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OF DIRECTION - Averroes (Ibn Rushd), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes 
The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes. Tractacta, translated from the Arabic by Mohammad Jamil-Ub-Behman Barod (Baroda: Manibhai Mathurbhal Gupta, 1921).
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This is a quality which all the people learned in Law have tried to prove, until the Mutazilites denied it, and were followed by the later, Asharites, like Abul Maati and those who follow him. All the exoterics of the Law go to prove it. For God says, “And eight shall bear the Throne of thy Lord on that Day;”58 and “He governeth all the things from heaven even to the earth: hereafter shall they return unto him, on the Day whose length shall be a thousand years, of those which ye compute.”59 Again, He says, “The angels ascend unto him and the spirit;”60 and, “Are Ye secure that He who dwelleth in heaven will not cause the earth to swallow you up? and behold, it shall shake.”61 There are many other verses of this kind which, if interpreted, would turn the whole of the Law into interpretation; and if taken allegorically, would make it an allegory. All the religious laws are based upon the principle that God is in heaven, from whence he sends down angels to His Prophets with revelations, that from the heaven, the religious books used to descend, and that towards it was the Night Journey of the Prophet, till he reached near the lote tree. All the philosophers are, moreover, agreed that God and His Angels are in heaven, as is the case with all the religions. The doubt which led them to deny this idea of direction was that they thought that by believing in direction it would be necessary to believe in space, which in its turn leads to a belief in anthropomorphism. But we say that this is not necessarily the case, for direction can exist without space. It is nothing but the surfaces of the body surrounding it, which are six in number. That is why we say that there is an above and a below, right and left and before and behind for an animal. Or they are the surfaces of a body surrounded by another body having the above-mentioned six directions. So the directions, which are the surfaces of the body itself, are not the spaces of the body in any respect. But the surfaces of the surrounding bodies are space for it. The atmosphere surrounding man, and the surfaces of the sky surrounding the surfaces of the atmosphere, for they are the spaces for it. Such is also the case with different surrounding and forming spaces for one another. As to the last sky it is evident that beyond it there must be no body. For had it been so, it would be necessary that beyond it be another body and so on to infinity. So there is no space at all for the last body of the universe, for it is not possible that in it be found any body, it being necessary that there be found a body in every space. So when there is an argument for the existence of a thing in that direction, it is necessary that it be not a body. So one who denies His existence there goes against his own ideas. He is existent, has a body, is not existent without a body. They cannot say that beyond the universe is a void. For the impossibility of a void has been made quite certain in the philosophical sciences. For that upon which the name void is commonly applied, are nothing but dimensions (Abad), in which there are no bodies. For when these dimensions are once removed, there remains nothing but non-existence. But if the void be supposed as existent, it is necessary to admit the existence of accidents in something not a body, for dimensions are accidents by their having a quality. But it is said by the Ancients and established by past religions that that place is the dwelling place of the spirits, God and angels. This place has no space, and is not governed by time, because everything governed by time and space can be corrupted. And it is necessary that the things there be uncorrupted and uncreated. This has been made quite clear by what I have said, for there cannot be found in that place anything but one which is existent and at the same time can be felt, or is altogether non-existent. It is self-evident that an existent object is always referred to by its existence; that is, it is said that it exists, that is, it has an existence. So if anything exists there, it must be the noblest of all, and it is necessary that that existent thing should be referred to by the best portion of the universe, which are the heavens. God has said concerning the nobility of the heavens, “Verily the creation of heaven and earth is more considerable than the creation of man: but the greater part of men do not understand.”62 All this is perfectly clear to the learned men “Well grounded in knowledge.”63
Now it has become clear to you that belief in direction is necessary by religion and reason, and that it forms a part of the Law, which is based upon it. A denial of the principles is a denial of all the religions. The cause of the difficulty in their understanding this, and in their denial of anthropomorphism is, that there cannot be found in the visible world an illustration of such a thing. This was just the reason why the Law did not expressly deny an anthropomorphism. For to the common people verification of an invisible object can only come when its existence be known in the visible world, as knowledge, which being a condition for their own existence as visible, could to them become a condition for the existence of an invisible Maker. Now as the case of the visible was unknown in the visible on the part of the many, and none knew it but those who were well-grounded in knowledge, the Law-giver forbade an inquiry into it, as for example knowledge of the Soul. If it be needful for the common people to know anything, then the Law gives examples from the visible world And if one example did not suffice for the understanding of the problem in view, then many examples are given, as in the case of an account of the Day of Judgment. The doubt which arises out of a denial of direction, on the part of those denying it, is that the common people cannot comprehend it, particularly so, because they have not been given before hand to understand that God has no body. So it is necessary to take the action of the Law as our example, otherwise we will have to interpret that which the Law itself has not expressly said.
With regard to these problems of the Law, the people may be divided into three classes. In the first place there are people who cannot notice any doubt arising out of them, especially in things which the Law has left to be taken exoterically. These people are the greatest in number, and may be described as the masses. Then the second group of men is one which has doubts; but has not power to solve them. These are above the masses and below the learned people. It is for them that there are found in the Law allegorical sayings, and it is they whom God has censured. For there is no allegory in the Law for the learned or the common people, and it is in this light that all the allegorical sayings of the Quran should be understood. Their example as regards the Law is like the example of the bread of wheat which though a useful cereal for the large number of human beings, may prove harmful to some. Such is also the case with religious teaching: it is useful for the many but sometimes becomes harmful to some. The following words of God point to the same thing. “He will not thereby mislead any except the transgressors.”64 But this is found only in a few verses of the Quran about a few people. Most of the verses are, however, those which speak of things invisible for which there is no example in the visible world. So they are expressed by the things nearest to them in the visible world, on account of their similarity. Some people take the illustration as the thing illustrated, and hence they fall into confusion and doubt. This is what is called allegorical in the Law, and is not meant for the learned or the common people, which in reality form two groups of men. For these are the people who are really healthy, and delicate food is only fit for them. The other group is a group of sick men who are always few in number. So God has said, “But they whose hearts are perverse will follow that which is parabolical therein, out of love of schism.”65 These are the dogmatic and the scholastic theologians. The worst which these people have done in respect to the Law is that they have interpreted much which they thought was not to be taken literally, and then said that their interpretation was the thing intended, and that God had mentioned it parabolically only to test and try His creatures. God forbid that we should ever have such an idea about Him. The Divine Book is a miracle of clearness and lucidity. So it is far from the real purpose of the Law for one to say about a thing which is not parabolical, that it is so, and then set about interpreting it according to his own ideas, telling the people that their duty lies in believing his interpretations. They have done so in the case of the verse of Equalisation on the Throne, and others, saying that their exoteric meaning is only parabolical. On the whole many interpretations, which these people maintain to be the real purpose of the Law, when intently looked into and deciphered, are found wanting in arguments, and not serving the purpose which the exoteric meaning would have with regard to the common people. The primary purpose of knowledge for the common people is action, so that which is most useful in action is most suitable for them. But for the learned men, the purpose of knowledge is both knowledge and action. The man who interprets anything of the Law, thinking that his interpretation is the real purpose of it, and then discloses it to the common people, is like a man, who finds a medicine which an expert physician had compounded to preserve the health of all, or of a majority of the people; then there came a man with whom that medicine did not agree on account of the coarseness of his disposition. He presented it to some people, and then thought that by some drug, which the first physician had clearly specified, as composing that universally useful medicine, he did not mean the drug commonly known by that name — but another which he really meant, but used this name for it by a far-fetched metaphor. So he took out the first drug from the compound, and placed another in its stead, which he thought to be the one intended by the first physician. Then he told the people that this was the medicine intended. The people began to use that “improved” medicine, and many of them got injured by it. Then there came another group of men, who, seeing the people sick on account of that medicine, thought of curing them. So they changed some of its drugs with some other than the first one, then presented it to the people for quite another disease than that intended by the first physician. Then there appeared another group which interpreted the medicine in quite another way than the two preceding groups had done. The fourth group gave a new interpretation to the drug and prescribed it for a fourth kind of disease. So as time went on with that great medicine, the interpretations of it took hold of the people instead of the drugs, and they changed and transformed it altogether. As a result the people were attacked by many different kinds of diseases, till the usefulness of the medicine was altogether lost. Such is the condition of those sects which have risen in Islam. For every one of them has made interpretations quite different from the others, and maintained that its interpretation shows the real purpose of the Law, which was at last rent to piece, and lost its primary purpose altogether. The Prophet, knowing that a thing like this would necessarily happen among his people, said, “My people will shortly be divided into seventytwo sects. All of them will be in hell, except one.” By this one he meant the sect which followed the exoteric meanings of the Law, without making any interpretations which may by disclosed to the people. If you were to look into the Law and see the corruption which it has suffered up to this time, through interpretations, the truth of this example would become clear to you.
The first to make a change in the religion - the great medicine - were the Kharijites, who were followed by the Mutazilites. They were succeeded by the Asharites, after whom came the Sufis. Last of all came Al-Ghazzali, who went to the extreme and corrupted everything. He it is who explained philosophy to the common people, and disclosed to them the opinions of the philosophers as he understood them to be. This he did in a book called “Al-Maqasid,” in which he thought he was refuting them. He planned his Refutation of the Philosophers, and charged them with infidelity in respect to three questions, tearing them to pieces, as he thought, in regard to consensus of opinion; and calling them innovators as regards other opinions. In this book he has advanced many specious arguments and confused reasonings, which have led astray many people both from religion and philosophy. Then he said in his book Jawahir al-Quran that the arguments which he had mentioned in his Refutation were controversial in their nature, while in fact they were mentioned in his Al Maznun ala Ghairi Ahlihi. Then in his Mishkat ul Anwar he mentions grades of men really knowing God. He says that all but those who believe that God is not the mover of the first heaven, and that it is not He from whom this movement originates, are precluded from it. This is an explanation from him of men learned in divine science. He has said in many places that divine science exists only by guesses, as opposed to certainties in other science. In his book Munqidh min al Dalal he has gone against the philosophers and maintained that knowledge can only be acquired by privacy and meditation, and that those in this rank are all very near to the rank of the prophets. He has mentioned this very fact in his Kimiya i Saadat. Men have become divided into parties on account of this confusion. One party chose to censure the philosophers, while the other agreed to interpret the Law, and make it conform to philosophy. All this is wrong. The Law should be taken literally; and the conformity of religion to philosophy should not be told to the common people. For by an exposition of it we should be exposing the results of philosophy to them, without their having intelligence enough to understand them. It is neither permitted nor desirable to expose anything of the result of philosophy to a man who has no arguments to advance, for there are no arguments either with the learned people who have a mastery over both the subjects, or with the common people who follow the exoteric of the Law. So his action brought disorder in respect to both of these things, religion and philosophy, in the mind of the common people, while he saved them for the others. The disorder in religion came through his exposing those interpretations which should not be exposed; and so also the disorder in philosophy was the result of his mentioning those things in his books which should not be put in the works on philosophy. Now it was the result of his treatment of the subjects that many people do not know the difference between the two, because of his bringing both of them together. He has also insisted upon the fact that he knew the cause of doing so, as he did in his “Al Tafriqa bain al Islami wa-z Zindiqah. In it he has noted down many kinds of interpretations and has decided that their interpreters were not infidels though they may go against the consensus of opinion. Since he has done so, he is dangerous to the Law for some reasons, to philosophy for others, and to both for some other reasons. So this man, by disclosing them, has shown that he is dangerous for both the things in reality and profitable to them only by accident. For teaching philosophy to one who is not fit for it, will either falsify philosophy or religion absolutely or will show conformity between them by accident only. The right thing would have been not to disclose philosophy to the common people at all. But if teaching of it was absolutely necessary, then only that section of the people should have been taught who saw that religion was opposed to philosophy, in order to show them that it was not so. And also it might have been taught to those people who thought that philosophy is opposed to religion. This may have been shown to either of these sections, that in reality they did not possess a knowledge of their substance and truth, that is, of religion and philosophy. Moreover, they would know that the opinion about religion, that it was opposed to philosophy was one which was either about some innovation in religion, and not about its principles, or is an error in understanding that is, a wrong interpretation of it, as was shown in the case of knowledge about particulars and other things. That is why we were compelled in this book to explain the principles of religion. These principles, when intently looked into will be found in perfect agreement with philosophy. Such is also the case with the opinion which says this philosophy is opposed to religion. It only shows that the man has not had a sufficient training in either philosophy or religion. This is the reason that we were compelled to explain it in our tractate entitled “Fasl al Maqal fi Muwafiqat il Hikmat lil Sharia.
Now that this has become clear we would return to our former theme. The only problem which remains for us to solve, out of those which we proposed is that of Divine Vision. It is thought for some reasons, that it forms a part of the problem which we have just discussed, on account of the words of God, “The sight comprehendeth him not, but He comprehendeth the sight.”66 And hence the Mutazilites have denied it, setting aside the arguments found in the Law, in spite of their greatness in number and fame, a very shameful act on their part. The cause of this doubt of the Law that since the Mutazilites denied physical attributes, and believed in exposing their ideas to every one, it became necessary for them to deny direction also. And having once denied direction they must also deny the Vision, for the thing seen must be in some direction to one who sees it. To prove their point they are constrained to set aside the traditional religion. They neglected the Traditions because they were only isolated things which should not be believed, if found opposed to the teachings of the Quran, that is, opposed to the verse, “The sight comprehendeth Him not.” The Asharites tried to mix together the two beliefs, that is, the denial of physical attributes, and the possibility of vision of One having no body, by means of our senses. It became difficult for them to prove it, and they took refuge in many sophistical and conjectural arguments, that is arguments which are thought to be correct but are in reality wrong. It is so because it is possible to have the same grades in arguments as there are among men. Just as there may be found men with perfect excellence and those below them, till we may have a man who thinks himself learned and yet he is not, being only a pedant, so there are arguments which are extremely certain, and those below them then, there are specious arguments, and those which though really false seem to be true. The statements of the Asharites in regard to this question are of two kinds: those refuting the arguments of the Mutazilites, and those proving the possibility of the Vision of One having no body, and that there is no difficulty in our believing it. The statements by which they have opposed the Mutazilites in their argument, that the thing seen must have a direction for one who sees it, is that some of them say that it is applied only to the visible, and not to the invisible, world; and that it is not one of those cases in which the condition of the one can be applied to the other. According to them it is possible for a man to see an object having no direction, for he sees by his power of sight only that which comes before his eyes. In this they have mixed together the senses of sight with intelligence, for the latter can perceive that which has no direction, that is, no space; but for the perception of the eye there is a condition, that the thing to be perceived be in a direction, not only that but a particular direction too. So if we take the eye to be endowed with the power of seeing, then it is not possible except under very limited conditions. These are three in number-light, the intervention of a transparent body between the eye and the object seen, and the possession of necessary colours by the object. A refutation of these conditions in the eyes is also a refutation of those primary principles of knowledge which are known to all. It would be a refutation of the sciences of philosophy and mathematics. The Asharites also maintain that one of the conditions as we have said, for example, is that every rational being has a life, it being apparent in the visible world as a condition for knowledge. Hence we say to them that these are also conditions for seeing things in the visible world. So according to their own principle is the case of the visible and the invisible. In his book Al Maqasid Abu Hamid (Al Ghazzali) intended to oppose the premise that every object perceivable must be in some direction to the one seeing it. He says that a man sees himself reflected in a mirror and sees himself not in any other direction but the opposite one. Hence he can see his self in an opposite direction too. But this is a mistake, because what he sees is not his self but only an image of it. This image is in the opposite direction, being in the mirror, placed there.
Of the arguments which they advance to prove the vision of an object having no body, two are famous ones. Of these the more famous is one which says that an object seen is either because it has some colour, or because it has a body, or it is a colour, or because it is existent. Sometimes they mention many other causes than really do exist. They say that it is wrong to suppose that it must be a body, otherwise, no colour would be visible, it being also incorrect to suppose the space to be the colour. Now when all the kinds of suppositions in the premise have been refuted we shall have to believe that only an existent object will be seen. The mistake in this statement is quite clear. For an object is visible because of itself. This is the case with the colour and the body: the colour being visible by itself, and the body through the colour. That is why a thing which has no colour cannot be seen. Had the existence of a thing been the only condition of visibility, it would have been possible to see the sound and the senses. In that case seeing, hearing, in fact all the five senses would have been only one, which is quite contrary to our reason. This problem and others like it have obliged the Mutakallimun to admit that it is possible to hear the colour, and see the sounds. But this is against nature, as man has understood it to be. For it is absolutely evident that the sense of seeing is quite different from that of hearing. Their actions are quite distinct from one another, and the organ of the one cannot work as the organ of the other. It is just as imposible to turn hearing as to turn colour into sound. Those who say that sometimes sound can be seen, should be asked to define the sense of seeing. They would necessarily answer that it is a faculty which perceives those things which can be seen, such as colour and so on. Then they should be asked to define the sense of hearing. They would surely say that it is one sense by which sounds can be heard. Then they should be asked whether at the time of sound it is the sense of hearing only or seeing too. If they say that it is hearing only, they admit that it cannot perceive colours. If they say that it is seeing only, then it cannot hear sounds. If it is neither alone, for it perceives colours, then it is seeing and hearing both. But in this way everything can be proved to be one, even in the case of contradictory things. This is a thing which our Mutakallimun admit or they are compelled to do so. But it is clear that it is a philosophical opinion which is only fit for those ancient people famous for it.
Now the second method which Mutakallimun have adopted for proving the possibility of Divine Vision is that which has been mentioned by Abul Maali in his book, Al Irshad. It says that the senses can only feel the substance (Zat) of things, but that which separates the existent thing from one another is not to be found in the substance only. So the senses cannot perceive the substance, which is common to all the existent things. They can only perceive a thing because it exists. But all this is absurd, which is quite clear from the fact that if sight were only able to perceive things then it would not have been possible for it to differentiate between white and black, for there is no difference between things about those qualities which are common to all. This also becomes impossible as regards all the other senses. The sense of seeing could not perceive different kinds of colours; the sense of hearing cannot differentiate between tastes. It would be necessary that the objects perceived by the senses be all of a kind, and there should be no difference between objects perceived by seeing and apprehended by hearing. This is contrary to that which man commonly understands. In reality the senses perceive the substance of things by the power which is vouchsafed to them. The cause of this mistake lies in the fact that that which perceives a substance, is thought to be the thing perceived. Had there not been said so much about these things, and so much respect for those who said it, it would not have satisfied anybody with a strong common sense.
The cause of such a perplexing situation in the Law, which has compelled its votaries to take refuge in such worthless arguments, as would bring a smile to the lips of anybody who has made the least effort to distinguish between different kinds of arguments, is the exposition of anthropomorphic qualities of God to the common people, a fact which has been prohibited by God and His Prophet. It is so because it is very difficult for a man to believe at the same time that there exists One without a body, who can be seen with our eyes. For the things which the senses comprehend are in the bodies or the bodies themselves. Hence the Mutakallimun have tried to prove that the Divine Vision will be an addition to our existing qualities at that moment. This also should not have been disclosed to the common people. For since their intellect cannot go beyond their imagination that which they cannot imagine is non-existent for them. To imagine a thing which has no body is not possible, and hence a belief in the existence of an object which they cannot imagine, is impossible for them. It was for this reason that the Law refused to disclose this secret to them, and described God, for their sake, in terms which they can imagine, ascribing to him the attributes of hearing, seeing, having a face, &c. &c., at the same time telling them that He is not like anything which can be imagined. Had the intention of the Law been to make clear to the masses the fact of His having no body, it would not have mentioned these things in detail. But as light was the highest of imaginable things, it was given to them as an illustration of God, for it is the best known of the things both to the senses and to the imagination.
Such is also the case in respect to the possibility of their understanding the things of the Day of Judgment. These have also been mentioned in terms which they can imagine. So now when the Law has adopted this course about the apparent description of God, there arises no doubt about him. For when it is said that He is Light or that there is a curtain of light upon Him, as is mentioned in the Quran and authentic Traditions, and when it is said that the Faithful will see Him on the Day of Judgment as they see the sun, there arises no doubt or suspicion out of it for the common or the learned people. It is so because to the learned it is quite clear that that condition will be an addition to our former knowledge. But when this is disclosed to the common people, they cannot understand it, and hence they either disbelieve the whole of the Law, or consider its exponent to be an infidel. So one who adopts a method other than that laid down by the Law in this respect, certainly goes astray. If you look a little intently it will become clear to you, that in spite of the fact that the Law has not given illustration of those things for the common people, beyond which their imagination cannot go, it has also informed the learned men of the underlying meanings of those illustrations. So it is necessary to bear in mind the limits which the Law has set about the instruction of every class of men, and not to mix them together. For in this manner the purpose of the Law is multiplied. Hence it is that the Prophet has said, “We, the prophets, have been commanded to adapt ourselves to the conditions of the people, and address them according to their intelligence.” He who tries to instruct all the people in the matter of religion, in one and the same way, is like a man who wants to make them alike in actions too, which is quite against apparent laws and reason.
From the foregoing it must have become clear to you that the divine vision has an exoteric meaning in which there is no doubt, if we take the words of the Quran about God as they stand, that is, without proving or disproving the anthropomorphic attribute of God. Now since the first part of the Law has been made quite clear as to God’s purity, and the quantity of the teaching fit for the common people, it is time to begin the discussion about the actions of God, after which our purpose in writing this tractate will be over.
[58. ]Quran lxix, 17.
[59. ]Quran xxxii, 2.
[60. ]Quran lxx, 4.
[61. ]Quran lxvii, 16.
[62. ]Quran xl, 59.
[63. ]Quran iii, 5.
[64. ]Quran ii, 24.
[65. ]Quran iii, 5.