Al-Ghazali's "Moderation in Belief"

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Centuries after his death, al-Ghazali remains one of the most influential figures of the Islamic intellectual tradition. Although he is best known for his Incoherence of the Philosophers, Moderation in Belief is his most profound work of philosophical theology. In it, he offers what scholars consider to be the best defense of the Ash'arite school of Islamic theology that gained acceptance within orthodox Sunni theology in the twelfth century, though he also diverges from Ash'arism with his more rationalist approach to the Quran. Together with The Incoherence of the Philosophers, Moderation in Belief informs many subsequent theological debates, and its influence extends beyond the Islamic tradition, informing broader questions within Western philosophical and theological thought.            
The first complete English-language edition of Moderation in Belief, this new annotated translation by Aladdin M. Yaqub draws on the most esteemed critical editions of the Arabic texts and offers detailed commentary that analyzes and reconstructs the arguments found in the work’s four treatises. Explanations of the historical and intellectual background of the texts also enable readers with a limited knowledge of classical Arabic to fully explore al-Ghazali and this foundational text for the first time.            
With the recent resurgence of interest in Islamic philosophy and the conflict between philosophy and religion, this new translation will be a welcome addition to the scholarship.  

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226060903
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 09/20/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
File size: 22 MB
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About the Author

Aladdin M. Yaqub is associate professor of philosophy at Lehigh University. He is the author of The Liar Speaks the Truth and An Introduction to Logical Theory. He lives in Catasauqua, PA.

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Al-Ghazali's Moderation in Belief


By Aladdin M. Yaqub


Copyright © 2013 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-06087-3



* * *

Theoretical Reflection on the Essence of God (Exalted is He)


First Proposition

The existence of God (Exalted and Sanctified is He)

Its proof is that we say: "The occurrence of every occurrent has a cause; the world is an occurrent; it necessarily follows that it has a cause." We mean by 'the world' all existents other than God (Exalted is He). And we mean by 'all existents other than God' all the bodies and their modes. The explanation of all of this in details is that we do not doubt the principle of existence. Furthermore, we know that every existent is either extended or non-extended, and that every extended thing, if there is no combination in it, is called "a single substance," and if it comprises something other than itself, is called "a body," and that the existence of a non-extended thing either requires a body in which it subsists, and hence we call it "a mode," or it does not, and this is God (Glorious and Exalted is He).

As for the existence of bodies and their modes, this is known by observation. No attention should be paid to the one who disputes the existence of modes, even if he quibbles loudly and beseeches you to offer a proof for it. For if his commotion, disputation, beseeching, and shouting did not exist, then how could they be engaged through responding and listening to him? If they do exist, then they are inevitably other than the disputant's body, since his body existed earlier when the disputation did not exist. Thus you know that body and mode are apprehended by observation.

Regarding an existent that is neither a body, nor an extended substance, nor a mode, it cannot be apprehended by perception. We claim that it exists and that the world exists by virtue of it and its power. This can be apprehended by a proof, not by perception. The proof is what we stated. Let us return to its verification.

We have included in it two principles. Our opponent might deny them. We say to him: "Which principle do you dispute?" He might say: "I dispute your statement that every occurrent has a cause; how did you know this?" We say: "This principle must be affirmed; for it is a priori and necessary according to reason." The one who is not moved by it is, perhaps, not moved because it is unclear to him what we intend by the term 'occurrent' and the term 'cause'. If he understood them, his mind would necessarily believe that every occurrent has a cause. For we mean by 'occurrent' that which was nonexistent and then became existent. Thus we say: "Was its existence before it existed impossible or contingent?" It is false that it was impossible, since what is impossible can never exist. If it was contingent, then we mean by 'contingent' only that which is possible to exist and is possible not to exist. However, it was not a necessary existent, because its existence is not necessitated by its essence; for if its existence were necessitated by its essence, it would be necessary, not contingent. In fact, its existence was deprived of that which would give it preponderance over nonexistence—preponderance, which would change nonexistence into existence. If its nonexistence continues, then that is because there is nothing that gives preponderance to existence over nonexistence; for so long as there is nothing that gives this preponderance, existence does not come about. We do not intend by 'a cause' anything other than the giver of preponderance.

In summation, for a nonexistent whose nonexistence continues, its nonexistence would not change into existence unless something comes along that gives preponderance to the side of existence over the continuation of nonexistence. If the meanings of these terms are fixed in the mind, the intellect would have to accept this principle. This is the validation of this principle—a validation that is established by explaining the terms 'occurrent' and 'cause', not by erecting a proof for it.

It might be said: "How do you refute the one who disputes the second principle, which is your statement that the world is an occurrent?" We say that this principle is not a priori, but we establish it by a proof containing two other principles. We say: "If we say that the world is an occurrent, then we now intend by 'the world' only bodies and substances." So we say: "No body is devoid of occurrents; whatever is not devoid of occurrents is an occurrent; it necessarily follows that every body is an occurrent." About which of these two principles is there a dispute?

It might be said: "Why did you say that every body and extended substance is not devoid of occurrents?" We say: "Because it is not devoid of motion or rest, and they are occurrents." If it is said, "You have claimed that they exist and, moreover, that they occur; we concede neither their existence nor their occurrence," then we say, "This question was answered with much elaboration in the books of theology, and it does not even deserve this elaboration; for it is never posed by a reasonable person." No rational person would ever doubt that modes, such as aches, sicknesses, hunger, thirst, and other states truly exist in himself or that they actually occur. Similarly, if he observes the bodies of the world, he would not doubt the alteration of their states and that these alterations are occurrents. If an opponent disputes this, then it is senseless to engage his position; and if it is supposed that an opponent accepts what we have said, then it is an absurd supposition, assuming that the opponent is rational.

Indeed, the opponents with respect to the occurrence of the world are the philosophers. They affirm that the bodies of the world are divided into the heavens, which move constantly, and the units of whose movements are occurrents but are perpetual and sequential, following each other eternally both anteriorly and posteriorly, and into the four elements, which are contained in the sublunar world. They affirm, too, that these elements share matter, which is the bearer of their forms and accidents, and that this matter is eternal though the forms and accidents are occurrents and alternate in it eternally both anteriorly and posteriorly. For water is transformed by heat into air, and air is transformed by heat into fire, and so the rest of the elements. They mix in various ways, which are occurrents, thereby producing minerals, plants, and animals. The elements never cease from acquiring these occurrent forms, and the heavens never cease from exhibiting these occurrent movements. What the philosophers dispute is our statement that whatever is not devoid of occurrents is an occurrent.

Therefore there is no point in elaborating on this principle. However, in order to supply an outline, we say that a substance is necessarily not devoid of motion and rest, which are occurrents. As for motion, its occurrence is perceptible. If a stationary substance, such as the earth, is considered, then positing a motion for it is not impossible; in fact, its possibility is known necessarily. If this possible motion takes place, it would be an occurrent and it would annihilate rest. Hence, the rest that is prior to this motion would also be an occurrent, since what is eternal anteriorly does not cease to exist, as we will state when giving a proof for the posterior eternity of God (Exalted is He).

If we want to give a proof for the existence of motion as additional to the body, we say: "If we state that this substance is moving, we affirm the existence of something other than the substance." The proof of this is that if we say that this substance is not moving, our statement would be true, assuming that the substance is still, in a state of rest. If the concept of motion is precisely that of substance, then to deny it would be to deny the substance itself. A similar proof applies regarding the affirmation of the existence of rest and its denial. In sum, contriving a proof for the obvious adds obscurity to it and does not enhance its clarity.

It might be said: "How do you know that motion is an occurrent? It might have been latent and only subsequently emerged." We say that if we were occupied in this book with curiosities that lie beyond our purpose, we would have independently refuted the affirmation of latency and emergence for modes. However, we do not occupy ourselves with that which does not undermine our purpose. Rather we say that a substance is not devoid of the latency or the emergence of motion in it, and both are occurrents. It is established, therefore, that it is not devoid of occurrents.

It might be said: "Motion could have transferred to it from another place; how do you know the falsity of affirming that modes transfer?" We say that weak proofs have been given to refute this, and we will not lengthen the book by rehearsing and rebuffing them. The correct approach to showing its falsity is to explain that deeming such a transfer possible is not allowed by an intellect unless it lacks an understanding of the true nature of mode and the true nature of transfer; and the one who understands the true nature of mode ascertains the impossibility of its transfer.

The explanation of this matter is that transfer is a notion borrowed from the transfer of a substance from one region to another. The notion of mode's transfer arises in the mind when it understands substance, region, and the substance's attachment to a region as additional to the essence of the substance. Subsequently the mind knows that a mode must have a locus just as a substance must have a region. Hence it imagines that relating a mode to a locus is similar to relating a substance to a region. This leads "the estimation" to posit the possibility of the transfer of a mode just as there is a transfer of a substance. If this analogy were correct, the mode's attachment to a locus would be something additional to the essence of the mode and the locus, just as the substance's attachment to a region is something additional to the essences of the substance and the region. As a result, a mode would subsist in a mode, and the subsistence of the mode in a mode would require that yet another attachment be additional to the subsistent and to that in which the subsistent subsists. Thus the process would lead to a regress such that there could not be one mode without there being an infinity of modes.

Let us search for the reason behind the differentiation between the attachment of a mode to a locus and the attachment of a substance to a region, inasmuch as one of the two attachments is additional to the essence of that which has the attachment, but the other attachment is not. This would make clear the mistake of the estimative faculty in positing the transfer. The secret to it is that although a locus is required for a mode just as a region is required for a substance, there is a difference between the two requirements. For a requirement might be essential to an object or it might be inessential to an object. I mean by 'essential' that whose annulment necessarily annuls the object: if it is annulled in reality, the object would cease to exist; and if it is annulled in the intellect, the knowledge of the object would cease to exist in the intellect.

A region is not essential to substance. For we know a body and substance first, and only afterwards do we theorize about the region: is it an invariant or an "estimated" matter? We arrive at a verification of [the answer to this question] through a proof, but we apprehend a body through sensation and observation without proof. Thus the region occupied by Zayd's body is not essential to Zayd; for the loss or alteration of that region does not necessitate the annulment of Zayd's body. This is not so with, for example, Zayd's height, since it is a mode of Zayd, which we do not conceive in itself apart from Zayd. Indeed, we conceive Zayd as being tall. Zayd's height is known as a consequence of Zayd's existence. The annulment of Zayd's height necessarily follows from supposing the nonexistence of Zayd; for Zayd's height does not subsist in reality or in the intellect apart from Zayd. Its attachment to Zayd is essential to it, that is, it is part of its essence, not something additional to it; so it is specific to it. If this specificity is annulled, then the essence of Zayd's height is annulled. Transfer annuls specificity; thus its transfer would annul its essence. For its being specific to Zayd is not additional to its essence—I mean the essence of the mode. This is contrary to the way in which a substance is attached to a region: here the attachment is additional to its essence. Annulling the attachment by transfer would in no way annul the essence of the substance.

The discussion is based on this: transfer annuls attachment to a locus. If the attachment to a locus is additional to the essence of a thing, the essence is not annulled by [the annulment of the attachment to the locus], but if it is not additional, then the essence is annulled by the attachment's annulment. This has become clear. The conclusion of the theoretical reflection is that the attachment of a mode to a locus is not additional to the mode's essence, while the attachment of a substance to a region is. And that is because of what we mentioned, namely, that a substance is conceived through itself and a region is conceived through itself, but a substance is not conceived through its region. As for a mode, it is conceived through a substance, and not through itself. The essence of a mode is its being attached to a specific substance, and it has no essence other than this. If its separation from that specific substance is posited, then the annihilation of its essence is posited.

We have discussed the example of height to make our purpose understood. Even though height is not a mode—but it is the accumulation of bodies in one direction—it brings our purpose close enough to the understanding. Once it is understood, we can transfer the explanation to the case of modes.

This exploration and investigation, although inconsonant with brevity, was needed because what has been said about this issue is neither convincing nor satisfying. Thus we have concluded the establishment of one of the two principles, which is that the world is not devoid of occurrents; for it is not devoid of motion and rest, and they are occurrents that do not transfer. Our elaboration is not in response to a "believing opponent," nor to the philosophers who all agree that the bodies of the world are not devoid of occurrents but deny the occurrence of the world.

It might be said: "The second principle remains, namely, your statement that whatever is not devoid of occurrents is an occurrent; what is its proof?" We say: "It is because if the world were anteriorly eternal yet not devoid of occurrents, then there would be occurrents that have no beginning, from which it would necessarily follow that the revolutions of the celestial spheres are infinite in number; and that is absurd, because it leads to absurdity, and what leads to absurdity is absurd."

We show that three absurdities necessarily follow from it. First, if this were the case, then what is infinite would have passed, would have been followed by void, and would have concluded. There is no difference between saying that it has passed, that it has concluded, and that it has ended. Hence it would be necessary to say that the infinite has ended. The notion that the infinite ends or that it concludes and passes is a glaring absurdity.

Second, if the revolutions of the celestial spheres are infinite, then their number is either even, odd, neither even nor odd, or both even and odd. These four cases are impossible, so what leads to them is impossible as well. It is impossible that a number is neither even nor odd, or is both even and odd. For an even number is that which can be divided into two equal parts, such as ten, and an odd number is that which cannot be divided into two equal parts, such as seven. Every number that is composed of units either can be divided into two equal parts or cannot. But to be described as capable and incapable of such division or as lacking both is impossible. It is false that it is even. For an even number is not odd because it is short of one; hence if one is added to it, it becomes odd; but how can the infinite be short of one? It is impossible that it is odd. For an odd number becomes even by adding one; hence it is odd because it is short of one; but how can the infinite be short of one?

Excerpted from Al-Ghazali's Moderation in Belief by Aladdin M. Yaqub. Copyright © 2013 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS.
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Table of Contents

Note on the Translation
Translator’s Introduction

Religious Preface
First Introduction
On showing that to wade into this science is important for the religion
Second Introduction
On showing that to wade into this science, although it is important, is unimportant for some people but what is important for them is to avoid it
Third Introduction
On showing that the occupation with this science is a collective obligation
Fourth Introduction
On explaining the methods of proof that we employ in this book

Theoretical Reflection on the Essence of God
First Proposition: The existence of God
Second Proposition: God is eternal anteriorly
Third Proposition: God is eternal posteriorly
Fourth Proposition: God is not an extended substance
Fift h Proposition: God is not a body
Sixth Proposition: God is not a mode
Seventh Proposition: God is not located in a direction
Eighth Proposition: No anthropomorphic description is true of God
Ninth Proposition: God is seeable
First Aspect: First Rational Approach
First Aspect: Second Rational Approach
Second Aspect: The Evidence of the Revelation
Tenth Proposition: God is one

On the Divine Attributes

First Part
First Attribute: Power
First Question
Second Question
Third Question
Second Attribute: Knowledge
Third Attribute: Life
Fourth Attribute: Will
Fifth and Sixth Attributes: Hearing and Sight
Seventh Attribute: Speech
First Objection
Second Objection
Third Objection
Fourth Objection
Fift h Objection

Second Part
On the general characteristics of the divine attributes, concerning that which they share and that in which they differ
First Characteristic: The attributes are additional to the essence
Second Characteristic: The attributes subsist in the essence
Third Characteristic: The attributes are eternal
Fourth Characteristic: The names that are derived from these divine attributes are true of God eternally

On the Acts of God

First Proposition: It is possible for God not to create; and if He creates, it is not obligatory for Him to do so; and if He creates people, He might not assign obligations to them; and if He does assign obligations, it is not obligatory for Him to do so
Second Proposition: It is up to God to assign to His servants obligations, whether within their ability or beyond their ability
Third Proposition: God is able to bring suff ering upon an animal that is innocent of any crime and He is not required to reward it
Fourth Proposition: It is not obligatory for God to care for the well-being of His servants, but He may do whatever He wills and decree whatever He

Fifth Proposition: If God assigns obligations to His servants and they obey Him, then it is not obligatory for Him to reward them; rather if He wants to, He may reward them, punish them, or even annihilate them and never resurrect them; He does not care whether He forgives all the infidels and punishes all the believers; and this is not impossible in itself, nor does it contradict any of the divine attributes
Sixth Proposition: If the revelation had not come, it would not be incumbent upon mankind to know God and to thank Him for His blessings
Seventh Proposition: Sending prophets is contingent; it is neither impossible nor obligatory

First Chapter
On establishing the prophethood of our prophet, Mu?ammad

The First Way of Proving the Prophethood of Mu?ammad by Means of Miracles: the Miracle of the Qur’an
The Second Way of Proving the Prophethood of Mu?ammad by Means of Miracles: Other Miracles

Second Chapter
On showing that it is obligatory to believe in matters reported in the revelation and deemed possible by reason

First Section
The Torment of the Grave
The Balance
The Path
Second Section
An Intellectual Issue
A Semantical Issue
A Legal Issue

Third Chapter
On the Imamate
First Issue: On showing that appointing an imam is obligatory
Second Issue: On showing who among mankind may be appointed an imam
Third Issue: On explaining the belief of the followers of the Sunna regarding the Prophet’s companions and the rightly-guided caliphs

Fourth Chapter
On explaining which among the sects must be charged with infidelity

Interpretive Essay
Index of Qur?anic Verses
Index of ?adiths
Subject Index

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