The Seventeenth Discussion of The Incoherence of the Philosophers
The seventeenth discussion in al-Ghazali Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahafut al-falasifa) has often been regarded as the locus classicus for an occasionalist critique of the concept of causality. Most interpreters, however, disregarded the internal structure of this chapter and didn’t realize that al-Ghazali offers more than one solution for the question of whether what we consider a cause truly has an effect on what we consider an effect. For al-Ghazali, occasionalism is one possible explanation of what we witness with our senses. Yet secondary causality is also considered a possible explanation as long as it does not assume that any cause could stand on its own. All causes depend on other causes, which all go back to one single cause, namely God. This scenario is acceptable for al-Ghazali as long as the particular connection between cause and effect that we witness is not considered necessary. For al-Ghazali, “necessary” means that there would be no conceivable alternative state of affairs. His understanding of “necessary” is different from that of Avicenna. This chapter discusses their differences and comes to the conclusion that secondary causality is acceptable for al-Ghazali as long at it doesn’t imply that this particular world is a necessary creation of God. For al-Ghazali, this world with all its connections between causes and effects God’s contingent creation. God has chosen this world among alternatives. For al-Ghazali these alternatives worlds are conceivable in our mind.
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