occasionalism


occasionalism
   The theory that God, because He is omnipotent, must be the only real agent and thus the single, proximal cause of all events in the world. It is closely associated in Islamic theology with the doctrine of atomism, according to which God creates, orders and recreates the world at every instant since the constituent building blocks of creation (atoms [sing: juz’] and qualities [sing: ‘arad]) have no intrinsic duration or efficacy. As formulated by the Ash‘arite theologians, occasionalism raises problems for both natural causality and human free will, since all acts are directly traceable to God’s will. How- ever, al-Ghazali, in his Incoherence of the Philosophers, employs Ash‘arite occasionalism to chisel away at Ibn Sina’s ostensibly deterministic metaphysics, arguing that there is no real necessary connection between cause and effect in nature. All events are connected at most by mere possibility, meaning that, in principle, they could always be other than they are, depending on God’s will. The apparent order and regularity of nature is typically interpreted on the occasionalist model as a matter of divine custom. As is often pointed out, al-Ghazali’s critique of Ibn Sina anticipates a similar analysis by the eighteenthcentury empiricist, David Hume, although his aim – that is, the rational defense of God’s omnipotence and absolute freedom, the createdness of the world, and the possibility of miracles – was quite different.
   Further reading: Fakhry 1958; van Ess 2006; al-Ghazali 1997/2000; Pines 1997; Wolfson 1976

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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