glass must be melted once again in the furnace for a new start" (p.266). He
began to investigate how much understanding had been achieved by
various groups, including theologians and philosophers. He began with
theology and obtained a thorough grasp of it. "But it was a science, I found,
which, though attaining its own aim, did not attain mine. Its aim was
merely to preserve the creed of orthodoxy and to defend it against the
deviations of heretics. Theologians used premises admitted by naive belief,
or on the consensus of the community, or bare acceptance of Qur'an and
Tradition." This was of little use to one "who admitted nothing at all save
So he turned to philosophy. He seems to have expected it to be defective. "I
was convinced that a man cannot grasp what is defective in any of the
Sciences unless he has so complete a grasp of the science in question that
he equals its most learned exponents in the application of its fundamental
principles, and even goes beyond and surpasses them, probing into some of
the tangles and profundities which the very professors of the science have
neglected. Then and only then is it possible that what he has to assert about
its defects is true.... I realised that to refute a system before understanding it
and becoming acquainted with its depths is to act blindly." He found that
the various schools of philosophy all fell into heresy and unbelief. The
oldest school, the materialists, taught that the world has everlastingly
existed just as it is, without a creator. The second group, "the naturalists,
see in nature enough of the wonders of God's creation and the inventions of
his wisdom to compel them to acknowledge a wise Creator who is aware of
the aims and purposes of things. However the naturalists deny immortality,
deny resurrection, and deny the future life - heaven, hell, resurrection and
judgment". The third group are the theists, who include "Socrates, his pupil
Plato, and the latter's pupil Aristotle" (p.268). These theists also did not
altogether escape unbelief and heresy. Their mathematical science (e.g.
astronomy) is undeniably true, but it has two drawbacks. First, enthusiastic
students of philosophy are apt to suppose that since the philosophers have
done so well in mathematics, all their philosophy is just as certain. "The
second drawback arises from the man who is loyal to Islam but ignorant.
He thinks that religion must be defended by rejecting every science
connected with the philosophers", and the philosophers then suppose that
Islam must be based on ignorance. "A grievous crime indeed against
religion has been committed by the man who imagines that Islam is
defended by the denial of the mathematical sciences". Similarly religious
people who reject the philosophers' science of logic give the impression
that religion rests on the rejection of logic. The natural science or physics
of the philosophers does not need to be rejected, "except with regard to
particular points which I enumerate in my book, The Incoherence of the
Philosophers". It is in metaphysics that most of their errors occur. On these
points they must be reckoned infidels: (1) "They say that for bodies there is
no resurrection; it is bare spirits which are rewarded and punished; and the
rewards and punishments are spiritual, not bodily". (2) "They say that God
knows universals but not particulars. This too is plain unbelief. The truth is
that "there does not escape Him the weight of an atom in the heavens or in
the earth" (Q.34,3)". (3) They say that the world is everlasting, without
beginning or end". These three points are their worst errors: The denial of
resurrection, the limitation of God's knowledge to generalities, the doctrine
that the world is eternal. Al-Ghazali goes on to survey the opinions of the
philosophers on ethics and politics, and makes a few specific criticisms. He
says that in ethics the philosophers have borrowed from religious people.
"The philosophers have taken over this teaching and mingled it with their
own disquisitions, furtively using this embellishment to sell their rubbishy
wares more readily". This has two drawbacks. First, some people rejected
the whole mixture. "This is like a man who hears a Christian assert, "There
is no god but God, and Jesus is the Messenger of God". The man rejects
this, saying, "This is a Christian conception", and does not pause to ask
himself whether the Christian is an infidel in respect of this assertion or in
respect of his denial of the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon
him). If he is an infidel only in respect of his denial of Muhammad, then he
need not be contradicted in other assertions, true in themselves and not
connected with his unbelief". There is no God but God, and Jesus is a
messenger of God. "It is customary with weaker intellects thus to take the
men as criterion of the truth, and not the truth as criterion of the men .... If
it is true, [the intelligent man] accepts it, whether the speaker is a truthful
person or not". "If we adopt the attitude of abstaining from every truth that
the mind of a heretic has apprehended before us, we should be obliged to
abstain from much that is true" (p.273).
Well, this is enough to give an idea of Al-Ghazali's attitude. Islam is true,
and where the philosophers contradict it they must be rejected. But a
Muslim need not and should not reject everything the philosophers say,
indiscriminately. The chief errors of the philosophers relate to the
immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, reward and
punishment after death, God's knowledge of all things, and the eternity of
the world. These and a few other topics are the content of his Incoherence
of the Philosophers. In that book he does not simply point out the conflict
between the philosophers' doctrines and Islam: rather, he sets out to show
that the philosophers have not proved their doctrines: that even in
philosophy they are without foundation.
Averroes' Incoherence of the Incoherence reproduces the whole of Al-
Ghazali's book and comments on it, passage by passage. The first and
longest discussion concerns the eternity of the world. According to
Aristotle and the philosophers who followed him the world has always
existed and always will. Ghazali rejects this doctrine and brings up various
difficulties and objections. This is a topic which will come up again later in
this course with Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas. Let's move on
(omitting a good deal) to the eleventh discussion, Readings, p.87 (or van
den Bergh, p. 255). Aristotle did not think that God created the eternal
universe, but the Muslim Aristotelians, being Muslims, and also being neo-
Platonists, did regard God as the creator of the universe: it emanates
eternally from him. The question now is, How much does God know of the
universe? Aristotle said that God knows only himself. His Muslim
followers said that in knowing himself God knows all things, implicitly, in
general terms. He knows the genera and species of created things, but not
the individuals. Ghazali insists that God must know the individuals too.
So read the first passage from Ghazali, down to 424.10 (notice the numbers
in the margin of the translation).
This passage states the religious beliefs of muslims, not the theories of the
Read Averroes' comment, to the end of the first paragraph, at 426.1.
Those who criticise a conception of God as making him too much like a
man sometimes use the term anthropomorphic, from morphe a form and
anthropos, man. Averroes is making this criticism of the theologians. What
does he mean when he says "It cannot be that there one single species
which is differentiated by eternity and non-eternity" etc (425.8)? The
species is man, and the division he is objecting to is of man into temporal
man and eternal man (the anthropomorphic God). In your notes draw up a
porphyry's tree, with "living being" at the top, divided into "man", "horse",
"dog" etc, and man divided into "temporal" and "eternal". He is objecting
that the "distance" between these two subdivisions of man is greater than
the "distance" encompassed by all the sub-division of "living being"; all
these sub-divisions share in temporality, yet the sub-sub-divisions of one of
them is divided between temporal and eternal. Whether this is a telling
objection or not, the point at the end of the paragraph seems plausible: that
the difference between the eternal and the temporal is so great that
analogies won't hold: terms like will or knowledge applied to both eternal
and temporal entities will be equivocal. Remember the point from the
second tape, that according to Aristotle a term may be used univocally,
equivocally, or analogically: Averroes is saying that when a term like
knowledge is applied to both eternal and temporal things it is used
Now read the next paragraph, to 427.8.
Note what is said at the end of this paragraph. God's knowledge is of
opposites, i.e., of all the possibles: God knows that the human race can
exist, or not exist. God's excellence means that whichever set of possibles
is best proceeds from God (this is the best possible universe). The human
race proceeds from him though will only in the sense that it does proceed
from him and he does know that it can exist or not exist. It is not as if God
freely and knowingly chooses, arbitrarily, among possibles: what is best
must proceed from him. He knows that it does by implication: he knows
that this universe is best, and that what is best must proceed from him. "His
power is not inferior to his will" (at the end of the paragraph): he can do,
indeed must do, all that he wills.
Dialectic and Demonstration
Read the next paragraph, to 428.11.
Plato used the term "dialectic" for the highest part of philosophy, concerned
with the unities and divisions of the Forms. Twelfth century writers used
dialectic to mean first the art of conversation, and second logic. Aristotle
often used "dialectical" to mean persuasive rather than truly demonstrative.
A demonstration establishes that the fact is true, and also explains it, by
showing why it must be true in the light of proper explanatory principles. A
demonstration is an explanatory argument, one that conveys understanding
of the real reasons why the thing is so. A dialectical or persuasive argument
may prove that it is so, but does not convey understanding of why it is so.
Now according to Aristotle, the explanatory principles on which a
demonstration is based must be appropriate to the genus to which the thing
being explained belongs. An argument that tries to establish a fact by
means of premises appropriate to some other genus is merely dialectical.
Demonstration, or explanation, is the business of science: Aristotle says
that there are many sciences, each with its own subject genus and its own
principles, and explanation must be sought within the appropriate science.
So there is no short cut: if you want to understand, you must master the
appropriate science, and not hope to understand from general knowledge,
or by analogies drawn from some other subject matter. This is a major
difference between Plato and Aristotle: according to Plato, dialectic - the
power to "collect" individual instances into groups and see the shared form,
and to divide and sub-divide higher forms into lower - is a universal
science that covers all subject matters. According to Aristotle there is no
such universal science: arguments such as Plato's method yields are merely
dialectical, merely persuasive. Re-read to 428.1. Averroes is saying that if
you want to understand the matters in dispute between Ghazali and the
philosophers you must master the appropriate sciences.
"Eudaimonia" is the word in Aristotle's ethics usually translated as
"happiness", the good life, the life best worth living. According to Aristotle
an important element in eudaimonia is philosophical and scientific
thinking. Averroes is saying that if you are able to live the good life and
spend time on philosophy, then you will study these questions in a proper
philosophical way. "Since non-demonstrative statements can be advanced
without knowledge of the art, it was thought that this might be also the case
with demonstrative statements"; Since you don't have to have studied
dialectic and rhetoric to be able to produce, with luck, a persuasive
argument, so it was thought that a demonstrative argument might be
produced by the amateur philosopher; "but this is a great error". "The
incoherence of both parties together", i.e., of the theologians and of the
philosophers Ghazali had read.
Read the next paragraph, to 429.14. A few comments "on the letter". "All
this is in excess of the Holy Law". Averroes and the other philosophers
writing in Arabic did not want to make philosophers out of ordinary
Muslims. The language of the Koran, often metaphorical in their view, had
been used by God to convey the truths God wanted to convey to ordinary
people, and they need go no further. Philosophical inquiry is for a small
elite with the time and the capacity for such studies; they should not try to
spread their ideas among ordinary people. For a detailed statement of
Averroes' position on the relation between philosophy and religion see his
Decisive Treatise in Hyman and Walsh. "Only perhaps the Zahirites are
happier in the purely intellectual sphere"; i.e. perhaps in philosophy
argument from analogy has no place - each subject matter has to be studied
in terms of its own appropriate principles.
Points of Logic
Read now to the end of the next extract from Al-Ghazali, down to 432.18.
A couple of comments "on the letter"; near the bottom of p.89, "how,
therefore, can you take it as a premise of a syllogism which must prove it";
i.e. it would be begging the question or petitio principii. At. 432.5, on the
hypothetical syllogism: the argument, "If P then Q, but not P; therefore not
Q" is invalid, because it is possible to find an instance of an argument with
this structure that has true premises and a false conclusion - for example,
the instance Al-Ghazali provides of man, animal and horse. But arguments
of the form, "If and only if P then Q, but not P; therefore not Q" are valid.
Aristotelian natural philosophy
The next section includes some difficult material. The best approach, I
think, is first to read it through in a cursory way, without puzzling over the
difficulties, and then go back over it more carefully. So read cursorily to
437.4. At the end of the last section Ghazali says, "This is pure
presumption; where is your proof?" In this section Averroes sketches the
proof. Bear in mind what he say at the bottom of p.88: "Nothing of what
we have said in this book is a technical proof". He gives a general sketch of
the proof. First comes a sketch of the Aristotelian doctrine of potency and
act. Potency means ability, act means actualisation. Both terms are
ambiguous. Ability can mean being able to do something, or it can mean
being able to be made into something. The first is called active potency -
power or ability to act; the second is called passive potency - being able to
be acted on in such a way as to become something. Similarly actualisation
is ambiguous: an active potency is actualised when the thing actually does
what it is able to do. A passive potency is actualised when the thing
actually becomes what it can be made to be. According to Aristotle material
substances are composed of matter and form. As an analogy, think of a
bronze statue: the bronze is the matter and its shape is the form. With a
living substance it is more difficult to say what is matter and what is form:
the form is the soul, which "shapes" matter into a living body - a dynamic
sort of form; the soul is the principle of life. The matter has potency -
passive potency - to become part of a living being, the soul is what
actualises this passive potency, what makes it become a living body.
The form of a substance is also the locus of the active potencies: the soul
performs the acts of the living body, in some cases using bodily members
as organs or instruments. Further, the form of a thing is what makes it be
that thing: existence as that sort of thing comes to the thing through its
form. The form makes it be that thing, to be a thing of a certain type with a
certain definition (e.g. a "living body"), and enables it to do the activities
characteristic of things of that type. We cannot inspect the form directly:
we can look at the shape of a statue, but this is only an analogy for the form
of a substance. We cannot directly perceive the soul, the form that makes a
body a living body with the activities characteristic of a living body.
Rather, we infer the presence of the soul from those activities.
Re-read from "I say" (at 432.15 or thereabouts) to "Now", at 433.7.
"Substratum" (p.90,RH, top line) means whatever persists through a
change. For example, a change from hot to cold is an accidental change,
because hot and cold are qualities. Qualities are the qualities of something,
of a substance. What persists though a change from hot to cold is a bodily
substance of some kind. Substantial change - a change, for example, from a
living body to a corpse - involves the loss of one substantial form (in this
example, the soul) and the acquisition of another form or forms (which
constitute the dead body); what persists through such a substantial change
is the matter mentioned near the beginning of this paragraph. Matter is the
substrate in substantial change, some substance is the substrate in
accidental changes, such as change of quality. In any sort of change,
according to Aristotle and Averroes, there is some substrate - something
that persists through the change. Change is not the absolute annihilation of
one thing and the creation in its place of something absolutely different:
rather, it is the substitution of one substantial or accidental form for another
in some substrate.
In reading and understanding this paragraph you are picking up some of the
theses of Aristotle's "physics" or philosophy of nature. So far: that
changeable things consist of matter and form; that the matter persists
through substantial change, while one form is substituted for another; that
the substrate is in passive potency to the forms it can acquire; that the form
actualises the passive potency, i.e. makes the substrate become what it was
able to become; that the form gives being - i.e., makes the thing be what it
was previously able to become; that the form is the locus or principle of
active potency, i.e., enables the thing to do whatever it is able to do.
At 433.10-11, the two substances should be understood not as substances
but as two components of the one substance: each substance has a potential
part (matter) and an actual part (form, which actualises the matter and
enables the substance to act). Read from 433.7 "Now when the
philosophers" to the end of the paragraph. (Pause). Let me explain the first
sentence. Aristotle's view of nature is teleological (from "telos" the end):
i.e. Aristotle holds that natural processes happen for the sake of ends
(goals, purposes). Oddly, he does not think that there is always a directing
mind behind the process. What we do is often directed by our mind to an
end, but the growth of a plant toward its mature state is not directed by a
mind - Aristotle's God does not impose ends on natural processes; they just
have ends. Aristotle thinks of nature and art as resembling one another: just
as a craftsman sometimes imitates the processes of nature, so natural
processes are like the operations of a craftsman, oriented toward ends - but
there is no demiurge or divine craftsman directing them. So, to return to
Averroes' sentence, when a potency is actualised, the resulting thing is the
end of the process of actualisation. "Perfect" means completed, brought to
its end: the actualised potency is the perfection or end of the potency. There
is no difference between the actualised potency and the end or perfection of
the potency - attaining the end is becoming the actualised thing.
The rest of the paragraph is a very brief sketch of Aristotle's argument that
there must be a First mover. The sentence beginning "Then when they
looked" states the conclusion of the argument. The next sentence, "For
since the substance" is the argument. The first premise introduces a new
point: that a passive potency cannot be actualised except by the action of
some other thing that is already actual in that respect; e.g. a cold body
cannot become hot except by the action on it of another body that is hot
already. Another premise of this argument, a tacit (i.e. unstated) premise, is
that the series of things actualising things that actualise things that actualise
things cannot have an infinite number of members: there must be a first.
The first is pure act, i.e. contains no potential part (it can't be acted upon by
anything else so as to become something different); it must therefore
contain no matter (which is the potential part of substances that are not pure
act); it cannot be subject to exhaustion, weariness or decay - these are
changes, which presuppose a passive element, a potentiality to be different.
True to his statement that "nothing of what we have said in this book is a
technical demonstrative proof" (418.7), Averroes does not claim that this
argument is more than a sketch. He refers you to Aristotle's Physics, book
8, where you will find proof through "essential particular premises", i.e.
principles specifically appropriate to the subject matter, as opposed to the
persuasive generalities used in dialectical and rhetorical arguments.
Is the intellect a separate substance?
The next paragraph is about "forms in matter which produce motion", such
as the soul, which is "in matter", since it is the form of a living body, and
produces motion - the soul enables a body to move and do things. "They
started to doubt whether the intellect belongs to the forms which are in
matter or not"; Averroes himself holds that the human intellect is a separate
immaterial substance, numerically one for the whole human species,
separate from individual human beings, but acting on our imaginations. But
he does not assert this doctrine here, he just says that some philosophers
began to wonder. The point he does assert (or reports that the philosophers
assert) is that the accidental forms in the soul through which intellectual
perception takes place are not forms in matter: when you perceive a hot
body your mind does not become hot; the form of heat comes to exist in
your mind, but not in any matter capable of being made hot. By "inorganic"
in the last line of the page he means not an instrument (organon) of
perception. So re-read this paragraph, down to 435.7.
A comment on the last sentence: notice that although the argument of the
paragraph has been toward the conclusion that intellect contains no matter
or passivity, the conclusion he actually draws is that whatever contains no
passivity is intellect. The conclusion to which the argument tends is the
universal affirmative proposition, "Everything that is intellect contains no
passivity"; the conclusion he actually draws is the simple converse of this
the universal affirmative proposition, "Everything that contains no
passivity is intellect". From Abbreviatio Montana (Readings, p.71, section
8d) you should remember that a universal affirmative proposition is
converted per accidens, not simply, that is, to a particular affirmative
proposition, in this case "something that contains no passivity is intellect".
So he can not get the conclusion he draws by converting the conclusion the
argument was tending towards. Look again at the last few lines of the Al-
Ghazali passage he is answering, at 432.12 or thereabouts. We must still
ask, "Where is your proof?" He seems to be assuming, without argument,
that whatever is not a body is an intellect. Plato's Forms or Ideas, in the pre-
Timaeus version of the theory, are a counter example: the Forms were
immaterial, but they were not intelligences. Plato in the Timaeus, and the
Neo-Platonists, made the system of Forms a living thing, an Intellect; in
neo-Platonist systems all immaterial things are intelligent, and this is what
Averroes seems to be assuming. But why must it be so?
In the next paragraph Averroes says that according to the philosophers (i.e.
Avicenna), and in this they did not follow Aristotle, the Intellect that is the
First Mover imposes ends on natural processes, like a craftsman. But they
did not think that in thinking about the many natural things the First has
many thoughts, separate from his thought of himself. Rather, the First
thinks himself and the many through the one thought (which is in fact
identical with himself). Re-read this paragraph. At 436.4, "this intellect" is
not the human intellect but the first intellect, in which there is no
disjunction between thinking of self and thinking of others. (Why is there
identity between the First, his thought of himself, and his thought of
others? Because the First is absolutely one, containing no diversity
Some comments now on the last paragraph. "For the hypothetical syllogism
is only valid when . . . categorical syllogism"; From the Abbreviatio
Montana you will remember that for Aristotelian logicians a hypothetical
statement needs to be justified by applying some Topical rule. The
application of a rule is a categorical syllogism. "In cases of such and such a
type, so and so holds; this is a case of such and such a type", therefore etc.
is a syllogism, AAA figure 1. "For correct hypothetical inference in this
question is: "If what does not think is in matter, then what is not in matter
thinks""; He calls this hypothetical proposition an inference, because
Aristotelian logic treats every hypothetical statement as an inference from
antecedent ("if" clause) to consequent ("then" clause). This hypothetical
statement, asserting the convertibility or equivalence of not being in matter
and thinking, is certainly the one that he needs to prove - as we noted
above, the trend of the argument given earlier was to the conclusion that
everything that thinks is not in matter, but the conclusion he wants to draw
is that everything not in matter thinks. That will follow only if the
hypothetical proposition stated here at 436.10 can be assumed as a premise.
Ghazali says, "This is pure presumption; where is your proof?". Averroes
replies (at 436.12-14) in effect, we have a proof, this is not an unargued
premise. But he does not tell us what the proof is; we will have to read
Aristotle and study demonstrative science thoroughly. At 436.11, "the
conjunction and disjunction"; the conjunction of being immaterial and
thinking, and the disjunction of thinking and being in matter. At 436.16, on
the legitimate form of the argument. Write this down in your notes, on
three lines at the left of the page. If not P, then Q; but not Q; therefore P".
And to the right of that write: "If P then Q; but not P, therefore not Q". The
argument on the right is invalid, and Ghazali attributes it to the
philosophers. The argument on the left is valid, and according to Averroes
it is the argument of the philosophers. Fill it in as follows: "If the First does
not think then it is in matter; but the first is not in matter; therefore it
thinks". He still needs to prove the generalisation behind the first premise,
namely that whatever does not think is material, or its converse, that
whatever is not material thinks. (Remember that universal negative
propositions are converted simply.)
What does God know?
Look back over this discussion so far. Recall that the question for the
eleventh discussion is whether God knows things other than himself, e.g.
the material world, the human race. Muslims say that he does because
everything exists through his will, and he must know the things he wills to
exist (re-read Ghazali, 424.4.10). Averroes replies that this is an
anthropomorphic idea of God: God knows all things (and their opposites)
as possibilities; the best set of possibilities proceeds from him, but without
his knowing them in particular; since he is cause, and has knowledge of his
effects (knowledge in general terms of all possibilities), he can be said to
have will, though the word as applied to both God and man is equivocal.
Ghazali turns to arguments by which the philosophers try to show that God
does know things. First, the First is not in matter and must therefore know
all things (see 431.3-5). To this Ghazali objects that matter is not the only
possible impediment to knowledge. If it were we could say if and only if a
thing is in matter does it fail to know things. But we can't say and only if,
and it is a fallacy to argue: "If a thing is in matter it fails to know, but the
First is not in matter, therefore it does not fail to know". Averroes replies,
in effect, that matter is the only impediment, that whatever is immaterial
must know all things; but he doesn't explain why this is so.
Now read the next passage from Ghazali, 437.3-438.5.
This is "The second argument"; the first was at 431.3. The second argument
is that the philosophers say, in effect, that although they don't accept that
God makes temporal decisions and has intentions about particular things -
rather, the First is active eternally in an unchanging way - still, the First
does know and does cause. Ghazali's first answer is that the causation the
philosophers attribute to the First is not will. It resembles the production by
the sun of light. (The emanation of light from the sun was a neo-Platonic
image for the causation of the world by the One.) This sort of production
does not imply that the cause knows its effects. Notice the contrast between
nature and will (437.14). This was a common place in medieval
Read now Averroes answer, to 439.10.
"Will" in human beings means desire for something you haven't got and
would be in some way better for having (or so you think). Will does not
exist in this sense in God - there is nothing he doesn't have that he would be
better for having. So as applied to both God and man the term "will" is
equivocal. In god will means causing with knowledge. The fact that he
causes only one of the opposites both of which he knows implies the
presence of another attribute besides knowledge, namely will. But
previously, at 427.5, he had said that God's excellence implies that the best
set of opposites must be caused. Will must be the same as excellence, and it
implies no arbitrary choice among possibilities: only one universe can be
produced, and it is produced necessarily.
Read now Ghazali's second answer to the philosophers' second argument,
and Averroes' reply, to 440.10.
At 439.16 or thereabouts, "pure intellect" should perhaps have capitals,
since it refers to a particular entity: see Supplement, p.3, the diagram in the
margin on the RH side. Ghazali is saying that even if we waive the
objection that the First need not know what proceeds from him by nature
rather than by will, still only one thing proceeds directly from him, and he
won't know the things he causes indirectly. Averroes' answer is to assert
that the knowledge of the First is so perfect that it extends even to all the
indirect effects. "Our knowledge is posterior to the thing known", that is,
after it, "after" in the casual sequence, an effect. Things act on us and as an
effect we know them, but the knowledge of the first is the cause of things.
So we can't argue by analogy from what is true when we throw a stone
from a mountain top.
Read to 441.8.
The asterisks (e.g. at 441.3, "follow*") indicate points at which the
translator has amended the Arabic text he is translating.
Read the next passage from Ghazali, to 442.7.
The underlying premise here is that the First is perfect and therefore needs
nothing more than himself, he is self-sufficient. Another premise, which
comes into play at 442.1, is that the absolutely perfect being does not
change: if he did, either he would become imperfect or he would not have
been perfect; he is therefore not affected or acted on. So anything that
implies change and a "being influenced" is not in the First. Now, Ghazali
argues, if, as the philosophers say, sense knowledge and knowledge of
particular changing things is not needed to perfect the First (and is even
incompatible with its perfection), then so is any other sort of knowledge,
including knowledge of the intelligible universals.
Now read Averroes' reply, to 443.13.
Again he makes the point that terms as applied both to the First and to men
are equivocal. He criticises both Avicenna and his critic Ghazali for
arguing dialectically from premises not appropriate to the subject matter,
but purportedly common to all sorts of beings: "The premises used in this
section are common dialectical propositions, since they all belong to those
which compare the Divine to the empirical [i.e. to things we can experience
- "empirical" means experiencable], although no common genus unites
these two spheres and they do not possess any common factor at all".
Read now to 445.2.
This is clear enough, except at a few points. "The second cause and the first
effect" (top line of Readings p.94 (or van den Bergh, p. 268)): In the neo-
Platonic diagram you looked at a while ago in the margin of Supplement
p.3, Intellect is the first effect following from The One, and it is in turn a
cause of Soul; so Intellect is the second cause in this diagram, The One
being the first. "The maxim which Avicenna applies to every intelligent
being", that is, not only to men but also to the First, "that the more
knowledge an intellect possesses the nobler it is". "And indeed this
consequence is incumbent on Avicenna"; Averroes defends Aristotle's
philosophy, not Avicenna.
Read now to the end of the eleventh discussion.
When Averroes says that both of the opposite propositions are true of God
he does not mean true in the same sense. This would be self-contradiction.
They can both be true because the terms are equivocal, so that the opposites
do not contradict one another. "This is a knowledge the quality of which
nobody but God himself can understand"; the doctrine that terms as applied
to both God and creatures are equivocal seems to mean that we cannot
really know anything about God. He has will, but as soon as we begin to
make inferences from this Averroes objects that no inference can be drawn
by analogy with wills we know, since the term as applied to God and to the
things we know are equivocal. So what can we know of God?
This was an ongoing problem for medieval philosophy. One solution is
suggested by St. Anselm, Monologion Chapter 15: (re-read that chapter,
Readings, p.23). This suggests that we can say of God whatever implies
perfection, but must deny any implication of imperfection. This seems to
be, in fact, what Averroes is doing. He attributes knowledge, will,
excellence, power to the First, because these are perfections: but not
knowledge or will insofar as these terms imply the imperfections found in
human knowledge and will. This suggests that some terms as applied to
both God and creatures are not merely equivocal, i.e. do not have simply
different meanings, but are analogical, i.e., have different but related
meanings: insofar as the term implies perfection it applies to both God and
creatures, but in respect of implications of imperfection it does not apply to
God. This would be a suitable time to read Thomas Aquinas's discussion of
the names of God, Readings, pp.114-122 (Summa theologiae, 1, q. 13).