Al-Ghazali’s Critique of Determinism

Al-Ghazali’s Critique of Determinism

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

The most striking and resonant of al-Ghazali’s criticisms of philosophers is his approach to the cause-effect relationship or the principle of causality. In the face of the principle of causality, which Islamic philosophers took over from Ancient Greek thought and explained by linking it with God’s knowledge and grace, especially Ash’ari theologians had an indeterministic attitude.

They were advocating a kind of occasionalist/occasionalist approach based on the concept of substance-i individual (atom) and accident, and the idea that accidents cannot exist at two separate times, so creation is renewed every moment. According to this, everything that exists is made up of independent parts, and the power that brings them together and gives them a new structure is not inherent in nature. Therefore, like these parts (atom), all actions and events, whether natural or human, take place by Allah’s creation. As a follower of this tradition, Gazzâlî put forward the most serious criticism of the interpretation of the principle of causality reaching determinism (Çağrıcı, 1996: 497).

According to him, although experiments and observations determine that two events called cause and effect come one after another, it is not possible to prove that there is a necessity here in terms of science and logic. Calling one of the two consecutive things as a cause and the other as a result (caused, causative) is entirely due to being used to seeing them one after the other. To explain with the example given by Ghazali, fire with cotton, medicine with the sick, food with hunger, thirst with water … etc. The cause-effect relationship established between all natural beings and events is not a necessary result of a feature inherent in natural beings and events, but is a result of Allah’s will, discretion and creation. Because none of the natural things such as fire, water, medicine can be a real cause and agent. As seen in the events called miracles, although there is a cause such as fire and all the conditions are ready for it to show its effect, the expected result may not occur unless Allah wills, and unexpected and unpredictable results may occur. Such an approach, which places natural objects in the position of real cause and agent, is like the gratitude of a freed slave to the pen used in writing the manumission report instead of his master, which is the “end point of ignorance” according to Ghazali.

Aristotelian thought, which argues that there can be no result without a natural cause by considering the relationship between cause and effect mandatory, has been adopted by Islamic philosophers by interpreting the principle of causality in connection with Allah’s knowledge and wisdom. Ghazali strongly opposes this understanding, which he sees as a cycle of necessity that remains within nature.

As Ibn Rushd will draw attention later, if there is no characteristic corresponding to this relationship in the essence of things that have a cause-effect relationship between them, it will be necessary to talk about an irregularity and uncertainty in which everything can happen at any time in nature, thus eliminating the reliability of both reason and science. Ghazali is aware of the criticism that he will rise. According to him, the indeterminist approach he advocates never means that there is a confusion and uncertainty in nature, in which all kinds of absurd “impossible” will happen. Because, in principle, everything that is subject to Allah’s will ceases to be “impossible”; also, Allah has created a knowledge in our minds that He will not do these things that are possible for Him. In this case, the fact that we are witnessing that they are always together in a cause-effect relationship ensures that the idea that they occur continuously depending on an order that has been valid for a long time settles in our minds. However, the fact that philosophers see a natural necessity in this relationship is unacceptable, according to Ghazali, not only because it lacks logical and scientific value, but also because it excludes the absolute will of Allah and the possibility of miracles.

Ghazali, on the one hand, denied natural determinism by prioritizing the “occasionalisme”, which was most clearly expressed by Malebranche later in Western philosophy, and on the other hand, God knows all the facts and events in the world in a way that invalidates the idea of ​​coincidence and coincidence that excludes divine will and wisdom, defended his opinion and belief that he willed and realized.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook