metaphysics


metaphysics
(ma ba‘d al-tabi‘a; ilahiyyat)
   After a brief initial engagement with political issues, the kalam theologians quickly turned their focus upon the nature of God and His relation to creation. In order to address this issue properly, they were forced to grapple, at least in a preliminary way, with questions concerning the basic structure of reality and the ultimate causes and constituents of things. But it is not until the discovery and translation of philosophical texts by Plato, Aristotle and the Neoplatonists that metaphysics emerges within the Islamic context as a subject in its own right.
   It should not be surprising, then, that most of the different Arabic characterizations of the science of metaphysics are derived from Aristotle, the so-called ‘First Teacher’. As early as al-Kindi, metaphysics is described as ‘first philosophy’ (al-falsafa al-ula), because it is ‘the science of the first reality (haqq), which is the cause of all reality, and knowing a thing requires knowing its cause’. Al-Farabi (the ‘Second Teacher’) fixes upon another wellknown Aristotelian formula for metaphysics: the science of ‘being qua being’ (al-mawjud bi ma huwa mawjud), that is, the study of all things insofar as they exist. It is thus the broadest and most fundamental of all disciplines. Of course, Aristotle had also described the subject matter of his Metaphysics as a theology, or ‘science of the divine’ (‘ilm al-ilahi), but al-Farabi insists that this is only a particular subset of being qua being rather than the subject as such. Indeed, for the careful Muslim reader, the apparent universality or homogeneity of Aristotle’s description belied the bewildering multiplicity of its actual subject matter. Aristotle recognized that being (wujud, anniyya) is said in many ways and immediately identified ten different categories, including substance (jawhar) and its various accidents (sing: ‘arad), e.g. quantity, quality, relation, etc. But his Metaphysics traffics in additional important distinctions, for example that between the universal (kulli ) and the particular (juz‘i), the four causes (sing: ‘illa), actuality (fi‘l) vs. potentiality (quwwa), and necessary (wajib) vs. possible (mumkin) existence, not to mention the implicit but crucial distinction between essence (mahiyya) and existence (wujud) that the Muslim Peripatetics teased out. All this, in addition to offering a rational account of God!
   Ibn Sina, who claims he read Aristotle’s Metaphysics ‘forty times’ without comprehending it and attributes his eventual success to al-Farabi’s commentary on the work, accepts the Second Teacher’s stance to some extent, even arguing that God is not the subject matter of metaphysics per se, but rather its goal. Nonetheless, Ibn Sina and his followers typically refer to metaphysics as the science of ‘divine things’ (ilahiyyat), insofar as it involves the study of God and other separate, immaterial causes of the physical universe that are not themselves subject to generation and destruction.
   To complicate matters further, Aristotle never actually used the term metaphysics himself. It is the title given to his book by a later commentator, who simply identified it based on its traditional position in his overall corpus: it is the book that comes after the Physics (Gr: ta meta ta phusika, Ar: ma ba‘d al-tabi‘a). With the gradual reification of this name, philosophers began to see it as defining the actual subject matter of Aristotle’s strange science rather than simply describing its literal position in Aristotle’s oeuvre. The ambiguity inherent in the description has generated different conceptions of the main task of metaphysics, depending on whether one reads the ‘after’ (ba‘d) in ‘after the physics’ literally (i.e. ‘following’, ‘succeeding’) or figuratively (i.e. ‘above’ [fawq], ‘beyond’ [wara’]).
   Neoplatonic metaphysicians in the Islamic tradition (e.g. Ibn Sina, al-Kirmani, al-Suhrawardi, Ibn al-‘Arabi, Mulla Sadra, etc.) tend to privilege the latter sense. Accordingly, they conceive of metaphysics as a kind of foundational first science that begins with the ultimate principle of existence – God as the One, the Necessary Existent, the first metaphysical ‘efficient’ cause (understood as an ontological ground that continually bestows existence upon beings rather than initiating temporal movement), the Originator, the Light of Lights, Truth/Reality, etc. – and in effect derives or deduces the world from this principle, via the process of emanation (fayd, lit. ‘overflowing’). For instance, on the Neoplatonic-Aristotelian model, God necessarily gives rise to the universe through His archetypal selfknowledge, which emanates a hierarchical procession of intellects and corresponding celestial spheres. The last of these intellects (the ‘active intellect’) gives rise to, and governs, the sublunary world of generation and destruction. This is the realm of nature (tabi‘a) and thus the appropriate domain of the other, specific rational sciences, which study its phenomena, from minerals to plants to animals to the human being. The study of the human soul (nafs) and intellect (‘aql) is thus part of the natural sciences, but in studying such things we are directed back to the immaterial, separate, absolutely unitary and simple source of all existents.
   On the other hand, pure or ‘radical’ Aristotelians like Ibn Rushd tend to understand ma ba‘d al-tabi‘a (‘the things which come after the physical things’) more modestly and literally. On his view, metaphysics studies the principles of beings which (in their specific rather than generic sense) are the objects of the other sciences. In other words, the subject matter of metaphysics is not something transcendent of nature or known first and foremost, but rather something arrived at via induction, from investigation into its effects in the natural world. It functions not as the foundation of the natural sciences, but as their completion. Ibn Sina (in accordance with his Neoplatonic sympathies) had claimed that there is no apodictic demonstration of God; rather, God is the apodictic demonstration of everything else. Ibn Rushd rejects this a priori approach as senseless, just as he rejects Ibn Sina’sNeoplatonic emanationist cosmology and his concept of God as the Necessary Existent and bestower, not just of motion, but of existence itself. The only way to prove the existence of God is to begin with physics – specifically, the phenomenon of motion. In short, then, Neoplatonic Aristotelians typically see the subject matter of metaphysics as being above and beyond nature. The movement of their thought is thus a kind of descent, whereby the natural world is deduced, only to return to the source from which they originally proceeded. Pure Aristotelians on the other hand see the subject matter of metaphysics as coming after nature. For them, the path of metaphysics is an ascent that begins with the empirical data of a dynamic material world and works its way up to the final explanatory principle of God. One big controversy in Islamic metaphysics is the precise relation between God and the world. The Ash‘arite theologians had envisioned a radically contingent world of insubstantial atoms (sing: juz’) and accidents (sing: ‘arad), which has an origin in time. God is not only the absolutely free Creator of the world ex nihilo, but the perpetual, omnipotent and direct cause of all things, without which nothing would have any efficacy, let alone existence. The Neoplatonic Aristotelians cast God as the Necessary Existent, which automatically and necessarily generates the eternal universe through its own selfknowledge, but which seems to have little or no awareness of (or concern for) the multiple, changeable, particular creatures that inhabit the material realm of nature. The sui generis freethinker Abu Bakr al-Razi defended an interesting formatio mundi model that posited the eternally enduring, independent existence of five principles: God, soul, time, space and matter. On his account, the creation of the universe is initiated by the pre-rational, impulsive desire of the soul to be embodied, followed by the beneficent intervention of God, who imposes order and regularity on its initially chaotic movements, giving it the rational means eventually to extricate itself from its unfortunate mistake. The Isma‘ilis posited God as the absolutely transcendent, unitary and mysterious Originator, who creates only one being, the intellect, through His timeless command. An entire spiritual and material universe, saturated with symbolism, then proceeds from this first created entity, and can return to it (but not to the transcendent, mysterious Originator Himself) through the reason or intellect embedded in the Prophet’s message and the imam’s authoritative teaching. The Illuminationists presented a model of reality as a hierarchy of pure lights, which ultimately derive their varying degrees of intensity from the Light of Lights, God. The philosophical Sufis envisioned the world – and on a microcosmic scale the human being – as an expression or manifestation of God’s attributes, which belie the fundamental oneness of existence.
   It is worth noting the diversity of methods as well that these various schools employ in fashioning their metaphysics. The Ash‘arite theologians begin with the data of revelation, rationally reconstructing and defending the Qur’anic picture by means of indirect, dialectical proofs (jadal). The Neoplatonic-Aristotelians construct their worldview by means of logical demonstration (burhan), which was supposed to produce necessary and certain conclusions based on self-evident first principles, much as the universe unfolds syllogistically and necessarily from the first principle of God. The Isma‘ilis arrive at their cosmology through an esoteric (batin) allegorical interpretation (ta’wil) of scripture, vouchsafed by the authoritative teaching (ta‘lim) of the infallible imam. The radical Aristotelians begin with the data of the natural world and undertake an inferential ascent to the ultimate realities necessary to explain that world. The Illuminationists discover their world of lights through a direct, unmediated, reflexive self-luminescence that they describe as ‘knowledge by presence’ (al-‘ilm al-huduri), and which can be cultivated through spiritual practice to disclose greater metaphysical insights. The Sufis’ theophantic model of reality is rooted in mystical experiences (‘taste’ [dhawq], ‘unveiling’ [khashf], gnosis [‘irfan]) made possible by rigorous spiritual training. Later metaphysical constructions of the School of Isfahan and their progeny constitute creative combinations of these multiple approaches. Given the rich synthetic legacy of metaphysics in the Islamic tradition, it is appropriate to employ a more indigenous Qur’anic term, which even the early mashsha’i thinkers sometimes used: hikma, or wisdom.
   Further reading: Iqbal 1908/64; Kogan 1985; Marmura 2005; Nasr 1964/93; Netton 1989/95; Pines 1997; Shehadi 1982; Wisnovsky 2003

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

Synonyms:

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Metaphysics — • That portion of philosophy which treats of the most general and fundamental principles underlying all reality and all knowledge Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Metaphysics     Metaphysics …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Metaphysics — Met a*phys ics, n. [Gr. ? ? ? after those things which relate to external nature, after physics, fr. ? beyond, after + ? relating to external nature, natural, physical, fr. ? nature: cf. F. m[ e]taphysique. See {Physics}. The term was first used… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • METAPHYSICS — METAPHYSICS, the philosophic discipline that deals with ontology and cosmology. The Jews through the end of the medieval period did little original work in metaphysics, drawing mainly on other, primarily secular, authorities. The major systems… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Metaphysics — (* 8. Dezember 1973 in Harare, Simbabwe, als Herbert Schwamborn) ist ein afrikanischer Rapper mit Wurzeln in Simbabwe und Deutschland. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Werdegang 2 Diskografie 2.1 Alben …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • metaphysics — (n.) 1560s, plural of M.E. metaphisik, methaphesik (late 14c.), branch of speculation which deals with the first causes of things, from M.L. metaphysica, neuter plural of Medieval Gk. (ta) metaphysika, from Gk. ta meta ta physika the (works)… …   Etymology dictionary

  • metaphysics —    Metaphysics (or first philosophy ) is the study of ultimate reality and its structure. It involves ontology or the study of what exists (the dispute between atheism and theism is primarily an ontological one, about whether God exists) and the… …   Christian Philosophy

  • metaphysics — ► PLURAL NOUN (usu. treated as sing. ) 1) philosophy concerned with abstract concepts such as the nature of existence or of truth and knowledge. 2) informal abstract talk; mere theory. DERIVATIVES metaphysician noun. ORIGIN from Greek ta meta ta… …   English terms dictionary

  • metaphysics — [met΄ə fiz′iks] n. [< ML metaphysica, neut. pl. < Gr (ta) meta (ta) physika, lit., (that) after (the) physics (in reference to location after the Physics in early collections of Aristotle s works)] 1. the branch of philosophy that deals… …   English World dictionary

  • metaphysics — /met euh fiz iks/, n. (used with a sing. v.) 1. the branch of philosophy that treats of first principles, includes ontology and cosmology, and is intimately connected with epistemology. 2. philosophy, esp. in its more abstruse branches. 3. the… …   Universalium

  • Metaphysics — This article is about the branch of philosophy dealing with theories of existence and knowledge. For the work of Aristotle, see Metaphysics (Aristotle). For the occult field, see Metaphysics (supernatural). Philosophy …   Wikipedia


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.