Parviz Morewedge on “Muslim Philosophies of Religion in Light of Previous Zoroastrian and Monotheistic Traditions”

Parviz Morewedge (UCLA: B.A., Ph.D.) is the author/editor of 14 books and 70 essays/reviews. He taught for over 57 years at US Universities, including Cornell, Columbia, and UCLA and held seminars in 24 countries. He also served as a UN diplomat for 15 years and was employed for six years in logical design (PC and Automata). He is the CEO of Global Scholarly Publications, which has published 500 books and 10 journals. His hobbies are the early classics of Chinese, Japanese, and Russian cultures and visiting museums in NYC, his present residence. We invited him to discuss comparative philosophy of religion as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

This essay depicts differences in the logic, method, and contents of major Islamic philosophies of religion and monotheistic religions. Greek and/or Western philosophers will be compared with their Islamic counterparts in a few disciplines. Regarding cosmogony, ibn Sina (970-1037) [widely acknowledged as the greatest Muslim philosopher] and N. Tusi (1201-1271), the chief Shi`a theologian, defend emanation from The Necessary Existent as a cosmogenic model (analogous to ‘the One’ of Plotinus) against Aristotle’s co-eternity and monotheistic creation model of the world out of “nothing,” which was considered meaningless by the Greeks and rejected by almost all of the Muslim philosophers.

I. Cosmology (especially in relation to time)

Ibn Sina’s ultimate being (the Necessary Existent), unlike Aristotle’s unmoved mover, is not a substance. Muslim philosophers often rely on the active intellect as the major link between the heavenly and the terrestrial realms. Christians and Muslims following orthodox theology accept the exceptional case of the immaculate conception of Christ by the Holy Ghost (4, V.1, pp. 277-281). Plotinus’ emanation has complex features: for example, the souls are sisters of the world soul—without there being a hierarchy, (The Enneads IV 3 (27), 1-8). The intellect (nous), is depicted as the father generating/perfecting souls for adulthood (V 9 (5), 4.9; also V 1 (10), 3.14). Our souls can be deceived by the attractions of entities embodied in the world, as a young girl may be deceived by a lover and taken from her father (VI 9 (9), 9.34; also V 5 (32) 12.36, vol. 8, pp. 57-87). Unlike Manichaean philosophers and some versions of the monotheistic traditions, ibn Sina and Plotinus consider “evil” as not an actuality but as a privation of the Good, analogous to “darkness” as a privation (adam) of light. According to ibn Sina, the ultimate achievable happiness is a union-blending (paiwand) with the Necessary Existent (6, p. 71)—which is comparable to Plato’s hint that the highest happiness of the individual soul is “likeness to God as far as is possible” (I.2.1; cf. Plato, Theaetetus 176b). Another topic is the notion of “temporality.” A. R. Biruni (973-1048) reconstructs the non-Greek, Indic version of time (4, V.1, pp. 102-106). Mulla Sadra (1572-1641) proffers a non-static, Hegelian version of substantial motion. Mir Damad (1561-1631) presents a tripartite model of “meta-temporality-eternity-and temporality” (3 ,V.4, pp. 25-26). N. Tusi, proves the incompatibility of classical atomism using Euclidean Geometry, advocating a Leibnizian type of “force-energy” found in an intentional phase of hermeneutic self-realization. Plato’s celebrated quote that “time is the moving image of eternity” (Timaeus 37d;) his Allegory of the Cave in The Republic, and the idea of Love as a ladder in the search for atemporality/immortality discussed in The Symposium, along with Plotinus’ ascent of the soul towards the One serve as sources of inspiration for subsequent mystical traditions. In sum, the relation between Islamic and other cosmological doctrines cannot be viewed as a simple derivation.

II. Free will

Free will is essential to the monotheistic models that uphold the thesis of “reward and punishment”. N. Tusi’s free will, analogous to D. Hume`s account of our psychology of “causation,” is intentional: (i) We feel free when we act according to necessity; (ii) we attribute free will to others when we are ignorant of the causes of their actions. Tusi follows ibn Sina in accord with the views of many Western philosophers, such as G. Leibniz, D. Hume, and B. Spinoza. The monotheistic presupposition of free will implies many dilemmas, for the ordinary use of “will” points to its being a dispositional rather than an occurrent property (e.g., the salt is white). Consequently, there can never be any perception that involves an impression of a “will.” I. Kant`s ethics is a conditional rather than a categorical reference or a “proof” for “free will”; at best it could be used as a pragmatic recommendation, along with J. Dewey’s type of approach, asking, for instance “free from what? What are laws of nature?” By identifying themselves with the total unity of the world, secular nature/sufi mystics interpret the notion of free will as an illusion of alienation.

III. Methodology in cosmology and the sciences

The syntactical approach of ibn Sina—like that of 20th Century logicians (culminating in R. Carnap’s philosophy)—offers a reconstruction of a meta-language model for problems in other domains, expressed however in ordinary languages and specific scientific inquiries. Here is an example taken from ibn Sina: wujud (being-qua-being) signifies the most determinable concept with three modalities: b-1 wajib (being a necessity), b-2, mumkin (being not an impossibility), and mumtani (being impossible). The syntactical concatenation of “necessity” with “being” implies “a necessary being,” from which one can deduce “the Necessary Existent,” that is neither a substance nor an accident, as it cannot have a definition.

In a similar tenor, N. Tusi applies a syntactical necessity to the notion of “The Maker, (not the creator)” as follows: The notion of being a mother implies begetting a child. Consequently, if the finite human being cannot relate directly to an infinite deity, then there must be an Imam (a messenger) who is revealed to humanity. Incidentally, the root of this tradition is found in Aristotle, William of Ockham, and G. Leibniz. By contrast, monotheism uses ordinary language, allegories, and analogies to present a view of the deity in its appeals to revelation. Sufis, like mystics of other traditions, employ allegorical theology that is embedded in intentionality but is absent from standard logical models.

A number of Muslim religious thinkers claim that due to the transcendent feature of the Divine, humans can access the results of God’s acts only as they construe these in terms of a world order (nizam-i khaiyr a- kuli); consequently, as stated by Nasir Khosrow (1004-1088), religion via Shahada (being a witness to the beauty of the world) and Science (attempting to formulate laws to explain the world) pursue the same object, namely the actual world (4,V.1, pp. 415-420). Mysticism, according to Plato and Plotinus (the great rationalists), is an allegorical account that is compatible with science similar to A. N. Whitehead’s (1867-1947) model of Process and Reality, viewed as a “meta-science.” Our interpretation rejects the views of a few contemporary writers, such as that of D. Gutas, who has an anti-rational view of mysticism; the claims of those who see Islamic philosophy as derived from Judaism, such as H. D. Wolfson, A. Ivry, and Len Goodman; and the early L. Wittgenstein (1889-1951), who states one should be silent on topics such as mysticism. This notwithstanding, there are thousands of accounts on mysticism written in almost every language for more than three thousand years!

The traditional arguments for the existence of God (ontological, cosmological, and mystical) have been subject to serious criticism; it is our opinion, that in spite of its phenomenological merit, a pragmatic account for the notion of God, like that given by American pragmatists, can be formulated as a language game that does not include “logical validity” for non-abstract terms. Here we recall that pragmatists in general, like F. Nietzsche (1844-1900), do not assume any primacy of “truth” over “value.” In the Iranian Zoroastrian tradition, the notion of “Asha” implies success, according to nature (like arete in Greek); in contrast, duruq is related to “drug”, something externally inserted on a patient and not derived from the natural constituents of an agent (3, V.2, pp. 431-436). Like Islam, Zoroastrianism opposes any form of ascetism, such as the celibacy of the clergy.

IV. Universals

Implied in Its being-knowledge, the notion of God in monotheism is not essentially connected with any specific time, space, event, or process; consequently, many themes in monotheism—e.g., God’s will being independent of a particular time—rely on Platonic language. Against the Platonic version of Universals, ibn Sina interprets a nominalist view of Universals as follows. The statement, “Here are four figures,” does not imply the existence of an actual entity ‘4’ in addition to fingers (4, V.2, 295-398; 6, pp. 32-36). In their account of the classification of the sciences, ibn Sina and Tusi, adopt an Aristotelian version, but add a hermeneutic practical science of the self (khud). Evidently, Muslim philosophers did not blindly follow their Greek predecessors.

IV. God-world relations

In Judaism, especially in the I-Thou contracts of Noah and Abraham, God is presented as distinct from the rest of the world. In the Islamic concept of Total Unity (Tawhid), and the mystic notion of Wahdat-al-wujud—analogous to B. Spinoza’s (1632-1677) ocean-wave (substance-mode) analogy—we experience only modes of a single reality; rejected is the bifurcation of nature. The reference to such an ultimate being is usually allegorical; in this vein Mahmūd Shabestarī’s (1288–1340) The Flowering of (the archetypal) Secret (Gulshan-i Rāz), asserts that “I” (the heart) and “God” (referred to as the phenomenon of reception of “the black beauty mark of a pretty face” are isomorphic icons of the same reality. Jalal ad-Din Rumi’s (1207-1273) master, Shams Tabrizi, responds to Rumi’s query, “who are you?” by asserting, “I am you”; this is analogous to St. Augustine`s reference to Christ as the “inner teacher” (3, V.4, pp. 536-539). In Africana philosophy, the self is identified as an aspect of home-nature, with love of home-nature (Ecco philia) being a salient mark of humanity, which is an extreme contrast to John Locke’s individualism.

V. Concluding remarks

For more than two hundred cases as well as further clarifications, refer to the author`s essays in Encyclopedias which invite non-specialists in Islamic philosophy to explore and discover new philosophical provenances.


1. Martin, R. C. (Ed.). (2004). Encyclopedia of Islam. McMillan.

2. Borchert, D. M. (Ed.). (2006). Encyclopedia of philosophy (2nd ed., 10 vols). Thomson Gale.

3. Esposito, J. L. (Ed.). (2009). The Oxford encyclopedia of modern Islamic world. Oxford University Press.

4. Kalin, I. (Ed.). (2014). The Oxford encyclopedia of philosophy, science, and technology in Islam (2 vols.). Oxford University Press.

5. Craig, E. (Ed.). (1998). Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy (10 vols.). Routledge.

6. Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā). (1973). Dānish Nāma-i ʿalāʾi” (The book of scientific knowledge) (P. Morewedge, Trans.). Routledge and Kegan Paul.

7. Morewedge, P. (1992). Neoplatonism and Islamic thought (vol. 5). SUNY Press.

8. Helleman-Elgersma, W. (1980). Soul-Sisters: A Commentary on Enneads IV 3 (27), 1-8 of Plotinus. Brill.

Stanley Tweyman on “Comparative Philosophy of Religion: Descartes and Hume”

Stanley Tweyman is University Professor at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has published extensively on the Philosophies of René Descartes, David Hume, William Wollaston, and George Berkeley. His most recent book is, Method, Intuition, and Meditation in Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, Cambridge Scholars Press, UK, 2023. Professor Tweyman sits on various scholarly editorial boards, his most recent editorial appointments include: Appointed member of the Editorial Board of Humanities Bulletin, January 2021; Appointed to the International Editorial Board of the Journals in Social Sciences, Revistia Press, in collaboration with De Gruyter Press, Poland, August 2022; Appointed Editor-in-Chief of EJIS, “European Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies”, August 2022. We invited him to discuss comparative philosophy of religion as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

For my study of the comparative philosophy of religion, I have chosen to compare the approach to knowing God developed by René Descartes (1595-1650) with the approach to knowing God developed by David Hume (1711-1776).1 In this study, I propose to accomplish two things. First, in the space permitted, I will show how each philosopher approaches the topic of God. And, once I have completed that, I will show why there is no possibility of obtaining any commonality, which would allow for an agreement between them on the topic of God.

I begin with Descartes’ approach to knowing God. Toward the end of the third meditation, Descartes realizes that his knowledge of God will not be obtained through arguments, but through ‘reflection’ or ‘meditation’ on the innate idea he has of himself as a thinking thing. In the penultimate paragraph in the third meditation, he writes:

And one certainly ought not to find it strange that God, in creating me, placed this idea within me to be like the mark of the workman imprinted on his work; and it is likewise not essential that the mark shall be something different from the work itself. For from the sole fact that God created me it is most probable that in some way he has placed his image and similitude upon me, and that I perceive this similitude (in which the idea of God is contained) by means of the same faculty by which I perceive myself … (M 71).

In the final paragraph of the third meditation, Descartes expands on the reflective/ contemplative/ meditative manner by which he will attempt to know God through the idea of God, which is contained within the idea he has of himself as a thinking thing:

…[I]t seems to me right to pause for a while in order to contemplate God Himself, to ponder at leisure His marvelous attributes, to consider, and admire, and adore, the beauty of this light so resplendent, at least as far as the strength of my mind, which is in some measure dazzled by the sight, will allow me to do so. For just as faith teaches us that the supreme felicity of the other life consists only in this contemplation of the Divine Majesty, so we continue to learn by experience that a similar meditation, though incomparably less perfect, causes us to enjoy the greatest satisfaction of which we are capable in this life (M 72).

In the Replies to the Fifth Set of Objections (M 21-22), Descartes explains that the idea of God stands to the idea of the self in a manner analogous to the relation between a painter’s technique and works of art which result from this technique. Therefore, just as observing a painting aids in apprehending the technique through which the painting has come to be, so by meditating on himself, through the innate idea he has of himself as a thinking thing, he can come to understand his creator.

I turn now to Hume’s approach to God. It is clear right at the outset of his Treatise of Human Nature (and other writings), that Hume rejects the theory of innate ideas, i.e. ideas which are in the mind from birth, and, therefore, which have no empirical content. He goes to great lengths early in the Treatise to argue that “ideas are preceded by other more lively perceptions [impressions], from which they are derived, and which they represent” (T 7). In this spirit, Philo, in the Dialogues, argues the following:

Our ideas reach no farther than our experience: We have no experience of divine attributes and operations: I need not conclude my syllogism: You can draw the inference yourself. And it is a pleasure to me … that just reasoning and sound piety here concur in the same conclusion, and both of them establish the adorably mysterious and incomprehensible nature of the Supreme Being (D 108).

Despite Hume’s scepticism that we can know anything about God, given that we lack an impression of God, in two books—the Natural History of Religion and the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion—he does speak of acknowledging ‘a first intelligent author of the world.’ In the Natural History of Religion, he writes:

The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion (NHR 134).

Again, in Part 12 of the Dialogues, Philo asserts:

A purpose, an intention, a design strikes every where the most careless, the most stupid thinker; and no man can be so hardened in absurd systems, as at all times to reject it … all the sciences almost lead us insensibly to acknowledge a first intelligent author … (D. 172).

When he expands on this (D 172-173), Hume emphasizes that our belief in an intelligent Designer is not based on any insight regarding the divine nature; rather, it is based solely on instinct, just as our belief in causal connections is not based on any insight regarding necessary connections between causes and effects, but is based solely on instinct. The instinctive belief in causality is essential to our survival; the instinctive belief in an intelligent Designer guides scientists to seek explanations in terms of purposiveness in design in nature.

My conclusion from this discussion is that there can be no way to reach any agreement between Descartes and Hume on the topic of knowing the nature of God, mainly because Descartes will not give up, and Hume will not accept, that we possess an innate idea of God.

1. All references to Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy are to the In Focus edition, Edited and with an Introduction by Stanley Tweyman, first published in 1993 by Routledge, London and New York. References to the Meditations are cited by M, followed by the page number. All references to Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion are to the In Focus edition, edited and with an Introduction by Stanley Tweyman, first published in 1991 by Routledge, London and New York. References to the Dialogues are cited by D, followed by the page number. References to David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature are to the Selby-Bigge, Second Edition, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1978. References to the Treatise are cited by T followed by the page number. References to the Natural History of Religion are to the J.C.A. Gaskin edition, Oxford University Press, 1993. References are cited by NHR, followed by the page number.

Stephen Chanderbhan – “A Catholic Perspective on Comparative Philosophy of Religion”

Steve Chanderbhan is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Canisius College (Buffalo, NY). His Ph.D. is from Saint Louis University (2012). His areas of specialization are in Medieval Philosophy (specifically, the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas), Ethics, and Catholic Social Thought. We invited him to discuss comparative philosophy of religion as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

In Nostra aetate, a statement from the Second Vatican Council on the relation of the Catholic Church to other religions, Pope St. Paul VI declares, “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.”1

I believe this follows from certain elements within the Church’s philosophical tradition, which I lay out below. Given this, comparative philosophy of religion should be commended in Catholic contexts as a way that the true and holy in other religions may be discovered and studied.

First, reflections of “a ray of Truth which enlightens all men” are a reference to the notion of illumination, found most notably in the Neoplatonic thought of St. Augustine. Illumination picks up on an interpretation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. The fire inside the cave is necessary for the shadows on the cave wall to be seen, this represents that which makes things sensible in reality. Similarly, the Sun outside the cave is necessary for the things outside the cave to be seen; this represents that which makes things – namely, Forms – able to be known by the intellect. This is the light of illumination, which Augustine calls a kind of “incorporeal” light.2

For Augustine, God is the cause of this illumination. In De libero arbitrio, he writes:

[A] strong, vigorous, mental gaze, when it sees with certainty many unchangeable truths, turns [above] to the Truth itself in which all things are shown … If I showed there was something above our minds, you admitted you would confess it to be God, provided there was nothing else higher. I accepted your admission, and said it was enough that I should show this. For if there is anything more excellent, it is this which is God, but, if there is nothing more excellent, then Truth itself is God.3

God’s illumination refers to a necessary condition of any and every instance of knowledge for anyone. Little wonder that this “ray of Truth,” which is of God, shines on all. As knowledge of causes can be inferred from their effects, it follows that God, to some degree, may come to be known as the ultimate cause of that which one truly knows in any instance of knowledge.

But what is knowledge? A classic formulation is expressed in St. Thomas Aquinas’s De veritate: “The first reference of being to the intellect … consists in its agreement with the intellect. This agreement is called “the conformity of thing and intellect” (adaequatio rei et intellectus). … Knowledge of a thing is a consequence of this conformity.”4 A couple things follow that help to vindicate comparative philosophy of religion.

First, what is adequate to the intellect is being, not facts or propositions.5 Granted, propositions are a primary way in which knowledge is communicated; and right belief (i.e., orthodoxy) is necessary in framing a religion’s belief system. At the same time, no religion’s insight to Truth is exhausted just by what propositions are true in it; nor can one say that the “ray of Truth” has not touched a religion if it contains any (or even many) false propositional beliefs.

Second, given this characterization of knowledge, the essence of God is something to which no human intellect, nor any collection thereof, can ever be adequate in their natural state. The fundamental being, or essence, of any species (i.e., kind) of natural being is expressed in terms of the definition of that species. This definition has two parts: genus and difference. For example, a human is essentially an animal (genus) who is rational (difference). When humans’ metaphysical nature, or essence, is adequate to the intellect, whatever is signified by the definition “rational animal” is fully present in the intellect. So too for any case of knowledge of species.

God, however, transcends all species and genera of natural being; hence, God has no proper genus-difference definition. St. Anselm, for example, characterizes God as “that than which no greater can be conceived;” while that characterization points solely to God, “that than which” is not a proper genus.6 Since God’s essence cannot be expressed in a definition, full adequation with the intellect as it operates in this life is impossible.

Full knowledge of God’s essence is only attained when we see God as He is. God exists in eternity and, thus, transcends time and space. While we are limited by those things, we cannot see God as He is – even if our knowledge is supplemented by insights of Divine revelation held by religious faith. Full knowledge only occurs in the Beatific Vision, in the afterlife. This life, on the other hand, is a “journey of the mind into God,” quoting St. Bonaventure’s famed work.

The implication is that no religion’s totality of theology, sacred texts, etc., can capture the essence of God fully. As such, no religious tradition, even if augmented with claims of Divine revelation, could rightly consider itself a closed, self-sufficient system. That would belie God’s transcendence and the limitations of human knowledge. Hence, other religions can be treated, not as alien, but as holders of some Truth and Goodness (i.e., Holiness), touched by God’s “ray of Truth.” Accordingly, they are worth studying on this journey. This does not mean there cannot be definitive dogmatic boundaries on what ultimately is to be believed within a religion; however, those boundaries need not close one in on all sides.

I leave unanswered the questions of what Catholics may gain from studying other religions and whether comparative studies would enrich and deepen one’s faith or endanger it by introducing near occasions of confusion. All I claim is that Nostra aetate’s statement is grounded in a philosophical tradition privileged by the Church and that this ultimately commends comparative philosophy of religion.


1. Pope St. Paul VI, Nostra aetate: Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions (Vatican City: Vatican Council II, 1965), §2.

2. St. Augustine of Hippo, De trinitate, translated by Arthur West Haddan, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 3, ed. Philip Schaff, (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887), XII.xv, website,

3. St. Augustine of Hippo, De libero arbitrio, translated by Dom Mark Pontifex, (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1955), II.xv.39, website,

4. St. Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones disputatae de veritate (Questions 1-9), translated by Robert W. Mulligan, S.J., (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1952), q. 1, resp., website,

5. Working within a broadly Aristotelian-Thomistic framework, Alasdair MacIntyre appreciates this point as follows: “The relationship of correspondence or lack of correspondence which holds between the mind and objects is given expression in judgments, but it is not judgments themselves which correspond to objects or indeed to anything else. … What is and was not harmless, but highly misleading, was to conceive of a realm of facts independent of judgment or of any other form of linguistic expression, so that judgments or statements or sentences could be paired off with facts, truth or falsity being the alleged relationships between such paired items. … It is a large error to read [this kind of correspondence theory] into older formulations concerning truth, such as ‘adaequatio mentis ad rem’ …” (Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), p. 357-358.)

6. St. Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogion, in The Devotions of St. Anselm: Archbishop of Canterbury, translated by Clement C. J. Webb, (London: Methuen & Co., 1903), Ch. 2.