Philosophy Seminar Series: 28 July 2011, 2-4pm, Philosophy Resource Room; Speaker: Edward Moad; Assistant Professor, Qatar University; Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson
Abstract: The topic of this paper is the eighteenth discussion of the Tahāfut al-Falāsifa (‘Incoherence of the Philosophers’) of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111), in which he raises objections against Ibn Sina’s arguments for the immateriality of the soul. I will focus on the first two sections, on what Ghazali calls the ‘first’ and ‘second’ proof, respectively. These two proofs are essentially similar in that they both turn on the premise that a relation between a bodily (and therefore divisible) substratum and an indivisible object of cognition (the intelligible form) is impossible. Ghazali’s objection – that this proposition is inconsistent with ibn Sina’s theory of perception, and the role therein of the wahm (‘estimative faculty’) – is sound. However, this just leaves open the option of resolving the contradiction by modifying the theory of perception to make it coherent with the proof, and Ghazali does not take an explicit position on which side to take. His aim, as he says, is just to show the contradictions in the theories of the philosophers, and not to make positive positions.
I will show, however, that underlying this explicit dimension of the discussion, there is a tacit philosophical point that Ghazali intends for the discerning reader. That is that the real mystery that imposes itself on a theory of the soul is not just the question of how a relation is possible between a divisible, material cognitive faculty and an indivisible object. Rather, it is the more fundamental question of the possibility of any relation between a unity and a multiplicity. This question imposes itself with equal force against both the theory of an immaterial soul as it does against the kalam theory of a material ‘atomic’ soul. These first sections of the eighteenth discussion are therefore connected to an over-arching theme of the Tahāfut in that they call attention to an apparent metaphysical impossibility that is nevertheless a manifest reality.