Avicenna, and in his attack he asserted what I shall argue is a defining characteristic of kalam, namely, its reliance on rational argument of what might be regarded as a dialectical type. According to Ghazali some of the theses of falsafa are merely bid'a or heretical innovation, but there are three graver positions which they uphold which actually constitute kufr or unbelief. These are the denial of God's knowledge of particulars, the claim that the world is uncreated, and the insistence that a physical afterlife is impossible. What is most interesting about Ghazali's approach is that he does not argue that because certain conclusions are beyond the pale from the point of view of Islam it follows that they are not to be believed, drawing a line under the matter. He argues, quite brilliantly, that on the criteria which the philosophers themselves adduce, these conclusions do not follow from their premises and so may safely be denied. In fact, so ready is Ghazaalai to put his toes in the water of philosophy that some of the most distinguished scholars of his thought have considered him to be a faylasUf, rather than the chief nemesis of falsafa in the lands of Islam.3 (Interestingly, this was a view shared by Christian Europe, so impressed was it by the fairness with which he described the theses of Avicenna in his Maqasid al-falasifa, later to be translated as the Intentiones Philosophorum.)

What was the impact of Ghazali's critique of falsafa? His arguments were subsequently attacked by Averroes,4 but Ghazali's view largely prevailed in the Islamic world, at least within its Arabic segment, in suggesting that falsafa as a total system had really nothing to offer in the understanding of religion or religious texts, and so was best abandoned. These strictures do not apply at all to much of the metaphysics, or to what he did not see as an inseparable part of falsafa, namely logic (mantiq), which he argued forms a vital part of theology and can even be derived from Islamic texts itself. His arguments for the importance of logic, derived in part from the methods of his teacher al-Juwayni (d. 1085), known as the Imam of the Two Sanctuaries (Imam al-Haramayn), proved persuasive in an intellectual context that had already internalised logic in the area of jurisprudence. This deep internalisation of logic, the core rationalist technique, within the fundamental disciplines of the religion, ensured that later kalaam texts were well equipped to present a systematic theology which progressed on strictly ratiocinative lines to prove the truths of religion, as well as deploying reason to interpret the content of revealed doctrine. It is true that some Hanbalite thinkers came to attack logic also, arguing that it was so infected by metaphysics that it cannot furnish a neutral tool of analysis but instead serves to smuggle improper ideas into the discussion of a religion which has been definitively expounded in scripture.5 For the great majority, however, logic continued to enjoy a high level of respect among the exponents of kalam, albeit often under disparate labels. On balance, this outcome is hardly surprising, since the whole modus operandi of theology was to establish conclusions about Islam through some form of argument, and to defeat the advocates of error using universally accessible techniques.

It is difficult to know precisely how to assess Ghazali's arguments, since he seems to be operating on two levels at once. In the first instance, he needs to disprove the arguments of his opponents using their own techniques, an ambitious strategy which denies the opponent the refuge of disagreeing with the methodology employed. Yet he then wants to argue that the conclusions of Avicennan falsafa are not only improperly derived, but also constitute unbelief or at the very least bid'a. So even if these conclusions followed logically from their premises, there must be something wrong, since it could hardly be the case that one could validly derive propositions which contradict the clear meaning of God's speech. The philosophers, then, had not only to argue that their conclusions were logically valid, but also that they did not contradict Islam. They were also obliged to defend the view that ratiocination is a perfectly acceptable method for Muslims to use.

It has often been stated in the literature that those critical of reason are "anti-rationalist" and ''traditionalist'', but this is not necessarily the case. If the results of deductive reason go against what we know through some other method, then one might well wonder how far deductive reason is useful. After all, we do not come to know most of the important features of our lives through the use of reasoning at all; they are more intimate and closer to us than that. It would, for example, be difficult for someone to persuade me under normal circumstances that my name was not Oliver Leaman, however good at reasoning she was, nor that I was not working right now on a desk in Lexington, Kentucky. Everything around me suggests that I am Oliver Leaman and that I am typing this in Lexington, and I do not find this out through reasoning. (Wittgenstein's On Certainty is full of examples like this.6) So if reasoning suggested I was wrong I might well come to suspect reasoning as a useful route to the truth in such cases, and this would not be ''antirationalist'' or ''traditionalist'' in any meaningful sense.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment