Eighteenth Reflection

The Eighteenth Reflection: From Montesquieu to ‘Abdu’l-Baha Nader Saiedi

‘Abdu’l-Baha writes: Now concerning nature, it is but the essential properties and the necessary relations inherent in the realities of things… As one’s vision is broadened and the matter observed carefully, it will be made certain that every reality is but an essential requisite of other realities… Consider the body of man, and let the part be an indication of the whole. Consider how these diverse parts and members of the human body are closely connected and harmoniously united one with the other. (Tablet to Professor Forel) One of the most interesting points in the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha is that he provides the same definition for four different things: Nature, religion (religious law), science, and love. In the above statement, ‘Abdu’l-Baha defines the realm of nature as necessary relations arising from the realities of things. That statement is written in 1921, two months before passing of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. But the same definition is used throughout his various writings to define religion, science and love as well. This identity of definition does not mean that these four realities are exactly the same. However, it indicates that all of them are various forms of relations. In addition, this identity indicates that despite their differences, the truth of all reality is ultimately one and the same. All things are in truth spiritual realities. But a different expression of this same definition has already been mentioned by the French philosopher Montesquieu in early 18 th century. ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s definition is both an affirmation and a complete reversal of the way that definition was understood in the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Montesquieu’s definition is the beginning sentence of his famous book the Spirit of Laws. In defining laws, he writes: “Laws, in their most general signification, are the necessary relations arising from the nature of things.” This concept became a main philosophical idea in the philosophy of the Enlightenment and almost all of them frequently spoke of the nature of things. For example, human behavior is subject to the universal law of utilitarianism, or rational pursuit of interests. Although Montesquieu’s worldview was partly different from most of the subsequent philosophers of the Enlightenment, his definition of law became a basic element of their worldview. Although ‘Abdu’l-Baha is using the same definition, and that means that like philosophers of the Enlightenment he believes that reality is subject to laws, he radically changes the meaning and implications of that definition. Consequently, ‘Abdu’l-Baha uses the Enlightenment definition to deduce from it the exact opposite meanings. In this short reflection we will explore three of these novel meanings. 1. Reality as Dialogical 18 th century french philosophy of the Enlightenment advocates a radical atomistic and individualistic conception of reality. Real things are solid individual phenomena defined by their specific natures. Relations, therefore, are secondary products of the solid individual things. In the realm of society, for example, individuals have a fundamental nature, namely they are rational and pursue their self- interests. Society and social relation, therefore, are products of the exchanges among these individuals who relate to each other in order to further their interests. That is why particular forms of social

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