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Can Man Assess God’s Goodness?

A Controversy Between Abū Bakr al-Rāzī (d. 925) and Muʿtazilī Theologians
Philippe Vallat
p. 213-251

Résumés

Depuis la publication d’al-Maṭālib al-ʿāliya de Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī en 1987, certains nouveaux fragments et témoignages des œuvres perdues d’Abū Bakr al-Rāzī ont suscité l’intérêt des chercheurs. Il a été soutenu à partir de ces fragments qu’Abū Bakr al-Rāzī était non seulement désireux de prendre part aux débats théologiques avec ses contemporains muʿtazilites mais qu’il était aussi un vif partisan de l’origine divine du Coran ou de la réalité de la prophétie. Cette nouvelle interprétation de sa pensée, cependant, peut être contredite par d’autres fragments contenus dans l’œuvre de Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, la plus longue incluant même une réfutation globale et remarquablement astucieuse de la prophétie. Certaines des réponses d’Abū ʾl-Qāsim al-Kaʿbī, le théologien muʿtazilite à qui Abū Bakr s’adresse dans ces fragments, ont également été exhumées. Parmi d’autres éléments déterminants, ils nous révèlent l’essentiel du débat sur la « révélation » (ilhām) entre Abū Bakr et son contemporain, le théologien ismaélien Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī.
La question de savoir pourquoi Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī a jugé utile de préserver la réfutation par Abū Bakr de la prophétie et la théologie muʿtazilite met en lumière un aspect jusqu’ici négligé de la pensée islamique. Un des principaux arguments d’Abū Bakr mis en avant contre la théologie islamique et la conception coranique de la prophétie en particulier, est qu’un usage rationnel de la raison en théologie ou en philosophie implique nécessairement une conception non équivoque de la bonté de Dieu, et la reconnaissance de ce qui s’ensuit, à savoir qu'il ne peut y avoir aucune justification, rationnelle ou révélée, de la violence. La négation de cette double condition conduit, de son point de vue, à une négation de la capacité de la raison à connaître le bien et le mal et aussi de son aptitude à reconnaître (ou rejeter) la validité de la Révélation. Les muʿtazilites avaient de fait attribué à la raison humaine une telle capacité. Alors que le muʿtazilite Abū ʾl-Qāsim a été contraint par les arguments d’Abū Bakr à minorer de manière drastique, contre ses propres principes, la capacité de la raison à saisir ce qui est bon ou mauvais, en particulier en ce qui concerne les actes de Dieu relatés dans le Coran, l’asharite Faḫr al-Dīn a préféré, pour réfuter cette série d’arguments, dénier à la raison humaine tout accès à la connaissance de ce qui est bien ou mal, juste ou injuste, vrai ou faux.
Abū Bakr al-Rāzī semble avoir eu sur la théologie islamique, aussi bien muʿtazilite qu’asharite, une influence à certains égards déterminante.

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Texte intégral

Introduction

1The present study is divided into two main parts. The first deals with the interpretation of some of previously-known fragments pertaining to Abū Bakr al-Rāzī’s and Abū ʾl-Qāsim al-Kaʿbī controversy. These fragments and testimonies discussed a few years ago and newly discovered ones are confronted to each other. The conceptual consistency which emerges from this confrontation calls into question the interpretation of the former set. The second part of the study tries to tackle the problem of the ethically grounded notion of reason in Abū Bakr al-Rāzī’s thought and the ethical and conceptual bearing of the theological refutations which Abū ʾl-Qāsim al-Kaʿbī and Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī brought forward in response to Abū Bakr’s anti-prophetic argumentation. The study is followed by a complementary English translation of a part of the available textual evidence.

2The following study is the revised and expanded version of a speech given at the international workshop “Subjectivity and Sociability in the Arabic and Latin Traditions” (SSALT), held at the Finnish Institute in Paris, April 2011. This details some of its conclusion. The proceedings of this workshop have not and will not be published. I would like to thank the reading committee of MIDEO for accepting this article. Since this workshop, I have reexamined Abū Bakr’s said newly discovered fragments on three occasions: in Göttingen in December 2011 (“Falsafa Between Christianity and Islam”); in Berlin in November 2014 (“Constructing Hellenism in Classical Islam and Renaissance Europe”) and in Toulouse in January 2015 (“L’ordre social et les religions”). The proceedings of the workshops held in Göttingen and Toulouse will be published shortly. The proceedings of the workshop held in Berlin will be published in 2017. Given the importance of these fragments for the history of philosophy and theology in Islam and for the study of the relationship between philosophy and religion in general, I plan to pursue my work on them till I can publish a book I am preparing, the core of which was part of my habilitation thesis. Readers interested in the questions posed by these fragments may want to take into account these forthcoming publications in which I approached these fragments from different perspectives.

Abū Bakr al-Rāzī (Henceforth: Rhazes) and Islamic Prophecy: a status quaestionis

  • 1 See M. Rashed 2000 and 2008.
  • 2 See Bīrūnī, Répertoire, no. 62, 115, 117; cf. Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, p. 300, 20-23: three treatises (...)

3New fragments of Rhazes wherein he is quoted by name were gathered a few years ago by Marwan Rashed.1 These fragments were found, among other sources, in al-Maṭālib al-ʿāliyya, an encyclopaedic theological work composed by the Asharite Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (1149-1209; henceforth: Faḫr al-Dīn) and edited for the first time in 1987 by Ḥeğāzī al-Saqqā in Cairo. These fragments of Rhazes had been drawn by Faḫr al-Dīn from the Divine Science and one or another of the epistles of refutation that the former wrote to his main theologian opponent, the Muʿtazilī Abū l-Qāsim al-Balḫī (d. 933), known as al-Kaʿbī (henceforth: Kaʿbī). The title of the epistle in question is not known, but probably is among the three or four epistles targeting Kaʿbī, the titles of which have been recorded by Bīrūnī and Ibn al-Nadīm in their respective list of Rhazes’ works.2 This is a reminder that the controversy between the two men most probably lasted numerous years. Among these few new fragments, one deals with a verse of the Koran.

4Based on the material he gleaned from Faḫr al-Dīn’s work and a few other fragments of lesser importance, M. Rashed argued that scholars were mistaken in thinking that Rhazes was hostile to prophecy and to Islam. What Rhazes meant in reality, he explains, is that the Intellect bestowed by God upon the (universal) Soul spoke to humanity by the mouth of the prophets. And this obviously includes the Koranic prophets, as a Sitz-im-Leben, sound interpretation of the fragments show.

  • 3 See M. Rashed, 2009. These scholars are taxed with Islamophobia supposedly typical of “Orientalists (...)

5On this conclusion, M. Rashed then built a case against those who had worked before him on numerous other fragments gathered by P. Kraus and who reached from them different conclusions.3

6Though Rhazes clearly devoted some interest to at least one verse of the Koran in these new fragments, this interpretation of Rhazes’ attitude toward Islamic theology and the Koran, should be ruled out on the account of some other, much longer fragments contained in the same work by Faḫr al-Dīn. As it was well known to the latter, the controversy between Rhazes and Kaʿbī did actually revolve about the relevance of prophecy and the existence of prophets.

  • 4 See A. Shihadeh 2006, p. 102-103, who is referring to al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4, p. 419, 9-12. T (...)

7As for the Koranic understanding of divine justice, it has been noted that “[Faḫr al-Dīn] al-Rāzī cites [i.e. approvingly] from a debate between Abū Bakr al-Rāzī and Abū l-Qāsim al-Kaʿbī, the Baġdādī Muʿtazilī, who was reportedly unable to reply to arguments put to him [by Rhazes] on theodicy and the nature of divine justice (taʿdīl wa-tağwīr)”.4 In his article “Abū Bakr al-Rāzī et le Kalām”, Rashed argued that Rhazes’ willingness to debate this point of theology (uṣūl al-dīn) with contemporary theologians was a way to comply with the theologians’ recognition of the Koran’s authority. However, a different interpretation, based on arguments in these and newer fragments could be that he fully intended to deny the Koranic God the attribute of justice and was in fact declaring such a god inexistent.

8As regards the fragments related to the Koran brought forward in support of said interpretation, they seem, at first glance, to rely on the following argumentation: “You, theologians, are stating this and that regarding God (and the soul); and yet, even according to the Koran, which is for you the one authority, things are not as you say they are.” This line of reasoning is at times explicit in these fragments. This is especially clear in the case of the fall of the Soul and its role in the organization of the material world or in the information of matter. The Soul, in Rhazes’s theodicy, is one of “the Five Eternal Principles” he posited or postulated in order to provide what he deemed to be the most likely explanation for the actual state and existential condition of men in the world.

  • 5 M. Rashed, 2000, p. 51.
  • 6 M. Rashed, 2009, p. 159.

9M. Rashed5 presupposes that the doctrine that the “soul” is the entity that yearned for matter, fell in it, shaped it to some limited extent, and then got ensnared to it due to its own desires, is a tenet upheld by Rhazes that he elaborated starting from the Koran, supposedly from 3, 14: “Enticing to men was made the love of pleasures drawn from women…” (zuyyina li-l-nās ḥubbu l-šahawāt min al-nisāʾ), or, in the form Rhazes quotes this verse: “Enticing to human beings was made the love of worldly desires.” What M. Rashed first assumed implicitly in his article of 2000, he then put forward explicitly: “… La théorie des ‘cinq principes’ vise avant tout à résoudre un problème de théodicée qui s’exprime, à l’époque d’al-Rāzī, sous la forme d’une difficulté d’exégèse coranique portant sur le verset Āl ʿImrān 14 et les versets apparentés.”6

  • 7 See Raziana, p. 215.

10Rhazes would have elaborated his doctrine of the Five Eternal Principles to help solve a problem of Koranic exegesis. Or, in Islamic vocabulary, he would have given God four “associates” (šurakāʾ) to elucidate a problem of Islamic monotheistic theology. Is it at first sight more probable than Rhazes’ explicit claim to the effect that he borrowed the core of this doctrine from the Ḥarrānian pagans, as reported by Faḫr al-Dīn, or from “Agathodaimon” (i.e. the Hermetica), as reported by al-Šahrastānī (1086-1153) in a testimony recorded by P. Kraus?7 For M. Rashed, the answer is beyond doubt because he holds Rhazes’ reference to the Ḥarrānians to be a mere literary fiction.

11The question raised by the Koranic verse is who made the love of sensual and worldly desires enticing to human beings in general.

12The implicit subject or agent of zuyyina (“(it) was made enticing”), explains Rhazes quoted by Rashed, is not God, but “the soul”. If Rhazes certainly did interpret the verse in this way, his intention in so doing may nonetheless have been to compel his adversary to admit that, even according to the Koran, God is not and cannot be said without blasphemy to be the one who fell into a pre-existing matter and made it enticing through his own desire for it, from which resulted great harms and pains for human beings. If we are to spare God from evildoing, only another entity may be said to have done this, namely: what he called the (universal) Soul.

13Why is his explanation to be interpreted thus? Because once compelled to admit this point starting from the Koran, his adversary was then led also to acknowledge that the Soul is independent from and hence coeternal with God, which is Rhazes’ own idea which has no grounds in the Koran. In other terms, if Rhazes’ opponent was ready to concede the first point about the meaning of K. 3, 14, he was necessarily compelled to step outside the general Koranic conception of God as an omnipotent Creator and to admit of the existence of at least one and, in effect, two other eternal principles (soul and matter) responsible for the actual state of the world, which in this case means: responsible for the bewilderment and disarray caused by pleasures. As we will see (Text 5), assuming the falseness of Koranic doctrine, Rhazes would raise the question: “Why did God
as you conceive Him› give dominion over men to lusts and delusions and filled the world with demons?” This argumentation sounds less like a means to recognize the Koran’s divine authenticity and truth than like a way to reduce it to absurdity.

14Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, who summarized Rhazes’s doctrine, did not find it Koranic at all, but dualistic.

  • 8 “Some say they do”: among them are the Asharites and Far al-Dīn himself, as we will see.

Text 1: “Some say that the sufferings and the afflictions do not come about as a result of God’s creation of the world, and some say they do.8 The former are of two sects.

  • 9 It is worth noting that Far al-Dīn seems ignorant of the fact that Christians uphold the same posi (...)

Some among them posit two gods for the world. The first one is the benevolent and merciful divinity. The second is the evil, harmful, and malevolent divinity. Those ‹who uphold this› are the dualists.9

  • 10 Even if there is no doubt that Far al-Dīn is now referring to Rhazes, as confirmed below, the subd (...)
  • 11 Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4, p. 366, 7-17 (cf. vol. 4, p. 364, 15-20). Rhazes (...)

Some among them10 would not concur with this ‹description›, but ‹would› rather [cf. ibid., p. 365, 21-366, 6] say: the Soul is eternal and Matter is eternal. It befalls the Soul that she takes notice of (fa-ittafaqa li-l-nafs iltifāt ilā) Matter and comes to desire it, so that ‹between the two› composition occurs that makes sufferings a necessary outcome. Then the divinity arranges this ‹unharmonious› composition in the optimal manner ‹possible› (awqaʿa ḏālika al-tarkīb ʿalā al-wağh al-aṣlaḥ). All the sufferings and afflictions that take place in the world ‹come about› because of Matter’s incapacity of receiving the flawless order (al-ṣalāḥ) and all the mercy and goodness come about because of God’s benevolence and mercy.” 11

15That this summary refers to Rhazes is then shown by the following explanation:

  • 12 “They” probably refers to Abū ʾl-Qāsim al-Kaʿbī and the Muʿtazilīs in general.

Text 2: “They12 say:

  • 13 That this question posed to Rhazes is Kaʿbī’s appears from the symmetric question asked by Rhazes i (...)

– Since the divinity knew that the connection of the Soul with Matter would necessary open the door to afflictions and dreads, why did it not prevent the Soul from this connection?13

  • 14 Far al-Dīn, al-Maālib al-ʾāliya, vol. 4, p. 415, 8-416, 1. The passage p. 415, 16-416, 3, on God’ (...)

– Muammad b. Zakariyyā [i.e. Rhazes] responded: Inasmuch as this desire ‹for Matter› is essential and connatural to the Soul’s substance, putting an end to it was impossible. The Creator—may He be exalted—has only the power to do what is possible, not what is impossible. Thus God knew that had He forbidden the Soul to get joined with Matter, this ‹forbidding› would have neither made this connection impossible nor reduced the extension (mādda) of this evil. For this reason, the wise and merciful divinity did not attempt to forbid the Soul to get joined to Matter, but let it, that she does so. He then disposed the various ‹resulting› compositions in the best way next to perfection and flawlessness (awqaʿa tilka al-tarkībāt ʿalā al-wağh allaḏī yakūnu aqrab ilā al-ḫayr wa-l-ṣalāḥ), as far as possible from evil and corruption. The Creator then poured forth (afāḍa) upon the Soul’s substance the light of Reason in order that the Soul, thanks to the faculty of the light of Reason and thanks to the reiterated experiences of the ‹grievous› states of the World, shall learn that there is no ‹intrinsic› utility at all in its connection with such Matter, and that, on the contrary, its connection ‹with it› amounts to opening the door to afflictions and dreads...”14

  • 15 Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, p. 301, 2.

16The metaphysical justification for the Soul’s eternity and coeternity with God is found in al-Maṭālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4. Before reading this text, one has to remember that from the actual state of the world, Rhazes thought it possible to infer that it is not eternal a parte ante, as shows the title of this lost work: On the impossibility for the world to be eternal a parte ante (lam yazal) according to what is observed of it.15 The corresponding physical sense-based demonstration, unfortunately, is not known, but its metaphysical (or mythological) presuppositions can be grasped from the following explanations provided by Faḫr al-Dīn:

  • 16 It is difficult to say whether this is an allusion to Avicenna’s metaphysics on behalf of Far al-D (...)
  • 17 “Anticipated by privation and adventitious” might have been clearer.

Text 3: “Demonstration that the Soul is eternal. Proof of its eternity: given that it has been established through proof that the divine cause of the world (ilāh al-ʿālam) is an agent ‹which acts› deliberately and not an agent which by its essence necessitates ‹the world›,16 it cannot be that its act be eternal, because the agent ‹which acts› deliberately is the one which acts in consideration of a purpose and the one whose act is in consideration of a purpose, its act is adventitious (muḥdaṯ) and anticipated by privation [masbūq bi-l-ʿadam; i.e. preceded by something to be achieved]17. Everything [?] which is so inevitably becomes active after having been inactive eternally a parte ante. Therefore it is not possible that it [i.e. the divine cause of the world] starts acting if it is not ‹in consideration of a purpose, meaning› after that an ignorant agent did act before it and set out to act ignorantly [bi-ǧahli-hi: i.e., due to its ignorance of what it was doing]. This latter agent, it has been established, is the Soul. And this necessarily implies that the Soul is eternal.

  • 18 See the fragments of this book in Raziana, p. 241 seq..
  • 19 Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4, p. 404, 4-17; cf. p. 409, 3-8: “Muammad b. Zaka (...)

– As regards the eternity of Void (al-ḫalāʾ) and Aeon (al-dahr), he [Rhazes] brought forward the proofs thereof in the book On Place and Time.18 On this ground Muammad b. Zakariyyā al-Rāzī then stated: ‘What have been said about these Five Eternals is then established.’”19

  • 20 Bīrūnī, Répertoire, p. 16, no. 107: Commentary on the Timaeus; cf. Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, p. 301, 5 (...)

17In brief, God is prompted to act by the Soul’s fall so that the damage caused to the Soul by its own fall can be alleviated as much as is possible. The optimum theory comes out here from a thoroughly pagan doctrinal scheme. Of course, one surmises that all of this is only a likely myth in the manner of Plato’s Timaeus, a treatise Rhazes probably knew quite well since he is reported to have commented upon it.20 But although a myth, it apparently seemed to Rhazes more consistent than what the Koran had to say about God. Finally, according to this text, the five Eternals are: God, the Soul, Matter, Void and Aeon. It is worth noting that the Intellect or Reason bestowed upon the Universal Soul’s substance is not one of them.

18Albeit crucial to fully understand Rhazes, I will presently not insist on the pedagogical dimension of his conceptions seen in Text 2.

19As shown by his interpretation of K. 3, 14, Rhazes did apply a part of this doctrinal scheme to the Koran in order to make his Muslim opponent understand that, even according to the Koran, God is not the one who makes Matter enticing, but the Soul—as he alone states—because desire for Matter is “essential and connatural to the Soul’s substance” (Text 2), which in turn proves that the Soul as well as matter are coeternal with God.

  • 21 M. Rashed, 2000, p. 51. In English transl.: the prophets “are mainly messengers through whom God, b (...)

20Based on these first three texts, it is difficult to conceive of a way in which Rhazes’s interpretation of K. 3, 14 amounts to saying that the prophets “sont surtout des envoyés par qui Dieu, en nous détournant du monde d’ici-bas, nous signifie qu’il ne contrôle pas le désir irrationnel de l’âme pour la matière”.21

21The conclusion thus reached by M. Rashed shows that his whole reading of the fragments he discovered relies on two confusions.

  • 22 Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4, p. 401.

22As regards the first one, one saw above that the Soul that first yearns for matter and then falls into it is the universal eternal Soul-principle, one of the five principles coeternal with God in Rhazes’s theodicy. Unless “prophets” are themselves to be considered as eternal principles, the Soul is not among the beings that they are in a position to talk out of falling into matter. “When” the Soul longs for matter and falls into it, prophets, like all other human beings, do not exist yet. The mere title of the chapter of al-Maṭālib al-ʿāliya, wherein Rhazes’s doctrine of the Soul is exposed, proves it: “Report of the discourse held by those who say that the cause of the coming to be of the world is the Soul’s desire for matter”, sabab ḥudūṯ hāḏā al-ʿālam ʿišq al-nafs ʿalā al-hayūlā.22

23The second confusion, symmetrical to the first, is to consider the Intellect as a metaphysical entity of which the prophets could have been the spokesmen. Since the Intellect is not counted among the five Eternals, this interpretation is untenable.

  • 23 Al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4, p. 417, 24.
  • 24 See e.g. G. Gobillot 2002.

24The Koranic ground attributed to Rhazes’s doctrine is all the more dubious since the “Soul”, once fallen in matter, is still universal despite its entrenchment in individual bodies. In Rhazes’ view, there is in reality only one Soul even after its fall. Only matter does make it appear as multiple and divided. Even if up to now no text has been discovered that clearly states this, its final separation from matter must probably reveal its essential unity anew. This would then amount to the equivalent of the well-known Gnostic version of the apokatastasis doctrine—a doctrine that Rhazes may well have upheld when speaking of “the Great Resurrection” (al-qiyāma al-kubrā).23 As it is well known, there is nothing specifically Islamic about it, not to mention Koranic, even though some Muslims, for instance the Iḫwān al-Ṣafāʾ, are known to have adopted it and called it “Great Resurrection” (al-qiyāma al-kubrā).24

  • 25 On Rhazes’ general view on ilhām, see Raziana, p. 295, 3-300, 16 and cf. al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. (...)

25Be that as it may, given that there is only one Soul, when Rhazes evokes the divine bestowing of Reason (or Intellect) upon the Soul’s substance, he necessarily means that Reason is equally shared by all ensouled individuals into which the unique Soul is apparently divided in its enmattered condition. This explains why he is reported to have upheld that even animals are imparted with some kind of “revelation”, ilhām.25 In fact, what he meant is that the divine bestowing of Reason upon the whole of the Soul’s substance amounts to a universal “revelation”. That he believed in such a universal “revelation”, equal in all human beings, was already known through his discussion with the Ismāʿīlī Abū Ḥātim; see below Text 10. And it is confirmed by at least two other hitherto unknown testimonies that we will see below. From this, it then becomes clear that the idea of a divine bestowing of Reason upon the universal Soul was also a way for him to altogether reject the claims of monotheist revealed religions, including Islam, because this universal revelation makes “revelations” de facto purposeless. Reason or the Intellect does not speak to humanity through the mouth of the prophets, but through human reason only.

  • 26 See al-Kindī’s Epistle on Catarchic Astrology, p. 66, §2.
  • 27 Ap. Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, p. 320, 7-9. Despite he tends to altogether deny the existence of philos (...)
  • 28 See Raziana, p. 193.

26If so, then the prophets whose existence Rhazes nonetheless seems to have recognized cannot be monotheist prophets, but only the ones he actually alluded to when he attributed his core doctrine of the “Five Eternals” to the Ḥarrānian pagans. In effect, Ḥarrānians were considered at that time as the heirs and representatives of a perennial pagan tradition, illustrated by the names of Thales, Pythagoras, Plato, Socrates and others, all of them considered as prophets. Al-Kindī, for instance, used to regard Socrates as a member of a philosophical, henotheistic and astrological religion wherein the relationship between a supreme God and human beings is mediated by a hierarchy of planetary gods, held as responsible for the material world governance.26 At the same time, al-Kindī referred to these “monotheistic” (muwaḥḥidūn) pagans as contemporaries and we know how deeply he revered these pagans since he wrote that their philosophy, found in the books of Hermes to his son, displayed “the uttermost expertise in the theology of divine unity”, ġāya min al-taqāna fī al-tawḥīd.27 Of course, Thales, Pythagoras, Plato, and even Hermes, were prominent pagan figures and mere men. Hermes was regarded as a prophet of Thot (or Poimandres, etc.), the others, as prophets of the Neopythagorean tradition. Is it a mere coincidence if Rhazes is reported to have regarded himself, among many other things, as a Pythagorean?28 That he adopted al-Kindī’s view in some respect is beyond doubt since in order to vindicate his own views he referred not only to philosophers anterior to Aristotle, but also to prophets “of all religions”, unanimous on the point that God is not the one who created the material world.

  • 29 Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4, p. 418, 4-8.

“Muammad b. Zakariyyā al-Rāzī claimed that all the divine philosophers who came before Aristotle belonged to this school (maḏhab) and that the religions of all the prophets are in perfect agreement on this doctrine (maḏhab). The proof is that all the prophets and Messengers revealed on behalf of God (ğāʾū bi-) that this world is contemptible, that the conditions of existence linked to it are despicable, and that anyone has to guard against it. Had God been the one who created it at the beginning and brought it about, He would not have called it contemptible...” 29

27This however leads us back to Rhazes’s interpretation of K. 3, 14. Did this interpretation really show that Rhazes was counting Islam among the religions which assert that God is not the creator of this world such as it now is, i.e. full of lusts, delusions and demons (Text 5)? Had this been the case, there would be no explanation for the fact that he deemed it fit to refute the very Koranic idea of prophecy in the above mentioned four-page fragment preserved by Faḫr al-Dīn (see Appendix). On the one hand, Rhazes admitted of the existence of prophets said to be in agreement with philosophers anterior to Aristotle; on the other hand, he refuted the existence of Koranic prophets. Ergo: the prophets whose existence he recognized were not Koranic or monotheistic prophets, but “pagan” ones.

28But since this question is a separate one, it will be dealt with in greater detail on another occasion.

  • 30 The new periodization of “la philosophie islamique” put forward by M. Rashed (2009) based on his in (...)

29To sum up: in the fragments examined, Rhazes never comes out as a fellow traveller of Muʿtazilī theology or Islamic thought in general, nor as a Muslim dissenter, but all along as an adversary of Koranic-based doctrines.30

The Role of Reason and Revelation (Ilhām) in Rhazes’s Refutation of Prophecy

30The newly discovered four-page fragment I have referred to, which contains a comprehensive anti-prophetic demonstration directed against an anonymous Muʿtazilī, has largely gone unnoticed until now. It is partially translated in the Appendix to this article.

31The reason this long fragment and others had remained unnoticed in Faḫr al-Dīn’s encyclopaedic work while others have been found is simple: like the Text 1 quoted above, the fragments and testimonies from al-Maṭālib al-ʿāliya that I discovered are quoted with no name of author and some time and research were therefore required in order to identify them within the text and to then ascribe them to Rhazes.

  • 31 Al-Maqdisī, Kitāb al-badʾ, vol. 1, p. 135, 5.
  • 32 See al-Maqdisī, Kitāb al-badʾ, vol. 1, p. 115-135, Huart (Arabic). The reference itself had already (...)

32In the course of my research, I also discovered parts of Kaʿbī’s answers to Rhazes’ fragments preserved by Faḫr al-Dīn. They are found in al-Maqdisī’s Kitāb al-badʾ published by C. Huart between 1899 and 1919. With one exception, al-Maqdisī however did not quote Kaʿbī or Rhazes by name. How heavily al-Maqdisī sometimes relies on Kaʿbī is nonetheless made clear by this sole exception. There,31 al-Maqdisī ingenuously avowed that he simply copied (“re-planted”) from Kaʿbī’s lost Book on the Principles of Proofs what in Huart’s edition represents no less than twenty pages of text.32 But al-Maqdisī did not pay his debt each time he quoted from this book or others. Among the evidence for the fact that al-Maqdisī’s explanation on prophecy is to be ascribed to Kaʿbī, there is the above mentioned remark by Faḫr al-Dīn on Kaʿbī’s inability to properly answer Rhazes arguments against al-taʿdīl wa-l-taǧwīz. Indeed, the passage Faḫr al-Dīn had in mind when noting this is apparently among the ones preserved by al-Maqdisī. In al-Maqdisī’s chapter on prophecy and its adversaries, one reads the following text:

Text 4: “And if someone says:

– ‘Since God, ‹as you argue›, cares for the well-being of all his creatures (murīdan li-ṣalāḥ ḫulqi-hi), since he is not stingy (baḫīl), not limited in his power (lā ʿāǧiz), since no weariness or relieve affects him in all that he does, why is it that he has neither made all his creatures Messengers by inspiring them science sufficient to do without the “Messengers” (fa-hallā ǧaʿala ḫalqahu rusulan wa-alhamahum min al-ʿilm mā istaġnū bi-hi ʿan al-rusul), nor has he kept their nature from rushing forward onto what is forbidden ‹and hence from falling down from the Garden›?

  • 33 Kaʿbī quotes here (vol. 1, p. 110, 2-3: law faʿala… al-awāb) a first anonymous answer to Rhazes’ c (...)

[…]33

  • 34 Al-Maqdisī, Kitāb al-badʾ, vol. 1, p. 109, 14 et 110, 6. The Arabic for the last paragraph runs as (...)

– ‘This topic pertains to the definition of what is permitted and what is just (al-taǧwīz wa-l-taʿdīl) and this book of ours is not meant to deal with this, but (we will nonetheless say that…)’”34

33Taking into consideration Faḫr al-Dīn’s quoted report on the content of the debate between Rhazes and Kaʿbī and the fact that al-Maqdisī’s long quotation of Kaʿbī’s Book on the Principles of Proofs begins just five pages afterward in Huart’s edition of Kitāb al-badʾ, it becomes clear that in the above extract too al-Maqdisī is quoting Kaʿbī’s Book on the Principles of Proofs, wherein the latter was himself quoting Rhazes. The first paragraph of Text 4 then turns out to be one more testimony of Rhazes’s debate with Kaʿbī.

34Faḫr al-Dīn even preserved in the following text what might be another formulation of Rhazes’s argument:

  • 35 As in the case of Text 4, the first sentence does not express what Rhazes actually thought, but wha (...)
  • 36 Ap. Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 8, ch. 3, p. 27, 16-18.

Text 5: “God—may He be exalted!—had the power (kāna qādiran) to create the All within the Garden, to lead them [sc. human beings] until they reach the virtues and the degrees ‹of election›, and to deter them from ever reaching the abodes of tribulation and anguish.35 Had God ‹such as you conceive Him› wanted them good, He then would have created ‹and maintained them› them in this state [sc. within the Garden, free of all pains and afflictions]; but why, then, did He not do it and, instead of that, gave dominion over them to lusts and delusions, and filled the world with demons? ‹Thence› we learn that He, ‹such as you conceive Him›, did not want them good. If so, then it is impossible ‹after that› to assert that He charged them with the burden of obeying the Revealed Law in order to betoken what benefits them (wa-iḏā kāna al-amru ka-ḏālika imtanaʿa an yuqāl inna-hu kallafahum li-aǧli al-taʿrīḍ li-l-maṣāliḥ).”36

35The first thing one notices about this text is that it sheds light on the real context of the debate between Rhazes and Kaʿbī over the Soul’s responsibility for the existence of the material world and over the meaning of the Koranic verse: “Enticing to men was made the love of pleasures…” This context is the discussion about the truth or conceptual relevance of the Koranic view of God as an omnipotent benevolent Creator and as a Legislator—Revealed Law and prophecy being, of course, the means of His Legislation. As we saw, this anti-prophetic text is drawn from the same source as the fragments supposed to support of the opposite interpretation. The second thing one notices, in consideration of the thematic connection between this quotation and the previous one drawn from al-Maqdisī’s Kitāb al-badʾ, is that in this connection lies the proof that the question of God’s justice was in Rhazes’ intention directly related to the refutation of prophecy and was altogether occupied with this refutation. This affirmation is itself drawn from Faḫr al-Dīn’s eighth book of al-Maṭālib al-ʿāliya which is entirely devoted to prophecy and its critics. Here, the refutation of taklīf—the fact that God charged human beings with the burden of obeying His Law—represents a refutation of prophecy. It would be interesting to compare his charge against taklīf with St Paul’s criticism of the Law.

36As we shall see once more, the argument against the Koranic understanding of God’s justice and against the justice or justness of the very notion of prophecy, was shaped by Rhazes because he upheld the view that God made all human beings equal through the unrestricted gift of reason to all of them, meaning God’s gift of Reason to the Universal Soul and hence to all ensouled creatures.

  • 37 Since then, Abū ātim al-Rāzī’s Aʿlām al-nubuwwa (“Proofs of prophecy”), also called Refutation of (...)

37Moreover, thanks to Faḫr al-Dīn, we can assess that the theologian’s answer preserved by al-Maqdisī (Text 4, §3), the remainder of which is translated in the course of the present paper, is Kaʿbī’s answer to Rhazes. Generally speaking, Kaʿbī’s answers are almost as interesting as Rhazes’ arguments. They allow us to fathom not only the doctrinal context of their debate, but also of the debate between Rhazes and the Ismāʿīlī theologian Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī on “revelation” or “inspiration” (ilhām). The content of the latter debate was up to recently only known through the partial report written down by Abū Ḥātim himself and published by P. Kraus in his Raziana (p. 291-316).37 As one can to some extent already realize through the first of the two quotations just above (Text 4), the fragments of Kaʿbī’s answers to these anti-prophetic statements show two things.

38First, they show that Rhazes’ main target was the Muʿtazilī doctrines of divine omnipotence, of retribution and the underlying tenet of the Koranic understanding of God’s justice. According to Kaʿbī, Rhazes stated in plain terms:

– (i) that the God of the Koran is unjust, which was but a way to deny him existence and to do away with prophecy (Text 9), because, as we learn from another testimony transmitted by Nāṣir-I Ḫosrō (d. 1088), in Rhazes’ opinion, prophets of an unjust God are, in reality, inspired by demons;

(ii) that the Muʿtazilī doctrine of retribution, which licenses violence wielded in the name of the Koranic God and of his prophet, is subsequently false and irrational (see Text 9).

39As for the point (i), Nāṣir-I Ḫosrō’s report is explicit enough:

  • 38 Unless the Persian text itself was corrupted in some way, the beginning of the first sentence was, (...)

Text 6: “Some among the philosophers are not enthusiasts only about this [i.e. the identification by the arrānian ābit b. Qurra of the stars and planets with Angels], but also38 profess the existence of demons and assert that the souls of ignorant and evil people, when they get separated from their bodies, remain in this world. As they leave their bodies while still bewailing the sensual pleasures that keep them ensnared, they are incapable of freeing themselves from the natural elements ‹of this world› (al-ṭabāʾiʿ). Because of this, souls of such a kind enter a body of an ugly form, wander about around the world (tantaqilu fī al-ʿālam), beguile human beings, educate them into evildoing, and lead them astray into the deserts that they perish ‹there›.

  • 39 A logical articulation appears lacking at this point of Abū ātim’s report.
  • 40 Raziana, p. 177, 10-20 (Persian); p. 178, §2 (Arabic). Between {}: the text added by P. Kraus to th (...)

As Rhazes told in his book The {Divine} Science, souls of evil people who once became demons manifest themselves (tataǧallā) to certain men in the form {of Angels} and order them: “Go! Announce to Men: ‘An Angel came to me and unto me he said ‘Allāh granted you the prophetic mission (Allāh aʿṭāka al-risāla)’. And I am the Angel {sent to you}!’.”; and so on till (ḥattā)39 dissension arises among people because of this, and till a lot of people got killed as a consequence of the governance exercised (tadbīr) by these souls who once became demons.”40

40Second, the known fragments and especially the one partially quoted above from al-Maqdisī’s Kitāb al-badʾ (Text 4), show that Rhazes’s conception of ilhām (“revelation”) equates ilhām with the gift of reason to all mankind. This is what also appears from Kaʿbī’s following answer to Rhazes, from which it becomes clear that, according to the latter, ilhām is for everybody a necessary (ḍarūrī) cognitive process which at the end exempts mankind from the need of a pedagogue (= a prophet).

  • 41 Kaʿap. Maqdisī, Kitāb al-badʾ, vol. 1, p. 109, 10-14. The reference to “a starting point and a p (...)

Text 7: “[…] And all of this proves that reason is not self-sufficient, but inescapably requires a master, a pedagogue, a guide, someone who shall make it remember [cf. Koran l, 55; xiv, 5]. Indeed, it is not conceivable (lā yaǧūzu) that the knowledge of those things [i.e. philosophy, geometry, medicine, astronomy] come ‹to Man› through inspiration by way of necessity (ilhāman ḍarūriyyan), because with regard to this sort of things, one does not observe that it happens like this; and it is not conceivable either that these things become known through a method of invention and discovery that could do without a starting point and a prior ground.”41

41Self-sufficient reason and “(knowledge acquired) through inspiration by way of necessity” are identified with each other in this quotation and the rest of the discussion. This shows beyond doubt that this identification, rejected by Kaʿbī, was in Rhazes’ argumentation directed against the relevance and utility of prophecy. In all likelihood, “by way of necessity” refers here to the immaterial process described above, i.e. the divine bestowing of Reason upon the universal Soul. As for human reason’s self-sufficiency alluded to in this text, this is precisely the topic elaborated by Rhazes in the four-page fragment against prophecy that Faḫr al-Dīn also preserved, which suffices it to prove that this latter text is to be ascribed to Rhazes and to no one else. A part of this fragment is found in the Appendix.

42Furthermore, according to Abū Ḥātim’s report of Rhazes’s anti-prophetic argumentation that will be quoted below (Text 10), in order to be called “wise” or “merciful”, i.e. “good”, the Koranic God should have granted every human being with the “revelation” (ilhām) that He is actually said to have restricted to his “prophets”. This clearly entails that in Rhazes’ view the Koranic God is neither wise nor merciful and hence is an empty notion, forged by misguided men, which leads to the conclusion that the Koran is not a (genuine) Revelation.

43Finally, the second, very significant point to transpire from these two reports, the Muʿtazilī one and the Ismaiʿīlī one, is that Rhazes actually had recourse to a similar argument against both Kaʿbī and Abū Ḥātim: universal ilhām—meaning humanity’s endowment with reason—sets it free from the need for prophecy (risāla).

44Based on these new pieces of evidence, it thus seems that a large part of the controversy between Rhazes and Kaʿbī can now be pieced together and that Rhazes’ opposition to Islam and prophetic religions can be nearly entirely documented. All of the fragments referred to in the following survey will be published together in a book I am currently editing. Here, only some of them will be quoted and examined.

Rhazes as the Socratic Gadfly of Islamic Theology

45Given that the three main characters of this four-century long debate have not yet been properly introduced, we need to pause to briefly introduce them highlighting a few biographical elements relevant to our purpose.

46The first and the main character is of course Abū Bakr Muḥammad b. Zakariyyā al-Rāzī (c. 854-925), known in the Latin Middle Ages as Rhazes. Rhazes was born in Rayy, in the neighbourhood of modern Tehran. There he also died sixty or seventy years later, after having spent a part of his life in Baghdad, where he was appointed chief physician of a hospital (a Bimaristan). Commonly labelled as a free-thinker in philosophy and religion, and regarded, till recently, as a fierce opponent of revealed religions, he displayed all the features of an independent and original mind in the field of medicine as well. Among other achievements, he is held with good reason as the founder of clinical examination. Compared to Avicenna, who was dogmatic whether in philosophy or in medicine, Rhazes appears as an empiricist, extremely cautious when it comes to confront theory and observation of concrete cases. He is for example the first to have tested the efficiency of his drugs on patients divided into a test group and a placebo group. This is one of the reasons why he is considered superior to Avicenna as a physician. Rhazes also was an interesting sort of Empiricist when it comes to philosophy.

47The second of the three characters is Abū ʾl-Qāsim al-Balḫī (d. 931), nicknamed al-Kaʿbī, a Muʿtazilī theologian famed for the most part for his controversies with Rhazes. Judging from the ancient lists of their works, it seems their numerous written exchanges cover a large part of their respective lifetime. After Rhazes’ death, Kaʿbī is still recorded as cursing the soul of his old adversary, convinced that Rhazes was experiencing the damnation he always deserved.

  • 42 Kaʿbī apparently refers to the nuptial symbolism of Alchemy and to Rhazes’ probable claim to have m (...)
  • 43 Ibn al-ʿIbrī (Barhebraeus), Mutaar, p. 158.

Text 8: “I was seeing you claiming three sciences to be yours and you were the most ignorant person in each of them. Thus you were claiming Alchimia to be yours and such a spouse would have kept you from spending even ten dirham or so? If you had even one day owned the opulence of her dowry, she would not have you cited before the supreme Judge and you could have stood up with her and swore to have been true to her.42 You were claiming medicine as yours while the sight was failing you so much that it had left you already! You were claiming as yours astrology and physics while calamities that you had been unable to foresee were so much falling upon you that they were closing in on you!”43

48Based on this text and on the material dug out from Maqdisī’s Kitāb al-badʾ, it seems that Kaʿbī would have had Rhazes tried and put to death, given the chance. If Kaʿbī has been reduced to such impotent hatred, what does it tell us about the kind of intellectual relationship he had with Rhazes? In other terms, what did it mean to be a Muʿtazilī theologian in Rhazes’ time at the beginning of the 10th century? Narrowing the scope of the question in order to fit our present interest, I would say that being a Muʿtazilī meant two things: first, it meant admitting of a limited but nonetheless real function of reason in the interpretation of the Koran and the doctrinal elaboration of the creed; second, it meant being in a tenuous position when addressing a thinker whose sole authority was natural reason and whose life was under the protection of the monarchs he was serving.

49The last of the three characters chronologically-speaking is the Avicennian philosopher and Asharite theologian Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, who died during the first decade of the 13th century. He is one of the most distinguished and brilliant scholars of the whole history of Medieval Islam. Curiously enough his theology, halfway between Avicennian metaphysics and typically Quranic tenets, retained from philosophy a strong inclination for dialectical discussions mingled with dogmatic and deterministic views drawn from both Avicenna and the Koran. Faḫr al-Dīn’s masterpiece al-Maṭālib al-ʿāliya can remotely be compared to Thomas of Aquinas’ Summa contra Gentiles.

50Those thinkers thus represent three of the main trends of thought in Islam; by order of their historical significance and importance in Classical Islam: Asharite theology, Muʿtazilī theology and Philosophy. Philosophy thus acting as an intermediary, as it were, between two conflicting branches of Islamic theology, seems rather unique in the history of thought in Classical Islam.

  • 44 See Bibliography.

51Of our three authors, Faḫr al-Dīn is the best known, and Kaʿbī, the least. As for Rhazes, most of the writings that we have deal not with philosophy directly but with medicine and alchemy. Of his philosophy, especially the metaphysical part, we know little beyond what is contained in testimonies, fragments and other reports. The only extent philosophical treatise that came down to us is his famous Spiritual Physics.44

52Rhazes’ anti-prophetic fragment preserved by Faḫr al-Dīn is, I believe, one of the most interesting texts for our knowledge of Arabic philosophy in the 10th century. It contains, in the form of a three-stage argumentation, the straightforward and seemingly inescapable rebuttal of the Muʿtazilī understanding of prophecy and revealed religion. As we will see, this is the reason why Faḫr al-Dīn deemed it fit to be preserved, for it would serve his own refutation of Muʿtazilī theology. Moreover al-Fārābī, another great figure in Arabic philosophy but younger than Rhazes, is dependent on the latter in his refutation of theology (Kalām) as a science. Given the influence of al-Fārābī on posterior Arabic philosophy, it turns out that Rhazes influenced not only the theological debate in Islam between Muʿtazilīs, Ismāʿilīs and Asharites, but also peripatetic philosophy through al-Fārābī.

***

53The core argument of Rhazes, such as it is preserved not only in Faḫr al-Dīn’s work, but also in Kaʿbī’s answer to it, runs as follows:

54Is the human intellect sufficient to assess on its own what it needs to know about God’s nature and goodness for Man to live in a way which pleases God? If the answer is yes, it follows that there is no need of revelation or prophecy, which implies that prophets are mere impostors whose real intentions are political, material and detrimental to human beings. But if the answer to the question of the human intellect’s self-sufficiency is no, then it is impossible for this to be known starting from the prophecy, because prophecy, Rhazes states, in order to be established and received by people as a creed, must at least be backed up and somehow explained through reason. Up to this point, this is what Muʿtazilī theologians believed too. But if reason or the intellect is required to prove the revelation and prophecy to be consistent or true, reason should be both sufficient and insufficient: sufficient as a dialectical tool, to prove the reality of prophecy, and, with regard to prophecy itself, insufficient as a kind of knowledge and as a cognitive path—which, of course, is contradictory, and shows that the relation between prophecy and reason stated and invoked by Muʿtazilī theologians in favour of their interpretation of the Koran relies on false premises.

  • 45 See Appendix: 2nd text, by Rhazes.

55Moreover, if prophecy can be proved by reason, it implies that everything revealed in the Koran is in accordance with reason, a position that Rhazes compelled Kaʿbī to concede. However this would mean that through reason everything of importance is already known, so that no further knowledge supposedly received from God in a Book is required any longer. In sum, either Revelation duplicates reason and has no raison d’être; or Revelation contradicts reason and must be discarded.45

56This is only a survey of Rhazes’ line of argumentation.

57Though used only a few times in the newly discovered fragment, a key word in Rhazes’ vocabulary is the active participle muʿtabiran, with its inflectional case ending in “an”, which indicates that this participle is used as an adverb. This term stems from a root whose meanings relevant to us are found in the following derivative words: ʿabra, ʿibāra, iʿtabara.

58The first one, ʿabra, a particle, means “through”, “over” and sometimes also “beyond”. The main idea conveyed by this particle is that of a tool which allows to go through something, or to think it through.

59The second one, ʿibāra, a noun, means “thorough or careful examination”, “consideration”, “account”, “elucidation”; ʿibāra is the word that has been chosen to translate hermeneia in Aristotle’s Peri hermeneias.

60The third one, the verb iʿtabara, means “examine thoroughly”, “take into consideration”. The active participle muʿtabir is drawn from this verb. However, the participle emphasizes, more than the verb does, the reflective or inner process conveyed by the morphological scheme at issue. Briefly, the one who does something muʿtabiran does it “on his own”, by personal examination, and “of his own accord”, through a personal decision. The point Rhazes therefore wants to make when employing this term is the following: it can be demonstrated that on every issue of importance, from the nature of God to the exercise of reason and the practice of virtues, Man can “on his own” know what he ought to know and can therefore “of his own accord” do what he is supposed to do. This is the background of the idea that I would like to pursue, putting the rest aside for now.

61In all the works, fragments and testimonies and especially in all the fragments preserved by Faḫr al-Dīn that relate to Rhazes’s thinking, there is a fundamental, implicit and recurrent principle that not only shapes or structures the whole theory, but always emerges as an ethical tenet, which somehow appears to prevail upon even the consistency of the metaphysical and cosmological theory he put forward. This unconditional and undisputable principle is God’s goodness. First, it is God’s goodness whose effect Rhazes beholds in the fact that all human beings are equally imparted with the faculty of reason (Text 10), making the sending of prophets purposeless from the start.

62It also is the principle of God’s goodness that leads Rhazes to deny the divine justice in its Koranic and theological understanding, because a benevolent God simply cannot have his creatures punished or even threatened of punishment. Those who claim to be the delegates of a God who issues threats are, in Rhazes’ view, being led astray by demons (Text 6; cf. Text 5 and 10).

63It is God’s goodness that also explains why Rhazes attacked the Muʿtazilī theory of the optimum: the best of all possible worlds that God could bring about in principio was a world wherein evil is a possibility in which he would have no part and which he could later on relieve indirectly only, through His giving reason to all human beings and even, to a lesser degree, to all animals in such a way that they could either amend themselves, in the case of human beings, or take part in a providential plan wherein contingency can be alleviated because reason and wisdom permeates the whole world (Text 1 and 2).

64Finally, it is God’s goodness that Rhazes wanted to secure doctrinally when he deliberately multiplied the eternal entities between God and the world, so that God could not be held responsible for or yield to any of the evil, wrongdoing, suffering or adversity that constantly occur in the material world (Texts 1, 2, 14). The Soul, coeternal with God, is the sole personal principle which can be held responsible for evil. The fact that Rhazes introduced an eternal intermediary, the Soul, between his purely benevolent God and the material mode of existence might reflect a lack of interest in systematic, monistic metaphysics. For which he was mocked by posterior philosophers. Yet his apparent lack of interest in systems might also reflect his will to provide a plausible explanation for the present condition of individual souls, a project which is often absent from posterior metaphysical systems. As a matter of fact, Rhazes was keen to explain the world such as it is, much more than to build systems wherein everything can be reduced to and deduced from its first principle.

65Let us now focus on two points: first, the assertion of God’s goodness in the known controversy between Rhazes and Kaʿbī; second, the reason why Faḫr al-Dīn preserved a part of this controversy and how he himself managed to escape the critical bearing of the doctrine he reported.

66The first question to address is why Rhazes deemed it relevant to insist so much on God’s goodness while never elaborating, it seems, on the issue.

67The answer is to be found in the nature of the debate: that God is good and only good was not a tenet that theologians were in a position to deny, but, on the contrary, bound to concede without reservation, at least theoretically. In practice, however, things came about differently. According to the discussions on this theme in the debate which took place concretely, the meaning of God’s goodness was the main practical difficulty they met in their controversy with Rhazes. In fact, historically speaking, this was a decisive turning point with regard to the role of reason in Islamic theology. Muʿtazilī theologians might have been expected to accept a univocal meaning for God’s goodness, that is a univocal meaning for goodness itself. They should have accepted that what human reason in general soundly qualifies as good is also good in God’s eyes and would be called “good” by God himself. In this sense, God and human beings are supposed to qualify the rejection of violence as “good”.

68But the repeated attacks launched by Rhazes against their conception of divine justice made this position impossible to hold, because he compelled them to choose between two options: God, as Judge, punishes the wrongdoers and, in general, all those who do not comply with the prophetic revelation; or God does not punish anyone but lets his creatures free to set things right, which they are able to do thanks to Reason (ʿaql), imparted to them by God first as an aid to arrange chaotic matter and then to set the soul free from material existence. In the first instance, that of a God who, adds Rhazes, permits and even fans the flames of wars by choosing and promoting rival prophets (Texts 6 and 10), human reason would deny calling God “good”. In the second alternative, this becomes possible, but then, there is no place for the wrath displayed by God in the Koran and generally in revealed Scriptures. Naturally the Muʿtazilī theologians could not and would not take the turn Rhazes was inviting them to take, among other reasons, because the letter of the Koran could not be changed or be alleviated from what did not fit in with the rational assessment of what is good according to Rhazes.

69Since the theologians nonetheless assigned a certain value to reasoning and maintained the relative importance of reason together with the Koranic text, the only possible choice left to them, was to undermine the human ability to understand goodness in favour of the unchangeable Koranic understanding of justice as retribution. In other terms, as it is obvious from the answer of Kaʿbī I have referred to (Text 9), the Muʿtazilī were forced to admit of evil committed either directly by God or indirectly by his Prophet with divine approval. From this point on, they then contrived to make this evil appear as good in a way that human reason could not grasp or recognise. This is the case when Rhazes accused Prophets of bloodshed which Muʿtazilī theologians were now forced to pass off as good. What I mean is that the controversy between Rhazes and Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī (see Text 10) is not only echoed in, but also corroborated by the new fragments of his controversy with Kaʿbī that I have discovered; for example, the following fragment:

  • 46 Ap. al-Maqdisī, Kitāb al-badʾ, vol. 1, p. 111, 14 et 112, 4.

Text 9: “If they [i.e. the adversaries of prophecy who nonetheless acknowledge the existence of a deliberating God] now attack the prophetic Apostolate for the reason that once it is in effect, blood is shed, animals are sacrificed and men are subjected to suffering, ‹we shall respond› that reason does not conflict with that at all, since in all that, there is some beneficence (ḍarbun min al-ṣalāḥ). Anticipating something he fears, Man finds it repellent to drink awful potions, and also blood-letting, scarification and amputation of a rib are repulsive to him, and education is repellent to children, and so on. But in these cases, one must not repel that which would do you harm and one must not whine at the idea of having a hand or a foot cut off. This is repellent indeed, but results in a reduction of corruption in the body.”46

70Aside from this apology of violence committed in the name of God and the greater good and from the correlative discarding of God’s goodness such as human beings are able to understand it, the other dead-end into which Rhazes cornered his opponents is a social or a sociological one. A benevolent God, in Rhazes’ understanding, could not have elevated some men above others, meaning that he would not have made a very few men prophets and all the others dependent upon the former to ascertain the truth about God and the soul’s destination in the afterlife. Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī thus reports:

  • 47 Raziana, p. 295, 3-13.

Text 10: “He [i.e. Rhazes] said: ‘How did you come to think it obligatory that Allāh distinguished some men from others by the gift of prophetic insight, gave the former the preference over the latter, made of the former Authorities for the sake of the latter and reduced the latter to be in need of the former? And how did you come to think it conceivable that the wisdom of the Wise made this choice for them all, so that He would throw them against each other, would fan the hostility between them and would add to the wars ‹they are already making to each other›, so that at the end He would bring about their ruin!’ — I [Abū ātim] said: ‘And how, in your opinion, should He proceed in His wisdom?’ — He said: ‘What suits the most the wisdom of the Wise and the mercy of the Merciful is His inspiring (yulhim) to all His servants the knowledge of what is profitable for them and of what is harmful to them regarding this present life as well as the Afterlife; ‹what suits the most His wisdom and mercy› is that he does not give the preference to some over the others; that there be no rivalry or discord between them, so that ‹otherwise› they would bring about their own ruin. Such is a much better way to protect them than making some of them the Imams of the others, for ‹in this latter case› every religious community declares his Imam truthful and mendacious the Imam of the others, then they come to blows, then some of them gain a reputation by stabbing the others, so that affliction becomes general and by dint of injustices and fights, they bring about their own ruin. Too many men have already lost their life in this manner, as we ‹all› can notice it’.” 47

71Since this God does not exist, neither does prophecy. And since reason does exist and makes all men equals (meaning equals before instruction), prophecy is not only a delusion inspired by demons and a political trick, it is also the worst social injustice committed by a nonexistent, unjust God aided by his so-called prophets. These are Rhazes’ own words, as we saw in Texts 5 and 6. And here is Kaʿbī’s answer preserved by al-Maqdisī:

  • 48 Cf. Text 5.
  • 49 Ap. al-Maqdisī, Kitāb al-badʾ, vol. 1, p. 111, 6-14.

Text 11: “This being so, ‹regarding the thesis› “If God was able to do what was in his power to do [i.e.: “if God was capable of keeping men in the Garden by making prophets of all of them”], why did He not do it?”,48 we shall say that, ‹had this been the case›, it would have been ‹on His behalf› either a harm ‹inflicted on men›, or ignorance, or impotence. But, ‹whatever it is›, this opinion ‹that God did not do what was in His power to do› contradicts the belief in the uniqueness of God [i.e. the omnipotence of the one God] and overthrows religion. It is therefore necessary to return to it and to clearly assert that God is just and wise, does only what is best for the sake of his creatures and what is the most profitable for them. Accordingly, would He have made of all men Messengers, He should also have had to equally distribute among them excellence, reason, glory, goods and strength. And if so, the excellent man would not have known his excellence, or the strong one, his strength; with the disappearance of reasons for thanking Him and for praising Him, God would not have been thanked or praised and impiety and vice would have been licit. And yet, all of this is ugly and repulsive according to human reason. It is therefore proved that equality between men cannot have been permitted, whether equality of status, of wealth or equality in the prophetic Apostolate.”49

  • 50 Muslims of all denominations have always accepted that the prophets are maʿṣūm, “impeccable” or “in (...)

72This explanation in the manner of Plato’s Callicles, that Faḫr al-Dīn also seems to have judged inconclusive, is astonishing. Not to mention its blatant lack of consistency,50 there is no place in such a religion for the weak and ungifted ones who, in turn, have no reason to praise such a God, but probably only cause for cursing Him. Kaʿbī appears here at his wit’s end.

73Not only did Rhazes refute him starting from the idea that God is only good, he also refuted him starting from the common Islamic belief in an omnipotent God. Why, asks Rhazes, did the omnipotent God of the Koran not do what really was best for his creatures according to the Koranic standard, that is to say why did not God make every man a prophet and, doing so, why did he not keep all men in the Garden instead of imposing upon them, on this earth of torment, the heavy burden of the prophetic Law (al-taklīf)? The answer, in Rhazes’ opinion, was simply that a good God cannot be an omnipotent God, but a God who delegates to his creatures the full rational autonomy necessary for them to understand their painful condition and accordingly to act so as to escape from it; see Text 2. The answer, in Kaʿbī’s opinion, once cornered by Rhazes’ question, was that an omnipotent God cannot be good or just in a human sense, so that human beings cannot know what is profitable to them without the help of Revelation. Clearly, the two positions are irreconcilable.

74We are thus getting closer to the reason why Faḫr al-Dīn thought it convenient to report a part of the controversy which took place between Rhazes and Kaʿbī. As an Asharite theologian, what Faḫr al-Dīn found interesting in this controversy is the fact that Rhazes succeeded in showing that it was impossible, contrary to Muʿtazilī belief, to hold together a somehow independent reason alongside the Revelation’s absolute authority. Faḫr al-Dīn, with his usual clarity, took pains to summarise the Muʿtazilī position he rejected, meaning the position that Rhazes proved untenable if joined with the recognition of the Koran’s authority.

  • 51 Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, Kitāb al-arbaʿīn, transl. (slightly modified) A. Shihadeh, 2006, p. 64.

Text 12: “Had goodness and badness not been knowable by reason, it would have been impossible for us to recognise them after Revealed Law presented them; for recognition (taṣdīq) must be preceded by intellectual apprehension (taṣawwur). Therefore, the basis of goodness and badness must be knowable by reason.”51

75Faḫr al-Dīn makes his rejection of the Muʿtazilī position very clear when he states the following. I quote Shihadeh’s translation:

Text 13: “[There is] dispute over whether the connection of some acts to blame in this world and to punishment in the hereafter, and the connection of others to praise in this world and to reward in the hereafter, are due to an attribute of the act itself or, on the contrary, to the sole determination of Revealed Law to that effect, or to the determination of those well-acquainted with it.

  • 52 Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, Kitāb al-arbaʿīn, transl. A. Shihadeh 2006, p. 64.

Muʿtazilīs say that the reasons for these determinations are attributes in acts themselves. Our position is that they are the sole determination (ḥukm) of Revealed Law.”52

76As we can see, this is now a matter of faith where no argument or explanation whatever is provided in support of this stance. The conception that Rhazes had compelled the Muʿtazilīs to adopt, and especially Kaʿbī, that is to say, the reduction of the human understanding of goodness to the Koranic understanding of Justice, here is not reluctantly, but deliberately and without reservation endorsed by Faḫr al-Dīn. Acts can be qualified as good or bad only in relation to the praise or blame attached to them according to the text of the Revelation. But what applies to human acts also applies to God’s acts. Turning to Rhazes in al-Maṭālib al-ʿāliya, Faḫr al-Dīn put forward the same conception to simply deny human ability to assess the nature of God’s acts:

  • 53 Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4, p. 419.

Text 14: “Those [i.e. The Asharite] who assert that God’s acts need not to be in accordance with what is good for human beings do not have to comply with this doctrine [i.e.: Rhazes’s]. As a matter of fact, in this doctrine, the core argument consists in saying that God is Merciful and Benevolent ‹and nothing else› (raḥīm karīm), so that, necessarily, He would not do anything that leads to suffering and harm ‹inflicted on men›. But we say that since reason’s ability to decide what is right and what is wrong is groundless/vain (taḥsīn al-ʿaql wa taqbīḥuhu bāṭil); and since God does whatever He wants and judges in whatever way pleases Him, said position completely collapses.”53

77We have here a rather accurate definition of misology. Faḫr al-Dīn seemed unaware that the plain negation of the human capacity to qualify what reason can understand was not likely to be confined to the moral realm and once applied to it, could only result in a general negation of reason or, in other terms, can only result in a negation of the human ability to qualify anything. Hence, his failure to provide a rational foundation for a simply human ethical theory is also his failure to account for any synergy between reason and the Koran. Of course, if the Koran is right by definition and if reason has no perception not only of right and wrong, but also, necessarily, of true and false, the inescapable conclusion runs as follows: reason is forever and in all respects dependent upon the Koran and there is no autonomous knowledge, whether philosophic or scientific, conceivable outside the Koran.

  • 54 Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 1, p. 227; vol. 5, p. 80, 12 et 81, 8.

78Here we can grasp the reason why Faḫr al-Dīn’s metaphysics only covers the deterministic part of Avicenna’s metaphysics: at least, this part is in accordance with the deterministic stance of the Koran. Beyond that, philosophy in his thought shrinks to almost nothing and all the remarkable dialectical skills nonetheless displayed by Faḫr al-Dīn are pointless. Unsurprisingly, in the al-Maṭālib al-ʿāliya, the only true argument put forward by Faḫr al-Dīn against Rāzī is the all too famous Avicennian distinction between the Existent necessary by itself and the Necessary Existent through another.54

Conclusion

79Rāzī’s intent was to show that the omnipotence, judgement and ill temper of the God of the Koran and of other Revelations are incompatible with human rationality, incompatible not only with the judgements issued by human reason as a rule, but also and primarily with the very fact of human beings’ rationality. Given that the universe is for him eternal a parte post and that the souls pass from one body to another as long as needed until they became aware of themselves and of their true immaterial nature, instead of postulating an unjust God, he thought it much more rational to believe that it was just a question of time before every human being will go to heaven (cf. the Gnostic notion of apokatastasis), depending for each one on his own capacity to think and to take the right decisions accordingly.

80The Muʿtazilīs’ intent was in the first place to show that rationality is to a certain extent compatible with the theological understanding of God’s justice. After Rāzī, the only speculative possible position left to the Muʿtazilīs was to emphasize the gap between, on the one hand, the human assessment of good, bad and right and wrong and, on the other hand, the Koranic understanding of justice, thus paving the way for further theological elaborations, much less “reason friendly”. Yet they hoped for their part to come to a kind of conciliation.

81In practical terms, these conciliatory efforts were still underway at the time of Faḫr al-Dīn, at the beginning of the 13th century; but on a doctrinal or speculative level, the situation had changed and an agreement was no longer to be hoped for.

82As for the issue of subjectivity, what precedes may mean that intersubjectivity was no longer considered as attainable between faith and reason. Since this kind of intersubjectivity used to rely on the practice of philosophical argumentation on issues debated among thinkers of different persuasions, it means that at some point the rational modus vivendi that characterised the 9th and 10th centuries and sometimes made possible a friendly coexistence between Christians, Muslims and Jews irreversibly disappeared.

83As for sociability, what appears from the texts we read together is that the question was settled through historical evolution: because philosophy and philosophical reason at some point were no longer perceived as a threat to Islamic theology. An articulation of some sort or a common ground, halfway between theologians (the recognition of the Koran’s divine authority) and philosophers (the affirmation of the autonomy of natural reason), was no longer needed by intellectuals in order to set up the foundations of the only kind of knowledge which was revelation-based. The Islamic political, public claim to constitute by itself alone all valuable knowledge about the relationship between God and human beings, about human beings’ place in the universe and about the social and political relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, was about to take over and occupy the whole stage. The speculative aspect of this historical evolution, as it singularly appears from Faḫr al-Dīn rebuttal of Rhazes, was the rejection of human ability to assess right and wrong or true and false on its own account. The only remaining alternative was to submit to Revealed Law for everything of even relative importance. Very concretely, it means that no common rational language was left for people of different persuasions to speak to one another. And as history shows us, in the absence of a common rational language, violence too often constitutes the only remaining mode of human interaction, which is exactly what Rhazes was already saying in his controversies with his Muslim contemporaries. We can wonder if al-Fārābī was not thinking of Rhazes’ contention when he asserted the following:

  • 55 Al-Fārābī, Book of Particles §150, translated from M. Mahdi’s unpublished and improved edition; cf. (...)

“If the religion transferred to them [sc. a certain people] is a religion which stems in its very beginning from an ancient, corrupt philosophy [i.e. worldview], either rhetorical or dialectical or sophistical, and if the sound and demonstrative philosophy [i.e. founded on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics] is then transferred to them after that, the latter will contradict that religion in all respects and this religion will totally contradict that philosophy. And then each of them will tend to annihilate the other. Whichever prevails in establishing itself firmly in the souls will annihilate (abṭalat) the other and whichever takes over (qaharat) this nation will eradicate (abṭalat) the other from it.”55

  • 56 See Vallat, 2012.
  • 57 On this philosopher, see D. Urvoy, p. 202-214.

84Whether there was an influence of Rhazes on the way al-Fārābī viewed the relationship between philosophy and religion is a problem I tried to tackle in the introduction of my translation of al-Fārābī’s Epistle on the Intellect, to which I for now can only refer the readers interested in this topic.56 I come back to it in a book to be published on the pagan context of the beginnings of philosophy in Arabic. At any rate, one can phrase the question whether there was even one non-Muslim philosopher known to have taken part in the intellectual public life of the caliphate after Faḫr al-Dīn’s epoch apart from the Persian Jew Ibn Kammūna who died in 1284.57

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Bibliographie

Abbreviations (Primary Sources)

Bīrūnī, Répertoire: al-Bīrūnī, Abū al-Rayḥān, Épître de Berūnī contenant le répertoire des ouvrages de Muammad b. Zakariyā Ar-Rāzī, publiée par Kraus, Paul, Paris, Imprimerie Orientaliste Au Calame – Librairie Orientale et Américaine G.P. Maisonneuve, 1936.

Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya: al-Imām Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī: al-Maālib al-ʿāliya min al-ʿilm al-ilāhī, al-Saqqā, Aḥmad Ḥiğāzī (ed.), 9 vols., Beirut, Dār al-kitāb al-ʿArabī, , 1987.

Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, Kitāb al-arbaʿīn (fī uūl al-dīn), Hyderabad, 1353 A. H. (quoted after Ayman Shihadeh, see below).

Ibn al-ʿIbrī (Barhebraeus), Mutaar: Ibn al-ʿIbrī, Mutaar Taʾrī al-duwal, Ṣalḥānī, Antoine (ed.), Beirut, Dār al-Mashriq, 2007 (4th ed.).

Ibn al-ʿIbrī, Chronology: Gregorii Bar Hebraei Chronicon Ecclesiasticum, Abbeloos, B. & Lamy, Th. I. (eds.), 3 vols., Louvain, 1872, 1877; Engl. transl., Bar Hebraeus, The Chronology, transl. Budge, E. Wallis, London, Oxford University Press, 1932; repr., Amsterdam, APA, Philo Press, 1976.

Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist: Ibn al-Nadīm, Kitāb al-fihrist, mit Anmerkungen herausgegeben von Flügel, Gustav; erster Band: den Text enthaltend. von Dr. Roediger, Johannes, Beirut, Maktabat Ḫayyāṭ, n.d. (reprint of Leipzig: Verlag von F.C.W. Vogel, 1871).

Ibn al-Qifṭī, Taʾrī: Ibn al-Qifṭī, Taʾrī al-ukamāʾ auf Grund der Vorarbeiten Aug. Müller’s. Herausgegeben von Lippert, Julius, Leipzig 1903; repr. in F. Sezgin, Islamic Philosophy vol. 2, Frankfurt am Main 1999.

Ibn Ṣāʿīd al-Andalūsī, abaqāt: Ṣāʿīd ibn Aḥmad ibn Ṣāʿīd al-Andalusī, Kitāb abaqāt al-umam, Cheykho, L. (ed.), Beirut, al-Maṭbaʿa al-Kāṯūlīkiyya, , 1912; French transl.: Blachère, R., Livre des catégories des nations, Paris, Larose, 1935; repr. of Cheykho’s edition and Blachère’s translation in F. Sezgin, Islamic Philosophy, vol. 1, Frankfurt am Main, Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science, 1999.

al-Kindī, Traité d’astrologie catarchique : Risālat al-Kindī, M. Mahdi (éd.), “Nuṣūṣ ġayr manšūra li-l-Kindī wa-l-Fārābī”, Nuū falsafiyya muhdāt ilä l-Duktūr Ibrāhīm Madkūr, O. Amine éd., Al-hayʾa al-miṣriyya al-ʿāmma li-l-kitāb, Cairo, 1976, p. 53-78.

al-Maqdisī, Kitāb al-badʾ (Kitāb al-badʾ wa-l-taʾrī): Le livre de la création et de l’histoire de Moahhar ben âhir el-Maqdisî, attribué à Abou-Zéïd ben Sahl el-Balkhî, 6 vol., publié et traduit d’après le manuscrit de Constantinople par Huart, Cl., Leroux, Ernest Éditeur, Paris, 1899-1919.

al-Masʿūdī, Murūğ al-ahab: al-Masʿūdī, Abū al-Ḥasan, Les prairies d’or, de Courteille, P., de Meynard, A.-C. Barbier, and Pellat, Ch. (eds.), Beirut, Librairie Orientale, 7 vol., 1966-1979.

Raziana: Abū Bakr Muḥammad b. Zakariyyā al-Rāzī (Rhazes), Abi Bakr Mohammadi Zachariæ Raghensis (Razis), Opera Philosophica, Fragmentaque quæ supersunt, Kraus, Paul (ed.), Beirut, Dār al-Āfāq al-Ğadīda, 1982 (5th ed.).

Other Primary Sources

Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī, Aʿlām al-nubuwwa, al-Ṣawī, Ṣalāḥ (ed.), Tehran, Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy, 1977; see also: A Parallel English-Arabic Text, transl., introd. and annot. by Khalidi, Tarif, Provo (UT), Brigham Young University Press, 2011.

al-Fārābī: Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī, Kitāb al-ḥurūf, Book of Letters, Mahdī, Muḥsin (ed.), Beirut, Dār El-Mašriq, 1990 (2nd ed.).

al-Fārābī: Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī, Risāla fī al-ʾaql. De intellectu, texte arabe intégral en partie inédit, établi par Maurice Bouyges, Bibliotheca arabic scholasticorum t. VIII/1, Imprimerie Catholique, Beirut, 1983 (2nd ed.); French transl.: Philippe Vallat, Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī, Épître sur l’intellect, “Sagesse médiévale”, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 2012.

Maimonides, Treatise on Logic (Maḳāla fī ṣināʿat al-mantiḳ). The Original Arabic and Three Hebrew Translations, Efros, Israel (ed.), New York, American Academy for Jewish Research, 1938.

Secondary Literature

Bladel, Kevin van, The Arabic Hermes, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009.

Drijvers, Han J.W., “Edessa und das jüdische Christentum”, Vigiliae Christianae 24/1, p. 4-33

Ess, Joseph van: “Abū ʾl-Qāsem Kaʿbī”, Encyclopaedia Iranica 1983:
http://www.iranica.com/articles/abul-qasem-al-balki-al-kabi-abdallah-b

Gobillot, Geneviève, “Quelques stéréotypes cosmologiques d’origine pythagoricienne chez les penseurs musulmans au Moyen Âge (I)”, Revue de l’histoire des religions 219/1, p. 55-87.

Gougenheim, Sylvain, Aristote au Mont Saint-Michel. Les racines grecques de l’Europe chrétienne., Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 2008.

Rashed, Marwan, “Abū Bakr et le Kalām”, MIDEO 24, 2000, p. 39-54.

Rashed, Marwan,“Abū Bakr al-Rāzī et la prophétie”, MIDEO 27, 2008, p. 169-81.

Rashed, Marwan,“Les débuts de la philosophie moderne”, in Büttgen, Ph. (et al.), Les Grecs, les Arabes et nous, Paris, Fayard, p. 121-169.

Shihadeh, Ayman, The Teleological Ethics of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, Brill, Leiden, 2006.

Urvoy, Dominique, Les Penseurs libres dans l’Islam classique, Flammarion, Paris, 2003.

Vallat, Philippe (2012): see al-Fārābī, Risāla fī al-ʿaql.

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Annexe

Kaʿbī accurately sums up Rhazes’s anti-prophetic argumentation:

“Those rejecting the Messengers are of two kinds… The second ones are the Brahmans who confess the existence of the Author and reject the mission of the Messengers (risāla) arguing that the Messenger (rasūl) conveys nothing but what either ‹already› appertains to reason or contradicts it. And if he conveys what reason ‹already› makes requisite, then what appertains to reason is sufficient for ‹all› that God requires from his servants, that is: for knowing him; for confessing his unity/uniqueness; for showing him gratitude; for ‹performing› the pious deeds whereby we worship him; for being capable of ascertaining good [leg.: istisān] what is ‹truly› good and bad what is ‹truly› bad. And if he conveys what is in contradiction with reason, there is no way one should accept it, because such a discourse would oppose what human intelligence is ‹naturally› inclined to (nawan al-ʿuqūl) and the capacity to judge and to ascertain, which is ‹universally› ascribed to it (ūdiʿtahā).”58

This summarize is entirely confirmed by the four-page quotation found in the eight volume of Faḫr al-Dīn’s al-Maālib al-ʿāliya.

From a report by al-Masʿūdī (d. 956), it also appears that Rhazes himself attributed both to Indian philosophers and to Plato’s disciples the negation of (monotheistic) prophecy.59

Unlike what Kaʿbī thought, Rhazes’s Indian philosophers were not Brahmans or Hindus, but Buddhists. See my forthcoming “Between Hellenism, Islam, and Christianity: Abū Bakr al-Rāzī and his Controversies with Contemporary Muʿtazilī Theologians as Reported by the Asharite Theologian and Philosopher Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī”.

Rhazes

Beginning of the three main arguments reported by Far al-Dīn:

(i) “The reportedly well-founded thesis of the prophets’ envoy (al-qawl bi-iḥḥat al-baʿa) either goes alongside with the affirmation that reason ascertains what is good/right and what is wrong/bad ‹through personal examination›, or alongside with the negation of this principle; and yet, both alternatives are false, so that the thesis of the prophets’ envoy is false.”60

This first argument is a reasoning called modus tollendo tollens: if the truth of a statement implies the truth of a second statement by way of necessity and if the second one is falsified, then the first has been proved false as well. Here, the demonstration is concerned with the possibility for the thesis (the first statement) to go alongside with one of the two alternatives posited. The impossibility for it to concur with either is demonstrated through an intricate reasoning that also is the longest of the three arguments.

For another example of the modus tollendo tollens figure in Arabic, see Maimonides’s Treatise on Logic, p. 27 seq..

(ii) “The object of any investigation is either the knowledge of what is not present to sense perceptions or the knowledge of what is present to sense perception.”61

Both sorts of knowledge are then showed to be acquired through reason only, without any help, which makes the unnecessity of prophecy obvious.

(iii) “Obviously enough, the recognition of the prophethood of prophets is a proposition which relies as a consequent on the ‹prior› knowledge of the judgment issued by reason on these eminent matters [i.e. what concerns God, the soul, and the Afterlife].”62

This third argument particularly focuses on the logical aspect of the affirmation of prophecy:

“If the judgment of Prophets and Messengers is concordant with the judgement of reason, then the consequent (al-farʿ) is that within the judgement of reason is already what is sufficient ‹and renders prophecy useless›. And if their judgement contradicts the one of reason, then the consequent [i.e.: reason is not sufficient] will be in contradiction with the antecedent [al-al: their judgment contradicts the one of reason]. And when contradiction occurs between the antecedent and the consequent, asserting that the antecedent is more likely than the consequent is more pertinent (awlā) than the contrary. [Then, in the second case, asserting that their judgement is not concordant with reason is more likely than asserting that reason is not self-sufficient].

Hence it is established that the judgement [i.e. the faculty of judgement] of reason necessarily is more likely than everything it allows to determine. The current discourse is a determination ‹of this kind›, namely the determination whether it appertains to reason to assess, through personal examination (muʿtabiran), what is good/right and what is bad/wrong regarding the knowledge of God’s essence, attributes and pious deeds. [Then, since reason, as a faculty of judgement, is more likely than everything it allows to determine and since the antecedent is more likely than the consequent] if [instead of the conclusion we reached], we had been saying: the assessment of what is good/right and what is bad/wrong is not possible through personal examination, then to say of the envoy of a prophet and of the prophetic knowledge that they are an inconsistent doctrine would have been even more necessary after what we clearly demonstrated in the previous elaboration [because the recognition of prophecy, as a consequent, would have been even less likely than the antecedent from which it was supposed to result].”63

In other terms, the negation of reason’s self-sufficiency can only result in scepticism, and not in the recognition of any higher authority.

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Notes

1 See M. Rashed 2000 and 2008.

2 See Bīrūnī, Répertoire, no. 62, 115, 117; cf. Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, p. 300, 20-23: three treatises against Kaʿbī. See also Bīrūnī, Répertoire, no. 119 and no. 120: against the Muʿtazila in general; and Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, p. 300, 24-25: two treatises against al-Ğāi.

3 See M. Rashed, 2009. These scholars are taxed with Islamophobia supposedly typical of “Orientalists” and with unwitting neo-colonialism. M. Rashed thus brought his personal contribution to the inflamed debate which took place among French Medievalists after the publication of S. Gougenheim’s Aristote au Mont-St-Michel in 2008.

4 See A. Shihadeh 2006, p. 102-103, who is referring to al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4, p. 419, 9-12. The content of the square brackets is mine. M. Rashed (2000, p. 47) knew this statement by Far al-Dīn but misunderstood it, as shown by his erroneous translation.

5 M. Rashed, 2000, p. 51.

6 M. Rashed, 2009, p. 159.

7 See Raziana, p. 215.

8 “Some say they do”: among them are the Asharites and Far al-Dīn himself, as we will see.

9 It is worth noting that Far al-Dīn seems ignorant of the fact that Christians uphold the same position without being dualists: Adam, created free, fell by his own fault.

10 Even if there is no doubt that Far al-Dīn is now referring to Rhazes, as confirmed below, the subdivision introduced by this second “Some among them” could be misleading. It apparently refers to “two sects”, these two sects being both labelled “dualistic”.

11 Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4, p. 366, 7-17 (cf. vol. 4, p. 364, 15-20). Rhazes is not quoted by name, but his thought is unmistakable despite Far al-Dīn’s confusing classification.

12 “They” probably refers to Abū ʾl-Qāsim al-Kaʿbī and the Muʿtazilīs in general.

13 That this question posed to Rhazes is Kaʿbī’s appears from the symmetric question asked by Rhazes in the fragment quoted in Text 4, which is drawn from Kaʿbī’s Book of the Principles of Proofs.

14 Far al-Dīn, al-Maālib al-ʾāliya, vol. 4, p. 415, 8-416, 1. The passage p. 415, 16-416, 3, on God’s gift of Reason to the Soul, is quoted by M. Rashed (2000, p. 43) who ignored the passage of Text 1. In this article, the Author argued that Rhazes’s doctrine of the optimum is Muʿtazilī and hence Islamic.

15 Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, p. 301, 2.

16 It is difficult to say whether this is an allusion to Avicenna’s metaphysics on behalf of Far al-Dīn, in which case this “quotation” in fact is Far al-Dīn’s rewording of Rhazes’ argument; or whether this is Rhazes’ allusion to a common Neoplatonic tenet which he rejected.

17 “Anticipated by privation and adventitious” might have been clearer.

18 See the fragments of this book in Raziana, p. 241 seq..

19 Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4, p. 404, 4-17; cf. p. 409, 3-8: “Muammad b. Zakariyyā al-Rāzī said: ‘Among the proofs of the fact that the purpose of bringing the world into being does not befit the wise active Cause (lā yalīqu bi-l-fāʿil al-akīm), there is also that this world is full of pains and diseases. To remain non-existent would have entailed immunity to these pains (al-baqāʾ ʿalā l-ʿadam yufīdu al-khalā min hāihi al-ālām); at the same time, what is harmful is to yield to these pleasures [i.e. the pleasures to which the Soul yielded when joining herself to Matter]. As regards the bringing into being and the creative process, they necessarily imply the fall into the pains inherent to this world and the punishment of the After-world. Since it is so, then Wisdom ‹as such› requires renouncing to bring ‹anything› into existence or into being (taqtaī tark al-īǧād wa-l-takwīn)”.The first sentence obviously begs the question of whether it would be wise to create the world.

20 Bīrūnī, Répertoire, p. 16, no. 107: Commentary on the Timaeus; cf. Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, p. 301, 5: Commentary on Plutarch’s commentary on the Timaeus (On the Creation of the Soul in the Timaeus?).

21 M. Rashed, 2000, p. 51. In English transl.: the prophets “are mainly messengers through whom God, by deterring us from this world, makes it clear to us that He does not control the soul’s irrational desires for matter”. M. Rashed’s conclusions were as follows: “Contrairement à ce que répètent en chœur les exégètes d’al-Rāzī, les Prophètes ne sont pas simplement récusés par ce dernier, mais constituent autant de véhicules de l’Intellect…”, 2009, p. 159; “Il est faux qu’al-Rāzī récuse la prophétie”, p. 161; “On ne comprend pas grand-chose à al-Rāzī quand on se borne à voir en lui, comme la plupart des exégètes, un gentil “libre-penseur” opposé au dogmatisme sourcilleux de méchants barbus”, p. 157.

22 Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4, p. 401.

23 Al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4, p. 417, 24.

24 See e.g. G. Gobillot 2002.

25 On Rhazes’ general view on ilhām, see Raziana, p. 295, 3-300, 16 and cf. al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4, p. 416, 17 where Rhazes alludes to “all the living beings” (ǧamīʿ al-ḥayawānāt), a phrase which not only includes human beings, but also animals.

26 See al-Kindī’s Epistle on Catarchic Astrology, p. 66, §2.

27 Ap. Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, p. 320, 7-9. Despite he tends to altogether deny the existence of philosophical Hermetica in Arabic translation, K. van Bladel (2009, p. 90) recognized that al-Kindī read these books of Hermes in Arabic. But in order to dispel the obvious connection between these philosophical Hermetica and Harranian philosophers—a connection which he is determined to reject—he explains the following: “Depending on how one interprets al-Kindī’s words, however, the Hermetic work in question may not have had any special status in Ḥarrān. It could have been acquired anywhere, and any Ḥarrānian, considering Hermes to be his prophet, might have declared it authoritative upon al-Kindī’s inquiry. Then again, it is possible to speculate that al-Kindī did indeed receive the book from a Ḥarrānian.” What in fact is mere speculation in this reasoning is the suggestion that “the Hermetic work in question may not have had any special status in Ḥarrān. It could have been acquired anywhere, and any Ḥarrānian, considering Hermes to be his prophet, might have declared it authoritative upon al-Kindī’s inquiry”; see also p. 161. Let us only recall that according to Ibn al-Qifī (Taʾ, p. 195, 13) The Book of Hermes’s Laws, which might well have been the treatises al-Kindī referred to in Ibn al-Nadīm’s quotation, had been translated from Syriac into Arabic by Sinān, the son of the Harranian mathematician and philosopher ābit b. Qurra (d. 901). This lost Book of Hermes’s Laws was according to Ibn al-ʿIbrī’s Chronology (1890, p. 168-169: no. 14) a work by Ṯābit himself. Was al-Kindī not referring to the religious laws of the Harranians in Ibn al-Nadīm’s quotation? And was ābit “any Harranian” in van Bladel’s opinion? The connection between Harran and Hermes did not date back to the 9th century, as he would like to think, but to the 2nd century; see e.g. Drijvers 1970, p. 8. As I will explain on another occasion, the commonly accepted chronology of ābit’s life is erroneous.

28 See Raziana, p. 193.

29 Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4, p. 418, 4-8.

30 The new periodization of “la philosophie islamique” put forward by M. Rashed (2009) based on his interpretation of Rhazes’ fragments therefore does not stand.

31 Al-Maqdisī, Kitāb al-badʾ, vol. 1, p. 135, 5.

32 See al-Maqdisī, Kitāb al-badʾ, vol. 1, p. 115-135, Huart (Arabic). The reference itself had already been noticed by J. van Ess (1983), who however did not see that there was before that a twenty-page long quotation of Kaʿbī.

33 Kaʿbī quotes here (vol. 1, p. 110, 2-3: law faʿala… al-awāb) a first anonymous answer to Rhazes’ charge against Koranic prophecy, then says that this answer amounts to saying the same as Rhazes, and then comes up with his own answer. The passage is for this reason extremely intricate.

34 Al-Maqdisī, Kitāb al-badʾ, vol. 1, p. 109, 14 et 110, 6. The Arabic for the last paragraph runs as follows: ā bāb al-taǧwīz wa-l-taʿdīl wa-laysa kitābunā hāā bnynʾ (?) la-hu [var.: li-hāā bnyʾ-hu (?)] wa-lākin…

35 As in the case of Text 4, the first sentence does not express what Rhazes actually thought, but what he assumed for the sake of the argument.

36 Ap. Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 8, ch. 3, p. 27, 16-18.

37 Since then, Abū ātim al-Rāzī’s Aʿlām al-nubuwwa (“Proofs of prophecy”), also called Refutation of Abū Bakr al-Rāzī the Heretic, from which the fragments published by P. Kraus derived, has been edited by Salā al-āwī in 1977, and translated into English by Tarif Khalidi in 2011.

38 Unless the Persian text itself was corrupted in some way, the beginning of the first sentence was, I believe, erroneously translated from Persian as “Some among the philosophers do not praise this at all”: wa-min al-falāsifa man lā yamdau hāā qaṭṭu instead of wa-min al-falāsifa man lā yamdau hāā fa-qa, bal… ayan which seems more consistent with the whole sentence. Without this correction, there is no intelligible connection between the first and the second part of the sentence.

39 A logical articulation appears lacking at this point of Abū ātim’s report.

40 Raziana, p. 177, 10-20 (Persian); p. 178, §2 (Arabic). Between {}: the text added by P. Kraus to the Persian text in his Arabic translation thereof. For the rest, Rhazes’ opinion is strongly reminiscent of ideas found in Porphyry and Iamblichus. To conjure away this interfering text, M. Rashed (2008, p. 176-178) comes up with the following explanation: “Ce serait une critique tendancieuse qui aurait fait mine de croire, ultérieurement, que Rāzī englobait dans cette catégorie tous les actes de tous les prophètes mosaïques, jusque [sic] et y compris Muḥammad […]. Ce sont les ferments de discorde, les incitations aux conflits, qui ne peuvent avoir été le fait des prophètes: soit les traditions à ce sujet mentent, soit les hommes ont été victimes de ‘doubles’ des prophètes, qui les ont abusés.” It is impossible to fathom whose thought this is supposed to paraphrase. In any case, it surely asserts the exact opposite of what not only Nāir-i osrō, but also Abū ātim report; see below, Text 10.

41 Kaʿap. Maqdisī, Kitāb al-badʾ, vol. 1, p. 109, 10-14. The reference to “a starting point and a prior ground” at the end of the quotation points to another argument directed against Rhazes and also preserved by Maqdisī, namely, that God alone could have created human language and not reason bestowed by God upon the Soul.

42 Kaʿbī apparently refers to the nuptial symbolism of Alchemy and to Rhazes’ probable claim to have made gold (i.e. to have consummated his union with Alchimia).

43 Ibn al-ʿIbrī (Barhebraeus), Mutaar, p. 158.

44 See Bibliography.

45 See Appendix: 2nd text, by Rhazes.

46 Ap. al-Maqdisī, Kitāb al-badʾ, vol. 1, p. 111, 14 et 112, 4.

47 Raziana, p. 295, 3-13.

48 Cf. Text 5.

49 Ap. al-Maqdisī, Kitāb al-badʾ, vol. 1, p. 111, 6-14.

50 Muslims of all denominations have always accepted that the prophets are maʿṣūm, “impeccable” or “incapable of sinning”. “If all men were prophets...”: what Kaʿbī draws from this hypothesis is plainly absurd from an Islamic viewpoint. The rest of the answer therefore is inconsistent.

51 Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, Kitāb al-arbaʿīn, transl. (slightly modified) A. Shihadeh, 2006, p. 64.

52 Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, Kitāb al-arbaʿīn, transl. A. Shihadeh 2006, p. 64.

53 Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 4, p. 419.

54 Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 1, p. 227; vol. 5, p. 80, 12 et 81, 8.

55 Al-Fārābī, Book of Particles §150, translated from M. Mahdi’s unpublished and improved edition; cf. Book of Letters §150,155–156, Mahdi.

56 See Vallat, 2012.

57 On this philosopher, see D. Urvoy, p. 202-214.

58 Ap. al-Maqdisī, Kitāb al-badʾ, vol. 1, p. 109, 1-8.

59 Masʿūdī, Murūğ al-ahab ii, §1396, p. 393-394. Cf. Ibn āʿid al-Andalūsī, abaqāt, p. 12, 13-15.

60 Ap. Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 8, p. 29, 1-3.

61 Ap. Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 8, p. 32, 3-4.

62 Ap. Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 8, p. 33, 4-5.

63 Ap. Far al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Maālib al-ʿāliya, vol. 8, p. 33, 6-13.

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Philippe Vallat, « Can Man Assess God’s Goodness? », MIDÉO, 31 | 2016, 213-251.

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Philippe Vallat, « Can Man Assess God’s Goodness? », MIDÉO [En ligne], 31 | 2015, mis en ligne le 14 avril 2016, consulté le 17 octobre 2017. URL : http://mideo.revues.org/881

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Auteur

Philippe Vallat

Université de Vienne
Philippe Vallat is a former Research Fellow of the Humboldt Foundation and Resident Researcher at the French Institute for Near Eastern Studies in Damascus and is now Senior Research Fellow at Vienna University (ERC Project 9 SALT Reassessing Ninth Century Philosophy. A Synchronic Approach of the Logical Traditions).

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Institut Dominicain d'Études Orientales

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