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Philosophy is a Greek word which means “love of wisdom”.It has been defined as “Investigation of the nature of causes or principles of reality, knowledge or values based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods” (Philosophy, answers.com). Both Al-Ghazali and Saint Augustine searched for true knowledge which is independent of the individual. They studied philosophy very thoroughly to know the answers to the basic questions of life. The time and circumstances of both are different and they are considered among the most influential people of their faiths. Their quests were not easy and hence they faced hardships and difficulties in their quest for the true, good and beautiful. This essay will look at how philosophy contributes towards the true, good and beautiful describing the benefits and limitations of philosophy in helping Al-Ghazali and Augustine in their way towards true, good and beautiful. Also it will differentiate between the attitudes of both scholars towards philosophy and its overall effect on their lives. Since their circumstances were different both of them had different motives to study philosophy. Hence they will be explained separately to have a good grasp of the contribution and limitations of philosophy in their lives.
            First we take Augustine. Since his father Patrick was a Pagan and his mother Monica was a catholic, he was very greatly affected by the behavior of his parents. Monica a Catholic Christian always wanted her son to follow the right path and she wished that her son be prevented from the evils of this world. His father, on the other hand, wished for him to be educated. As he studied he learned the skill of oratory and rhetoric and he was considered to be one of the learned persons of his time. Then he realized that the knowledge gained for the sake of worldly gains is fakery. Also he realized the academics of his times are more interested in form rather than content.  Augustine was also involved in the worldly pleasures such as going to theatrical shows and pursuing sexual adventures. When he is grown and recalls those adventures especially the stealing of pears, he clearly argues that it was not because of their beauty or good taste but because of his company. It was because of that company that he had a longing for evil acts. Later he also classifies the reasons for doing evil, like that of stealing pears, for pleasure, pride, and curiosity.  At that time since Augustine wanted the true knowledge about evil and since during his adolescence he wanted to “love and to be loved” he committed much evil (15). He later converted to Manichaeism but as he learned more he found flaws with the Manichee Faith. At that time he could not explain those flaws and this led him to keep practicing Manichaeism for nearly ten years. It was after he read the Neo-Plotonic philosophy that he answered all those questions which were in his mind. Though he also found flaws in Neo-Plotonic philosophy for not praising God and containing atheistic components, he found it closely compatible with his new faith i.e. Christianity. He found this philosophy in the works of Cicero and Plotinus.
Now we can explain the difficulties Augustine was facing in the way of his quest towards truth, good, and beautiful. When Augustine started to think about God and His existence he was puzzled. Explaining the form and essence of God has been a very important issue for the ancient and medieval philosophers. Augustine at first thought that God is like a gas filling every thing in the universe because everything that exists is because of the existence of God arguing that he is “the life of the life” (12). Hence everything contains God with respect to its size i.e. smaller objects contain lesser part of the God and larger objects contain larger parts. He started to read philosophy and the first book he read was the works from an ancient philosopher, Cicero. Later he continued reading texts which he thought may help him to find the true, good, and beautiful. Augustine longed for the immortality of wisdom with an incredible ardor in his heart. He was unable to believe a God actually not in a material form. The belief in a spiritual being for Augustine was very difficult. At that time he was practicing the faith of Manichees, who claimed to have the true knowledge of God and beings. They expressed God in terms of heavenly bodies like stars and planets. Since then he was more interested in content than form so he prevented himself from falling victim to the deception of the rhetoric of the Manichees. When he had studied philosophy he was ready to answer the criticisms of the Manichees and hence freeing his soul of the puzzles. The following paragraph shows how he answered those questions with the help of his understanding of philosophy.
The most famous, Manichee challenge concerns the nature and source of evil. If God is supremely good, and if he is also all-powerful, eternal, and the cause of all existence, how can evil exist? Where can it come from except God? At the very least, why can't God eliminate it? They argued that there is a conflict between God and evil. The second Manichee challenge concerns the form of God as being corporeal. This question also challenges the idea of God as omnipotent and omnipresent. In the Manichee view, God is limited, he is not everywhere, and does not control everything. The answer Augustine introduces to these first two challenges is Neo-Plotonic in essence. Augustine argued that God is Being itself, the most pure and supreme form of existence. Everything else is God's creation, and fits into a descending scale of being; the further something is from God, the less true existence it has. In short, the further away from God something is, the more evil it is. Heaven is close to God, and comes very close to having his full, unchanging Being. Human souls or minds are a step further down, and bodies and other material things are at the bottom of the pile. This idea allows Augustine to answer the Manichee question of evil as follows: "evil has no existence except as a privation of good, down to that level which is altogether without being (36)". Evil is just a name for a lack of true existence, a label for how far a thing (or person) has wandered from unity with God. It’s helpful here to recall Augustine's theft of the pears, which demonstrates that each sin is really a twisted or incomplete attempt to be like God. Because of the lust for domination he did this stealing. Thus, evil is not some dark substance that exists in conflict with God; it is simply the extent to which something in God's creation has turned away from Him, the extent to which a thing (or human) is unaware of its existence in God. In a significant sense, Augustine argues that there is no evil.
Now we see that philosophy has made his job much easier. Had he not studied Neo-Plotonic philosophy, he would have been unable to answer the questions of Manichees. Philosophy has given him the reasons of doing right and wrong. Augustine also argued that since spirit is good it longs for good and since material body is evil it longs for evil i.e. the worldly beings. When he is in grief because of the death of his close friend he realizes that it was the relation to material being which caused him to be in this grief. Hence he wanted to have an immortal relationship and that could only be possible with an immortal being like God. Here he gets the strength for the belief in a spiritual God which is omnipotent and omniscient and he observes things which he sees as impossible to be explained through reasons or words. Even though philosophy has changed the whole course of his life from Paganism towards Manichaeism and then towards Catholic Christianity, we should not conclude that philosophy always led him to the right path. If Augustine hadn’t studied Cicero and Neo-Plotonic philosophy he would have been remained in the same ignorant path of Manichaeism, the path which he loathed at the latter years of his life. He would have been left without any significant answers to the questions that why we do evils? What is the nature of evil?. It was after he read philosophy that he observed and knew something that was compatible with his thinking. Hence philosophy may lead to a very opposite and far away place from the true, good, and beautiful. This understanding of philosophy was valued most by Al-Ghazali for his search for the true, good, and beautiful.
Now we take Al-Ghazali as an example to describe the contribution of philosophy in his life in finding the true, good, and beautiful. Al-Ghazali was a great scholar in the greatest center of learning in his time. He questioned servile religious conformism. Al-Ghazali had heard from the Apostle of the God –God’s blessings and peace be upon him!-that “every infant is born endowed with the Fitra then his parents make him Jew or Christian or Magian” (9). So he also wanted to know the true meaning of the original Fitra. Later when he was teaching in Baghdad he realized that his teaching is for gaining fame and glory that he was on the wrong side. He wanted to know the true knowledge about religion and life. He defined true knowledge as that knowledge that is free from any error hence it must not accompany a possibility of error. Now it was a very difficult job because there were many sects and every sect claimed to be true on the basis of its own interpretation. A little mistake might have led him into the wrong path. So he started to gain true knowledge through the sense data and reason Judge. He found that the thing which senses signals to us as true is the same sense data that is rejected as false by the reason judge. Hence it forced Ghazali to think of another stage which may in turn rejects what the reason judge is saying. That he found in the state of sleep. When a person is sleeping, all his senses are suspended and yet he believes in what he sees as a dream but as he is awakened he realizes the fact that it was not the truth.
It is according to Al-Ghazali “an affect of light which God Most High cast into his breast” that he conducted his search for true knowledge (16). Then he decided that there are four categories of those who seek true knowledge. These were (1) the Muttakallimun who claim that they are the men of true judgment and reasoning (2) the Talimites who claim to be the recipients of knowledge acquired from their infallible Imam. (3) The philosophers who claim that they are men of logic with proofs (4) The Sufis who claim to be men familiar with the Divine presence and of mystic vision and illumination. From the science of Kalam, Al-Ghazali concluded that Kalam is good for its own aim but because its purpose was to protect the orthodoxy from the innovators it was not adequate for his aim. From the Talimites, Al-Ghazali concluded that they gain knowledge from the infallible Imam, Ghazali answered them that our infallible imam is Muhammad -God blessings be upon him-that he has perfected the teaching for his community. Now the absence or death of the Imam does not matter, so there is no need of an infallible imam. Now as Al-Ghazali is an Islamic theologian, his belief in the God Most High, the revelations and the Last day was very strong and that is manifested when he writes in his autobiography that he was severely ill because he “was wandering between the pull of the worldly desires and the appeals of the afterlife, for six months” (Al-Ghazali 56). Hence Ghazali’s attitude towards philosophy is totally different from what Augustine had. Because Al-Ghazali knew that people involved in the science of Kalam were unsuccessful in negating the arguments of philosophers because of the spacious arguments of the Muttakallimun which were because of their insufficient knowledge about the science of philosophy. So he wanted to study philosophy first so as to have the right reasons for believing or rejecting in what the philosophers of his time were saying. So studied philosophy so thoroughly that he became the most learned in that time in the science of philosophy. His attitude to start the study of philosophy was to negate the arguments because he knew that they were based on disbelief, even though the concept of God before his quest of true, good, and beautiful was different after the quest. Al-Ghazali was a believer from the very start and remained the same after his quest but the nature of his belief has now changed. While Augustine was impartial as he was not bound to one faith, we see that he was a Manichee for Ten years and then he studied Neo-Plotonic Philosophy and then he converted to Christianity. Indeed it was a very risky job because he might have been pushed into a wrong path if he had not continued to read philosophy.
After Al-Ghazali studied philosophy for three years he could easily see the flaws of their arguments. For Ghazali there were many categories of philosophers and his extent of the study of philosophers is manifested through his book “The incoherence of philosophers”. It is not that Al-Ghazali considered all philosophers to be wrong since there were different purposes of different categories of philosophy. Also there were differences in those categories with respect to time. There were some shared attributes which were common to all categories of philosophy. These he classified as (1) that part of their work which is based on disbelief (2) a part connected to innovation (3) a part which cannot be repudiated. He does not prevent us from studying those philosophers as he argued that a believer rejecting mathematics will give an impression to another person who knows the marvels of mathematics that Islam is based on wrong beliefs. He may also think that if Islam is right then how the mathematical philosophers knew these marvelous things. He was able to see the innovations of the philosophers in moral matters. If he didn’t know the science of philosophy he would not have been able to pinpoint the flaws and the innovations of philosophers like Aristotle, Ibne-Sina and Al-Farabi etc. And that is the reason that he emphasizes more to study the sciences before critiquing them because our critique will be as wrong as our study is insufficient. Because of the study of philosophy he negated the three arguments of the Metaphysical philosophers with the help of the teachings given in Quran and traditions. The arguments of the philosophers were (1) only spirits will be assembled on the last day and not their corporeal bodies (2) that God knows universals and not the particulars (3) That world is eternal.
Philosophy was very useful for Al-Ghazali because he just like Augustine realized with the help of philosophy that everything cannot be explained through reasons. He argued that above the reason there is another stage that is the seeing of the unseen. That seeing of the unseen is through the “eye” which God Most High gives to the observer i.e the prophecy. Through the light of prophecy he sees those things which cannot be explained through the narrow range of words or reason. From here he questions the need for prophecy. He had a great insight into this premise because he had read philosophy so he searched for it. Hence he came to know at last that true knowledge can only be gained by experience and practice. First you get knowledge then you practice it and with practice you start to believe in what you know and practice. Because the way to get the true knowledge is to cleanse the heart from worldly desires and that is through fruitional experience and practice so that heart (the center of the soul and the source of true knowledge) gets adorned with the remembrance of God. That’s how prophecy has a need of existence to guide people towards reality. Now he also got the reasons of the disbelief of most of the people in the revelations, prophecy and other things. That he argued was because they themselves had not experienced the same thing therefore they were unable to explain it and therefore they say that it doesn’t exist and regard it to be superstitious. He argued that if these things are superstitious how then you can explain true dreams. According to Ghazali true dreams are only a part of the whole existence of prophecy hence it might quite be possible that every person is getting signals from his God in the form of true dreams. Hence true dream is example of the light of prophecy.  Apart from that philosophy also helped him to recognize the true philosophers and the status of a philosopher according to his works. Philosophy helped him to separate right from wrong. That was because of philosophy that he realized that argumentation should not be for the sake of argumentation but it should be for the sake of gaining truth. Through philosophy he was able to see the faults of philosophers.
As for the limitations of philosophy for Al-Ghazali are concerned they are explained by him very thoroughly. First of all he argued that one man accepting the marvels of mathematics may argue that as the mathematicians know these things their disbelief is manifested by their good knowledge of mathematics. Ghazali argued that these people are misled because the fact that they are skillful in one faculty does not necessarily make them heir to other faculties of knowledge. Other limitations which he argued were also very serious. He said that a person who is more skilful in philosophy will say that I know better than other people so I don’t need to follow the same conformism hence I can handle it. For example, a man may say that I drink wine because I know how to handle its bad effects. From the arguments given above, one should not take the impression that philosophy is the cause or the result of disbelief, because we see many believers in the philosophical discourse nowadays.
Philosophy has been advantageous in giving guidance to Al-Ghazali and Saint Augustine in many ways as discussed above. It has limitations and can hinder the quest for true, good and beautiful. But without studying philosophy the possibility of reaching out to truth decreases. If Augustine and Al-Ghazali had not studied philosophy, it was quite possible that they would have been pushed into the darkness of disbelief by the marvelous rhetoric and arguments from the wrong people. The position of Al-Ghazali very much appeals to me because he is determined from the very outset that he would not lead his life in servile conformism and that he must study every science so that he may understand the purpose of his life and religion with satisfaction. Concluding, philosophy played a very significant role in shaping what they were at last and it contributed to their extremely influential works for which we still give credit to them.
Written By: Asif Bahadur ( LUMS )

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