Soul from the perspective of Mulla Sadra’s philosophy edited by Seyed G Safavi

Soul from the perspective of Mulla Sadra’s philosophy edited by Seyed G Safavi has been published in the UK in 253 pages by the London Academy of Iranian Studies Press (LAISP).

Mulla Sadra[i] (1596-1650) the greatest Muslim Iranian philosopher who is the founder of al-Hikmah al-Muta’aliyah (transcendent philosophy), by establishing new philosophical systems in the Islamic world in regards to the soul, offered new theories which have had significant consequences.

Before Mulla Sadra there were two main philosophical viewpoints regarding the human soul. One was the Platonic theory suggesting that the existence of the soul was eternal, spiritual and prior to the creation of the body (Timaeus). The second idea belonged to Peripatetics for which Ibn-Sina provided a thorough explanation. This theory dealt with the immaterial or non-corporeal origination of the soul, along with the corporeal origination and creation of the body. However, Mulla Sadra presented an innovative theory in this regard. He proved that although the human soul ultimately becomes immaterial in its particular course of development, it is corporeal at the outset of creation and is born from the body.

In Mulla Sadra’s view, the human soul is initially solid. After the soul leaves the stage of solidity behind it turns into an embryo and reaches the vegetative stage (vegetative soul). Later it arrives at the animal stage (animal soul), and then, in the process of its real maturity, reaches the stage of human soul and becomes a ‘rational soul’. After this stage, in the light of its efforts, practice, and rational and spiritual training, it can also achieve human maturity (which he calls the holy soul and the actual intellect). This is a stage which only a few are capable of reaching.

All these stages in fact represent moving in the same route in order to leave potency and enter actuality. Each succeeding stage is a potential for the preceding one, and going through them means passing through grades of intensity, and moving from weakness to strength. However, the collection of these stages comprises the points of a line called ‘human life’ and the ‘line of development’, which is formed on the basis of the principle of graded existence and the trans-substantial motion.

It is essential to know that entering each stage does not mean getting away from the previous stage; rather, each higher stage, at all times, embodies and includes the weaker stages prior to itself, as well. The rule here suggests that every strong existence – according to gradation of existence – embraces all the weaker existential stages before it.

Mulla Sadra disagrees with philosophers like Peripatetics who consider the soul a static substance which remains in the same state from the beginning to the end of life, and has no trans-substantial motion. Obviously, he also disagrees with people like Descartes who believe in the absolute separation of the soul and body.

Like other Muslim philosophers, Mulla Sadra believes in the immateriality of the soul, but not in the sense intended by his preceding schools of thought. In his view, the immateriality of the soul is gradual owing to its ascending and developmental journey, and, in his own terms, due to its trans-substantial motion. This motion leads to the body’s senility and annihilation; however, it is a motion towards rationality in the soul, and becomes more powerful and active day after day. The developed soul, after separating from the body and becoming needless of it, ultimately, turns into the ‘abstract intellect’, and continues its life in a space which is more desirable than the material one.

This book consists of six sections. The first section examines the philosophical views of Mulla Sadra and Descartes on ‘Soul’, in five main axis. The Five axis include the following: 1. Exposition of Mulla Sadra’s philosophical view concerning the soul; 2. Exposition of Descartes view on the soul; 3. Examining points of similarity and difference between the opinions of Mulla Sadra and Descartes; 4. The distinct strength of Mulla Sadra’s theory; 5. The Criticism of Descartes’ theory.

The foundation of Mulla Sadra’s theory is ‘the corporeality of contingency and the spirituality of subsistence in relation to the soul’ and the foundation of Descartes’ theory is ‘the real distinction between the substance of the soul and body’. The new theory of Mulla Sadra in regards to the soul led to the presentation of a philosophical proof for proving physical resurrection, and the dualism of Descartes led to the collapse of his philosophical system.

The second section is on Mulla Sadra’s view of the nature of the human soul and its becoming, a subject that has received extensive and detailed treatments in Mulla Sadra’s various writings such as the al-Asfar al-‘arba‘ah, al-Shawahid al-rububiyah, Kitab al-mabda’ wa al-ma‘ad and al-Hikmah al-‘arshiyyah. The following treatment of Mulla Sadra’s view of the soul and its becoming involves both a discussion of his fundamental principles and ideas on the subject, as well as his masterly adoption and incorporation of principles and doctrines drawn from the sources of revelation, i.e. the Qur’an and Hadith, the intellectual illuminations and mystical ‘unveilings’ of the Sufis and gnostics (hukama’), and the rational and logical conclusions of the philosophers.

The third section deals with the soul in Transcendent philosophy. In the philosophical traditions of the Islamic world as well, serious attempts have been made to present a “science of the soul” which is in accord with the spirit of Islamic philosophical sciences. In the Transcendent Philosophy, on the other hand, a version of science of the soul has been presented which both justifies the concrete sphere of “the immaterial and material soul” and describes “the soul’s becoming and seeking for perfection”. In addition, it is fully consistent with the components and overall structure of the Transcendent Philosophy.

Based on the doctrines of principality of existence, motion in substance, bodily origination and spiritually subsistence of the soul, Mulla Sadra depicts the human soul and its station in such a way which is free from usual inconsistencies of philosophical traditions in this regard. At the same time, based on the Book and tradition, he opens a new window to human existence through which the existential dimensions of the human being are seen in correspondence and as being similar to the whole cosmos. Though, in this way, Mulla Sadra has made uses of the Peripatetic and Illuminationist traditions of his forerunners, his own innovations are unrivalled and exceptionally strong.

The fourth section deals with one of the issues which confronted Mullâ sadrâ in his philosophical psychology, which was concerning the post-mortem status of the human soul. The existing competitive conceptions on this issue were four: (a) upon the death of the body the soul also dies together with the body; (b) reincarnation or transmigration of the soul attributed to Pythagoras and Plato and maintained by Ikhwân al-Safâ, some Ismâ΄îlî philosophers and Qutb al-Dîn al-Shîrâzî the commentator on Hikmat al-Ishrâq of suhrawardî; (c) the soul will remain in the physical tomb and will have the fore-taste of bliss or chastisement according to its deeds, and on the Day of Resurrection the elemental physical body will be resurrected together with the soul and recompensed physically. In the Islamic religious language it is phrased as ma’âd jismanî (bodily resurrection). This was the interpretation of the Islamic religious revealed texts maintained by Mutakallimủn (theologians) foremost among them was al-Ghazzâlî; (d) the resurrection will only be the spiritual resurrection (ma’âd rủhânî) and the recompense will be spiritual maintained by Avicenna and the Muslim Peripatetic philosophers.

Mullâ sadrâ demonstrated the inadequacy of all the above positions pertaining to the posthumous state of the psychic non-physical being and its bodily resurrection on the basis of his philosophical premises which deal with his concept of matter and form, different levels of body, independence of the imaginative faculty of the soul, the imaginal world (‘âlam al-mithâl) or barzakh (the intermediate world), substantial motion of the soul, and oneness and gradation of being. In this philosophy we find that he had reworked the writings of Ibn ‘Arabî and Suhrawardî on this issue, besides the Qur’ân, Hadîth and the sayings of the Shi’ite Imams, he drew on a number of contemporary domains of knowledge such as psychology, medicine, religious experience of death and his personal spiritual experience. So his metaphysics of resurrection goes far beyond the competing theological interpretations and could serve as a key to understand the religious texts dealing with this issue and the death and afterlife.



In the fifth section the dichotomy of soul and spirit is considered philosophically. At the beginning of the research, the ideas of some scholars such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Ibn Sina, Mulla Sadra and others and their definitions regarding the soul are stated and then analyzed. In the second part of this research it has been tried to consider the relation between the soul and body in a new vision. Then the problems and disputes between philosophers about the soul are expressed and it is concluded that most of these problems arise when the separation of the soul and the spirit is ignored. The difficulties that ignoring this separation have created for Sadra’s system regarding the soul are also shown. The method for resolving the disputes is also explained separately in each section.


The sixth section is in regards to the perfectionary journey of the soul.  The soul is the first perfection of the natural body, which is created, when the preparedness of the body becomes perfect; it subsists, when it reaches its own perfection. Hence, its disposal in bodies is corporeal while its intellection of its essence and its maker is spiritual. This distinguishes it from the separated intellects, which are spiritual both in their essence and action, as well as from the natures, which are corporeal in both aspects.

The human soul has three modalities of perception:

1)    The natural modality, the locus of whose manifestation is the external and internal sense;

2)    the modality of formal apparitions, whose locus of manifestation is the internal sense;

3)    the intellectual modality, whose locus of manifestation is the rational faculty, when it is actually obtained.

The first modality is the locus of the potentiality and the sowing place of the spirits and the place, where intentions and beliefs are grown, while the two other modalities are the abode of completion and of actuality, and the place gathering the fruit. Hence, the soul is the subject (hâmil) of the body and its form, not vice versa; and the body is a descendent level of the soul and an existential trace of the separated spirit, whose properties manifest themselves in the body. A human being (insâne) is the totality of the soul and the body, i.e., the human being of the sovereignty (malakủt) is the soul, while the “moral” (basher) human being is the body, both of them existing by the same existence. When the intellectual (noetic) existence is obtained, both of them become one thing. Hence, the real body is the bod, in which the light of sense and life is essential, not accident. The relation of this body to the soul is that of light to the sun. When the soul reaches its perfection and becomes the intellect in act (‘aql bi-l-fî’l), all its faculties also ascend and reach their perfection together with the soul’s essence.

The seventh section is in regards to the  Mullā Sadrā’s theories on existence and essence and the soul-body relationship are compared with those of Aristotle, Suhrawardī, al-Fārābī and Ibn Sīnā, revealing Sadrā’s radical departure from and reversal of their widely revered views.

The eights section is in regards to how Sadra reconciles his well-known principle “the soul is corporeal by its temporal origination (hudûth) and spiritual by its subsistence (baqâ’)” with the Shiite belief in the pre-existence of spirits to bodies – the belief, which is an indispensable element of the Imamite doctrine. First of all, it should be noted that, unlike some early Shiite traditionalists (e.g., Ibn Babuyeh), Sadra clearly differentiates between the terms “nafs” and “rûh“. So, in the “Asfâr” he often repeats that “nafs” (the soul) in the stricter sense of term, i.e., as long as it truly remains “nafs“, can only be spoken of as a temporally originated being, created together with (or rather as) the body, while “rûh” (the spirit), if understood as the principle of “nafs“, definitely enjoys a kind of pre-existence to the body.

The ninth section is in regards to examine the nature, function, and degrees of the soul, with particular attention being given to the relationship between the soul and the body, on the one hand, and the affinity between the soul and the spirit, on the other. Certain key aspects of the perspectives on the soul as found in the writings of Ibn ‘Arabi and Mulla Sadra form the basis of this brief exposition on the dynamics that propel the soul, the very substance of the individual, towards the purely intelligible and spiritual realm, enabling it to become disengaged from the realm of matter in which it is accidentally enmeshed. The objective analysis of the development of the soul, from a state of pure potentiality to spiritual actuality, is closely intertwined, in this perspective, with the spiritual means that bring about this actualisation; the relationship between spiritual practice and theoretical understanding is thus stressed in this section.

Thanks to contributors of the book: Dr Zilan Morris, Dr Kalbasi, Dr Peerwani, Dr Daftari , Master Khajavi,Dr  Dehbashi, Dr Eshots, Dr Waizi  and assistant editor Seyed Sadreddin Safavi.


Seyed G Safavi

London Academy of Iranian Studies

1 Ramadan al-Mubarak 1432

2 August 2011




[i] Selected Bibliography

Ashtiyani, Sayyid Jalal al-Din, Sharh-i hal wa aray-i falsafi-i Mulla Sadra (Mashhad, 1382/1962).

Izutsu, Toshihiko, The Concept and Reality of Existence (Tokyo: The Keio Institute of Cultural and Linguistic Studies, 1971).

Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, Mulla Sadra and His Transcendent Philosophy (Tehran: 1997, 2nd edition).

——–, “Mulla Sadra: His Teachings” in A History of Islamic Philosophy ed. by S. H. Nasr and O. Leaman (London: Routledge, 1996), Vol. I, pp. 643-662.

Nasr and Leaman, History of Islamic Philosophy, Mulla Sadra: his Life and works, Hossein Ziai..Mulla Sadra: his Teachings, Seyed H. Nasr

Rahman, Fazlur, ‘Mulla Sadra’ Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 10,  (New York: 1987), 149-153.

———, The Philosophy of Mulla Sadra, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975).

Safavi, Seyed G, Perception according to Mulla Sadra, Salman Azadeh Publication, London, 2002.

_, Mulla Sadra and Comparative Philosophy on Causation, Salman Azadeh Publication, London, 2003.


Introduction [1] Philosophical comparison between the perspective of Mulla Sadra and Descartes on Soul
Seyed G Safavi  [11] Mulla Sadra on The Human Soul and Its Becoming
Zailan Moris [31] Soul and its becoming in the Transcendent Philosophy
Hossain Kalbasi Ashtari [51] Reincarnation or Resurrection of the Soul? Mulla Sadra’s Philosophical Solution to the Dilemma
Latimah-Parvin Peerwani [75] Dichotomy of Human Soul and Spirit In a Philosophical Vision
Aziz Daftari [99] Soul, its Reality and its Perfectionary Journey in Mulla Sadra’s philosophy
Muhammad Khâjavî [171] A Comparative Study on Mulla Sadra’s Philosophical Innovations Concerning Soul-Body Relationship
Mehdi Dehbashi [193] Preexistence of Souls to Bodies in Sadra’s Philosophy
Yanis Eshots, University of Latvia, Latvia [207] The Degrees of the Soul According to Ibn ‘Arabi and Mulla Sadra
Sayyid Husain Waizi, Iran [229] Index [245]

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