The principle of finality – Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s critique

Towards the end of his commentary on section IV, chapter II of the Kitab al-Isharat, the Ash’arite theologian Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi presents what I think is a quite intriguing, even markedly modern, objection to the Aristotelian notion of the final cause. Specifically, Imam Razi’s shakk is directed at Ibn Sina’s thesis that the final cause is a cause, through its quiddity, of the causality of the efficient cause. Before dealing with Imam Razi’s objection, a few words are in order about some of the points Ibn Sina sets down before the discussion of the issue in question. Doing this may be of some help in understanding Imam Razi’s critique.

Generally, section IV is a discussion about existence and its various causes; specifically though, chapter II concerns the nature of the four causes i.e., the material, formal, efficient, and final. The Shaykh al-Ra’is begins by noting that a thing may be caused either in its quiddity/essence or in its existence. (That existence and quiddity are distinct constituents of a thing has been established elsewhere). He then gives the example of a triangle to make the point: its essence is caused by a plane and three straight lines; taken together, they can be said to be constitutive of what-it-is i.e., its quiddity. The plane or two-dimensional space is as if it were the material cause of the triangle and the three lines serve as the form of the triangle. As for the the existence (in extra-mental reality) of the triangle, it must be held to have causes other than the matter and form. These causes are the efficient and the final. They are in no way constitutive of the essence of the triangle and are accordingly not, unlike the matter and form, included as parts of its definition.

From the above considerations, it becomes evident that one may understand the concept of something and but still remain uncertain about whether or not it is instantiated i.e., whether or not, as the Shaykh says, “concrete existence is to be attributed to it.” Again, this is because, given the distinction between essence and existence, and the different causes involved in the production of each, what you know to be a certain line and plane i.e., the triangle, you may not necessarily know to have a concrete i.e., extra-mentally existing, individual instance. Now in things which have causes constitutive of its essence, like the triangle, the efficient cause of its existence will be a cause of either one of the constituents of its essence e.g., only the form, or it will be a cause of them all e.g., the form and the matter. As for the relation of the final cause to existence –  the main focus of Razi’s attack – Ibn Sina says that the final is  the cause of the causal efficacy of the efficient cause. In other words, the final cause is what causes the efficient cause to be causally efficacious i.e., to act and produce effects in external reality. At the same time however, the final cause is also an effect of the efficient cause. This means that if the final cause comes into existence, the cause of its (coming into) existence will be the efficient cause, but the efficient cause, unlike the final with respect to the efficient, ought not to be thought of as the cause of the final causes causality. Therefore, to put it more technically, in terms of its quiddity – defined as ‘that for the sake of which a thing is’ – the final cause is the cause of the causality of the efficient cause, and in terms of its existence (in external reality), it is an effect of the efficient cause. The reason for this latter point, as Imam Razi explains, is “because the efficient cause moves only in order to realize [a] purpose and end.”

Having said all that, here then, quoted in full, is Imam Razi’s objection to Ibn Sina’s view of the nature of the final cause; in particular, that it’s somehow a cause of the efficient cause:

Someone might say: There are several problems implicit in your theory that the final cause is a cause, through its quiddity, of the efficient cause, because you are foisting the final cause onto natural acts and natural potentialities that possess no intentionality or consciousness whatsoever. The final cause’s quiddity here [i.e., in things whose acts lack intention or consciousness] cannot be said to exist in the mind because in this case there is neither mind nor consciousness; yet [the final cause] does not exist in the outside world because its existence in the outside world is the effect of the efficient cause. If this is so, [the final cause] will be an absolute non-existent, and no absolute non-existent can be a cause of an existing entity. So how can the efficient cause’s causality be by virtue of the final cause’s quiddity? The only option is to say natural acts have no ends, but this is contrary not only to [the Peripatetics’] doctrine but also what he [i.e., Ibn Sina] himself ascertained in Physics I of the Shifa’.

Put syllogistically then, Razi’s argument for why things without intentionality or consciousness have no final causes seems to be the following:

Major: For the final cause to be a cause, it must either exist in the soul (mentally) or outside the soul (extra-mentally). Minor: But in things with no intention or consciousness it exists in neither way. Conclusion: Therefore, in such things it has no existence at all and so will not be a cause.

Proof of the major: this premise is implicit in Razi’s argument and so he does not offer any explicit proof of it (at least not here). Nonetheless, his point I think is reasonable and clear enough: he is arguing that for something to have any causal efficacy, it must exist, and a thing, if it exists, only does so either in the mind or outside it. There is no third option. This is an important premise in Ibn Sina’s philosophy and so I think he’ll whole-heartedly concede it.

Proof of the minor: in things which act without intention or consciousness, as for the final cause existing mentally, “[its] quiddity here cannot be said to exist in the mind because in this case there is neither mind nor consciousness.” And as for the final cause existing extra-mentally, “[it] does not exist in [such a way either] because its existence in the outside world is [supposed to be] the effect of the efficient cause.” That is, it does not exist externally yet because on the present assumption the efficient cause has not yet acted – for there isn’t any end in a thing which lacks intention or consciousness to move it to fulfill such a presumed end. And the conclusion i.e., that “[the final cause] will be an absolute non-existent, and [as such it cannot] be a cause […]” in things whose acts lack intention or consciousnesses, follows.

Given these considerations then, it seems one ought to hold, with Imam Razi, that “natural acts [i.e., actions which involve neither intention nor consciousness] have no ends [i.e., final causes].

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18 thoughts on “The principle of finality – Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s critique

  1. peace friend.

    indeed it is an interesting point and an interesting critique.

    though i would agree with sheikh ra’is.

    i will only say this in critique to sheikh razi:

    indeed the reality of efficient cause is temporally prior to final cause, hence in that manner it (the final cause) wont be the cause of its own causality in a temporal line (or the cause of the efficient cause to produce it – the final cause).

    but, in terms of ontological reality, the final cause is the cause of its own causality or the cause of the efficient cause to cause it.

    if you remember, we already once talked about it, and this point is i think in line with sheikh akbar’s ideology as well (that the final cause is the causality of the efficient cause to cause the final cause).

    Also, it cannot not be that the final cause would be something other than what it would be since if that was the case, the end of the efficient cause would have been anything (i mean, it would not be a fixed final cause but random final causes). Again, here it implies that the final cause causes its causality from the efficient cause in so far as all the necessary elements and properties are met to cause a final cause.

    peace

    1. salam friend,

      i see what you’re saying. but i don’t think it quite addresses Imam (not Shaykh :P) Razi’s criticism. it seems he is saying that look, suppose we grant that the final cause is, as you say, ontologically prior to the efficient cause and is responsible for the efficient’s causality. fine. but in order for the final cause to be able to do that it must exist, either in the mind (i.e., conceptually) or externally. but in natural actions i.e., in actions which involve no purpose or intention, e.g., like fire burning, a plant growing, etc, it does exist in the mind, because such things have no mind. and it cannot be said to exist externally, because on the present assumption the final cause, for its external existence, is supposed to be the effect of the efficient cause, which has not yet acted (because, again, there is no final cause to move it to act).

      but i think you may be onto something with this though:

      “Also, it cannot not be that the final cause would be something other than what it would be since if that was the case, the end of the efficient cause would have been anything (i mean, it would not be a fixed final cause but random final causes).”

      however, it isn’t clear. i will soon do a follow up post, part II, where i’ll try and provide a response from a Mashsha’i (i.e., Avicennian) perspective.

  2. salam

    how about we say that the final cause exists internally (not in external reality or in the mind of the “actions which involve no purpose or intention”) within the efficient cause as a potentiality, according to being in line with first teacher Aristotle, that things have potentialities, and those potentialities become actualized (to become final causes).

    talk later.

    1. salam,

      saying that may seem plausible. but on a closer look it i don’t think it is. that’s because ‘to exist internally’ can either mean (a) to exist in the soul/mind i.e., conceptually or (b) to exist, as you say, potentially. but, as we’ve seen, Imam Razi has already ruled out (a). as for (b) i.e., the final cause existing potentially in the efficient, that can’t work either; for a thing that is potential cannot act on anything, precisely because it is in potentiality. it therefore is said to need something to actualize it – and this is what the efficient cause is supposed to do. given that, how then can the final cause, as merely potential, have any causal action on anything else? it cannot.

  3. salam.

    You are right. Imam Razi indeed is getting in to a very fine point.

    If the potentialities are internal within the efficient cause, the final cause(s) cannot not be anything but the potentialities. Since all the efficient causes in the universe cannot contain infinite number of potentialities, therefore, naturally the outcome of potentialities actualized would be fixed. Now, they are fixed due to nature, and nature, in terms of causality, in this case (I mean ontologically), would be nothing but the final cause causing itself to be actualized through the potentialities present within the efficient cause. In that case, it is (ontologically, not temporally) the final cause(s) (being potential) within the efficient cause that would make themselves actualized.

    Anyhow, I will wait as well for the reply by sheikh Ra’is and see what he said.

    peace friend.

    1. salam,

      i’m not sure i understand your last post. it’ seems to me a bit too muddled. are you suggesting that the final cause is some kind of a potentiality within the efficient cause to act in some sort of way? if so, then as i said in my last post, Razi would reply that something that is potential can’t have any sort of causality. this is also why you can’t say, as you do towards the end of your post, that the final cause (as something potential) can ’cause itself’. again, that is because nothing potential can cause it self in any way. it needs something other than it self to act on it.

  4. salam and peace friend.

    let me try to clean my mess a bit, as you said it is muddled.

    i would tell you to read the last post by me again and reflect more on it.

    anyhow, i think you kind of get my point in your reply that “the final cause is some kind of a potentiality within the efficient cause to act in some sort of way”.

    The only thing is when i say in the above statement “to act in some sort of way”, i don’t mean that the way we know how something acts in some sort of way. That is, for example, not in a way that a builder makes a statue in some sort of way that he prepares all the necessary things to create the statue (builder being the efficient cause of the statue, and the statue being the final cause). What i mean by “to act in some sort of way” is what could be the ontological reality of how something that is not yet existent can act towards the efficient cause to cause itself. If we go with the same example of a builder making a statue, i think, ontologically, the statue’s essence and configuration must exist (not in external reality but as an idea) prior to the actual existence of the statue, and then, according to that ontological reality of statue in the imagination of the builder, the builder would will to create that particular statue of which he imagined.

    also, if you noticed, it is indeed the efficient cause (builder) causing the material existence (or temporal existence) of final cause (statue), but ontologically, it is the statue’s idea that makes the builder build that particular statue, hence making it act to cause itself. Now, this is not an epistemic, rational or logical demonstration, but what could be really what happens apart from whether we know it or not. So it is just a response from me, and in no way is substituted to what could actually be.

    i think sheikh Aristotle also puts actuality before potentiality, hence an actual statue (not the actual material statue but its actual idea) must exist prior to the material statue so that that idea (of the statue ontologically existent in the mind or imagination of the builder) would make the builder (the efficient cause of the material statue) create itself through the builder.

    anyhow, if i made it even more muddled forgive me since i cannot do better than that. Since i am not even close to sheikh al-ra’is, i would allow you to present his critique since this is an interesting and a deep topic.

    peace be to you my friend.

    1. salam friend,

      that was much clearer. thanks. but i think Imam Razi’s problem remains. but first, an important clarification. you said:

      “[…](builder being the efficient cause of the statue, and the statue being the final cause).”

      here the efficient cause is the builder, correct. but the statue to be built is not the final cause. the final cause is the purpose or reason why the statue is to be built. the image of the statue in the imagination of the builder, which is like the model on which he will build the statue, is the formal cause, not final.

      having clarified that, here’s why Razi’s problem still remains. you said:

      “What i mean by “to act in some sort of way” is what could be the ontological reality of how something that is not yet existent can act towards the efficient cause to cause itself. If we go with the same example of a builder making a statue, i think, ontologically, the statue’s essence and configuration must exist (not in external reality but as an idea) prior to the actual existence of the statue, and then, according to that ontological reality of statue in the imagination of the builder, the builder would will to create that particular statue of which he imagined. […].”

      Now i grant all that as true; but, as should be clear, so does Razi. in other words, he would not deny what you’ve said because his criticism is directed not, as you suggest, at final causality existing in agents with consciousnesses who act with purpose (e.g., the builder or humans generally) but rather at agents, as he says “who lack intention and consciousnesses” altogether i.e., in things like the elements, inorganic substances, and etc. in the former kinds of things, he grants that the final cause exists in the mind, because they have a mind, and causes the thing in whose mind it exists to move and act (e.g., the purpose (i.e., final cause) in building the statue exists in the builder’s (i.e., efficient cause) mind and moves him to build the actual statue). but, as Razi points out, that answer is inadequate in the case of things which lack a mind, so the final cause in their case cannot be then said to be the cause of their (efficient) causal activity. given that, such things cannot then be said to have final causes.

  5. salam

    right, i agree with your clarification.

    that was just an analogy to get the point across (and sorry not to stick with the masha’i terminologies, haha).

    again, the point about builder building a statue was an example to clarify my previous point i made.

    if we substitute the builder and statue example to, lets say, fire which produces heat, then i think it would make more sense to say that the fire must have the property (or in this case the potentiality) of heat in it somehow (and lets not say where it would be located since locating the place of heat within the fire is not that important since heat is present in fire and we can sense it and rationally understand it). In this scenario, it follows that nature must work itself to make the heat (which must be somehow present in the fire) from fire. The reverse is not possible (because fire can produce anything since it does not know what it is producing, and since it only produces heat, it follows that the heat somehow makes itself get actualized by acting on fire with the aid of nature).

    (still waiting for sheikh ra’is reply to the topic)

  6. Salam Alaykom,

    This critique I do like. If we say that the final cause exists in God’s intellect does that bypass the objection of the minor presence?
    Though I do think a response like mine begs the question as it assumes precisely what we are trying to prove; namely the existence of a final cause.

    1. Salam,

      Yes, that’s one way to respond to the objection. The problem with that answer though is not that it begs the question but that it arguably entails that the final cause is no longer immanent in natural agents. This is an objection that has been raised to the Thomists, but I believe they have an adequate response to it.

  7. Sorry just to add,

    Is the problem with the following – “that it arguably entails that the final cause is no longer immanent in natural agents” – that we can no longer rely on this as the traditional distinction between living and non living things?

    Forgive me, I do not see what the problems are of it not being immanent in natural agents – at least those without a rational soul. In fact it seems harmonious with theistic principles no?

    1. The problem with holding that final causes are not immanent in nature is that the distinction between natural objects and artifacts collapses. And doing this would basically amount to capitulating to (the philosophy of) mechanism, which Peripatetics vehemently reject. Ash’arites like Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, on the other hand, would I think have no problem with mechanism (they’re materialists anyway), just as long as God is doing all the causing.

      I think that a response to Razi that is true to the teachings of the Shaykh al-Ra’is would be one that denies the assumption, which is implicit in Razi’s argument, that finality, if it is immanent, necessarily involves consciousness/intentionality. I’ll hopefully try and provide a response along these lines soon.

      1. Perfect, thanks. I was curious exactly what the repercussions of denying immanent teleology would be but yes I understand now, it would have disasterous results. Certainly, an ash’arite who deny the causal necessity between a cause and its effect and that everything is caused only by God, they would not mind such an outcome as you say based on their conception of reality.

        You are also correct in saying that the crux of the matter rests on the premise that for immanent final causation to exist, it rests on conciousness/intentionality. This is what must be resolved. However, just wondering, is that not the point? To clarify; for a thomist is he not saying, we observe unconcious things acting for natural always/nearly always, thus the final cause must exist in some way; as such it exists in the in the eternal Divine Intellect who is granting purpose to the natural agents.
        I am not sure why one cannot hold the above and maintain immanent teleology? I do not see why holding the former; namely final causes existing in Divine Intellect eternally, would entail the denial of immanent teleology.

        Thank you for your responses and I look forward to your future posts too.
        P.S I read an older post which was your commentary on the two lines of poetry by Rumi and it was excellent!

        Salam

      2. Well, one can say that but must qualify it in important ways. One way to qualify it is to deny the idea that God grants purpose to natural agents in the way in which a watchmaker grants purpose – e.g., to tell time – to a bunch of metal parts which, considered apart from the watchmaker’s activity, are not at all intrinsically directed at fulfilling that purpose. Otherwise, as I’ve said, natural objects would be no different than artifacts. Thus, if one holds this view, God’s activity of directing natural objects to their (final) ends must be explained in another way – a way which does justice to the fact that final causes are immanent in said natural objects.

        Also, an important distinction must be kept in mind here: the directionality or tendency or movement of an object toward an end or goal is distinct from the goal or end towards which it moves or is directed. The final cause is, strictly speaking, the latter, not the former.

        That commentary was actually by a friend of mine, but thanks anyway!

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