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Al-Ghazali’s Occasionalism

Al-Ghazali’s Occasionalism

Zahra Karandish, “Al-Ghazālī’s Occasionalism,” in The Insides of Nature: Causality and Conceptions of Nature, ed. Álvaro Balsas and Bruno Nobre, Axioma Studies in Philosophy of Nature and in Philosophy and History of Science 4 (Braga: Axioma - Publicações da Faculdade de Filosofia, 2020), 243–78,

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Al-Ghazālī’s Occasionalism

Type Book Section
Editor Álvaro Balsas
Editor Bruno Nobre
Author Zahra Karandish
Rights © 2020 Aletheia - Associação Científica e Cultural
Series Axioma Studies in Philosophy of Nature and in Philosophy and History of Science
Place Braga
Publisher Axioma - Publicações da Faculdade de Filosofia
Pages 243-278
ISBN 978-972-697-319-5
Date 2020
Series Number 4
Language English
Abstract Occasionalism is commonly understood as a theory that ascribes all causal powers to God on the one hand and treats cause-effect relations in the universe as occasions indicating the manner of divine creation on the other. In other words, according to this theory, the only genuine causal agent is God and everything else is causally inert. Since Descartes’s disciple, Malebranche metaphysics has appeared in sharpest contrast to Aristotelian physics, and even out rightly incompatible with it. Whereas natural philosophy relies on the notion of natural necessity operating between events linked logically, occasionalism relies on the notion of direct, divine agency operating on events linked contingently. The most famous scholar associated with Islamic occasionalism is al-Ghazālī (1058-1111). Al-Ghazālī’s Tahāfut al-Falāsifa ‘Incoherence of the Philosophers’, is an attack on the neo-Platonic and Aristotelian thinking which challenged the orthodox theology of Medieval Islam. In the Seventeenth Discussion ‘On causality and miracles’, he, through his arguments for the possibility of miracles, questions the acceptance of notions such as necessary causality and the validity of scientific observation in the natural world. However, within the last several decades, the conventional perception of al-Ghazālī has been challenged, especially via the works that exposed the link between Ibn Sīnā and al-Ghazālī. The modern debate on chapter 17 of Tahāfut al-Falāsifa has concentrated on defining al-Ghazālī as either a natural philosopher or an occasionalist theologian. In his defense of the possibility of miracles al-Ghazālī presented two incompatible theories of causation, one denying the logical basis of Aristotelian notions of natural causality, and the other more or less adopting these notions. This paper reexamines the link between Ibn Sīnā and al-Ghazālī concerning the issue of causality, and responds to these new challenges on behalf of the classical interpretation of al-Ghazālī as an occasionalist.
Book Title The Insides of Nature: Causality and Conceptions of Nature
Date Added 6/4/2020, 3:08:44 PM
Modified 6/4/2020, 3:35:58 PM


  • al-Ghazālī,
  • causation,
  • History of Science
  • islamic philosophy,
  • metaphysics
  • natural causality
  • occasionalism,
  • Philosophy of Nature
  • Philosophy of Physics
  • philosophy of science


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