Academic journal article Islam & Science

Fakhr Al-Din Al-Razi on Physics and the Nature of the Physical World: A Preliminary Survey

Academic journal article Islam & Science

Fakhr Al-Din Al-Razi on Physics and the Nature of the Physical World: A Preliminary Survey

Article excerpt

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi's conception of physics and of the nature of the physical world is explored here through a preliminary survey of a number of his early and late works. Al-Razi defines the three grades of meanings of the term "nature". His definition is similar to the general consensus in Ash arite kalam which rejects the Avicennan notion of tabi ah as an effective causal principle inherent in natural phenomenal processes. He also explores the notion of the existence of a multiverse in the context of his commentary on the Qur'anic verse, All praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds. He raises the interesting question of whether the term "worlds" in this verse refers to multiple worlds within this single universe or cosmos, or to many other universes or a multiverse beyond this known universe. Based on primary classical Islamic source texts, this survey provides an insight into the classical Islamic view of nature as expressed by one of its most important representatives.

Keywords: Universe and multiverse; cosmic structure of the world; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi; al-mawjudat; al- ilm al-tabi i; tabi ah; alam; falsafah, hikmah; al-Razi's concept of nature; physics; nature; falak; harakah; sukun; jism; jawhar; arad.


As D. E. Pingree and S. Nomanul Haq have shown in their learned article, "al-tabi a", the original Aristotelian term [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] in the literal sense of "nature" and in its functional Arabic equivalents of tabi ah, tiba and tab, has accumulated complex, diverse, even mutually incompatible meanings in its long journey through the labyrinthal history of Islamic scientific, philosophical, and theological thought. (1) With the rise and dominance of peripatetic natural philosophy as represented by Ibn Sina (d. 1037 CE) and the philosophico-theological reactions it provoked, it was the Avicennan definition of the term that most attracted the critical attention of the mutakallimun, including Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (2) (d. 1209 CE) in a number of his works. Here we shall first explore his conception of tabi ah in his late work Sharh Uyun al-hikmah (SUH) (3), his critical commentary on Ibn Sina's 'Uyun al-hikmah (UH), (4) and then go on to some of his other early, middle-period and late works.

The Science of Physics (ilm al-tabi ah) Defined

Following the UH, the SUH is divided into three parts: logic (mantiq), which includes a long discussion of the ten Aristotelian categories of being; physics (tabi iyyat), which covers the traditional ground from space, bodies, time, and motion to meteorology and psychology; and metaphysics (ilahiyyat), which includes discussion of matter and form, substance and accidents, and theology and eschatology. The physics part begins with a long introduction to philosophy (al-hikmah), its meaning and its division into the theoretical and the practical sciences. The latter (al-hikmah al- amaliyyah) includes the three basic sciences of politics (hikmah madaniyyah), household management (hikmah manziliyyah), and ethics (hikmah khuluqiyyah). The former (al-hikmah al-nazariyyah) includes the three basic sciences of physics (hikmah tabi'iyyah), mathematics (hikmah riyadiyyah), and metaphysics (falsafah ilahiyyah). (5) In commenting on this tripartite division of theorectical philosophy, al-Razi clarifies further the relation of physics (i.e., natural sciences or sciences of nature) to mathematics and metaphysics:

   If the quiddity of a thing (al-mahiyyah) is in need of matter
   (al-maddah) for [realising] its external (al-khariji) and
   mental (fi al-dhihn) existence, then it is [included in] the
   science of physics (al- ilm al-tabi i), which is the lowest
   science (al-'ilm al-asfal). If the quiddity [of a thing] is in
   need of matter for [realising] its external existence, but is
   independent of matter for its mental existence in the
   sense that the mind can grasp it without considering its
   materiality (maddatiha), then it is [included] in the science
   of mathematics (al- ilm al-riyadi), which is the intermediate
   science (al- ilm al-awsat). … 
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