What are the views of ancient philosophers regarding the hereafter?

The questions like "Who am I?, Where did I come from?, Where am I going? What is the purpose of my creation?" to which all minds look for answers also occupied the minds of philosophers, who deal with thought; some of them answered those questions based on belief and others based on denials; yet some others preferred not to think about these issues.   

The issue of the hereafter and life after death was dealt with in the Eastern philosophy more than the Greek philosophy though its scope is very big and this issue contains the universe and beyond the universe, what is seen and what is unseen; it was mentioned indirectly in the Greek philosophy. This issue was dealt with by the Greek philosophers who believed in the eternality of the spirit only within the scope of the issues of the human soul and the eternality of the soul. [1].

Pythagoras said that spirit would not disappear but that it would enter other beings through reincarnation and that spirit would thus be cleaned through consecutive rebirths. [2].

Socratesdealt with the issue when he talked about spirit, which he discussed a lot. The statements of Socrates about the eternality of spirit are not clear but it is understood from the fact that he did not care the sentence of death given by the administrators of Athens about him that he believd in the hereafter. While Socrates was dying, he told his students about the reasons that made it necessary for him to believe in the eternality of spirit and said, "There is return to the beginning in beings. Death follows life and life follows death..." [3].

Plato gave great importance to the issue of the eternality of spirit and listed the evidences regarding the issue; due to this diligence of his, he was called Divine Plato. [4].

In the Islamic world, the statements about the view of Aristotle, known as the first teacher [5] regarding the hereafter are contradictory. According to some scholars, Aristotle denies life after death and the eternality of soul because he regards the soul and the body as a substance that cannot be separated and says that when the body dies, the soul will die too. Therefore, some Islamic scholars opposed Greek philosophy and accused Aristotle of atheism. [6]. Others said that these accusations were based on a wrong delusion and that he clearly expressed his belief in the hereafter when he said, "Recompense is necessary in nature." [7].

It is reported that Aristotle was calm and easy while he was dying like Socrates and that it attracted the attention of his students; when they asked him the reason for it, he said his spirit would live eternally after his death and mentioned them some evidences regarding the issue. [8].

We can say that the denial of the hereafter was dominant in all periods of the Greek philosophy except for a few philosophers who believed in the eternality of the spirit. Such a state is not strange for a philosophy labeled as atheistic and idolatrous. [9].

The issue of after death was generally dealt with under the title of only immortality or the immortality of the spirit in the Western philosophy.  In the Islamic history of thought, various terms were used based on the situation: Maad (the hereafter), Ba'thu ba'da'l-mawt (resurrection after death), hashr (gathering), iade (returning), nash'a-i thaniya (second coming), khulud (eternality), baqa (eternity), baqa-ur-ruh (the eternality of the spirit, etc. These terms are used for both spiritual resurrection and material resurrection. [10].

We cannot see traces of belief in the hereafter in most of the Western philosophers like the Greek philosophers even in the form of spiritual resurrection. This is probably because their civilizations are based on matter. For, most of the writers and thinkers cannot go beyond the civilizations they belonged to; they were under the influence of their own civilizations. The Western civilization is essentially a worldly civilization. In the Roman and Greek civilizations, on which the Western civilization is based, the hereafter, which was mentioned as the land of the dead (Hades), had a very insignificant place in the religious life. This hereafter means a kind of Hell... This belief of Greek civilization completely collapsed after the Renaissance. Christianity replaced Hades with the kingdom of the skies, which is the opposite of it. That is, it can be said that the hereafter of the Greek civilization is without Paradise and that of the Christianity is without Hell. The Western civilization after the Renaissance discarded both of them and broke its relationship with the concept of the hereafter; it became a kind of worldly civilization. Therefore, the great geniuses that were nurtured there remained within those boundaries; they regarded the concept of the hereafter as a change that happened within the spirit or they transformed it into the form of a happy or dark metamorphosis that happened in this world in the spirit of the community and the fate of the humanity. In non-Islamic beliefs and views, the concepts death and resurrection were generally used in order to express the end of a class or age;  death and resurrection were dealt with as biological, psychological, sociological or historical death and resurrection. [11]. It is obvious that the reason why the thinking brains of humanity fell into heedlessness was the fact that material wealth and the means that annulled the feelings and faculties of man increased.    

The most famous philosopher among the ancient philosophers that was interested in the eternality of the spirit was Plato; the most famous Western philosophers coming after him and in recent history that believed in life after death and the eternality of the spirit and that philosophized these issues were Kant, Descartes Leibniz and Spinoza. [12]. After explaining that it was difficult to prove the existence of Allah through theoretical reason, Kant put forward another reason called practical reason (la raison pratique); he meant the conscience with it; he reached the existence of the hereafter with the help of the conscience and then the existence of Allah. [13].

Islamic philosophers did not give as much importance to the issue of the hereafter as the Quran did but they thought more on the issues compared to the Western philosophers and almost all of them stated something regarding the issue.

All Islamic philosophers stated that they believed in maad [14] (resurrection after death). As a matter of fact, we can see the signs of this belief in all of them. That is why, they are called Islamic philosophers. [15]. The reason why Ghazali says they are unbelievers is based on the claim that they do not accept the bodily resurrection. [16].

In his works called Shifa (Healing) and Najah (Salvation), Avicenna (Ibn Sina) states that he believes in the bodily resurrection but that it is not possible to prove it through reason. He states that Islamic philosophers are interested in the spiritual resurrection more and that they do not give much importance to the bodily happiness.

Avicenna states the following: "It is necessary to know that some of maad was reported by the Shari'ah and it can be proved only through confirming the information brought by the Shari'ah and prophethood; this part of maad is the resurrection of the body. The good and bad deeds of the body are known; it is not necessary to give information about them. The true Shari'ah, brought to us by our Prophet, Muhammad (pbuh), informed us in detail about the happiness and badness related to the body. The other part of maad is the part that can be understood through reason and analogy based on evidence and that is confirmed by prophethood; The interest of Islamic philosophers in this happiness is more than in attaining the bodily happiness - though delusions become insufficient to imagine this happiness and badness due to the reasons we will mention. What is more, it looks as if they are not enthusiastic about such happiness even if it is given to them; they do not regard such happiness as something important compared to the happiness that will make them approach Allah Almighty." [17].

As it is seen, the sentences above show clearly that Avicenna believed in the bodily resurrection. They are not much different from the views of many Islamic kalam scholars and sufis. Along with those who express this opinion [18], there are some other scholars who say that his views regarding the issue are ambiguous when they take into consideration his expression in his other works. [19]. As a matter of fact, in his booklet, al-Adhawiyya, in which he evaluates all of the different views regarding maad, he defends spiritual resurrection and criticizes all of the different views related to bodily resurrection. After presenting the views stating that the bodily resurrection is not possible, he says, "We can regard these explanations sufficient in order to show the contradictions of those who say maad is for only the body or both for the body and the spirit. "[20]. When he lists the evidences against reincarnation, he says, "Then, maad is only for the spirit." [21].

These controversial expressions in the works of Avicenna caused different interpretations. Ülken states the following regarding the issue: "... Does this hesitation originate from the fact that his views developed throughout his life and from his indecision? Is it because he avoids telling ordinary people what he tells philosophers and sufis? It is very difficult to settle these issues here. However, it is certain that Avicenna mentions bodily resurrection in the most important books and explains it as something that the mind cannot penetrate and something that needs to be accepted as an order of the Shari'ah. Therefore, it does not seem appropriate that Ghazali criticizes him and Farabi in the same way based on the same evidences." [22].

Asi, who examines and explainsal-Adhawiyya, states that with the appearance of this work, Avicenna's views on bodily resurrection become definitely clear. [23]. Asi states that his contradictory views in his other works originates from the fact that he wrote his books in a way that addressed to different groups as ordinary people and intellectuals and that those who research the philosophy of Avicenna agree on this issue. [24].

What is stated about Farabi regarding the denial of the bodily resurrection is beyond what is stated for Avicenna. The severe criticism of Farabi by Ibn Tufayli regarding the issue makes a person doubt Farabi's belief in the hereafter. Tufayli criticizes Farabi's statement "Man's happiness takes place only in this world." He says, "Farabi made everybody be hopeless of Allah's mercy and he regarded virtuous people to be equal to bad people. For, he said they would all disappear in the end. This is a mistake that should not be made and that cannot be accepted. " [25].

However, Ibn Tufayl attracts attention to the fact that there are a lot of doubts about what is reported regarding the philosophy of Farabi. He says, "There are a lot of doubts about the things mentioned in the philosophy of Farabi. He mentions the eternality of the bad spirits and their endless agonies in al-Millatu'l-Fadila (the Virtuous Nation). In Siyasa al-Madaniyya (the Political Regime), he says these kinds of spirits will disappear and the virtuous and perfect spirits will live eternally. In the explanation of Kitabu'l-Akhlaq, he mentions things that are related to the happiness of man and says that this happiness can take place only in this world; then, he says, "What are reported apart from this are delusions and superstitions." [26]. Similarly, in his book called Arau Ahli'l-Madinati'l-Fadila (the Virtuous City) , he divided the state of the spirits after death into three: he said the virtuous ones would be in eternal happiness, the bad ones in eternal unhappiness and the ignorant ones would disappear. [27].

Ülken says Farabi's view related to the existence of the eternality of the spirit is ambiguous. [28].

As it is seen, what is reported from Farabi is controversial as it is the case with Avicenna. Therefore, it is necessary not to be too bold while making a definite decision.

The Western philosophers generally wanted to show Ibn Rushd (Averroes)  [29] as a person who denied the hereafter and as an atheist. Thomas Aquinas, the famous Christian theologian, is one of those who claimed it. However, Ibn Rushd never denied resurrection; on the contrary, he described those who denied resurrection after death as unbelievers. [30]. Ibn Rushd stated that the second creation would be different from and superior to the first creation. He said the resurrection of the body would be in a similar way not in the same way. He did not criticize Ghazali regarding the issue; on the contrary, he praised his views by describing them as good. [31]. Besides, it is understood from his statements that he does not agree with the view of Ghazali that Islamic philosophers deny the bodily resurrection. [32]. He states the following when he rejects Ghazali related to the spirit: "It is a very difficult and subtle thing to talk about the spirit. Allah allocated it to His slaves who specialized in science and knowledge." [33].

However, different interpretations were made about Ibn Rushd based on his views in his other works, as it is the case with the other philosophers. [34]...

Consequently, we can say that almost all of the Islamic philosophers believed in the eternality of the spirit and the spiritual resurrection. It is difficult to make a decision regarding the bodily resurrection due to their controversial expressions.


[1]. Fawi, p. 19, 50.
[2]. Shahristani, p. 394; Addison, p. 144.
[3]. Fawi, p. 57-60.
[4]. ibid, p. 73. For the explanation of these evidences, see Ali Arslan Aydın,al-Ba'th wa'l-Khulud, İstanbul, 1998.
[5]. Death of Pythagoras is 322 B.C. Socrates 399 B.C. Plato 347 B.C. and Aristotle 322 B.C.
[6]. ibid, p. 86.
[7]. Shahristani, p. 463.
[8]. See Abu'l-Faraj Jamaluddin b. al-Jawzi. as-Sabat inda'l-Mamat, exp., Abdullah al-Laysi, Muassasatu'l-Kutubi's-Thaqafiyya, Beirut, 1986, p. 93.
[9]. Fawi, p. 98.
[10]. Mehmet Aydın, Din Felsefesi. 9 Eylül Üniversitesi Publ., İzmir, 1990, p. 189.  However, in philosophy, concepts like maad, khulud, and baqa-ur-ruh were generally used and the spiritual resurrection was meant by them. In the Quran, no discrimination between bodily and spiritual resurrection was made; both of them were meant.  
[11]. Sezai Karakoç,Ruhun Dirilişi, Diriliş Publ., İstanbul, 1974, p.104.
[12]. Abbas Mahmud al-Aqqad,al-Falsafatu'l-Qur'aniyya, Maktabatu'l-Asriyya, Beirut, p. 180; Abdülhay Nâsih, Ölüm Ötesi Hayat, Nil Publ. İzmir, 1988, p. 119-120.
[13]. For Kant's proving the existence of the hereafter and Allah through practical reason, see Nadim Jisr, Qissatu'l- Iman, Maktabu'l-Islami, Beirut, 1969,  p. 169-173.
[14]. Islamic philosophers generally used this term in order to mention the issue of the hereafter. This concept is used as a verb in the following and similar verses of the Quran: "even as We produced the first Creation, so shall We produce a new one (nu'iduh)." (al-Anbiya, 104) In one verse, (al-Qasas, 85), it is used as a noun denoting a place (maad). The fact that they preferred using this term instead of the more frequent terms used in the Quran can be regarded as an indication that they approach the issue differently from the Quran. As a matter of fact, Fawi says what the philosophers mean by the word maad is usually different from its meaning in religion; according to them, maad means returning of the spirits to their dark bodies and to the lofty, rational and luminous realm in which they had been before they were sent down to the world. ( p. 106).
[15]. Fawi, p. 107.
[16]. See Ghazali, Abu Hamid, al-Munqidhu mina'd-Dalal, Daru'l-Kutubi'l-Ilmiyya, Beirut, 1988, p.42; Takhafutu'l-Falasifa, expl. Süleyman Dünya, 4th imp., Daru'l-Maarif, Cairo, n.d., p. 308
[17]. Abu'l Ali al-Husayn Ibn Sina. ash-Shifa el-Ilahiyyat, expl., Said Zaid Qinwani. Intisharatu Nasir Khusraw, Tehran, 1363, p. 423; Ibn Sina, an-Najat fi'l-Hikmati'l-Mantiqiyyati wa't-Tabiati wa'l-Ilahiyya, Matbaatu's-Saada, Egypt, 1938, p. 291.
[18]. See Hayrani Altıntaş, İbn Sina Metafiziği, A. Ü. İlahiyat Fak. Publ. Ankara, 1985,  p. 142.
[19]. See Hilmi Ziya Ülken, İslâm Felsefesi Tarihi, Osman Yalçın Matbaası, İstanbul, 1957, p. 288.
[20]. Ibn Sina, al-Adhawiyyatu fi'l-Maad, expl., Hasan Asi, 3rd imp., Beirut, 1987, p. 71.
[21]. Ibid., p. 74.
[22]. Ülken, p. 290.
[23]. See Ibn Sina, al-Adhawiyya, p. 51.
[24]. See ibid., p. 55-56.
[25]. Abdulhalim Mahmud. Falsafatu Ibn Tufayl wa Risalatu Hayy b. Yaqzan, Daru'l-Kutubi'l-Lubnani, Beirut, 1982,  p. 65.
[26]. Ibid, p.77-78.
[27]. Aydın, Ali Arslan, p. 314-315 (Farabi, ibid., from p. 95-100)
[28]. See Ülken, p. 287.
[29]. Farabi died in 950; Ibn Sina in1037; Ghazali in 1111 and Ibn Rushd in 1126.
[30]. See Ibn Rushd, p. 585.
[31]. Ibid., p. 585-586.
[32]. See ibid., p. 580-581.
[33]. Jisr, Nadim,  p. 105.
[34]. For details, see Aydın, Ali Arslan, p. 351 ff.

Veysel Güllüce (Prof.Dr.)

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