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Ethics

The Wrong-Doer Wisdom Needs An Infallible Instructor

As we saw above, wisdom of man does the functions of instincts of animals. However these two are different in many respects:

a) An instinct, works without the consent of its holder. It does not go astray. Bees have always built their hives hexagonal and ants have always halved the wheat seeds in two halves in order to stop their growth in their under-ground shelters. But being equipped with free-will, man does not have to function in accordance with wisdom's guidelines. Animals have recognized their development through the guidelines of genesis and have to go forward without their approval.

    "ما مِنْ دابَّةٍ اِلا هو آخذٌ بناصِيتِها اِنَّ رَبِّي على صِراطٍ مُستقيم"

“There is no living creature but He holds it by its forelock; surely my Lord is on the right path.”32

    "اِنّا هَديناهُ السَبيلَ اِمّا شاكراً واِما كَفُورا"

“Surely we have shown him the way: he may be thankful or unthankful.”33

b) An instinct performs an action without any error, but the wisdom makes mistakes when arriving at conclusions from the premises. The environment, lack of sufficient knowledge, wrong education, out-of-place prejudice, lust and anger, and the like, all have their fatal consequences on our wisdom. In this way man is prone to commit mistakes. Thus, he will need an infallible instructor. It is for this reason that God has sent Messengers and Imams to guide people. Imam Musa Ibn Ja’far (as) in his famous treatise tells Hisham.

    "اِنَّ لله على الناسِ حُجَّتَينِ حُجَّةٌ ظاهَِرةٌ وحُجَّةٌ باطِنة فامّا الظاهرة فالرُسُل والأنبياء والائمة وامّا الباطنة فالعُقُول"

“Allah has provided man with two proofs: the overt proof and the covert proof. The overt proofs are the Messengers and Imams and the covert proofs are the intellects.”34

Messengers and Imams are superb human beings who directly receive religious facts from God who knows all facts in depth. They are infallible beings. Therefore, an education which is based on such a resource will completely rely on truthfulness.

But this does not imply that we will not believe in rational good and bad, and like al-Asha’irah only believe in religious good and bad. Definitely this is not the case. Our wisdom determines the goodness and badness of some acts independent of religion and other factors such as the observation that justice is considered as good and injustice is deemed unfair.35 However if Messengers and Imams did not rise to lead and guide our rational judgments and did not try to evaluate our acts, man could not personally perceive the good and bad nature of such acts. This is because, on the one hand, his knowledge is limited, and on the other hand, factors such as environment, faulty education, unfounded prejudice and the like may influence his judgments.36

We will find this out in the discussion of the philosophy of ethics.

Notes:

32.Qur'an 11:56.

33. Qur'an 76:3.

34. Tuhaf al-‘Uqul, p.386.

35. Regarding the rational or religious nature of some acts, refer to The basis of faith by Mulla Abd al-Razzaq Lahiji, pp.59-62 and the book Husn wa Qubh ‘Aqli (Rational soundness and unsoundness), lectures given by Ja’far Subhani.

36. Regarding this refer to Islam and human Rights, pp.13-35.

Adapted from: "Imam 'Ali's First Treatise on The Islamic Ethics and Education" by: "Zainol Aabideen Qorbani Lahiji"