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al-Razi on Reason and Pleasure

al-Razi’s attitude towards reason and passion is one that discourages passion and encourages reason. He encourages reason to be the only mode of thinking required for all our actions. According to al-Razi, God has bestowed reason upon man so that we can be controlling and profitable from it. He cites the example of man’s progress as proof, claiming that reason has endowed man with the capability of building ships, navigating the seas, and using medicine for healing.

al-Razi cites reason as the most profitable endeavor in acclimating man with the Almighty. Passion, he says, is a blemish on reason. It is something that diverts man from his proper path and rightful purpose.

Speaking in the same tones as passion as he does about pleasure, al-Razi says that passion causes man to look for immediate gratification, regardless of the consequences. As a result of this need, in all cases, man will seek immediate gratification, unless he learns to control his passions and use reason to deliberate the cause and effects of actions before they are taken.

al-Razi also emphasizes the need to suppress pleasure. Continuous immediate gratification can lead to a habitual need for the pleasure, he says. The continuous pleasure attained from immediate gratification will disillusion man from the purity of pleasure. Once habituated, man will continue to seek pleasure, placing himself in dangerous positions while putting others at danger so that he can seek it out. This need, al-Razi says, is beastly.

Wild beasts and animals act in the same manner as humans when seeking continuous gratification. The only difference between humans and beasts is that the gratification needs of beasts’ are tied to the acquisition of food. He says that they will seek gratification everywhere, and that man cannot get in the way of a hungry animal without putting itself in danger, since the animal is only concerned with seeking that instant gratification. Thus, pleasure, according to al-Razi, should be avoided.

al-Razi also speaks on two states of being. These states of being are either being in pain or in a ‘state of nature’ (a form of equilibrium). He states that pleasure is simply the transitory state between pain and this ‘state of nature’. Thus, for one to experience pleasure, they must experience pain.

Ironically, al-Razi’s reasoning seems to lead to a flaw in his argumentation of the acquisition of pleasure, since he states that we are seeking immediate gratification.

If one is to seek immediate gratification while putting off pain, then pleasure is not transitory, even though he claims for pleasure to be the effect of the cause of pain. If pain is absent at the time of the acquisition of pleasure, than pain is not causal in the gratification of pain.

Another flaw in al-Razi’s rationale towards pleasure and pain is that he dichotomizes pleasure and reason with the concept of self-deliberation, with respect to the ‘calls of nature’. He states that by deliberating and being a person of great reason means to remove oneself from the shackles that bound man to some of his most primitive biological responses. He states that to improve reason removes one from being a slave to the calls of nature. However, it is unquestionable that man cannot divulge himself from the calls of nature and from certain necessities, like eating.

al-Razi compares the pleasure of eating to the pain of defecating. He Claims that animals look towards their instant gratification of eating without deliberating on the consequential pains of defecation. However, the flaw in this argument can easily stem from the idea that one may also feel pain from not defecating. One may also feel pain from not eating. One must eat to live. Should one not eat, one may feel pain without any consequential pleasure. Thus, continuous pain may ensue, and no amount of reason can dispel this innate necessity.

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