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Some Aspects of Avicenna's Theory of God's Knowledge of Particulars

Author(s): Michael E. Marmura

Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 82, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 1962), pp.
Published by: American Oriental Society
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GREENFIELD: Studies in Aramaic Lexicography I 299

gins with I "of" so frequent on Aramaic and
Hebrew seals: l'rtym " (seal) of Artimas." 9' A
seal with a typical Achaemenian design and with
the legend: 'hyqr, I'hyqr, or Mtm 'hyqr would fit
the needs of a sbyt 'zqh of an Assyrian king as

envisioned by Aramaic speaking troops of the

Persian military garrison in Egypt. In any event
it would be from these types of royal seals and
personal seals of high administrative officials that
the seal held by Aliqar would come.

Cameron, op. cit., 53, n. 52. Cf. too htm dtm (OIP

Driver (Aramaic Documents of the Fifth Century B. O.,

LXIX, PI. 7, no. 20); 4tm prsndt br 'rtdt (CIS Oxford
II, 100);

p. 2, n. 4): htm ['rim] br b[yt'] is correct.

the Biblicist will be reminded of Esther 9, 7: Parshan-

We would expect, instead of the title br byt', a patro-

data and 9, 8: Aridate [for Artadata?]. Cf. further

CIS II 101, 105. On the basis of the usual style of this

nymic br Y. The only justification for the restoration

seal type " the seal of X son of Y "-one may wonder

if the restoration of the seal of Arsham proposed by

an Achaemenian ruler.

br byt' is the assumption that Arsham was the son of

91 Cf. Bivar's article cited in n. 88.






God knows particulars "in a universal way" has
long engaged the attention of the Muslim and
* Texts frequently referred to in the notes will be
abbreviated as follows:

Western exegete and scholar. For, with al-Ghaz5a1's severe criticism of it in the thirteenth dis-

cussion of his Tahaifut al-Faldsifal and his pronouncing it irreligious at the conclusion of this

work,2 it became a cardinal issue in the dispute

between Muslim philosophy and theology.3 Moreover, St. Thomas Aquinas had some pertinent

'Aqa'id: Al-Dawani, Al-Siyalkfiti (sic), Muhammad

things to say about the theory,4 which explains in
Abdu, Sharh al-'Aqa'id al-'Adudiyya (Cairo, 1327 A. H.).
part the interest of the Western scholar and phiThis text consists of a commentary on the al-'Aqa'id
al-'Aduediyya, a brief catechism written by al-IjI (d.losopher, not always the student of Islam. Al1355), by al-Dawani and the commentaries of Siyalkfiti though some of the exegesis has been undertaken
and Muhammad Abdu on al-Dawanl's commentary.
for its own sake-and this is more true of some
Commentary: Ibn Sink, al-Isharat wa-l-Tanbihlt

modern scholarship-more often it has formed an

ma'a Sharh Nasir al-Din al-Tfzsi, ed. S. Dunya (2 vols;
Cairo, 1958). This is the Cairene edition of the sections integral part of the arguments for or against the
on natural philosophy and metaphysics of the al-Ishdrlt theory.5 The antagonists would often charge each
that includes the commentary of Nasir al-Din al-Tfisi.
Commentary will refer to Tfisi's exposition, not to Avi- Al-Radd: Ibn Taymiyya, al-Radd 'ala al-Mantiqiyyin,

cenna's text.

Demonstration: Ibn Sin!, Al-Shif$; Logic V.; Demonstration, ed. A. E. Affifi, revised by I. Madkur (Cairo,

Ildhiyydt: Ibn Sink, Al-Shifd: al-Ildhiyyat. (Metaphysics), edited by C. C. Anawati, S. Dunya and S.
Zayd, revised and introduced by I. Madkur (2 vols;
Cairo, 1960).

Ishdrdt: Ibn Sink, Kitdb al-Ishardt wa-l-Tanbihdt,

ed. J. Forget (Leiden, 1892).

ed. S. Nadaw! (Bombay, 1949).

Tahdfut: Al-Ghazill, Tahdfut al-Faldsifa, ed. M.

Bouyges (Beirut, 1927).

1 Tahdfut, pp. 223-38.

2 Ibid., p. 376.
"As an issue amongst the theologians themselves, the
problem of God's knowledge of "things" (al-ashyd')
had a long history in Islam and was one of the main
problems debated by the Mu'tazila. See A. Nader. Le
Systeme Philosophique des Mu'tazila. (Beirut, 1956),

Mabahith: Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, al-Mabahith

pp. 63-74.
al-Mashriqiyya (2 vols; Hyderabad, 1343 A. H.)).
4 In particular, Summa Theologica, I, 14, 11: See also
Mu'tabar: Abu'l Barakat al-BagdAdI, Kitdb al-Mu'taSumma Contra Gentiles, I. 49-59, 63-71.

bar (3 vols; Hyderabad, 1939).

5The criticisms directed by Nader al-Din al-Tiis! (d.

Nihayat: Al-ShahrastAnI, Nihayat al-Iqddm Fi 'Ilrn

1274) throughout his Commentary against the interal-Kaldm, ed. A. Guillaume (London, 1934).
pretation of Fakhr al-Din al-RAzi (d. 1209); and the

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300 MARMURA: Avicenna's Theory of God's Knowledge of Particulars

other with either misunderstanding or misrepresenting it. And explanation of the theory was

designated by these terms but only when viewed in

terms of knowledge. As such, the philosophers do not
deserve the charge of irreligion.10

needed and is still needed. For it is difficult,6 perhaps ultimately inconsistent,7 and certainly suffers
Whatever the limitations of this interpretation,
from ambiguity.
it still shows an awareness of the semantic problem
and suggests necessary and valid distinctions. But
At the root of the divergencies in interpretation
the analysis is not entirely correct and is certainly
is the ambiguous use of the terms "particular"
incomplete. For in the theory "universal" and
and "universal" in such statements of Avicenna
" particular " cover a far wider range of meanings.
as "the Necessary Existent conceives everything
is through the attempt to separate these meanin a universal way " 8 and " God apprehends parings that we hope to arrive at a clearer understandticulars in as much as they are universal." 9 The
ambiguous usage has not been entirely overlooked
and attempts at semantic clarifications are to be
found in the commentaries. But these attempts
are incomplete, conditioned at times by such factors as the desire to exonerate the Muslim philosophers from the charge of irreligion. The fifteenthcentury philosopher Jaldl al-Din al-Dawdn! is a
case in point. He insists in his interpretation of
the theory that God knows every particular. The
difference between God's knowledge of the particular and ours, he maintains, is that the former
is conceptual while the latter is sensory. The
difference, then, lies in the manner of apprehension, not in the things apprehended. He writes:
What we apprehend through the senses and the imagination God, the exalted, apprehends conceptually. The
difference here is in the manner of apprehension, not in
the thing apprehended. True inquiry would establish
that " universality " and " particularity " are attributes
of knowledge. The object of knowledge might be so

criticisms of al-Dawanl (d. ca. 1502), Siyalkfitl (d.

1657) and Muhammad Abdu (d. 1905) against the
interpretations of Abu'l BarakAt al-BaghdAd! (d. ca.
1164) and al-Tus! are examples of this. See 'Aqa'id,
pp. 110-16.

8How knowledge of plurality on the part of God in

Avicenna's theory does not imply plurality in the divine
essence was one of the chief difficulties in understanding
it. This has been dramatized by al-Suhrawardi (d.
1191) who reports that it was only after a kindly but
pedagogic visitation by the first teacher, Aristotle, that
he understood how this was possible. Al-Suhrawardi,
Opera Metaphysica et Mystica, ed. H. Corbin (Istanbul,
1945), pp. 70 ff. Al-Baghdad! finds the whole theory
difficult because of Avicenna's obscure language. Mu'tabar, III, p. 84.

' Critics like al-Ghazall (d. 1111), al-Shahrastani (d.

1153) and Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) have striven to show
it inconsistent. See Tahafut, pp. 231-38; Nihayat, pp.
223-32; al-Radd, pp. 476-77. See below notes, 18, 23
and 35.

8 Ilahiyydt, p. 359, 11. 12-13.

9Ibid., p. 360, 1. 3.

ing of what the theory involves.


Al-Dawan!'s remarks point to the necessary distinction between the object known and knowledge
of the object. The two expressions most frequently
used by Avicenna to describe God's knowledge of
particulars, "in as much as they are universal"
(min hayth hiya klulliyya) and "in a universal
way" ('ala, nahwin kulliyy), conve this distinction.
The second of these expressions is used not only to
characterize the manner of God's knowing, but
also the nature of God's knowledge as such. Now
these two meanings are interrelated and overlap.
This is particularly true when we characterize
God's knowledge as being " universal " in the sense
that it is "conceptual" or "intellectual." God's
knowledge as such is intellectual because God is
pure intellect. But the conceptual process of His
knowing should be treated separately and in
contrast with the human process of abstracting

concepts. In other words, when we speak of God's

" universal " knowledge we must differentiate,
whenever possible, the metaphysical from the
epistemological sense that this expression in
Avicenna conveys. Thus a careful reading of the

context in which these expressions occur in the

main passages concerned with this theory"1 will
disclose three things the term "universal" refers
to: (a) the nature of God's knowledge as such;
(b) the manner of God's knowing; (c) the object
known by God.

The Nature of God's knowledge.-As a char-

acteristic of the nature of God's knowledge, "universal," in turn, stands for several related things.
10'Aqa'id, p. 110.

" Ilahiyydt, pp. 358-62; Isharat, pp. 182-85. The passage in the Ildhiyylt is reproduced in the Najat. Ibn

SIna, al-Najdt (Cairo: 1938), pp. 246-49.

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MARMURA: Avicenna's Theory of God's Knowledge of Particulars 301

be known and apprehended without this involving
To begin with, God's knowledge is "universal" in
change in the knower.17
the sense that it is "conceptual," or "intellectual."
The verb "to conceive " ('aqala) is used interGod's knowledge is also universal in the sense
changeably with the verb "to know" ('alima), a
that it is "one." This has several meanings persynonymous use objected to by Avicenna's theotaining to both the nature of God's knowledge as
logian critics.'2 But for Avicenna, knowledge in
such and to the manner of His knowing. With
its strict sense is by definition conceptual. Morereference to the nature of God's knowledge, in its
over, sensation and imagination required by man
most fundamental sense, it means that divine
to arrive at concepts are not and cannot be reknowledge is identical with divine essence. Diquired by God. It is soul, not intellect, that is the
vine essence is simple. There is no multiplicity in
recipient of the material images: God is intellect
it. In this sense, God's knowledge is one. But the
not soul.13 Sensation requires a particular organ
things known by God are multiple. As such, his
of apprehension 14 and such an organ cannot be
critics argued, God's knowledge must consist of a
attributed to God. Furthermore, sensory appremultiplicity of concepts and hence there is multihension is the apprehension of the changing and
plicity in the divine essence.'8 Indeed, it is this
implies change in the apprehender.' God is
aspect of Avicenna's theory which has been found
eternal and changeless. And indeed, that God's
most vulnerable to attack and even some of his
knowledge is changeless and outside time, is
staunchest disciples found it necessary to reformuanother fundamental meaning of "universal"
late the theory on behalf of their master so as to
when applied to God's knowledge. It is the meanmeet this objection.19 Here we cannot go into the
ing stressed most by the commentators.

God's changeless and eternal knowledge is discussed in many contexts, but most articulately in
the passages explaining how God knows such a particular temporal event as an eclipse.16 Avicenna

17 Ildhiyydt, p. 360, 11. 8-10.

18 See Tahdfut, pp. 118-19; 223-34. Al-Shahrastan!

argues that if knowledge of genera and species are not
to constitute multiplicity in divine essence, they would

have to be subsumed under one universal concept which,

in turn, would have to be identified with the divine

differentiates between the immediate sensory exintellect. As such, God will know only Himself.
periencing of such a phenomenon and the intelNihdyat, pp. 231-34.
lectual knowledge that a particular eclipse occurs
" Al-Tfis! sums up some of the main objections to the
and that it has such and such characteristics. In
theory as suggested by al-RAzi. He then attempts to
the case of God, this intellectual knowledge does
meet these objections by modifying the theory. Al-Tfis!'s
account of the objections and his reply (Commentary,
not require sensation. But it is knowledge of a
pp. 714-16) can be paraphrased as follows:
particular event, though the knowledge itself is
If God knows everything, He must have concepts of
not particular. Anticipating objections to his use
everything. These concepts, in their relation to the

of terms, he then writes:

If someone refuses to name this " knowing the particular from a universal point of view (min jiha kulliyya)," we will not argue with him since our purpose
here is something else, i. e., to show how particulars can
12 Nihdyat, p. 223.

Ildhiyydt, pp. 356-57; 362-63.

14 Ibid., p. 359, 1. 11. The proof that sensation requires a particular organ of apprehension is given in

Avicenna's De Anima, ed. F. Rahman (London, 1959),

pp. 182-92.

divine essence, will have to be considered as either

negative attributes, additional attributes, or essential
attributes. If considered as negative attributes, then
God would not know anything. If considered additional
attributes, then Avicenna would have to accept the
Ash'arite doctrine that divine attributes are additional to
essence-a doctrine he rejects. If considered as essential
attributes, then God's essence is not one. The alternatives to these positions are three: (a) the doctrine of

" the ancients " (the Plotinian) that God (the One)
does not know; (b) the Platonic doctrine that the ideas
are self-subsistent; (c) the Aristotelian view that God
knows only Himself. None of these alternatives is
acceptable to al-TisL.

16 IldhiyydIt, p. 359, 11. 2-7. This point is discussedTo

inmeet these criticisms and unacceptable alternamore detail in Ishdrd t, pp. 183-85. The exposition
tives, al-Tfis takes it upon himself to amend the theory

involves an analysis of the kinds of relations between

two things that might imply change in one of them.
For al-GhazAll's clear exposition of Avicenna on this

problem see Tahdfut, pp. 229-31.

16 Ilahiyyit, pp. 360-62; Isharat, pp. 182-83.

on behalf of his master, Avicenna: the ideas exist in the

intelligences that proceed from God. God knows these

ideas without these existing as concepts in His essence.
Since God's knowledge is the cause of the idea's existence, He does not require them as concepts.

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302 MARMURA: Avicenna's Theory of God's Knowledge of Particulars

controversy but will attempt to trace Avicenna's
thought on the subject.

Divine knowledge, Avicenna maintains, is essentially and primarily self-knowledge. Self-knowledge does not imply multiplicity in the knower.20
As such it is one. Creation proceeds as a consequence of divine self-knowledge.2' In knowing
Himself, God knows Himself as the cause of all
existents other than Himself. Knowledge of the
cause entails knowledge of the effects. The creation which is the necessary consequent of divine
causality is then known secondarily.22 The existents known by God are multiple, but divine
knowledge of them is not.

Avicenna recognizes two kinds of multiplicity

in the existents known by God. There is to begin
with the multiplicity of the permanent objects of
knowledge, the genera and species.23 Then there
is the multiplicity of existents in the temporal
process. He refers to the first as the "vertical"
sequence and to the second as the "horizontal: "
God conceives other things in as much as they are
necessitated in the sequence of order descending from
Him vertically and horizontally.2'

Here, whatever else "universal" in the expression

" in a universal way " might stand for, it certainly
stands as the antinomy of "many." The "many"
refers to concepts that occur in a temporal

But to understand how Avicenna thinks that

God's knowledge of multiplicity does not involve

multiplicity in the divine essence, we must turn
to the " universal " manner of God's knowing. For
we have, first of all, to recognize the sense in which
these multiple existents are in Avicenna's system
the "objects" of God's knowledge. We have also
to recognize the "inferential" manner of God's

The Manner of God's Knowing.-As a characteristic of the manner (al-lcayfiyya) of God's

knowing, " universal " refers to the conceptual
process of this knowing. This differs essentially
from the human process of abstracting concepts.
To begin with, the human soul receives the material image from the particulars of sense. This, in
turn, prepares it to acquire the universal concept
from the active intellect. Thus the object of
knowledge is the cause of human knowledge.
Moreover, the human rational faculty " acquires "
the concept. In some sense the universal concept
is "in" the soul. In the case of God, the object

To say that God knows the temporal events by

"one" knowledge is in part the same thing as
saying that His knowledge of these things is
of knowledge is not the cause of knowledge. The
changeless and eternal. Avicenna insists that
is reversed. God knows and the object
God's knowledge does not consist of a series of
the consequence of this knowledge. Diconcepts corresponding to the objects of knowledge
vine knowledge is ontologically and causally prior
that succeed each other in time. Immediately after
to the existents. God does not "acquire" conhe tries to show how this would involve change in
the knower, he says:
cepts. These are objects of knowledge in a totally
different sense. God knows them as the conseJust as the affirmation of many acts with respect to the
quence of His causality. By knowing the cause,
Necessary Existent is to attribute to Him imperfection,
so would the affirmation of many concepts. Rather, the
Necessary Existent conceives everything in a universal
way. Yet, despite this, nothing escapes His knowledge,
not even the weight of an atom in the heavens or the

God knows the effects implied in the cause. God

is the ultimate cause of all existents. By knowing

Himself as the ultimate cause, He knows what He

is cause of. He conceives in this way the entire

causal series emanating from Him with all its

20 Ildhiyydt, p. 358, 11. 1-6.
21 Ibid., pp. 359-60; 364, 11. 1-6.
22 Ibid., p. 364, 1. 2.

28 Al-GhazAll in criticizing Avicenna tried to show

that multiplicity is involved not only in the temporal
sequence of events known but also in the permanent
genera and species. Tahdfut, pp. 223-34. This, however,
Avicenna seems to recognize.
24 Ishardt, p. 181.

25 Ildhiyyat, p. 359, 11. 11-14. Cf. Qur'an, X, 61;

xxxv, 11.


God conceives His own essence and conceives thereby

that He is the principle of every existent. He conceives
the principles of existing things that proceed from Him
and everything that is generated by them. Thus there
is no existent which is not in some way necessitated by
God-this we have explained. The collisions of the
causes result in the existence of particulars. The First,
therefore, knows the causes and their corresponding
effects. He thus necessarily knows what these lead to,

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MARMURA: Avicenna's Theory of God's Knowledge of Particulars 303

the temporal relations between their effects, their

Now, even though the manner of God's knowing

is different from the human process of abstraction,
the problem of multiplicity in the divine essence
has not been entirely disposed of. There might
not be a multiplicity of concepts "in" the divine

intellect, but knowledge of the manifold conse-

quences of His essence might mean a series of

intellectual acts. Such a series of acts-as we

shall explain-not only deprives knowledge of its

oneness, but it also implies that the intellect
changes from potentiality to actuality. This Avicenna denies. God is eternal act.27 His knowl-

edge does not involve transition from "concept to

concept."28 Although this latter phrase appears
in contexts where Avicenna is usually denying a
multiplicity of concepts corresponding to events
in a temporal series, it also applies to the denial

of a transition from concept to concept in the

ontological, vertical, non-temporal sequence of
necessitated effects. God conceives everything

"instantaneously" (dafcatan or dafcatan wahidatan) 29 A passage in the De Anima of the al-Shifdt

where this expression occurs sheds light on Avi-

cenna's meaning:
When the intellect apprehends things that have (tem-

poral) priority and posteriority, it conceives time with

them necessarily. This it conceives, however, not in
time, but in a 'now.' Indeed, the intellect conceives

time in a 'now.' When the intellect constructs the

syllogism and the definition (it is true), this takes place

in time. But its conception of the conclusion and the
things defined takes place instantaneously (daf'atan).30

consequences proceed from a premise. And the

consequence is not conceived in time.

Still, the consequences are multiple. These may

be represented as various steps in a deductive argument. Although the conception of each step is not
in time, it still may mean a series of intellectual
acts. But this would mean a multiplicity of acts.
Moreover, it means that if in His knowledge, God
moves from step to step, He will have only potential knowledge of the step He is yet to arrive at.
This will mean potentiality in God's knowledge
and for Avicenna this is impossible. Thus we
must interpret his denial that God's knowledge
does not move from " concept to concept " to apply
to the ontological series as well as to the temporal.
The entire ontological series is conceived instantaneously, intuitively.3' God knows, as it were,
all the necessitated consequences in a timeless
intuition. In other words, there is no discursus in
God's knowledge.32
The Object Known by God.-Finally, we come
to the term " universal " with reference to the
object of God's knowledge, more specifically, with
reference to the particular entities in the world of
generation and corruption. For, as we shall show
in the second part of this study, there are different
kinds of particulars involved in this theory.
" When corruptibles are apprehended in their
abstract nature and attributes that are not particularized," he writes, "these are not conceived
in as much as they are corruptibles."33 Again, he
states that God " apprehends particulars in as
much as they are universal, that is, in as much as
they have qualities."34 From such statements it

Thus in the intellectual apprehension of both

temporal and logical sequences the apprehension

itself is not temporal. What applies to syllogistic

reasoning can be extended by analogy to God's
knowledge of all existents. For Avicenna is a
rationalist. For him the logical and the ontological are of the same order. A condition for God's
knowing these existents is that they are " in a
necessitated order." They proceed from God as
26 Ibid., pp. 359, 1. 15-326, 1. 2.
27Ibid., pp. 356, 1. 16-357, 1. 2; 358, 11. 14-16; 364, 11.

7-9; 403, 1. 5.

28 Ibid., pp. 364, 1. 6; 384, 11. 15-16; 403, 11. 5-6.

29 Ibid., p. 363, 1. 1.

30 Avicenna's De Anima, ed. F. Rahman (London,

1959). p. 217.

81 Intuition, al-hads, is the instantaneous apprehension

of the syllogism's middle term. Demonstration, p. 259;
Isharat, p. 127; Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, i, 33, 89b,


82 A. M. Goichon in her La Distinction de l'Essence et

de l'Existence d'Apres Ibn Sind (Paris, 1937), pp. 270-77
has argued that in Avicenna's theory there is discursus
in God's knowledge. Our interpretation agrees with L.
Gardet who rejects Goichon's interpretation on this
point. See L. Gardet, La Pensee Religieuse d'Avicenna
(Paris, 1951), pp. 78-81.

83Ilihiyydt, p. 359, 11. 7-8.

34Ibid., p. 360, 1. 3. Ibn Taymiyya sums up Avi-

cenna's theory as he understands it in the following way:

" God knows particulars in a universal way so that not

even the weight of an atom escapes His knowledge in
the heavens or the earth." This, argues Ibn Taymiyya,
is a contradiction: to know things " in a universal way "

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304 MARMURA: Avicenna's Theory of God's Knowledge of Particulars

becomes clear that the corruptible particulars are

ties can belong to one and only one individual.38

not known individually by God: it is only their

These commentators attack an argument attributed to Abu'l Barakat al-Baghdadl to the effect
that God in Avicenna's system cannot conceive the
material corruptible individually.39 In their view,
Avicenna's theory maintains that God by His
eternal conceptual knowledge knows each and
every existent in creation. The fact that the particular might be corruptible and hence transient
does not change God's knowledge. For as Avicenna
has shown in discussing how God knows a particular event such as an eclipse, knowledge of the
changing need not itself be changing.

general natures, their universal aspects, that are

known by Him. But these explicit statements are,
or seem to be, contradicted by his own assertions

that God knows "everything," assertions supported by the Qur'anic utterance that "not even

the weight of an atom escapes His knowledge."

Whether a contradiction in fact obtains here depends on the sense in which "everything" is to
be taken. For Avicenna shows himself fully aware
of a non-literal use of this expression or its equivalent. In the course of an argument against
astrology he says : 36
But he, [i. e. the astrologer] cannot assure us of his
knowledge of all celestial circumstances. Even if he
were able to guarantee this for us and fulfil his promise,
he would still be unable to put himself and us in the

position of knowing all the occurrences that take place

throughout all time, even though such occurrences might

be all known to him in the sense that he knows their

[general] actions and natures. [my Italics]

If, however, "everything" is taken at its face

value (as many an interpreter has taken it) to
mean that God knows each particular individually,

then we do face a flagrant contradiction. Moreover, if knowledge of each particular requires

sensation, then, as Nasir al-Din al-Tids! points

out,87 this would contradict Avicenna's assertion
that God's knowledge is changeless.
One might well ask here: if one denies God
sensory apprehension, or, to put it in the language

of the Muslim theologians, the attributes of hearing and seeing, will this not rule out the possibility
of His knowledge of each particular individually?

Some commentators argue in the negative. It is

possible to know a particular individually without
the necessity of sensory apprehension. Conceptual
apprehension, to be sure, is the apprehension of
universal qualities common to many individuals.

But this does not mean that these qualities will not
specify the individual. For although each quality
might be common to many, a combination of quali-

But one cannot assess the validity of this generous interpretation without first examining the
term " particular." For here there are further distinctions that must be drawn and certain epistemological criteria pertinent to the problem that must

be looked into. These criteria, in turn, will shed

some light on the sense in which a particular is
"conceptually" known.

The Different Kinds of Particulars.-Avicenna

does not always tell us what kind of particular he
is discussing: this we often have to infer from the
context. A basic division must first be made
between the particulars in the celestial realm and
those in the world of generation and corruption.
A second distinction must then be drawn in both
these realms between particular entities and particular events. The particular entities, in turn,
88 This is implicit in al-DawAni's discussion. 'Aqa'id,

pp. 113-16. A more explicit statement is given by

al-Suhrawardi. Al-suhrawardi, op. cit., p. 69.

There are two other aspects of al-Dawani's argument

that must be mentioned. The first is that the apprehender will select those qualities of an individual which
he deems characteristic of the individual. In other
words, the qualities that specify an individual are relative to the apprehender. The second is that in addition
to the qualities that can specify the individual, there is
also the particular's individual existence which is known
by God.

88 Ilahiyyat, p. 440, 11. 7-9.

The argument reported can be rendered as follows:

"The fact of individuation (al-tashakhkhus) which
sets aside one individual from another of the same
species is a constituent of the individual in the same
way that differentia is a constituent of species. Hence
the fact of individuation is itself an individual that
belongs to no species. It is material and cannot be
apprehended except by the sensory organs." 'Aqa'id, pp.

37 Commentary, p. 827.


means to know the universal qualities common to many

things. These will never specify the individual. To

know the universals, therefore, is not to know any particular thing. Thus to couple universal knowledge with
the knowledge of each thing is self-contradictory.
Al-Radd, pp. 476-77.
35 See note 25.

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MARMURA: Avicenna's Theory of God's Knowledge of Particulars 305

in both these realms, can be divided into corporeals and noncorporeals.40 Some of these divisions

suggest the metaphysical framework in which the

theory is set. And the theory must be understood
in terms of Avicenna's emanative system. For
some of the principles upon which this system is
constructed have a direct bearing on the problem
of intellectual knowledge of particulars. This is
especially true of the premise that from the one
only one proceeds: 41
God, the necessary existent, is one and simple.
His act of self-knowledge necessitates directly only
one existent, a pure intelligence. Plurality proceeds from this intellect, not directly from God.
This plurality is implied in the very fact that the
intellect is a necessitated existent, in itself only
possible. The created intellect encounters three
facts of existence. The first is God's existence as
necessary in itself. The second is the intellect's
own existence as a necessitated being. The third
is its own existence as something in itself only possible. It conceives God as a necessary existent. It
then conceives itself first as a necessitated being
and then as an existent in itself only possible.
40 The Islamic Medieval critics are aware of some of
these distinctions. The distinction between a particular

event and a particular entity is brought out in the

course of al-Ghazali's exposition of the theory. Tahdfut,

p. 227.

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi classifies the particulars under

the following groups:

(a) particulars that are neither changing nor are

composed of form and matter, e. g. God and the in-

Hence there are three acts of cognition. These

for Avicenna are creative acts. And since from

the one only one proceeds, these three cognitions

necessitate the existence of three things only:
another intellect, a soul, and a sphere, the outermost sphere of the heavens.42 Thus begins the
procession of triads. The second intellect, in turn,
repeats a similar process of thought and as a consequence of this three things proceed: a third intellect, another soul, and a sphere, the sphere of the
fixed stars.43 The process is repeated by successive

intellects and in this way the spheres of Saturn,

Jupiter, Mars, the sun, Venus, Mercury and the
moon follow, each with its intellect, soul and body.

The last emanation is the sublunary world, the

world of generation and corruption.

Two facts in this process are of prime significance to the problem of knowing particulars. The
first is that in each triad, each existent belongs to

a species that is different from the species of the

corresponding existents in the other triads.44 Thus
for example, although Venus and Mercury are
both celestial bodies, they are not of the same
species. Since in the triads there is only body of a
sphere,45 each body is the sole member of its
species. The second fact is that down to the
sphere of the moon, the triad has been a triad of
kinds as well as a triad of individuals. In the
world of generation and corruption this is no
longer the case. The triad can be considered to
continue as a triad of kinds since every existent
can be classified as either body, soul, or intellect,


(b) particulars that do not change but which are

composed of form and matter, e. g. the celestial bodies;
(c) particulars that change but which are not composed of form and matter, e. g. the generable accidents
and forms in the sublunary world as well as the rational
human souls;
(d) particulars that are changing and which are com-

posed of form and matter, e. g. the bodies of the world

of generation and corruption.
God, according to al-Razi, knows only group (a) individually. God cannot know group (b) because they are
material. He cannot know group (c) because they are
changing and He cannot know group (d) because they
are both material and are changing. Mab&hith, II, pp.

Although we will adopt a somewhat different classification, our conclusion will be in agreement with al-Raz!
as far as groups (a), (c) and (d) are concerned, but
not with regard to group (b).

41 What follows is a very brief summary of the essentials of Avicenna's emanative system as given in
Ildhiyydt, pp. 402-409.

42 For al-GhazAli's scathing criticism of this point see

Tahdfut, pp. 129-30.

48 It is not clear whether Avicenna regards the fixed

stars as one body and hence as one particular. His
critics point out that the triad breaks down here. See
Tahdfut, pp. 128-129; Mabahith, II, pp. 505 ff. Al-Bagdad! admits the existence of one intellect that moves the
sphere of the fixed stars as a whole, but maintains, nonetheless, that each star in this body of stars is a particular with its own soul and intellect. Mu'tabar, III,
p. 167. Fakhr al-Din al-Raz! quotes from Avicenna's
Physics of the Shiff' (a part which still requires editing
and publication) to the effect that it is not clear
whether the sphere of the fixed stars is one sphere or
several each enclosing the other. Mabdhith, II, p. 506.
Al-Tfis! admits the possibility that the fixed stars are
more than one sphere. Commentary, p. 616. If regarded
as several spheres, this should simply mean that there

would be a greater number of triads.

44 Ildhiyydt, p. 409, 11. 4-9.

4" See Above, n. 43.

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306 MARMURA: Avicenna's Theory of God's Knowledge of Particulars

i. e. human intellect.46 But the triad of indi-

viduals breaks down. A plurality of individuals

belongs to each kind. However, in the sublunary
sphere, the earth must be differentiated from the
processes that go on within and over it. Con-

for intellectual knowledge of particular entities.

Since both the intellects and the souls in the
celestial realm are likewise each the only member
of its species, the criterion applies to them also.

limited to these. Moreover, not all the reasons

We can infer with certitude that Avicenna's God

knows these individually also. Avicenna, however,
does not explicitly mention them. He makes explicit mention of the celestial bodies only.
This criterion for knowing entities individually
is discussed by Avicenna in conjunction with
another one which depends on it but which serves
as a criterion for conceptual knowledge of particular events. Since these two criteria are in
reality the key to Avicenna's whole theory, we
must discuss them in more detail. These do not
merely determine the kinds of particulars known
individually by God, but they also indicate the
sense in which it can be said that God knows the

given for knowing these intellects individually

particular individually.

sidered by itself, it is also a particular like the

sun or the moon which is the only member of its
In the celestial world the particulars consist of
intellects, souls,48 and bodies. Some critics have
argued that in Avicenna's theory, God knows only

the celestial intellects individually. For these are

changeless and immaterial. Apprehending these
will imply neither change in the knower nor would
it require sensation.49 But although it is true that
God knows the intellects individually, it is not
true that His knowledge of celestial particulars is

are necessary. The fact of a particular's materiality does not prevent its conceptual apprehension
under all circumstances. Apprehension of matter

is necessary for knowing a particular only when

matter is needed as the individuating principle
that differentiates one individual from another of

the same species. The apprehension of matter is

no longer necessary when there is only one individual of a certain species. Indeed, Avicenna is
most explicit in telling us that such celestial bodies
as the sun and Jupiter are, as he puts it, "for
the intellect an individual." 50 And they can be
known by the intellect as individuals precisely
because each of these is the only member of its
species. Indeed, this is the fundamental criterion
46 This is implicit in Avicenna's theory but is brought
out more explicitly by al-Ghazal! in his discussion of

this theory. Tahafut, p. 129.

47 In discussions of universals, Avicenna gives the

earth as an example of a particular which is the only

member of its species. Ildhiyydt, p. 195, 1. 12.

48 The celestial soul is the form and entelechy of the

celestial body. Ildhiyydt, pp. 386,1. 16; 406, 1. 13; 407,

1. 14.

Its relation to the celestial body is analogous to the

relation of the animal soul to our bodies except that it

apprehends and judges and is thus more akin to the

practical intellect in men. Ibid., p. 387, 11. 4-8.

It apprehends the particulars in the world of generation and corruption by direct individual acquaintance,
not in a universal way as with God and the celestial
intelligences. Ibid., p. 386, 11. 15-16.
49 See above n. 40.

50 Ildhiyydt, p. 360, 11. 7-9.

The Criteria for Knowing Particulars.-It is in

his discussion of definition 51 that we first encounter these criteria. His argument there can be
summed up as follows:

A corruptible or transient particular, although

possessing an individual essence that consists of its

necessary accidents (al-acr&d al-dhatiyya), cannot

be defined. For these coexist with the corruptible
and hence are not permanent. Definition is of the
permanent. One arrives at a definition through
universal descriptions that will only specify the
kind, not the corruptible particular instance. Admittedly, universal descriptions can become more
specific and converge, as it were, towards a particular, but they will never reach a point of specifying the particular in a definitive sense. For the
universal description, by the very fact that it is
universal, is, or can be, common to many. Thus
our attempt to define an individual like Socrates

through universal descriptions alone is doomed

to failure. If, for example, we were to say that
he is a philosopher, this description is common to
many. If we become more specific and say that
he is the religious philosopher, or even more so,
and say that he is the religious philosopher unjustly put to death, these descriptions are, or can
be, common to others. Even if we were to describe

Socrates as the son of a certain man, there would

still be the possibility (al-ihtimdl) that this description is applicable to others. Moreover, the
"1Ibid., pp. 245-47.

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MARMURA: Avicenna's Theory of God's Knowledge of Particulars 307

father, in turn would have to be defined. The

attempt to do so through universal descriptions

alone places us in the same difficulty once again.
Either Socrates or his father would have to be
referred to ostensively.
Although a transient or a corruptible individual
has no definition, it has a description (rasm) 52
confined to it. One can only arrive at this descrip-

tion, Avicenna continues, through its attribution

(isndd) to another particular (time, circumstance,
entity) already known as an individual to the
intellect. It is this attribution that identifies it
for the intellect. Now the particular that it is
attributed to is normally known through direct
sensory apprehension. However, if this particular
happens to be the only member of its species, it

can be apprehended conceptually without the aid

of the senses. If this latter particular is apprehended conceptually, then the description of the
first particular can be arrived at conceptually. In

other words, if we have two particulars A and B

and if A is the only member of its species and if

B is a particular attribute to the first, then both

these particulars can be known individually without the necessity of direct sensory apprehension.

God, therefore, we must conclude, whose knowledge is purely conceptual, can only know these
kinds of particulars.

Avicenna tells us in his discussion of definition

that the particular which is the only member of its

species is permanent while the particular that is
attributed to it is transient. From this we must
conclude that the first particular belongs to the

class of celestial entities, a class which, however,

its species.53 The second particular attributed to

the first, by virtue of this very attribution, must
also belong to the celestial realm. But in as much
as it is transient, it cannot be a celestial entity, for
the celestial entities are all eternal. It must therefore be an event such as an eclipse affecting the
celestial bodies.

But the reasons that account for the ability of

the intellect to conceive without the aid of the
senses those particulars each of which is the sole
member of its species are not elaborated for us by
Avicenna. He simply states that the intellect
apprehends the species "in" (bi) its individual
instance, a statement not altogether clear.54 The
context indicates, however, that at the basis of the
argument is the issue of specification (takhss).
He had clearly stated that universal descriptions
alone, when it comes to corruptible particulars,
cannot specify the particular. The universal
qualities cannot specify the particular because the
particular is one amongst many that share these
same qualities. If the particular, however, is the
only member of its species, then the universal qualities will belong to it alone and the problem of
specification does not arise. In this sense, apprehension of the species would also be apprehension

of its sole instance. But this creates other problems. How does the intellect know that there is
only one individual of the species and hence that

what it has apprehended are the qualities of this

one individual only? The act of apprehension
will not determine this fact. The qualities themselves will not tell us this fact either. They themselves do not specify the particular they belong to.

A paradoxical situation might ensue: the intellect

includes the earth regarded as a unit and apart

from the process of generation and corruption.

might apprehend qualities belonging to one indi-

For the only other noncorruptible entity in the

world of generation and corruption is the human

that individual and no other.

rational soul. But this is not the only member of

52 A description (rasm) differs from a definition

(hadd) in that, unlike the latter, it does not give us the
essential permanent nature of a genus or a species. It
gives us the qualities (necessary accidents) proper to
an individual or a class that differentiates that individual or class from others but not essentially. Thus,
Avicenna tells us, a man can be described as a biped,
possessing wide nails and as an animal that laughs by
nature. This description is proper to man and differentiates him from other animals. But it is not man's
definition. See A. M. Goichon, Lexique de la Langue
Philosophique d'Ibn Sind (Paris, 1935), p. 143.

vidual only without knowing that they belong to

It is to Avicenna's discussion of universals 55

that we must turn to seek an answer. The answer

this discussion suggests will also reveal the sense
in which one is said to apprehend a particular conceptually. The universal as such, or in itself,
argues Avicenna, says nothing about the number

of instances that actually exist or might exist.

" Ilihiyydt, pp. 408, 11. 16-18; 409, 1. 16.
54 Ibid., p. 247, 11. 1-2. The preposition bi can also be
rendered "with," "by" and "through." The meaning
that suggests itself here is " in conjunction with."
55 Ibid., p. 195: Ishdrdt, pp. 6-7; Demonstration, pp.


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308 MARMURA: Avicenna's Theory of God's Knowledge of Particulars

For example, the universal "sun" in itself does

not include the idea that there is only one sun and
does not exclude the possibility that there might
be many suns. That there is only one sun we know
from an extraneous proof. Now it is true that
Avicenna here is discussing the universal in itself
and not the act of grasping the universal qualities
of an existent. The first analysis is metaphysical
and semantic, the second, epistemological. But,
though the distinction is valid, it does not mean
that the first is irrelevant to the second. Indeed,
the first analysis accentuates the problem. For,
as we have pointed out, the act of apprehension
itself will not tell us the fact that an individual
is the only member of its species. The qualities
of such an individual that are apprehended will
not do so either. The discussion of universals

in the medieval Arabic writers. Words like

" particular " (juz'iyy) and ""individual" (shakhs)
are used indiscriminately to refer to three different
things. For the sake of clarity, in rendering this

passage into English, we will substitute nouns for

pronouns whenever necessary and we will use the

terms " singular," " particular " and " individual "

consistently to refer to each of the three things: 57

God will thus apprehend singular things in as much
as they are universal, I mean, in as much as they have
qualities. If the qualities become specified individually
in the singulars, this occurs in relation to a particular

time or circumstance ( dl ) .58 If this circumstance is

also [simply] apprehended with its qualities, it will be

in the same position as the singulars.59 But in as

much 6' as it is attributed to principles where the species
of each is confined in its one individual [instance], it is

attributed to individual things.6'

We have said that it is through such an attribution

brings home this fact. Hence, here also, an extraneous proof is needed. In the discussion of
universals, Avicenna does not indicate whether
such a proof is an astronomical proof or a metaphysical one. In the case of pure intellectual
apprehension of particulars the proof will have to
be metaphysical. And here it has to be sought in
Avicenna's emanative system where from the one
only one proceeds and where in the triads emanat-

some means for apprehending the singular described

ing from God, as we have pointed out, each individual is of a species different from the corresponding individual in the other triads.

begin with, as you have [already] gathered [from our

(isndd) that singulars can be given a description (rasm)

or characterization restricted to [each] of them. If the

individual to which the singular is attributed is for the
intellect an individual, then the intellect will have

(al-marsfum). That [former] is the individual which is

the only member of its species and has no similar; for
example, the sphere of the sun or Jupiter. If, on the

other hand, the species has many individual instances,62

then the intellect will have no way for arriving at the
singular's description unless one points to it directly to

To apprehend a particular conceptually must

These criteria should allow us to infer that God
therefore mean, first of all, to apprehend its qualicannot know the particular entities and events in
ties. These are universals and in themselves do
the world of generation and corruption. But
not differ from the universal qualities that are
although we can infer this conclusively with recommon to many individuals of the same species.
gard to the corporeal entities and events in the
In themselves they do not exclude the possibility
world of generation and corruption, we might not
of belonging to many individuals. Indeed, this is
be able to do so with regard to the noncorporeals.
the reason that, although in reality they are conFor in the world of generation and corruption
fined to one individual only, they are still univerthere are the rational human souls that are imsals. But the intellect knows through an extranematerial and events related to these souls, the parous proof that they belong to only one individual.
ticular human acts. Other considerations might
Thus, to conceive the individual without the aid of
57 Ildhiyydt, p. 360, 11. 3-10.
the senses is to conceive its universal qualities and
58 Hal can also be rendered "disposition" or "state."
the fact that these qualities belong to no other.
r9 In other words, just as we cannot know the singuThe discussion of definition 56 sheds light on a

lars as individuals by merely apprehending their uni-

versal qualities, we cannot know the circumstance indipassage in Avicenna's discussion of God's knowlvidually by merely apprehending its universal qualities.
edge of particulars that says substantially the sameSomething more is needed.
thing. The passage, however, is somewhat obscure. 60 Reading lakinnahd likawnihd.
61 I. e. Individual things known as individuals. The
It has more than its share of ambiguous pronouns
second part of the argument reveals this.
that can refer to a number of nouns encountered
82 More literally, "if the species is distributed

5" See above n. 51.

amongst the individuals."

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MA"IMURA: Avicenna's Theory of God's Knowledge of Particulars 309

allow their being known by God individually.

acteristics. If these change, knowledge of the
Thus we will have to turn to the problem of knowentity changes. This is the reason that God in
ing the individual human soul first and then to the
Avicenna cannot know a particular corruptible
general problem of God's knowledge of particular
entity but only the species it belongs to. The

soul is an entity. It differs from other human

souls by virtue of the material and temporal cir-


The Individual Human SoU1.63 -This soul is

cumstances that individuate it. It is individuated
immaterial, immortal and retains its individuality
also by its character which develops during its

after it separates from the body. For these reasons

earthly existence. It is only at separation that its
it might be argued that God knows the soul indiindividual essence can be said to have been finally
vidually during its earthly existence and after it
developed. It continues changeless after separaseparates from the body. Avicenna says nothing
tion throughout eternity. For God, to know the
explicit about God's knowledge of the individual
individual soul is to know its individual essence.
human soul. But the principles he had set down
Knowledge of individual essence, if it is to be
for conceptual knowledge of particulars make
changeless, is only possible when this individual
God's knowledge of the individual soul in its
essence is changeless. The soul's individual esearthly existence not possible. Other considerasence is changeless after separation. If God is to
tions of his philosophy, moreover, make God's
know this essence, He would have to know it after
knowledge of the individual soul even after separaseparation, not before.
tion unlikely.

Another reason for the exclusion of the indi-

Fakhr al-Din al-iRz! had argued that Avividual soul during its earthly existence from God's
cenna's God does not know the individual human
knowledge is its material associations. Now, it is
soul because it is subject to change.64 Al-Rdz!
true, the soul is immaterial and is not imprinted in
himself does not tell us in what ways the soul
matter. It is created with matter. Nonetheless,
changes, but we can think of at least two ways.
matter acts as one of the fundamental individuatThe first is that the soul is not always an intellect ing factors. For the soul, although an individual
in act: it changes from potentiality to actuality.
essence, is not the only member of its species.
In the second place, the soul in its earthly exisOn this Avicenna is explicit.66 As we have tried
tence develops its individual essence through its
to show, apprehension of matter is not necessary
moral encounter with the bodily states it is suponly in the case of individuals that are the only
posed to govern. At separation from the body,
members of their species. For others to know the
each soul would have achieved a degree of perfecindividual soulj17 therefore, it becomes necessary
tion that individuates it from other souls. Thereto apprehend the material circumstances that
after it is this which acts as the individuating
individuate it.
principle that differentiates one separated soul
But what about the soul after separation? It
from another.65 But before separation there is a
neither changes nor is it conjoined with the mateprocess of development: there is change. It could
rial. The two conditions that during its earthly
be argued here that the fact of change should not
existence prevented its apprehension no longer
stand in the way of God's knowing it individually.
exist. Does God know the individual separated
For change is known by God. But here the differsoul? An answer in the affirmative would raise
ence between events and entities becomes impordifficulties pertaining to another aspect of Avitant. The changes that God knows, as we shall
cenna's philosophy. This has to do with the
show, are celestial events. These are not changes

that affect the essential natures of entities. For

to know an entity is to know its defining char-

number of these souls. For he holds that these

souls are infinite. This infinity, though coexisting,

is possible, he maintains, because the souls, in relation to each other, have neither a spatial positional

""For this discussion see my article, "Avicenna and

the Problem of the Infinite Number of Souls," Mediaevalorder nor a natural order of ontological priority
Studies, XXII (1960), pp. 232-39. This reference will
be abbreviated " Infinite Souls."
66 See above n. 53.
64 See above n. 40.
67 Self-knowledge, on the other hand, does not require
"5 " Infinite Souls," p. 238.
awareness of the bodily states. " Infinite Souls," p. 238.

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310 MARMURA: Avicenna's Theory of God's Knowledge of Particulars

similar to that which exists between necessary

God were to know the individual separated soul,

might have one or two explanations: he might have

simply chosen it as best suited to illustrate his
theory without intending to restrict the analysis
to events in the celestial realm. On the other
hand, his choice might have been deliberate and

He would have to know the individuating principle

meant to be restrictive.

that sets it aside from other souls. This indi-

But the question of whether God's knowledge of

such an event can be extended to the world of
generation and corruption is only significant if
Avicenna holds that God knows every eclipse individually. For some of his important critics hold
that in his theory God does not know each eclipse.
This is the interpretation of al-Shahrastdnl,71 who
maintains that in this theory God knows only the
general conditions under which eclipses occur.

essential causes.68 The supposition that God

knows each of these souls, however, would mean

the imposition of an order amongst them. For, if

viduating principle, as we have remarked, consists

of the degree of perfection each soul has attained.

To know each soul is to know its normative relation to other souls. To know all of them would
mean knowing them in a normative order, i.e.,
knowing them arranged in a sequence of priorities

of value. An ordered coexisting infinite of the

kind Avicenna deems impossible seems the inevita-

Such knowledge, he argues, is expressed in a hypo-

ble result.
Particular Events.-Particular events, as dis-

tinct from particular entities, must be also divided

into two classes: those that belong to the celestial
realm and those that belong to the world of genera-

tion and corruption. The Muslim theologian is

particularly interested in the latter class of events,
more specifically, in human acts. Does God know

each and every human act? Al-Ghazdlh in his

interpretation of the theory insists that God knows
only kinds of acts and kinds of consequences of
acts with respect to reward and punishment.69
Avicenna himself in the Ishdrdt and the Ildhiyytt

does not discuss the problem in terms of human

acts.70 He discusses it in terms of such a celestial
occurrence as an eclipse. His use of this example
68 Ibid., p. 235.
69 Tchahfut, p. 228.
70 Reference to God's knowledge of human acts appears
in Kitab al-Fisfts traditionally attributed to al-Farabl:
Al-Farabl, Kitdb al-Ftsfs (Hyderabad, 1345 A. H.), pp.
20-21. But the authorship of this work is not certain
and there are very good reasons to believe that this
work is actually a work of Avicenna. See S. Pines, " Ibn
Sina et l'Auteur de la Risalat al-Fusus Fi'l Hikma,"
Revue des Ptudes Islamiques (1951), pp. 121-24. The
purpose of the discussion in the Fusus, however, is
merely to illustrate how knowledge of the cause can
mean knowledge of the effect:
" God's self-knowledge can be a cause for knowing

others. For it is possible for some forms of knowledge

to be the cause for other forms. Thus the knowledge
possessed by the First Truth of His servant's obedience
which He had decreed, is a cause for His knowledge
that the servant will obtain mercy; and His knowledge
that the servant's reward in the hereafter is eternal is
cause for His knowledge that if the servant enters

paradise he will not be sent thereafter to the fire."

thetical conditional proposition of the form: "if

this occurs, then this occurs." A proposition of
this kind, he continues, has no assertive content
and denies God's knowledge certitude. Other
critics, however, interpret Avicenna as saying that

God in His eternal knowledge knows every individual eclipse.

The text shows that al-Shahrastani's interpretation is not correct. It is incorrect because it
restricts God's knowledge to the general circumstances under which eclipses occur. If it did not
restrict it, it would have been a partially correct
interpretation. For to say that God knows the
general circumstances under which eclipses occur
does not exclude the possibility of His knowing
also each particular eclipse. Indeed both these
ideas can be found in the text. But the second is
the more explicit interpretation. Avicenna repeatedly emphasizes that God knows a specific

eclipse (lusift mutayyan) 72 and the eclipse in its

concrete instance or in itself: 73
If you know all the heavenly movements, then you will
know every eclipse and every particular connection and
disconnection in itself (bi 'aynihi), though in a universal way.

The " universal way " here refers to the nature and
manner of knowledge. Indeed, the main point of
his analyses in both the Ishdrdt and the Ildhiyydt
is to differentiate between sensory apprehension of
an individual eclipse and the purely conceptual
knowledge that a certain eclipse of certain char71 Nihcyat, p. 232.
72 Isharat, p. 183.

78 Ildhiyydt, p. 360, 11. 11-12.

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MARMURA: Avicenna's Theory of God's Knowledge of Particulars 311

acteristics occurs at a certain time. The first kind
of apprehension implies change in the knower, but
not the second. For the second knowledge is the
same "before, during and after " the eclipse.74
God by His eternal timeless knowledge knows
every eclipse. He has, as it were, all the particular
eclipses mapped out for Him eternally.


Avicenna has given us two fundamental criter

for the purely conceptual knowledge of particulars

one for entities, the other for events: the enti

must be the only member of its species; the event

attributed to such an entity. These criteria ex

clude from God knowledge of each particular
the world of generation and corruption. God
individual knowledge of particulars is restrict
to entities and events in the celestial realm. Th
earth regarded as one unit and apart from the
processes of generation and corruption must als
be included amongst the particular entities know
by God individually. In other words, there are
some particulars that God knows individually. B
He does not know all particulars individually. Th

But why is it that God can know the individual

eclipse? The answer to this will also answer for
us the question of whether such knowledge can be
extended to events in the world of generation and
corruption. And the answer to the first question
brings in again the criteria for knowing particulars. To know a particular event individually
is only possible through its attribution to a particular entity that in turn is known as an individual. Let us take an eclipse of the moon as an
at once confronts us with Avicenna's statements in
example. The eclipse is attributed to the moon, anthe very same discussions where the criteria appea
individual which is the only member of its species,
to the effect that God knows "everything."
an individual, that is, which is known as an indi"everything" is taken to mean "each and every
vidual by God. The moon's eclipse, in turn, inthing" then we are faced with a flagrant contr
volves such causes as the sun and the earth and
diction. But Avicenna himself, as we have point
movements related to them. Here again we have
out, shows that he does not always take words like
two other entities each the only member of its
"all" and "everything" in the above sense. T
species and movements related to such entities.75
know "all" things might mean to know "the
These then too are entities and events that can be
[general] actions and natures." And it is in thi
conceived by God without the necessity of sensasense that words like " all " and " everything "
tion. It is in this light that we must read the
relation to God's knowledge of the particulars i
opening paragraph in the Ishdrit discussing God's
the world of generation and corruption must
knowledge of particulars: 76
Particular things can be conceived just as universals
are conceived when these particulars are necessitated by
their causes and are related to a principle where the
species is confined to its one individual instance. An
example of this is the particular eclipse. For its occurrence can be conceived when its particular causes are
sufficient and when the intellect knows all these causes,
conceiving them as it would universals.

Such knowledge of celestial events cannot be extended to the events in the world of generation
and corruption for the simple reason that these
latter events are not attributed to individuals that
are the only members of their species. Avicenna's
choice of the example of an eclipse to demonstrate
how God knows particular events was not meant
to show how God knows any particular event


But the fact that these statements have been

inserted (and enforced by Qur'anic quotations) i
the discussions of God's knowledge without th
clear indication there of the sense in which the

are to be taken can only be explained as a defensive

measure on the part of Avicenna to conceal th

real implications of his theory from the more
scripturally literal. This, however, does not mea
that in the formulation of this theory he was n
exploring ways to narrow the gap between the
essentially Greek concept of divine knowledge an

the Qur'anic. One senses an attempt to exten

God's knowledge as much as possible. God's know

edge of particulars is extended to the sphere of the

moon. But Avicenna could not extend it beyond

this to the world of generation and corruption
without violating his epistemological principles

The attempt to narrow the gap between philosophy

74Ishardt, p. 183.

75 Cf. Demonstration, pp. 172-173.

78 Ishardt, p. 182.

and scripture in this theory should be recognize

77 See above n. 36.

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312 MARMURA: Avicenna's Theory of God's Knowledge of Particulars

as one of its aspects. But there is the danger that
overemphasis on this aspect might make us neglect

the epistemological discussion. For this is the

true key, and ultimately the only key, to our

understanding of it. Avicenna was primarily a

philosopher engrossed in solving and formulating

problems in logic, epistemology, and metaphysics.
Attempts at reconciling the scriptural with the
philosophical were part of the metaphysical endeavor. But in these attempts, as with most of the

then our analysis vindicates that aspect of the

interpretations of such critics as al-GhazAl!,
al-Shahrastani and Fakhr al-Din al-Riz! who explicitly state or imply that Avicenna's God neither
knows individual men nor their individual acts.

The Muslim defenders of Avicenna have interpreted him as maintaining that God, by an eternal
conceptual knowledge, knows each and every particular. For knowledge of a particular's universal
qualities can specify the individual they belong to.

Islamic philosophers, it is scripture that has to

accommodate itself to philosophy and not the other
way round.
The real implications of the theory, however,
could not escape the theologians in the Ashearite

their interpretation of Avicenna, inaccurate as it

tradition. The theory itself was the consequence of

is, would satisfy the theologian. For what is at issue

a concept of God diametrically opposed to the theo-

is not simply whether God knows all particulars

But this interpretation cannot be correct since it is

contradicted by Avicenna's discussion of definition
where he explicitly denies that the universal qualities alone will specify the individual. Not that

logians' view. It denied that the divine attributes

individually. It is the quality of such knowledge

were additional to essence. It identified such

attributes as knowledge and will with divine es-

which is also at stake. For conceptual knowledge

of an individual means two things: apprehension
of its abstract qualities and knowledge of the fact
that these qualities belong to the individual in
question. This is too abstract. The theologian in
his opposition to the theory is defending his con-

sence which, for the theologian, meant the denial

of these attributes altogether. By insisting that

God's knowledge was conceptual, it did away with

the two attributes of hearing and seeing. Individual men and their acts were shielded from God's
scrutiny by a mediated conceptual knowledge that
stopped at the species and could not penetrate to
the individual in the world of generation and corruption. For, if we have read Avicenna correctly,

cept of an omnipotent God, personally and intimately acquainted with our innermost thoughts
and acts. For the theologian, it is in this sense
that "not even the weight of an atom escapes His



thus far been little attempt to get behind this

THE HISTORICAL WRITING on the eighteenth
sordid record to see how the political system of
century in India is dominated by three themes:
the decline and final dissolution of the Mughal
the period actually worked, what-if any-were
political system; the attempts by some of the
the enduring structures of political relationships,
regional powers to expand their power into imhow parts of the social systems involved were conperial states; and the success of the British in
nected, and what principles guided not just perbecoming the heirs of the Mughal Empire. These
sonal endeavors but the organization and utilizathemes are played against a picture of "anarchy
tion of power and authority in the society of the
and confusion, selfishness, cowardice and treachery, time. In stating things in this fashion I am makunpatriotic betrayals and horrible reigns of terror,
ing a number of assumptions, assumptions which
the tyranny of the strong, the agony of the weak
in the first instance are not only based on amassing
and the futility of isolated attempts." 1 There has
information about " politics " in a particular place
at a particular time but are based on some general
1 N. K. Sinha, Rise of Sikh Power, Calcutta, 1946, p. 1.

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