Lord’. ‘

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