On whether temporality is a cause for the need of a cause

In ch.3 of the section entitled ‘Of Eternal and Temporal Generation’ of his al-Mabahith al-Mashriqiyyah, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d.1210) writes the following:

Most [theologians] concur in this, whereas the philosophers deny it. For temporality (huduth) consists in the thing’s existence being preceded by non-existence, and this is a property subsequent to the existence of the thing; while the existence of the thing is posterior to the effect of the cause upon it, and that effect of the cause upon it is posterior to that for the sake of which it has needed the effective cause. Therefore, it is excluded that temporality could be the cause of the need or part of the cause, otherwise it would be vastly prior to itself – which is absurd.

The philosophers sometimes predicate on this the explanation that possibility is what calls for the cause. For they hold that there is no doubt that the temporal requires the cause, that requirement being due either to possibility or temporality. For, if we suppose their absence, the thing would be necessary and eternal; but this kind of thing does not require a cause. Therefore, it has been proved that requirement is due either to possibility or temporality. From what we have said, the claim that temporality is what calls [for the cause] has been refuted; and thus it has been proved that what calls for the cause is possibility.

That is to say, the definition of temporality is that a thing’s existence be preceded by non-existence. Given that, this property i.e., of huduth, is then posterior to the existence of a thing. Further, this existence of a thing is posterior to the effect of its cause on it. Finally, the effect of the cause on it is posterior to that for the sake of which i.e., the final cause, it needed the effective cause. Hence, the entire chain going backwards should look something like this:

(4) Property of huduth —-> (3) existence of thing —-> (2) effect of (efficient) cause —-> (1) final cause

Now, given that temporality is the last link in the chain, it evidently cannot be the cause of the need for a cause. For if it were, it would be prior to itself i.e., it would exist as a property of something before (1) it actually exists as a property of that thing and (2) before that thing of which it is a property itself actually exists. Both outcomes are however clearly absurd. Hence, possibility is what explains the need for a cause. For the theologians and philosophers both agree that the temporal thing requires a cause, but that requirement or need, according to the latter, is either due to (a) possibility or (b) temporality. This is because if we suppose the relation of (a) and (b) to the thing as absent, the thing in question would be necessary and eternal, and as a result would not require a cause. Hence, given that it isn’t necessary and eternal, we’re back to the fact that its requirement for a cause is either due to (a) or (b). But option (b) was refuted above. Therefore, possibility – as the philosophers hold, not temporality –  as the theologians hold, is the cause of the need for a cause.

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2 thoughts on “On whether temporality is a cause for the need of a cause

  1. Salam Alaykom,

    Yes the raging debate that lead many theologians to declare Muslim Philosophers as herectics. Thank you for the very clear elucidation of the crux of the argument. Sadly, many theologians suspended the intellect and resorted only to text for their knowledge.

    I was wondering if you have read Mulla Sadra’s existential theory on why an effect needs a cause. It is based on his famous primacy of existence doctrine and I feel closer to the truth.

    As an aside, where do you obtain all these wonderful books in the English Language?

    1. Salam,

      Thanks!

      Yes, I have read Mulla Sadra’s view on why an effect needs a cause.

      I get these books from a number of places (e.g., online, bookstores near where I live, etc) If you were wondering about the passage from Fakhr al-Din in the OP above, it’s from ‘An Anthology of Philosophy in Persia vol.3’ ed. by S.H. Nasr and M. Aminrazavi

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