The Fundamental Principles of Mulla Sadra’s Transcendent Philosophy

The Fundamental Principles of Mulla Sadra’s Transcendent Philosophy

Reza Akbarian

  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1441580794
  • ISBN-13: 978-144158079

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Mulla Sadra, known also as Sadr al-Muta’allihin, the greatest Iranian-Muslim philosopher and founding father of the ‘Transcendent Philosophy’, was born in Shiraz, Iran in the year 1571 and died in 1641. His writings focus on philosophy and commentaries on the Qur’an and Al-Usul Al-Kafi. His most important philosophical writings include Al-Asfar Al-Arba‘at Al-‘Aqliyyah, Al-Shawahid Al-Rububiyya, Al-Hikamat Al-‘Arshiyya, Kitab Al-Masha‘ir, and Al-Mabda’ wa Al-Ma‘ad. The present work consists of five chapters, written on two categories: The Transcendent Philosophy and Mulla Sadra’s School, and Comparative Studies of Mulla Sadra and Other Philosophers. Several years of work enabled Dr Akbarian to complete some parts of this project, which concerns the relation of Mulla Sadra to the totality of the Islamic tradition, and the characteristics of his ‘Transcendent Philosophy’ being used in its original sense. We hope, therefore, that in this form the work will serve as a complete intro¬duction to the teachings of Sadr al-Muta’allihin in philosophy, as well as aid in making better known the doctrine of Mulla Sadra in synthesising between revelation, illumination and ratiocination in a world which is suffering so grievously as a result of it having separated these paths to the Truth from each other. Chapter One of this book discusses the question of what ‘Transcendent Philosophy’ is. When we turn to the writings of Mulla Sadra himself, we do not find any passages in which he explicitly designates his own school as ‘Transcendent Philosophy’ (al-hikmat al-muta’aliyah). Mulla Sadra expands the mean¬ing of falsafah to include the dimension of illumination and realisation as implied by the ishraqi and also Sufi understanding of the term. For him, as for his contemporaries as well as most of his successors, falsafah or philosophy was perceived as the supreme science of ultimately divine origin, derived from ‘the niche of prophecy’, and the hukama’ as the most perfect of human beings, standing in rank only below the prophets and Imams. This conception that philosophy deals with discovering the truth concerning the nature of things, and that it combines mental knowl¬edge with the purification and perfection of one’s being, has lasted to this day wherever the tradition of Islamic philosophy has continued; it is in fact embodied in the very being of the most eminent representatives of the Islamic philosophical tradition thus far. Both their works and their lives were testimony, not only to over a millennium of concern by Islamic philosophers with regards to the meaning of the concept and the term ‘philosophy’, but also to the significance of the Islamic definition of philosophy as that reality which transforms both the mind and the soul and which is ultim¬ately never separated from the spiritual purity and ultimately, the sanctity that the very term hikmah implies in the Islamic context. Chapter Two, “Being and its various polarizations”, consists of four sections: 1. Existence as a Predicate; 2. The Metaphysical Distinction between ‘Quiddity’ and ‘Existence’ (The Fundamental Principle of Ibn Sina’s Ontology); 3. The Principle of Primacy of ‘Existence’ over ‘Quiddity’ and its Philosophical Results; 4. Mulla Sadra’s Proof of God’s Existence (Burhan-e Siddiqin/The Argument of the Righteous). The question of ‘existence as a predicate’ enjoys an outstanding significance from the historical and comparative point of view. Kant, the eminent German philosopher, claimed that existence could not be a real predicate for its own subject since existence is not a concept that could add anything to an object. According to Kant, existence in its logical sense is, merely, copula (rabit) rather than either of the terms. The copula of the proposition on the other hand, does not indicate something that owns a real referent. Its exclusive role is, rather, to establish a nexus between the predicate and the subject. Mulla Sadra accepts existence as an independent and predicable concept. His words on the simple proposition ‘A exists’ are similar, in a way, to that of Kant’s, and different in another way. The content of this proposition is the affirmation and realisation of the subject, and not the affirmation of something for the subject; in this way, he is unanimous with Kant. However, since – relying on the primacy of existence – he proves that what has reality in the external world is existence and not quiddity, here he differs from Kant. According to him, quiddity is a mentally-posited thing, which is either abstracted from the limits of existence or is the manifestation of the limits of existence within the mind. The section titled “The Metaphysical Distinction between ‘Quiddity’ and ‘Existence’” introduces some of the fundamental principles of Ibn Sina’s ontology, focusing upon his distinction between existence and essence in contingent beings in order to bring out the radical contingency of all-other-than-God. Some central implications of this doctrine, including the proof of God as the necessary existent, are drawn out. This section studies the question of existence from Ibn Sina’s point of view in order to clarify the reason why the metaphysical difference between ‘quiddity’ and ‘existence’, which was neglected by Aristotle, was the main concern of Ibn Sina. Further, it explores the reason why this problem, that the Islamic philosophy has taken grand steps in this way and towards its consequences and correctness, was the basis of Ibn Sina’s ontology. In the section “The Principle of Primacy of ‘Existence’ over ‘Quiddity’ and its Philosophical Results”, Mulla Sadra considers ‘Being’ (wujûd) as the most important issue in his philosophical deliberations. The views of Mulla Sadra on existence include a precise and masterly system based on the principle of ‘primacy of existence over quiddity’ (asalat al-wujûd) or the issue of the ‘principiality of existence’. The issue of the principiality of existence is a firm philosophical idea that has deep roots in the metaphysical experience of ‘existence’. Mulla Sadra utilises this background to unite rational analytical thought with our direct experience of truth. He presents this unity in a clear, systematic manner to transform his own metaphysics from an Aristotelian philosophy to a philosophy which is essentially non-Aristotelian. Mulla Sadra believes that if one disregards being, one would remain ignorant of the basis and principles of sciences; for everything is known in the context of being, and if being is not known, everything else will remain unknown. Mulla Sadra’s “Proof of God’s Existence (Burhan-e Siddiqin/The Argument of the Righteous)” is his real approach to demonstrating the existence of the Truth and discussing His Names and Attributes. In Mulla Sadra’s view, the knowledge of God and His Attributes is the noblest and most valuable of all philosophical sciences, without which, man’s real perfection is impossible. He believes that this perfection is only realised in the light of seeking proximity to God, and maintains that without knowing the Almighty, drawing nigh to Him would be impossible. In all his philosophical books, Mulla Sadra considers the knowledge of God’s existence as wisdom and believes that it is the key to man’s real happiness and well-being. He also emphasises that attaining the knowledge of God is the main purpose of all schools of philosophy; therefore, man is obliged to know Him as much as his human abilities allow him and strive to seek proximity to Him. Mulla Sadra emphasises that the rational knowledge of God is possible and adduces several arguments to demonstrate His existence. The main purpose of this section is to explain and analyse this theory, and to explore its historical background and philosophical-religious origins. Moreover, it aims to illustrate the fact that, as the founder of the Transcendent Philosophy, Mulla Sadra follows a specific approach in this regard. Chapter Three, “Existential Explication of Motion and Time”, consists of two sections: 1. Trans-substantial Motion and its Philosophical Consequences; 2. The Existential Explication of Time in Mulla Sadra’s Philosophy. Trans-substantial motion (al-harakat al-jawhariyyah) is one of the most important philosophical issues in the history of Islamic philosophy and has become known in close association with the name of Mulla Sadra. One must admit that the greatness of this theory and its deep and wide-spread influence on the philosophical thought of Muslims is no less than that of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity in physics, and Whitehead’s Process Philosophy in philosophy. This theory provides the basis for Mulla Sadra’s worldview. In light of this theory, he presents a new philosophical explanation of physical and metaphysical problems, including the temporal contingency of the world, the relationship between the permanent and the changing, the creation of the world, the perpetual creation, the relationship between the soul and the body, the resurrection of the body, and many different issues regarding resurrection. He also analyses and explains the process of motion and transformation and its spread and generality, together with its philosophical results and consequences, in a deep and meaningful way and from a very powerful and effective viewpoint. In his philosophical system which is based on the reality of being (wujûd), Mulla Sadra provides a definition of time which is related to being (wujûd), and one might not understand this definition without first attending to being (wujûd) itself. Mulla Sadra does not ignore the Aristotelian idea of natural time, nor does he believe it is original; he believes that natural time is a peripheral aspect of existential time, which he expounds as a metaphysical issue in his ontology. Mulla Sadra’s idea concerning wujûd qua wujûd culminates in an innovative theory which was first propounded and expanded in his philosophy. This theory arises out of the concept that the fluid wujûd is essentially time bound; in this theory, time is not a receptacle for physical objects, but is regarded as an attribute for them. This attribute emanates from their modes of being and interferes with their entities. Chapter Four, “Knowledge and the Relation between the Knower and the Known”, considers Mulla Sadra’s theory of knowledge, which is based on the identity of the intellect and the intelligible, and the identity of knowledge and existence. His theory of substantial motion, in which existence is a dynamic process constantly moving towards greater intensity and perfection, had allowed him to explain that new forms or modes of existence do not replace prior forms, but on the contrary, subsume them. Knowledge, being identical to existence, replicates this process, and by acquiring successive intelligible forms – which are in reality modes of being and not essential forms, and are thus successive intensifications of existence – gradually moves the human intellect towards identity with the Active Intellect. The intellect thus becomes identified with the intelligibles which inform it. This chapter examines Mulla Sadra’s success in solving the problem of the possibility of knowledge and cognition and achieving reality. For Mulla Sadra, its basic thesis is that metaphysics, as an acclimatized science of being qua being, is possible, primary and necessary in order for knowledge to be certain, provided that it studies the essential accidents of being qua being. This is necessary in order to construct complete syllogisms whose necessary inferences provide the basis for knowledge about the totality of existence. The central implication is that only through this method can science be taught properly and a proper classification of knowledge be undertaken, and only through this method can meaningful statements about reality be enunciated. Chapter Five, “The Soul, its Faculties, Generation, Perfection, and Final Resurrection” examines one of the most important issues developed by Mulla Sadra in his philosophy, which is bodily resurrection (al-ma’ad al-jismani). For Mulla Sadra, this issue is important from two perspectives. One is the nature of its very sense, which has always been the focus of philosophers and those engaged in thinking about religion; the other is the new and particular aspect this issue takes under the shadow of the specific principles of Transcendental Philosophy. He takes it as a great pillar and a grand principle in philosophy. His efforts and endeavours are geared towards offering a picture of resurrection within a transcendental complex which can be shown to be, on the one hand, compatible with the revelation and the sayings of mystics and can be, on the other hand, away from the pitfalls of some theologians and the shortcomings of the recent philosophers in their mental efforts for understanding such issues. In the great debate about whether resurrection is spiritual (ruhani) or bodily (jismani), Mulla Sadra categorically favours bodily resurrection, but points out that, upon death, individuals are bestowed with subtle bodies (al-jism al-latif). After death they are, therefore, not simply disembodied souls but possess bodies which are ‘woven’ of the actions that they have performed in this world. They also enter a world which conforms to their inner nature. Moreover, the reality of the body in this world is the form of the body and not its matter. In the final resurrection, all of the levels of one’s being are integrated, including the form of the physical body, which is the reality of the body, so that one can definitely accept bodily resurrection as asserted by the Qur’an and hadith and at the same time provide intellectual demonstrations for it on the basis of the general principles of Sadrian metaphysics. This great Islamic philosopher has made great efforts for founding the principle of trans-substantial motion and has relied on a number of other philosophical preliminaries for demonstrating the resurrection of the body through reasoning. This book is one of the best books in the English language on Mulla Sadra’s philosophy and is useful for university students in the field of Islamic studies and Islamic philosophy. Seyed G Safavi London Academy of Iranian Studies University of London March 2009