Dissertation Defense: Rosabel Ansari
Candidate Name: Rosabel Ansari
Major: Islamic Studies
Advisor: Emma Gannagé, Ph.D.
Title: The Ambiguity of ‘Being’ in Arabic and Islamic Philosophy
This dissertation studies the refutation of monism in the philosophy of Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī (d. 950) through the logical theory of ambiguous predication (al-ḥaml bi-al-taškīk). I show how Fārābī conceives of a close relationship between human language, intelligibles and being. A fully transparent, and philosophically ideal language reflects the order and structure of what-there-is. However, an inescapable fact of language is the phenomenon of ambiguity (taškīk). Developing Aristotle’s theory of pros hen homonymy, Fārābī introduces the theory of ambiguous terms (asmāʾ mušakkikah) which are predicated neither fully homonymously nor synonymously. Such terms, which have multiple, related meanings, cause us to waver in our understanding of their use.
Fārābī tells us that ‘being’ is among the terms that are predicated ambiguously. As a transcategorial, ‘being’ is predicated of all the things that are. I show how Fārābī conceives of the many meanings of ‘being’ as hierarchically ranked according to the degree of perfection of beings in being what-they-are. I argue Fārābī espouses an essentialist metaphysics that develops Alexander of Aphrodisias’ essentialist theory of substantial form. As Alexander had identified the form of the hylomorphic substance with the differentia in the logical definition and made it the essence and real explanandum of substance, I show how Fārābī identifies the wuǧūd (being-ness) of a being (mawǧūd) with the differentia in its logical definition and as the cause of it being what-it-is.
From there I argue that Fārābī’s theory of emanationism should be read as doctrinally consistent with his essentialist metaphysics and as an illustration of the logical theory of the ambiguity of ‘being’. Instead of an ontological continuum or
metaphysics of participation, each being is ranked according to the degree to which it is what-it-is. Subsequently I show how Fārābī refutes the monism of Parmenides of Elea by arguing that Parmenides had misunderstood the term ‘being’ to have only one meaning. As a whole, this forms the genesis of a theory known in Arabic as taškīk al-wuǧūd (the ambiguity of ‘being’). I track the development of this theory in philosophers up to the present and point to the importance of its Fārābian basis.