Truth suffers from too much analysis

Averroes, Al-Ghazali, and Causality

Posted by allzermalmer on December 16, 2011

During the time period between 1037 and 1198 in Muslim philosophy were there were two ideas that were prominent on the view of causality. Of that period there were two defenders of the opposing viewpoints of causality.. For the theologian side there was Al-Ghazali. For the philosopher side there was Averroes. Al-Ghazali held that things happened, by causality, contingently. For Averroes, things happened necessarily. But they both agreed that things were caused by God, but for slightly different reasons.

Al-Ghazali read up on the philosophers’ position of causality, and the philosopher that had the most influence, and was the biggest defender of necessary causation, was Avicenna. Al-Ghazali wrote a response to Avicenna’s stance of causality and the relation it shared to that of God. Avicenna talked about the necessitation of causality, and how things are to happen a certain way and could not happen otherwise. Al-Ghazali presented an argument of causality based on things happening contingently. And all these things were done by the will of God.

Being contingent affairs, things can always happen otherwise than they do, and Al-Ghazli is talking about, what it was known as during his times, as efficient causation. This means, that because the sun has risen every day in the east, this doesn’t mean that the sun won’t rise in the west tomorrow. There is nothing logically contradictory in holding to either position separately, but you can’t hold on to both positions at the same time. They are contradictory. So we know that either one of those two things will happen. Which happens, we cannot say that it can’t happen otherwise than one way, like the sun will always rise in the east.

Al-Ghazli likes to use the analogy of cotton and a fire. Imagine, in modern day way, that we have a lighter in our hand and a piece of fresh picked cotton. We can put the flame right under the cotton so that the flame from the lighter is seen to be in “contact” with the cotton. We notice that the cotton starts to catch on fire and turn black as well. We don’t notice anything necessary between them, or for one thing to follow the other. Thus, we don’t observe that the fire has to make the cotton turn black and catch fire. We just notice this correlation between these two different events. And this happens because this is the way that God willed it to happen.

God can always, the next time we put the lighter under the cotton and make contact with the cotton, for the cotton to not catch fire or turn black. God has decided that, for this instance, the cotton should not catch fire. There is nothing that prevents God from doing this, because there is no logical contradiction for it not happening. Thus, when Abraham was surrounded by fire and never caught on fire, that he was not burnt. God did not will it to happen, and broke from the way that God usually willed for things to happen, like they did in past incidents.

We can have two propositions about causality. [1.]At time T^1, a person swallows a date while hungry. [2.]At time T^2, the person’s hunger is gone. Affirming the first proposition doesn’t entail the second proposition. Nor does the non-existence of state of events entail the non-existence of another state of affairs. For God, anything can be done that is possible. Thus God can will a person to remain hunger even after they ate a date, or God can make take aways someone’s hunger when they don’t eat. Things only have those dispositions for which God wills at any instance.

The philosopher Averroes responded to Al-Ghazali’s take on causality, and tried to show the response for which the philosophers have to the theologians take on causality. He wanted to point out that the philosophers do not deny that those things that are possible, but say that there are necessary things as well. Averroes stated that because we can’t observe the cause of certain effects by the senses that we only need to search harder for those causes that brought about these effects. This is because things have certain essences in them that make them comply to do certain things and respond in certain ways. This forms the necessary connection between cause and effect.

Averroes holds that there are four causes, and not just the efficient causation that Al-Ghazali dealt with. Besides efficient causation, there is the cause of form, the cause of matter, and the cause for the end. These other causes play into effects, and the stance from which necessary causation is linked. Averroes points out that when we have two things, that one is active and the other passive. From this, we can draw one relation from infinity of things that could happen between them or come from them causing on one another. But having this one relation limits those things that could come from all the possibilities that aren’t logically contradictory.

One of the reasons for this is that certain things are a certain way. The necessity seems to be in that of the name and definition. For example, it is necessary, for fire to keep its name and definition, that it keeps its “burning power”. Thus, it is similar to “All bachelors are unmarried males”. This means that things are limited unto the meaning of things, and that they can’t deviate from them based on this. Thus, based on the definitions and name, in conjunction with the four causes, things happen necessarily. This is also related to things being one, which is based on its essence. This is what the definitions and names are supposed to capture, which is the essence of things. The very essence of things means that only certain necessary things can happen, and this helps to make cause and effect a necessary connection. There is a necessary connection between cause and effect.

So, for example, let us go back with the example of the date. . [1.]At time T^1, a person swallows a date while hungry. [2.]At time T^2, the person’s hunger is gone. Now there is a necessary connection between these two propositions. The first of them would be from the four causes. There would be the necessary connection between the forms, the matter, the efficient cause, and the final cause. But within this it comes about because of the very essence of the date and the human being. There is an active and passive connection between their essences in this situation, and this means that based on the definition of these essences, one thing follows from necessity because of the other.

One of the major themes involved is that God knows all things, and knowing them, while being omniscient, entails that things necessarily happen because of God knowing them. God knows all the essences of things, which means that God knows the active and passive relation between things at all times. This also entails that God knows the four causes, and what necessarily follows from these things. It is also based on God’s will, because only things that have knowledge can have a will. Thus, when it comes to a causal connection, when we affirm one thing, it necessarily follows the entailment of the second thing. Thus, when we affirm the cause, it necessarily follows that a certain consequent shall follow, and this is the effect.

What seems to be one of the major differences would be involved with the definition of things, or at least their very essence which is trying to be captured by the definition of something. Al-Ghazali doesn’t seem to be affirming the essence of things, while Averroes seems to be affirming. One of the other differences is that Al-Ghazali isn’t using the other three causes, and is only focusing on one of those causes. Averroes is using four causes, which means that it is using efficient cause like Al-Ghazali exclusively focuses on. What they do both agree on, though, is that God is the cause of things, in some way or form.

For Averroes, things happen out of necessity because God knows the essence of all things, and God knowing something entails that it happens out of necessity. While for Al-Ghazali, things happen because God wills them to happen. One can allow for miracles because God decides to break “habit” of usually having the cotton catch fire when it is touched by a flame, like God did with Abraham. For Averroes, there are miracles of this sort as well. God knowing that Abraham will not catch fire means that Abraham will not catch fire. Things happen out of necessity because of this. God’s knowledge of things is the cause of them.

One way to look at this deals with the “Why” question. This can be broken down into two parts. It is that something produces the item, or that something explains the need or function of something. Al-Ghazali deals with what produces the item, while Averroes deals with explaining the need or function of something. The need for an explanation based on the function is the necessity of why it happened, while dealing with the something that produces an item is one that is contingent, and has no real function for something being brought about out of necessity. Both the theological side of Al-Ghazali and the philosophical side of Averroes take different stands on these positions. One only takes the first parts of something that produces an idea, while the second take the first part and also incorporates the second.

For Averroes, the world and God are both co-eternal. And God is the sufficient cause of all things. There is the essential cause and the efficient cause. These are based on teleological cause and efficient cause. When the essential cause exists, it necessitates the efficient cause. But for Al-Ghazali, there is no real essential cause. There is the efficient cause from which it is God’s will from which things happen as they do. There is no necessity, or essential cause, for which things must follow as they do. The only thing that would come close to this would be based on God’s will for things to happen in a certain way that they do. And one of the differences for this is that Al-Ghazali held that the world has not always existed and that God created the world, which is to negate the eternal existence of the world. While for Averroes, the world has always existed alongside the world. This is where the essential cause is affirmed by Averroes and denied by Al-Ghazali.

One of the other differences between Averroes and Al-Ghazali based on their idea of causality is that God can only do things out of necessity for Averroes. While for Al-Ghazali, God can do anything that isn’t self-contradictory and doesn’t have to do things out of necessity. One way to look at this is that they both uphold causality of some sort. But for Al-Ghazali, the efficient causation holds, but it is not because those things that we attribute as the cause is what brought about the effect. There is no link, which we find through the senses, which show this link. Thus, if we hold to the causal relation of A and B, Al-Ghazali doesn’t say that it is because of A that B happened. While for Averroes, it is because of A that B happened. One of the reasons that Al-Ghazali objected to the necessarianism of causality is that it seems to reject miracles, and the miracles are attested to in the Qur’an.

One of the big differences is that one holds that there must be a cause for something, which is what Averroes holds to. While on the other hand, for Al-Ghazali, things don’t need causes in order for them to happen. Now what is understood here is that of a necessary cause, or an essential cause. These would be the four causes. Thus, Al-Ghazali objects to these four causes, and that is because they are based on the Greek philosophers, who were pagans. So Al-Ghazali objects to these ideas, and presents an idea of causality which is devoid of the pagan influences, but also consistent with the view of God in the Qur’an.


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