The Deliverance from Error

The Munkidh min al-Dalal (Deliverance from Error), is a sort of intellectual autobiography. A more modern translation can be found in W. Montgomery Watt, The Faith and Practice of Al-Ghazali, (London: 1951).

The following, an excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York: Macmillan, 1967), explains the significance of the work:

At the age of 36, Ghazali experienced a profound crisis, provoked by the problem of intellectual certitude. He abandoned his professorship and his position as rector of Nizamiya University of Baghdad. During a period of ten years, clothed in the characteristic wool garment of the Sufis and completely absorbed in spiritual practices, he made solitary pilgrimages throughout the Muslim world, to Syria, Egypt, Mecca, and Medina. What he conveyed in his doctrines cannot be separated from this pathetic experience. He solved the problem of knowledge and certitude by affirming a degree of comprehension that left the heart no room for doubt, a comprehension that is the essential apprehension of things. The thinking soul becomes the focus of the universal Soul's irradiations, the mirror of intelligible forms received from the universal Soul. This theme dominates certain characteristic short treatises (the Monqidh or "Preservative From Error," [this text], the Risalat alLadoniya, etc.) as well as the great synthesis entitled Ilya Ulum ad-Din ("Revival of the Religious Sciences"). But this theme had already been treated, undoubtedly without his knowledge, by the Imams of Shi'ism, and it does not differ essentially from the Ishraq of Sohrawardi. This very theme led Sohrawardi! to advance philosophy on a new basis rather than destroy the efforts of philosophers as such.

It is principally this aspect of Ghazali's work, developed in his Tahafut al-Falasifa ("Autodestruction of the Philosophers") that Westerners have been inclined to emphasize. An attempt has even been made to read into it a more incisive and decisive critique or metaphysics than that of Kant. In fact, Ghazali strove vehemently to destroy the demonstrative range that philosophers, Avicennians as well as others, accorded to their arguments regarding the eternity of the world, the procession of the Intelligences, the existence of purely spiritual substances, and the idea of spiritual resurrection. In general Ghazal! strove to refute the idea of any causality, of any necessary connection. According to him all thatean be experimentally affirmed is, for example, that combustion of cotton occurs at the moment of contact with fire; it cannot be shown that combustion takes place because of the contact between cotton and fire. Nor can it be shown that there is any cause whatsoever. From this bursts forth the paradox of a thinker who professes the inability of reason to attain certitude while maintaining the certitude of destroying, with massive doses of rational dialectic, the certitudes of the philosophers. Averroe s clearly discerned this self-contradiction and replied to it with his celebrated Tahafut al-Tahafut ("Autodestruction of the Autodestruction").