Five eternal beings, atomism and chemist of Razi

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In view of Al-Razi creation would be indefensible against “the externalists”, unless one could posit five eternal beings whose interactions framed the world we know: God, Soul, time, space and matter. In the beginning these five coexisted. God and Soul were beyond time and space. Matter was extended in them, but not throughout them, leaving some room for the void. Matter was not yet in motion. But Soul, passionately desirous of embodiment, confounded herself in matter, setting the world into a confused and disordered motion. God intervened by imparting knowledge to the Soul and order to the movements of nature, averting a cataclysm, and enabling Soul to recognize that the world her motions enlivened was not her true home. God had permitted her fall, although He did not cause it, because He knew that souls learn only through experience. Now her task, throughout the course of history, is to return to the spiritual world, where all souls are one. Soul falls by a spontaneous motion, neither compelled by nature nor chosen by intelligence. She returns, through God’s grace, the intelligence vouchsafed to her.

Nasir Khosraw’s Criticism of Razi’s five eternal beings
Nasir Khosraw summarizes the dilemma that al- Razi’s use of the gnostic/ Neoplatonic myth of the fall of the soul seems intended to dissolve: if God created the world by an act of will, we must ask why now rather than earlier or later? Did God change His mind or His essence, becoming a Creator after eons, perhaps, of exercising no such intention? But if the origin of the world is world is a natural event, God is enmeshed in temporality along with the very events His act should ground, and we embark on a spurious search for the cause of the Cause of cause. The only solution, al-Razi reasons, is to find a third alternative to natural and volitional events. This, despite the ridicule of his Isma’ili detractor, he finds in Aristotle’s occasional mention of spontaneity, a theme well developed in the Epicurean thesis of the clinamen, or spontaneous swerve of the atoms- a kind of motion readily ascribed to Soul, but not to God.

being absolute of time and space
Eternal matter, space and time sidestep the paradoxes Aristotle had raised against an origin of the world, by admitting that there never was a time before which there was no time or a substrate for the coming to be of matter, the universal substrate of all change. But al- Razi draws the line at change itself: motion is originated. The potential for it in matter requires soul to actualize it, and mind (soul rendered intelligent), to give it order. Creation, then, becomes formation mundi, time and space will be absolute, rather than relative as in Aristotle, and al- Razi will adopt and adapt to his own purposes the atomism of Epicurus, accepting the void (absolute space) and the seeming paradox of the reality of nothingness as the price of his cosmogony. Critics of Avicenna’s (Ibn Sina’s) eternalism little appreciate that in embracing Plotline emanation and treating the cosmos as a whole contingent, although eternal, Avicenna is overcoming what monotheists found most objectionable in the creationism of al- Razi. For Avicenna, as a Neoplatonist, includes matter among the things whose existence depends ( eternally) on the act of God. Al-Razi, by contrast treats matter, time, space and even Soul, as eternal, hence self-subsistent beings.

Atomism of Razi
The atomism of al- Razi, like that of Epicurus before him and Gassendi after him, unlike that of the more radical mutakallimum, assigned sizes to the ultimate constituents of things, making them physically, not geometrically, indivisible. And for al- Razi, unlike the kalam atomists, atomism was an explanatory theory, not a religious doctrine or metaphysical dogma. He takes Galen to task for excluding all other views but that of the atomists. And, unlike Democritus and Epicurus, he does not attempt to explain everything atomistically, since he is not a materialist. God and the Soul are not atomic phenomena.

void and spontaneous motion of the soul
Al-Razi’s curious doctrine that the void exerts an attractive force may arise from the need to explain the uncaused Epicurean swerve, the clinamen, which al- Razi seems to exploit as a model of the spontaneous motion of the Soul. For al- Razi connects the attractive force of the void with his theory of appetite and thus with his central idea that (kinetic) pleasures are the sensation of repletion. Appetites would result from the rarefaction. Sensuous desire would be the conscious correlate of a literal, physical, lack. And what is free in choice would correspond to the spontaneous movement of the organism to full some specific void. Epicurus had counted on the clinamen for excerptions to the rigid determinism of Democritus. If atoms are absolutely solid, the absolute positivity of their impacts would leave no room for chance or freedom-were it not for the absolute emptiness of the void. If asked what would cause the purported spontaneous swerve that allows both chance and freedom in the world, Epicurus could answer in all can dour and consistency: What would prevent it? Al- Razi may have filled in the gap left by such a reduction ad ignorant am, with a force of attraction (ancestral to the notorious idea of “suction”). Such a force, exerted by the already hypostatic void, would match the “repulsion” (mutual exclusion) of solid atoms, laying down atomic foundations for the two primitive motives of classical physiology, “attraction” and “repulsion” the volitional grounds of pursuit and avoidance.

chemistry Razi and predecessors
Al- Razi’s chemistry departs from the hermetic style and spiritualizing aims of Jabir ibn Hayyan and his Greek alchemical predaceous and Arabic successors. The Fihrist of al- Nadim ascribes to him the transcription of a key work of Jabir’s in to verse, but modern scholars find in al- Razi’s writings little trace of what is distinctive in Jabir’s thinking. As Peter’s points out, al- Razi would have no more use for the dogmatic authority of a Hermes Trismegistus than for of Muhammad. The mercury he uses comes from Persian cinnabar, a red supplied of the the metal, his sal ammoniac ( ammonium chloride), substance unknown to the Greek, but called “the eagle” by al-Razi, because of its volatility, “was perhaps obtained from the burning coal deposits of Central Asia”. Other Substances come from the marketplace. the kitchen, the mine and petroleum well, the laboratory and the artisan’s cubicle. For al- Razi was plainly not averse to watching traders and craftspeople work, as his remark about their ingenuity reveals.

Keeping away from predecessors ’al chemy and coming closer to chemistry
His alchemy, with its Persian nomenclature and updated stock room, Although he uses blood, urine and various sorts of plant matter in his preparations, there is nothing here of the “eye of newt toe of frog” variety- reagents whose power seeps from their symbolism. But in alchemy, as in medicine and philosophy, al- Razi does not reinvent the wheel. Even his God does not create ex nihilo. Rather, the philosopher’s aim is thorough revision of the tradition. He defends alchemy, in Islamic legal terminology, as “Closer to the Obligatory than to Prohibited,” he also defends it against the criticisms of the philosopher al- Kindi. Defending the “work” of transmutation, he rejects the ideas of “potions” His alchemical practice is (Neoplatonically) naturalistic in assumptions, but empirical in method. Like his successors al- Ghazzali and Maimonides (who also relied on Neoptonic hylomorphism), al-Razi allies his empiricism to a mistrust of established theory, the theory that arrogates to itself the title of rationality. Like the Greek Peripaterics, he collects anomalous observations; refusing to reject what merely because it is not explained, and arguing that those who hasten to deny what they cannot prove are inconsistent in accepting, says magnetism (on which he wrote a treatise). For clearly they cannot explain it. Thus al- Razi prefers the methods to the conclusions of Aristotle.

Al-Biruni ascribes some twenty –one works on alchemy to him, the greatest of them being the Kitab sir al- asrar or Secretum secretorum. In keeping with al- Razi’s very unhermetic spirit, the secrets here are not mystical arcana but trade secrets of alchemist, which al- Razi freely reveals in discussions of the materials, apparatus and methods of the art. The aim is to traverse the boundaries dividing one type of substance from another, using a powerful substance that will permeate and transform the substrate, by adding or removing specific properties, transforming base metals into gold or stones into gems. But al- Razi will also use some of his preparations in his medical practice, and his methods as an alchemist smack more of the surgery than of the occult.

Grouping materials
His materials, grouped under six rubrics, include four “spirits” (sulphur, arsenic sulphides, mercury and sal ammoniac), seven “bodies” (gold, silver, iron, copper, tin, lead and zinc), thirteen stones (mainly gems, but also glass), five vitriols (plus alum as a sixth), six boraxes and eleven salts. The theory is fairly crude, and not helped much by its overlay upon the familiar Aristotelian/ Empedoclean scheme of fire, water, earth and air, and their four fundamental qualities, hot and cold, wet and dry. But experience in laboratory has by now deformed the symmetry of the Aristotelian scheme, demanding new primary qualities like salinity and inflammability –the latter ascribed to “oiliness” and “sulphuriousness “. Mercury is said to moisture, ammonium chloride, earthiness, Sulphur produces whiteness and removes oiliness, calcinations dissociates bodies and removes their sulphur or oil, and so forth.

Moving from quality to quantity
Al- Razi’s recipes are hard for modern chemists to follow, and his experimentalism is rudimentary, held in check by inadequate theory, just as theory itself is held in check by insufficient experience. But what is striking is the effort to move from a qualitative scheme of essences in unformed matter to a level of explanation that will treat observed qualitative changes in terms of qualitative relations. Thus all the properties of the five Aristotelian elements- fire, water, earth, air and the celestial substance – heaviness and lightness, opacity and transparency, and the like, are reduced to density and rarity of particles: iron makes sparks when struck on stone, by cleaving the air, rarefying it into fire. The properties of the elements themselves result from the proportions in them “ of absolute matter and substance of the void” (Nasir-i- Khusraw,in Kraus:172) All changes of properties in the substances of nature are explained by “pairing” and “parting” –the combining and separating of Empedocles, now understood not as a blending and tempering opposed qualities, but qualitatively and reactively, in terms of the rearrangement of particles and parts.


History of Islamic philosophy – seyyed Hossein Nasr- pages:203to207


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