Stolen Buddha

Once someone stole a Buddha statue from me that I liked very much. I never could understand why someone would steal a symbol of virtue that would remind them the viciousness of their acts constantly. Regardless, my latest painting, “Stolen Buddha,” is a response to their irrationality.18342211_10154644503428546_20279181983643915_n

Ockham: Evil for its own Sake

images-1Philosophers who belong to the Aristotelian tradition often believe that we always choose an act under the guise of good. We might be mistaken about what is good; however, once we see something is good then we can choose it. In other words, we do not choose anything unless we believe that there is something good about it. Of course, this claim does not mean that we are right about what we think is good or the greater good. But the point is that even if we are mistaken about what is good, still we choose something because we think that it is good. For instance, if someone smokes, he/she sees temporary satisfaction as good. However, Ockham believes that one may choose something because it is bad. From this claim, it follows that one may smoke cigarettes not for indulgence, but because, for instance, it makes the smoker choke. So the smoker might choose smoking for the sake of choking, but not for the sake of temporary indulgence. What is unprecedented in Ockham is his claim that it is possible for one to choose evil, knowingly and freely, for its own sake. I shall argue that Ockham’s contention about choosing evil for its own sake is problematic.

According to Ockham, an evil act is either based on ignorance or malicious intention. He rules out the possibility that a malicious act is always based on ignorance. So,

  1. Malicious sinners know either (A) the universal and (B) the particular dictates of right reason or only (A) the universal, [because moral universals are self-evident]
  2. If malicious sinners know both, then prudence is not sufficient for virtue.
  3. If malicious sinners know only the universal, then they do not differ from the ignorant sinner since ignorant sinners know the universal but not its application.
  4. [But malice does differ from ignorance.]
  5. Therefore, they know A and B, and prudence without virtue is possible.

For an act to be virtuous, it must be based on prudence, i.e., right reason, according to Ockham. However, evil is compatible with knowing universals as well as knowing particulars. For instance, it is possible that a malicious wrongdoer knows that “killing humans is immoral,” and “ John is a human,” and “therefore, killing John is immoral,” but still he kills John. In this case, the murderer is neither ignorant of the universal “killing humans is immoral,” nor ignorant of the particular that “John is a human.” If this is true, then the malicious act of murder is compatible with knowing the dictate of right reason. Therefore, Ockham believes that right reason is insufficient for a virtuous act.

I think committing a malicious act knowingly can be described in two different ways: The first is that someone does a malicious act for the subsequent goods that it produces (Let’s call this position P1). For instance, when someone robs a bank not for the sake of robbery, but for the sake of having money. Even though the robber knows that robbing a bank is malicious, he does it anyway. The second is that someone commits a malicious act just because it is malicious, regardless of its results. The two cases can be easily confused with each other; however, they are very different (Let’s call this position P2). I think P1 is reasonable and makes sense, and it is plausible to think that it is what Ockham tries to establish. However, I do not find P2, if it is Ockham’s account, convincing. In fact, besides some pathological cases or insanity, choosing a malicious act just because it is malicious is not compatible with the notion of a rational and goal-oriented human being. I do not think that Ockham disagrees with this notion of a human being as a rational creature that chooses purposefully. So I do not think he can consistently maintain that people do bad things only for the sake of causing harm regardless of its results. P1 is compatible with the notion of a rational human being, and P2 is not.

One might say that the case of people who intend to hurt other people just for the sake of hurting would confirm P2. However, even this case will not support P2. Because it is possible that those people might find hurting other people enjoyable, for instance, in the case of revenge. Therefore, they might have chosen to hurt other people for the sake of the good that they had found in hurting others. However, they do it because they are misguided about what they think is good, which is inflicting pain on others. Therefore, they are ignorant about the universal that hurting people must not be enjoyable; therefore, it is wrong. My reaction to Ockham’s claim that “it is possible to choose the evil because it is evil,” if it entails P2, is that it is an inconsistent position. Because choosing evil requires an explanation, it cannot be an ultimate end. It is always desired for something else. For instance, a robber robs a bank because he needs the money. Robbing a bank for the sake of robbery if it does not produce any good is irrational. Or a dictator might suppress his people’s rights and dignity for the sake of preserving security. Even a masochist causes himself harm not for the sake of suffering or harming himself, but because he finds suffering somehow enjoyable; therefore, he chooses suffering for a good, though misguided. I think that P2 cannot be consistent with the notion of a human being as a rational and goal-oriented creature. The notion of rationality in human beings entails that we choose things because we find some good in them. Rationality, or right reason, entails choosing something for its potential or actual good. Of course, this notion of rationality is compatible with the agent’s perception of the good or getting the good as wrong. However, it is incompatible with choosing evil just because it is evil, regardless of its potential good. Right reason entails to choose things for their own goodness or for the sake of other goods. Therefore, I did not find P2 convincing.




Aquinas and Unity of Virtues

imagesThe problem of connection of virtues is about whether one can have a perfect virtue without having the other perfect virtues. Aquinas claims that, unlike imperfect virtues, the perfect virtues are connected, and one cannot have perfect virtues without the others. Furthermore, he argues that the relationship between moral virtues and prudence is a mutual entailment, i.e. one cannot have moral virtues without prudence or prudence without moral virtues. On the other hand, Abelard’ philosopher denies Aquinas’s claim that prudence is a moral virtue per se. Abelard’s philosopher argues that 1) prudence although necessary for moral virtues, it is not a virtue itself and 2) Prudence is the knowledge that makes a person able to distinguish between good and bad. As he puts it, “Certainly prudence is this knowledge of morals that is called, as a certain treatise on ethics transmits to us, the ‘science of good and evil things’—discerning goods or evils that in themselves are properly to be called good or evils” (DPC 265).[1] And 3) the good and bad both can have prudence. In fact, Abelard’s philosopher argues that virtues are connected, but to him, what connects virtues is an internal interdependency type of relationship between moral virtues. I found Aquinas’s second argument, presented in Summa Theologiae 1.56.1 R) more convincing than Abelard’s philosopher inconsistent argument about the relationship between prudence and moral virtues. I shall first sketch both philosophers’ arguments then explain why I think Aquinas makes a stronger case.

Before reformulating Aquinas argument for the mutual entailment of the moral virtues and prudence, highlighting some preliminary points are necessary in order to understand his argument better. For Aquinas a virtue, “disposes an agent to perform its proper operation or movement” ST IaIIae 49.1). On the other hand, prudence for Aquinas is the practical wisdom that enables one to choose a proper mean suitable for a proper end. As he puts it, prudence is a “certain rectitude of discretion in any actions or matters whatever” (ST IaIIae 61.4). It is necessary to know that prudence for Aquinas is not same as cleverness. The former is not compatible with moral virtues while the latter is compatible with moral virtues. For instance, one may plan a murder cleverly; however, this is not an act of prudence for Aquinas. An evil person can be clever but not prudent. However, it seems that this the point that Abelard’s philosopher and Aquinas differ, for Abelard’s philosopher believes that both the good and bad can have prudence.

Aquinas presents a bi-conditional argument for mutual entailment of moral virtues and prudence. For him, there are two conditions for any morally significant action. The first is general moral principles that govern actions, and the second is applying those general principles in a particular circumstance.

Aquinas’s argument for mutual entailment of prudence and moral virtues can be formulated as follows:

  • To reach an end, it is necessary to choose means that are suitable to the end.
  • Moral virtues set proper ends, and dispose an agent to act virtuously.
  • Prudence is the practical wisdom to choose means suitable to the ends.
  • Prudence does not determine the end (moral virtues).
  • Therefore, there is no moral virtue without prudence.
  • Therefore there is no prudence without moral virtues.

To Aquinas, perfect virtues are justice, prudence, courage, and moderation. Unlike imperfect moral virtues, perfect moral virtues are connected. Aquinas defines a perfect moral virtue as, “a habit that inclines one to perform good deed well” (ST 1.65.1 R). However, inclination by itself is not sufficient for making the right choice. As he puts it, “For it is proper to moral virtue to make the right choice, since it is an elective disposition (habitus). But an inclination for the proper end, directed by the habit of moral virtue, does not suffice for right choice” (St 1.65.1 R. I.51-57). Moral virtues set proper ends; however, a proper end or an inclination for seeking proper ends is not sufficient for choosing proper means. Therefore, one cannot accomplish those ends without prudence. A physician may know all of the theoretical knowledge and the first principles of his science; however, if he lacks prudence, he will not be able to apply his knowledge properly on a particular patient and disease. By the same token, a person needs prudence to know how to do his/her moral virtues well. Another example that reveals the dependency of moral virtues on prudence is that if a just person lacks prudence, this deficiency destroys his/her justice. The classical example is the imprudent just person who wants to do his/her moral duty and returns someone’s sword when the owner is drunk and angry. In this case, the lack of prudence destroys his justice, because an angry drunk who owns a sword might harm innocent people, and it is not compatible with justice. Therefore, there is no moral virtue without prudence.

On the other hand, the second part of the bi-conditional argues that there is no prudence without moral virtues. Prudence does not establish the end. Prudence is a practical knowledge of how to apply universal principles in a particular situation; however, it establishing the end requires the knowledge of universals. As he puts it, “For [prudence] is right reason concerning what is to be done, which proceeds as from [the first] principles from the goals (fines) [we set about] what can be done, the goals to which a person is rightly related by the moral virtues” (ST 1.56.1 R, I 57-60). He maintains that finding the means to achieve wicked end causes by lack of prudence. Therefore, he concludes, there is no prudence without moral virtues.

Abelard’s philosopher views prudence as the mother or the origin of moral virtue; however, unlike Aquinas, he claims that it is compatible with evil ends. In other words, for Aquinas, prudence is not compatible with cleverness whereas for Abelard’s philosopher a clever person can be prudent too. For Abelard’s philosopher, prudence is necessary for having moral virtues. However, the good and the evil both might have prudence (DPC 258). If, as Abelard’s philosopher understands, prudence is “science of good and evil” (DPC 256), then the good and evil can have this knowledge. Furthermore, this science per se does not make a person good or bad. For Abelard’s philosopher, in addition to the science of good and evil, 1) good intention and 2) strength of the will/mind are necessary for moral actions. He states, “Therefore, we call both of these a kind of firmness and steadiness of the mind whereby we are enabled to carry out what we want through justice. Their contraries are indeed rightly called a kind of mental weakness or inabilities to resist vices (267). He defines virtue as “the mind’s best habit” (DPC 254) that is attainable through repetitive practices so that a virtuous person would act virtuously against all the obstacles and temptations (DPC 266). A vice, on the contrary, is the opposite of virtue, so the mind’s worse habit” that makes a person act viciously. It seems that Abelard’s philosopher would reject the second half of Aquinas bi-conditional, i.e., no prudence without moral virtues. Therefore, unlike Aquinas the notion of a wicked prudent person is not an inconsistent notion, to Abelard’s philosopher.

I tend to agree with Aquinas on his account that there is no prudence without moral virtues. One may agree with Abelard’s philosopher that prudence is not a moral virtue per se; however, he does not make a convincing case when he argues that prudence is compatible with moral vices. In fact, he reduces the scope of prudence to merely a “science of good and evil,” which lacks to determine right choices. Abelard’s philosopher on the one hand believes that prudence is the mother or origin of moral virtues; on the other hand, he maintains that prudence can be shared by the good and the bad equally. I think Aquinas is right to reject the latter claim, since 1) prudence is not merely a “science of good and evil” and 2) it is to know how to act virtuously in a particular situation. Therefore, I think Aquinas make a stronger case.


[1] In 256, Abelard’s philosopher mentions “some people” who calls “prudence’s discernment the mother or origin of the virtues rather than itself a virtue.” It seems that it is also Abelard’s view too. In his Ethics 227, he reiterates the same point. He states, “Prudence—that is, the discrimination of good and evil—is the mother of virtues rather that itself a virtue.” Regardless, to say that Abelard’s philosopher holds the view that prudence is necessary for moral virtue is a matter of interpretation of his characterization of prudence as “mother of virtues.” If an offspring cannot come into existence without a mother, then having a mother is a necessary condition for birth; however, it is not a sufficient condition, since birth requires a father too. If this is the analogy the Abelard’s philosopher has in mind, then his position on the insufficiency of prudence is not fundamentally different from Aquinas. Since Aquinas also maintains that there is no moral virtue without prudence. However, as we will see Abelard’s philosopher reject the second part of the bi-conditional, i.e., no prudence without moral virtues.

Abelard and Religious Laws

images-3            In his dialogue with a defender of Mosaic Law, the philosopher denies the spiritual merits of the Mosaic Law (ML). The philosopher maintains that the ML is neither necessary nor sufficient for bringing spiritual rewards. He argues that it is not necessary, since the Natural Law (NL) offers what is required for bringing the spiritual rewards. To the philosopher, the spiritual rewards granted by God for one’s good and correct intentions rather than the external aspects of deeds. The Law, to him, is concerned with external aspects of the deeds; therefore, insufficient for spiritual rewards. On the other hand, the defender of ML finds the philosopher’s anti-law claims problematic; he claims that ML entails the Natural Law and can bring spiritual rewards if they are conducted with a good intention. I argue that the philosopher makes a stronger case for the non-necessity and insufficiency of ML for bringing of spiritual rewards. First, however, I sketch the structures of the philosopher’s arguments about superfluousness of ML for bringing spiritual rewards.

The philosopher’s argument for non-necessity of ML can be formulated as follows:

  1. If ML were necessary for bringing spiritual rewards, then it would be primary and universal.
  2. ML is not primary.
    1. Temporally, it is not prior to NL.
    2. Metaphysically, it is not prior to NL.
  3. ML is not universal.
    1. NL is universal and is prior to ML.
  4. Therefore, ML is not necessary.

The conclusion necessarily follows from the premises, so it is a valid argument. To the philosopher, it is false to believe that spiritual rewards are contingent on ML. Perhaps, because spiritual rewards were possible prior to ML. If spiritual rewards were possible before ML, it implies that ML is neither primary (temporally or metaphysically)

nor universal. Furthermore, the Jew also admits that ML only became obligatory after its creation, not for everyone, but only for Jews. Therefore, it is convincing to believe that ML is neither primary nor universal.

The philosopher’s argument for the temporal primacy of the NL is that the simpler is prior to the more complex things, since complex things are composite of simple things. Therefore, the existence of more complex things is dependence the existence of simpler thing both temporally and metaphysically. Indeed, the NL is simpler than any religion. It existed prior to any religion including ML; therefore, NL is prior to ML, and the latter is dependent on the former.

After the philosopher has argued for non-necessity of ML, he argues for the insufficiency of ML. His argument can be formulated as follows:

  1. A good intention and being right about a deed is what makes an action meritorious. (Ethics 106-109; DPJ 133)
  2. Exterior deeds are not sufficient for spiritual rewards.
  3. ML is mostly concerned with external deeds.
  4. Therefore, ML is insufficient for bringing spiritual rewards.

After establishing the insufficiency of ML, the Philosopher maintains that only love of God suffices to bring spiritual rewards.

The Jew admits that ML is incomplete even based on his own religious believes. It was incomplete because after ML, new sets of religious laws were created for the Jewish community. However, the Jew tries to make a case for possibility of ML bringing spiritual rewards. He maintains that reason neither can affirm nor deny the divine origin of the Law. Hence, obeying ML is a matter of prudence, since many wise authorities have believed that obeying ML is more prudent than ignoring it. Furthermore, despite the philosopher’s anti-law contention, the Jew maintains that ML includes NL and offers spiritual rewards. The Jew also correctly states that obeying ML can be out of love of God rather than seeking earthly rewards, since there is nothing in sincere obedience to ML that makes it incompatible with love of God in the heart.

The Jew puts forwards several arguments against the philosopher’s claims that ML is neither necessary nor sufficient: 1) ML offers more spiritual rewards than NL 2) obeying ML is compatible with the love of God. Do these two arguments undermine the philosopher’s argument about non-necessary and insufficiency of ML? I do not think it does. First, the philosopher may respond that what the Jew claims that ML offers more spiritual rewards is only another type of earthly rewards. For instance, circumcision and purification rituals and their subsequent spiritual rewards that the Jew mentions, such as preserving the unity of religious community in the case of purification rituals and also his emphasis on the symbolic meaning of circumcision that signifies a break with early attachments, can be affirmed by NL independent from ML. Therefore, it seems that the philosopher make a stronger case for 1) Religious laws are neither necessary nor sufficient, 2) All one needs for salvation is love of God, and 3) Love of God can be affirmed by NL independently from ML is more convincing than appealing to religious laws which are neither universal nor fundamental.

Mulla Sadra’s Primacy of Being

averroes            Muhammad Kamal’s Mulla Sadra’ Transcendental Philosophy has the merit of explaining Mulla Sadra’s complex ideas without falling into the trap of oversimplifications. This book consists of five main chapters with the introduction and a conclusion. The other correctly maintains that Mulla Sadra’s philosophical doctrines are dictated by his metaphysics, known as the primacy of Being. Mulla Sadra, as a keen reader of Suhrawardi’s Ishraqi philosophy and his commentators, rejects the Ishraqi’s contention of primacy of essence. In the beginning of his philosophy profession, Mulla Sadra accepted the primacy of essence; however, he gradually became dissatisfied with the doctrine and took issue with it. Suhrawardi puts forward a disjunctive argument against the idea of primacy of being. To him, existence is either universal or particular. Particulars by virtue of being particulars are not self-subsistent; their existence is i‘tibari, since their existence is depended on universals. On the other hand, universals are self-subsistent and independent from other things. So existence is either particular or universal. If it is a particular, then its reality is mind dependent (i‘tabari) but not objective haqiqi. Suhrawardi finally concludes that being has not real existence, and it is an i‘tibari matter. Mulla Sadra found Suhrawardi’s anti-Being conclusion problematic.

In chapter four, the author focuses on Mulla Sadra’s ontological turn to establish primacy of Being. Mulla Sadra believes that Being is indefinable. For definition, at least according to Aristotelian philosophy, is genus plus differentia; however, Being is not a genus and has no differentia either. So it is not possible to define Being. Mulla Sadra, uses this metaphysical revelation in favor of his intuitive approach. Mulla Sadra’s mystic tendencies led him to believe that intuition, and not discursive philosophy, is epistemically capable to apprehend Being.

The chapter five deals with Mulla Sadra famous notion of primacy of Being. In Categories, Aristotle enumerates ten kinds or categories that things share one or another. It seems that the Categories is attempt by Aristotle to provide an ontological map of beings. However, in his Metaphysics, Aristotle develops a science to study being itself or as he calls it the science of being qua being. Some commentators believes that Aristotle dissatisfaction with his discussion in Categories led him to discuss being in a new way in the Metaphysics. However, Mulla Sadra finds Aristotle’s account on being inadequate. According to Kamal, Mulla Sadra views “the principality of Being and the reality of Being as a pre-ontological condition for the existence of all beings” (43). Yet, Mulla Sadra, like Suhrawardi, maintains that Being is indefinable. If definition, at least in Aristotelian sense, means genus plus differentia, it is not possible for Being, Mulla Sadra maintains, to obey this formula. Mulla Sadra states, “It has been establish that existence is a simple reality which has neither genus, nor persisting difference, nor species, nor dividing differences, nor individuation. Rather, its individuation is due to its simple essence and the essential distinction between its units and identity [occurs] only by means of [their] being the strongest and being the weakest;” (Al-Masha‘ir 55-65). In the sentence, “Human is a rational animal,” human is the genus while the differentia is rationality which distinguishes human from other animas. However, Being to Mulla Sadra is not a genus like human, since it is not a genus, it cannot have differentia either, since ontologically differentia’s existence is depended on genus. This new metaphysical revelation has extensive consequences for Mulla Sadra’s philosophy.

Mulla Sadra’s first solution to this puzzle is to view being as self-evident. It is difficult for the reader of Mulla Sadra after going along with the puzzles and perplexities that the notion of Being arises not be struck by his claim that Being is self-evident. I think one reason for Mulla Sadra to see Being as a self-evident notion is his confidence on intuitive knowledge. When we think about the existence of things, for instance, God, stars, trees, angles, we view them vividly through intuition; however, a discursive account on those notions will make them less evident.

It is hard to avoid judging Mulla Sadra’s contention about he primacy of being as trivial, i.e., the reality of a thing is its existence. For instance, what does that mean to say that the reality of a table is its existence not its essence? I think reality of a thing is not a different category than its existence. And at least, to me, as an armature reader of Mulla Sadra, it does not make sense to believe that the reality of a thing is or its existence. I can see a table before me and ask myself it is a real table or I am just hallucinating that there is a table, but once I ruled out the possibility of hallucination, I know that the table exist. Now, like Mulla Sadra to think that the table exists because of its reality not its essence, I think is just a category mistake.

However, Mulla Sadra’s claim about the objective reality cannot be that shallow. Mulla Sadra responding to the criticism of Suhrawardi and his followers who believed that the physical world is mind dependent and not self-subsistent. Mulla Sadra, in contrast, maintains that the physical world cannot be mind dependent and they have an objective, and not a subjective, existence. Mulla Sadra is a realist about external world, while Suhrawardi is realist about the essence of things. To him essences are not subjective but self-subsistent. Chapter five is a continuation of chapter four on the problem of being with respect to trans-substantial change or as Mulla Sadra calls it harakata aljohariya. What is important to know about Mulla Sadra’s Being is that it is outside the time and does not undergo change.[1]

Chapter six deals with Mulla Sadra’s notion of knowledge. If things have objective reality, then the question is that how do we know them? Mulla Sadra first sates that being has quality of revealing. It reveals itself to the knower and knower by uniting with the knower knows the being. In fact, as stated before, Mulla Sadra’s account of being makes more room for intuition as a potent epistemic tool for acquiring knowledge of Being. Mulla Sadra’s account of knowledge is very similar to Suhrawardi’s, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two. However, since Mulla Sadra defends the primacy of Being, he maintains that the appropriate object of intuitive apprehension is Being not the essence. Furthermore, since knowing requires a union between the knower and the known, the knowledge of Being a Being itself are not in fact two different things. Additionally, human intellect does not originate intuitive knowledge, and God as the source of intuitive knowledge emanates knowledge to human intellect with the mediation of the Active Intellect (89).[2]

If knowledge is the immediate perception of the object with no representational mediation by the knower, then by the same token the self-knowledge must be immediate and non-representational, by the presence of the self to the intellect of the knower. At the same time, since human cannot originate intuition, then God must be the source of self-knowledge. It is God that emanates the intuition of the self to a knower. For this reason, the source of self-knowledge must be divine, and at the same time mystical. When God emanates one’s self-knowledge to his intellect, then the person has self-knowledge. Therefore, the intellect’s function is not limited to conceptual thinking, but also intuitive apprehensions.

The important epistemological point is that knowledge by presence dissolves the subject and object distinction by stating that in the process of apprehension the knower and the known unify. The external world transfers into mental beings. It is important to understand that mental beings, unlike in the modern philosophy, are not subjective, to Mulla Sadra; in fact, they are real and objective. In this transformation the objects neither transform to concepts nor their representations; they transform into mental beings. The real is the truth, and mental beings are real. Mental beings are not mental representation of objects in the external world; the soul does not imitate attributes of objects. The external objects are the mental transformations of external objects. Strikingly, the soul does not necessarily need the external objects in order to understand them. As Kamal puts it, “The outcome of this view is that truth does not reside in the object known externally, but is defined in terms of its being known internally” (100). The truth is then the content of intuitive intellectuation.

Kamal views Mulla Sadra’s philosophy as a break with Ishraqi “essentialism.” For this reason, he maintains that Mulla Sadra brings about a new philosophical system that views the traditional philosophical problems a new light and presents new solution to old problems. I think Kamal is right about Mulla Sadra’s creative philosophical imagination and his innovations in thinking. However, I do not think that Mulla Sadra’s notion of primacy of Being is a radical with Suhrawardi’s primacy of essence. It seems to me that Mulla Sadra’s by and large relocates the old metaphysical problems by his contention of the primacy of Being. His Being, mostly, entails whatever Suhrawardi’s notion of essence entails. To Mulla Sadra, Being is necessary; it is the first principle of things, so it is an explanatory principle of a thing, while essence to him belongs to the realm of contingencies. The problems that the modalities of essence arise are similar if not identical to the problem of modalities that Being arise; therefore, I think that despite Mulla Sadra’s originality and philosophical merits, his notion of primacy of Being relocates the traditional metaphysical problems from the realm of essence to the realm of Being.


[1] The writer in many occasion tries to find similarity between the Western philosophers and Mulla Sadra’s account of Being. For instance, he believes that Mulla Sadra’s notion of Being shares many similarities with Heidegger’s notion of Being. I think these comparisons are misleading. First Heidegger’s notion of Being is ambiguous and sometimes impenetrable; therefore, using Heidegger’s vague and enigmatic explanations to explain Mulla Sadra’s complex ideal of Being is not very helping even for those who have a familiarity with both philosophers. In other occasions, similarities just do not exist. For instance Heidegger’s believes in historicity of Being whereas for Mulla Sadra Being is outside the time immune to change. The writer also brings up Hegel’s notion of dialectical change and compares it with Mulla Sadra’s notion of Being with respect to trans-substantial change. It is the case also with Hegel’s notion of the dialectical change, which also is a historical phenomenon, To Hegel, history through a dialectical change moves through the Absolute. However, for Mulla Sadra Being is not a temporal phenomenon.

[2] As he states in the case of self-knowledge, the knower does not take ownership of his self-knowledge, but it is God who originates knowledge. “No one can say: my knowledge of myself (bi nafsī ) is due to a medium which is my act, I am informed of myself by my act (ustudilla bi fi‘lī ‘alā dhātī ). That is because I can neither be informed of myself (dhātī) by an absolute act nor be informed by an act which originates from myself to myself (s.adara min nafsī ‘alā nafsī). If I am informed by an absolute act, an absolute act only requires an absolute agent, and only an absolute agent can be established by means of it, not an agent that would be me. If I am informed of myself (‘alay) by my act, I can only know my act after knowing myself (nafsī). Thus, if I can only know myself (nafsī) after knowing myself (nafsī), a circle results, and it is false. This therefore indicates that a human being’ s knowledge of himself (bi nafsihi) is not by means of his act” (Asfār I.10.2.4, III.505)

Alfarabi and Kalam (Theology) in the Mabadi’


In his Mabadi’ ara’ ahl al-madinat al-fadilah (Mabadi’ from now on), Alfarabi discusses various kalami issues such as God, His attributes, His relationship to the world, prophecy, and revelation. He also develops his philosophy of prophecy and epistemic status of knowledge that a prophet can possibly have, and the relationship between this knowledge and a prophet’s community. While Alfarabi discusses his philosophy of kalam, its subject-matters, and methods in his other works such as Enumeration of Sciences, The Book of Religion, and The Book of Letters, in the Mabadi’, he investigates mostly the relationship between religion, politics, and philosophy.

            Mabadi’s opening discussion is about the First Cause, which in Alfarabi’s corpus stands for God.[1] From his opening discussion on First Cause, it becomes apparent that from the beginning, Alfarabi makes the reader understands that his account of God and universe is not religious but philosophical. By this, he alludes to the idea that philosophy investigates everything in the universe that is known as existence, from earth to heavenly bodies and among them the status of revelation. This philosophical attitude is unprecedented among his contemporary religious fellows or other Abrahamic religions followers. The notion of First Cause goes back to Aristotle who introduces the notion in his Book 12 of Metaphysics.[2] Alfarabi’s notion of the First Cause is influenced by Aristotle. To him the First Cause is the cause of entire existence. It is with no deficiency. Although everything is dependent on it, it does not depend on anything else. It has no end, and it is an end in itself. It is the most excellent thing, and nothing existed prior to it. It is needless to say that except one crucial quality, Alfarabi’s notion of the First Cause shares many qualities of Aristotle’s same notion; this quality is emanation.

Even Aristotle’s First Cause, like Alfarabi’s, metaphorically speaking, lives a perfect life. However, Aristotle’s First Cause, unlike Alfarabi’s, lacks emanative quality. Alfarabi’s First Cause, through the other mediators, emanates the whole universe. The First Cause emanates the Second Cause and the Second the Third Cause and so on. The first Cause overflows the universe with its emanation.

Prophetology and the Soul

Another crucial topic that Alfarabi discusses in the Mabadi’ is prophecy (Nubuva’). His discussion of prophecy takes place in the context of his discussion on the soul and more precisely when he discusses the capacity of the faculty of representation with regard to intelligibles. The soul has cognitive and non-cognitive parts. The cognitive faculty consists of three parts. Tripartite cognitive part of the soul consists of sensible, representative, and rational faculties, and non-cognitive faculty consists of nutritive and appetitive parts. Needless to say, the rational faculty is superior to the two other faculties. Each faculty has its apt perfection when it perceives its most suitable object perfectly. Intelligibles as they are intelligible are suitable objects of rational faculty of the soul. However, the faculty of representation, because of its limitations, can receive the intelligibles, not as intelligibles, but as their imitations.

To him, the faculty of representation functions as an intermediate between the         sensible and the rational part of the soul. It receives the sensibilia from what the faculty of sense has received from sensibles. It also restores sensibilia, and it has a capacity to imitate what it has restored. Furthermore, the faculty of representation has a capacity to imitate intelligibles as much as its capacity allows. It entails that the capacity of the faculty of representation to receive intelligibles is not without limitations. He states

“If it is in its nature not to receive the thing as it is, its reception takes place by its     imitation of that thing through the sensibles which it finds in itself, which can imitate it. But since it may be beyond its capacity to receive the intelligibles as intelligibles, when the rational faculty provides it with the intelligibles which are present (in) it, it will receive them as they are in the rational faculty but imitate them with appropriate sensibles” (Mabadi’14.4.9-13).

Here Alfarabi clearly talks about the limited capacity of the faculty of representation to imitate all intelligibles. However, it is striking that in two passages further he claim that, The faculty of representation also imitates the rational faculty by imitating those intelligibles which are present in it with things suitable for imitating them. It thus         imitates the intelligibles of utmost perfection, like the First Cause, the immaterial           things and the heavens, with the most excellent and most perfect sensibles, like         things beautiful to look at; and the defective intelligibles with the most inferior and defective sensibles like things ugly to look at. (Mabadi’ IV, 14,6. 5-10)

Some of the things he lists here as suitable for the faculty of representation to imitate are the most excellent things in Alfarabi’s universe. So if Alfarabi believes that the faculty of representation is capable to imitate these most excellent things, but not as they are but as their imitation. To understand what his account of the soul in its fullest, one needs to understand what is an imitation according to Alfarabi, which for the sake of space I need to investigate later.

In the Mabadi’, he never states that prophecy requires the perfection of rational faculty; he is aware that prophets are not philosophers or they never had been philosophers. Perhaps it is for this reason that Alfarabi does not explain prophecy by perfection of the rational faculty, but as perfection of faculty of representation. However, the crucial point is that, in Alfarabi’s scheme of the soul, the faculty of representation is inferior to the rational faculty. To him, the Active Intellect emanates intelligibles not as intelligibles but as their imitations to the faculty of representation, while Active Intellect emanates intelligibles as intelligibles to faculty of reason. What implies in Alfarabi’s scheme of the soul is that prophecy is inferior to philosophy.

Divine things are those things that prophecy is concerned the most, and majority of people understand divine things through prophecy. How does Alfarabi view the statues of the divine things in the soul with regard to prophecy? In a crucial passage in the Mabadi’, he mentions the divine things with respect to the faculty of representation. His explanation is short and ambiguous as it is his customary attitude when he talks about sensitive topics. He says, “Regarding divine things, what the Active Intellect bestows upon the faculty of representation from intelligibles that it receives, it [the faculty of representation] receives them as imitations, [which are] foretelling [of divine things] (alkahinat)[3] IV,14, 7-8). In fact, alkahinat has a negative connotation in Arabic, especially for a rational philosopher like Alfarabi, and it actually means fortune telling based on astrology. Here Alfarabi in his ambiguous way compares the prophetical knowledge-claims of the divine things as the knowledge claim of a fortuneteller.

Although the faculty of representation is inferior to the rational faculty, prophecy is a manifestation of the ultimate perfection of the faculty of representation. Since Alfarabi gives philosophy and knowledge of intelligibles a superior epistemic status. It is for this reason that, unlike Alkindi, he maintains that kalam cannot be the First Philosophy. To him, First Philosophy is seeking knowledge of intelligibles through employing the method of demonstration. In fact, if all people could be philosophers, there would be no need for prophets since what prophets introduce to their communities are the imitations of those intelligibles that philosophers receive by the Active Intellect in their rational faculties. However, the fact is that people whom Active Intellect emanates intelligible are not many, and people who have to rely on the imitations of intelligibles are in majority. Consequently, religion has vital role for a well-ordered politics that a Farabian philosopher needs always to acknowledge.[4] However, a Farabian philosopher should not confuse intelligibles with their imitations.


[1] It is striking that in Mabadi’, he never uses the term Allah when he talks about God. I think this is more than a stylistic choice from our philosopher, and in fact it shows that his God is not the God of religions, but a philosophical God. Indeed, as we see in his further discussion he brings religion to the tribune of reason rather than giving higher position to prophetic knowledge.

[2] What is known as Aristotle’s notion of First Cause is what he calls it ὃ οὐ κινούμενος κινεῖ “that which moves without being moved.”

[3] I did not find Walzer’s translation of this sentence accurate. He translated the sentence as following, “But divinations concerning things divine will arise from the intelligibles provided by the Active Intellect, which it receives by taking their imitations instead” The problem with Walzer’s translation is that he mistakes divination (alkahinat) as the subject of the sentence while the subject of the sentence is divine objects.

[4] Imitation causes plurality of representation of intelligibles among nations. Each nation develops its own system of representations, which form the identity of the nation.

Works Cited

Alfarabi, Abu Nasr. 1968. Kita ̄b al-millah wa nus.u ̄s. ukhra. Ed. Muhsin Mahdi. Bayru ̄t:Da ̄r al-Mashriq (Arabic).

Alfarabi, Abu Nasr. 1995. Maba ̄di’ a ̄ra ̄’ ahl al-mad­inat al-fa ̄dila’. Bayru ̄t: Da ̄r va         Maktaba’ Alhila ̄l. (Arabic).

Alfarabi. 1998. On the Perfect State. Trans. Richard Walzer. London: Oxford University Press.

Boethius: the Wicked, Harm, and the Good


Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy argues that the wicked cannot harm the good. To establish this claim, first he argues that the good are more powerful than the wicked. The weaker cannot harm the more powerful. Therefore, the wicked cannot harm the good.

The structure of Boethius’s argument is as follows:

  1. The wicked are weaker than the good.
  2. The weaker cannot harm the more powerful.
  3. Therefore, the wicked cannot harm the good.

Boethius’s identification of the sources of power and weakness is crucial for his argument. The wicked is weaker on account of its vices while the good is more powerful on account of its virtues. He does not deny that the wicked might have wealth, fame, and other transient goods; however, these goods are not what make one truly powerful. What makes people truly powerful are those qualities of character that no one can take away. These qualities of character are not vulnerable to the harm of the wicked.

Boethius’s assumption of what is harm and what constitutes harm are essential for his contention that the wicked cannot harm the good. To him, if something can destroy someone’s eternal goods, then it is truly harmful. The wicked can take away someone’s wealth, fame, or power, but they cannot take away someone’s virtues. For instance, no external force can take one’s virtues like self-control and self-sufficiency. Therefore, the wicked can never destroy the eternal goods in a good person. Subsequently, he cannot truly harm the good.

Is this argument convincing? To answer this question, one needs to rule out all the possibilities that make virtues of character, such as self-sufficiency, vulnerable; for example, one can imagine a situation in which higher authorities take away the land of farmers whom Boethius identifies as men who can exercise self-sufficiency. In other words, Boethius’s notion of self-sufficiency seems to have rested on the factors that are not under the control of the agent. However, this criticism does not appreciate the strength of his argument, since self-sufficiency in particular and moral virtues in general are the internal characteristics of a soul and not external goods that can be taken away from the agent. For instance, in the case of confiscation of the land of a self-sufficient farmer, he still can practice his self-sufficiency. In other words, self-sufficiency is not dependent on external factors. One can be virtuous even if he/she has not adequate external tools to practice them. As a person’s ability to write is not dependent on having a pen, being virtuous is not dependent on external tools. A writer without a pen still can write in his/her mind or and a honest person whom has been denied opportunities to speak still can be honest. For this reason, I think Boethius’s argument that the wicked cannot harm the good is convincing, given the fact that taking away someone’s transient goods does not constitute true harm, but temporary hurdles in the life of the good.

Augustine and Ease of Good Will


Is Good Will Easy to Have?

Augustine in FCW 1 argues that it is easy to have a good will. One only has to will a good will to have one. According to Augustine, good will is “a will by which we seek to live rightly and honorably, and to attain the highest wisdom” FCW 1.12, p.19). If Augustine believes that a good will is easy to have, that implies that the will to live rightly and honorably and to attain the highest wisdom is easy too. I did not find this claim convincing, since there are some empirical counter-examples that challenge this claim. My thesis is that despite what Augustine maintains, having a good will is not easy.

Augustine’s argument can be roughly formulated as follows:

  • [Nothing can be defeated except by a superior, an equal, or an inferior.]
  • [What is better or superior has more power, what is equally good has equal power, what is inferior or less good has less power]
  • What is better cannot be defeated by its inferior.
  • What is better cannot be defeated by an equal.
    1. Definition: a good will is “a will by which we seek to live rightly and honorably, and to attain the highest wisdom.”
  • What is better cannot be defeated by its superior.
    1. A superior is superior by virtue of being more virtuous. So it would not be virtuous if it defeated what is good.
  • Therefore, it is easy to have a good will.

Augustine, to prove that having a good will is easy, begins with a general statement that introduces three possibilities. A good will, according to Augustine, can be defeated by its inferior, equal, or its superior. Toward the end of Book 1, he explores the ability of each possibility to defeat a good will. An inferior cannot defeat what is better, since it is weaker. An equal cannot defeat it either because it has no sufficient strength to do that, or perhaps what is equally good has no “desire” to defeat its equal, and it becomes inferior if it wants to defeat what is equally good. A superior cannot defeat it either, since it is superior by virtue of being more excellent. It will become inferior if it defeats a good thing. Consequently, if all the possibilities cannot defeat what is better, then he can infer that if good will is what is better, then it cannot be defeated. As a result, Augustine concludes that a good will is easy to have.

Although one, through a charitable reading of Augustine, can admit that his argument is valid, but the soundness of the argument is not beyond doubt. In fact, it is possible that what is better can be defeated by its inferior, namely inordinate desires as inferior can defeat a will for seeking excellent goods. Augustine admits that inordinate desires are inferior to good will, which is a will to seek the most excellent things. However, it is plausible to imagine a situation that inordinate desires defeat a good will. An Augustinian response to this objection would be that only for a fool, which is a person who values transient goods more than eternal goods, the desire for inordinate desires can defeat a good will. On the other hand, for a wise person who lives a well-ordered life, good will always prevails; therefore, it is easy for them to have a good will. If it is Augustine’s argument, it seems that he says that for a wise person, it is easy to have a good will. However, if that is the case, does not he argue that a good will is easy for wise people, but hard for fools? A wise person has a certain character where having a good will is easy for them while for a fool it is not easy. If that is Augustine’s position, it is hard to reject, since it is a trivial truth: a good will is easy to have once one has it, but it is hard to have once a person does not have a suitable character for it. However, the problem with this argument is that in its premises, it presupposes the truth of a claim that it intends to establish its truthfulness.

However, there is a major problem with Augustine’s contention that having a good will is easy. This claim is problematic if we take it as a universal claim about all types of characters. It also would be problematic if we understand it to be applicable only to wise individuals. A universal understanding of Augustine’s claim is problematic for the simple reason that it is not easy for a fool to have a good will. It is also problematic if we understand it as a claim about the wise only, since they already have a good will by virtue of being wise. As a commonsensical judgment, if what has happened throughout history and human societies reflects human will, one is inclined to believe that good will either was not easy to have or if it is easy, it is easy to ignore. Augustine himself witnessed the dark aspect of humanity in his own time. It might be due to these concerns that later Augustine admits that an unaided will cannot overcome evils, and one needs God’s grace to live rightly.