Signs Within Ourselves
We will show Our signs to them in the universe, and in their own selves until it becomes manifest to them that this (the Qur’an) is the truth. Is it not sufficient in regard to your Lord that He is a witness over all things? (Qur’an, 41:53)
The Qur’an uses “nafs” (self) to express consciousness, the quintessence of our personality. “Nafs” is integrated with our physical body; the author of all good and bad acts is our “nafs.”
The atoms of our physical body – of which 99 percent is vacuum – are deprived of all consciousness, and perform such conscious acts as seeing, hearing, and thinking.
The verse above alludes to signs in ourselves. There are prior categories that the mind is constitutionally endowed with, concepts or ideas that are not derived from experience.
Here we find ourselves surrounded by available data of a rich philosophical background. The tribe to which the Prophet (peace be upon him) belonged dealt in trade and animal husbandry. The Prophet (peace be upon him) himself was not brought up in a milieu like Plato’s Academy or in an environment where the colorful and lively schools of philosophy like Cartesianism flourished. Therefore, the fact that the Qur’an made a distinction between the outward signs and the signs imminent in man’s soul is noteworthy.
The basic message transmitted by all the religions revealed by God is the fact that He is a Perfect Being. This becomes all the more apparent when we witness all the entities created by God. In the ontological argument, attainment of God is achieved not through exterior means, but from the idea of “Perfection” or “Perfect Being” inherent in each of us.
Farabi and Avicenna were among the first philosophers to refer to the initial arguments of ontology. Farabi analyzes the ontological argument together with the cosmological argument. According to them, God must be self-existent (Necessary-Being); assuming that He does not exist would be a contradiction in terms. All other creatures are possible creatures; both their existence and nonexistence can be a topic of discussion. If the possible entities are not resolved in the Necessary-Being, there would be a contradiction in terms. Given the fact that Farabi ‘s conclusion is a combination of ontological and cosmological arguments, many thinkers are believed to have found traces of this for the first time in the works of Avicenna.
Nevertheless, this argument is, more often than not, associated with Descartes. To avoid committing an error, he sets out in his philosophical quest by considering all past knowledge as if it were nonexistent. He begins with the statement that many of the preconceived opinions he has accepted since childhood have turned out to be unreliable; so it is necessary once in a lifetime to demolish everything and start again right from the foundations. There follows a systematic critique of previous beliefs. Anything based on the senses is potentially suspect since I have found by experience that the senses sometimes deceive and it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once.
Elsewhere Descartes expresses this “cogito argument” in the famous phrase, “cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am). He derives from this argument that he exists incontestably and that thinking can never be confused. Later he realizes that knowing is more perfect than doubting and explains how this idea of perfection leads him to the most perfect, to the idea of a supremely perfect Being.
He reasons that the representational content (or objective reality) of this idea is so great that it cannot have originated from inside his own (imperfect) mind, but must have been planted in him by an actual Perfect Being – God. Things outside him like the sky, the earth, the light, the heat, and a thousand other things, all these things contained nothing that would surpass him. If they were unreal he might have concluded that he had acquired them from the void. However, this could not hold true for a Perfect Being. He could not have acquired it from nothingness.
Descartes concluded the existence of God after having examined the evidence inherent in the self. He said that this conclusion was not an invention of his imagination and that to add or subtract anything to or from it was beyond him. He had to accept the fact that he had come to the world with this a priori sign. Like the initials that an artist imprints on his work, God had implanted this idea as He created him.