Taftazani on the relation of God’s power to human acts

Responding to a Mu’tazili worry that “there is no meaning to the statement that the creature acts by choice, unless he be the one who brings his actions into existence by purpose and will”, the Maturidi theologian Sa’d al-Din Taftazani (d. 1390) states the Ash’arite response:

[…] we needed to escape from this perplexing problem by saying that Allah is the creator (al-khaliq) of everything and the creature is [only] an acquirer (kasib). The verification of this position is that when the creature expends his power and will in action it is an acquisition and when Allah brings it into existence following upon that, it is a creating, so the maqdur (the thing which is subject to power) comes under two powers but from two different standpoints.

If I’m getting Taftazani right though, it seems that the Ash’arite view which he briefly states here generates an infinite regress. Therefore, it ought to be rejected. That it generates such a regress can be I think seen from these considerations. According to the Ash’aris, God is the sole creator of all of man’s actions and man is only the acquirer of those actions; in other words, he is only the subject in which those actions occur, the subject in which God’s creative activity (with respect to human acts) appears. Now, to “expend one’s power and will” in order to perform some action on the part of the man, I think the Ash’aris would agree, is itself an action. As such, God will have to bring it into existence (i.e., create it) as well so that the kasib may acquire it. But then he would have to expend his will, i.e., perform an act, in order to perform this second act, (i.e., of expending one’s will), which he does in order to perform the first (i.e., the ‘some action’ initially sought). This is because, as Taftazani notes above, God’s bringing into existence of the act (of the man) is something that only “follows upon” his expending of his power and will. Consequently, and as with the second and first act, God would also have to create this third act, and also fourth act, and also fifth act – and eventually so on ad infinitum. Here’s an example that may help clarify the point: suppose a person P has to perform action E. To do that, P has to perform D (where D equals ‘expending ones power and will’). In doing this, at just the right moment, so to speak, God will create act E for P, who on this view will have acquired it in tandem with its performance of act D. But since D is also an act, the same reasoning would have to apply to it, namely, that God must create it at just the right moment in tandem with P‘s performing act C (in order to perform D, in order to ultimately perform E) – and so on ad infinitum for actions B, A, -A, -B, -C, and etc. With respect to the issue at hand then, the upshot of this regress is that person P will never in fact perform action E; for to do that, P will have to first undergo an actual infinite amount acts before it finally performs E. But an actual infinite is impossible, which is reason enough to reject the Ash’arite view. Moreover, because an actual infinite cannot be traversed, performing E for P also becomes impossible. But this is obviously false, as experience clearly testifies (for we see persons performing actions all the time!). Therefore, the Ash’arite view ought to be rejected all the more.

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2 thoughts on “Taftazani on the relation of God’s power to human acts

  1. Salam, thanks for posting and indeed the reasoning offered by Taftazani is flawed. The general position of the Asharites on this matter does contradict both religious principles and the aql.

    I had intended to blog about the classical viewpoints offered by Mu’tazilates, Asharites and the Shi’a to not only the topic of free will but also the Divine attributes

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