Part 1

Human Intellect

January 31, 2022
  1. Man’s ability to think

God distinguished man from all the other animals by an ability to think.

Perception - that is, consciousness, on the part of the person who perceives, in his essence of things that are outside his essence - is something peculiar to living beings to the exclusion of all other being 6 and existent things.

Living beings may obtain consciousness of things that are outside their essence through the external senses God has given them, that is, the senses of hearing, vision, smell, taste, and touch. Man has this advantage over the other beings that he may perceive things outside his essence through his ability to think, which is something beyond his senses. It is the result of (special) powers placed in the cavities of his brain. 7

With the help of these powers, man takes the pictures of the sensibilia, applies his mind to them, and thus abstracts from them other pictures. The ability to think is the occupation with pictures that are beyond sense perception, and the application of the mind to them for analysis and synthesis.

This is what is meant by the word af’idah “hearts” in the Qur’an; “He gave you hearing and vision and hearts.” Af’idah “hearts” is the plural of fu’dd. It means here the ability to think.

The ability to think has several degrees. The first degree is man’s intellectual understanding of the things that exist in the outside world in a natural or arbitrary order, so that he may try to arrange them with the help of his own power.

This kind of thinking mostly consists of perceptions. It is the discerning intellect, 8a with the help of which man obtains the things that are useful for him and his livelihood, and repels the things that are harmful to him.The second degree is the ability to think which provides man with the ideas and the behavior needed in dealing with his fellow men and in leading them.

It mostly conveys apperceptions, which are obtained one by one through experience, until they have become really useful. This is called the experimental intellect. The third degree is the ability to think which provides the knowledge, or hypothetical knowledge, of an object beyond sense perception without any practical activity (going with it).

This is the speculative intellect. It consists of both perceptions and apperceptions. They are arranged according to a special order, following special conditions, and thus provide some other knowledge of the same kind, that is, either perceptive or apperceptive.

Then, they are again combined with something else, and again provide some other knowledge. The end of the process is to be provided with the perception of existence as it is, with its various genera, differences, reasons, and causes. By thinking about these things, (man) achieves perfection in his reality and becomes pure intellect and perceptive soul.

This is the meaning of human reality.

2. The world of the things that come into being as the result of action, materializes through thinking.

The existent universe comprises pure essences, such as the elements, the things resulting from their influence, and the three things that come into being from the elements, namely, minerals, plants, and animals.

All these things are connected with the divine power.

It also comprises actions proceeding from living beings, that happen through their intentions, and are connected with the power that God has given them. Some of their actions are well arranged and orderly. Such are human actions. Others are not well arranged and orderly.

They are the actions of living beings other than man.

This is because thinking perceives the order that exists among the things that come into being either by nature or through arbitrary arrangement. When it intends to create something, it must understand the reason or cause of that thing, or the conditions governing it, for the sake of the order that exists among the things that come into being. (Reason, cause, or conditions) are, in general, the principles of that particular thing, since it is secondary to them, and it is not possible to arrange for something that comes earlier to come later, or for something that comes later to come earlier.

Such a principle must have another principle to which its own existence is posterior. This (regression) may go on in an ascending order (from principle to principle), or it may come to an end.

When man, in his thinking, has reached the last principle on two, three, or more levels, and starts the action that will bring the (planned) thing into existence, he will start with the last principle that has been reached by his thinking.

Thus, (that last principle) will be the beginning of action. He, then, will follow things up to the last element in the causal chain that had been the starting point of his thinking activity.

For instance, if a man thinks of bringing into existence a roof to shelter him, he will progress in his mind (from the roof) to the wall supporting the roof, and then to the foundation upon which the wall stands. Here, his thinking will end, and he will then start to work on the foundation, then (go on to) the wall, and then (to) the roof, with which his action will end. This is what is meant by the saying= “The beginning of action is the end of thinking, and the beginning of thinking is the end of action.” 10

Thus, human action in the outside world materializes only through thinking about the order of things, since things are based upon each other. After (he has finished thinking), he starts doing things. His thinking starts with the thing that comes last in the causal chain and is done last.

His action starts with the first thing in the causal chain, which thinking reaches last. Once this order is taken into consideration, human actions proceed in a well-arranged manner.

On the other hand, the actions of living beings other than man are not well arranged. They lack the thinking that acquaints the agent with the order of things governing his actions. Animals 11 perceive only with the senses. Their perceptions are disconnected and lack a connecting link, since only thinking can constitute such (a connecting link).

Now, the things that come into being 12 that are of consequence in the worldof existent things, are those that are orderly. Those that are not orderly are secondary to them. The actions of animals, therefore, are subordinate to (orderly human actions).

Consequently, their services are forcibly utilized by man. Thus, human actions control the (whole) world of things that come into being and all it contains. Everything is subservient to man and works for him. This is what is meant by the “appointing of a representative” mentioned in the Qur’an= “I am appointing a representative on earth.” 13

The ability to think is the quality of man by which human beings are distinguished from other living beings. The degree to which a human being is able to establish an orderly causal chain determines his degree of humanity. Some people are able to establish a causal nexus for two or three levels. Some are not able to go beyond that.

Others may reach five or six. Their humanity, consequently, is, higher.

For instance, some chess players are able to perceive (in advance) three or five moves the order of which is arbitrary. Others are unable to do that, because their mind is not good enough for it. This example is not quite to the point, because (the knowledge of) chess is a habit, whereas the knowledge of causal chains is something natural. However, it is an example the student may use to gain an intellectual understanding of the basic facts mentioned here.

3. The experimental intellect and how it comes into One knows from philosophical works the statement that “man is political by nature.”

The philosophers cite that statement in connection with establishing the existence of prophecy and other things. The adjective “political” refers to the “town” (polis), which they use as another word for human social organization.

The statement means that a single human being cannot live by himself, and his existence can materialize only in association with his fellow men. (Alone) he would be unable to have a complete existence and lead a complete life. By his very nature, he needs the co-operation of others to satisfy all his needs.

Such co-operation requires, firstly, consultation, and, then, association and the things that follow after it. Dealings with other people, when there is oneness of purpose may lead to mutual affection, and when the purposes differ, they may lead to strife and altercation. Thus, mutual dislike and mutual affection, friendship and hostility, originate. This leads to war and peace among nations and tribes.

Among human beings, this does not happen haphazardly, as is the case among stray animals. God caused human beings to act in an orderly and well-arranged manner, as the result of their ability to think, as has been mentioned before.

Therefore, God had (their actions) take place among them in an orderly manner, and He enabled them to arrange for (their activities) under political aspects and according to philosophical norms. Those (political aspects and philosophical norms) lead human beings from the things that are detrimental (to them), to those that are in their interest, and from evil to the good, First, however, they must recognize the things that are evil, and the detrimental effect of doing them, from sound experience and current customs. Thus, they are distinguished from stray animals.

The result of their ability to think shows itself in the fact that their actions are orderly and not likely to be detrimental.

The concepts bringing this about are not completely divorced from sensual perception and do not require very deep study. All of them are obtained through experience and derived from it. They are particular 17 concepts connected with the sensibilia.

Their truth or falsehood soon comes out in events. From (events) the student of these concepts can learn them. Each human being can learn as much of them as he is able to. He can pick up (his knowledge) with the help of experience among the events that occur in his dealings with his fellow men.

Eventually, he will have what is necessary and must be done, and must not be done, fixed in his (mind). By knowing this well, 18 then, the proper habit of dealing with his fellow men will be obtained by him.

Those who follow this (procedure) during their whole life become acquainted with every single problem, (but) things that depend on experience require time. God made it easy for many human beings to obtain this (social knowledge) in a time shorter than the time required to obtain it through experience, if they will follow the experience of their fathers, teachers, and elders, learn from them, and accept their instruction.

People can, thus, dispense with lengthy and careful (personal) study of events and need not attempt to pick out concepts from them. But people who have no knowledge or tradition in this respect, or people who are not willing to learn and to follow (others), need long and careful study in orderto be educated in these things. They are unfamiliar to them, and the knowledge they obtain of them is uneven. Their manners and dealings with others will be badly planned and show defects. Their chances of making a living among their fellow men will be spoiled.

This is the meaning of the famous saying= “He who is not educated by his parents will be educated by time.” 19 That is, he who does not acquire the manners needed in dealing with human beings from his parents -which includes teachers and elders - and does not learn these things from them, has to fall back upon learning them with the help of nature from the events that happen in the course of time.

Thus, time will teach and educate him, because he needs that education, since, by his very nature, he needs the co-operation of others.

Such is the experimental intellect. It is obtained after the discerning intellect that leads to action, as we have explained. After these two intellects, there is the (higher) degree of the speculative intellect. (Many) scholars have undertaken to explain it, and it is, therefore, not necessary to explain it in this book.

4. The sciences (knowledge) of human beings and the sciences (knowledge) of angels

We observe in ourselves through sound intuition the existence of three worlds.

  1. The world of the senses or sensual perception.

We become aware of it through the perception of the senses, which the animals share with us.

  1. The world of thought

This is above the world of the senses and is a special quality of humans. This is our ability to think that lets us learn that the human soul exists.

This knowledge is necessitated by the fact that we have in us scientific perceptions which are above the perceptions of the senses.

  1. The world of spirits and angels

This is above the second and is above us. It is sensed through our hearts, such as through our volition and an inclination toward active motions. It makes us know that there exists an agent there who directs us toward those things from a world above ours.

It contains essences that can be perceived because of the existence of influences they exercise upon us, despite the gap between us and them.

Often, we may deduce (the existence of) that high spiritual world and the essences it contains, from visions and things we had not been aware of while awake but which we find in our sleep and which are brought to our attention in it and which, if they are true (dreams), conform with actuality. We thus know that they are true and come from the world of truth.

“Confused dreams,” on the other hand, are pictures of the imagination that are stored inside by perception and to which the ability to think is applied, after (man) has retired from sense perception. 22

We do not find any clearer proof than this for (the existence) of the spiritual world.

Thus, we have a general knowledge of it, but no particulars. The metaphysicians make conjectures about details concerning the essences of the spiritual world and their order. They call these essences “intellects.” However, none of it is certain, because the conditions of logical argumentation as established in logic do not apply to it. One of these conditions is that the propositions of the argument must be primary and essential, but the spiritual essences are of an unknown essentiality. Thus, logical argumentation cannot be applied to them. Our only means of perceiving something of the details of these worlds are what we may glean from matters of religious law, as explained and established by religious faith.

Of the (three) worlds, the one we can perceive best is the world of human beings, since it is existential and attested by our corporeal and spiritual perceptions.

The world of the senses is shared by us with the animals, but the world of the intellect and the spirits is shared by us with the angels, whose essences are of the same kind as the essences of that world. They are essences free from corporeality and matter, and they are pure intellect in which intellect, thinker, and the object of thinking are one.

It is, in a way, an essence the reality of which is perception and intellect.

The sciences (knowledge) of the (angels), thus, always agree by nature with the things to be known. They can never have any defect.

The knowledge of humanbeings, on the other hand, is the attainment of the form of the thing to be known in their essences, after it had not been there. It is all acquired. The essence in which the forms of the things to be known are obtained, namely, the soul, is a material substance 23 that gradually takes over the forms of existence with the help of the forms of the things to be known that it obtains.

Eventually, it reaches perfection, and, through death, its existence fulfills itself as regards both its matter and its form.

The objects in the soul are subject to constant vacillation between negation and assertion. One of the two is sought by means of some middle (term) to connect the two extremes. When that is achieved and the object has become known, it must be explained that there exists agreement (between knowledge and the thing known).

Such agreement may often be clarified by technical logical argumentation, but that is from “behind the veil,” and it is not like the direct vision 23a that is found in connection with the sciences (knowledge) of the angels.

The “veil” may be removed, and the agreement may, thus, be effected through direct perceptive vision. It has been explained that human beings are ignorant by nature, because vacillation affects their knowledge. They learn through acquisition (of knowledge) and technique, because they obtain the objects they seek by applying their ability to think according to technical rules.

The removal of the veil to which we have referred is achieved only through training in dhikr exercises 24 of which the best is prayer, which forbids sinful and evil actions-through abstinence from all distracting food of consumption - of which the most important part 25 is fasting - and through devoting oneself to God with all one’s powers.

5. The sciences (knowledge) of the prophets.

The prophets are in a divine condition that is different from (ordinary) human ambitions and conditions. In prophets, the trend toward the divine is more powerful than their humanity, as far as the powers of perception, the powers of desire-that is, concupiscence and wrath - and the other conditions of the body are concerned. (Prophets) keep away from things human, except in as much as they are necessary for life.

They turn toward divine matters, such as worship and the remembrance (dhikr) of God, as their knowledge of Him requires. They give information about Him and (transmit) the revelation for the guidance of the nation (of believers) which they received in (their divine) condition.

They do that according to one particular method and in a manner known to be peculiar to them. It undergoes no change in them and is like a natural disposition which God has given them. Revelation has already been discussed by us at the beginning of the book, in the chapter dealing with people who possess supernatural perception 27 We explained there that the whole of existence in (all) its simple and composite worlds is arranged in a natural order of ascent and descent, so that everything constitutes an uninterrupted continuum.

The essences at the end of each particular stage of the worlds are by nature prepared to be transformed into the essence adjacent to them, either above or below them. This is the case with the simple material elements; it is the case with palms and vines, (which constitute) the last stage of plants, in their relation to snails and shellfish, (which constitute) the (lowest) stage of animals.

It is also the case with monkeys, creatures combining in themselves cleverness and perception, in their relation to man, the being who has the ability to think and to reflect. The preparedness (for transformation) that exists on either side, at each stage of the worlds, is meant when (we speak about) their connection.

Above the human world, there is a spiritual world. It is known to us by its influence upon us, in that it gives us the powers of perception and volition. The essences of that spiritual world are pure perception and absolute intellection. It is the world of the angels.

It follows from all this that the human soul must be prepared to exchange humanity for angelicality, in order actually to become part of the angelic species at any time, in a single. instant. It will afterwards resume its humanity. But in the world of angelicality, it has meanwhile accepted (ideas) that it is charged to transmit to its fellow human beings. That is the meaning of revelation and being addressed by the angels.

All prophets possess this predisposition. It is like a natural disposition for them. In exchanging (their humanity for angelicality), they experience strain and sensations of choking, as is known in this connection.

Their (supernatural) knowledge is one of direct observation and vision. No mistake or slip attaches itself to it, and it is not affected by errors or unfounded assumptions. The agreement in it is an essential one, because the veil of the supernatural is gone, and clear and direct observation has been attained. When (the prophets) quit that state and reassume their humanity, this clarity does not quit the knowledge they have, for it has become attached to it in the former condition.And because they possess the virtue that brings them to that condition, their (experience) constantly repeats itself, until their guidance of the nation (of believers), which was the purpose for which they were sent, is accomplished. Thus, it is said in the Qur’an= “I am merely a human being like you, to whom it has been revealed that your God is one God. Thus, be straightforward with Him and ask Him for forgiveness.”

This should be understood. One should compare what we said earlier at the beginning of the book, about the different kinds of people possessing supernatural perception. It will constitute clear comment and explanation. There, we have explained the matter at sufficient length.