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al-Ghazali's Alternative Explanation for Cause-n-Effect

A lot of people remember al-Ghazali as the great Islamic Philosopher who, among other things, stopped Islamic scientific and philosophical progress. He’s been pointed to as a stagnater of the Islamic World’s intellectual progression. In my opinion, to say this would be a simplified conclusion of al-Ghazali’s works.

Was al-Ghazali the cause of the Islamic world’s intellectual stagnation? Was his works the cause, and the stagnation the effect? If al-Ghazali was indeed the prime source of such a movement, than one could logically conclude this to be a cause and effect relationship. Was it as simple as a cause-and-effect relationship? al-Ghazali might have something to say about that too.

In terms of cause-and-effect, al-Ghazali states that there is no necessary connection. Wherever there are two distinct things, the existence of one does not necessitate the existence of the other. al-Ghazali argues that it is not necessary and that the connection between cause-and-effect is a habitual one that is decreed by God, who created them in succession. Whenever there is a cause followed by an effect, God creates the cause, then creates the effect. So God can create the cause but not the effect, e.g. decapitation without death, fire without burning. The cause is merely an occasion to create the effect.

According to al-Ghazali, Philosophers say that cause produces effect by its very nature. It cannot refrain from producing effect. He rejects this on the logic that A only follows B, but not that B caused A. Thus, he distinguishes a cause and an effect as two different entities.

al-Ghazali uses the examples of fire and burning, stating that burning only follows fire, but it is not caused by fire. He argues that fire could immediately produce ash. Thus, it is not necessary that burning causes fire, but rather, that we usually see it follow fire.

Another example is the blind man that opens his eyes for the first time. al-Ghazali argues that he would think that seeing is caused by opening his eyes, when it is actually caused by the Sun.

ibn Rushd countered al-Ghazali by saying that because some causes are unseen doesn’t make all causes unseen. ibn Rushd rejected al-Ghazali’s denial of connection between cause-and-effect by linking cause to knowledge.

He said that if each existing thing did not have a specific causal power, then it would not have a specific nature. If each thing did not have a specific nature, then there is nothing to distinguish it from anything else. And if so, we could never know anything at all.

So was al-Ghazali a stagnater of Islamic progression? I guess it would depend on who’s understanding of cause-n-effect seems right to you.

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Kapitano said... October 18, 2013 at 10:37 PM

So, Al-Ghazali's 'explanation' for the connection between cause and effect is 'god does it, somehow'.

The christian version of this is called 'Occasionalism', and probably its most important proponent is Niclolas Malebranche, who took Descartes' 'radical doubt' method and ran with it. (

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