The Asharite position

Early Ash'arites, too, contend that reflection constitutes a duty. Yet, to them, it is a religious (sharl) duty, since they maintain that duties can be engendered only by revealed religion to the exclusion of unaided reason or any other sources.10 One who lives on a remote island and has never heard of any revealed religions will not be under an absolute obligation to reflect in order to know God, or to do good and omit evil. Only when a religion is established through prophecy will knowing God and adhering to various forms of conduct become obligatory on those who receive it.11

The Mu'tazila object that this would allow the non-believer to argue that since he accepts neither God's existence nor the instructions of His purported prophet, he is in no way obligated to reflect in order to know Him. For Ash'arites, however, one need not accept a prophet's claims to fall under this obligation. Juwayni (d. 1085) responds that a prophet's performance of miracles will habitually (fi'l-'ada) provide sufficient motivation for people to consider his claims seriously and to reflect upon the theological matters he refers to.12 ''The truthfulness of prophecy'', therefore, ''does not depend on reflection, but on miracles.'' The sensible person does not have to accept that God exists, that He could send prophets with His word, and that this particular man is a genuine prophet, to have sufficient reasons, and even to find it necessary, to investigate these matters.

Ash'arites also provide an argument ad hominem in reply to the foregoing Mu'tazilite objection, by highlighting a similar problem in their opponents' position. Since Mu'tazilites do not consider the duty to reflect to be known immediately, they argue that reflection is a duty because knowing God is a duty, and what is necessary for fulfilling a duty itself becomes a duty (Malaahimai's second argument above). However, since this will be known through reflection, the non-believer will know that reflection is a duty only once he reflects; so he can simply refuse to reflect in the first place.13 The Mu'tazilite contention - that if external circumstances do not motivate one to reflect, God will necessarily produce a motive in his heart - is dismissed as an utterly unsubstantiated claim.14

Although this Ash'arite argument ad hominem may seem merely topical, it underscores a more profound point: that no cognition or action possesses intrinsic qualities that make it obligatory on non-adherents. Religion, according to Ash'arites, addresses both believers and non-believers, obliging all to recognise the existence of God. Believers will readily accept this. Non-believers will, if presented with adequate evidence and inducements, perceive the gravity and persuasiveness of this obligation. The fact that they do not readily recognise it as an obligation makes it no less obligatory on them.

Later Ash'arism came hugely under the influence of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, who departs from early Ash'arite divine command ethics in favour of a subjectivist, consequentialist ethics, whereby value is defined with reference to the consequences of acts for the agent. For Razi, a rational person who hears the doctrines of a revealed religion, especially the possibility of punishment in the afterlife, will find it prudentially necessary to check their veracity.15 Reflection may thus be deemed ''obligatory'', not in any fundamentally religious sense, but in a subjective, prudential sense - the antithesis to the Mu'tazilite objectivist position.

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