The Will of Necessary Existence

  November 02, 2021   Read time 4 min
The Will of Necessary Existence
Necessary Existence is the core of Avicenna's philosophical theology. This key concept arranges the whole conceptual schema of the Muslim philosopher.

Every act which is from an agent is either by nature or by will or by accident, as has been explained herein [Ilāhiyyāt §15 ]. Every act which is by knowledge is neither by nature nor by accident, and such an act is not free of will. Whenever such an agent comes to know that act and the agent of that act, that act arises from it by knowledge. Every act which is from will has as its root either knowledge or opinion (gumān) or imagination. An example of that which proceeds from knowledge is an act of a geometer or a physician on the basis of a science which is known to them. An example of that which proceeds from opinion is to abstain from things which are dangerous. An example of that which proceeds from imagination is not to desire a thing which is like a defiled thing, or the heart’s desire for a thing which is like something which appears beautiful, which resembles that which is sought after by the heart.

Action by Necessary Existence cannot happen from opinion or imagination, since opinion and imagination are accidental and are receptive to change, and Necessary Existence is unchangeable and necessary in every aspect, as was demonstrated earlier. Thus, it must be that the will of Necessary Existence is from knowledge. Is it not proper to provide an explanation of that will, to describe its manner and to offer examples?

In the way in which we desire a thing, there must first be a belief, knowledge, opinion, or imagination that this thing is efficacious. By ‘efficacious’ we mean that the thing is pleasant or advantageous for us. Then, after this belief, an inclination [or intention; gharaḍ] arises. The inclination then becomes strong, after which the bodily organs operate to bring about motion, and that outcome (which is desired) is brought about. For this reason, action follows from our desire.

We have made evident, however, that Necessary Existence is the completeness of Being or is greater than completeness. Hence, there cannot be a desire for action. Likewise, it cannot be that it is possible in any way that a thing is efficacious to It, that an inclination should arise in It toward a thing. Moreover, Its will proceeds from knowledge in the following manner. It knows that the being of some thing is in itself good and is pleasant, and the being of such a thing should be in a manner which is good and virtuous, and the existence of such a thing is better than its nonexistence. Then, It needs no other thing [i.e., no intervening desire, inclination or instrument], because that which is known by It is brought into existence. Thus, in knowing a thing to be, It brings into being all things and brings into being the best possible world which this world has the ability to be, [and this] is the requisite cause for all things such as are to come to exist. Similarly, knowledge by means of the faculty of knowledge is a cause within us, without intermediaries, of the movements of the faculty of desire, such as when we know that the best way is that the faculty of desire is put in motion by an absolute (muṭlaq) knowledge without conjecture (gumān) or without interference from the imagination (wahm), [so that] the faculty of desire is put in motion by that knowledge (without an intermediary from another faculty of desire). In just this way, the state of the creation of the being of all things proceeds from the knowledge of Necessary Existence.

While for us this faculty of inclination necessarily seeks that which is pleasant for our sense organs, it does not act thus [for Necessary Existence]. Thus, the Divine Will is no other thing but knowledge of the truth (ḥaqq) (that is, [knowledge] of how the order of the being of the world of things ought to be), and knowledge that the things are good [not only] for It but that the existence of each thing is good in itself, so that the meaning of the goodness is, for each thing, to exist such as it is. The Providence (ʿināyat) of [Necessary Existence] is that It knows, for instance, what kind of body is [proper] for humans or what is the best order for the heavens or what is the best world, without anything other [than knowledge] in It—no design or reason or inclination or desire—none of which would be worthy of It. In summary, our consideration of what is beneath It and Its care of this aspect [of what is] as has been described, is not worthy of Its completeness and independence, as has been discussed earlier [Ilāhiyyāt §29 –32, supra].

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