Occasionalism

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Occasionalism is a philosophical theory about causation which says that created substances cannot be efficient causes of events. Instead, all events are taken to be caused directly by God. (A related theory, which has been called "occasional causation", also denies a link of efficient causation between mundane events, but may differ as to the identity of the true cause that replaces them. [1] ) The theory states that the illusion of efficient causation between mundane events arises out of God's causing of one event after another. However, there is no necessary connection between the two: it is not that the first event causes God to cause the second event: rather, God first causes one and then causes the other.

Philosophy Study of general and fundamental questions

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Causality is efficacy, by which one process or state, a cause, contributes to the production of another process or state, an effect, where the cause is partly responsible for the effect, and the effect is partly dependent on the cause. In general, a process has many causes, which are also said to be causal factors for it, and all lie in its past. An effect can in turn be a cause of, or causal factor for, many other effects, which all lie in its future. Multiple philosophers have believed that causality is metaphysically prior to notions of time and space.

God Divine entity, supreme being and principal object of faith

In monotheistic thought, God is conceived of as the supreme being, creator deity, and principal object of faith. God is usually conceived as being omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (all-present) and as having an eternal and necessary existence. These attributes are used either in way of analogy or are taken literally. God is most often held to be incorporeal (immaterial). Incorporeality and corporeality of God are related to conceptions of transcendence and immanence of God, with positions of synthesis such as the "immanent transcendence".

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Islamic theological schools

The doctrine first reached prominence in the Islamic theological schools of Iraq, especially in Basra. The ninth century theologian Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari argued that there is no Secondary Causation in the created order. The world is sustained and governed through direct intervention of a divine primary causation. As such the world is in a constant state of recreation by God.

Iraq Republic in Western Asia

Iraq, officially the Republic of Iraq, is a country in Western Asia, bordered by Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait to the southeast, Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan to the southwest and Syria to the west. The capital, and largest city, is Baghdad. Iraq is home to diverse ethnic groups including Arabs, Kurds, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Turkmen, Shabakis, Yazidis, Armenians, Mandeans, Circassians and Kawliya. Around 95% of the country's 37 million citizens are Muslims, with Christianity, Yarsan, Yezidism and Mandeanism also present. The official languages of Iraq are Arabic and Kurdish.

Basra City in Basra Governorate, Iraq

Basra is an Iraqi city located on the Shatt al-Arab between Kuwait and Iran. It had an estimated population of 2.5 million in 2012. Basra is also Iraq's main port, although it does not have deep water access, which is handled at the port of Umm Qasr.

The most famous proponent of the Asharite occasionalist doctrine was Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali, an 11th-century theologian based in Baghdad. In The Incoherence of the Philosophers , [2] [ page needed ] Al-Ghazali launched a philosophical critique against Neoplatonic-influenced early Islamic philosophers such as Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina. In response to the philosophers' claim that the created order is governed by secondary efficient causes (God being, as it were, the Primary and Final Cause in an ontological and logical sense), Ghazali argues that what we observe as regularity in nature based presumably upon some natural law is actually a kind of constant and continual regularity. There is no independent necessitation of change and becoming, other than what God has ordained. To posit an independent causality outside of God's knowledge and action is to deprive Him of true agency, and diminish his attribute of power. In his famous example, when fire and cotton are placed in contact, the cotton is burned not because of the heat of the fire, but through God's direct intervention, a claim which he defended using logic. In the 12th century, this theory was defended and further strengthened by the Islamic theologian Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, using his expertise in the natural sciences of astronomy, cosmology and physics.

Al-Ghazali Persian Muslim theologian, jurist, philosopher, and mystic

Al-Ghazali was one of the most prominent and influential philosophers, theologians, jurists, and mystics of Sunni Islam. He was of Persian origin.

Baghdad Capital of Iraq

Baghdad is the capital of Iraq. The population of Baghdad, as of 2016, is approximately 8,765,000, making it the largest city in Iraq, the second largest city in the Arab world, and the second largest city in Western Asia.

The Incoherence of the Philosophers is the title of a landmark 11th-century work by the Persian theologian Al-Ghazali and a student of the Asharite school of Islamic theology criticizing the Avicennian school of early Islamic philosophy. Muslim philosophers such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Al-Farabi (Alpharabius) are denounced in this book, as they follow Greek philosophy even when it contradicts Islam. The belief that all causal events and interactions are not the product of material conjunctions but rather the immediate and present Will of God, underlies the work. The text was dramatically successful, and marked a milestone in the ascendance of the Asharite school within Islamic philosophy and theological discourse.

Because God is usually seen as rational, rather than arbitrary, his behaviour in normally causing events in the same sequence (i.e., what appears to us to be efficient causation) can be understood as a natural outworking of that principle of reason, which we then describe as the laws of nature. Properly speaking, however, these are not laws of nature but laws by which God chooses to govern his own behaviour (his autonomy, in the strict sense) — in other words, his rational will. This is not, however, an essential element of an occasionalist account, and occasionalism can include positions where God's behaviour (and thus that of the world) is viewed as ultimately inscrutable, thus maintaining God's essential transcendence. On this understanding, apparent anomalies such as miracles are not really such: they are simply God behaving in a way that appears unusual to us. Given his transcendent freedom, he is not bound even by his own nature. Miracles, as breaks in the rational structure of the universe, can occur, since God's relationship with the world is not mediated by rational principles.

In a 1978 article in Studia Islamica , Lenn Goodman asks the question, "Did Al-Ghazâlî Deny Causality?" [3] and demonstrates that Ghazali did not deny the existence of observed, "worldly" causation. According to Goodman's analysis, Ghazali does not claim that there is never any link between observed cause and observed effect: rather, Ghazali argues that there is no necessary link between observed cause and effect.

<i>Studia Islamica</i> journal

Studia Islamica is an academic journal of Islamic studies focusing on the history, religion, law, literature, and language of the Muslim world, primarily Southwest Asian and Mediterranean lands. The editors-in-chief are A. L. Udovitch and Houari Touati. It was established in 1953 and is published biannually.

Dualism

One of the motivations for the theory is the dualist belief that mind and matter are so utterly different in their essences that one cannot affect the other. Thus, a person's mind cannot be the true cause of his hand's moving, nor can a physical wound be the true cause of mental anguish. In other words, the mental cannot cause the physical and vice versa. Also, occasionalists generally hold that the physical cannot cause the physical either, for no necessary connection can be perceived between physical causes and effects. The will of God is taken to be necessary.

In philosophy, essence is the property or set of properties that make an entity or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity. Essence is contrasted with accident: a property that the entity or substance has contingently, without which the substance can still retain its identity. The concept originates rigorously with Aristotle, who used the Greek expression to ti ên einai or sometimes the shorter phrase to ti esti for the same idea. This phrase presented such difficulties for its Latin translators that they coined the word essentia to represent the whole expression. For Aristotle and his scholastic followers, the notion of essence is closely linked to that of definition.

The doctrine is, however, more usually associated with certain seventeenth century philosophers of the Cartesian school. There are hints of an occasionalist viewpoint here and there in Descartes's own writings, but these can mostly be explained away under alternative interpretations. [4] However, many of his later followers quite explicitly committed themselves to an occasionalist position. In one form or another, the doctrine can be found in the writings of: Johannes Clauberg, Claude Clerselier, Gerauld de Cordemoy, Arnold Geulincx, Louis de La Forge, François Lamy, and (most notably), Nicolas Malebranche.

Hume's arguments, Berkeley and Leibniz

These occasionalists' negative argument, that no necessary connections could be discovered between mundane events, was anticipated by certain arguments of Nicholas of Autrecourt in the fourteenth century, and were later taken up by David Hume in the eighteenth. Hume, however, stopped short when it came to the positive side of the theory, where God was called upon to replace such connections, complaining that "We are got into fairy land [...] Our line is too short to fathom such immense abysses." [5] Instead, Hume felt that the only place to find necessary connections was in the subjective associations of ideas within the mind itself. George Berkeley was also inspired by the occasionalists, and he agreed with them that no efficient power could be attributed to bodies. For Berkeley, bodies merely existed as ideas in percipient minds, and all such ideas were, as he put it, "visibly inactive". [6] However, Berkeley disagreed with the occasionalists by continuing to endow the created minds themselves with efficient power. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz agreed with the occasionalists that there could be no efficient causation between distinct created substances, but he did not think it followed that there was no efficient power in the created world at all. On the contrary, every simple substance had the power to produce changes in itself. The illusion of transeunt efficient causation, for Leibniz, arose out of the pre-established harmony between the alterations produced immanently within different substances.

Quantum mechanics

In 1993, Karen Harding's paper "Causality Then and Now: Al Ghazali and Quantum Theory" described several "remarkable" similarities between Ghazali's concept of occasionalism and the widely accepted Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. She stated: "In both cases, and contrary to common sense, objects are viewed as having no inherent properties and no independent existence. In order for an object to exist, it must be brought into being either by God (al Ghazili) or by an observer (the Copenhagen Interpretation)." She also stated: [7]

In addition, the world is not entirely predictable. For al Ghazali, God has the ability to make anything happen whenever He chooses. In general, the world functions in a predictable manner, but a miraculous event can occur at any moment. All it takes for a miracle to occur is for God to not follow His ‘custom.’ The quantum world is very similar. Lead balls fall when released because the probability of their behaving in that way is very high. It is, however, very possible that the lead ball may ‘miraculously’ rise rather than fall when released. Although the probability of such an event is very small, such an event is, nonetheless, still possible.

See also

Notes

  1. Steven Nadler, 'The Occasionalism of Louis de la Forge', in Nadler (ed.), Causation in Early Modern Philosophy (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993), 57–73; Nadler, 'Descartes and Occasional Causation', British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 2 (1994) 35–54.
  2. Griffel, Frank (2010), Al-Ghazali's Philosophical Theology, Oxford University Press.
  3. Goodman, Lenn Evan. “Did Al-Ghazâlî Deny Causality?” Studia Islamica, no. 47, 1978, pp. 83–120. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1595550.
  4. Daniel Garber, Descartes' Metaphysical Physics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 299–305.
  5. David Hume, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, sect. 7, pt. 1.
  6. George Berkeley, A Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, sect. 25.
  7. Harding, Karen (Summer 1993), "Causality Then and Now: Al Ghazali and Quantum Theory" (PDF), The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 10 (2).

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