allzermalmer

Avicenna’s Necessary Existent and Possible Existent

Posted by allzermalmer on January 8, 2012

This blog will be based on Book One Chapter 6 of Avicenna’s book The Book of The Healing. The title of the chapter is called “On commencing a discourse on the Necessary Existent and the possible existent; that the Necessary Existent has no cause; that the possible existent is caused; that the Necessary existent has no equivalent in existence and is not dependent [in existence] on another.” I’m just going to quote that whole section, but I’ll try to break it up so his arguments come across in a more readable manner than as one long argument where one follows another in the same paragraph.

“We will now return to what we were discussing and say: There are specific properties that belong individually each to the Necessary Existent and the possible existent. We thus say: The things that enter existence bear a possible twofold division in the mind. Among them there will be that which, when considered in itself, its existence would be not necessary. It is moreover clear that its existence would also not be impossible, since otherwise it would not enter existence. This thing is within the bound of possibility. There will also be among them that which, when considered in itself, its existence would be necessary.

We thus say: That which in itself is a necessary existent has no cause, while that which in itself is a possible existent has a cause. Whatever is a necessary existent in itself is a necessary existent in all its aspects. The existent of the Necessary Existent cannot be equivalent to the  existent of another where each would equal the other as regards necessary existence, becoming thereby necessary concomitants.

The existence of the Necessary Existent cannot at all be a composite, deriving from multiplicity. The true nature of the Necessary Existent can in no manner be shared by another. From our verifying all this, it follows necessarily that the Necessary Existent is not dependent on relation, is neither changing nor multiple, and has nothing associated with [its] existence that is proper to [itself]

That the Necessary Existent has no cause is obvious. For if in [its] existence the Necessary existent were to have a cause, [its] existence would be by that cause. But whatever exists by something else, if considered in itself, apart from another, existence for it would not be necessary. And everything for which existence is not found to be necessary-if the thing is considered in itself, apart from another- is not a necessary existent in itself. It is thus evident that if what is in itself a necessary existent were to have a cause, it would not be in itself a necessary existent. Thus, it becomes clear that the Necessary Existent has no cause. From this it is also clear that it is impossible for a thing to be both a necessary existent in itself and a necessary existent through another.

This is because, if its existence is rendered necessary through another, it cannot exist without the other. But if anything whatsoever cannot exist without another, its existence as necessary in itself is impossible. For if it were necessary in itself, then it would have to come into existence, there being no influence on its existence by way of necessity from that which is other and which affects the existence of something else. But sense such an influence has been supposed, its existence would not be necessary in itself.

Moreover, whatever is possible in existence when considered in itself, its existence and nonexistence are both due to a cause. This is because, if it comes into existence, then existence, as distinct from nonexistence, would have occurred to it. Similarly, if it ceases to exist, then nonexistence, as distinct from existence, would have occurred to it. Hence, in each of the two cases, what occurs to the thing must either occur through another or not. If it occurs through another, then this other is the cause. And if it did not exist through another, then the nonexistence of the other is the cause of its nonexistence. Hence, it is clear that whatever exists after nonexistence has been specified with something possible other than itself. The case is the same with nonexistence.

This is because the thing’s quiddity is either of the state of affairs existence or nonexistence to obtain, then that thing would be in itself of a necessary quiddity, when the thing has been supposed not to be necessary in itself. And this is contradictory.If on the other hand the existence of its quiddity is not sufficient for specifying the possible with existence-the later being, rather, something whose existence is added to it- then its existence would be necessarily due to some other things. This, then would be its cause. Hence, it has a cause. In sum, then, either of two things existence or nonexistence would obtain necessarily for the possible that was due, not to itself, but to a cause. The existential idea would be realized through a cause, namely, an existential cause; and the nonexistential would be realized through a cause, namely, the absence of the former existential idea, as you have known.

We can thus say: The possible in itself must become necessary through a cause and with respect to it. For, if it were not necessary, then with the existence of the cause and with respect to it, it would still be possible. It would then be possible for it to exist or not to exist, being specified with neither of the two states. Once again, from the beginning this would be in need of the existence of a third thing through which either existence as distinct from nonexistence or nonexistence as distinct from its existence would be assigned for the possible when the cause of its existence with this state of affairs would not have been specified. This would be another cause, and the discussion would be extended to an infinite regress.

And, if it regresses infinitely, the existence of the possible, with all this, would not have been specified by it. As such, its existence would not have been realized, this is impossible, not only because this leads to an infinity of causes- for this is a dimension, the impossibility of which is still open to doubt in this place-but because no dimension has been arrived at through which its existence is specified, when it has been supposed to be existing. Hence, it has been shown to be true that whatever is possible in its existence does not exist unless rendered necessary with respect to its cause.

We further say: It is impossible for the Necessary Existent to be equivalent to another necessary existent so that this would exist with that and that would exist with this, neither being the cause of the other but both, rather, being equal with respect to the matter of the necessity of existence. This is because, if the essence of the one is considered in itself, apart from the other, then it would have to be either (1.) necessary in itself or (2.) not necessary in itself.

If (1.) necessary in itself, then either it would have also a necessity with respect to the other, whereby a thing would be both a necessary existent in itself and a necessary existent through another (which, as we have seen, is impossible); or it would have no necessity by reason of another and, hence, it would not be necessary for its existence to be consequent on the existence of the other, and it follows necessarily that its existence would have no relation with the other such that it exists only when this other exists.

But, if (2.) it is not necessary in itself, then, considered in itself, it must be possible in existence and considered, with respect to the other, necessary in existence. From this it follows that either the other is of the same state or it is not. If not, then it would not be equivalent in existence. If the other is of the same state, then it follows that the necessity of existence of this one derives from that other when that other is either (i.) within the bounds of possible existence of (ii.) within the bounds of necessary existence.

If the necessary existence of this one derives from that other- that other being within the bounds of necessary existence- and does not derive from itself or some prior third thing, as we have stated in a previous context, but derives from that from which it comes to be, then a condition of the necessary existence of this one becomes the necessary existence of what occurs thereafter as a consequence of its necessary existence, the posterity here being in essence.

As such, no necessary existence is realized at all for it. If on the other hand the necessary existence of this one derives from that other- that other being within the bounds of possibility- then the necessary existence of this one derives from the essence of that other when that other is within the bounds of possibility. The essence of that other which is within the bounds of possibility would bestow necessary existence on this one, having derived not possibility but necessity from this one. Thus, the cause of that one is the possible existence of this one, whereas the possible existence of this one is not caused by that other. as such, the two cannot be equivalent- I mean, that whose causality is essential and that which is essentially caused.

Another circumstance occurs relating to the above argument: namely, that , if the possible existence of that one is the cause of the necessary existence of this one, then the existence of the latter is not connected with the necessary existence of the former, but only with its possibility. It follows, then, that the existence of the latter is possible with the nonexistence of the former, when both have been supposed to be equivalent- and this is contradictory. Hence, it is impossible for the two to be existentially equivalent in the circumstance of not being attached to an external cause. Rather, one must be the other that is essentially prior, or else there must be some other external cause that either necessitates both by necessitating the relation between them or necessitates the relation between them by necessitating them.

The two related things are such that one is not necessitated by the other but is necessary with the other, that which necessitates them being the cause that brought them together and also the two substances or two subjects described by the two relatives. The existence of the two subjects or substances along is not sufficient to make the two related, a third thing that combines the two being required.

This is because the existence of each of the two and its true nature would either consist in their being with the other or not. If they consist in being with the other, then the existence of each in itself would not be necessary. It thus becomes possible, and hence, becomes caused. its cause, as we have stated, would not be equivalent to it in existence,. As such, its cause would therefore be something else, and hence the existence and its cause would not be the cause of the relation between the two, but the cause would be that other.

If, on the other hand, the existence and true nature of each does not consist in being with the other, then the conjunction of the two would be an occurrence pertaining to the proper existence of each and consequent to it. Also, the existence would be due either (a.) to its companion, not inasmuch as the latter is its equivalent, but due to the existence that is proper to its companion and, as such, they would not be equivalent, but , rather, an instance of cause and effect, its companion being also a cause of the imagined relation between them, as in the case of father and son; (b.) they would be equivalent, belonging to the class of equivalents where one is not the cause of the other, the relation of concomitance being necessary for their existence. As such, the primary cause of the relation would be something external that brings about the existence of both, as you have known, the relation being accidental. Hence, there would be no equivalence there, except in terms of a differing or a necessary concomitmant accident. But this is something other than that with which we are concerned. There would necessarily be a cause for that which is accidental; and the two things, as far as equivalence is concerned, would both be caused.”