Part 30

The corruption of philosophy

January 10, 2022

The sciences occur in civilization. They are much cultivated in the cities. They can greatly harm religion.

The intelligent representatives of the human species think:

  • that the essences and conditions of existence, both the perceivable and those beyond sensual perception, as well as their causes, can be perceived by mental speculation and intellectual reasoning.
  • that the articles of faith are established as correct through (intellectual) speculation and not through tradition, because they belong among the intellectual perceptions.

Such people are called “philosophers” falasifah, plural of faylasuf. It is Greek for “lover of wisdom”. 1011

They research on the problem of perception. With great energy, they tried to find the purpose of it. They laid down a norm enabling intellectual speculation to distinguish between true and false.

They called that norm “logic.” 1012

The quintessence of it is that the mental speculation which makes it possible to distinguish between true and false, concentrates on ideas abstracted from the individual existentia. From these (individual existentia), one first abstracts pictures that conform to all the individual (manifestations of the existentia), just as a seal conforms to all the impressions it makes in clay or wax. The abstractions derived from the sensibilia are called “primary intelligibilia.”

These universal ideas may be associated with other ideas, from which, however, they are distinguished in the mind.

Then, other ideas, namely those that are associated (and have ideas in common) with (the primary intelligibilia), are abstracted from them. Then, if still other ideas are associated with them, a second and third abstraction is made, until the process of abstraction reaches the simple universal ideas, which conform to all ideas and individual (manifestations of the existentia). No further abstraction is possible. They are the highest genera. All abstract (ideas) that are not derived from the sensibilia serve, if combined with each other, to produce the sciences.

They are called “secondary intelligibilia.”

Man through his ability to think studies these abstract intelligibilia and seeks through them to perceive existence as it is. For this purpose, the mind must combine some of them with others or keep them apart with the help of unequivocal rational argumentation.

This should give (the mind) a correct and conformable perception of existence, if the (process) takes place according to a sound norm, as mentioned before.

The combination of (abstract intelligibilia) and the judgment (concerning them) is apperception (tasdiq). 1013 At the end, philosophers give apperception precedence over perception (tasawwur), but at the beginning and during the process of instruction, they give perception precedence over apperception, because they think that perfected perception is the goal of the search for understanding and thatapperception is merely a means for (undertaking that search). In the books of the logicians, one finds a statement to the effect that perception has precedence and that apperception depends upon it. This statement must be understood in the sense of (arriving at) consciousness and not in the sense of (achieving) complete knowledge.

This is the opinion of the greatest of them, Aristotle.

Then, philosophers think that happiness consists in arriving at perception of all existing things, both the sensibilia and the (things) beyond sensual perception, with the help of (rational) speculation and argumentation. The sum total of their perceptions of existence, the result to which (their perceptions) lead, that is, the detailed conclusions of their speculative propositions, is the following. First, they conclude from observation and sensual perception that there is a lower substance.

Then, their perception progresses a little. (The existence of) motion and sensual perception in animals makes them conscious of the existence of the soul. The powers of the soul, then, make them aware of the dominant position of the intellect.

Here, their perception stops.

They draw their conclusions with regard to the most high celestial body in the same way they drew their conclusions with regard to the human essence. They (thus) consider it necessary that the (celestial) sphere must have a soul and an intellect, like human beings. Then, they take as a limit for the (whole system), the number of units, which is ten. Nine are derived in essence and pluralistic.

One, the tenth, is primary and singular. 1014

They assume that happiness consists in the perception of existence with the help of such conclusions (if, at the same time, such perception is) combined with the improvement of the soul and the soul’s acceptance of a virtuous character. 1015 Even if no religious law had been revealed (to help man to distinguish between virtue and vice), they think the (acquisition of virtue) possible by man because he is able to distinguish between vice and virtue in (his) actions by means of his intellect, his (ability to) speculate, and his natural inclination toward praiseworthy actions, his natural disinclination for blameworthy actions. They assume that when the soul becomes (virtuous), it attains joy and pleasure, and that ignorance of (moral qualities) means eternal pain. This, in their opinion, is the meaning of bliss or punishment in the other world. They go further in this manner, and by the words they use, they display their well-known obtuseness as far as details are concerned.

Aristotle the Macedonian was the leading representative of these doctrines. He:

  • presented the problems connected with them
  • wrote books on them as the subject of a systematic science, and
  • penned the arguments in favor of them

He was:

  • from Macedonia in Byzantine territory
  • a pupil of Plato and the teacher of Alexander
  • called “the First Teacher,” 1016 with no further qualification. It means “teacher of logic,” because logic did not exist in an improved form before Aristotle.
  • was the first to systematize the norms of logic and to deal with all its problems and to give a good and extensive treatment of it

He would have done very well with his norm of logic if (only) it had absolved him of responsibility for the philosophical tendencies that concern metaphysics. 1017

Later, in Islam, there were men who adopted these doctrines and followed Aristotle’s opinion with respect to them very closely 1018 except on a few points.

The Abbasid caliphs had the works of the ancient philosophers translated from Greek into Arabic. Many Muslims investigated them critically.

Scholars whom God led astray adopted their doctrines and defended them in disputations. They held different opinions on some points of detail. The most famous of these Muslim philosophers were:

  • Abu Nasr al-Farabi in the 10th century, at the time of Sayf-ad-dawlah
  • Abu Ali Ibn Sina (Avicenna) in the 11th century, at the time of the Buyids 1020 in Isfahan
  • and others.

The opinion those Aristotlean philosophers is wrong in all its aspects.

They refer all existentia to the first intellect and are satisfied with the theory of the first intellect in their progress toward the Necessary One (the Deity).

This means that they disregard all the degrees of divine creation beyond the first intellect. Existence, however, is too wide to be explained by so narrow a view.

The philosophers, who restrict themselves to affirming the intellect and neglect everything beyond it, are like the physicists who restrict themselves to affirming the body but disregard both soul and intellect because they believe that there is nothing beyond the body in God’s wise plan on existence.

The arguments that the philosophers parade for their claims regarding the existentia and that they offer to the test of the norms of logic, are insufficient for the purpose.

The arguments on the corporeal existentia constitute what they call the science of physics. The insufficiency lies in the fact 1022 that conformity between the results of thinking - which, as they assume, are produced by rational norms and reasoning - and the outside world, is not unequivocal.

All the judgments of the mind are general ones, 1023 whereas the existentia of the outside world are individual in their substances. Perhaps, there is something in those substances that prevents conformity between the universal (judgments) of the mind and the individual (substances) of the outside world. At any rate, however, whatever conformity is attested by sensual perception has its proof in the fact that it is observable.

It does not have its proof) in (logical) arguments. Where, then, is the unequivocal character they find in (their arguments)?

The mind is also often applied to the primary intelligibilia, which conform to the individual (existentia), with the help of pictures of the imagination, but not to the secondary intelligibilia, 1024 which are abstractions of the second degree. In this case, judgment becomes unequivocal, comparable to (judgment in the case of) sensibilia, since the primary intelligibilia are more likely to agree with the outside world, because they conform perfectly (by definition, to the individual manifestations of the existentia).

Therefore, in this case, one must concede (the philosophers’) claims in this respect. However, we must refrain from studying these things, since such (restraint) falls under (the duty of) the Muslim not to do what does not concern him. 1025 The problems of physics are of no importance for us in our religious affairs or our livelihoods. Therefore, we must leave them alone.

The arguments concerning the existentia beyond sensual perception - the spiritualia - constitute what the (philosophers) call “the divine science” or science of metaphysics. The essences of (the spiritualia) are completely unknown. One cannot get at them, nor can they be proven by logical arguments, because an abstraction of intelligibilia from the individual existentia of the outside world is possible only in the case of things we can perceive 1026 by the senses, from which the universals are thus derived.

We cannot perceive the spiritual essences and abstract, further quiddities from them, because the senses constitute a veil between us and them. We have, thus, no (logical) arguments for them, and we have no way whatever of affirming their existence. There are only available to us (in this connection) the situations in which perceptions of the human soul take place, and especially the dream visions which are within the intuitive experience of all. 1027

But beyond that, the reality and attributes of the (spiritualia) are an obscure matter, and there is no way to learn about them. Competent (philosophers) have clearly said so. They have expressed the opinion that whatever is immaterial cannot be proven by (logical) arguments, because it is a condition of (logical) arguments that their premises mustbe essential ones. 1028 The great philosopher Plato said that no certainty can be achieved with regard to the Divine, and one can state about the Divine only what is most suitable and proper 1029 that is, conjectures.

If, after all the toil and trouble, we find only conjectures, the (conjectures) that we had at the beginning may as well suffice us. What use, then, do these sciences and the pursuit of them have? We want certainty about the existentia that are beyond sensual perception, 1030 while, in their (philosophy), (those conjectures) are the limit that human thinking can reach.

The (philosophers) say that happiness consists in coming to perceive existence as it is, by means of (logical) arguments. This is a fraudulent statement that must be rejected. The matter is as follows. Man 1031 is composed of two parts.

One is corporeal. The other is spiritual, and mixed with the former. Each one of these parts has its own perceptions, though the (part) that perceives is the same in both cases, namely, the spiritual part. At times, it perceives spiritual perceptions.

At other times, it perceives corporeal perceptions. However, it perceives the spiritual perceptions through its own essence without any intermediary, while it perceives the corporeal perceptions through the intermediary of organs of the body, such as the brain and the senses.

Now, anybody who has perceptions greatly enjoys whatever he perceives.

For example, a child having its first corporeal perceptions, which (like all corporeal perceptions) come through an intermediary, greatly enjoys the light it sees and the sounds it hears. Thus, there can be no doubt that the soul finds even greater joy and pleasure in perceptions that come from its own essence without an intermediary.

When the spiritual soul becomes conscious of the perception coming to it from its own essence without an intermediary, it derives from it inexpressible joy and pleasure. Such perception cannot be achieved by (intellectual) speculation and science.

It is achieved by the removal of the veil of sensual perception and by forgetting all corporeal perceptions. The Sufis are very much concerned with achieving this great joy through having the soul achieve that kind of perception.

They attempt to kill the bodily powers and perceptions through exercise, and even the thinking power of the brain. In this way, the soul is to achieve the perception that comes to it from its own essence, when all the disturbances and hindrances caused by the body are removed. (The Sufis,) thus, achieve inexpressible joy and pleasure. 1032

This, (the philosophers) imply, is a correct assumption, and must be conceded them; yet it does not account for (the idea) they had in mind. 1033

At any rate, their statement that logical arguments and proofs produce this kind of perception and the resulting great joy is false, as one can see. The arguments and proofs belong in the category of corporeal perceptions, because they are produced by the powers of the brain, which are imagination, thinking, and memory.

The first thing we are concerned with when we want to attain this kind of perception is to kill all these powers of the brain, because they object to such (perception) and work against it. One finds able (philosophers) poring over the Kitab ash-Shifa’, the Isharat, the Najah (of Avicenna), and over Averroes’ abridgements of the “Text” (Organon) 1034 and other works by Aristotle.

They wear out the pages of these works. They firmly ground themselves in the arguments they contain, and they desire to find in them that portion of happiness (they believe they contain). They do not realize that in this way they (only) add to the obstacles on (the road to happiness). They base themselves on statements reported on the authority of Aristotle, al-Farabi, and Avicenna, to the effect that those who have attained perception of the active intellect and are united with it in their life in this world 1035 have attained their share of happiness.

To them, the active intellect means the first (highest) of the degrees of the spiritualia from which (the veil of) sensualperception is removed. They assume union with the active intellect to be (the result of) scientific perception. One has seen that this is wrong.

When Aristotle and his colleagues speak about union and perception in this way, they mean the perception of the soul that comes to it from its own essence and without an intermediary, but such (perception) is attained only by the removal of the veil of sensual perception.

Furthermore, (philosophers) state that the great joy originating in that kind of perception is identical with the promised 1036 happiness. This, too, is wrong. The things that have been established by the (philosophers) make it clear to us that, beyond sensual perception, there is something else perceived by the soul without an intermediary. This causes very great joy to the soul, but we do not think that this makes it definite that it is identical with the happiness of the other world, although it must be one of the pleasures that constitute that happiness. (At any rate,) their statement that happiness consists in coming to perceive the existentia as they are, is wrong.

It is based upon the erroneous supposition, which we mentioned before in connection with the principle of divine oneness,1037 that anybody who has perception comprises (the whole) of existence in his perceptions.

This (assumption) is wrong, and that existence is too vast to be completely encompassed or perceived, either spiritually or corporeally.

The sum total of all the (philosophical) doctrines we have set down (here) is that the spiritual part (of man), when it separates from the powers of the body, has an essential perception belonging to a special kind of perceptions, namely, the existentia that are encompassed by our knowledge.

It does not have a general perception of all the existentia, since they cannot be encompassed in their totality. It greatly enjoys this kind of perception, exactly as a child is pleased with its sensual perceptions when it begins to grow up. Nobody, then, (should try to tell) us that it is possible to perceive all the existentia or to achieve the happiness the Lawgiver (Muhammad) promised us, if we do not work for it. “Away, away with what you are promised.” 1038

(Philosophers) further state that man is able, by himself, to refine and improve his soul by adopting praiseworthy character qualities and avoiding blameworthy ones. This is connected with the assumption that the great joy that the soul has through the perception coming to it from its own essence, is identical with the promised happiness. For the vices give the soul corporeal habits and the resulting coloring. Thus, they impede it in the realization of that perception.

Now, we have already explained that happiness and unhappiness are found beyond corporeal and spiritual perceptions. The improvement (of the soul that the philosophers) have come to know is useful only in that it (produces) great joy, originating from the spiritual perception that takes place according to rational and established norms. But the happiness beyond such (joy), which the Lawgiver (Muhammad) promised us if we would act and behave as he commanded us, is something that cannot be encompassed by anybody’s perceptions.

The leading philosopher, Abu ‘Ali Ibn Sina (Avicenna), was aware of this. He expressed himself in the following sense in his Kitab al-Mabda’ wa-l-ma’ad= 1039 “The spiritual resurrection and its circumstances are something that we may come to know by means of rational arguments and reasoning, because it proceeds in a safely natural and uniform manner.

Thus, we can use (logical) arguments for it.

But the bodily resurrection and its circumstances cannot be perceived by means of (logical arguments), because it does not proceed in a uniform manner. It has been explained to us by the true Muhammadan religious law. The religious law should, therefore, be considered and consulted with regard to the circumstances of (the bodily resurrection).

“Thus, as one has seen, the science (of logic) is not adequate to achieve the avowed intentions (of the philosophers). In addition, it contains things that are contrary to the religious laws and their obvious meaning. As far as we know, this science has only a single fruit, namely, it sharpens the mind in the orderly presentation of proofs and arguments, so that the habit of excellent and correct arguing is obtained. This is because the orderly process and the solid and exact method of reasoning are as the philosophers have prescribed them in their science of logic.

They employ (logic) a good deal in the physical and mathematical sciences as well as in the science that comes after them (metaphysics).

Since (logical) arguments are much employed in those sciences in the way they should be employed, the student of them is able to master the habit of exact and correct arguing and deducing. Even if (those sciences) are not adequate to achieve the intentions of the (philosophers), they constitute the soundest norm of (philosophical) speculation that we know of.

Such is the fruit of this craft (of logic). It also affords acquaintance with the doctrines and opinions of the people of the world. 1040 One knows what harm it 1041 can do. Therefore, the student of it should beware of its pernicious aspects as much as he can.

Whoever studies it should do so (only) after he is saturated with the religious law and has studied the interpretation of the Qur’an and jurisprudence. No one who has no knowledge of the Muslim religious sciences should apply himself to it. Without that knowledge, he can hardly remain safe from its pernicious aspects. 1042

God gives success and guidance to the truth. “We would not be persons who are guided aright, had God not guided us.” 1043


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