The Inadequacy of Philosophical Ideas
The second reason of importance in the large-scale inclination towards materialism
in the West lies in the inadequacy of its philosophical ideas. In fact, that which is
called 'divine philosophy' (hikmat-e ilahi) is in a very backward state in the West,
though perhaps some people may not concede that the West has not reached the
level of the divine philosophy of the East, especially Islamic philosophy.
Many philosophical ideas which raise a hue and cry in Europe are among the
elementary issues of Islamic philosophy. In translations of Western philosophical
works we come across certain ridiculous observations cited from major European
philosophers. We also find some statements which show that these philosophers
were confronted with certain insuperable difficulties while dealing with theological
issues. That is, their philosophical criteria were not satisfactory. It is obvious that
these inadequacies created an intellectual climate conducive to materialism. The
Problem of the First Cause:
One of the things that may appropriately be mentioned for the sake of example is
the story of the 'First Cause' in Western philosophy. Although it is somewhat a
difficult issue, we hope that our readers will show some patience.
Hegel is one of the great and famous philosophers of the world whose greatness is
certainly undeniable. There is much that is true in his works. We will first quote a
statement of this great philosopher concerning one of the most important issues of
metaphysics and then compare it with what Islamic philosophy has to say in this
regard. This statement is about the 'First Cause,' i.e. about the Necessary Being,
from the standpoint of Its being the first cause of existents. Hegel observes:
In solving the puzzle of the world of creation we should not go after the efficient
cause ('illat-e fa'ili), because, on the one hand, the mind is not satisfied with infinite
regress (tasalsul) and continues to look for the first cause. On the other hand, when
we consider the first cause, the puzzle is not solved and the mind is not satisfied;
the problem remains as to why the first cause became the first cause.
For solving the puzzle, we should find the end or the purpose and reason for being,
because if we know for what it has come into existence, or in other words, when it
is known that it is something rational, our nature is satisfied and does not seek
another cause. It is obvious that everything requires a justification by reason while
reason itself does not require any justification.
The commentators of his works have been unable to explain his intent, but perhaps
a close examination might reveal what troubled this man.
If we wish to express this matter in our own philosophical idiom, in a manner that
would accord with Hegel's viewpoint, or at least would come near it, we might say,
[the conception of] God should be accepted in a form which is directly acceptable to
the mind and not as something which the mind is constrained to accept under some
compulsion. There is a difference between a notion whose teleology (limmiyat) the
mind directly apprehends-and this apprehension is a natural one-and a notion
which is only accepted because there is a proof which negates its contradictory and
compels its acceptance. In fact, the basis of its acceptance is that one is left without
an answer to the proof negating its contradictory. On the other hand, when the
contradictory of a particular proposition is negated and proved to be false, naturally
and necessarily that proposition has to be accepted because it is not possible for
both contradictories to be false and one of them has to be necessarily accepted,
considering that the falsity of one of the two contradictories is proof of the
correctness of the other.
Accepting a notion due to the falsity of its contradictory compels and constrains the
mind, without really convincing it, and there is a difference between compelling and
constraining the mind and convincing and satisfying it. Often one is silenced by a
proof while in the depth of one's consciousness there lingers a kind of doubt and
hesitation with respect to the matter proved.
This difference is observable between 'a direct proof' and reductio ad absurdum
(burhan-e khulf). At times, the mind travels naturally and consciously from the
premise and the middle term to the conclusion. The conclusion is the direct product
of the middle term, as in a deductive argument (burhan-e-limmi). In this type of
proofs the mind spontaneously deduces the conclusion from the premises, and the
conclusion, to the mind, is like a child born naturally from its parents. But in
reductio ad absurdum-or even in burhan-e inni for that matter-this is not the case.
In reductio ad absurdum, the mind accepts the conclusion as a compulsion. The
state of the mind here is similar to that of a person encountering a coercive force
before which he is helpless. He accepts it because he cannot reject it.
In these types of proofs, as one of the two possibilities is invalidated by proof, the
mind is forced into accepting the other. The other alternative that is accepted by the
mind is accepted only because its contradictory has been rejected, and one from
among a pair of contradictories has to be necessarily accepted, for it is impossible
for both contradictories to be false. Hence it accepts the other possibility under
constraint and compulsion. This acceptance of one side is due to compulsion and
Hegel wants to say that our going after the first cause and our acceptance of it
belongs to the latter category. The mind does not directly apprehend the first cause,
but accepts it to avoid infinite regress. On the other hand, it sees that although it
cannot refrain from accepting the impossibility of infinite regress, it also cannot
understand the difference between the first cause and the other causes that makes
these causes require a cause while the first cause can do without it. In his own
words, one cannot understand why the first cause became the first cause. But if we
seek the teleology and end [of being] we arrive at an end and purpose whose being
an end is essential to it and does not require any other end and purpose.
Statements similar to Hegel's with respect to the first cause have been made by
Kant and Spencer as well. Spencer says, "The problem is that, on the one hand,
human reason seeks a cause for every thing; on the other, it rejects both the vicious
circle and the infinite regress. Neither does it find an uncaused cause nor is capable
of understanding such a thing. Thus when a priest tells a child that God created the
world, the child responds by asking, 'Who created God?' "
Similar, or even more baseless, are Jean-Paul Sartre's remarks in this regard. He, as
quoted by Paul Foulquie, says -concerning the first cause: It is self-contradictory
that a being be the cause of its own existence. 
Paul Foulquie, while explaining Sartre's statement, says, "The above argument
which Sartre has not elaborated is usually presented in this manner: If we contend
that we have originated our own existence, we have to believe that we existed
before our existence. This is the obvious contradiction which unravels itself. 
Let us now look at the true picture of the theory of the first cause from the
philosophical point of view. Is it as what Sartre and others say-a thing bringing itself
into existence and laying the foundations of its own being, so as to imply that a
thing is its own cause and its own effect?
Or is the meaning of the first cause what Kant, Hegel and Spencer have imagined,
i.e. a being whose case involves an exception to the law of causation? That is,
although every thing requires a cause and it is impossible for it to be without a
cause, the first cause, an exception, is not such?
And is it the case that the impossibility of infinite regress, which makes us accept
the first cause, actually compels us to accept a thing's being its own cause? Is it the
case that our mind, in the process of avoiding one impossible, is forced into
accepting another? Why? If the basis is that the mind should not accept what is
impossible, then it should not accept any impossible whatsoever. Why should there
be any exception?!
In accordance with the picture presented by Sartre, the first cause, like all other
things, is in need of a cause, except that it itself fulfils its own need. According to the
conception of Kant, Hegel and Spencer, we are compelled for the sake of avoiding
infinite regress to allow an exception among things which are logically similar, and
say that all things require a cause except one, the first cause. As to the difference
between the first cause and other causes that makes all other existents depend
upon a cause while this one is an exception, the answer is that there is no logical
difference. It is only for the sake of avoiding the impossibility of infinite regress that
we are forced to assume one of them as not being in need of a cause.
In this interpretation, the first cause is not assumed to require a cause and to meet
its own need (as in Sartre's interpretation); rather, it is assumed that the first cause
does not require a cause to bring it into existence. That is, the first cause is an
exception to the law of causality. But as to why it does not require a cause, and why
is it an exception, this interpretation gives no answer.
The first interpretation is very childish. No philosopher, or even an half-philosopher
or laymen, would conceive God in this manner. Therefore, we will discuss briefly
only the second interpretation and present the correct picture while doing so.
In our view, the doubt of the likes of Kant, Hegel and Spencer concerning the first
cause derives from two basic philosophical issues, both of which have remained
unsolved in Western philosophy. Of these, the first is the issue of fundamentality of
existence (asalat al-wujud), and the second that of the criterion for requiring a
cause (manat-e ihtiyaj bi 'illat). It is not appropriate here to discuss and explain the
issue of fundamentality of existence, or the contrary doctrine of the fundamentality
of essence (asalat al-mahiyyah).
However, we shall confine ourselves to giving a brief explanation. On the basis of
the notion of fundamentality of essence-to give a very elementary and superficial
picture of it, that is, one based on the assumption that God also, like all other
existents, has an essence and an existence (which is an invalid idea even from the
viewpoint of the proponents of the theory of fundamentality of essence, because
they too consider God as pure existence)-the question arises as to why everything
requires a cause while God doesn't. Why is one being Necessary and others
contingent? Is it not that all beings are essences which come into existence?
But on the basis of the theory fundamentality of existence-whose principal architect
in regard to its philosophical demonstration and providing the proofs is Sadr al-
Muta'allihin Shirazi-the pattern of thinking changes radically.
On the basis of the former theory (fundamentality of essence) our conception of
things will be that their essence is something which is intrinsically different from
existence. Existence should be given to it by another being. We name this other
being 'cause.' But in accordance with the theory of fundamentality of existence, the
real being of things is what they partake of existence. Existence is not an essence to
which another being may bestow existence. Hence if it be necessary that an external
cause bestow something, that thing would be the very being of things, which
happens to be existence itself, not something accidental and additional to the
essence of things.
There is another question which arises at this point. Is it necessary that existence as
such-that is, regardless of its form, manifestation and plane-requires to be
bestowed by another being, implying that existence qua existence is identical with
being a gift and emanation [of something else with dependence, relation, being an
effect, and being posterior [to that which gives it existence], and hence is
necessarily finite? Or is there some other perspective?
The answer is that the reality of existence, despite its various planes and
manifestations, is no more than a single reality. It does not necessarily entail need
and dependence upon another thing. That is because the meaning of dependence
and need with respect to existence (in contrast to the dependence and need which
were assumed earlier in relation to essences) is that existence should itself be needy
and dependent. And if the reality of existence were need and dependence, it implies
that it will be related to and dependent upon something other than itself, while no
'other' is conceivable for existence, because something other than existence is
either non-existence or essence, which, as presumed, is derivative (i'tibari) and a
sibling of non-existence. Hence the reality of existence qua reality of existence
necessitates independence, self-sufficience, and absence of need for and relation
with something other than itself. It is also necessarily absolute, unconditioned, and
unlimited. That is, it entails the impossibility of non-existence and negation finding a
way into it. Need, want, and dependence, and similarly finitude and mingling with
non-existence, derive from another consideration, which is different from the
consideration of pure existence: these derive from posteriority and being an effect
(ma'luiyyat). That is, existence qua existence and regardless of all other
considerations necessitates self-sufficience and independence from cause. As to the
need for a cause-or in other words, that a being at a particular plane and stage
should require a cause-that derives from its not being the reality of existence and its
reliance upon God for coming into existence through emanation. And the logical
consequence of being an emanation is posteriority and need, or rather, it is nothing
From here we come to understand that according to the theory of fundamentality
of existence, when we focus our intellect upon the reality of existence, we find there
self-sufficience, priority, and the absence of need. In other words, the reality of
existence is equivalent to essential necessity (wujub-e dhati), and to use an
expression of Hegel's liking, the rational dimension of the reality of existence is
absence of need for a cause. Dependence upon a cause derives from a
consideration (itibar) other than the reality of existence, and this consideration is
posteriority and finitude. In other words, the need for a cause is the same as
existence at a plane posterior to the reality of existence, and, in Hegelian
terminology, the need for a cause is not the rational dimension of existence.
This is the meaning of the statement that 'The Truthful, when they contemplate the
reality of existence and observe it sans every condition and relation (idafah), the
first thing which they discover is the Necessary Being and the First Cause. From the
Necessary Being they infer Its effects which are not pure existence, being finite
beings bearing non-being within.' This is what is meant when it is said that in this
logic there is no middle term for proving the existence of God; the Divine Being is
the witness of Its existence.
God bears witness, and those possessing knowledge and upholding justice, and the
angles, that there is no God but He. (3:18)
The proof of the sun is the sun (himself): if you require the proof, do
not avert thy face from him!
If the shadow gives an indication of him, the sun (himself) gives
spiritual life every moment.
This discloses the baselessness of the statements of those who say that the notion
of the first cause involves a contradiction because it implies that a thing is the
originator of its own existence and hence exists before coming into being.
Similarly baseless is the statement of those who say: 'Supposing that we prove that
every thing has been brought into existence by the first cause, the question remains
as to what has brought the first cause into existence; hence the first cause remains
an unjustifiable exception. Explaining the Universe by Means of Reason and not
Hegel believed that explanation of the universe on the basis of the first cause,
irrespective of whether we consider it to be mind, matter, or God, is impossible
because the concept of the first cause itself is inexplicable. Therefore, a different
way should be found for an explanation of the universe. First we should see what is
meant by 'explanation,' he said.
Now an isolated fact is usually said to be explained when its cause has been
discovered. And if its cause cannot be ascertained, it is said to be an unexplained
fact. But we cannot explain the universe in this way. If the universe could be said to
have a cause, then either that cause is the effect of a prior cause, or it is not. Either
the chain of causes extends back in an infinite series, or there is somewhere a 'first
cause' which is not the effect of any prior cause. [f the series is infinite, then no final
and ultimate explanation is to be found. If there is a first cause, then this first cause
itself is an unexplained fact .... To explain the universe by something which is itself
an ultimate mystery is surely no explanation. 
Later on Hegel observes that the concept of causality not only cannot provide an
explanation of the universe but is also incapable of explaining particular things,
because explaining involves the description of the logical relationship between a
thing and something else. Whenever a thing is logically 'inferred' from something
else it is said to have been explained.
For example, when we know that angle A is equal to angle B and that angle B is
equal to angel C, we arrive at the logical conclusion that angles A and C are equal.
The mind necessarily concludes that it has to be so and it cannot be otherwise, that
it is logically impossible. Here the equality of angles A and C has been explained with
the help of two premises. These two premises are the reason or ground for the
equality of angles A and C, not its cause.
But causality does not explain a thing. Causality simply states an existential
proposition (qadiyyah wujddiyyah) and not a necessary proposition (qadiyyah
daruriyyah). This is because the concept of causality is arrived at by experience and
not through logical inference. For example, we find by experimenting that water
turns into steam due to heat and freezes due to cold. Consequently we say that heat
is the cause of vaporization and cold the cause of freezing of water. But our mind
does not make a judgment that it should be so necessarily and logically.
Supposedly, if we arrived at the opposite conclusion by experiment, finding that
water freezes due to heat and turns into steam on being exposed to cold, this would
make no difference to the mind. Hence this assumption is not something logically
impossible, whereas in contrast the assumption of inequality of angles A and C in
the earlier example is a logical impossibility. Causality does not explain that an effect
should be an effect logically, and that which is a cause should logically be a cause.
Therefore, the universe should be explained through reason and not by resorting to
causes. The difference between reason and cause is that a cause is something
isolated; that is, it has an existence separate from that of its effect, whereas a
reason is not isolated and separate existence from what it explains.
For example, the equality of angles A and B, and similarly of B and C, is the reason
for the equality of angles A and C. But these reasons do not have an existence
isolated and separate from what they prove, as in the case of causes which have an
existence independent of their effects. Identity of Mind and Reality:
Hegel then discusses another principle, the principle of the identity of knowing and
being, or the identity of mind and reality, or the mental realm and external reality.
He is trying to remove the wall of dualism separating the mind from external reality.
In Hegel's view, the mind and external reality are not two isolated realities alien to
each other. That is, they are not two totally different entities opposing each other.
They are identical because they are but two different aspects of a single reality. And
the ground for this assertion is that the problem of how knowledge is possible
appears to be insoluble if we do not accept it. 
Hegel launches his philosophical project on the basis of these two principles. The
first is that reason and not cause can provide an explanation of the universe, and
the other, the identity of knowing and being. He starts with being which he
considers to be the first reason. From being he derives non-being, and from that he
arrives at 'becoming' which is a concept denoting motion. In this manner he
proceeds with his dialectic.
It is not possible for us to provide here a critique of Hegelian philosophy and to
investigate the mainspring of his errors by applying the criteria of Islamic
philosophy, which in itself would be a long and interesting account. Here it will
suffice to point out that according to the theory of fundamentality of existence
(asalat al-wujud) and with attention to the special 'Argument of the Truthful'
(burhan-e Siddiqin), Hegel's imagined dichotomy between cause and reason,
between the why and wherefore (limm-e thubiti and limm-e ithbati) vanishes. The
first cause in this philosophy is both self-sufficient and without the need of a cause,
as well as self-explanatory and requiring no ground. It is the cause as well as the
ground of all things, as well as their explainer.
For solving the problem of epistemology, too, there is no need to resort to the
identity of knowing and being as conceived by Hegel. The problem of knowledge,
which is one of the most difficult and complicated issues of philosophy, has another
solution. An elaborate discussion of these two issues has to wait for some other
We explained that according to the doctrine of fundamentality of existence the
question as to why the first cause became the first cause becomes totally
meaningless. Now we may observe that this question also does not arise on the
basis of the doctrine of fundamentality of essence, because it arises only when we
necessarily assume that the Necessary Being possesses an essence like all other
existents which is additional to its existence.
But we are not compelled to make such an assumption. Rather we are compelled to
assume the contrary; that is, after conceding the impossibility of an infinite regress
we have no alternative except accepting the existence of the first cause, the
Necessary Being. Similarly, since the Necessary Being cannot be an entity composed
of essence and existence, we make the assent that It is pure existence and sheer
ipseity (inniyat-e sirf). Naturally there remains no room for our question.
The proof is also valid on the basis of the theory of fundamentality of essence (aalat
al-mahiyyah). Philosophers like Ibn Sina have taken the same path. If there remains
any question, it relates to another point, that if the reality of the Necessary Being is
pure existence, what is the reality of other things? Is essence the reality of other
things, existence being something derived (i'tibari) in relation to them, implying that
the realm of being is a duality? Or is it that the reality of all things is what they
partake of existence?
A correct answer to this question lies in opting for the second alternative, which is
the theory of fundamentality of existence.
Certainly the likes of Ibn Sina did not reject the fundamentality of existence. At that
time the issue of fundamentality of essence and that of existence had not been
posed among philosophers or others. Therefore this question, in the context of Ibn
Sina's exposition, is one which had not been raised during that time, and it does not
amount to an objection against his exposition. In any case, the objection raised by
those like Kant, Hegel and Spencer is not valid even aside from the fundamentality
of existence. Now we shall provide an explanation about the criterion for an effect's
need for a cause. The Criterion for a Thing's Need for a Cause:
The law of causality and the cause-effect relationship between things form one of
the most definite notions of human knowledge. The link and relation between the
effect and its cause is not an apparent and superficial one; it is profound and
permeates the very reality of the effect. That is, the effect, with all its being, is so
dependent upon the cause that if the cause didn't exist, it would be impossible for
the effect to come into being. All the sciences developed by man are founded upon
this law. We have proved in its appropriate place that disregarding this law is
tantamount to rejecting the presence of any order in the realm of being as well as
negating every scientific, philosophical, logical and mathematical law. Here we do
not consider it necessary to discuss this principle any further.
In this regard Islamic philosophers have posed an issue  which in a some
respects precedes the principle of causality. This issue is: What is the criterion of the
need for a cause? On this basis, in every case-for example concerning the causal
relationship between A (the cause) and B (A's effect)-two questions come to the
First, why did B come into existence? The answer to this question is that the
existence of A required that B come into existence, and had A not existed, B too
would not have come into existence. Therefore, the existence of A is itself the
answer to this question. Suppose a house is destroyed by flood and someone asks,
'Why was this house destroyed?' We reply that there was a flood.
The second question is, why does B need A and why cannot it come into existence
without it? Why is not B independent of A? Obviously, the answer to this question is
not that, 'That is because the existence of A required it.' We need to find another
answer to this question.
The reply to the first question can be given on the basis of science, which is the
product experimentation, because it is the function of science to discover causal
relationships between things . Hence if we are asked as to what is the cause of B,
we reply by relying on science that the cause of B is A.
But as to why B needs A and why it is not independent of A or any other cause, the
answer to this question lies outside the domain of science and it is not possible to
answer it by experimentation, analysis, synthesis or by distilling or grinding in a
laboratory. It is here that philosophical analysis and precise rational inference come
in. That is because the question does not relate to any concrete phenomenon,
because although the effect's need for a cause is an undeniable reality, it is not a
phenomenon isolated from the cause and the effect; that is, we do not have three
external phenomena, the cause, the effect and the effect's need for a cause. On the
same basis, science, whose function is to study phenomena, is incapable of
answering this question, while philosophy, which is capable of discovering these
relationships and penetrating into the depth of realities, is the only discipline
competent to answer such questions.
From the point of view of philosophy the matter is not that B needs A because B has
never been observed empirically to come into existence without A, and therefore B
requires A and that the same is true of every effect with respect to its cause. From
the philosophical viewpoint it is impossible for an effect to be not an effect and to
be independent of the cause. The effect's dependence on the cause is inseparable
from the reality of the effect, or, rather, it is the very reality of the effect. This is the
reason why philosophy poses the issue in a general manner without discussing the
particular causal relationship between some B and A: What is the basis of causal
dependence and where does the effect's need for a cause arise? Do things need a
cause just because they are things and existents? Are thingness and existence the
criteria of causal dependence, so that every thing and every existent should be
dependent upon a cause just because of its being a thing and an existent? Or is it
the case that mere thingness and existence are not the criteria of this dependence,
because, if thingness and existence were the criteria of something they should in
principle be the criteria of self- sufficience and independence, not the criteria of
need and dependence. That which can appropriately serve as the criterion of
neediness and dependence is some kind of deficiency in thingness and existence,
not thingness and existence as such and ontic perfection.
Islamic philosophers, as well as the theologians (mutakallimun), who were the first
ones to have started this debate, never considered thingness and existence per se
as the criteria of neediness and dependence because that would imply that an
existent needs a cause merely because it is existent. Rather, they were definite that
there is another aspect of things deriving from their aspect of deficiency and
nonbeing wherein lie the roots of this neediness and dependence. Altogether three
theories have been advanced in this regard.
1. The Theory of the Mutakallimun:
The mutakallimun considered the criterion of neediness and dependence of effects
upon causes and their lack of independence to be ,hududth, that is, their previous
non-existence. They considered the absence of a thing's need for a cause to lie in its
being eternal (qidam). They said that if the existence of a being was preceded by
non-existence ('adam), or if, in other words, a thing did not exist at a time and came
into existence at another time such an existent, on the basis that it was non-existent
earlier and came into being later, needs a cause to bring it into existence, and its
existence will depend upon something other than itself. But if there is a being which
is eternal and there was never a time that it did not exist, such a being will be
independent and without the need for a cause; it would not be dependent upon
something else by any means. The mutakallimun held that the causal relationship
between two things, for example, A in relation to B, is that A brings B into existence
from a state of non-existence, and this is only possible where B's existence is
preceded by non-existence. But if B is assumed to be eternal and there was never a
time that it did not exist, then the causality of A with respect to it makes no sense.
In fact, the mutakallimun identified the [ontic] deficiency that is the basis of
neediness and dependence of things upon something else to lie in previous non-
existence, that is, in the temporal precedence of non-existence over existence. And
they considered the source of perfection, self-sufficience and absence of
dependence upon something else to be eternity or non- precedence by non-
existence. Therefore, from the point of view of the mutakallimun, a being is either
deficient, needy, preceded by non-existence (hadith) and dependent upon another,
or it is perfect, self-sufficient, eternal and not dependent upon anything.
2. The Theory of Early Islamic Philosophers, such as Ibn Sina, down to the Era of
These philosophers raised basic objections against the theory of the mutakallimun
wherein huduth and previous non-existence were considered the criteria of ontic
deficiency, need and dependence upon something else. However, this is not the
place to mention their objections. They said that though it is true that everything
which is hadith (preceded by non-existence) needs a cause, but the criterion for the
hadith's need for a cause is not its huduth but something else. They also said that
eternity is in no way the criterion of self-sufficience, perfection and absence of
dependence. The philosophers claimed that the criterion of ontic deficiency and
perfection, and of need and self-sufficience, should be sought in the essence and
quiddity (mahiyyah) of beings, not in previous non-existence, huduth, or eternal
To be continued ...
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