Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER LXXIII - A Guide for the Perplexed
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CHAPTER LXXIII - Moses Maimonides, A Guide for the Perplexed 
A Guide for the Perplexed, translated from the original Arabic text by M. Friedlaender, 4th revised ed. (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1904).
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There are twelve propositions common to all Mutakallemim, however different their individual opinions and methods may be; the Mutakallemim require them in order to establish their views on the four principles. I shall first enumerate these propositions, and then discuss each separately, together with the inferences which may be drawn from it.
Proposition I. All things are composed of atoms.
Proposition II. There is a vacuum.
Proposition III. Time is composed of time-atoms.
Proposition IV. Substance cannot exist without numerous accidents.
Proposition V. Each atom is completely furnished with the accidents (which I will describe), and cannot exist without them.
Proposition VI. Accidents do not continue in existence during two time-atoms.
Proposition VII. Both positive and negative properties have a real existence, and are accidents which owe their existence to some causa efficiens.
Proposition VIII. All existing things, i.e., all creatures, consist of substance and of accidents, and the physical form of a thing is likewise an accident.
Proposition IX. No accident can form the substratum for another accident.
Proposition X. The test for the possibility of an imagined object does not consist in its conformity with the existing laws of nature.
Proposition XI. The idea of the infinite is equally inadmissible, whether the infinite be actual, potential, or accidental, i.e., there is no difference whether the infinite be formed by a number of co-existing things, or by a series of things, of which one part comes into existence when another has ceased to exist, in which case it is called accidental infinite; in both cases the infinite is rejected by the Mutakallemim as fallacious.
Proposition XII. The senses mislead, and are in many cases inefficient; their perceptions, therefore, cannot form the basis of any law, or yield data for any proof.
“The Universe, that is, everything contained in it, is composed of very small parts [atoms] which are indivisible on account of their smallness; such an atom has no magnitude; but when several atoms combine, the sum has a magnitude, and thus forms a body.” If, therefore, two atoms were joined together, each atom would become a body, and they would thus form two bodies, a theory which in fact has been proposed by some Mutakellemim. All these atoms are perfectly alike; they do not differ from each other in any point. The Mutakallemim further assert, that it is impossible to find a body that is not composed of such equal atoms which are placed side by side. According to this view genesis and composition are identical; destruction is the same as decomposition. They do not use the term “destruction,” for they hold that “genesis” implies composition and decomposition, motion and rest. These atoms, they believe, are not, as was supposed by Epicurus and other Atomists numerically constant; but are created anew whenever it pleases the Creator; their annihilation is therefore not impossible. Now I will explain to you their opinion concerning the vacuum.
On the vacuum. The original Mutakallemim also believe that there is a vacuum, i.e., one space, or several spaces which contain nothing, which are not occupied by anything whatsoever, and which are devoid of all substance. This proposition is to them an indispensable sequel to the first. For, if the Universe were full of such atoms, how could any of them move? For it is impossible to conceive that one atom should move into another. And yet the composition, as well as the decomposition of things, can only be effected by the motion of atoms! Thus the Mutakallemim are compelled to assume a vacuum, in order that the atoms may combine, separate, and move in that vacuum which does not contain any thing or any atom.
“Time is composed of time-atoms,” i.e., of many parts, which on account of their short duration cannot be divided. This proposition also is a logical consequence of the first. The Mutakallemim undoubtedly saw how Aristotle proved that time, space, and locomotion are of the same nature, that is to say, they can be divided into parts which stand in the same proportion to each other: if one of them is divided, the other is divided in the same proportion. They, therefore, knew that if time were continuous and divisible ad infinitum, their assumed atom of space would of necessity likewise be divisible. Similarly, if it were supposed that space is continuous, it would necessarily follow, that the time-element, which they considered to be indivisible, could also be divided. This has been shown by Aristotle in the treatise called Acroasis. Hence they concluded that space was not continuous, but was composed of elements that could not be divided; and that time could likewise be reduced to time-elements, which were indivisible. An hour is, e.g., divided into sixty minutes, the minute into sixty seconds, the second into sixty parts, and so on; at last after ten or more successive divisions by sixty, time-elements are obtained, which are not subjected to division, and in fact are indivisible, just as is the case with space. Time would thus be an object of position and order.
The Mutakallemim did not at all understand the nature of time. This is a matter of course; for if the greatest philosophers became embarrassed when they investigated the nature of time, if some of them were altogether unable to comprehend what time really was, and if even Galenus declared time to be something divine and incomprehensible, what can be expected of those who do not regard the nature of things?
Now, mark what conclusions were drawn from these three propositions, and were accepted by the Mutakallemim as true. They held that locomotion consisted in the translation of each atom of a body from one point to the next one; accordingly the velocity of one body in motion cannot be greater than that of another body. When, nevertheless, two bodies are observed to move during the same time through different spaces, the cause of this difference is not attributed by them to the fact that the body which has moved through a larger distance had a greater velocity, but to the circumstance that motion which in ordinary language is called slow, has been interrupted by more moments of rest, while the motion which ordinarily is called quick has been interrupted by fewer moments of rest. When it is shown that the motion of an arrow, which is shot from a powerful bow, is in contradiction to their theory, they declare that in this case too the motion is interrupted by moments of rest. They believe that it is the fault of man’s senses if he believes that the arrow moves continuously, for there are many things which cannot be perceived by the senses, as they assert in the twelfth proposition. But we ask them: “Have you observed a complete revolution of a millstone? Each point in the extreme circumference of the stone describes a large circle in the very same time in which a point nearer the centre describes a small circle; the velocity of the outer circle is therefore greater than that of the inner circle. You cannot say that the motion of the latter was interrupted by more moments of rest; for the whole moving body, i.e., the millstone, is one coherent body.” They reply, “During the circular motion, the parts of the millstone separate from each other, and the moments of rest interrupting the motion of the portions nearer the centre are more than those which interrupt the motion of the outer portions.” We ask again, “How is it that the millstone, which we perceive as one body, and which cannot be easily broken, even with a hammer, resolves into its atoms when it moves, and becomes again one coherent body, returning to its previous state as soon as it comes to rest, while no one is able to notice the breaking up [of the stone]?” Again their reply is based on the twelfth proposition, which is to the effect that the perception of the senses cannot be trusted, and thus only the evidence of the intellect is admissible. Do not imagine that you have seen in the foregoing example the most absurd of the inferences which may be drawn from these three propositions: the proposition relating to the existence of a vacuum leads to more preposterous and extravagant conclusions. Nor must you suppose that the aforegoing theory concerning motion is less irrational than the proposition resulting from this theory, that the diagonal of a square is equal to one of its sides, and some of the Mutakallemim go so far as to declare that the square is not a thing of real existence. In short, the adoption of the first proposition would be tantamount to the rejection of all that has been proved in Geometry. The propositions in Geometry would, in this respect, be divided into two classes: some would be absolutely rejected; e.g., those which relate to properties of the incommensurability and the commensurability of lines and planes, to rational and irrational lines, and all other propositions contained in the tenth book of Euclid, and in similar works. Other propositions would appear to be only partially correct; e.g., the solution of the problem to divide a line into two equal parts, if the line consists of an odd number of atoms; according to the theory of the Mutakallemim such a line cannot be bisected. Furthermore, in the wellknown book of problems by the sons of Shakir are contained more than a hundred problems, all solved and practically demonstrated; but if there really were a vacuum, not one of these problems could be solved, and many of the waterworks [described in that book] could not have been constructed. The refutation of such propositions is a mere waste of time. I will now proceed to treat of the other propositions mentioned above.
“The accidents of things have real existence; they are elements superadded to the substance itself, and no material thing can be without them.” Had this proposition been left by the Mutakallemim in this form it would have been correct, simple, clear, and indisputable. They have, however, gone further, asserting that a substance which has not the attribute of life, must necessarily have that of death; for it must always have one of two contrasting properties. According to their opinion, colour, taste, motion or rest, combination or separation, etc., can be predicated of all substances, and, if a substance have the attribute of life, it must at the same time possess such other kinds of accidents, as wisdom or folly, freewill or the reverse, power or weakness, perception or any of its opposites, and, in short, the substance must have the one or the other of all correlative accidents appertaining to a living being.
“The atom is fully provided with all these foregoing accidents, and cannot exist if any be wanting.” The meaning of the proposition is this: The Mutakallemim say that each of the atoms created by God must have accidents, such as colour, smell, motion, or rest, except the accident of quantity: for according to their opinion an atom has no magnitude; and they do not designate quantity as an accident, nor do they apply to it the laws of accidents. In accordance with this proposition, they do not say, when an accident is noticed in a body, that it is peculiar to the body as such, but that it exists in each of the atoms which form the constituent elements of that body. E.g., take a heap of snow; the whiteness does not exist in that heap as a whole, but each atom of the snow is white, and therefore the aggregate of these atoms is likewise white. Similarly they say that when a body moves each atom of it moves, and thus the whole body is in motion. Life likewise exists, according to their view, in each atom of a living body. The same is the case according to their opinion with the senses; in each atom of the aggregate they notice the faculty of perception. Life, sensation, intellect and wisdom are considered by them as accidents, like blackness and whiteness, as will be shown in the further discussion of their theory.
Concerning the soul, they do not agree. The view most predominant among them is the following:—The soul is an accident existing in one of the atoms of which, e.g., man is composed; the aggregate is called a being endowed with a soul, in so far as it includes that atom. Others are of opinion that the soul is composed of ethereal atoms, which have a peculiar faculty by virtue of which they constitute the soul, and that these atoms are mixed with the atoms of the body. Consequently they maintain that the soul is an accident.
As to the intellect, I found that all of them agreed in considering it to be an accident joined to one of the atoms which constitute the whole of the intelligent being. But there is a confusion among them about knowledge; they are uncertain whether it is an accident to each of the atoms which form the knowing aggregate, or whether it belongs only to one atom. Both views can be disproved by a reductio ad absurdum, when the following facts are pointed out to them. Generally metals and stones have a peculiar colour which is strongly pronounced, but disappears when they are pulverised. Vitriol, which is intensely green, becomes white dust when pounded; this shows that that accident exists only in the aggregate, not in the atoms. This fact is more striking in the following instance: when parts of a living being are cut off they cease to live, a proof that the accident [of life] belongs to the aggregate of the living being, not to each atom. In order to meet this objection they say that the accident is of no duration, but is constantly renewed. In discussing the next proposition I shall explain their view on this subject.
“The accidents do not exist during two time-atoms.”—The sense of the proposition is this: They believe that God creates a substance, and simultaneously its accidents; that the Creator is incapable of creating a substance devoid of an accident, for that is impossible; that the essential characteristic of an accident is its incapability of enduring for two periods, for two time-atoms; that immediately after its creation it is utterly destroyed, and another accident of the same kind is created; this again is destroyed and a third accident of the same kind is created, and so on, so long as God is pleased to preserve [in that substance] this kind of accident; but He can at His will create in the same substance an accident of a different kind, and if He were to discontinue the creation and not produce a new accident, that substance would at once cease to exist. This is one of the opinions held by the Mutakallemim; it has been accepted by most of them, and it is the so-called “theory of the creation of the accidents.” Some of them, however, and they belong to the sect of the Mu’tazilah, say that there are accidents which endure for a certain period, and other accidents which do not endure for two atoms of time; they do not follow a fixed principle in deciding what class of accidents has and what class has not a certain duration. The object of this proposition is to oppose the theory that there exists a natural force from which each body derives its peculiar properties. They prefer to assume that God himself creates these properties without the intervention of a natural force or of any other agency: a theory which implies that no accident can have any duration. For suppose that certain accidents could endure for a certain period and then cease to exist, the question would naturally be asked, What is the cause of that non-existence? They would not be satisfied with the reply that God by His will brought about this non-existence, and non-existence does not at all require any agens whatever; for as soon as the agens leaves off acting, the product of the agens ceases likewise to exist. This is true to some extent. Having thus chosen to establish the theory that there does not exist any natural force upon which the existence or non-existence of a thing depends, they were compelled to assume that the properties of things were successively renewed. When God desires to deprive a thing of its existence, He, according to some of the Mutakallemim, discontinues the creation of its accidents, and eo ipso the body ceases to exist. Others, however, say that if it pleased the Almighty to destroy the world, He would create the accident of destruction, which would be without any substratum. The destruction of the Universe would be the correlative accident to that of existence.—In accordance with this [sixth] proposition they say, that the cloth which according to our belief we dyed red, has not been dyed by us at all, but God created that colour in the cloth when it came into contact with the red pigment; we believe that colour to have penetrated into the cloth, but they assert that this is not the case. They say that God generally acts in such a way, that, e.g., the black colour is not created unless the cloth is brought into contact with indigo; but this blackness, which God creates in the instant when the cloth touches the black pigment is of no duration, and another creation of blackness then takes place; they further say that after the blackness is gone, He does not create a red or green colour, but again a black colour.
According to this principle, the knowledge which we have of certain things to-day, is not the same which we had of them yesterday; that knowledge is gone, and another like it has been created. They positively believe that this does take place, knowledge being an accident. In like manner it would follow that the soul, according to those who believe that it is an accident, is renewed each moment in every animated being, say a hundred thousand times; for, as you know, time is composed of time-atoms. In accordance with this principle they assert that when man is perceived to move a pen, it is not he who has really moved it; the motion produced in the pen is an accident which God has created in the pen; the apparent motion of the hand which moves the pen is likewise an accident which God has created in the moving hand; but the creative act of God is performed in such a manner that the motion of the hand and the motion of the pen follow each other closely; but the hand does not act, and is not the cause of the pen’s motion; for, as they say, an accident cannot pass from one thing to another. Some of the Mutakallemim accordingly contend that this white cloth, which is coloured when put into the vessel filled with indigo, has not been blackened by the indigo; for blackness being an attribute of indigo, does not pass from one object to another. There does not exist any thing to which an action could be ascribed; the real agens is God, and He has [in the foregoing instance] created the blackness in the substance of the cloth when it came into contact with the indigo, for this is the method adopted by Him. In short, most of the Mutakallemim believe that it must never be said that one thing is the cause of another; some of them who assumed causality were blamed for doing so. As regards, however, the acts of man their opinions are divided. Most of them, especially the sect of the Asha’ariyah, assume that when the pen is set in motion God has created four accidents, none of which is the cause of any of the rest, they are only related to each other as regards the time of their co-existence, and have no other relation to each other. The first accident is man’s will to move the pen, the second is man’s power to do so, the third is the bodily motion itself, i.e., the motion of the hand, and the fourth is the motion of the pen. They believe that when a man has the will to do a thing and, as he believes, does it, the will has been created for him, then the power to conform to the will, and lastly the act itself. The act is not accomplished by the power created in man; for, in reality, no act can be ascribed to that power. The Mu’tazilah contend that man acts by virtue of the power which has been created in him. Some of the Asha’ariyah assert that the power created in man participates in the act, and is connected with it, an opinion which has been rejected by the majority of them. The will and the power created in man, according to the concurrent belief of the Mutakallemim, together with the act created in him, according to some of them, are accidents without duration. In the instance of the pen, God continually creates one motion after the other so long as the pen is in motion; it only then ceases to move when God has created in it the accident of rest; and so long as the pen is at rest, God continually renews in it that accident. Consequently in every one of these moments, i.e., of the time-atoms, God creates some accident in every existing individual, e.g., in the angels, in the spheres and in other things; this creation takes place continually and without interruption. Such is, according to their opinion, the right interpretation of the creed that God is the causa efficiens. But I, together with all rational persons, apply to those theories the words, “Will you mock at Him, as you mock at man?” for their words are indeed nothing but mockery.
“The absence of a property is itself a property that exists in the body, a something superadded to its substance, an actual accident, which is constantly renewed; as soon as it is destroyed it is reproduced.” The reason why they hold this opinion is this: they do not understand that rest is the absence of motion; death the absence of life; that blindness is the absence of sight, and that all similar negative properties are the absence of the positive correlatives. The relation between motion and rest is, according to their theory, the same as the relation between heat and cold, namely, as heat and cold are two accidents found in two objects which have the properties of heat and cold, so motion is an accident created in the thing which moves, and rest an accident created in the thing which rests; it does not remain in existence during two consecutive time-atoms, as we have stated in treating of the previous proposition. Accordingly, when a body is at rest, God has created the rest in each atom of that body, and so long as the body remains at rest God continually renews that property. The same, they believe, is the case with a man’s wisdom and ignorance; the latter is considered by them as an actual accident, which is subject to the constant changes of destruction and creation, so long as there remains a thing of which such a man is ignorant. Death and life are likewise accidents, and as the Mutakallemim distinctly state, life is constantly destroyed and renewed during the whole existence of a living being; when God decrees its death, He creates in it the accident of death after the accident of life, which does not continue during two time-atoms, has ceased to exist. All this they state clearly.
The logical consequence of this proposition is that the accident of death created by God instantly ceases to exist, and is replaced by another death which again is created by God; otherwise death could not continue. Death is thus continually created in the same manner as life is renewed every moment. But I should wish to know how long God continues to create death in a dead body. Does He do so whilst the form remains, or whilst one of the atoms exists? For in each of the atoms of the body the accident of death which God creates is produced, and there are to be found teeth of persons who died thousands of years ago; we see that those teeth have not been deprived of existence, and therefore the accident of death has during all these thousands of years been renewed, and according to the opinion prevailing amongst those theorists, death was continually replaced by death. Some of the Mu’tazilah hold that there are cases in which the absence of a physical property is not a real property, that weariness is the absence of strength, and ignorance the absence of knowledge; but this cannot be said in every case of negative properties: it cannot be said that darkness is the mere absence of light, or that rest is the absence of motion. Some negative properties are thus considered by them as having a real existence, while other negative properties are considered as non-existing, just as suits their belief. Here they proceed in the same manner as they proceed respecting the duration of accidents, and they contend that some accidents exist a long time, and other accidents do not last two time-atoms. Their sole object is to fashion the Universe according to their peculiar opinions and beliefs.
“There exists nothing but substance and accident, and the physical form of things belong to the class of accidents.” It is the object of this proposition to show that all bodies are composed of similar atoms, as we have pointed out in explaining the first proposition. The difference of bodies from each other is caused by the accidents, and by nothing else. Animality, humanity, sensibility, and speech, are denoted as accidents like blackness, whiteness, bitterness, and sweetness, and the difference between two individuals of two classes is the same as the difference of two individuals of the same class. Also the body of the heaven, the body of the angels, the body of the Divine Throne—such as it is assumed to be—the body of anything creeping on the earth, and the body of any plant, have one and the same substance; they only differ in the peculiarity of the accidents, and in nothing else: the substance of all things is made up of equal atoms.
“None of the accidents form the substratum of another accident; it cannot be said, This is an accident to a thing which is itself an accident to a substance. All accidents are directly connected with the substance.” The Mutakallemim deny the indirect relation of the accident to the substance, because if such a relation were assumed it would follow that the second accident could only exist in the substance after another accident had preceded it, a conclusion to which they would object even with regard to some special accidents; they prefer to show that these accidents can exist in every possible substance, although such substance is not determined by any other accident; for they hold that all the accidents collectively determine the thing. They advance also another proof [in support of this proposition], namely: The substratum which is the bearer of certain attributes must continue to exist for a certain time; how, then, could the accident, which—according to their opinion—does not remain in existence for two moments, become the substratum of something else?
This proposition concerns the theory of “admissibility,” which is mentioned by the Mutakallemim, and forms the principal support of their doctrine. Mark its purport: they observe that everything conceived by the imagination is admitted by the intellect as possible; e.g., that the terrestrial globe should become the all-encompassing sphere, or that this sphere should become the terrestrial globe; reason does not find here an impossibility; or that the sphere of fire should move towards the centre, and the sphere of earth towards the circumference. Human intellect does not perceive any reason why a body should be in a certain place instead of being in another. In the same manner they say that reason admits the possibility that an existing being should be larger or smaller than it really is, or that it should be different in form and position from what it really is; e.g., a man might have the height of a mountain, might have several heads, and fly in the air; or an elephant might be as small as an insect, or an insect as huge as an elephant. This method of admitting possibilities is applied to the whole Universe. Whenever they affirm that a thing belongs to this class of admitted possibilities, they say that it can have this form, and that it is also possible that it be found differently, and that the one form is not more possible than the other; but they do not ask whether the reality confirms their assumption. They say that the thing which exists with certain constant and permanent forms, dimensions, and properties, only follows the direction of habit, just as the king generally rides on horseback through the streets of the city, and is never found departing from this habit; but reason does not find it impossible that he should walk on foot through the place; there is no doubt that he may do so, and this possibility is fully admitted by the intellect. Similarly, earth moves towards the centre, fire turns away from the centre; fire causes heat, water causes cold, in accordance with a certain habit; but it is logically not impossible that a deviation from this habit should occur, namely, that fire should cause cold, move downward, and still be fire; that the water should cause heat, move upward, and still be water. On this foundation their whole fabric is constructed. They admit, however, the impossibility of two opposite properties coexisting at the same time in one substance. This is impossible; reason would not admit this possibility. Again, reason does not admit the possibility of a substance existing without an accident, or an accident existing without a substance, a possibility admitted by some of the Mutakallemim. It is also impossible that a substance should become an accident, that an accident should become a substance, or that one substance should penetrate another. They admit that reason rejects all these things as impossible. It is perfectly true that no notion whatever can be formed of those things which they describe as impossible; whilst a notion can be formed of those things which they consider as possible. The philosophers object to this method, and say, You call a thing impossible because it cannot be imagined, or possible because it can be imagined; and thus you consider as possible that which is found possible by imagination, not by the intellect, consequently you determine that a thing is necessary, possible, or impossible in some instances, by the aid of the imagination—not by the intellect—and in other instances by the ordinary common sense, as Abu Nasr says in speaking of that which the Mutakallemim call intellect. It is clear that they describe as possible that which can be imagined, whether the reality correspond to it or not, and as impossible that which cannot be imagined. This proposition can only be established by the nine aforementioned propositions, and no doubt these were exclusively required for the support of this proposition. This you will see clearly when I shall show and explain to you some important parts of this theory, which I shall now introduce in the form of a discussion supposed to have taken place between a Mutakallem and a philosopher.
The Mutakallem said to the philosopher: What is the reason that we find the substance of iron extremely hard and strong, with a dark colour; the substance of cream, on the other hand, extremely soft and white? The philosopher replied as follows: All physical bodies have two kinds of accidents: those which concern their substance, as, e.g., the health and the illness of a man; and those which concern their form, as, e.g., the astonishment and laughter of a man. The substances of compound bodies differ very much in their ultimate form, according to the difference of the forms peculiar to each component substance. Hence the substance of iron has become in its properties the opposite of the substance of cream, and this difference is attended by the difference of accidents. You notice, therefore, hardness in the one, and softness in the other: two accidents, whose difference results from the difference which exists in the forms of the substances; while the darkness and the whiteness are accidents whose divergence corresponds to that of the two substances in their ultimate condition. The Mutakallem refuted this reply by means of his propositions, as I am now going to state:—There does not exist a form which, as you believe, modifies the substance, and thus causes substances to be different from each other; this difference is exclusively effected by the accidents—according to the theory of the Kalâm, which we mentioned in explaining the eighth proposition. He then continued thus: There is no difference between the substance of iron and that of cream; all things are composed of the same kind of atoms.—We explained the view of the Mutakallemim on this point in treating of the first proposition, the logical consequences of which are, as we have shown, the second and the third propositions; they further require the twelfth proposition, in order to establish the theory of atoms. Nor do they admit that any accidents determine the nature of a substance, or predispose it to receive certain other accidents; for, according to their opinion, an accident cannot be the substratum of another accident, as we have shown in explaining the ninth proposition; nor can it have any duration, according to the sixth proposition. When the Mutakallemim have established all that they wish to infer from these propositions, they arrive at the conclusion that the component atoms of cream and of iron are alike.—The relation of each atom to each of the accidents is the same; one atom is not more adapted than another to receive a certain accident; and as a certain atom is not more fitted to move than to rest, so one atom is not more apt than another to receive the accident of life, of reason, of sensation. It is here of no moment whether a thing contains a larger or smaller quantity of atoms, for, according to the view of the Mutakallemim, which we explained in treating of the fifth proposition, every accident [of a thing] exists in each of its atoms. All these propositions lead to the conclusion that a human being is not better constituted to become wise than the bat, and establish the theory of admissibility expressed in this [tenth] proposition. Every effort was made to demonstrate this proposition, because it is the best means for proving anything they like, as will be explained.
Note.—Mark, O reader, that if you know the nature of the soul and its properties, and if you have a correct notion of everything which concerns the soul, you will observe that most animals possess imagination. As to the higher class of animals, that is, those which have a heart, it is obvious that they have imagination. Man’s distinction does not consist in the possession of imagination, and the action of imagination is not the same as the action of the intellect, but the reverse of it. For the intellect analyses and divides the component parts of things, it forms abstract ideas of them, represents them in their true form as well as in their causal relations, derives from one object a great many facts, which—for the intellect—totally differ from each other, just as two human individuals appear different to the imagination; it distinguishes that which is the property of the genus from that which is peculiar to the individual,—and no proof is correct, unless founded on the former; the intellect further determines whether certain qualities of a thing are essential or non-essential. Imagination has none of these functions. It only perceives the individual, the compound in that aggregate condition in which it presents itself to the senses; or it combines things which exist separately, joins some of them together, and represents them all as one body or as a force of the body. Hence it is that some imagine a man with a horse’s head, with wings, etc. This is called a fiction, a phantasm; it is a thing to which nothing in the actual world corresponds. Nor can imagination in any way obtain a purely immaterial image of an object, however abstract the form of the image may be. Imagination yields therefore no test for the reality of a thing.
Hear what profit we derive from the preliminary disciplines, and how excellent the propositions are which we learn through them. Know that there are certain things, which would appear impossible, if tested by man’s imagination, being as inconceivable as the co-existence of two opposite properties in one object; yet the existence of those same things, which cannot be represented by imagination, is nevertheless established by proof, and attested by their reality. E.g., Imagine a large globe, of any magnitude you like, even as large as the all-encompassing sphere; further an axis passing through the centre, and two persons standing on the two extremities of the axis in such a manner that their feet are in the same straight line with the axis, which may be either in the plane of the horizon or not; in the first case both persons would fall, in the second case one, namely the one who stands on the lower extremity would fall, the other would remain standing, as far as our imagination can perceive. It has however, already been proved that the earth has the form of a globe, that it is inhabited on both extremities of a certain diameter, that both the inhabitants have their heads towards the heaven, and their legs towards each other, and yet neither can possibly fall, nor can it be imagined; for it is incorrect to say that the one extremity is above, the other below; but the term “above” and “below” apply to both of them as regards their relative position to each other. Similarly it has been proved in the second chapter of the book on Conic Sections, that two lines, which at first are at a certain distance from each other, may approach each other in the same proportion as they are produced further, and yet would never meet, even if they were produced to infinity, although they are observed to be constantly converging. This is a fact which cannot easily be conceived, and which does not come within the scope of imagination. Of these two lines the one is straight, the other curved, as stated in the aforementioned book. It has consequently been proved that things which cannot be perceived or imagined, and which would be found impossible if tested solely by imagination, are nevertheless in real existence. The non-existence of things which are represented by imagination as possible has likewise been established by proof, e.g., the corporeality of God, and His existence as a force residing in a body. Imagination perceives nothing except bodies, or properties inherent in bodies.
It has thus been clearly shown that in man exists a certain faculty which is entirely distinct from imagination, and by which the necessary, the possible, and the impossible can be distinguished from each other. This inquiry is most useful. It is of the greatest profit to him who desires to guard himself against the errors of men guided by imagination! Do not think that the Mutakallemim ignore this altogether; to some extent they do take it into consideration; they know it, and call that which can be imagined without having reality—as, e.g., the corporeality of God—a phantom and a fancy; they state frequently that such phantoms are not real. It is for this reason that they advance the first nine propositions and establish on them the proof of the tenth, according to which all those imaginable things which they wish to admit as possible are really possible, because of the similarity of all atoms and the equality of all accidents as regards their accidentality, as we have explained.
Consider, O reader, and bear in mind that this requires deep research. For there are certain notions which some believe to be founded on reason, while others regard them as mere fictions. In such cases it would be necessary to find something that could show the difference between conceptions of the intellect and mere imaginary fancies. When the philosopher, in his way of expressing himself, contends, “Reality is my evidence; by its guidance I examine whether a thing is necessary, possible, or impossible,” the religionist replies, “This is exactly the difference between us; that which actually exists, has, according to my view, been produced by the will of the Creator, not by necessity; just as it has been created with that special property, it might have been created with any other property, unless the impossibility which you postulate be proved by a logical demonstration.”
About this admissibility (of imaginable things) I shall have to say more, and I shall return to it in various parts of this treatise; for it is not a subject which should be rejected in haste and on the spur of the moment.
“The existence of the infinite is in every respect impossible.” The following is an explanation of this proposition. The impossibility of the existence of an infinite body has been clearly demonstrated; the same can be said of an infinite number of bodies, though each of them be finite, if these beings, infinite in number, exist at the same time; equally impossible is the existence of an infinite series of causes, namely, that a certain thing should be the cause of another thing, but itself the effect of another cause, which again is the result of another cause, and so on to infinity, or that things in an infinite series, either bodies or ideals, should be in actual existence, and in causal relation to each other. This causal relation is the essential order of nature, in which, as has been fully proved, the infinite is impossible. As regards the virtual and the accidental existence of the infinite, it has been established in some cases; it has been proved, e.g., that a body can virtually be divided ad infinitum, also that time can be divided ad infinitum; in other cases it is still an open question, as, e.g., the existence of the infinite in succession, which is called the accidental infinite, i.e., a series of things in which one thing comes forth when the other is gone, and this again in its turn succeeded a thing which had ceased to exist, and so on ad infinitum. This subject requires deep research.
Those who boast that they have proved the eternity of the Universe say that time is infinite; an assertion which is not necessarily erroneous; for only when one atom has ceased to exist, the other follows. Nor is it absolutely wrong, when they assert, that the accidents of the substance succeed each other in an infinite series, for these accidents do not co-exist, but come in succession one after the other, and the impossibility of the infinite in that case has not been proved. The Mutakallemim, however, make no difference between the existence of an infinite body and the divisibility of a body or of time ad infinitum, between the co-existence of an infinite number of things, as e.g., the individual human beings who exist at present, and the infinite number of beings successively existing, as, e.g., Reuben the son of Jacob, and Jacob the son of Isaac, and Isaac the son of Abraham, and so on to infinity. This is according to their opinion as inadmissible as the first case; they believe these four forms of the infinite to be quite equal. Some of the Mutakallemim endeavour to establish their proposition concerning the last named form of the infinite, and to demonstrate its impossibility by a method which I shall explain in this treatise; others say that this impossibility is a self-evident axiom and requires no further proof. But if it were undoubtedly wrong to assume that an infinite number of things can exist in succession, although that link of the series which exists at present is finite, the inadmissibility of the eternity of the Universe would be equally self-evident, and would not require for its proof any other proposition. This, however, is not the place for investigating the subject.
“The senses are not always to be trusted.” For two reasons the Mutakallemim find fault with the perception of the senses. First, the senses are precluded from perceiving many objects, either on account of the smallness of the objects—this is the case with the atoms, as we have already stated—or on account of the remoteness of the objects from the person who desires to perceive them; e.g., we cannot see, hear, or smell at a distance of many miles; nor do we perceive the motion of the heavens. Secondly, the senses misapprehend the objects of their perception: a large object appears small from a distance; a small object immersed in water appears larger; a crooked thing appears straight when partly placed in water, and partly out of it; things appear yellow to a person suffering from jaundice; sweet things are bitter to him whose tongue has imbibed red gall; and they mention many other things of this kind. Therefore they say, we cannot trust our senses so far as to establish any proof on their perceptions. You must not believe that the Mutakallemim had no purpose in agreeing upon this proposition, or as most of the later adherents of that school affirm, that the first Mutakallemim had no ulterior object in endeavouring to prove the existence of atoms. On the contrary, every proposition here mentioned is indispensable; if one of these be rejected, the whole theory falls to the ground. The lastmentioned proposition is of particular importance; for when our senses perceive things by which any of the foregoing propositions are confuted, the Mutakallemim say that no notice should be taken of the perception of the senses so long as the proposition is supported by the testimony of the intellect, and established (as they believe) by proof. Thus they say that the continuous motion is interrupted by moments of rest; that the millstone in its motion is broken into atoms; that the white colour of a garment ceases to exist, and another whiteness comes in its stead. All these theories are contrary to what the eye perceives, and many inferences are drawn from the assumed existence of a vacuum, all of which are contradicted by the senses. The Mutakallemim, however, meet these objections by saying, whenever they can do so, that the perception of these things is withheld from the senses; in other instances they maintain that the contradiction has its source in the deceptive character of the senses. You know that this theory is very ancient, and was the pride of the sophists, who asserted that they themselves were its authors; this is stated by Galenus in his treatise on natural forces; and you know well what he says of those who will not admit the evidence of the senses.
Having discussed these propositions, I now proceed to explain the theory of the Mutakallemim concerning the above-mentioned four problems.