What is the appropriate conduct for man in this life and
what is his place in the universe. These questions have always been of
fundamental importance. Both are interconnected so that one cannot properly by
answered without the other. Realisation of what status he has in this life
influences man’s attitude. Just as an uninvited guest would not behave as the
chief guest of a banquet, the attitude of one who regards himself as a cog of
the machine will entirely be different from the user or controller of the
machine. The former, bound to the machine, would move with its rotation and
working while the latter will control the working of the machine to meet his own
ends. Similarly if a man considers himself an animal, albeit a developed animal,
he cannot rise to the ranks of human because despite the highest development, an
animal will remain an animal. A monkey can learn a lot but cannot become
Socrates or Aristotle, One who is mindful of his status of a crowning creation
of the universe, a master-piece of the All-wise and All-powerful who breathed
His soul in him and honored him with His divine spark, will certainly have a
very different attitude. This attitude is mainly regulated by man's status and
responsibilities in relation to his position in the universe.
The questions have been answered by thinkers, philosophers
and intellectuals of all times. They maintained different theories and ideas.
Religions also provided requisite guidance. Here, the view of prominent
philosophers who represent renowed schools of thought which left deep rooted
effect on the contemporary thought will be examined along with views of the
thinkers of pre-Islamic religions. Thereafter, we shall refer to the guidance
provided by the Holy Qur’ān on this subject.
In pre-Socrates era, two schools of thought are prominent.
One of them considers man a creature as worms, animals, and other creatures.
There being no significant difference between man and other creatures, both
share the same fate. Man has no distinction over them. The Sophists belonging to
the other school contend that man was the centre of the universe and its
crowning creation. The attributes, abilities and powers he has been imbued with
bespeak of his high status. They hold that man had been endowed with a divine
History of philosophy of pre-Socrates period is obscure
and discusses the sky, the earth, rainbow or similar natural phenomena. Problems
of real philosophy were not discussed in those times.
Socrates (470-399) was not only the greatest of Greek
philosophers but also the most prominent of all philosophers of the world. his
famous saying "O man, know thyself" still adorns the temple at Delphi in Athens.
His predecessors, namely, Thales Heraclitus Permendes Zeno Phythagoras, etc.
were themselves interested in knowing the nature and characteristics of matter.
The search for laws of the material world and its things was their subject.
Socrates drew attention to man instead of the trees, stones, the sky and stars.
He argued that man should know himself, the purpose of his creation, and the
faculties with which he has been endowed with to determined his role in this
Socrates raised this question to draw attention of the
philosophers of his time to man's own ego. In man is hidden the treasure of life
and it needs to be discovered, first; knowledge of fire and water was secondary.
He tried to lead his fellowmen to the right path. For Socrates, man was of
essence; all other things were of secondary value.
Socrate's renowned pupil Plato (428-348 BC) developed the
formers theory to explain the attitude worthy of man in various spheres of life;
moral, political, psychological and social. His philosophy bears the seal of his
master who holds that this universe has its enternal principles and laws though
immutable but susceptible to discovery. For him, man is not an animal though he
is born in the same manner. Man had a soul which is a part of the Divine Soul.
This helped him to know the eternal laws and the secrets of the universe. He
said that man's body or matter tries to subjugate his divine soul and attracts
him towards itself. Man should seek to control it and rise above matter or body
After Plato, Aristotle (384-322 BC) was the most prominent
among the Greek thinkers. As socrates bequeathed philosophy, Aristotle
bequeathed science to mankind. He was the first of give a rational definition to
man; an animal but one who speaks and understands and is also perceptive and
intelligent. This is the real difference between man and other creatures. The
more significant of his sayings is that man is blessed with a divine spark and
this very spark is the soul of buoyancy in man. Although an animal, he
accomplishes great tasks due to this divine spark. He measures up the length and
breadth of the earth and the sky. The mechanics he has invented to explore the
visible and the invisible are also a boon of the divine spark.
After Aristotle, a prominent school of thought is that of
Stoics. According to them, man is a microcosm of the whole of universe. Thus, in
man, as in the universe, reason rules and he should subordinate himself to the
laws of the universe. The study of universe reveals that it is ruled by reason
whom the Stoics call Divine Reason. Therefore, man should follow reason and not
become a slave to his belly and body. They believe that everything has a
prescribed place in the divine order. Therefore, man is required to discover
this place and fit himself into it. Thus, man should live according to laws of
nature. Thus, the Stoics make man subordinate man to the universal ideal because
he will be happy if he understands the laws of nature and obeys them willingly.
ERA OF HIATTUS
Thereafter, is a long period of Hiattus in the world of
philosophy. In the medieval era, the church dominated human thinking. Some
historians have aptly pointed out that "the church found the giant of reasons
asleep and chained him, and he was chained to debility". Through the sacrifice
made by Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton, the chains were cut and man
reverted to search for laws of nature. In this pursuit some dived deep into the
gloomy solitudes of the ocean, some rose up to measure the earth and some others
tried to peep into the space through microscopes. The long cherished urge to
transform iron to gold gave birth to alchemy, which gave birth to chemistry;
from astrology man reached astronomy. Study of animals gave birth to biology.
Similarly, man's knowledge about laws of nature increased tremendously.
Nevertheless, philosophy did not contribute to anything worth mentioning.
Whatever the dialecticians did hardly belongs to philosophy.
VIEWS OF MODERN PHILOSOPHERS
BACON (1561-1626). He was the first philosopher of modern
who tried to extricate reason from the church's web. He emphasised the necessity
for a careful and accurate study of the universe with an open mind. He believes
that such a will confirm similarities among events and also contradiction n
them. In this manner, man will establish laws or consistencies among happenings
on the basis of which he can subjugate the powers of nature in a masterly
fashion. He argues that man must believe in religion, as he is obliged to obey
the divine law, though his will murmured against it. He is obliged to believe
in the word of God, though his reason is shocked by it.
Bacon's attitude towards religion was one of compromise.
Thomas Hobbies (1588-1679), however, did away with this dualism and went over
completely to the scientific position. Everything in the universe, including
man, is, for Hobbes material and is in constant motion. Thus, man's task is to
understand the laws of motion and thereby to understand the universe. Having
gained this understanding, man could adjust the laws in accordance with his
Rene Descartes (1596-1650) considered man to be a machine
operated by natural laws just as a watch operates on its own. Man is union of
the two relative substances, mind and body. Similarly, this universe is working
on mechanical principles. Man is a part of this great machine. As the universe
is a machine, everything in it should be expounded purely on mechanical
principles. Body of man is matter but his mind is spirit. Since the body works
on mechanical laws, the mind should also be moulded according to these laws.
Descartes is of the opinion that matter rules over man.
Spinoza's (1632-1677), like Descartes, also holds the
universe to be a machine. For him, God is a part of this machine and so is man.
The machine matters much more than its parts. This machine is under compulsive
operation, bereft of thought. As man is entangled in it rotation, he cannot rid
himself of the laws o nature.
According to Spinoza, the will of God and laws of nature
are, in fact, one entity. In his opinion, the mind of God is the sum total of
all thought scattered all over in time and space. He considers reasons and will
to be one and the same thing. Free will has no existence, the mind is bereft of
an absolute will. When the mind wills some thing, it is determined by some cause
which is the result of other causes. Spinoza considers human actions to be bound
by laws that are absolute like mathematical laws.
According to Spinoza, our individual self is delusion. We
are part of the stream of laws and sequence of causes. We are part of God. We
are transient forms of a being which is the greatest of us all. We are mortal
and finite, while He is immortal and infinite. Our bodies are modes of making,
our race is an incident of the mode of life.
One may call this the philosophy of positivism or of
compulsion. In a way, it is the philosophy of pantheism because man is held to
be a part of God.
Spinoza's views have been described in greater detail as
these had great effect on the subsequent period and paved the way for man’s
compulsive posture. Spinoza was thus a real Naturalist.
BERKELEY, LOCKE AND HUME
After Spinoza, comes the philosophy of George Berkeley
(1658-1753). John Locke (1632-1704), and David Hume (1711-1776). According to
them, everything is contained within the human mind; nothing is outside it. This
whole universe, for whose mastery scientists are striving for, has been reduced
to man's imagination only. It looks as if Mirza Ghalib, the great post also had
liking for this philosophy when he composed this verse:
‘Be not beguiled by life, Asad
Universe is in our ideas' net.’
Locke holds that that besides human mind and body, there
is God who made the universe. For Locke, man’s reason is the touchstone of
everything in the universe. He subscribes to the view that would exists, so God
also exists. But George Berkeley eliminated the material world. For him, there
is no universe outside the mind. Existence is that which is perceptible and
nothing exists if there is no mind to perceive it. Thus, whatever there is, it
is within the mind of man and nothing is outside it.
David Hume developed this view to its logical conclusion.
He made man, and man alone, the centre and the sum total of the universe. All
that we know is actually our imagination. There is no material or spiritual
substance outside that would generate our ideas. All that can be said about this
universe is that the universe is our ideas in succession. From where these ideas
come to our mind, Hume has no answer. According to him these ideas arise from
unknown causes. He contends further that even if we believe in a cause of our
ideas, or believe in the existence of God, we cannot prove it by any rational
method known to us.
This school of thought needed special mention to show how
these people undermine the status of man. They do not hold him in high esteem.
Everything, according to them, is like a day dream. As there is nothing outside,
whatever they see is hardly worthy of any credence.
Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) differed with the
earlier philosophers. He holds that man is not a machine or its part. Man was an
ideal of feeling and sentiments. Science and civilisation has bound him in
chains and are destroying all that is really human. Rousseau proposed to cast
off this shell of civilisation to free man for full development of all his
Immanuel Kant (1724-1808). a great German philosopher, the
Socrates of his era, refuted materialism, fatalism and mechanism. He argues that
there is a higher kind of truth than science and other knowledge and that truth
is moral nature of man. All good is within man and it is his inner voice which
does not need any outside proof. Man's moral being and his inner voice motivate
him to do good. This proved that God exists and He is the creator of man and the
universe. For him, if God did not actually exist, man’s necessity would require
His existence. He does not share the views that the world consist of mere
experiences and sensations and there is nothing beyond. According to him, there
is another world beyond the world of experience and science and that is the
world of reason and action. He says, our reason steers us to God and our moral
being impels us to believe in God. Reason is neither a "Passive Wax" which can
be cast in any design nor a storehouse of sentiments and experience. On the
other hand, it is the most active part of our body. It is our mind that arranges
experiences and sensations into ordered thought to arrive at conclusions.
Kant says, man has a feeling of immortality, implying that
the worldly life is a part of another life. We know that truthfulness or good
conduct may be harmful and falsehood may be beneficial but still we tell the
truth. The world teaches us that it was beneficial to be shrewd like a snake,
but we still tread the path of virtue. Eversince the world came into being, such
has been the universal attitude. In fact, there is a realisation that this life
is a part of another life and will give birth to another life where goodness
shall prevail. Every good will have hundred folds reward. Kant believes that had
this perception been missing man would not have chosen the path of goodness; he
would have chosen the part of immediate gain.
After Kant, there are two German philosophers propounded
skepticism in philosophy. One of them is Arthur Schopenhauer (1778-1860), who
considers man to be a super natural animal but slave of his passions. The
Reason's role is to accomplish his desires. At times, it seems as if reason is
not subordinate to desires, rather it is the guide. But this guidance is
reminiscent of a guide who takes the tourists only to those places they intended
to visit. For him, the "will" is the strong blind man who carries on his
shoulders the lame man who can see. According to him, will is the only permanent
and unchangeable element in the mind.
A desire fulfilled leads to another desire and this
process continues. Man cannot free himself of desires. Freedom is possible only
if desires are subordinate to knowledge and reason but such a possibility does
not exist. Life is evil and full of a continuous struggle and every human being
is entangled in a continuous compulsive chain.
Friedrich Nietzche (1844-1900) advocated that the real
thing in man is passion for power and this passion, the basic element in the
universe, that dominates everything. The passion for power is so strong that it
spares none; whosoever came in its way faces destruction. The wheel of universe
continues revolving regardless of who faces destruction and in what condition.
Man is at the mercy of storms, earthquakes, floods and other calamities. Thus,
life is a misery. Nietzsche regards man to be the barbarous animal who does any
thing to master power. Reason and morality are helpless against this passion for
power, they are but weapons in his hands, dupes of his game. Nietzsche says,
behind all "morality" is a secret desire for power, possession or superiority.
Therefore, man's struggle should not be to be good. It should to be powerful.
Such societies would come to an end as cannot produce ‘the superman’.
Another philosophical school, known as ‘positivists’
believe that the only source of knowledge is observation and experience. What
man sees and experiences is his real world. August Comet (1798-1857), a
philosopher of this school, says that source of knowledge is observation and
experience through which we see relations between different things and we see
nothing beyond, As far as inner essences of man and universe, we can know
nothing. When we look at the universe, we see it is functioning in a specific
way. Man finds himself in hot and cold seasons, floods and draughts and
miseries. He, however, uses the same things to his benefit. Whereas, from the
harmful thing, he manages to get benefit from them to. As man finds
relationships between the parts of the universe and himself, he is able to frame
rules to govern his actions in the light of these relationships.
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), further developed this
thought by showing how man should discover relationships within the universe. We
says that we see many events in which there are similarities. We study these
similarities and discover consistencies. Since man is a part of the universe,
this uniformity and sequence should also permeate through his action. Mill says,
man is a very complex being. Every action of man is the result of a vast number
of factors. These fundamental principles apply both to the universe and to man,
and recognition of them is easier in the universe but difficult in man. For
example; it is possible for an astronomer, on the basis of observation and
experience, to predict with absolute accuracy the time of appearance of a comet,
but to predict whether a newborn body will be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer or
a thief is practically impossible. Obviously for the reason that the factors
behind the appearance of a comet are easy and somewhat fixed and factors behind
man are very complex.
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) takes the position that man
can know only through his experiences. He is certain that the experiences must
have a cause, that there must be a universe beyond our experiences which becomes
the cause of makes our experience. Although he called this the "unknowable", he
interpreted it in terms of what he found in man. Since man has subjective
feelings and sentiments, the "Unknowable" is of the same nature. Thus, the
fundamental principle of the universe is also the fundamental principle of man.
The "Unknowable" is a creative force and remains active according to definite
laws of development. Man is the result of this creative development and a part
of the evolutionary processes found in the universe. The law of evolution is the
universal law of things and is also applicable to man. Moreover, everything in
the universe, including man, adapts itself to the environment. Man is what his
universe and environment have made him to be.
Another well known philosopher, William James (1842-1910)
also belonging to "positivits" school, believes in the universe of observation
and experience. He places man at the centre of the universe. For him, experience
is real. Therefore, on the basis of our experience, we construct a theory of the
universe. For James, what satisfies man is true; and which does not satisfy him
is false. Man finds certain consistencies in his experience. These apply to the
universe too. We act upon them, and the results which we anticipate follow.
Therefore, the reality is this experience and the universe then is the universe
of human experience.
John Dewey admits that the universe is that which man
experiences. He, however, does not admit this world of experience to be real. He
says it is foolish to go beyond the experiences and to try to find out from
where this world started and where it will end, as no man can get outside his
experience. According to Dewey, reality is changing and developing according to
laws which are the laws of human experience. Man is a part of this process of
evolution, which we find everywhere. The difference is that man can comprehend
the universe. He says that as in man we find uncertainty and doubt, same is the
case with the universe. Man's experience is, therefore, the only measure which
helps him understand the world.
Rertrand Russsell (1872-1970), sees the universe as a
great mathematical machine governed by scientific laws that are inexorable,
unchanging. Man is a very small and insignificant part of it. He is caught in
the on rolling of the great machine, and its wheel grind everything regardless
of what is thrown into it. After a short break the machine against start
grinding man. The machine of the universe does not care who comes in its ebb and
flow. In the theory of the machine of the universe, an individual has no place.
Mankind, says Russell, is like a group of shipwrecked sailors on a raft in a
vast sea at night. There is darkness all around the they are at the mercy of the
waves. One by one they fall off the raft into water and disappear. The process
will continue till the last man has fallen down. The sea will continue rolling
on and the holes made in the water by their bodies will be covered over. Nature
cares not for man.
CRITICAL APPRECIATION OF PHILOSOPHERS' VIEWS
The first group of philosophers is of those who equated
man with animals, worms, beasts, etc. In their opinion, man will meet the same
fate as these animals. Man has no precedence over them. The difference in
certain attributes is not of much importance as similar differences are also
present among the animals themselves.
The second group is of those philosophers who hold man a
part of universal machine; the importance is that of the machine and not of the
part. The wheel of the universal machine is rotating and man, like everything
else in the universe, is playing his role. He is tied to it and his end is
tagged to it. Great philosophers including Spinoza are included this group.
The third group is of those for whom man is the subject
and fundamental purpose of the creation of the universe. He is the crown
creation and the whole universe has been designed to his purpose. This group
includes all great philosophers like, Socrates, Sophists, Plato, Aristotle and
Our present day philosopher, under the influence of
science, thinks that he will shortly conquer the universe with the help of
science and will also become its lord and master. He does not attach any
importance to God and is dreaming to become its master himself. Obviously his
position is different but, actually, he belongs to the third one.
The philosophers in the first group did not realise the
importance either of the universe or man, as if they found the precious
‘Kohi-Nūr’ pearl from the garbage and they mistook it to be a commonplace stone.
Otherwise, it is a that if a person ponders over the greatness, sublimity,
grandeur, modes and wonders of this universe, he is dumfounded by the great and
ingenious universe. If someone has the audacity to call the Red Fort a stable,
he would hardly be a same person? Only a fool would consider such a great
universe, which is manifest of the highest wisdom, to be useless. It is
impossible to believe the destiny of man to be that of animals in the face of
his capabilities, intelligence, sagacity and potential. While sitting in his
room, man is capable of measuring the distance of the sun from the earth and the
time its rays reach the earth. It would be foolish to hold about such an
intelligent being that he would die as an ass and come to his end just like an
animal. Such a concept would negate the purposefulness of the universe as well
as of mankind and would reduce this universe to as absurdity. If man perishes
like other animals, the universe is deprived of its purpose and responsibility
and accountability is lifted and the universe becomes a play boy's game who
discards the game as soon as he has enjoyed it to the fill. Can it be said about
the great universe full of wisdom that it is a playboy’s game without a purpose?
Man – a thinking being – perceives the grandeur and magnificence of this
universe and exclaims O Lord Ye created it not aimlessly.
(to be continued)
(Translated by Saeed Ahmad)