• Anaxagoras
    349
    Among the questions I have in studying Islam nothing vexes me more in my study is understanding the issue between free will and determinism. Various schools of thought approach this subject differently and chief among them Jahm ibn Safwan (d. 745) believed human actions were powerless, and that God made our actions and choices eternally. According to ibn Safwan:

    "Man, like a feather in the wind, cannot have will, ability or choice. All events and human acts are created by God. It is not true to say man has his own acts; rather he has them metaphorically. For instance, when we say the tree bears fruit, the water flows, or the sky rains, truly it is God who performs the acts of tree, water and sky. Nevertheless, God created man with a power to act as well as creating him with will and the desire to be a distinguished creature. But there is no creator but God, so if we were to say man that creates his own acts, this would obviously lead us to polytheism,” (Muslim Thought and Its Source. p. 49).

    For political and theological reasons ibn Safwan believed in an extreme form of determinism (that mankind had no agency and that all actions are dictated by God) which the result lead to many scholars rejecting his idea of determinism due to the fact that his thought abolished the obligation of Muslims to stand up to injustice and unjust rulers. Jahm ibn Safwan's philosophy would apparently seem to be compatible with Islamic extremism in the sense that the actions performed by terrorist would also be sanctioned by God, because it is God that is controlling the behavior of terrorist.

    Naturally, in opposition to this form of extreme determinism would arise the school of thought called Mutazilitism which developed out of the philosophy of fatalism. These earlier fatalist would argue that if human acts are determined totally by God, then why should would he punish man for them on Judgment Day? It is very clear these acts would be God’s responsibility, if God ordained them and man had had no ability to act differently. So if there is a Judgment Day according to Islam then mankind must have agency to commit both good and evil acts in order to be judged accordingly. In addition, extreme determinism in accordance to ibn Safwan's view would render God evil because if mankind has no control over his action and let's say a pedophile decides to rape and murder a 12 month old baby, it is God, not man, controlling the action of the man.

    The Mutazilites also state that human agency is central to Islam as it is the foundation of belief and that justice is the center of the Islamic faith:

    “Whoever works righteousness benefits his own soul;
    Whoever works evil, it is against his own soul.” (41:46).

    Discuss

    Definitions:

    Human agency- The capacity of an entity to act in any given environment It is normally contrasted to natural forces, which re causes involving only unthinking deterministic processes.

    Free Will- Although there are various understandings of free will, typically free will is the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion.

    Determinism-Holds that every thing and event is a natural and integral part of the interconnected universe. From the perspective of determinism, every event in nature is the result of (determined by) prior/coexisting events.

    Fatalism-Holds that the natural world causes events in human life but is not itself influenced by human will or behavior. No matter what you do, the same things will happen to you.
  • Wayfarer
    7.4k
    Man, like a feather in the wind, cannot have will, ability or choice. All events and human acts are created by God.Anaxagoras

    I see that as motivated by the inability to face the burden of having to decide and to act. Essentially it says that nothing you do matters; existentially, much is always unknown, and it’s possible that our decisions are fatally flawed. And if you believe in the reality of eternal damnation, then that’s a terrifying possibility. Better to say there really is no choice! Only believe and submit.

    Incidentally, you might find the book which is the subject of this review germane - not so much to Islamic Philosophy (although it does mention it) but to the general topic of theological voluntarism.
  • I like sushi
    869
    I think that is an unfair analysis of what Safwan wrote.

    Determinism is split into various camps of thought. Strong Determinism doesn’t seem to be what the quote is suggesting/asking.

    Ironically a large group of prominent scientists would agree with Safwan. The issue is mostly about people using the term “free will” in different contexts and conflating one with the other. It’s kind of funny really how some protest about people acting in response to some proposed “God” and then saying in the same breath they have no choice in the matter, and that as a tangibke scientific view of the world it makes sense to act as if we lack agency in order to appreciate that those who act badly deserve sympathy - such is the contrary thinking of people like Sam Harris.

    If there is a “first mover” there is a “first mover”. If not, there isn’t.

    Morally the problem on the surface is much simpler and get complex when we come to determining what degree of influence we have and what the “best” action to take is.

    Scientifically we’re causal beings (as far as we know) and live as spaciotemproal entities. Morally and/or ethically the question of agency is quite different. It is a matter of responsibility and a natural inclination to explore, opposed by our orientation via meaning and by our inclination to not die right now or anytime soon - th suicidal are obvious exceptions to this and not an innate tendency or we wouldn’t be here in the first place ... but then again, maybe we’re born instantly suicidal and then by the time we develop into a condition where we’re capable of taking our own lives we’ve “matured” into something else and decide otherwise! Haha!)
  • Anaxagoras
    349
    I see that as motivated by the inability to face the burden of having to decide and to act. Essentially it says that nothing you do mattersWayfarer

    This was the problem with the Muta'zilite school of thought because this ran contrary to Quranic theology:

    "[This is] the truth from your Lord: let anyone who wishes believe it, and let anyone who wishes disbelieve it. Whoever please, i.e. with his free will, believe and whoever please disbelieve: (18:29)."

    and it’s possible that our decisions are fatally flawed.Wayfarer

    Which according to the Muta'zilites this is where ibn Safwan made the error because this would render God flawed due to him controlling the actions of mankind. For Muslims, this line of thought leads to kufr or disbelief.

    And if you believe in the reality of eternal damnation, then that’s a terrifying possibility.Wayfarer

    That is essentially the problem that I've encountered especially looking at the philosophical side of Quranic text. How is judgment "just" if the actions were pre-ordained to begin with? Surely God does not discern human agency from his own if in fact according to ibn Safwan, God controls human agency!
  • Anaxagoras
    349
    I think that is an unfair analysis of what Safwan wrote.I like sushi

    Well I'm merely touching the surface of some of his writings, if you are more familiar with it then please submit something further to substantiate his position. So far, ibn Safwan's position is looking more heterodoxical.

    The issue is mostly about people using the term “free will” in different contexts and conflating one with the otherI like sushi

    Ok, but in the context of human agency both internal and external actions are all controlled by God. All actions are pre-ordained according to ibn Safwan. That means as I type, it is not my will that I type, but by God's will that I type this to you and construct the sentence the way I am designed to. From what I understand from ibn Safwan, I'm merely playing out the script that was written.

    suicidal are obvious exceptions to this and not an innate tendency or we wouldn’t be here in the first placeI like sushi

    Well how do you reconcile that with kids who grow up to be extremists, who live poor, starving, and with no hope with the exception of religious text that implants this idea of God's will and that to "kill the infidel" means you are destined for paradise, away for a desolate life? I believe the Muta'zilites saw this coming and criticized it because it circumvents the duty upon all Muslims to be observant of justice. I'm even willing to be ibn Safwan's thought could be used in extremism to justify terror, because terrorist would see no other way outside the rationale of terrorism.

    but then again, maybe we’re born instantly suicidal and then by the time we develop into a condition where we’re capable of taking our own lives we’ve “matured” into something else and decide otherwise!I like sushi

    Since you like citing so much, if indeed we are born suicidal then why would all humans have a sympathetic nervous system? Why do we have a fight or flight response? Internally, the body was created to live until an appointed time of death or due to some external factor.
  • I like sushi
    869
    I was referring to the quote only. He said:

    It is not true to say man has his own acts; rather he has them metaphorically.

    We take this “metaphorically” to mean “morally speaking”. If he meant we are but actors in a play then there need be no justification for anything ... a strange notion, yet morally we assume we do have an effect on the world from our perspective and we necessarily observe causal effects all the time. You post and I reply etc.,. The question of whether I could’ve should’ve posted, or replied differently, is partly arbitrary (maybe completely).

    I imagine many people of the same era the globe over used the term “god” in many different ways. In Christian history we have see that some didn’t exactly hold to the idea of an omnnipotent being (man inteh sky idea), and sided more with an investigation into the mystery of being in the form of some hypothesized “unmoving mover” or “first mover” - which from a scientific perspective or religious one, remains unknown. Just because we cannot comprehend a universe with no beginning doesn’t mean there is one. In fact how on earth can we comprehend one with a beginning either; hence it’s mostly an exercise of creative thought from which a useable idea may flourish.

    No idea how I feel about someone else’s life circumstances is relevant to the topic?

    I believe the Muta'zilites saw this coming and criticized it because it circumvents the duty upon all Muslims to be observant of justice. I'm even willing to be ibn Safwan's thought could be used in extremism to justify terror, because terrorist would see no other way outside the rationale of terrorism. — Anaxagoras

    Sam Harris would say the same thing too. He also doesn’t have much nice to say about the Islamic religious tradition. Your words here might well be used as an example of religious hatred too and serve to recruit people to commit acts here or there. It is here where the responsibility of our actions should be regarded as at least partly willed/authored/chosen by us (as they are given that “us” is a human being and we’re delineated from each other and other objects enuogh to be able to talk about it! Haha!) so our choices do not pass us by due to our possibly self-infused apathy toward the world.

    Do I like citing so much? Er ... thanks?

    Note: I ended with “Haha!” because I was well aware I was trying to argue my own point about the difficulties of morality and ethics. Yes, we’ve a sympathetic nervous system. It was a pedantic musing about how we’re unaware of our initial circumstances in life - highly unlikely that we’re “born suicidal,” it was a joke. It is true enouh that our cells die in order to be replaced, so if I was going to pursue the whimsy it may take on the form of such a desperate analogy - but I’m not going to.
  • ssu
    1.2k
    If I remember correctly, basically the Mu'tazilites lost to the Asharites and this was one of the reasons why the "Golden Age" of Islam, times when the Muslim World was favourable to science, came to a close. With thinkers like Ibn Al-Haytham and the Mu'tazilites you could basically have modern science emerging in the Muslim World. Yet naturally religion isn't the only reason. Of course the Mongols and the whole Arab/Ottoman World turning inwards would be reasons too.

    Yet in many ways the discussion of Islam and Philosophy (or Islam and Modern Science etc) show in my view many similarities to how Philosophy and especially Science clashed with Christianity two Centuries ago or earlier. The simple reason is that both Christianity and Islam are Abrahamic religions (something that those emphasizing Judeo-Christian heritage never admit) and hence get into similar debates. As Islam had no Renaissance, it's no wonder that they have now to tackle with these issues as science and technology is so important in our time.
  • Anaxagoras
    349
    We take this “metaphorically” to mean “morally speaking”.I like sushi

    I see your point here.

    Your words here might well be used as an example of religious hatred too and serve to recruit people to commit acts here or thereI like sushi

    Well, I was merely hypothesizing the view of ibn Safwan's thought concerning the extreme determinism on his part. I would suspect that religious leaders would use this particular philosophical thought process to indoctrinate followers. See in the following for example:

    Imam: "See, you're poor and hungry. The Americans, the Canadians, the British all the western world has destroyed your family. You have no home. Allah has willed this. Allah has also willed that you follow his command and fulfill your oath to fight those who expel you and fight against you! it is said that Allah controls all things and with that as a Muslim Allah compels you to fight against the western powers."

    Somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan I can see this happening to someone ignorant of the true tenants of Islam. To indoctrinate someone and compel them with dramatic speech to commit horror using deterministic philosophy of this sort.

    It is here where the responsibility of our actions should be regarded as at least partly willed/authored/chosen by us (as they are given that “us” is a human being and we’re delineated from each other and other objects enuogh to be able to talk about it! Haha!) so our choices do not pass us by due to our possibly self-infused apathy toward the world.I like sushi

    Agreed. But isn't all what you have said here contingent upon the individual believing they have agency?

    Yes, we’ve a sympathetic nervous system. It was a pedantic musing about how we’re unaware of our initial circumstances in life - highly unlikely that we’re “born suicidal,” it was a joke.I like sushi

    Gotcha! sorry
  • Anaxagoras
    349
    Yet naturally religion isn't the only reason. Of course the Mongols and the whole Arab/Ottoman World turning inwards would be reasons too.ssu

    Yeah. I recall listening to a lecture by Neil Degrasse Tyson on this...

    As Islam had no Renaissance, it's no wonder that they have now to tackle with these issues as science and technology is so important in our time.ssu

    Interesting perspective!
  • I like sushi
    869
    Anax -

    Why “gotcha!”?
  • Anaxagoras
    349


    You said it was a joke
  • I like sushi
    869


    Oh! Sorry, I had a brain fart there! :)

    And yes, it is contingent upon the person belieing they have agency. I wasn’t pushing any particular position just trying to outline the common problems with the topic I’ve seen over the years.

    My dog is im a completely different race. I’m more concerned with the context of use of the terms than any absolute certainty. Morally speaking the issue is a concern for me because it is a question of “how much” I can do and what supposed “good” it can do. To that I have to revert to gut feelings and a much more subjective alignment - given that I generally prefer something more solid to work from it remains an issue for me to find myself where I am.
  • Anaxagoras
    349


    Although I understand your position I'm not sure Ubn Safwan was stating that which is why I stated unless you're familiar with his works it would be helpful to post it here.
  • I like sushi
    869


    I’m not familiar with his work and may be completely wrong, but I do appreciate that saying “god” over a thousand years ago was something akin to saying “universe” today for some people. Of course, we’ve moved on now and sure enough some radical will use his words to suit their means if they believe it useful to do so.

    Generally speaking I’m in the habit of translating utterances of “god” into the more commonplace term “nature”. It helps me work toward a common ground with people who choose to follow this or that idea of a “deity”.

    The most radical doctrine for terrorism would likely be Buddhism. Killing someone in that respect would be seen as an “illusion” - I believe Zizek comically (and semi-seriously) argued this point. I’ve commented before about an association I see with nihilism and buddhism but I don’t think I have do e so on this forum? Anyway, I see Fatalism as being the conflation of causal determinism with ethical/moral thought. It’s an easy mistake to make though and no doubt we all fall into it due to the imprecision of language and our general ignorance.

    In terms of religious doctrines I think the case for either can be argued quite strongly on either side of the argument - this is generally something that happens when terms get conflated and the context from one stance to another cross over. We have the word “choice” and it’s meaningful in day-to-day discourse, yet teh physical reality may show this to be a myopic perspective? We’re limited beings so we can reason this through and find that one stance outweighs the other in terms of difference of possible outcomes.

    I’d divide Fatalism and Strong Determinism into two distinct camps. The former being a question of moral behavior and the later an ontological one.
  • Anaxagoras
    349
    I’m not familiar with his workI like sushi

    This is all I needed to know. Then this really destroys the length of your argument concerning what you think he was referencing. I think you ought to read the book I referenced in my original post before you continue on Ibn Safwan's hypothetical position on Islamic theology concerning the aforementioned subject. Although I said discuss, if you're going to reference Ibn Safwan, it is best to use his works you are familiar with to make your point. Making your point outside referencing Ibn Safwan even though you mentioned him in what you think he was mentioning, really doesn't make the discussion fruitful. I'm specifically referring to this school of thought in conjunction to the Islamic idea of determinism, and fatalism.
  • I like sushi
    869


    You presented the material not me. If you think my points are irrelevant so be it. Hope you have success finding scholars of his work.
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