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Miscellaneous

Divine Wisdom

`Allamah Tabataba'i‑may God's mercy be upon him‑in his exposition on Divine Wisdom says:1

The various movements originating from us can be considered as our actions when they are related to and dependent upon our will in some way. There­fore, health, illness and other involuntary movements cannot be considered as our actions. It is obvious that we will an action only in the event of a pre­ference; that is, when we see that it is better to do something than not to do it, and the benefits accruing thereof exceed the drawbacks, and would be a step towards perfection for us. Therefore, the advantage related to our inten­ded action, which persuades us to prefer action to inaction, is the very good which is the cause of our activity.

That good is what is called the end of an action. and it has been demonstrated in philosophical discussions that an action, voluntary or involuntary, is not without purpose. This good proceed­ing from an action, is what is called the `wisdom' of an action by society, and this `wisdom', considered so by reason, is what causes the doer of that action to be depicted as `wise'. If there were no wisdom in an act, it would be considered futile and vain.

It is obvious that the benefit or good which follows an action has no external existence prior to the act, and it is the idea of a benefit which compels or inspires the would‑be doer to act, in the sense that each one of us has some idea of a benefit derived from our experience of the external order and the general laws governing it.

This order guides our actions to their perceived ends and objectives. Likewise, this idea of benefit is the result of our experience of interrelationships between things and, undoubtedly, this system of ideas is dependent upon and derived from the order prevailing in external reality.

It is characteristic of our voluntary actions that they are per­formed in accordance with our system of knowledge, and our will is dependent upon the good or benefit which we perceive in our actions. Now, if there is conformity or correspondence between an action, on the one hand, and perception and knowledge, on the other, then such an action is considered as judicious and wise and its doer is said to be `judicious' or `wise'. But if we default, whether due to some short­coming or neglect, then the action is considered as futile and erroneous and the doer is considered unwise.

Therefore, wisdom is the quality of the doer of an act whose work conforms to his subjective understanding, which, in turn, corresponds to the order prevailing in external reality. The `good' or `wisdom' of an action is also its correspondence to subjective understanding that is derived from external reality. So `wisdom' implies conformity to external reality, and is a characteristic of a doer whose acts, through the agency of the mind, conform to the external reality. So; also, the objective or benefit of an action depends on correspondence of sub­jective knowledge to external reality.

However, this is true in the case of those actions in which conformity of subjective knowledge with the external reality is im­plied‑ like our voluntary actions. But an act of God is external reality itself, and stands in no need of correspondence to the order prevailing in the external world. Therefore, when it is said that the acts of God are based on an objective, it is meant that the `objective' of His act is derived from the act and not vice versa.2

In brief, one is said to be wise if he carefully examines the external reality, and from among the various options available, selects one which promises a maximum amount of benefit.

Then he so organizes his actions that he can attain the desired objective with minimum amount of effort. Wisdom is the conformity of an act with its objective or the desired benefit, which it is considered to yield. This interpreta­tion of wisdom assumes the pre‑existence of an external reality which guarantees the attainment of premeditated objectives on the basis of conformity of the actions of the doer with it. It is obvious that `wis­dom' in this sense could only apply to one whose acts are performed against the background of external reality and which fit into its pers­pective.

However, in the case of God, whose acts are external reality itself, the attribute of wisdom is riot applicable in this sense, but solely implies that God never does anything futile, devoid of benefit or in vain. However, it does not mean that God has to ‑conform His acts to the external reality in order to make them useful or purposeful. He does not do anything futile or useless, because He is a free actor with free will. We stated that free will is attributed to someone who selects one out of the many possible courses of action which would fulfill his objective better than others.

Now if this doer possessing free will is a creature other than God, its objectives are those which fulfill some of its needs or bring it some kind of advantage.

But if the free doer is God, who is free of every need and necessity, then, in His case, He cannot have an `objective' in this sense. Rather, He acts for the sake of an objective or purpose whose gain and benefit accrues to others. In other words, God acts solely out of beneficence and grace; not for achieving any good for Himself in order to satisfy some need of His own, nor in order to attain some advantage:

I did not bring forth creation to profit by it,

But to bestow My Beneficence upon My creatures.

And this beneficence and grace are essential to Divine Essence, because He is absolute perfection. Without beneficence God would not be perfect.

Notes:

    1. Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn al‑Tabataba'i, al‑Mizan, vol. 8, pp. 335‑6.
    2. Ibid., vol. 16, see verses 21:16‑33.

Adapted from: "Three Topics in Theological Philosophy" by: "Dr. Ahmad Ahmadi"