Origins of Mulla Sadra’s School


Mulla Sadra’s philosophy is an independent school of thought, possessing a specific system of its own. He has established a philosophical system which comprises all philosophical problems, so that one can claim that this school, in the light of its basic principles, could efficiently solve even those peripheral problems which might arise in field of philosophy in future. The available documents strongly indicate that, apart from the ancient Illuminationist school, Peripatetic philosophy, and gnosis, no other independent school of philosophy, except for Transcendent Philosophy, has been developed either in the East or the West to possess such universality, all-inclusiveness, and answerability to problems.[1]

It is a widely accepted fact that the independence of a school does not indicate that it has put up with all the ideas and theories of previous schools, since each and every new philosophical system certainly requires some input from preceding ones to be able to utilize them as its components and building blocks. However, it normally puts the previous coherence governing the combination of those constituent parts aside, grants them new versatility, and transforms them quite efficiently in the light of its own principles.

Mulla Sadra’s creative soul and scientific power and perfection allowed him to create a school which was independent of all philosophical, gnostic, and theological schools and, at the same time, enjoyed all their strength and positive aspects.

Sadrian philosophy is similar to Peripatetic philosophy in its surface form. In fact, one can say that the body of his philosophy is Peripatetic, while its soul is Illuminationist. At the same time, most of the problems of the science of Islamic theology can be found there in a philosophical form. Mulla Sadra’s Transcendent Philosophy, on the one hand, comprises all schools of philosophy, gnosis, theology, and the like, and connects them to each other; on the other hand, it reacts as a rival against all of them.

The other important point which is worth a mention here is Mulla Sadra’s strong and logical belief in the Qur’an and hadith. He is inspired by the spirit of the Qur’an in solving some complexities and problems and tries to expand the dimensions of his philosophical and theological ideas and thoughts by resorting to the hadith and Sunna (traditions) of the Holy Prophet (p.b.u.h) and his descendants. At the same time, he sometimes directly refers to some Qur’anic verses as evidence for his arguments or, perhaps, for demonstrating the rationality of this Holy Book.

Unlike other heavenly books, the Qur’an involves some very profound and discussion raising verses and statements on theology, worldview, and anthropology. This Holy Book, from the very early days of the prevalence of Islam - when there was no word of Greek or Oriental philosophy – could introduce a series of important philosophical issues such as God’s knowledge, the meaning of His Will and Attributes, the concepts of Divine Decree and Destiny, predestination, renunciation, life after death, resurrection, and the Hereafter to the field of thought and philosophy. Moreover, it makes references to the quality of the creation of the material world, the birth of prime matter, the end of world, the annihilation of matter, and, basically, cosmology.

It is true that the collection of such verses and their interpretations, which had been given by the Prophet (p.b.u.h), Imam Ali (AS) and Muhammed’s descendants, planted the seeds for the growth of Shi’ite theology and, later, for the so-called science of theology; however, it was not limited to theologians’ use. The gate of knowledge and teaching in the Qur’an has always been open to all, as it became a source of inspiration for Mulla Sadra, too. Our great philosopher, who always criticized theologians’ ideas, viewed Qur’anic verses and the interpretations given by Muhammed’s (P.b.u.h) descendants with utter respect, relied on them, and was inspired by their heavenly words.[2]

The other point to be emphasized here is Mulla Sadra’s power of intuition in the sense of communicating with the hidden world and unveiling the realities. This was a power possessed by all prominent masters of Ishraqi philosophy. In some of his books, Mulla Sadra emphasizes that he first perceives the truth of every philosophical and rational problem through intuition, and then demonstrates it on the basis of rational and philosophical arguments.

He claims that he is the only philosopher who has been able to transform the issues that Ishraqi philosophers had perceived through unveiling and intuition, and presented as undemonstrated theories into logical and philosophical arguments. He does this so conversantly that even those who do not believe in intuitive perception surrender to his ideas. As we will discuss later, a great number of his well-known theories and ideas had been previously stated by Ishraqi sages; however, they had not been philosophically proved.

Mulla Sadra has profoundly benefited from Peripatetic, Ishraqi, theological, and sophist schools of thought and can be said to owe a great part of this knowledge to the masters of these schools. Apart from the Qur’an, the Prophet (p.b.u.h), Imam Ali (As), and the Prophet’s descendants, he has a deep-rooted belief in Muhyaddin, Ibn-Sina, Aristotle, Plotinus, Suhrawardi, Tusi, Sadr al-Din, Qiyath al-Din Dashtaki, Dawani, and pre-Socratic philosophers, particularly Pythagoras and Empedocles. He also agrees with Qazzali’s ideas concerning ethics, and favors Fakhr Razi’s method of analyzing theological and philosophical problems; nevertheless, he does not consider them as philosophers and refutes their philosophical ideas in many respects. However, in cases where he agrees with their views, he never hesitates to praise them, and, in order to show his confirmation and acceptance of their ideas, he quotes from them verbatim, as if he himself has originally uttered those words.

One of the sources of Mulla Sadra’s philosophy is the pre-Socratic history of philosophy. The philosophers of that time mainly consisted of Ishraqi sages, who followed Oriental and Iranian ancient philosophies to a great extent.

Generally speaking, unlike the case with Peripatetic philosophy, Mulla Sadra’s sources of philosophy were not merely confined to the intellect, so that he would ignore other sources such as revelation and inspiration. In the same way, he did not limit himself only to inspiration and illumination, so that, like gnostics and sophists, he would regard the intellect as being incapable of the perception of realities. He even considered revelation as the most important, valid, and reliable source of knowledge, and, as we mentioned previously, he also attached too much importance to what can be learnt from the Qur’an and hadith.

Mulla Sadra is one of the exceptional philosophers who has graded these sources. He believes that the first basis for accessing truth is the intellect; however, he does not consider it as being capable of solving the subtle problems of metaphysics. Therefore, a philosopher or sage should not stop halfway through seeking the reality and deprive himself from intuition and using prophets’ revelation.

He states that man’s intellect confirms revelation, and revelation completes the intellect. One who has a religion and depends on revelation must accept the role of the intellect in discovering the truth; likewise, one who follows the intellect and wisdom, must confirm and accept revelation. Intuition and illumination can be demonstrated by means of argumentation and reasoning and, as a result, grant universality to personal experiences, exactly in the same way that the hidden principles of nature could be proved by resorting to mathematical laws.

However, one must admit that the power of wisdom is limited, but intuition and love have no boundaries and can aid man in attaining the truth. The vastness and breadth of Mulla Sadra’s domain of views, and the plurality of the origins of his thoughts granted more freedom to him to expand the realm of philosophy. As a result, there is no trace of different types of narrow-mindedness witnessed in other schools of philosophy in his philosophy.



[1]. Among the philosophers of the modern era, Hegel is said to have been able to develop an independent and systematic school of philosophy. Unfortunately, this Hegelian system involves a series of controversies that disrupt its orderliness; therefore, it cannot be considered a perfect philosophical system.

[2]. For example, Mulla Sadra has been inspired by one of the verses in the Qur’an in formulating his famous and important theory of the ‘trans-substantial motion’. He has also resorted to other verses in his other works.