Saturday 1st of October 2022
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The Fundamental Problems of World-View


The world evidently consists of various kinds of phenomena, the study of whose characteristics has given birth to specialized fields of science. Moreover, despite the expansion in different spheres of knowledge and the vast number of wonderful and valuable discoveries made in various disciplines, there still remain, in our immediate surroundings and on this very planet, many things unknown, the effort to solve whose mystery has occupied our inquisitive scientists. 

However, as already mentioned, man has always been confronted with a series of fundamental questions. The need to find correct and convincing answers to such questions is a pressing demand of his inner most nature. Furthermore, since these problems concern matters outside the realm of the senses and empirical experience, their solution cannot be expected from the experimental sciences and must be provided by reason and logic alone.  [1 

It so happens that the correct solution of the aforementioned problems is of fundamental importance in giving meaning and value to human existence, and directing man's voluntary activities into proper channels. The opposite of this is also true, in that giving wrong answers to these questions makes life empty, meaningless, and devoid of worthwhile goals, dragging man into the abyss of irreparable loss. Nor can man afford to ignore these fundamental questions, since by doing so he would, in addition to having to endure the pain of doubt, perplexity, and anxiety, deprive himself of the opportunity of attaining the ultimate aim of creation: perfection and everlasting felicity.

One of those fundamental questions which man must answer is whether the phenomena we encounter in our world owe their existence solely to material actions and reactions, without any participation or intervention of a nonmaterial power. Is there no nonmaterial power involved either in the emergence of the phenomena or in the existence of matter itself? Or, to put it another way, does matter constitute the totality of being, or does it constitute only a part of existence and relies on something beyond itself for its being? 

The above question, which itself can be analysed into a number of other questions, is not limited to the properties and characteristics of any particular group of physical creatures, so that it may be answerable by some specific science through its own particular method. It is, on the contrary, a philosophical question, which must be studied by reason through intellectual speculation and analysis, even though the starting point for such speculation is empirical knowledge in its widest sense, which includes inner and direct experience as well. 

The answer to the above question, whether in the positive or the negative, constitutes a part of one's world-view, plays an important role in forming a basic aspect of a person's intellectual approach which may be called "ontology".

Another basic question is whether the life of each individual human being is limited to the few years he lives in this world, or whether there is another life for him after he passes away, much longer and probably even an everlasting one. And this question in turn raises another one: Does man, beside possessing a physical body, also possess a soul which can continue to live after the death of the body or not? Then, there is the last question, which is also related to the first ontological question, whether being is equivalent to material existence or is wider than that.

The solution to the above-mentioned problem also, whatever it may be, constitutes another aspect of an individual's world-view, which may be called here `anthropology'.

And finally, the third fundamental issue to be settled before turning one's attention to the details and selecting a particular course for one's life is: What is the most certain way of knowing the best programme for individual and social life? Is there any fool-proof way beside the usual ways commonly adopted by most people which so often lead to contradictory results, which would guarantee the certainty of results 

The importance of the last question becomes more evident when the answer to the second question is in the affirmative; that is, when we conclude that man is immortal and that one must prepare beforehand for the felicity of afterlife through conscious effort during the limited period of this life. When such a belief is accepted, the need for a sure way of determining the relationship between the two lives, and an elaborate plan that would guarantee everlasting felicity becomes clearer. And the more the importance ascribed to the everlasting life, the greater is the significance of the path leading to felicity in it. This issue may therefore be called the problem of "methodology." Accordingly, the fundamental problems of world-view are: ontology, anthropology, and methodology


The solution of the aforementioned fundamental problems is of foremost importance, because it plays a basic role in shaping and giving direction to man's personal and social life, and, logically, should be taken up before any other issue. Also, it is of special significance because it involves unlimited gain and loss. In other words, if the answer to the fundamental questions raised is in the affirmative, the possibility is opened up for man of deriving infinite benefit from his life.

If it is proved that being is not coextensive with matter, and that the world has a supreme Creator who is the Maker, Sustainer, and Nourisher of all things, and possesses infinite power, knowledge, and mercy, and if it is proved that man's life is not limited to this short, worldly existence, but that it is followed by an everlasting life accompanied either by felicity or misery, and that our life in this world is a preliminary stage in which we determine the course of our life in the Hereafter through our voluntary actions, and if it is proved that there is a guaranteed method for obtaining the knowledge of a correct life-programme that can take care of our felicity in both the lives, and that this method has been communicated by the Almighty God through His chosen messengers to mankind in general, it will have a tremendous impact on man's life. In fact, the value given to the vital human activities by such a view of reality is incomparably greater than the combined worth of all the advancements made by science and the discoveries and inventions made by man. This is so because however great the value of these inventions and discoveries may be, it is still finite and limited, while the value of this view is unlimited since it makes it possible for man to attain unlimited and everlasting felicity. And it is obvious that the unlimited cannot be compared with the limited.

The objection may be raised here that the probability of the fundamental questions being answered positively is so small that it is not worth considering. It should be kept in mind, however, that however small this probability may be (1/n), it would still retain its positive value since its multiple is infinity; (infinity x n = infinity). To put it in the language of economics, the `expected value' of any investment depends on two factors: (1) the percentage of probability of success, and (2) the estimated amount of the profit. It is the product of these two that determines the `expected value.' For example, if we want to see which of two business ventures is more profitable for investment, it is not enough to take into account the percentage of probability of each one alone. We should also consider the estimated amount of profit each venture is likely to yield. Thus, if the percentage of the probability of success in the first venture is 10%, while that of the second venture is 20%, but if the amount of the profit the first venture is likely to yield is ten times that of the second venture, then we must conclude that the expected profit in the first venture is five times greater than that in the second one, despite the fact that the probability of success in the first venture is half of that of the second one. This is so because the product of the two multiples in the first case (0.1 x 10 = 1) is five times greater than that in the second case (0.2 x 1 = 0.2).

The conclusion that may be drawn from the above example is that it is highly preferable to handle problems whose solution promises unlimited benefit, even if our chances of solving them be very small. Furthermore, the value of insight into such problems cannot be compared to that of any other science, even if the results produced by these sciences be one hundred per cent certain and reliable. Thus, indifference to the various aspects of one's world-view and negligence of its fundamental problems is not a reasonable and rationally justifiable attitude. Answering these fundamental questions in the negative without any sufficient evidence is even more unjustifiable.

$$SECTIONThe Spiritual and Materialist Philosophies]

Although the fundamental questions facing man have been answered in different ways and the differences in these answers have created various philosophies and schools of thought, yet by taking into account the positive and negative answers, we can distinguish and divide the various philosophies into the two general categories of materialist and spiritual. Islam is a perfect example of the spiritual schools of thought [2], whereas the most prominent contemporary example of the materialist schools is Marxism.

The tenets of the Islamic world-view are none other than the well known threefold doctrines of the faith. [3] These are: the belief in the One God (al-tawhid); the belief in resurrection on the Day of Judgement (al-ma`dd); the belief in what God has revealed to His prophets (wahy, nubuwwah). In other words, Islam answers in the affirmative to each of the fundamental questions, and considers faith in them to be the real basis of man's happiness and felicity. It undertakes the solution of life's all other problems by relying on these three basic doctrines. In fact, it considers all solutions as the branches of a tree whose roots are these three principal beliefs. On the contrary, the materialist philosophies deny the existence of anything nonmaterial, do not believe that man has any life except this brief earthly existence, and deny the assurance held out by revelation.

Although the fundamental doctrines of the Islamic faith have been expounded and proven throughout the past centuries and on various levels, and there does not remain any doubt or uncertainty about any of them, this does not affect the basic fact that the contemporary strength of any set of beliefs hinges on two sorts of studies: one devoted to proving the validity of those beliefs, and the second, devoted to refuting contrary viewpoints. In other words, a double insight is necessary. In the case of Islam, unless the points of disagfee ment with other ideologies are identified, the areas that are made the targets of the opponents' criticisms and attacks are pinpointed, and a proper defence consisting of clear and logical answers is provided to the common Muslim individual, we cannot be sure of the stability of the faith on the level of the general public, and be certain of the people's steadfastness in the face of the waves of challenging ideologies. More over, just as in the past ideological and theological books were written in accordance with the intellectual challenges of the times and with the aim of answering their prevailing doubts, so must the ideological discussions of today be formulated in accordance with the philosophies and schools of thought now current, and with the aim of repelling their ideological attacks.

What makes defensive discussions specially essential today is that materialist philosophies are not being set forth for the mere purpose of proposing solutions to the fundamental theoretical questions, but are, in fact, being propagated in order to serve the political interests of the superpowers who consider exploitation of the emotions of the world's hardworking and simple people as the best means of attaining their colonialist aims. Thus in order to disarm the people of their deep rooted, liberating spiritual world-view, they have taken recourse in a philosophy tuned to the shallow understanding of the majority of workers and farmers. At the same time, they have tried to adorn materialism, which is one of the most reactionary and baseless of the ancient dogmas, with scientific embellishments, and pretend that it is a modern and "scientific" philosophy. Nor have they spared the use of all sorts of sophistry, paralogism, and misrepresentation to achieve this end.

The truth of the matter is that the superpowers have used materialism, which is based on empiricism, as a means of attracting the uneducated masses and as an excuse for sanctioning their propensities for improper and unethical conduct. In order to deceive the educated classes, they have borrowed some of the postulates of the experimental sciences and incorporated them into materialism. Moreover, to make sure that the probable rejection of these postulates does not destroy the foundations of their philosophy, they have taken refuge in "dialectical logic," presenting all truths to be relative and variable, so that scientific progress not only would not invalidate their doctrines, but would, on the contrary, appear to support them.

We may maintain, therefore, that defending the positions of Islamic ideology, clarifying any of its ambiguities which may lend themselves to misrepresentation, and exposing all those who have made spiritual philosophy the target of unfair and dishonest accusations, is not only an authentic philosophical and intellectual duty and a divinely ordained obligation in regard to guiding the Muslims and strengthening the foundations of their faith, but is also an Islamic social responsibility in regard to defending Islam and the existence of the Muslim countries, which have become targets of ideological, political, and colonialist attacks by the communist block.

It must be pointed out here that by emphasizing the necessity for `double insight' and `two-faceted defence' we do not mean to say that such insight and understanding is the `sufficient cause' for creating faith and inclination towards the right path, or that the only reason for being drawn towards atheism and other devious paths is ignorance about correct, logical, and convincing answers to criticisms. Our purpose is simply to indicate the importance of defensive arguments alongside the affirmative ones, and to emphasize that these two activities are some of the necessary conditions for creating a stable faith, though are not the sufficient condition for it. There are other conditions necessary for the stability of faith, specially in regard to the masses of people, the most important of which is spiritual readiness and freedom from moral corruption. Just as hedonism and moral irregularities may be caused by belief in materialism, belief in materialist philosophies may also be occasioned by strong attachment to bodily pleasures and moral corruption; since one's love of pleasures and lusts may lead him, unconsciously, to search for and be attracted by philosophies which promote and sanction such conduct, and to avoid all schools of thought which teach abstinence from such endless pursuit of carnal pleasures.

It is, therefore, necessary that the real seeker after truth should cleanse himself of all moral impurities and all selfish and carnal desires, and, relying on nothing except logic and reason for guidance, liberate himself from the bondage of blind imitation of individuals, groups, or nations, simply because they possess some kind of social, political or technical superiority.


A glance at the fundamental philosophical questions, to which spiritual and materialist philosophies give contradictory answers, clearly shows that the areas of contention between the two opposing points of view have nothing to do with experimental matters. Whatever the solutions found to scientific problems, they would not in any way affect the way these philosophical questions are answered. For example, accepting or rejecting Euclid's theory of space, holding to the view that mass is absolute or relative, or the validity or invalidity of the theory of mutation in biology, and other conflicting theories in the various sciences-none of these tell us anything about whether the divine or the materialistic philosophies are true; since the subject of discussion in philosophy is not the same as that of the experimental sciences, and the methods of investigation used in the two fields are completely different from each other.

It is wrong to imagine, therefore, that it is materialistic philosophy alone that accepts scientific facts and affirms the validity of the laws governing the transformations and interactions of physical phenomena, while spiritual philosophy denies them and sets forth the theory of creation in their place. The materialists hold that belief in the theory of creation finds its genesis, in the distant past, in man's ignorance of the physical causes of phenomena. Therefore, now, when due to the advances in the experimental sciences, the system of physical causation has been fully discovered, there is no room left for such notions as that of creation or the dependence of phenomena on the will of the Creator . [4]

We know, however, that the dispute between the spiritual and the materialist points of view is not about affirming or denying the relation ship between various phenomena, the nature of such relationships, or the laws which govern nature. What the dispute is about is whether the material world, with all the relationships existing between its various parts, be they known or as yet undiscovered by us, depends on a Being which transcends matter or not.

It is obvious that if such a dependence does exist, it would not be of the sort that exists between material bodies, and, therefore, cannot be studied by experimental methods; because just as the nonmaterial Being (if it exists) cannot be known through sense experience, the dependence of material phenomenon on it, also, cannot be studied through laboratory instruments. In order to make this point even clearer, we must briefly discuss philosophy and the experimental sciences, the fundamental differences between the problems with which they deal, and the methodologies which they employ.

By the way of an introduction we would like to remind the readers that there are many words which have a number of meanings. At times one of them has a wider and more general signification than the others. Sometimes the use of such words may lead to misunder standing, and it is necessary to make sure that one understands the exact sense in which a word is being used. In philosophy, there are a number of such terms; for example, `potentiality,' `possibility,' `soul,' `reason,' and so on.

Among the terms that share common significations are the words `philosophy' and `science.' In the past the word philosophy (lit. `the love of wisdom') was applied to all branches of knowledge, including the natural sciences, mathematics, divinities, ethics, and politics. Every branch of knowledge had a special methodology of its own, although sometimes it happened that inappropriate methods were used; for example, a problem belonging to the natural sciences was investigated through a purely rationalist approach, whereas it should have been studied through the experimental method.

In the Middle Ages other branches of learning were added to the aforementioned list, until it came to include almost all the thinking of that age.

After the Renaissance, and specially from the seventeenth century onward, those sciences whose method of enquiry was experimental, gradually separated from philosophy, and the term eventually came to be applied exclusively to that branch of learning the problems of which lay outside the realm of experiment and could be solved only through a purely rational, theoretical method. This branch of learning is called "metaphysics" or "the first philosophy". The term "philosophy" is also used to refer to the process of explaining the basic principles necessary for investigating the problems of a particular science, such as the philosophy of science and the philosophy of ethics.

The word "science," which literally means "knowledge," is technically used to mean systematized knowledge of problems dealing with a particular subject. According to this definition, the term "science" could also be applied to metaphysics. In recent centuries, however, the usage of the term has become more limited, and has come to refer to the experimental sciences alone, in opposition to philosophy.

According to the latter definition, philosophy and science each possesses its own distinct subject matter and methodology. That is, philosophy's subject of study consists of the general problems of existence, which are in the main part abstract and are also called, "secondary concepts," [5] and its method is rational and theoretical. Science, on the other hand, is concerned with the study of the accidental properties of particular objects the existence of which is taken for granted; its method is experimental. For example, physics deals with matter and energy and their interactions in the fields of mechanics, acoustics, optics, heat, electricity, magnetism, radiation, atomic structure, and nuclear phenomena; chemistry studies the composition, structure, and properties of substances and the trans formations they undergo. Physiology investigates the organic processes and phenomena of living organisms, while psychology discusses mental conditions and characteristics. However, none of these sciences has any‌thing to say about the essential nature of the subject it studies or the fundamental principles underlying its methodology. In other words, neither physics and chemistry express any opinions about the existence of matter, nor physiology and psychology discuss the reality of life and the soul. Nor does any of these sciences examine the principle of causal ity and its subordinate laws.

What philosophy concerns itself with are general abstract questions such as: cause and effect, permanence and change, the material and the abstract, the contingent and the necessary, etc. And since these issues are not directly connected with sense perception, the problems related to them cannot be settled empirically. The key to their solution must be found in rational investigation and analysis. The way these rational investigations are carried out and the value of their findings constitute the subject matter of an important part of modern philosophy known as "epistemology." It follows then that we cannot expect scientific progress to help us in resolving philosophical disputes, and science to act as a referee in the quarrel between spiritual and materialist philosophies.

Unfortunately, there have been numerous attempts in the history of science and philosophy to invoke scientific laws or theories for help in the solution of philosophical problems, or to tip the scale in favour of a particular metaphysical position. On the contrary, others have sought refuge in the philosophical mode of reasoning and the rational method to help them solve a scientific problem. This, despite the fact that such intrusions are dangerous for both philosophy and science, and keep them from following the paths appropriate to their fields of study and solution of their problems through the use of methods prescribed by the nature of those problems.

As an example of such unjustified intrusion, we can mention the sort of argument some modern physicists have used to "prove" the existence of necessity in the relationship between cause and effect (determinism) by referring to findings in the field of macro-physics, while other physicists have pointed to certain phenomena observed in micro-physics as evidence that no such necessity exists. There is yet a third group that has endeavoured to reconcile the two positions by proposing that determinism is valid in the case of macro-physical phenomena and invalid in the case of micro-physical ones. All this while any philosopher knows that the law of causation is a general philo sophical and metaphysical law which is, according to the definitive judgement of reason, fixed and unchanging.

What we must do is to search in nature for cases which would verify the law of causation through experimental investigations. What we definitely shouldn't do is to consider the discovery of a few examples of its applicability as a proof of its validity, or the inability to apply it in few cases as evidence of either its invalidity or lack of generality; since such failure is definitely a result of the inadequacy of our instruments. In fact, it is the self-evident principle of causality that has moved scientists to seek the causes of phenomena and to discover the laws and secrets of nature. To attempt, therefore, to prove this metaphysical principle through reference to physical phenomena and the discoveries of the experimental sciences is like trying to play the flute by blowing through its wrong end.

It should not go unsaid, however, that philosophy and science are related to each other in a number of ways, the most important of which is that philosophy proves the existence of the subject matter and the validity of the fundamental principles of the sciences, while the sciences provide a widening background for philosophical inquiry. In any case, there should be no mixing of either their problems or methods and no expecting of solutions to scientific problems from philosophy or of philosophical problems from science.





[1]. This matter shall be discussed in greater detail later on.

[2]. This is not to say that Islam is one kind of philosophy; what is meant is that the basic principles of Islamic faith concern issues which fall into the same category as philosophical ones. To put it another way, Islam has philosophical foundations just as Marxism does.

[3]. The two other principles of Islamic belief, that is, `adl (justice) and imamah, are in fact implicit in the doctrines of al-tawhid and nubuwwah (prophethood).

[4]. This is one of the most notorious fallacies propagated by the Marxists.

[5]. That is, concepts that are formulated as a result of rational analysis; such as, necessity, contingency, and causation.





source : Importance of the Problems of World View by Muhammad Taqi Misbah
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