This symmetrical interpretation of Ghazzalî's spiritual career is tempting. It provides a meaningful arc to Ghazzâlî's career, assigning him a forethought that seems appropriate for a scholar and mystic of his stature. It also would provide a clear hermeneutic for our reading of the Intentions of the Philosophers, whereby we could see each word of the work as an ingenious and conscious paraphrase. By this reading Ghazzâlî is like a great trial lawyer, cunningly undermining his opponents, the philosophers, by gradually revealing his mastery of their own arguments. Unfortunately, it may not be that simple.
Since his death until the present day, Ghazzâlî has been claimed by mystics, theologians and philosophers as one of their own. Traditionally he has been accounted a cardinal figure of orthodoxy, praised for his attack against heterodox philosophers in the Incoherence. Yet some thinkers, including late medieval Jewish philosophers,34 maintained that the Intentions actually contains Ghazzâlî's genuine views. They assert that Ghazzâlî was only forced into a recantation of those views in the Incoherence through political pressure. While few today would find such a theory credible, certain scholars have begun to re-evaluate the traditional tripartite scheme of Ghazzâlî's career.35 Discerning the true nature of the Intentions is of fundamental importance in that reevaluation. For if the Intentions is something more than an introduction to the Incoherence, then it becomes more difficult to maintain that Ghazzâlî ever fully abandoned philosophy.
Our work contains three sections in the following order: the Logic (mantiqiyyât), the
Metaphysics (ilâhiyyât), and the Physics iyydt),w yet while this order is consistent in the Arabic manuscript tradition, it is anything but that among the Latin manuscripts. Very often only portions of certain treatises appear; elsewhere treatises are conflated together or their order is reversed.37 This seems to reflect a fairly complicated redaction process and the possibility that the Intentions reached the Latin West before that redaction process was complete in the East.
Beyond this, there are three additional problems, which suggest that we need to alter our assumptions about the Intentions of the Philosophers. First, why is there no allusion to the "ultimate" purpose of the treatise, that is, preparing to attack the philosophers, in the body of the text? With the exception of the preface and the conclusion, the Intentions reads as a systematic and faithful exposition of philosophy. The preface and conclusion read as somewhat awkward appendices. Could they be the work of a later redactor who sought to set the Intentions within the greater context of Ghazzâlî's career? Proof for this perhaps lies with the Latin manuscripts, which by and large do not contain these appendices, most likely because the Intentions was translated before they were added.
Secondly, as MacDonald noticed,38 Ghazzâlî seldom referred to the Intentions by name. In fact, three books of his, the Munqidh min al-dalâl, the ''m>and the Mihakk al-nazar, all make mention of the Incoherence without mentioning the
Intentions of the Philosophers. This is problematic, as Ghazzâlî was supposed to have completed the Intentions early in his career—certainly before the Incoherence.
Finally, we find another peculiarity in the conclusion to the Intentions of the Philosophers. In the introduction to the Physics, Ghazzâlî states that there will be four subjects in the section: (1) bodies, form, matter, motion and place; (2) the simple body; (3) compounded and mixed bodies; and (4) the soul (nafs) of plants, animals and humans. Despite this, at the conclusion of the fourth discussion a fifth one begins,39 entitled "What pours forth onto souls from the Active Intellect." This gap between what Ghazzâlî says he will do and what he actually does is clearly there in both the Arabic and Latin traditions.40 It was only with the 1506 publishing of the Logica et Philosophia in Venice that the incongruence was noticed and corrected.41
To what are we to attribute this incongruence? MacDonald believed that the change occurred with the consolidation of Ghazzâlî's notes. He suggests that Ghazzâlî could not complete the process himself since he was in a disturbed and hurried state in his haste to quit Baghdad. "That would mean that he had not, in the confusion of his departure from Baghdad, finally revised the book and the book may have gone into circulation in an unrevised form" (MacDonald 1936, 12).
This is a bit of conjecture on MacDonald's part, but it seems clear at least that the fifth article was added at some later time. This prospect seems more likely still when we look at the article's contents. In the fifth article, Ghazzâlî interrupts his adumbration of physical topics and seeks to make a logical connection between the Physics and the Metaphysics. There, Ghazzâlî laid out the cosmology of the philosophers, describing the procession of the Ten Intellects (and the nine spheres) from the First. The tenth Intellect is the Active Intellect, which is the link between the world and the outer Intellects. Here, the description of the Active Intellect is taken up again. Yet Ghazzâlî's focus in the fifth article is no longer cosmological, but rather psychological and spiritual.
By addressing "On what pours forth into souls from the Active Intellect," he inquires into the divine action upon the human soul and describes the human involvement with the divine. In the fifth article, the universe is the macrocosm and the soul is a microcosm; they are intimately connected with one another. Through the intercession of the Active Intellect, the soul may be caught up in the dynamism of the universe. Thus it may be oriented away from the body and upwards towards immaterial reality and spiritual truths. And not only spiritual truths, but religious truths. MacDonald describes the fifth article as "a philosophical psychology, an attempt to bring the phenomena of the intellectual and religious life, as experienced in Islam, under the Neoplatonic-Aristotelian scheme of Intellects, Souls and Spheres" (Wensinck 1940, 13). Indeed, the fifth article seems to better reflect Ghazzâlî's fully developed thought. It seems quite possible that he later returned and added this article to the Physics, without editing the list of contents in the beginning of the Physics.
These three peculiarities—the appended preface and conclusion, the dearth of references to the Intentions in Ghazzâlî's other works and the inconsistency regarding the fifth article of the Physics—should help us to understand the confusion of all those who received the work. For the Intentions is not a simple introduction to the Incoherence,42 but rather an independent adaptation of Ibn Sîna's Dânesh Nâmeh. It was later edited, most likely in two stages: First, when Ghazzâlî was still working on the treatise, to add the fifth article of the Physics; second, when Ghazzâlî (or his later disciples) sought to portray him as an opponent of philosophy, to add the introduction and conclusion. The Intentions still bears salient traces of this redaction process.
We can draw several conclusions hence about our work and its author. First, Ghazzalt began the Intentions during his days of philosophical studies and teaching; he did not write it as part of a greater project to attack philosophers. Second, Ghazzalt did not complete the Intentions (at least the fifth article of the Physics) until later in his career. Thus, it is unlikely that he intended it to be abrogated by the Incoherence, which he wrote early in his career. These two points lead to the final and most important conclusion: that we cannot understand Ghazzalt simply as an opponent of philosophy. We must appreciate him also as an important transmitter of the classical philosophical tradition.
Was this article helpful?