God in Greek and Islamic Philosophy: A comparative study of Aristotle and Mulla Sadra Shirazi on the Necessary Existent

 Dr Seyed G Safavi*

University of London, UK

London Academy of Iranian Studies (LAIS)



The nature of God, or the demiurge-creator and designer of the cosmos, is a venerable subject in philosophy and natural theology. Most medieval and religious discourse about God and the ontological and cosmological proofs for His existence in the Abrahamic faiths within a philosophical context stem from the famous proof for the Prime Unmoved Mover in the Physics of Aristotle. It was this proof alongside later more ontological proofs associated with Anselm and Avicenna that underpinned medieval philosophical theology. It is instructive to trace the development, hence, of philosophical theology from Aristotle through to the more sophisticated forms of arguments about God, namely in the later Islamic tradition because one can see the creative thought of monotheists talking about God within a broadly Aristotelian context with Aristotelian axioms. The present paper attempts to do so, first, by presenting Aristotle’s theology, his concept of God and His attributes, and then compares this architectonic foundational theology with the later theology of Mulla Sadra that represents a sophisticated, richer concept of God indicative of a mature and confident Islamic philosophical tradition.


God in Aristotelian philosophy

The lack of an explicit discourse or even concept of ‘God’ distinguishes Aristotelian philosophy. This seems all the more unusual given that the medieval discourse of God relies upon an Aristotelian philosophical system. There are serious differences among commentators and scholars of the Aristotelian corpus regarding Aristotle’s views on God, especially whether by ‘the Prime Mover’ and the ‘Active Intellect’ he meant the One God or not.1 The issue was further complicated in monotheistic traditions in which the exclusivity of the One God was stressed while there seemed little sympathy in Aristotle’s world for monotheism as opposed to more widespread polytheistic and henotheistic practices and beliefs.2 It was only in late antiquity and beyond that the Near East and its sphere of Hellenising philosophy was won over to monotheism, a trend that actually prefigures the coming of Islam.3

We shall begin this inquiry by considering the proofs for establishing the existence of God according to Aristotle, and then study the attributes and properties of the Aristotelian deity. The most well known proof for the existence of God attributed to Aristotle is the proof of “the prime mover”. In this proof, Aristotle begins his discussion from physics. This proof is based on five principles:

  1. Motion (kinesis, haraka) requires a movent4(muharrik)
  2. Both the movent and motion are simultaneous, meaning that it is impossible to conceive a temporal separation between the two.
  3. Every movent is either in motion (mutaharrik) or stationary (thabit).
  4. Every physical entity is in change (mutaghayyir) and motion (mutaharrik)
  5. Infinite regress (tasalsul) is impossible.

The conclusion drawn from the aforesaid five principles is that the chain of entities in motion ends at a mover, who is not in motion.5


The first proof- The prime mover

Aristotle in books VII and VIII of his Physics has elaborate discussions on motion.6 He discusses certain characteristics of motion, and then, employing some of these, and other primary fundamental concepts, he proves the existence of a mover who is unmoved. He enumerates the following premisses:

  1. Every motion has a movent
  2. Both the movent and motion are necessarily simultaneous
  3. Motion is both pre-eternal and eternal

Thereafter he says:

Since everything that is in motion must gain motion by means of an agent, let us take the case in which a thing is in motion, and is moved by an agent that is itself in motion; and that agent too gains its movement from another agent, which is likewise in motion; and this latter agent too gains its motion from another thing; and this continues up until a certain point. Obviously, this chain cannot have an infinite regress; rather, there must be a Prime Mover…For the movements must reach an end [given the impossibility of Infinite Regress].7

The prime movent that is unmoved is Eternal and One.

Since motion must always exist without any pause, there must be a first agent of motion which is eternal and unmoved.8
Since motion is eternal, then the first agent of change (which is one) would also be eternal. (We should assume that there is one first agent rather than a plurality, and a finite number rather than infinitely many)…We do not need to assume that there are more than one and since it is eternal and the first unmoved agent of motion, it will be the source of motion for everything else.9

The second proof- The priority of actuality over potentiality and the latter’s dependence on the former

This proof can be extrapolated from Aristotle’s discussion on potentiality (dunamis) and actuality (energeia). The temporal and logical precedence of actuality over potetiality can be employed to prove the existence of an essential entity which is Sheer Actuality.

The proof is as follows: Every thing comes into existence from potentiality to actuality, and due to one reason or another, requires an entity other than itself that transfers it from potentiality to actuality. It requires a sufficient reason or a preponderator to bring it into being.10 It is necessary, after all, for the entity that transfers something from potentiality to actuality to end causally at an entity that is actuality in all its dimensions, so that it does not depend on another entity; otherwise it would lead to a vicious circle or infinite regress. That entity which is actuality in all its dimensions is the Necessary Existent or the Mover that is not in motion.11

The third proof- The chain of causes cannot regress infinitely

In his Metaphysics, Aristotle says:

But evidently there is a first principle, and the causes of entities are neither infinite as a series or in a perspective. For neither the derivation from matter nor relative terms can sustain an infinite regress, nor can the source of change. Similarly final causes cannot sustain an infinite regress. And the case of formal causes [or essences] is similar. For in the case of the intermediates, which have a posterior and a prior term, the prior must be the cause of things that come after it. For if we had to say which of the three is the cause, we should say the first; surely not the last, for the final is the cause of nothing; nor even the intermediate, for it is the cause only of one thing. But of series which are infinite in this way, and of the infinite in general, all the parts down to that now present are like intermediates; so that if there is no first there is no cause at all…
Further, the final cause is an end, and that sort of end which is not for the sake of something else, but for whose sake everything else is; so that if there is to be a last term of this sort, the process will not be infinite; but if there is no such term, there will be no final cause…
At the same time it is impossible that the primary existent, being eternal, should be destroyed. For since the upper creation is not limited, it is necessary that, since it is not itself eternal, it be generated from some non-destroyed primary thing. And since that for the sake of which it is a final cause, it would be the sort of thing that would not be for other things, but rather other things for it, so that if there were to be some such final cause, there will be no regress, but if there is no such thing, there will not be that for the sake of which, but those who posit the infinite will, without realising it, have removed the nature of good.

Some of the principles upon which this Aristotelian proof is based are as follows:13

  1. The entities that return to the same origin possess a “foremost” which has an independent essence and is pre-eternal, and is the most complete and perfect form of the origin. Hence, motion must return to an origin that is an Unmoved Mover, and actuality likewise must return to a level of “actuality” that is sheer actuality and pre-eternal.
  2. The chain of causes cannot infinitely regress,14 since causality is a phenomenon that does take place in the world and its infinite regress is impossible.15 Hence, there must be a First Cause.
  3. Another issue that particularly concerns this section is that the ultimate end does exist, one to whom all the ends are inclined to comprehend. That prime cause, or the cause of all the other causes, and the ultimate end, and the mover who is not in motion and sheer actuality are different dimensions of the same entity, whom we know as God.16

The fourth proof- The principle of the possibility of the nobler

This principle explains the intelligible truth that whenever a less noble contingent entity is found, necessarily, a nobler contingent entity must have preceded it in existence. In other words, the existence of a less noble contingent entity reveals the precedence of a nobler contingent entity. Therefore, if the less noble contingent entity, which is the world of matter, exists, the possibility of its existence heading in the ascending order toward the existence of God, Who is Sheer Actuality and the Absolute Being, is essential. This principle is found in an introductory format within the texts of Aristotle’s works.

This entails a hierarchy of value and of truth. Contingent truths are predicated upon necessary truths. Investigating causes of things is an inquiry into their truth. Thus the cause of causes is identified with the ultimate necessary truth.

In the Metaphysics Aristotle says:

We do not know the truth without the cause. This is all the more true in each case in which synonymy arises, so that it is more true in each case that the earlier thing is the cause. And so it is necessary that the principles of the eternally existing things are most true so that as each thing is related to being so is it to truth… A thing that imparts a certain characteristic to other things, itself enjoys a better degree of the characteristic. Similarly the cause of the truth of other things must be most true.17

Being, truth and causation are ontological scales within reality. From the above statement of Aristotle, we can understand that all the limited perfections in the end spring from the Absolute Perfect Being, the First Cause and the Ultimate end. At least this is how the late Antique traditions that filtered into Islam regarded the issue by Neoplatonising Aristotle and identifying scales of perfection and reality when no such explicit arguments are found in the Aristotelian corpus.18

The fifth proof- knowledge and thought

Because knowledge exists, and its reality does not depend on an infinite series of entities, knowledge and thought necessitate a beginning and an end, since that which can increase and regress infinitely cannot pass through a limited duration. Hence, the chain of existents, the weakest of which begins from matter, must end with sheer perfection or the cause of all causes.

Aristotle in his Metaphysics says the following in this regard:

However, essence cannot either be taken to another definition which is fuller in expression. For the original definition is always truer, and not the later one. And among the series of definitions, if the first definition lacks the intended characteristic, the next would be likewise. This theory destroys knowledge. For it is impossible to have this until one reaches the simple [unanalysable] terms. And knowledge becomes impossible; for how is it possible to have cognition of infinite things?…
But if the kinds of causes had been infinite in number, knowledge would still be impossible. This is because we think that we have attained knowledge of something only when we have cognition of their causes; but that which is infinite by addition cannot be gone through in a finite time.

Therefore this chain of causes does have an end, since ‘knowledge’ does exist.

The sixth proof- The active intellect

In contrast with Plato, Aristotle does not believe in the actual existence of intelligibles. Rather, he comprehends them as entities which must be considered to be the product of sensibilia and imaginalia, and are separable. The intellect itself, while creating actual intelligibles, also becomes active. Hence, here too, in the actualization of the creation of the concepts according to Aristotle’s world of universal fundamental concepts, we must believe that the totality of potentiality comes from actuality, or matter from form, or the efficient cause from the influenced cause. In other words, we must believe in either two distinct intellects or two distinct dimensions of the intellect, one of which the commentators of Aristotelian philosophy have called ‘the possible intellect’ (‘aql mumkin) or ‘the influenced intellect’ (‘aql munfa‘il), and the other as ‘the active intellect’ (‘aql fa‘‘al).20
In this connection, due to the obscurity that exists in the works of Aristotle, since antiquity there opinions have differed among the commentators of Aristotle’s views. The commentators can be divided into three different groups: the first and second group consist of those who believe the active intellect to be separate and extrinsic to the human soul. These are further sub-divided into two groups. First, those who believe the active intellect to be the One God, like Alexander of Aphrodisias. Second, those who believe the active intellect to be from the metaphysical entities and outside the human soul, and not God.21 This group, which includes al-Farabi (d. 950) and Avicenna (d. 1037), was known in the scholastic West as the adherents of Averroes’ (d. 1192) position. The third group which believed in the unity of intellect and its residence in the human being are known as Thomists, after Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), who had held the view.

The discussion on the active intellect in the De Anima does not exceed sixteen lines; 22 and Aristotle in book Lambda of his Metaphysics has also mentioned some of the characteristics of the active intellect.23 Anyhow, if one holds like Alexander of Aphrodisias that the active intellect is the One God Himself, we have attained our objective. Nevertheless, even if we were to agree with the opinions of Averroes and Aquinas, we can demonstrate, through other proofs that we already mentioned, such as the principle of the possibility of the nobler, the impossibility of the chain of infinite causes, and so on, and by means of the existence of the active intellect, the necessity of the existence of God. 

The attributes of the Aristotelian Deity

1. The prime mover who is not in motion is Eternal and One

Aristotle says in his Physics:

Since motion is eternal, then the first movent, if there is but one will be eternal also…We do not need to assume that there are more than one.24

He then proves that motion is an eternal phenomenon, that it depends on a movent, and that the chain of movents must end at a movent which itself is unmoved, for infinite regress is impossible. Thus such an unmoved movent, which is the agent of eternal movement, must itself be eternal, for the cause precedes the effect.25
In his Metaphysics, he says:

Since there were three kinds of substance, two of which are physical, and the third unmoved, regarding the latter we should say that there must be a kind of eternal unmoved substance. For substances are prior among existing entities, and if they are all destructible, all things are destructible. However, it is not possible that motion and time should either have come into being or cease to be, for it must always have existed.26

2. God is sheer actuality
Aristotle in the Metaphysics says:

But suppose that there is something which is capable of moving things or acting on them, but is not actually doing so, there will not necessarily be movement, for that which has a potentiality need not exercise it. There is no advantage at all from the admission of eternal substances, as in the theory of Forms, unless there is among them a principle capable of moving something else. Not even this is not enough, nor is another substance besides the Forms enough, for if it is not active, there would be no movement. Further, even if it carries out any action, this will not be enough if its essence is potentiality. For there will not be eternal movement; since a potentially existing entity can also not exist. Thus, there must exist such a principle whose very essence is actuality.27

In book Zeta of the Metaphysics he says:

…there is something which moves other entities without being moved, being eternal, substance and actuality…28

Further on he says:

Substance is simple and exists actually.29

3. The life of God
Having established that God is sheer actuality, he turns to prove the life of God, for that which resides in the foremost station of actuality necessarily possesses the most intense degree of life and lives eternally.

God also has life, since the actuality of thought is life, and He is that actuality. God’s essential actuality is supreme, eternal life. We say, therefore, that God is a supreme and eternal living being, so that to God belong life and continuous and eternal duration.30

4. God has knowledge of himself only

For Aristotle, the knowledge that God possesses cannot be the knowledge that necessitates change or sensation nor can it be noetic. Therefore, God in the course of an eternal act apprehends His own self-consciousness and comprehension. This is how Aristotle introduces God as the ‘Thinking of the thought’. God is that self-independent thought that contemplates eternally. Furthermore, God cannot have any object of thought beyond Himself, for that would mean that he has an end beyond Himself. Therefore God only knows Himself.31

Concerning this, Aristotle says in the Metaphysics book Lambda:

The intrinsic object of thought is what is intrinsically best, and the intrinsic object of absolute thought is the absolutely best [i.e. God].32

5. God is not the creator, but rather the ultimate cause of the universe

In Greek thought, creation was no posited. The world was considered to be pre-eternal, and not created from pre-eternity nor dependent upon a creator. God is the first mover of the universe and the source of the eternal movement and He bestows upon the world a form, and being the ultimate cause, invites the universe toward Himself- an act which is the source of motion in the universe. If God, as the efficient cause had been the cause of motion, and controlled the universe, He would necessarily have to undergo change. Thus, He is an agent, as a final cause.33

6 God is neither worshipped nor does he understand the whisperings of (his servants)

According to Aristotle the prime mover is not the object of worship, and does not understand the worship and whisperings of His servants, since He has no knowledge of the deeds of His servants. Aristotle34 in his Magna Moralia states:

Those who think that God is someone who can be loved are mistaken, since God cannot attend to our love, and in no state can we say that we love God.

Therefore, neither is God in communication with His servants, nor can man establish (any) communication with Him, so that He beholds their presence. The reason for this is that, according to Aristotle, this would result in a flaw in the sheer actuality and ultimate cause that beholds other than itself.

7. How can the multiplicity of unmoved movents be reconciled with divine unity?

In some of his works, Aristotle enumerates the number of unmoved movents to be 55 or so, and on the other hand considers an unmoved movent to be God.35 How can this matter concur with Divine unity?

In his Metaphysics he says:

Although there are numerous unmoved movents, God is one, and one of these movents is the first.36

All Muslim philosophers, as well as Christian scholastic philosophers, unanimously believe that according to Aristotle, God is one. They have propounded numerous interpretations on this matter. Nevertheless what is certain is that Aristotle had not explained how the numerous unmoved movents were linked to the first unmoved movent, and left this matter in ambiguity.

God in the Transcendent Philosophy of Mulla Sadra

Muhammad bin Ibrahim al-Qawami al-Shirazi (d. 1641), famously known as Mulla Sadra , the founder of the Transcendent Philosophy (al-hikma al-muta‘aliya) school of thought has presented distinctly innovative philosophical principles.37 Among these innovations is his special method of proving the Necessary Being, which is well-known as the ‘proof of the highly veracious’ (burhan al-siddiqin). He himself introduces it to be the most apposite and sacred of the proofs for the existence of God. Mulla Sadra, after briefly explaining that there exist different methods of proving the Necessary Being, introduces the method that he had devised, as the best, from which various principles could also be drawn.

Transcendent Philosophy is the most important and exalted philosophical system that dominates Muslim philosophical circles, especially in Iran. By establishing this philosophical school of thought in the 17th century, slowly and gradually, the philosophical schools of thought such as the Peripatetic philosophy of Avicenna, the Illuminationist philosophy of Suhrawardi (d. 1191), the gnosis of Ibn ‘Arabi and scholastic theology, were partially eclipsed by this philosophical system founded by Mulla Sadra . As a system, it contained the outstanding and important points of the four aforementioned schools of thought, and formed a synthesis of them all. At the same time, it also consisted of profound, new insights and was disseminated in religious and intellectual circles open to philosophy and speculative theology, where it prevails.

1. On proving the existence of a necessary being through “the proof of the highly veracious” (burhan al-siddiqin).
Mulla Sadra in his Asfar38 says:

Know that the paths that lead to Allah are numerous, because He possesses numerous virtues and dimensions. However, some of these are more firm, sacred and radiant than others. And the most apposite and sacred of proofs for His existence is that whose middle term in reality is none other than Himself. Hence, the path toward the objective here would be the objective itself. And this is the path of the highly veracious (siddiqin), who prove the existence of Allah by His exalted Self, and then prove His Attributes through His Essence, and His Acts through His Attributes, one after another. And other than these (such as the scholastic theologians (mutakallimin), the materialists and others) seek help to know God and His Attributes by means of taking into consideration other than Him [such as the contingency of essence (mahiyyah), the createdness of creation, the motion of the material body, and other such matters]. These too are proofs of His Essence and evidences of His Attributes; however, this method is more firm and sacred.39

There are many ways of proving the existence of God, since God is possessive of ample virtues and dimensions. However, some of these ways are more firm (ahkam), sacred (ashraf) and radiant (anwar). The firmest and best proof of God’s existence, is a proof whose middle term (hadd al-wasat) is not other than the Necessary Being (meaning that by contemplating on the (nature of the) Divine Essence, we come to know of the existence of a Necessary Being, and not by contemplating entities other than Him.) Therefore, the path towards proving the existence of the Necessary Being, is the Necessary being Himself. We reach our objective through our objective.

This is the method of the highly veracious (siddiqun), who, by contemplating the reality of existence, find God, and having proven the Divine Essence, prove His Attributes through His Essence, and then His Acts through His Attributes, one after another. Those other than the Siddiqun such as the scholastic theologians, materialists, and others prove the Necessary Being by means of other than God, such as the contingency of essence, the incipience (huduth) of the creation, and the motion of the material body, and other such matters. These also are proofs of the existence of the Necessary Being and witnesses of His Attributes. However, the method of the highly veracious is more firm and sacred.

A brief elucidation of the proof of the highly veracious

The sages of the realm of Lordship (al-rabbaniyyin) behold existence and affirm its reality, and comprehend that it is fundamental in everything. Then, after [accurately] searching for the reality of existence, they realize that it is necessarily existent. As for contingency (imkan), need, being-an-effect (ma‘luliyyah), and so on, they are attributed to it, not due to the nature of its reality, but because of the deficiencies and nonentities beyond the essence of its reality. Then, after contemplating upon that which necessitates essentiality (wujub) and contingency (imkan) they understand the unity of His Essence and Attributes, and likewise comprehend His Acts from His Attributes. And this is the method of the Prophets.40

The rabbaniyyin and divine scholars look at existence, study it, and come to understand that existence is the very nature of every entity. When they painstakingly search for the reality of existence, they find that that the reality of existence is necessary in its essence; and sheer existence is the Necessary Being. The reality of existence in itself is free from imperfection and not exposed to contingency, need or being-an-effect. However, in case of its imperfection, it is dependent.

A lower degree of existence, however, is contingent; otherwise existence itself is neither nor dependent. Then, taking into consideration the necessary consequent of necessity and contingency, and having understood that completeness is inherent in necessity, and the Necessary Being possesses no imperfection, they conclude that the Necessary Being possesses no partner in His Essence and Attributes. This is the method of the Prophets.

Having briefly expounded the “proof of the highly veracious”, he starts presenting the same in a logical format, which is based on the following four premises:41

  1. The fundamentality of existence (asalat al-wujud)
  2. The unity (wahid) of existence and not its heterogeneity (mutabayin).
  3. The graduation (tashkik) of existence
  4. The simplicity (bisata) of existence

A logical exposition of the proof of the highly veracious

Indeed [concrete] existence, as explained earlier, is a one (wahidah) and simple (basitah) tangible reality, whose extensions (afrad) have no difference, save in perfection and imperfection, strength and weakness or in additional matters (umur za’idah), as is the case with the extensions of a generic essence (mahiyyah naw‘iyyah); and the ultimate perfection of existence is when none can surpass it in completeness, and it is one that does not depend on others. And what surpasses it in completeness cannot be comprehended, for every imperfect entity depends on other than itself, and is in need of completeness; and it was also made clear earlier that completeness precedes incompleteness, actuality precedes potentiality and existence precedes non-existence. It is also clear that the completeness of a thing is the thing itself and what is in addition to itself. Hence, existence is either independent of other than itself, or essentially dependent on other than itself. The former among these two is the Necessary Being and Sheer Existence, whom nothing surpasses in completeness, nor does any kind of nullity and imperfection stain Him; and the latter are all existents other than Him, such as His Acts and Effects, and there is no support for other than Him save by Him.42

Hence, a summary of the above-mentioned proof of the highly veracious is as follows:
According to the fundamentality of existence,
Premise 1: because concrete existence is fundamental and real,
Premise 2: and because it is one (wahid) not heterogenous (mutabayin)
Premise 3: and because it has graduated unity (wahdah tashkikiyya) and not individual [hypostatic] unity (wahdah shakhsiyya)
Premise 4: and because of its simplicity (bisata), and the fact that its plurality reverts to its unity, meaning that all the pluralities and distinctions revert to existence (this exposition in reality portrays the very spirit of the graduation of existence, even though it is discussed in a different context from that of graduation)

Conclusion: hence, we say that every entity is either Necessary or reliant upon a Necessary Being. If it were sheer existence and possessed the highest degree (of existence) and no imperfection could be comprehended for it, meaning that it did not depend on other than itself, it would then be Necessary; however, if it was not sheer existence, but imperfect, it would essentially depend on sheer existence.

Mulla Sadra then mentions a short reminder that depicts the essence of the proof of the highly veracious (which says) that the reality of existence is the very Necessary Being, in order to establish a basis for proving the Oneness of God and other Attributes of His Essence and Beautiful Names, for by means of the proof of the highly veracious, not only can the Necessary Being itself be proved, His Unity and other Attributes too can be established.

In this short reminder in the Asfar, Mulla Sadra says:

The light of truth has dawned on the horizon of this exposition (the proof of the highly veracious) which has pricked up your ears….That is that sheer existence that is not attributed to deficiency and inability, due to its simplicity (for save existence, there is nothing to add to existence and necessitate its composition), neither depends on an existential support, nor possesses an essential definition (muhaddad mahuwi). Hence, that reality is the very Necessary Being that possesses the highest degree of perfection, the intensity of which has no end.

Every degree [of existence] other than that highest degree is not sheer existence, since it is a nonentity; and existence in its sheer-ness has no shortcoming or deficiency; rather, whenever it is an effect (ma‘lul) and ‘unknown’ (majhul), it is imperfect and inadequate. Imperfection and inadequacy are the essentials of the secondary stages of existence, and not the essentials of existence [in the absolute sense].43

This is where the logical exposition of the proof of the highly veracious on establishing the existence of the Necessary Being ends.

2. God’s oneness is not numerical

Imperfection and inadequacy are the essential [properties] of the secondary stages of existence and not essential to existence itself. The meaning of ‘secondary stages’ does not mean the existents that reside in the second stage of existence. Rather ‘secondary’ here stands for ‘that which is not the first,’ even though it may be in the third or fourth stage of existence. The Almighty Necessary Being Who is the First Absolutely Absolute is Sheer Existence and free from imperfection and not possessive of any essential definition. He is not made and created, and nothing more complete than Him can be assumed. An imperfect and poor entity is the result of effusion (if¡¤ah) and concoction (ja‘l).44

The important issue that can be concluded from the above extract, is that the word “first” that is used for the Necessary Being, does not mean that He possesses ‘a second,’ for He is that first whose second is the very first. Hence a series of numbers such as first and second is out of the question. Number is a distinction of the world of contingency and is found in the lower stage of effusion (fayd).

3. Proving the oneness of the necessary being

Indeed the existence of a Necessary Being has been proven by this demonstration, and by it, His Unity is also established, since existence is a one reality which imperfection cannot overcome, due to its nature and essence, and no multiplicity can be conceived in his Infinity.45

In reality, Mulla Sadra derives the Oneness of the Necessary Being from the essence of the ‘proof of the highly veracious’, since it was established that the Exalted Necessary Being is Sheer Existence and Utter reality, and not the existence that is admixed with imperfection and need, and also because of the fact that ‘a thing in itself’ cannot be replicated’.

Since the Necessary Being is Infinite, and that which is so, cannot allow any alterity to stand besides it, there is no room for assuming multiplicity. It is possible for an entity to be pure and Infinite, the necessity of which would be the sheerness of infinity; that is, not only does it not possess a partner, rather there exists no alterity beyond Himself, since He is Infinite and there is no room for another entity to occupy. If another being is taken into consideration, it means that both of the beings are limited, and none of them is necessary.

Obviously, the effusions (fuyudat) also, that exist in the universe, would not be other than God; rather, they are His manifestations and signs and the facet of the degrees of that Sacred Entity.

Divine attributes in the Transcendent Philosophy

1. Universal discussions pertaining to divine attributes

The discussion on Divine Attributes in the sadraian philosophy is of two kinds: (1) a discussion on universals (kulliyyat), and (2) a discussion on particulars (juz’iyyat).46

As is the case with universal divinalia, where at the onset, a series of complete and all-inclusive discussions that form the primary issues are propounded, the discussion on the attributes of the Necessary being, likewise is preceded with similar discussions. That is, first, universal issues related to the subject such as the attribute (sifah) and its difference from the name (ism), and the distinction of each from the Essence, the division of attributes into positive (thubuti) and negative (salbi), essential (dhati) and active (fi‘li) and intellectual (‘aqli) and sensory (hissi), the relation of the attribute with the Essence, the correlation of attributes with one another, and their reversion to a single attribute and vice versa, and the judgment of the reversion. Then, specific Divine attributes would be discussed.

2. Classifications of the attribute

Mulla Sadra says in the Asfar:

An attribute is either positive (ia¡biyyah) or negative (salbiyyah) and sacred (taqdisiyyah)…God in the Holy Qur’an is qualified as ‘the Possessor of Majesty and Splendor’47 (dhi l-jalal wa l-ikram) meaning that the most sacred Divine Essence is more exalted than to be like others, and in having the attributes of Beauty and Perfection, possesses Splendor (karama).48

The verse (‘None is as His Likeness’49) is inclusive of all the negative and majestic attributes of Almighty God, and [also] embraces all the positive and beautiful attributes of Almighty God… ‘And Allah’s are the most beautiful Names.50

3. The negative attributes
Mulla Sadra says in the Asfar:

The first group (of Attributes) are negative and majestic, which negate deficiency and nihility, and all of the negative attributes return to one negation; and that is the negation of contingency [from His Exalted Essence].51

This is because all deficiencies and nonentities revert to contingency. This statement of Mulla Sadra clarifies three things:

  1. That which is negated (maslub) by negative attributes is the non-existence or deficiency of the Divine Essence.
  2. All the negations revert to one negation
  3. That negation is the negation of contingency

What is meant by contingency, according to the rest of the philosophers, is the contingency of essence (imkan m¡huwi), while Mulla Sadra believes it to be ‘the contingency of poverty’ (imkan faqri).

The real (haqiqi) and relational (idafi) attributes, positive (thubuti) or actual (fi‘li)

The second group (of attributes) are the positive attributes and the attributes of beauty, which are subdivided into ‘real’ and ‘relational’. The real attributes are those in which ‘a relation with other than His Essence’ is not taken into consideration such as life and the knowledge of the Essence about Himself; whereas, a relational (or actual) attribute is that in which a connection with ‘other than the Divine Essence’ is taken into consideration such as creation (kh¡liqiyyah), sustenance (r¡ziqiyyah), and so on, each of which cannot be deduced from the Essence alone; rather, in their deduction there is no option but to consider another entity together with the Essence.
Mulla Sadra in his Asf¡r says:

The second group is classified into ‘real attributes’ such as knowledge and life, and ‘relational attributes’ such as creation, sustenance, precedence, and causality (‘illiyyah). And the source of all the real (or positive) attributes is the necessity of existence, i.e. the emphasized existence (wujud mu’akkad), whereas the source of all the relational attributes is a relational attribute which is the relational attribute of (existential) preponderance (qayyumiyyah).52

4. Returning the multiplicity of the attributes to the oneness of the essence
Mulla Sadra says in the Asfar:

Verify it here in this way, so that by bringing back all the multiplicities to One, the One reality of the Necessary being would not break up, for God is loftier than that the sanctuary of His simplicity and Sheer-ness is broken by the entry of multiplicity.53

5. The difference between attributes of the essence & attributes of act
Mulla Sadra in his Asfar says:

In the same way as all the real attributes of the Necessary being are a single reality, and not additional to His Essence, although the concepts (mafhumat) of the attributes are distinct, otherwise their words would be synonymous, all the relational attributes of the Necessary being likewise are a one relation and posterior to the Essence and additional to it, even through they conceptually differ from one another.54

What Mulla Sadra meant by the above, is that the distinction of the attributes of the Essence from the attributes of act is not in unity and multiplicity, since both the source of the attributes of the Essence is one reality and the attributes of act themselves refer to a singular reality. The only distinction between them is in their unity or addition to the Essence.

6. God’s Attributes are His Very Essence

Mulla Sadra in the first section (al-mashhad al-awwal), and third emanation (ishraq) of al-Shawahid al-Rububiyyah says the following on this issue:

The attributes of the Necessary Being are not additional to His Essence, but rather the existence of the Necessary Being which is the very Essence, in its reality is a manifestation of all the attributes of perfection, without necessitating multiplicity (kathra), passivity (infi‘al), acceptance (qabul) and activity (fi‘l) in His Essence, and the difference between His Essence and His Attributes is like the difference between existence and the essence of the entities that possess essence (meaning that the attributes are the detailed level of the Essence, in the manner that essence in contingent entities is the specification and definition of the degree of essence of the entity) save the fact that the Necessary Being has no quiddity, for He is sheer I-ness (inniyyah), from whose beginning-less source have sprung the rest of the inniyyat (I-nesses) and existents. Thus, in the manner that existence in its essence and in its reality is existent, and essence in itself and its essence is non-existent, but rather gains existence by means of existence, likewise are the Divine attributes and names which in themselves and in their essential meanings are non-existent, but rather, exist in the sense of the reality of simplicity (haqiqat al-ahadiyya) (which mean the absorption of the names and attributes in the (exalted) state of the Essence.56

The seven essential attributes – ‘The Seven Leaders’

The principal attributes of God: life, knowledge, power, will, hearing and speech, are called “the seven leaders,’ out of which some call the following three attributes: life, knowledge, and power, the positive attributes of the Essence, and the other three: hearing, sight, and speech, the attributes of act. Our philosopher has propounded the attribute of God’s love for his creation too, both in the Asf¡r and the Shaw¡hid.

7. Power & knowledge of the necessary being about His Essence

Mulla Sadra in his Shawahid says:

The power of the Necessary being is the emanation of the entities from His Essence, by sheer will, and the will that is the very Essence, and not additional to the Essence. And the knowledge of the Necessary Being about His own Essence which is this very pre-eternal consideration means the revelation of His Essence for the Essence in a manner that all the good and virtues are emanated from His Essence for His Essence (meaning that His Essence is the beginning and real source of all virtues, perfections, and excellences of existence.57

The point that must be noted concerning Divine power is that it is infinite and embraces every contingent entity. However, the contingency of an entity does not necessitate its existence, and only those things come into being that God intends. In other words, being powerful does not mean that one can do anything. Rather, it means that one can do whatever he intends. Hence, essential impossibilities (muhalat-i dhati) are outside the ambit of things that His power can bring about, and the question that whether they can be created by God’s power or not, is absurd. On the other hand, not all contingent entities are intended by God and come into existence. Thus, the scope of the existents and entities intended by God is narrower than that of the entities that can be created by Him.58

8. The Knowledge of the Necessary Being about Other than Himself

Mulla Sadra in al-Mabda’ wa al-Ma‘¡d classifies those who believe in the knowledge of the Necessary being about other than Himself into eight groups. 59Among these are: the Mu‘tazila, a group of Sufi masters, the adherents of Plato, Shaykh al-Ishr¡q [Suhrawardi], a group of Peripatetic philosophers such as al-Farabi and Avicenna, Porphyry, and so on. He then delves in criticizing their views, and introduces their method as incomplete. Thereafter he starts expounding his own opinion and says:

The evidence that the Almighty Necessary Being has knowledge of His Essence, necessitates that He also has knowledge of all the existents of the Universe, for His Essence is the necessitating cause (‘illah mujibah) of every thing and the origin of every comprehension, be it intellectual or sensory; and (it) is (also) the source of the manifestation of every entity, be it mental or external. And all of them, directly or through mediation are emanated from Him; and the complete knowledge of the necessitating cause necessitates complete knowledge of the effect of the said cause, and this necessitates that the Almighty Necessary Being knows all the existents, and the Holy Qur’an says: ‘Doesn’t that Who created Know, while He is the All-Subtle and All-Aware. 60 It says that does not the Creator have knowledge? This means that He is the cause of the effects and at the same time a being who is All-Subtle, i.e. non-corporeal (mujarrad), and All-Aware, i.e. ‘He has knowledge of His Essence.61

He continues saying:

Know that as His perfection in causing things is due to the completeness of His existence and the intensity of possession in a manner that all the existents and good emanate from him, and not in attributing the entities to Him and His relation to them; that is, this relative meaning is not meant, for this is posterior to the degree of His existence, magnificence, and sublimity; rather the ultimate end behind the bestowal of grace and causation is His very Sacred Essence; and He is Needless of other than Himself; likewise, His perfection in His knowledge is not merely in that the essences of things or their forms are in His presence, so that if their essences and intellectual forms were not in the degree of His Essence, but rather, posterior to His Essence, which is the case in reality, it would necessitate His lack of perfection in a degree posterior to His Essence, and thereby necessitate that He would gain perfection by means of other than Himself, after being imperfect in His Essence, highly exalted is Allah from that.62

9. The Life of the Necessary Being

Having proven the knowledge and power of God, the concomitant of the two, which is life, is also established. Furthermore, it is impossible for a cause that bestows existence to lack the perfection which it bestows upon its creation.

Mulla Sadra in his Asfar says the following concerning the life of the Almighty Necessary Being:

The life that we possess in this world is actualized through comprehension and action. And comprehension with relation to most animals is non other than sensation. And likewise is the case with action, which is none other than spatial movement (al-tahrik  al-makani), originated from an urge; and these two effects spring from two different faculties, one of which is the faculty of comprehension (mudrikah), and the other the faculty of execution (muharrikah). Therefore, whosoever possesses a faculty of comprehension more sacred to sensation, such as intellection (ta‘aqqul) and the like, and its action was higher than spatial movement, such as creation and the like, it would be more apposite to be referred with the name ‘life’. Furthermore, if the very origin of comprehension were also to be the origin of action, without (there being) any difference (between the two), so that its very comprehension would be its action and creation, it would likewise be apposite to be referred to by this name, due to its purity from composition, for composition necessitates contingency and poverty, due to the dependence of the composite entity in its subsistence on other than itself. Contingency is an example of nihility (‘adam), which is the opposite of existence, and death is the opposite of life, and extinction is the opposite of subsistence. Thus, the truly living entity is that in which no composition of faculties exist; and it has been verified that the Necessary Being is a Simple reality, single in Essence and Attribute, and the sole possessor of power and strength, and that His very comprehension of the entities is their emanation from Him, and also the meaning of Him being Singular and Simple is that he is the universal intellect and the origin of every entity. Hence he is more apposite to possess the attribute of life than every living entity. Why not, while He is the Giver of life and Bestower of Existence and perfection of existence, such as knowledge and power, to every possessor of existence, knowledge and power?64

10. The Will of the Almighty Necessary Being

Will is used in two senses: one is to love, and the other is to decide. To love and decide to carry out one’s own voluntary action is called the generative will (irada-yi takwini) and to love and decide that another agent performs a voluntary act is known as the legislative will (irada-yi tashri‘i). However, the will to issue a command and establish law is the will to legislate (irada-yi tashri‘), and not the legislative will (irada-yi tashri‘i); and legislation itself is a generative (takwini) act.

For this reason, the divine generative will can be taken in two senses: one is the sense of love intended for his own voluntary acts, which is a simple pre-eternal essential attribute identical to the essence, Whose relation to actions and objective entities is like essential knowledge, which is of the sacred divine essence and subordinately of His effects. Likewise, divine love basically is directed toward His own sacred essence and subordinately toward the effects of His existence in that overflow from the Divine goodness and perfection, and this is why it is known as will.65

Mulla Sadra in section six of his al-Mabda’ wa l-Ma‘ad elucidates the above summary.

11. The Audition and Vision of the Almighty Necessary Being

God is the All-Hearing, meaning, that he has presential knowledge (‘ilm huduri) of auditories and He is (also) All-Seeing, that is that He has presential knowledge of visibilities. And this is what “huwa al-sami‘ al basir” (He is the All-Hearing and the All-Seeing) actually means.

Mulla Sadra, after analyzing the views of Shaykh Abu l-hasan al-Ash‘ari (d. 935) and Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (d. 1274) in his Asfar and al-Mabda’ wa l-Ma‘ad, and criticizing the same, establishes his view in the following manner:

The concept of audition and vision is other than the concept of knowledge; and these two are a particular kind of knowledge additional to knowledge in the absolute sense.66

Having established that the condition of inclusion (man¡§ al-juzi’yyat) is either sensation, and that is impossible without a medium, or illuminative intuition (mashhud ishraqi) and that is not incongruous with immateriality from body and purity from matter; and it was also established that God knows all the particular entities in their particular and material qualification, out which are the auditories such as the letters, sounds, and visibilities such as the radiant and colorful bodies. Hence God’s knowledge about all of these entities is illuminative (ishraqi) and presential (hudhuri); and it is an intuitive and radiant disclosure that is grasped by itself. Hence His Essence is audition and vision in this respect without any interpretation (ta’w¢l).

Hence, if it is said that the knowledge of the Almighty Necessary Being returns to His Sight, and not that His Sight to His Absolute Knowledge, it is better and nearer to the truth, as has been said by sahib al-ishraq [Suhrawardi].67

A critical comparison between the views of Aristotle and Mulla Sadra

1. Proof for the existence of God

The most important and well-known proof of Aristotle on the existence of One God, the “one” being obscure as we had noticed, is the proof of motion (burhan al-haraka), from which we come to know of a prime unmoved movent. This proof possesses characteristics, which we would like to allude to here-below:

Firstly, in itself, it is not a proof of the existence of God, but rather, a proof of the existence of a metaphysical realm.

Secondly, it depends on the impossibility of infinite regress.

Thirdly, one can perceive shortcomings in some its premises, especially taking into consideration the view propounded by Modern Physics on the law of gravity in movement.

Fourthly, the Cause is understood by means of effect and other entities.

Fifthly, it rests on several premisses.

By sharp contrast, the path traversed by Mulla Sadra in proving the Necessary Being known as the proof of the highly veracious surpasses the proof of motion from various angles:

Firstly, we come to know that the exalted Creator is a Necessary Existent Being from the reality of existence.

Secondly, by contemplating over existence we have found that God is a peerless one and leaves no room for other than itself, so that a peer may be presumed for Him.

Thirdly, the rest of the attributes of God are established from the core of this very path.

Fourthly, it does not depend on the impossibility of infinite regress or a vicious circle.

Fifthly, there is no need to consider the middle term to be other than Almighty God to prove the existence of Almighty God.

Mulla Sadra in his Asfar and Shawahid explains the reasons of the superiority of the proof of the highly veracious over the other proofs of the existence of the Almighty Necessary Being, as follows:

This path that we have traversed is the firmest and most sacred of paths, for in order to know the Essence, Attributes, and Acts of the Almighty Necessary Being it is not necessary to place any other entity as the middle term (hadd awsat), nor does it depend on nullifying infinite regress or the vicious circle. Rather, we can know, from the reality of existence, the existence of the Necessary Being, which is (also) the reality of existence, and from, the Oneness of the Almighty Being…
From the core of this path, the signs and acts of God are also known. However, not everyone possesses a powerful aptitude to infer ample laws from the fundamental facet of unity. Hence, other ways must also be shown, although none of these paths, save this, can make the spiritual traveler (salik) reach the ultimate end.

According to the late ‘Allamah Tabataba’i in his gloss on the Asfar on this very discussion, all of the proofs for the existence of Almighty God have an exhortative (tanbihi) dimension, due to the fact that the existence of the Almighty God is a pre-eternal and essential issue, and means the existence of the reality which is the border line between sophistry and philosophy.

2. The Aristotelian God is a deistic God and Mulla Sadras God is a theistic God

This is one of the most important differences of the God of Aristotle and Mulla Sadra, for deism is belief in God without accepting a religion. This belief-system holds that divine attributes are quite separate from the divine essence that is the cause of the cosmos and the cosmos itself. However, divine being does not have a direct effect on events, which in fact, leaves no room for the existence of relations between man and God. On the other hand, theism stands for belief and acceptance of religion, which is a direct relationship between human entities and the world.

3. The knowledge of the necessary being about other than Himself

Aristotle negates this issue and considers that it entails imperfection and defect in the Divine Essence. By sharp contrast, Mulla Sadra holds the contrary and presents those who believe that God’s knowledge does not comprehend other than His Essence, as ignorant.

Of course, this is a subtle and difficult issue of philosophical theology that Mulla Sadra, as was seen here before, proves by means of his unique method, a summary of which is as follows:

God’s knowledge about His Essence is according to His Essence, and not something else. Hence, he would also have the same essential knowledge that is according to the Essence. Thus, because His Essence Itself is the origin of the knowledge of all the entities, and by Its disclosure to Itself, all the other entities with their essences are divulged for His Essence, even though in consideration of the knowledge of the entities, they are in a degree, posterior to the Knowledge of the Essence.69

4. Audition and vision

In Aristotelian philosophy, due to the reason that God has no knowledge of other than Himself, He is not All- Hearing or All-Seeing. However, in transcendent Philosophy God does possess knowledge of other than His Essence. God is All-Hearing (Sam¢‘), which means that he has presential knowledge about auditories (masmu‘¡t) and is All-Seeing (Basir), meaning that he has presential knowledge about visibilities (mubsirat).

However, due to the fact that Mulla Sadra,

  1. does not consider God’s Attention to that which is beyond Himself to necessitate imperfection in the Essence,
  2. comprehends all the existents to be attributed to God,
  3. and holds that God ardently loves His Essence;
  4. consequently, He also loves the effects emanated from His Essence.
  5. In fact, the love of God for His servants is at least based on four premisses, that have been established before in the transcendental Philosophy, and Mulla  Sadra, based on these pre-established premises, strengthens his view.

Mulla Sadra in his Shawahid starts his proof with the verse of the Holy Qur’an that says ‘He loves them, and they love Him’ and says:

The Sacred Essence of the Necessary Being is an Entity, Whose happiness and delight for His own Essence is of the highest degree of intensity. This is because in the state of Self-comprehension, He is the greatest being who comprehends in the highest degree of comprehension, Himself, who is the most beautiful of all existents; and the knower (‘alim), the known (ma‘lum) and knowledge (‘ilm), are the same as His Essence; also, all the three are in the highest of their levels and degrees.
In sensory beings, pleasure means the comprehension of a perfection that reaches the power of sensation on the condition that no veil exists. However, that meaning of pleasure which is apposite for the level of the Necessary Being, although pleasure in that sense is not (normally) referred to as pleasure, but rather as joy (bahjah) and sublimity (‘al¡’).
Therefore, the Necessary Being is a superior and more exalted being who ardently loves His own essence as well as the entities other than His Essence. This love has no bounds in its intensity, for, one who is the ardent lover of another, is (also) an ardent lover of every thing related to himself, because of the (very) relation.
Earlier in the discussion of existence it was proven to you and known that the self- existence (wujud f¢ nafsih) of every entity that emanates from the Necessary Being and is attributed to His Essence, is the very existence and emanation from the Necessary Being, without there being and difference between the two existents.

The love of God’s creatures for the Necessary Being is as follows:

First, the Almighty Necessary Being placed ardent love in all the entities of the universe, including the human being. The most intense degree of this ardent love is in man.

Second, since God is All-Hearing and All-Seeing and possess knowledge of other than Himself, He comprehends the love of His servants and receives the same.

Mulla Sadra in his Shawahid says:

There is no entity but that it possesses a perfection that it seeks or volitional or natural love peculiar to itself, or a voluntary or innate desire and impulse that makes it attain the perfection when it separates from the same; and this is his share of the sacred grace, which is a mercy on it from the Lord of the pre-eternal providence.71

6. The God of Aristotle is not a Creator whereas Mulla Sadra’s God is a Creator

Generally, in Greek thought, there is no discourse of creation; and Aristotle too, from the very beginning considers the world to be pre-eternal. A theology of creation is very much a product of a monotheistic temperament. Nevertheless, in the Sadrian philosophy too, both God and the universe are pre-eternal. However, the universe is a creation of God, and dependent in its entirety upon a Being who is Independent.

7. The Attributes of Act

The God of Mulla Sadra has positive and actual attributes. However, the God of Aristotle has no such attributes such as audition, vision, speech, creation, sustenance. The God of Aristotle has no knowledge of the present world, and there is no divine design or providence that unfolds in the world. Hence, in short, the God of Aristotle compared to that of Mulla Sadra is very primitive, both in the method of proving God’s existence and introducing His attributes.


The God of Mulla Sadra, single, and merely cognizant of His essence, whereas, the is a sophisticated and rich concept. As the highest degree of existence, He is sheer existence, absolute perfection, the efficient, ultimate, and sufficient cause, the creator, God, and beloved of the inhabitants of the universe; and God’s grace is pre-eternal and eternal. He is aware of all the apparent and hidden secrets of the world.

The God of Aristotle is the prime unmoved movent, the ultimate cause, sheer actuality, eternal, beautiful God of Mulla Sadra is the first existent, the complete entity, rather, more exalted than “completeness” and “perfection”. He is a God who does not lack any perfection or attributes of perfection. He is an entity who is complete actuality, and is prior to every other entity, and is one and absolute, and is simple from every dimension, and is actuality from every side, and His essence is possessive of all the attributes of perfection.


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