Epistemic Mysteries of Necessary Existence

  November 02, 2021   Read time 4 min
Epistemic Mysteries of Necessary Existence
Metaphysical penetrations of Avicenna are unique in many respects. Thinking of unthought matters are among the key reflective activities of Avicenna.

It cannot be that the knowledge (ʿilm) of Necessary Existence happens within time, so that it could say that now it is so and tomorrow it is not so, and [so that] its judgment is according to how It exists today and It will be tomorrow, and then afterwards how It is tomorrow [and] It is not [any longer] today. [This is] because everything which is a knower of a thing has in it an attribute (ṣifātī) in [the knower] itself (binafs-i khwīsh), other than its relation to the [known] thing and other than that thing’s coming-to-be, and other than that thing’s existence. [That attribute] is not in the following manner: when a thing has disappeared, it is not in a relation between [the attribute] and that thing, in such a way that, if the thing is destroyed, it is lost to [the attribute]; and [if] now it has not disappeared, no change can be produced and its essence (dhāt) remains the same, but there is not a union with and relation to an existent thing.

On the contrary, knowledge (ʿilm) is such that, when a thing is a knower, it is when the essence [of the knower] is known by that which is existent, and when that thing is not [a knower], it is when the essence is not known. It is not only that the essence would not be known [then], but also that a knower—which is the meaning and description of that essence—also would not exist. For knowing that thing is to add another thing to [the knower], rather than that thing not being in it. There must be a property in the essence (dhāt) of that which is a knower. For each distinct known [thing] there is a distinct state (ḥāl), or its one distinct state is united with each of the known [things], so that if one known [thing] does not exist, that distinct state does not exist.

Thus, if Necessary Existence is a knower in the present time, either: Its knowing is united with the present moment or with the possibility that something does not exist at a certain moment and with the [possibility that it] will exist at a certain time, when that time arrives; or It always knows that such a thing does not exist and will exist (and this is an error, not knowledge); or It does not know in this way but knows in some other manner. Therefore, It is not such a knower. [If it does know in this way], It would have turned from its first knowledge. Hence, It would be changeable, as we have demonstrated. Thus, it cannot be that the knowledge of Necessary Existence is related to the changeables in this manner.

But in what way can it [Necessary Existence’s knowledge] be? It can be in such a manner that it is universal (kullī), not particular. What kind of universal is it? It is in the following manner, for example. An astronomer knows that a certain star is at rest here, later it goes there, and after so many hours will be in conjunction with a certain star, and at some time later, for example, will be in eclipse, and for some hours will remain in eclipse, and later will reappear. [He knows] how [all this] is without knowledge (dānish) of the present moment, for that [temporal] knowledge does not remain the same in him, and another knowledge will [come to] be, from the time that he knows (which is how it is now) to another time, and [such temporal knowledge] can be changeable. If that [knowledge] is in the manner of universal knowledge, it is always one knowledge, [that]: after a certain place [the star] is at [another] place, and after that movement will be that [other] movement. Before that movement and during that movement and after that movement, the knowledge (ʿilm) is one and is not subject to change, so that whether [the movement is] in the future or in the present or in the past, [the knowledge] is entirely perfect, that a certain star after its conjunction with [another] star for some hours would be in conjunction with [yet another] star. This [knowledge] is true (rāst) if [the conjunction] is in the past and it is true if [the conjunction] is in the future and it is true if the conjunction is in the present.

But, if one says that the star is in conjunction with a certain star right now, tomorrow it will be in conjunction with another star, [so] it cannot be that he says that very thing [tomorrow] and that it is true. [It is] exactly so in knowledge (dānish) so that it is known that, if right now it is in conjunction and tomorrow it will be in conjunction with another, [and] if tomorrow the very same knowledge [as today] is known [it will be] false. Thus, the difference is clear between knowledge of things which is changeable and particular [and] completely temporal, and the completely universal. Necessary Existence knows all things completely universally, so that everything, small and great, does not escape from Its knowledge (ʿilm), as has become clear from our discussion.

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