Month: February 2014

The Question of Origins: The Genetic Fallacy

“Aquinas can’t actually be a Catholic can he? Most of his ideas are from that Pagan, Aristotle!”

The Genetic Fallacy, or the Fallacy of Origins, is a fallacy of irrelevance where we try and dismiss the impact of the argument by showing how it came to be. In most cases, this is a form of emotional non-sequitor intended to undercut a conclusion by attacking the character of the speaker, but it can also be used in a historical sense.

In the first sense, the emotional trick of trying to call the source into question would look something like this, “You heard that the sky was blue from who? Your mother, the blind woman?” By citing that his mother was blind and could not have seen the sky, calls into question the statement ‘the sky is blue’ without actually giving any argument.

The second version looks a bit more educated, but is still a fallacy: For example, if arguing about whether someone has arrived yet.
“Has he arrived yet?”
“No! He came by car, not by boat!”

This example does not appear at all educated, but if it were to be revised in such a manner…
“He has not arrived because in order for him to arrive he must come by boat. The reasoning for this is that “arrive” is derived from “a” + “ripa” which means ‘from, by, since, or of’ and ‘the shore’ in Latin. Thus, since there is no shore line, nor even any boats, he could never have arrived, since he is not coming ‘of the shore.'”

This is at the very least factually correct, however incorrect in it’s usage. The modern word ‘arrive’ does not mean anything like that, though it is easy to see how it got it’s meaning from that. So appeals to the origin to undermine a conclusion are fallacious.

…most of the time.

This would be a simple matter, if any time anyone made an origin appeal we could simply say “A-ha! Genetic fallacy! Stop right there!” But it is unfortunately, not that easy. The Genetic Fallacy is only a fallacy if and only if the only reason you have for dismissing the conclusion is its origins.

Let us see if we can find an example of an origin appeal that is not fallacious.

Plantinga defined:

N as naturalism, which he defined as “the idea that there is no such person as God or anything like God; we might think of it as high-octane atheism or perhaps atheism-plus.”
E as the belief that human beings have evolved in conformity with current evolutionary theory
R as the proposition that our faculties are “reliable”, where, roughly, a cognitive faculty is “reliable” if the great bulk of its deliverances are true. He specifically cited the example of a thermometer stuck at 72 °F (22 °C) placed in an environment which happened to be at 72 °F as an example of something that is not “reliable” in this sense
and suggested that the conditional probability of R given N and E, or P(R|N&E), is low or inscrutable. (1)

Plantinga is not suggesting that because faculties evolved out of atoms they must be false, but rather his argument is based on a distinction between “belief” and “behavior”. Natural selection only wants us to survive, and so could very well give us useful beliefs that are fiction. If we need to run away from Tigers in order to survive, then we could have the conjunction of beliefs “I want to pet the kitty” and “The best way to pet cats is to run away from them.” resulting in our survival.

Say what you want about this argument, I haven’t done a lot of research into it myself, but it is not an example of the genetic fallacy due to the fact that the origins are called into doubt due to external argument that relates it to the topic at hand(namely, the reliability of our faculties)

So: Three things to check for when looking for the Genetic Fallacy.
1. An undermining of the conclusion based on it’s origin(either historically or personally or linguistically or whatever.)
2. No external argument to support the initial claim.
3. Relevance to the issue at hand. If the argument does not relate at all to the topic at hand, such as the “A”+”Ripa” example I gave(which is a complete non-sequitor) chances are you have a Genetic Fallacy.

Genetic fallacies also do not necessarily mean that the proposition is false.
“The world is round, I read it in this week’s Batman.
“Well you read that in a comic book so it cannot be true, because men don’t fly.”

This is an example where the proposition proposed is true, but the origin has only a personal effect on the speaker, not on the proposition. In reality, this fallacy is one of irrelevance. If it can be shown to be even remotely related to the conclusion it is trying to undermine and the argument it is couched in, then you do not have the genetic fallacy.


(1) Copied from Wikipedia article on “The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism” Mostly because I was too lazy to type out this example.

“Extending the gardens”

I have said, to friends and aquaintences, that the only difference between a modern man and an ancient man is method and resources. In the beginning, there was simply philosophy. And it was a nice house that covered some ground, but it needed more. So philosophers built on each other, adding rooms and specializations and focuses, and those grew, and sometimes you had to knock out walls, but keep the framework.
We constantly remodel our house, knocking out useless walls and keeping parts that we like. We knock out the wall of Galenic medicine, but keep the baseboards of nerves making parts move and the heart helping carry the breath through the body. We get rid of geocentric physics, that the stars move around the earth, and the planets as well, but we never doubt that heavenly bodies move.

We simply build onto our knowledge, growing more and more aware. But never moving from where we started.

The Hebdomadal Chesterton

Real development is not leaving things behind, as on a road, but drawing life from them, as from a root. Even when we improve we never progress. For progress, the metaphor from the road, implies a man leaving his home behind him: but improvement means a man exalting the towers or extending the gardens of his home.

— The Victorian Age in Literature (1913).

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A Doe, a Deer, a Philosopher. Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan. (Living Son of Awake.)

“No man is an island, entire of itself…” (John Donne, Meditation 17)

…and that goes even for the writer of our island story Ibn-Tufayl. Ibn-Tufayl was a 12th century philosopher living in Andalusia, or Medieval Spain. He was originally a secretary for the ruler of Grenada and became a vizier to the Almohads. (He eventually recommended his successor Averroes to the Almohad king in 1169.)


It was during this time, working for the Almohads that Ibn-Tufayl wrote the first ever philosophical novel, Hayy Ibn Yaqzan or “Living; Son of Awake.”  This book, borrowed it’s title from an earlier allegorical tale written by Avicenna, whose title was the same, though its content was very different.(1) In this novel, which had a profound influence on the history of philosophy onwards, Ibn-Tufayl expounds on philosophical ideas including, but not limited to, epistemology, human nature, the relation of religion and philosophy, existence of actual infinites, the eternity of the universe, and the existence of God.

But like any good philosopher, he knows that he stands on the shoulders of his predecessors, and in the prologue written for the book, mentions them and talks about what he thinks about them before giving the account of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan. He mentions three distinct men: Avicenna, Al-Ghazali, and Ibn-Bajja. He praises them in some ways, and dismisses them in others. He curtails the conception of Avicenna as a rationalist, believing that Avicenna’s book on “Oriental Philosophy” (which is now mostly lost) is more expressive of Avicenna’s true belief, that God is beyond reason and that the only way to know him is through a mystical union with him. He cites that Al-Ghazali was also another in this tradition to have attained the mastery of the mystical union with God, and is annoyed however that Ghazali seems to go both ways in his arguments so it’s hard to see where exactly he falls. And he says that his predecessor, Ibn-Bajja, while impressive, was not a mind of the same caliber of the other two, but still had a lot to be learned from.

And then, after giving us an account of his predecessors(which I cover here because I will be referring back to them throughout the post), he proceeds to tell the tale of Hayy Ibn-Yaqzan.

He starts with two differing accounts of Hayy’s birth; one involving spontaneous generation, and the other involving a normal birth and abandonment. He describes the setting as an island with an ideal climate, such that it is possible that human beings be spontaneously generated.(2) There is an extended explanation about why this island is in the ideal climate and an explanation of Aristotelean physics regarding the heating of bodies. That the Earth not heated through convection or contact or motion, since the Sun is itself not hot, and the Earth is not moving, nor does the air heat evenly. The only conclusion then is that the sun heats according to its light, which is best absorbed by suitable objects.

Then the account is given for those who do not believe spontaneous generation is possible. Ibn-Tufayl explains that on an island opposite of the ideal island, there was a King, a tyrant really, who refused to allow his sister to marry until he found her a mate suitable for her. She however, had a relative who’s name was Awake(Yaqzan) whom she married in secret and concieved a child with. After nursing it, in fear of her brother, she put it in a wooden ark and sent it away praying for God to watch it and protect it. Sure enough, it was protected, as it arrived on the island safely. There the child started to cry and was rescued by a doe, (a gazelle) who had recently lost her own fawn and was feeling matronly, who decided to nurse Hayy until he was strong.

We then get the second account, that of the spontaneous generation. Here, in harking back to the medical tradition that had come up before him, through Galen, Al-Razi and Avicenna, we see a detailed account of the generation of the human body from nothing. First, we see the matter suitably prepared to receive a form from the Active Intellect. Avicenna thought that the active intellect of Aristotle’s De Anima was an intellect that mediated the forms out forms out to suitably prepared matter. We see this in Ibn-Tufayl’s work.

“They tell us, that as soon as this Spirit was join’d to the receptacle, all the other Faculties immediately, by the Command of God, submitted themselves to it”(Ibn Tufayl, Hayy Ibn Yaqzan)

The suitably prepared matter then began to form itself according to the human form, gaining organs and divided faculties for different functions. Within these organs there is the heart, which contains the vital heat which is distributed throughout the body and keeps it functioning. We see the brain formed to manage all the senses and help us to avoid what is harmful and pursue what is good, and we see the liver formed to manage our bodily humors and all our nutritive needs. Eventually, he developed blood vessels and nerves and the rest of the organs and burst out of the patch of fermented earth where he grew, so that he could be found crying by the doe. And this is where the two stories reunite.

Hayy grows strong among the deer, living and grazing amongst them. He and the doe were inseperable, she always leading him to good water and good food, helping him crack hard nuts open so he could eat them and they protected each other and spoke to each other in calls suited for animals. Hayy soon learned to imitate the call of all animals, not just of Gazelle, and he could speak and communicate to them for the purposes he came upon.

Soon though, Hayy began to notice he was unlike the other animals. All the other animals were well coated in fur, and he was not. Other animals had natural means of defense, such as antlers or horns, but he had none. As such, he was not particularly strong or fast either, and often found himself losing fruit when others tried to take it from him. He also noticed that he was naked, that his genitals and other organs were open and exposed unlike the other animals, who had theirs well protected.

And thus the seven-year old Hayy grieved. He grieved and put his mind about solving the matter, that he could come up with some way of protecting himself and covering himself. He tried at first to use leaves, but they failed miserably, the string always wearing out quickly and the leaves withering and dying so he had to remake it. He began also to fashion spears and other primitive weapons, and used them to protect himself from the beasts, noting that he had better hands than the rest of them. He continued to grow older, and after he was at least eight years of age, he had grown tired of repairing his leaf-clothes and thought perhaps he’d take the tail of some animal that had died, and went about to search for one.

And by chance he came upon a dead eagle, and stealing it’s wings he fashioned himself a garment, and after he started wearing it, no animal but his mother would approach him. Soon though, the doe died, and Hayy did not know what was happening.

“Then he began to peep into her ears and eyes, but could perceive no visible defect in either; in like manner he examin’d all the parts of her body, and found nothing amiss, but every thing as it should be. He had a vehement desire to find that part where the defect was, that he might remove it, and she return to her former state. But he was altogether at a loss how to compass his design, nor could he possibly bring it about.”

“Upon this he resolv’d to open her Breast and make enquiry;”

Hayy noted that when he shut his eyes or something was put in front of them, he ceased to be able to see until the obstruction was removed. The same with his ears and other senses. He reasoned that his faculties could be obstructed and that if obstructed they could be restored by removing the obstruction.

He however, could not find any visible obstruction on her outside, and concluded that it must be an internal obstruction, and if it is indeed an internal obstruction it must be an obstruction in a place that would cause all her faculties to cease(if obstructed). He reasoned that it must be an organ that all other organs needed to function, and since there are only three cavities in the body, namely, the chest, the head, and the stomach, the organ which is central to them all would be in the center. He reflects on his own experience and finds that indeed, he feels the presence of such an organ in his own body, the beating of which he cannot perceive himself as living without. It is why he shields it instinctively in fights, a hand will heal, this thing will not.

So realizing he’s never seen any animal recover from this condition naturally he sets about with a quest to remove whatever obstruction is occurring in the organ, and gets himself some sharpened rocks and goes to work breaking into the torso of his mother animal. (Kids, don’t try this at home.)

In the chest cavity he finds the lungs and heart, and concludes that the heart must be what he’s looking for, since it is centrally located within the chest cavity and it is well protected by the pericardium. After breaking through the pericardium, he opens up the heart and finds that it has two halves, one of which is full of congealed blood, the other…empty. He knows that that the blood didn’t get like that on it’s own, until after the body was in this state(for he knew blood congeals outside of the body but not inside.). He also notes that the blood in the heart is no different than other blood and that whatever he’s looking for cannot be blood because “I lost a great deal of it in my skirmishes with the Wild Beasts, and yet it  never did me any considerable harm, nor render’d me incapable of performing any action of life”, and so he concludes it must be something that once was here, but is not now. And this privation is what caused the absence of life. He concluded that the thing that had abandoned it before its own house came to ruin, would not return now that the body was mangled as it was.

He thus decided that it was not bodies that mattered, but this principle that gives them life. This idea, that we are souls imprisoned in bodies wishing to escape is a very platonic concept that we see in many of the Aristotelian philosophers of the Arabic world.

He then buries the Gazelle and turns to contemplate upon the nature of this life-force. One day however, a fire arises on the island by friction, and he was frightened, having never seen flames before. He found that the flames were bright, and transformed anything that they touched into it’s own image, “till at last his admiration of it and the innate boldness and fortitude which God had implanted upon his nature prompted him on, that he stretch’d out his hand to take some of it.” He however, found out he could not handle it that way and used a stick instead, and carried it back to the cave that he had made his home.(3)

Hayy tended the flames day and night, and found them to be good for warmth and light, and noticed they tried to move upwards all the time. He concluded that it must be one of the substances that the stars are made of, and continued to test its power by throwing different things into it. It was by this method, he accidentally discovered cooking. After this he began to hunt and to fish, in order to obtain more meat that he might throw upon the fire.

He began to admire the fire more and more, and noticed that whatever had departed from the doe, must also be similar to, if not identical with, the fire in front of him. Because as long as animals lived they were warm, and when they died, they became cold. He also could feel the greater warmth in the area of his chest that was equivalent, and concluded that if he could dissect any animal alive, he might be able to observe this fire inside of them. And if it is not fire, he would at least know of the kind of substance it was that animates the body.

And so he went about doing so, soon discovering that there is a sort of, hot vapor that animates all life. And he began to become curious as to how animal parts were arranged in order to do this, and so he began his inquiry with dissection of many kinds to see how they were assembled. Soon he concluded that even though there were many different faculties within an animal, they were nonetheless one, and the hot vapor guided used the body like Hayy used his weapons. He too had many different kinds of weapons, some for defense, some for offense and so on, and his one body used them all. He concluded that the animal soul (4)uses the eyes, and ears, and limbs to perform its function. All these members were fitted to do their function, but none of them could function without the soul that was animating it.

By the time he reached this understanding, Hayy was 21 years of age.

He further taught himself to hunt and ride horses and to overcome greater problems and challenges of beasts that were faster than him or stronger than him. He also set about studying the world around him, dividing the world into things that generate and decay and things that don’t. The things that generate and decay are plants and animals, and the things that do not are everything else, from rocks to water. He also comes to understand that the world is vastly diverse, but also very unified. It is in one sense one and in another sense many. It is a multiplicity in a unity. He explains this by discussing how among animal kind, they vary only in their properties in the account of their matter. They however contain the same animating substance.  He uses an analogy of bowls of different substances filled with varying amounts of water. In some bowls the water gets colder, and in others it stays about the same temperature. In others it is deeper and in others it is shallower. In all though, it is the same water, one amount of water, though in many containers.

He also concluded the same thing about plants, and then that plants and animals are one. Stones too receive their nature by how much of this warm air they receive(namely, none.) We return to the analogy that is used at the very beginning of the story, in that when this island receives light, it does not receive it like a transparent object, where light passes right through it, nor does it receive it like an opaque object that is not polished, which reflects poorly. Rather it receives light like a mirror, which after light hits it can start fires. Rocks are like transparent objects, vegetables and animals are like the non-polished opaque objects, and man would be like the polished objects. This is how he understood the idea of the Active Intellect sending forms.

Then, Hayy begans to notice that fire always moves up and the other elements also tend to act according to their own natures, and that all objects have extension and form. Because extension by itself is no object, but when conjoined with form it becomes an object. He stumbles upon the whole of Aristotelian physics in this cave through empirical observation. He also begins to start a study of where all the new things come from. Everything must have a cause and so he got the idea that there had to be a maker of some kind. He argues that because matter doesn’t have form inherent to itself but that forms seem to come upon matter when it exists then there must be an efficient cause of the form. He then began to contemplate the heavens, and the bodies that were there. He knew they were bodies, because they had extension, and he began to consider if they had infinite length or not. He concluded they could not by conducting a thought experiment.

“This heavenly body is bounded on the near side, without doubt, since I can see it with my own eyes. Only the far side admits of doubt. Nonetheless I know it is impossible for it to extend forever. For if I imagine two lines beginning on this finite side, passing up through the body to infinity, as far as the body itself supposedly extends, and imagine a large segment cut from the finite end of one and the two placed side by side with the cut end of one opposite the uncut end of the other, and my mind travels along the two lines towards the so called infinite end, then I must discover either that the pair of lines really do extend to infinity, the one no shorter than the other, in which case the cut line equals the intact one, which is absurd…or else that the one does not run the full length of the other but stops short of the full course, in which case it is finite. But if the finite segment that was subtracted is restored, the whole is finite. Now it is neither shorter nor longer than the uncut line. They must be equal then. But one is finite so the other must be finite as well, and so must the body in which these lines were assumed to be drawn. Such lines can be assumed in any physical thing. Thus to postulate an infinitely extended physical body is fallacious and absurd.” (Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, as translated by L.E. Goodman.)

This argument against actual infinities is reminiscent of the arguments found in Al-Ghazali’s “Incoherence of the Philosophers” regarding the eternity of the universe. Ghazali argues that if the universe is eternal, then Jupiter and Saturn have been orbiting for the same amount of time, namely, infinite time. And have thus completed infinite rotations. But we see that in the time it takes for Jupiter to do two rotations, Saturn only completes one. Thus they do not have identical numbers of rotations, and this is simply an absurdity created by postulating an infinite universe.

Hayy(unsurprisingly) agrees with Al-Ghazali on this idea, that actual infinities are impossible. He thus came to understand the whole heavens and all the creatures on the earth as One. Then he began to wonder whether or not the universe had been here forever, or if it too had been created! And he determined that it didn’t matter either way. Both arguments lead you back to a necessary being. If the universe indeed sprang up Ex-nihilo, then it could not have created itself, but must have had an immaterial cause in order to bring matter into existence. It would be inaccessible to our senses or else it would be a body, and it should be impossible for him to be imagined either, as our imagination can only represent to us the forms of things in their absence. This understanding of imagination is very Aristotelian, it shows up frequently in his De Anima. And so he comes to a full Asharite understanding of God, like Al-Ghazali, believing God to be beyond imagination or senses to get at, by postulating a beginning of the universe.

He then postulates an eternal universe(ignoring for a moment the difficulty of actual infinities), and discovers that it also needs an immaterial creator. Since the motion of the heavens must be eternal if the universe is eternal since there could be no rest from which it needed to start. (Since all matter inherently seems to move in a given direction according to its nature.) All motion requires a mover, and every power which passes through a body or is applied to a body, doubles as the body doubles. It takes two times the energy to move an object twice the size. All body must necessarily then be finite, and all power that the bodies possess then must also be finite(since power is determined by the object.) But in order to move the universe infinitely, there must be infinite power, and so this mover that set everything into motion cannot be finite, and therefore must not have a body.

This is astounding! The eternity of the universe question that continues to rage through Jewish philosophy as well as later Arabic philosophy and Western Philosophy, Ibn-Tufayl says is irrelevant since you come to the same conclusion either way. (A sentiment echoed by the later Thomas Aquinas.)

Anyways, Hayy continues with his train of thought, and he contemplates the necessary existent and comes to realize that no matter what it seemed to be immaterial, omnipotent, eternal, not subject to decay and necessarily existent. It had no imperfections about it, because imperfection is non-existence, non-being, and the being that surely gives all other being its motion contains no non-being. It is a Necessary Existent.

This is reminiscent of his predecessor Avicenna, who also ran what might be the first argument for God’s necessary existence. It went something like this.

“There is existence, or rather our phenomenal experience of the world confirms that things exist, and that their existence is non-necessary because we notice that things come into existence and pass out of it. Contingent existence cannot arise unless it is made necessary by a cause. A causal chain in reality must culminate in one un-caused cause because one cannot posit an actual infinite regress of causes (a basic axiom of Aristotelian science). Therefore, the chain of contingent existents must culminate in and find its causal principle in a sole, self-subsistent existent that is Necessary. This, of course, is the same as the God of religion.”(5)

Hayy was continuing therefore in a proud Tradition of self-made men. Avicenna taught himself and so therefore could Hayy Ibn Yaqzan. He then began to ponder upon himself, what means of which he came to know this being, if not through reason or imagination. He realized that only “like can perceive like” (Aristotle, De Anima, II. 5) and that he must be able to perceive God due to the fact that he has a capacity that is similar to his. And this capacity he called Reason, and he began to ponder what becomes of the Reason after it leaves the body. He comes to three conclusions.
1. A person has never exercised their reason and dies and ceases to exist like animals.
2. A person exercises their reason and glimpes God and falls away, therefore going to him and being in eternal torment at its loss.
3. A person exercises their reason and lives in full enjoyment of God so that their intellect goes to behold the active intellect.

The ultimate goal then of a human is to escape the prison of the body. This very Platonic concept became Hayy’s sole reason for existence, and so he began to meditate upon the being of God. But eventually, his bodily needs seized him and he realized he could not do without them.

In an interesting passage, Hayy determines that there are three things he has to do to fulfill his desire to be united to God. 1. Imitate the animals. 2. Imitate the Heavens. 3. Imitate God. And so he does his best to do these things. He imitates the animals by fulfilling his desire to eat and drink, but now he does not eat the flesh of animals, due to the fact that to kill them would be to interfere with God’s plan for them, and he is all wise. But he does not fulfill himself beyond the minimum he needs to.

“Or at times he would spin around in circles until he got dizzy.”

His imitation of the heavenly bodies was two-fold, in the contemplation and awareness of God, and in imitating their circular motion. When he was not doing the first imitation, he would be meditating on God and the awareness of the necessary existent. At times he would take the idea of imitation literally and

“Hayy prescribed himself circular motion of various kinds.  Sometimes he would circle the island, … Sometimes he would march around his house or certain large rocks a set number of times, … Or at times he would spin around in circles until he got dizzy.” (L.E. Goodman translation.)

He did this to rid himself of visual stimuli, of any vision of particulars so that he could escape his world as much as he could, in imitation of those beings that perpetually observe the Necessary Existent.(6)

Eventually he obtained the union with the Necessary Existent he was seeking, and could do it only for a time, but grew stronger and stronger the more he practiced.

Then the story could end here. With Hayy attaining his enlightenment. But it does not.

We return to the opposite island from the first of the two birth stories. There we meet two religiously devout men. Absal and Salaman. They are both very religious, and study their texts thoroughly, though one has a tendency to take passages literally, the other metaphorically. Absal believes that the truth must be reached in isolation and asceticism, whereas Salaman believes that it is in cities and communal gatherings they are to be found. The two disagree irreparably, and Absal departs for the nearby island that is uninhabited in order to be alone and seek union with God.

Eventually Absal encounters Hayy Ibn Yaqzan on the island, and though both initially fearful of the other, wind up becoming friends. Absal teaches Hayy language in hopes of teaching him about God.

“So Absal began teaching him to talk, at first by pointing at some basic objects and pronouncing their names over and over, making him pronounce them too and pronounce them while pointing, until he had taught him nouns.  Then he progressed with him, little by little and step by step, until in no time Hayy could speak.” (Ibid)

They compare ideas and are astounded to find out that they already agree!

“Hearing Hayy’s description of the beings which are divorced from the sense-world and conscious of the Truth — glory be to Him — his description of the Truth Himself, by all His lovely attributes, and his description, as best he could, of the joys of those who reach Him and the agonies of those veiled from Him, Absal had no doubt that all the traditions of his religion about God, His angels, bibles and prophets, Judgment Day, Heaven and Hell, were symbolic representations of these things that Hayy Ibn Yaqzan had seen for himself. The eyes of his heart were unclosed. His mind caught fire. Reason and tradition were at one within him. All the paths of exegesis lay open before him. All his old religious puzzlings were solved; all the obscurities, clear.”

“Hayy understood all this [the religious traditions as explained by Absal] and found none of it in contradiction with what he had seen for himself from his supernal vantage point. He recognized that whoever had offered this description had given a faithful picture and spoken truly. This man must have been a ‘messenger sent by this Lord.'”

And so Absal and Hayy continue to discuss what they know and what they have seen, and Absal tells him about the many that are back on his home island that follow this religion and are blind to the truth. Hayy does not understand why people need to have laws told to them, or to have the Truth explained to them through symbols in order for them to understand, and Absal believes that Hayy could be the new prophet to lead them all out of darkness.

But after much trying, they discover that even though they appealed to the highest intellectual class of people in the city, it was more for amusement than genuine learning. No one really wanted to change. The people were too stupid and stubborn to change their ways. They cannot understand truth without symbols to explain them. Hayy was astounded and confused, were all humans this way? He continued to teach and try and attempt to persuade the people until they got tired of his ideas and branded him as dangerous, and so he and Absal left to go back to the island after encouraging the people to continue as they had always done.

“Hayy now understood the human condition.  He saw that most men are no better than unreasoning animals, and realized that all wisdom and guidance, all that could possibly help them was contained already in the words of the prophets and the religious traditions. None of this could be different.  There was nothing to be added.  There is a man for every task and everyone belongs to the life for which he was created…

“So Hayy went to Salaman and his friends and apologized, dissociated himself from what he had said.  He told them that he had seen the light and realized that they were right.  He urged them to hold fast to their observance of all the statutes regulating outward behavior and not delve into things that did not concern them, submissively to accept all the most problematical elements of the tradition and shun originality and innovation, follow in the footsteps of their righteous forebears and leave behind everything modern.”

And then the story ends. Salaman and the others on the island continue on in their ignorance, and Hayy and Absal “…served God on the island until man’s certain fate overtook them.”

The way this story ends is important. Had it ended with Hayy achieving enlightenment, it would have been a perfect end on an Avicennan and Ghazalian story. Someone follows Avicenna’s philosophy, with a bit of the Asharite flair of Al-Ghazali and winds up achieving union with God.

But to continue it as he did, is a tribute to his predecessor Ibn Bajja. Ibn Bajja believed that the cities could not be saved by the Truth. That in order for a city to be ideal, it had to help the most of its citizens achieve happiness, and their own perfection. But it does this through the lack of art and jurisprudence, and a lack of ‘weeds’. Weeds are people who

“Now the people who discover a right action or learn a true science that does not exist in the city belong to a class that has no generic name. As for the ones who stumble upon a true opinion that does not exist in the city or the opposite of which is believed in the city, they are called weeds (Rule of the Solitary, Ibn Bajja”

This does not mean that there are not false beliefs in the city, but rather that everyone believes them to be true, or that there is no way to tell if it is true or false.

Hayy in this story, is a weed. He shows up in this city and starts trying to smash the Status Quo. He starts preaching against the false beliefs that everyone holds as true, and thus interferes with them achieving their happiness and order.

Symbolic religion is required to keep order, but only because men are stupid. That is the conclusion that this book reaches about the human race in general, whereas the ideal man is a solitary man, living in mystical union with God. And so it turns out that John Donne was wrong, Hayy Ibn Yaqzan was an island, self-taught and self-enlightened. And lost into the Active Intellect of God.(7)


(1) Avicenna’s original tale was a short romance about the Active Intellect, embodied as a sage, instructing the human soul on the nature of the universe.
(2) “Animals and plants come into being in earth and in liquid because there is water in earth, and air in water, and in all air is vital heat so that in a sense all things are full of soul. Therefore living things form quickly whenever this air and vital heat are enclosed in anything. When they are so enclosed, the corporeal liquids being heated, there arises as it were a frothy bubble.” (Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals 3, 11)
(3) The cave is rather significant. It could be a symbol of Plato’s cave, or it could have to do with the cave where Muhammad received his revelation. The latter of these two seem more likely, as Hayy later describes the prophets as men like himself.
(4) He had not yet used this term, instead calling it the warm air, or the faculty.
(6) It is entirely possible this is a reference to the whirling meditation of the Sufi Dervishes.
(7) This may be what began to set the tone for Averroës’ controversial notion of the Universal Intellect.

Further Material:

“Hayy Ibn Yaqzan” Translated by L.E. Goodman.

“Fantasy Island: Ibn-Bajja and Ibn-Tufayl” The History of Philosophy Podcast, Dr. Peter Adamson.

Ancient Problems: Euthyphro and the Problem of Goodness

“Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” (Plato, Euthyphro)

The Euthyphro dilemma seems to the in the utility belt of every non-theist who has anything of any rational substance to say about religion and morality and how the two relate. It has been a matter of defense and attack for nearly two millennia and is considered by many to be unavoidable.

I plan here, not to give a knockdown defense of the Euthyphro Dilemma, but instead to survey a few of the many possible defenses that have been run for it. This can be a useful exercise for both the Theist and the Non-Theist, who wishes to engage the other. The Theist should know the defenses that have been done, and some of the weaknesses with them. And the non-theist should as well, so as to be prepared for rebuttal. (or with rebuttal.)

First, I suppose we should restate the argument in a way that would affect the classical Theist.

“Is something Good because God wills it, or does God will it because it is Good?”

Given this revision, we no longer have multiple gods, we are no longer dealing with ‘piety’, and we set up the dilemma to attack not only duties(such as piety) but also moral and aesthetic value judgments. In short, this restatement of the dilemma broadens it and gives it more power against the Theist.

Second, we should discuss the underlying assumptions of the dilemma.

  1. Objective Goodness exists.
    This may seem obvious, but it is one of the reasons why it is commonly used against Theists. Theists almost by necessity have to assert objective morality. The problem arises however, when the assumption also spreads to God, as if God either has to conform to objective goodness, or inflict arbitrary subjective goodness on us.
  2. Goodness is a property.
    In order to talk reasonably about ‘goodness’ in the common sense, we need to assume it as a property. ‘X is good’ could easily be restated as ‘X has the property of goodness’.

Now that we have spoken at least briefly about the underlying assumptions of the dilemma, let us begin to look at a few ways this dilemma has been defended against in the past two millennia.(1)

A) Augustine, Aquinas, and Anselm: The three A’s of Classical Christianity often give the defense that God simply is the standard for goodness. He’s like a great divine meterstick against which all things are measured. It does not make sense to ask why a meterstick is a meter, it simply is. This is by far the most common defense against the Euthyphro dilemma and it comes in various shapes and sizes. In classical theology it tended to depend upon one’s ontology of evil. If one had properly come to understand goodness, then you could easily show how God is the meterstick for it.

The three A’s base their understanding of goodness as “that which all things aim for.” (Aristotle, NE 1.1. 1094a2-3) Goodness has a certain positive ontology that shows that it exists in a real and substantive way. It is “being” if you will. This leaves evil or ‘badness’ as a lack of something. Aquinas for example, builds upon this idea stating, “When we say that good is what all desire, it is not to be understood that every kind of good thing is desired by all; but that whatever is desired has the nature of good.” (Aquinas, ST 1 6, 2) This again returns to the idea of goodness as a property of objects. We do not want riches because they are riches but because they have the property of goodness. Our aims are often misguided because we do not know this perfect standard in a perfect way. If we did, we would never miss with our aims and our judgments of the Good. “Only God would have perfect knowledge of Himself, and thus can always will in ways that are perfect. His will is the ‘rule’ by which created wills find their measure, but God’s will has no rule above which it finds measure.” (ST 1 63, 1) And thus we find that “Anselm, like Augustine before him and Aquinas later, rejects both horns of the Euthyphro dilemma. God neither conforms to nor invents the moral order. Rather his very nature is the standard for value.” (Rogers, Katherine. Anselm and Free Will, 2008)

The problem with this is that it raises questions about God’s ontology and allows for what many consider to be a clever riposte, namely, “Is God’s nature good because God chooses it, or is his nature good due to some outside factor?” This is due to the fact that the Euthyphro dilemma assumes that goodness is a property, and if we say that God has a property that allows us to derive other properties, we open ourselves up to the Third Man argument of Plato’s Parmenides.

There have been several semantic attempts to get around this. Aquinas thought that our language was analogical, and so we were not saying God is ‘good’ in the same sense as we would use the term Good. But more recently philosophers like Robert Adams, and William Alston have attempted semantic solutions to the problem.

For example, in Alston’s “What Euthyphro Should Have Said.”(2) Alston builds on a distinction that was made by philosopher Robert Adams, in that the property of ethical wrongness “is (i.e. Identical with) the property of being contrary to the commands of a loving God.”(3) In this way technically God is exempt from the property of being ethical or moral or ‘good’.(God is not subject to his own commands) But Alston continues to build on this idea and goes to try and show that despite this exception to his own commands, God is nonetheless still able to be the root of objective and necessary morality.

He does this by attempting to show that God has a nature that is loving, good, and caring and then tries to show how it would be impossible for God to give a command that is ethically binding that is opposed to his nature. He says that the only reason a divine command is ‘good’ is because the nature of God’s attributes supervenes upon that command, and makes it so. However, it is not that these things are good just because that is what God ‘happens’ to do, rather God does them because he is the standard which determines goodness.

“I want to suggest, by contrast, that we can think of God himself, the individual being, as the supreme standard of goodness. God plays the role in evaluation that is more usually assigned, by objectivists about value, to Platonic Ideas or principles. Lovingness is good (a good-making feature, that on which goodness is supervenient) not because of the Platonic existence of a general principle or fact to the effect that lovingness is good, but because God, the supreme standard of goodness, is loving. Goodness supervenes on every feature of God, not because some general principles are true but just because they are features of God. Of course, we can have general principles, for example, lovingness is good. Or this principle is not ultimate it, or the general fact that makes it true, does not enjoy some Platonic ontological status; rather is it true, just because the property it specifies as sufficient for goodness is a property of God.” (Alston)

The problem I think arises if we think that God is identical with his properties. Surely he can have properties, but he cannot be identical with them. Because as Alvin Plantinga points out, “If God is identical with each of his properties, then, since each of his properties is a property, he is a property – a self-exemplifying property. Accordingly God has just one property: himself. This view is subject to a difficulty both obvious and overwhelming. No property could have created the world; no property could be omniscient, or, indeed, now anything at all. If God is a property, then he isn’t a person but a mere abstract object; he has no knowledge, awareness, power, love, or life. So taken, the simplicity doctrine seems an utter mistake.” (Plantinga, Does God Have A Nature?) We could simply deny that God is identical with his properties, he is the possessor of, rather than product of, his properties. And I feel like this makes sense. A book is not the result of it’s properties, nor is it identical with it. If I said that a book is nothing except, “Hard, page-filled, word filled” and go on to list it’s properties ad absurdum then we would have a bunch of disjointed properties and not a coherent unity.(4)

So this solution seems to be difficult, but could be coherently defended I believe. I’ll leave that up to the reader to decide.

B) The Both/And approach. TJ Mawson in his paper “The Euthyphro Dilemma” (5) presents an argument that I have only found in him, but may be extant in other places. (I have not read every book ever.)

“I suggest that the theist is best advised to reject Socrates’ ‘Either . . . Or’ way of framing the question, saying instead that some things God wills because they are good and other things are good because God wills them. For this solution to the Euthyphro Dilemma to give the theist the best of both worlds rather than the worst, he or she then needs a way of explaining how the things that God wills because they are good are things that do not set up a standard of behaviour independent of God, a standard that could correctly be thought to constrain God in His actions, and also a way of explaining how the things that get to be good solely as a result of God’s will are things that it’s not, after all, counterintuitive to suggest could have been bad.” (Mawson)

Mawson takes the approach that instead of splitting the horns of the dilemma, we try and grab on to both at once and say that they are both aspects of the whole. Certain things out of logical necessity are good and others out of necessity are bad, and other things are contingently bad. Since most Theists are happy to claim that God cannot do the logically impossible(6) then we can see that this would not be a limitation on God, as God can still do all logically possible things. Mawson argues that some things we pick out with certain concepts that are by logical necessity ‘bad’. (Or some things are necessarily bad due to the fact that they apply to people.) Agonizing pain for instance is logically bad by definition, in the sense that all bachelors are unmarried. God could not ever, due to his logical limitations, bring about a state of affairs where ‘agonizing pain’ was a good thing, just as he could not bring about a bachelor that was unmarried. This would be the sort of thing that accepts the second horn of the dilemma. “God does them because they are good.” Presumably, if certain things are bad by necessity, it’s inverse is true as well. There are things that are good by necessity, and there’s nothing anyone, not even God, can do about that. But that is not a limit to his omnipotence.

For the first horn though, “Things are good because God wills them.” Mawson argues that though certain concepts are logically necessary to be bad, the types of situations that they might be applied to is different. For example, he says:

Some concepts pick out things that are bad for people via contingent features that
people happen – universally but not essentially – to have. As it happens, all people in this world have the property of suffering agonizing pain if a large amount of electricity is passed through their bodies; this being so, it is a universal truth that it’s bad to pass this amount of electricity through people. But the universal badness of passing large amounts of electricity through people is obviously the result of
contingent features of the natural world, features that on theism God has freely chosen to create and that consequently it is not at all counterintuitive to suggest could have been different. Thus the theist is free to say that all substantive moral truths (as opposed to conceptual necessities) depend on God’s will in creation, but this does not, after all, have the counterintuitive consequence that we must say that God could make torture, for example, good.

He argues that torture is bad by logical necessity, as it inflicts agonizing pain upon people for no good end. (Even if there were a good end, it would still be bad, even though the result of it would be good.) However, his specific example which is ‘passing a large amount of electricity through someone’ he argues that God could have made good, if he had chosen our contingent properties and physiological makeup differently so that this action is good. But then it’s not torture anymore, because torture is ‘inflicting agonizing pain on someone…’ and so this is not counter-intuitive in the sense that most people raising the Euthyphro dilemma would have you believe.

He thus argues that this sort of solution does not limit God in any way unacceptable to the Theist, nor does it remove the possibility of objectively knowable morality. Here is his conclusion to his paper:

“In conclusion then, we have seen that the theist may say that God creates all value in the sense that prior to God’s creation, there were no substantive principles to constrain Him in the choices He made. However, this does not mean that He could have chosen to create a world in which torture was good, for such a world is a logical impossibility and not even God should be expected to be able to do the logically impossible. The goodness of refraining from torturing people is something that is logically necessary. God wills that we refrain from torturing people because of the necessary badness of torture. It is not that torture gets the badness that it does because of God’s will. But what acts count as torture and what not is something entirely a result of God’s free will in creation. So we may say that of anything which can be picked out using a term that does not itself of logical necessity entail anything about the goodness or badness of the thing so picked out, the answer to the question of why that thing has the goodness or badness that it has is that it does so because God has willed it to do so. And thus the Euthyphro Dilemma is solved.”

This seems like a decent solution to the problem. It neither tries to evade the dilemma by splitting it and opening up discussions about the properties of God’s and so forth, nor does it accept one of the two arms with unacceptable consequences. It does however, seem like an attack could be run against it by asking how we interpret God’s commands in particular passages of the Hebrew Scripture. His commands to kill all the people or wipe out groups. That is a tricky situation for any Theist, but doesn’t much deal with the Euthyphro problem proper, but gets more into a discussion about textual epistemology and hermeneutics, but these objections still might be raised.(7)

C) Islamic solutions to the Euthyphro problem:

Up until now I have dealt primarily with answers stemming from the Judeo-Christian tradition, more specifically the Christian tradition. Judaism rarely addresses the issue because as Jonathan Sacks has written, “In Judaism, the Euthyphro dilemma does not exist.” (8)(9)

In Islam however, the solution is very different. The Mutazila thought that since Allah is perfect unity and perfectly eternal, then the Qur’an could not have been co-eternal with God and thus is accessible to rational inquiry (as opposed to accessible only by tradition and literal interpretation.) The Mutazila (such as Averroës) argue that God wills things because they are right. They give in to the second horn of the argument and yield that God does what is right. That there is a moral logic that exists that God conforms to, but God is necessary for us to know it perfectly. Averroës says that God’s aim is “to preserve the health and cure the diseases of all the people, by prescribing for them rules which can be commonly accepted… He is unable to make them all doctors, because a doctor is one who knows by de­monstrative methods the things which preserve health and cure disease.”(10) This aligns with Averroës’ emphasis that truth does not contradict truth, and shows that even though we can come to understand moral law through our reason, it does not mean that revelation is not a valid way to arrive there as well. Since God is trying to help us, he gives it to us without our need to understand it, but it is possible for us to arrive there as well. Truth does not contradict truth.

The Asharites on the other hand embrace the first horn of this dilemma and take the voluntarist position. That whatever God commands is acceptable. The voluntarist position says that whatever God wills is what is Good, and there are no restraints on what he could will. ““Then lying is evil only because Allah declared it to be evil? Certainly. And if He declared it to be good, it would be good; and if He commanded it, no one could gainsay Him.” (Al-Ashari) (11) and further, “We confess that the decision concerning good and evil wholly depends on Allah. For whoever should say that the decision regarding good and evil depends upon another than Allah would thereby be guilty of unbelief regarding Allah, and his confession of the unity of Allah would become invalid.” (Al-Ghazali) (12) This option also subtly rejects the first underlying assumption of the Euthyphro dilemma, but also goes to show that the objector is making a silly claim. If there are no objective moral values except what God decrees, then trying to reason about it is pointless.(13)

These two version of the defense are actually fairly powerful as they do undermine the dilemma. I am not particularly happy with the consequences of the second one, as they ascribe a sort of circularity to the argument, dismiss objective right and wrong, and also seem to endanger God’s standing as an all wise being. Though I suppose we could simply say that God’s wisdom is far beyond us and we can’t actually get at it anyways, but that to me always seems like a cop-out. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, all agree that Man was created in God’s image. Images reflect something of their creator. Can we not gather something of God by looking at ourselves, even if it is dim and far off. We have reason and God has reason, it would seem to me. Even though ours is more finite.
Anyway, I can’t quibble with the second due to the fact that standards set without reason cannot be reasoned about or with, and so to argue is pointless. The first solution though, is nice, but almost seems to make God just a second option on our path to perfection. We can obtain the truth of reality through moral reasoning, what good is God? And how is he more wise than us? Both of these solutions seem to me to reduce God in some way, though I know many people would disagree.

Anyways, that’s a brief history of the Euthyphro dilemma and some of the defenses to be brought against it, as well as a brief review of what I think their strengths and weaknesses are. Sorry if you wanted something else, but here’s what you get.


(1) One should not assume that we are trying to present all possible defenses against the Euthyphro dilemma here. That would be long and exhaustive and defeat the purpose that the reader set out for. What I will do here is attempt to give a few major defenses.
(2) Alston, William P. “What Euthyphro Should Have Said.” Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2002. 283-98. Print.
(3) Adams, “Divine Command Metaethics”, p76.
(4) Interestingly, I think Van Til makes the argument that the Christian God is precisely the reason we can have anything.  The Trinity and the reality of the Multiplicity in the Unity, is what allows us to understand the Universals and the Particulars. I can’t find a citation for this argument at the moment.
(5)  T. J. Mawson (2008). THE EUTHYPHRO DILEMMA. Think, 7, pp 25-33. doi:10.1017/S1477175608000171.
(6) I wrote a paper in my undergraduate studies explaining how if a Theist is to have discourse on any matters of philosophical discourse without being overpowered then God cannot do the logically impossible. The problem of evil disappears if God can do contradictory things and so on and so forth.
(7) Recently Paul Copan published a book called “Is God a Moral Monster?” which I found helpful for learning to properly interpret these Old Testament passages. A shorter version may be found here
(8) Sacks, Jonathan (2005). To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility. New York: Schocken Books. ISBN 978-0-8052-1196-2.
(9) Arguably though, their solution is similar to the classical Christian solution. Presumably Classical Christian thinkers based their idea off earlier Jewish thought, like what is found in Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, Micah.
(10) Averroës, On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy, trans. George Hourani (London: Messrs. Luzac & Co., 1976) ch. 3 line 174.
(11) Cited in Beers, T. Euthyphro and Islam (2010)
(12) Cited in Faris, N. The Foundations of the Articles of Faith Sh. Muhammad Publishers, Lahore, 1999
(13) I made a similar objection to the idea of unlimited omnipotence due to the fact that logic becomes useless.

John Piper, Necessity, and the Problem of Dependence

As I mentioned to the Blog’s Author, I think it’s feasible to consider Piper running a defense that looks like this.

1. God’s glory is actually infinite. (1)
2. The addition of any number of finite objects to an actually infinite set does not increase the value of said set.
3. No matter how many finite beings you add to the enjoyment of God’s glory, God’s glory does not increase at all since it is actually infinite.

Since Piper’s claim seems to be that God does everything so that he will enjoy His own Glory. But as we can see, there is no increase in glory by the addition of finite creatures (since it is all about God’s enjoyment and not about the enjoyment of other creatures.) and so God’s will is not determined by this aspect of his character.

(1) This is a qualitative, and not quantitative statement. Quantitative actual infinities are metaphysically as well as physically impossible.

Andy Britton

A few days ago, my wife and I went out to our favorite place with some dear friends of ours. Over dinner and drinks, one friend (who plays in a worship band) mentioned that a speaker at a DNOW he played made the statement “God needs us just like we need him”.  We all a had a good laugh at the thought of an impotent God begging man for his cooperation, discussed it a bit, and went on with our night.  For reasons unknown to me, over the next week I began to pursue this thought a bit further and I believe that I’ve developed some interesting thoughts on this through the lens of John Piper’s theology.

Here’s the premises I’m working with, and the purpose of this blog is to prompt a discussion on whether or not Piper must accept the conclusion of this argument.

1.  God unchangeably ordains…

View original post 738 more words

Faith and Reason?

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

The question that has plagued theologians and philosophers for many aeons is, ‘What do we do with philosophy in revealed religion?’ Can a man believe in God and also be reasonable? Should we do as the Bible commands and be ware of philosophy and just take everything on faith, regardless of how much sense it makes to us? Who are we, to judge scripture?

And what is worse is the divided opinion on it, even in the early Church. Clement of Alexandria(c. 150-215) wrote in his short work In Defense of Greek Learning a defense of philosophy in the lives of the church. He notes how divided Christians were at the time over Greek Learning and Philosophy:

“According to some, Greek philosophy apprehended the truth accidentally, dimly, partially. Others will have it that Greek philosophy was instituted by the devil. Several hold that certain powers descending from heaven inspired the whole of philosophy.” (In Defense of Greek Learning)

And this is still the case today. Throughout the whole of history we have Theologians who question the validity of rational inquiry into the revealed doctrines in their Scriptures and we have others who impose philosophy onto scripture. Moses Maimonides(1135-1204) who was a Jewish Philosopher in the Arabic speaking world, was an example of the latter group of theologian/philosophers who said

“In this work, however, I address those who have studied philosophy and have acquired sound knowledge, and who while firm in religious matters are perplexed and bewildered on account of the ambiguous and figurative expressions employed in the holy writings.” (Guide to the Perplexed: Introduction)

While it is sometimes hard to get at exactly what Maimonides believes, he is of the firm belief that people who take the texts at face value are infidels. (1) And that if there is text that seems to indicate that God has a body, then it should be done away with, because philosophy has shown that God has no body. He does the same with the resurrection of the body, citing that there is no individual resurrection of the body, but an eternal existence of the intellect.(2) Now, no serious theologian actually thinks that God has a body, but it does come across with the plain reading of certain scriptural texts. (Think of God walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden.)

Al-Farabi(872-950) also had a problem with religion being above philosophy and relegated religion to a ‘symbolic expression of the truth.'(3) He did believe it was important, just not as important as philosophy, but both were required to run an ideal state.

A strong argument could be made for Origen of Alexandria(185-254) being comparable in the Christian tradition, due to forcing into his theology concepts like the ‘immortality of the soul’ even to the point of reincarnation. His emphasis on allegorical interpretation and Platonic themes would also suggest that.

But surely we are not to do that, not to put ourselves above Scripture to judge it.  “But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.” (James 4:11b) The Scripture is there to be our authority, and to teach us the truth. And doesn’t Paul’s warning listed at the beginning show that we shouldn’t engage in philosophy? Lest we be taken captive by it?

Yes, and no. The verse from Colossians speaks of being taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit. The implication being that we are not to be taken in by deceptive philosophy or empty philosophy. False philosophy. The pursuit of philosophy has always been to pursue truth and wisdom. And these are good things that we should pursue, as Paul urges us elsewhere: “but test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

Jesus tells us “I am the Way, The Truth, and the Life…”(John 14:16, emphasis added.) and if it is true that Philosophy is a means of pursuing truth then we should by all means pursue it, so that we might deeper understand the Truth.

“Now since this religion is true and summons to the study which leads to knowledge of the Truth, we the Muslim community know definitely that demonstrative study does not lead to [conclusions] conflicting with what Scripture has given us; for truth does not oppose truth but accords with it and bears witness to it.” (Averroës, The Decisive Treatise, Chapter 2, emphasis added)

“Philosophy is not the originator of false practices and base deeds as some have calumniated it; nor does it beguile us and lead us away from faith.

Rather philosophy is a clear image of truth, a divine gift to the Greeks. Before the advent of the Lord, philosophy helped the Greeks to attain righteousness, and it is now conducive to piety; it supplies a preparatory teaching for those who will later embrace the faith. God is the cause of all good things: some given primarily in the form of the Old and the New Testament; others are the consequence of philosophy. Perchance too philosophy was given to the Greeks primarily till the Lord should call the Greeks to serve him, Thus philosophy acted as a schoolmaster to the Greeks, preparing them for Christ, as the laws of the Jews prepared them for Christ.

The way of truth is one. But into it, as into a perennial river, streams flow from all sides. We assert that philosophy, which is characterized by investigation into the form and nature of things, is the truth of which the Lord Himself said, “I am the truth.” Thus Greek preparatory culture, including philosophy itself, is shown to have come down from God to men.

Some do not wish to touch either philosophy or logic or to learn natural science. They demand bare faith alone, as if they wished, without bestowing any care on the vine, straightway to gather clusters from the first. I call him truly learned who brings everything to bear on the truth; so that from geometry, music, grammar, and philosophy itself, he culls what is useful and guards the faith against assault. And he who brings everything to bear on a right life, learning from Greeks and non-Greeks, this man is an experienced searcher after truth. And how necessary it is for him who desires to be partaker of the power of God to treat of intellectual subjects by philosophising.

… But if Greek philosophy does not comprehend the whole of truth and does not encompass God’s commandments, yet it prepares the way for God’s teachings; training in some way or other, molding character, and fitting him who believes in Providence for the reception of truth.” (Clement of Alexandria, In Defense of Greek Learning.)

Paul even uses philosophy and philosophical terminology on his speech on Mars Hill(Acts 17), when addressing Epicurean and Stoic Philosophers. We must remember to submit our philosophy always to the truth of Scripture, and when something doesn’t align, it is not scripture that gives, but our philosophy.

Lastly this; do not be afraid of reason. God invites us to Reason with Him. “Come let us Reason together…”(Isaiah 1:18) to gather truth directly from the source in relationship with Him. He is not a God so small that a bit of reasoning can undo Him, but we can obscure Him if we do not submit to Him.

(1) This echoes the intellectual atmosphere he grew up in. The Almohad Caliphate was strict about non-muslims in their Caliphate and no longer gave them special privileges. They were also insistent on the ‘unitarian’ nature of God, to the exclusion that if someone does not expressly confess in his absolute unity, they were a heretic.(And his bodiless-ness)
(2) Being a contemporary of Averroës, it is hard to tell if this is an idea borrowed from Averroës’ commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima. “Material intellect is a single incorporeal eternal substance that becomes attached to the imaginative faculties of individual humans.” He believed that all of humanity belonged to the same intellect that simply became attached to individuals. This could be the meaning that Maimonides gets at.
(3) Al-Madina al-Fadila (The Virtuous City)