1.knowledge of Existence

Before explaining this principle, it is first necessary to define some technical terms. The first term is ‘wujud’ in Islamic philosophy, which is equivalent to ‘being’ and ‘existence’ in English, and ‘Être’ and ‘existence’ in French. ‘Wujud’ or existence is a mental concept that is in contrast to the concept of ‘Nihil’ (non-existence). ‘External existence’ is concrete and identical with the realization of things and individuals in the outside world.

When one asks about the reality of ‘things’, the response he receives is ‘quiddity’. The definition of ‘tree’ is equal to describing its quiddity. Thus every external thing can be considered as consisting of two parts, one being its existence, since we see that it is present and exists, and the other being its essence and characteristics, which separate it from other things, are employed in defining that thing, and are used in the response given to the question of ‘what is it?’; this part is called quiddity.

In spite of the fact that every thing has a quiddity and an existence, we know that considering its external realization, it is only one thing and cannot be more than that. For example, we can only see a tree or a man before our eyes, rather than both the existence of the tree and the tree itself, or the existence of man and the man himself. This is because every external thing, that is, the realized and existing thing, is only one thing rather than two. Therefore, the realization of things is through either their quiddity or their existence, and it is only one of them that is principial, with the other being only its shadow that man’s intellect abstracts from the other. This apparently simple plan is the response given by Mulla Sadra to the same intricate problem which had remained unanswered for centuries.

Existence is the only thing that is needless of demonstration, and that everyone perceives instinctively either in his essence or in practice and through experimentation. There is nothing more obvious than existence, and everything is realized in the light of existence. The instincts of every animate being indicate that its ‘existence’ dominates it and the world surrounding it. There is no definition for existence, and it can only be perceived by means of intuitive knowledge and internal personal feelings. It is the very ‘reality of existence’ that has filled the world; of course, we sometimes perceive the ‘concept of existence’ (only in the mind); however, we should not mistake it with the reality of external existence, because their characteristics are different from each other and sometimes lead man to confusion.

Although ‘existence’, itself, can be called a ‘thing’, it actually grants existence to things and makes every thing a ‘thing’. There is a reason why ‘existence’ has been assimilated to ‘light’; when light shines to anything, it illuminates and individuates it, and makes it stand out among other things. Existence, by itself, is only one thing; however, the quiddity of things in the world are various and of different types. Inanimate bodies, vegetations, animals, and humans are all different from each other. Each type possesses certain distinctive limits and borderlines which comprise the essence and reality of existents. In fact, each existent has a specific mould and pattern for itself which is called quiddity in philosophical terms.

Existence can be viewed from two perspectives. On the one hand, we abstract the concept of existence from the presence of objects, that is, the existing external quiddities in the world – although different from each other – and maintain that these or those objects exist, that is, possess existence.

If we view objects ordinarily (rather than philosophically), we assume that the reality of objects is the same as their quiddity rather than their existence. As a result, we say that we have extracted existence from the presence of objects. If quiddity is identical with the objectivity of objects, it seems that existence lacks reality and is, rather, a mental phenomenon.

On the other hand, closer inspection reveals that, quite the opposite, it is the quiddity of objects which is a mental phenomenon, is located is the mind, constantly uses it as its workshop, and is abstracted from the existence of the external existent. Therefore, quiddity does not require existence at all times, and is not concomitant with it. As the famous saying goes, quiddity, by itself, is neither existent nor non-existent; it is only itself (quiddity).

In other words, as a philosophical argument, we should pay attention to the point that quiddity is not always concomitant with real and external existence and its effects, since the truth of everything is something which possesses the effect of that thing, and the effects of things arise from their existence. A great number of quiddities which appear in our mind, writing, and speaking are created there inside, and lack the effect of an external existent, thus they have not been realized yet.

Mulla Sadra argued that if quiddity is not in ‘permanent concomitance’ with existence, how could it be considered as the main underlying reason for the existence of external existence; however, we actually see that the existence of external realities (not mental ones) is self-subsistent and needless of another existence for its existentiality and realization. This is because existence is an ‘essential’ (dhati) feature rather than an accident for it.

In other words, existence exists per se (by its essence) and not through something else. These are quiddities that require existence to be realized. In fact, existence is not an accident for quiddity; rather, it is quiddity which, like a mental mould and linguistic and conventional garment, dresses the external realized existent.                                                                      

 2.principiality of Existance

Mulla Sadra adduces several reasons for demonstrating ‘the principiality of existence’. For one thing, when proving an accident or attribute in a proposition for a subject, or issuing a judgment, there should always be an existential unity between the subject and the predicate. This is because the subject and the predicate are two different concepts, and what permits predication or judgment is their unity in existence. Thus principiality belongs to existence.

Now, if we consider the quiddity of objects, rather than their existence, as being principial and as the reality of their essence (we know that quiddities are different from each other in existence and essence), the predication of the predicate on the subject will be impossible. We can no more say that in the statement, ‘the tree is green’, the quiddity of the tree is essentially different from the quiddity of green. If the verb ‘to exist’ – ‘to be’ – (which is the sign of the interference of external existence) does not appear between the two, these concepts will never come into unity with each other, and no predication or unity will ever be realized in the world.

Mulla Sadra maintains that if the ‘realization’ of every thing or quiddity is due to the addition of existence to it, thus existence, itself, is prior to realization in the outside and more attainable than other things. For example, if we believe that the existence of water in something justifies its being wet, the demonstration of wetness for water is more necessary, and the water itself is prior to wetness and closer to it than other things. And, basically, the affirmation of ‘existence’ for existence does not require any proof, since ‘existence’ is essential for ‘existence’, as wetness is essential for water.

Mulla Sadra illustrates his point by referring to whiteness in the case of white objects, and says that when you qualify a piece of paper, which is not identical with whiteness but occurs to it, by whiteness and say that ‘it is white’, whiteness, itself, is prior to and more deserving than the paper to possess the ‘whiteness’ attribute (since it is whiteness by itself).

By viewing the problem of quiddity and existence from another angle, Mulla Sadra asserts: sometimes we assume a quiddity without existence; that is, we ignore its external existence (while it is not the case with existence). In other words, quiddity is not such to be always concomitant with realization in the objective world; therefore, it is existence which is principial and necessary for the realization of things and existents. And it is our mind that abstracts the quiddity from that external existent and posits it: ‘individuations are mentally-posited things’.

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The problem of the principiality of existence has a long history. A study of the ideas of Ishraqi (Illuminationist) philosophers of ancient Iran and pre-Aristotelian philosophers reveals that this principle was known as a crude theory in the past, and that they considered existence as being principial, and as possessing external realization. At that time, there was no word of quiddity unless as an object or the matter and element of the world. The significance of propounding this issue in Mulla Sadra’s philosophy was stating it in practical terms and demonstrating it by means of a number of philosophical reasons which were peculiar to him, as well as responding to his opponents’ arguments.

The philosophical demonstration of the principiality of existence created a revolution in philosophy and granted it the sublime status it really deserved. Moreover, in the light of this principle, he could pave the ground for solving some very difficult and complicated problems. Peripatetic philosophy had cornered the field of philosophy in the path of perversion for centuries by granting centrality to ‘existent’ rather than to ‘existence’, exactly in the same way that Ptolemaic astronomy, which was based on the centrality of the earth, had created some complications for the science of astronomy.

The significance of the central role of existence instead of existent was the same thing that Heidegger discovered in the west 4 centuries after Mulla Sadra[1] and based his philosophy upon it, yet he never managed to obtain his ideal in its complete form.

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In the last two centuries, certain schools of thought categorized under the title of ‘existentialism’ have become famous in Europe. It is necessary to emphasize that the word ‘existence’ in such schools (except for Heidegger’s philosophy) is completely different from ‘wujud’ and principiality of wujud (existence) in Islamic philosophy and in Mulla Sadra’s philosophy, and stands at a great distance from them.

One of the distinctions here is that in Europe, they only pay attention to man’s existence rather than the existence of the whole world of being. Such schools, in spite of their important differences, share certain features with each other. According to the followers of existentialism, ‘existence’ is prior to ‘quiddity’; however, by existence, they mean the same ordinary and conventional existence which everyone has in mind. Besides, by ‘posteriority of quiddity’, they mean that man, due to his free will, at all times during his life, gives form to his ‘quiddity’ and makes himself, and that it is with his death, that his quiddity takes its ultimate form.

Accordingly, it becomes clear that the quiddity they have in mind is not identical with philosophical quiddity; rather, they are referring to man’s ‘personality’. Man’s reactions to the dilemmas of life and his anxieties, fears, sorrows, and pains both demonstrate his existence and make up his personality (as well as his quiddity in their words).

Here, Heidegger’s words sound to some extent familiar; however, it can be said that he is not after knowing existence; rather, he is seeking for an ambiguous issue which is different from existence in Islamic gnosis and philosophy, and which, in comparison to what Mulla Sadra’s school propagates, is highly primitive and incomplete, and suffers from a series of important defects.


3.Attributs of Existence

Mulla Sadra did not suffice to the important task of demonstrating the principiality of existence and its being abstract. Rather, he tried to formulate some principles for it through drawing upon Ishraqi and Islamic philosophies and proving it in philosophical terms. As a result, he also tried to demonstrate that existence is graded (possesses diffusion) in terms of unity, simplicity, power, and the like.

3-1. Gradation of Existence

After demonstrating the principiality of existence and quiddity’s being abstract, the problem of gradation of existence is posed.[2] However, before inquiring into this issue, we should first define the communal meaning of existence.

As mentioned previously, existence is manifest in all quiddities, that is, those external existents possessing their own peculiar mould, form, and characteristics. And in spite of the variety in existence (due to variety in quiddities and moulds), all of them are of the same type, i.e., existence. In other words, existence is common to all of them.

However, two forms of commonality are possible: commonality sometimes appears in the form of absolute homonymy; for instance, the word bat has different meanings in English which are not at all related to each other, and this name is shared by different concepts that are not semantically identical.

Sometimes, this commonality is semantic rather than verbal; to put it more clearly, there might be a common reality among different people, shared at different degrees of strength and weakness. Sharing existence by all existents and quiddities is of this type, since it is, indeed, commonly shared by all existents. Of course, the existence of one thing is no different from the existence of another thing unless in its limits, quantity, and definition. This kind of commonality is called ‘spiritual or immaterial commonality’ in Islamic philosophy.

The question here is if the existence of all things is the same, and if all of them share it, all differences should disappear and all things should become like each other. The response given by Mulla Sadra and Ishraqi philosophers is that existence is truly shared by all things, but its degrees of weakness and strength differ from one existent to another. And it is this very difference in grades of existence which creates the distinctions in the definitions, limits, and boundaries of objects and quiddities, and gives rise to multiplicity in its philosophical sense (without causing any ambiguity in them). It is from here that one can infer the principle of gradation of existence.

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The historical background of this subject dates back to the time before Aristotle. This issue was completely known in Oriental and ancient Iranian philosophies; however, after the translation of Aristotle’s books by Muslims (since they had based their philosophy upon his ideas),[3] the issue of gradation of existence was refuted or neglected.

Ishraqi (Illuminationist) philosophers and sages, particularly the philosophers of ancient Iran, assimilated existence to light, and some of them, because of similarities between the two, even preferred to use the word ‘light’ instead of existence. Like existence, light specifies things and has an infinite number of degrees of strength and weakness.[4]

It is necessary to emphasize that the difference between two things is normally other than their common attributes. However, concerning light (also existence), we should say that the difference between two lights and their similarity lies exactly in one thing which is light itself, that is, in the feature they share with each other, rather than in something in the outside; in other words, ‘what differentiates between them is the same as what is common between the two.’

Imagine two lamps, one a 100-Luxe lamp and the other a 150 Luxe one. Certainly, the common point between them is that both emit light; nevertheless, their difference lies in nothing other than their light. No philosopher or physicist will ever accept that the light of a 150-Luxe lamp is plus-darkness, while the light of a 100 Luxe lamp is minus-darkness. This is because as everybody knows, light is against darkness, and it is impossible for something to be light and not to be light at the same time. Moreover, there is no sense in talking about plus- or minus-light.

Thus the difference between two sources of light lies in the intensity of the light they produce; likewise, the distinction between two quiddities, one weaker and the other stronger, is due to their strength or weakness of existence. As a result, we can provide another philosophical definition for quiddity, stating that ‘quiddity refers to the things’ capacity for existence’. 

On returning to the beginning of the discussion, we should say that although existence is an indivisible and even indefinable reality, its degrees of radiation upon objects could create several existences, each different from the other, and each possessing a specific definition and some features such as time and place. We might call each of them a Dasein.[5]

Philosophically speaking, existence enjoys plurality while having unity, and all the existents and quiddities which represent plurality in the world, while being plural, due to having existence, return to a single truth, i.e., existence.

The secret here is that ‘existence’ has no tolerance for solitude, and it is in its essence to appear in full beauty in a world which it has created itself. Iranian gnostics assimilate existence to a beautiful woman who cannot bear hiding herself, and always tries to reveal her beauty to others.

It is emphasized that the stepping of existence into the domain of plurality and variety does not decrease or damage its essential unity and simplicity, exactly like light, which is at all times and in all places the same thing and the same reality, although appearing in different receptacles. The appearance of light and its coming to multiplicity from unity are essential features of light.

Perhaps assimilating existence to light has been out of obligation, and perhaps the material and physical light is not what ‘existence’ could be, in fact, equated with. However, the kind of light intended by Illuminationist philosophers was different from physical light; it was, rather, a symbol they used for explaining true ‘existence’. In Illuminationist philosophy, light is the same as existence and lacks a material dimension.

This theory proves that, firstly, the objects we see in our surroundings are parts of existence and their limits and boundaries are different from each other. Consequently, it is their definitions and names that are different from each other, rather than the objects from which the mind abstracts existence.

Secondly, differences, quiddities, and the names of existents, all, refer to the existential degrees of objects. In fact, the difference between two things lies in their weakness or strength of existence. The one which is strong possesses the same ‘existence’ of the weak existent plus something more, and what is weak lacks some of the more intense degrees. For example, if we wish to explain this issue in mathematical terms, we should say:

20 = 18 + 2      18 = 20 – 2

Here, the two numbers (20 and 18) are completely different from each other; however, number 2 could both introduce them and, at the same time, discriminate between them, because their difference lies in 2. Number 20 is more complete than 18, and 18 is less perfect than 20. In Peripatetic philosophy, essence consisted of 5 components: hyle, form, body, soul, and intellect. All these five substances, while being substances, are of different degrees: the lowest of them is the hyle, and the highest and strongest is the intellect. Peripatetics might have found out about the gradation of existence quite unintentionally.

Of course, Aristotle was either not aware of the significance of the theory of gradation of existence or had ignored it; however, with respect to the degrees of these five substances, he had actually no choice but to agree with their differences while being in unity, and believe in the principiality of existence. In Peripatetic philosophers’ view, objects were completely distinguished from each other and had no real common point. This view is more consistent with the principiality of quiddity; as a result, we can conclude that Aristotle and his followers did not believe in the principiality of existence and existents’ having a common point while being different.

The perfection and imperfection of existents are completely clarified in the light of the theory of gradation of existence, the reason being that the narrower the framework of quiddity, and the less its capacity for existence, the more imperfect it will be, and the more its existential capacity (extent), and the fewer its limitations, the more perfect it will be. What remains here is the essence of true existence (the Necessary Being) which is absolute and infinite. Therefore, it is the most perfect, and there is no defect in it.[6]

Mulla Sadra is the only philosopher who, considering the background of this issue in Illuminationist philosophy, pinpointed it and, as we saw, transformed it into an demonstrative philosophical problem.

This issue, that is, the gradation of existence, in the light of the sharpness of world view and attentiveness of Islamic philosophers and gnostics, was led to more subtle directions, including the division of the types of gradation of existence to universal, particular, and super-elect gradations.

Nevertheless, some Muslim peripatetics did not agree with gradation of existence and existents. For instance, they reasoned that we cannot consider two things which are of different degrees in essence as having semantic commonality, since if we set perfect existence as the criterion, the imperfect existence will lack that essence, and if we set the imperfect existence as the criterion, the perfect existence will be other than the imperfect one, and, as a result, it will be lacking in that essence. Therefore, they will have no common existential value, unless when they are mentally-posited or assumed.

3-2. Simple Truth is All Things

One of the consequences of the principle of the principiality of existence is the principle of ‘the simple truth and essence is not separate from other things’, which has been rephrased as ‘the simple truth is all things’. Before beginning this discussion, it is noted that Mulla Sadra’s philosophy proves that all existents, in spite of all the differences they have in their degrees of existence, are possible rather than necessary, and obtain their existence – in the chain of causes and effects – from an essence that is the ‘Pure and Absolute Existence’ and the Necessary Being,[7] that is, existence is in His Essence;[8] it is impossible and absurd to negate existence to Him, and assuming this is equal to contradicting non-existence.

Assuming a pure and absolute existence is concomitant with oneness, unity, simplicity, eternity, infinity, absoluteness, perfection, and lacking quiddity and a logical definition (with genus and differentia).

This absolute or pure existence has a number of exclusive characteristics, one of which is being non-composite (simple), since ‘pure existence’ is the same as needlessness (for it has no negative aspect to be removed), and as we know, composition necessitates need, thus absolute existence is simple.

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In Mulla Sadra’s school of thought, this principle is stated as follows: ‘anything’ whose ‘truth’ (the essence of that existence) is simple (non-composite) is ‘everything’ (it is not separate from other objects).

This principle is based on the law that existence is a simple and absolute ‘truth’, and every absolute simple thing possesses all existential perfections, and each and every existence in contained in it. Therefore, firstly, the external reality of ‘existence’ (not its mental concept) cannot be more than one thing (it is single and one). Secondly, there is no sense in its not being pre-eternal, and having come into existence from non-existence (every existence requires a maker). Thirdly, the existence of all existents is no separate from that very origin of existents, is in need of it, and depends on it. Fourthly, it is absolute, for it is impossible for something that is called the origin, essence, and reality of existence to have limits and boundaries, and not to be absolute and all-inclusive. The reason is that limits and boundaries are signs of need, while the absolute and perfect is not needy.

Consequently, an existence in the light of which all existents come into being is absolute and void of non-existence and imperfection, and we cannot, even in our mind, view it as being a composite (of its own existence and non-existence of others); for example, if we consider the absolute and original existence as A, and other existents as B, we must say: A Ì B, rather than A = ~B, since in this case it will be composed of A +~B, which is a contradiction, for the first existence was assumed a single and absolute existence and cannot be composite and non-absolute, i.e., have limits (separability). The absolute existence or the creator of other existents must logically possess all the existential perfections, and be free from any sign of non-existence and imperfection. It is reminded that composition means imperfection and absolute non-existence.

Now, when this existence (for example, A) is not composed of A and the opposite of B (~B), its opposite, A = B, must be true, and this means that every simple existent (non-composite) in which composition has no way ‘includes all things’.

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This argument can also be stated as follows:

1. All objects can be posited or considered in two independent ways; in one of them they possess existence and are ‘themselves’, and in the other they are ‘not other than themselves’. These two considerations are independent, and have their own logical place. Therefore, every possible thing is composed of two conceptual and logical parts, and ‘composition’ is the sign of need and imperfection, since each of its components is in need of its other component, and need is the sign of ‘possibility’ or lack of necessity.

2. The Necessary Being is simple due to His being the Absolute Existence and being needless of everything else (even in man’s imagination). Thus He cannot be mentally divided into two things, namely, ‘self’ and ‘not other than self’. As a result:

3. Simple truth contains all the perfections and positive aspects of all existents, although it is not identical with them.

The next argument indicates that:

1. All existents are the effects and creations of the Necessary Being; that is, they have taken whatever degree of existence they possess from the Necessary Being and Absolute Truth.[9]

2. Since it is impossible for the Giver of perfection to lack it Himself, the Necessary Being possesses all perfections (positive aspects) of its effects, of course not in a scattered form, but in a simple, focused, and single form.

Mulla Sadra illustrates this point by saying that if we assume an infinite line which has existence, it will be superior to all other short and long lines in the sense of being a line, because, while enjoying unity, it contains all their aspects of being a line (existential aspects), without suffering from their limitations (imperfections).

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This principle by no means indicates that the essence of the Necessary Being is the same as the essence of all things and existents, and that all existents can be referred back to its essence. Rather, it means that since there exist in all existents some existential and perfectional aspects, as well as some negative and defective ones, all existential and perfectional aspects of existents which have been obtained from the theophany of the principial essence and existence of the Necessary Being exist in His Essence in a simple and single form, without there being any trace of their negative aspects and imperfections. And since the thingness and truth of a thing are due to its existential aspect, and since imperfection is the same as negation and non-existence, all things are present in the essence of the simple thing, and the simple truth and pure existence is everything by itself, without being identical with their quiddity.

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One of the consequences of this principle is the demonstration of the Necessary Being’s ‘Absolute Beauty’ and ‘Simple Truth’, since beauty is nothing but lack of imperfection, and lack of imperfection, which means perfection, is a characteristic of Absolute Existence or the Necessary Being. This principle can yield other consequences and principles in the philosophy of aesthetics.

The other consequence is that absolute and pre-eternal knowledge is God, since according to this principle, the Necessary Being, Who is all things, logically, has ‘existential dominance’ over all existence, and exists in every part of them, without becoming a part of their quiddity, because existence, due to being existence and considering its positive (rather than negative) aspects, is not separate from other existences; existence is ‘existence’ at all times and in all its forms, exactly in the same way that sunlight is not separate from daylight.

Absolute Existence, logically, is Omnipotent and dominates everything in its philosophical nature, and God’s Power and other Attributes originate from His Absolute and Simple Existence.

3-3 . Indigence Possibility

One of the consequences of the principle of the principiality of existence is Mulla Sadra’s accurate division of existence into three types, as given below:

1. The existence of the existent is for it and depends on it (psychological or predicative existence).[10]

2. The existence of the existent is for something else, such as the existence of attributes and accidents for things (e.g., whiteness for paper), since, although we assume an independent existence for whiteness, its existence cannot be realized unless in the paper, and thus it is a predicate and attribute for the paper (unlike the first type, in which ‘existence’ is the subject, and its existence depends on itself).

3. This type of existence can be found in the relation between the subject and the predicate (It is shown by ‘ast’ in Persian and by ‘is’ in English). This existence has no independence of itself, and, even unlike accidents and attributes, cannot be assumed by itself in the mind. This existence is nothing except for a relation with the subject (i.e., original existence), and has no share of existence by itself.

In Islamic philosophy, the first and second types of existence are granted lexical meaning (having independence in the mind), and the third type is granted functional meaning, since, like conjunctions and prepositions, it has no meaning when standing alone.

Mulla Sadra has delicately directed this discussion to the issue of cause and effect. He argues that possibility exists in two fields: one is possibility in quiddities, which philosophers employ along with necessity and impossibility, and use in modal logic, and the other is possibility in the field of external existents.

The relation between cause and effect is always in the form of cause’s giving existence to the effect. A true cause always grants existence. Therefore, the existence of the effect is continually in need of and dependent on the existence which the cause has granted (e.g. the existence of a geometrical shape in the mind depends on one’s creative attention, and if the attention is directed towards something else, that shape will disappear).

Thus it is absurd to say that external existents, which are the effects of Almighty God (Who is the Absolute and True Existence, and the Real and Perfect Cause of all existents), possess an independent existence by themselves (as we agree in the case of attributes and accidents). Rather, the relation between all existents and the Necessary Being is a kind of ‘absolute relation’, and, as mentioned previously, ‘copulative existence’ is indigent and in need of a subject (existing in the proposition) at all times, and has nothing (i.e., existence) of itself.

Mulla Sadra views such a relation among effects (all possible things and existents) as a kind of possibility, but one which is peculiar to the field of ontology and calls it ‘Indigence Possibility’. Moreover, instead of ‘cause and effect’, suggesting a kind of duality, and giving rise to the mistake that the effect, too, has an independent existence against the cause, he uses the phrase ‘indigence possibility’.

According to the above view, all possible things and creatures are ‘indigence’ itself, rather than ‘indigent’; they continually require a cause not only in their very being made but also in their survival.

This profound view of the issue of cause and effect, which has been supported by the philosophical arguments Mulla Sadra presents in different places in al-Asfar, is one of the specific characteristics of his school of philosophy. It is worth a mention that, unlike logical possibility, indigence possibility is not in contrast to necessity and existence; rather, it is the same as them, and assuming it depends on assuming existence and existential relation.

Indigence possibility is a gnostic view that Mulla Sadra has introduced to philosophy, and granted it a philosophical nature. In Islamic gnosis, it is only Almighty God that deserves the name of ‘Existence’; He is the Essence and Origin of existence, and the world and all the existents there inside are the manifestations and theophanies of that existence. Mulla Sadra presents this idea within the framework of the cause-effect theory, and maintains that the cause is always the basis and the origin, and the effect needs it to receive existence and nothing else; therefore, it is nothing without the cause, and depends on it, as well as on its evolutions and manifestations.[11]

The issue of the necessity of commensurability between existents and possible things on the one hand, and the Necessary Being, on the other, as well as the one between the effects and their causes, is clarified in the light of this argument. It is emphasized that the cause referred to in this discussion is the perfect cause.[12]

3-4. Motion in Substance

No one has ever denied the principle of existence of motion, but philosophers previously believed that it existed only in four categories of Aristotle’s ten-fold categories, that is, quantity, quality, position, and place. The most obvious of them is motion in place; the motion of individuals and vehicles, as well as birds’ flying, are good examples for this kind of motion. Another type of motion is motion in quantity, which is also called growth. The examples in this regard include a child’s growth and his becoming mature or reaching perfection, or the growth of a sapling and its transforming into a tree. Another type of motion witnessed in case of humans, trees, and other animate beings is the change of their state, which is called motion in quality in philosophical terms. In this regard, we can refer to changes in man’s appearance, chemical changes in fruit, which lead to their change of color, taste, or form, or internal evolutional changes in one’s psychological states.

The fourth motion is of the type of a body’s rotation around itself and around a specific axis, such as the motion of wheels, gearwheels, and the conventional and physical motion of bodies, which is called motion in place.

Philosophers admitted the possibility of existence of motion in these four categories; however, they considered the essence or substance of objects which were the locus of quantity, quality, and position as being fixed and motionless. They did not dare or were not able to demonstrate motion in substance and essence (not states) of objects, or even express it or have any claim in this regard. Even the prominent philosopher of all centuries, Ibn-Sina, harshly refuted it and believed that if we accept motion in substance, every substance will leave its self and identity with that motion and turn into something with an identity other than its previous one.

Mulla Sadra provided a simple argument for demonstrating motion in objects’ substance. He said if the objects’ substance and essential nature – which are characterized by quantity, quality, position, and place – were void of motion, it would be impossible for their attributes, states, and status to be affected by motion, since, in relation to accidents, substance plays the role of the cause for the effect. It is impossible for the cause to be separated from the effect (otherwise, there could be no causal relationship), and it is absurd for the effect, which is, in fact, the manifestation of the existence of the cause, to be superior to it.

We can also observe a kind of behavioral coordination and unity among these four-fold moving accidents,[13] which is itself an evidence for their harmony and unity with their essence and substance. For example, the growth of a fruit (which is a quantitative motion) usually results in changes in its color and taste (which is a qualitative motion). The attributes of a body are not separate from its essence. So, how is it possible for motion to be in one thing and, at the same time, not to be there?

This issue has a long historical background in a purely theoretical form (and without reasoning), and existed in the philosophical schools of ancient Iran and old Greece. Heraclitus,[14] who came from Asia Minor (475-535 A.H), believed in the permanent and continuous motion of nature and had a famous statement in relation to this issue: “You can never swim in the same river twice/you can never smell the same flower twice.”

Reference has also been made to this permanent motion and moment by moment existence in Islamic gnosis under issues such as ‘continuous creation’ and ‘renewal of similars (creatures)’, and several moral and educational benefits have been derived out of it. The theory of moment by moment existence, stating that, like the pulse and the heart, the world has beats, had been exposed to Muslim sophists through revelation and intuition, and they called it ‘state’. And some believe that this theory also has a record in Chinese philosophy and school of Xen.[15]

However, from the viewpoint of Peripatetic philosophy, motion in substance was so indemonstrable that even the supreme genius of the time, Ibn-Sina, considered it as being impossible, and assumed that if there were motion in the substance of motion, its quiddity would change into another quiddity; as a result, its identity and essence would be transformed.

Mulla Sadra drew upon the two theories of the ‘principiality of existence’ and ‘gradation of existence’ and proved that the essence of every material existent (whose essence or nature is a limited existence), is, firstly, gradable (since existential motion is a gradual one, and since every existence is gradable, i.e., capable of motion), and, secondly, in self-motion (motion by essence). This is because the nature, structure, or quiddity of objects is of two types: the first consists of immaterial (abstract) substances, which due to being immaterial, are fixed and static (however, this is limited to immaterial objects), and the second consists of material substances of objects which all possess an essentially fluid and moving nature; that is, their existence is gradual and step by step rather sudden and repulsive. If the existence of material existents were not ‘fluid’, there would be no development (no sapling would grow into a tree, and no infant would reach maturity). Unlike preceding philosophers (as well as physicists living before the advent of relativity physics) who believed that time (like place)[16] has an objective existence and is a fixed receptacle for objects and events, Mulla Sadra argued that time possesses an immaterial rather than objective existence and is abstracted from the trans-substantial motion of things and events.

This argument proves that the trans-substantial motion of objects exists in their essence and does not occur to them as an accident, and, thus, it is needless of a particular reason and cannot be questioned. In other words, we never ask ‘why does material substance have motion?’, for it is like asking ‘why is water wet?’, and  ‘why is oil oily?’. Such a question is absurd, because it is similar to asking why water is water, or why oil is oil.

If the essence or inner nature of something – and, in philosophical terms, its quiddity – is fluid, nothing can stop its motion except for annihilation.

The general theory of relativity in modern physics confirmed Mulla Sadra’s philosophical theory, since in this theory ‘time’ is a part of everything, i.e., its fourth dimension, and everything has its own time, as well.

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The problem which existed in Peripatetic philosophy, and which Mulla Sadra removed was that Peripatetic philosophers maintained that the changes in substance or accidents are always in the form of annihilation of the previous component and the coming into being of another component in its place. This process is philosophically expressed in terms of ‘dressing and undressing’ (exactly like the case in which man should first take off his overcoat to be able to put on another one). It was for this reason that they thought if substance were in motion, substance A had to be first annihilated so that substance B could replace it; however, through the principle of motion in substance, Mulla Sadra proved that the substantiality of substance and the quality of its creation are in the form of addition of a strong degree to the previous weak degree.

He explains this by resorting to the expression of ‘dressing after dressing’ (as according to Fuzzy logic, we can change the light of a one-hundred-candle chandelier to that of a one-hundred and one- or more chandelier by means of pressing a button without its being necessary for the first 100-candle chandelier to be completely turned off so that the one with more light to be turned on). This is because one of the characteristics of existence and light is to be capable of being graded and increased without having their quiddity undergo any change. The principle of perfection in human beings and the world is also based on this very graded motion, and its being essential for humans.

According to Mulla Sadra’s reasoning, motion in substance never causes a change in its essence and, for example, everybody clearly understands and feels that, in spite of the changes that continually occur during his long life, he is the same person that he was before. When we see a person after a long time, we never say that we have seen a different man; rather, we agree that he is the same person he was years ago.

If, due to its motion, unity in substance – a substance which is in motion – were not preserved, we had to believe the same with respect to accidents, too. For instance, when a sapling turns into a tree, we must accept that this big tree is different from the previous sapling, while no one has such a conception, and if another person claims that this fruit tree belongs to him, and is other than the young sapling it was previously, no legal entity will ever surrender to this belief. Quite conversely, to solve the problem respecting accidents, we should attribute their motion to motion in substance, and, inevitably, believe in unity in this very continuity regarding the moving substance.

Through the theory of the trans-substantial motion, Mulla Sadra managed to solve some other problems in philosophy. One of these problems was the ‘origination or pre-eternity of the world’, which philosophers and theologians had not been able to solve before, and the other was the problem of the relation between the originated and the pre-eternal, that is, the relation between the world, the universe, and all existents (which are all ‘contingent’ in philosophical terms), on the one hand, and the Necessary Being, on the other. All existents are effects and originated beings, and every originated being must be related to its pre-eternal cause and creator in a rational way. Thus, how could the pre-eternal be similar to and commensurate with the originated?

The other problem which was demonstrated on the basis of the theory of the trans-substantial motion was Mulla Sadra’s other theory on man’s soul. He believes that the soul rises from Man’s body, but develops in the light of perfectional motion and, finally, becomes needless of matter. We will refer to this issue later.

Resemblance and Concordance

This theory has had a number of useful and sublime consequences for philosophy, as follows:

1. The dynamic essence of the world is identical with nature. Sadrian nature, unlike the Aristotelian nature, is a dynamic one.

2. Motion in nature is purposeful and leads the world and all its existents towards perfection.

3. The nature of time and, to some extent, its relativity are revealed in the light of this theory and, in this way, one can provide an exact definition for time.

4. Perfection is one of the products and necessities of the world.

5. Motion is conjunctive, linear, and chain-like. In Mulla Sadra’s view, the curve or the linear and directional movement of nature (the so-called Harekate qat’iyyah) is a real and objective quiddity rather than an imaginative and hypothetical line, and it is the only thing that portrays time.

3-5. Platonic Idea

One of the issues that has a long historical record, and is one of the fundamental themes in Illuminationist philosophy, ancient Iranian philosophy, and pre-Socratic schools of thought, although famous in Plato’s name, is the issue of luminous Ideas or Divine Ideas, known as Platonic Ideas.

This issue obtained an important place in Iranian Islamic philosophy, and although some philosophers such as Ibn-Sina did not agree with it, some others such as Suhrawardi, Mir Damad, and Mulla Sadra accepted its principles but interpreted it in different ways.

Illuminationst philosophers used to propound the basic issues of their philosophy without argumentation, and only in form of a theory. Mulla Sadra transformed some of these important issues into formal philosophical problems, and employed a number of logical arguments to demonstrate them. Likewise, he discussed the above issue, which Plato had referred to in some of his works,[17] and managed to justify, interpret, and demonstrate it.

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Mulla Sadra says that Plato, in line with his master, Socrates, believed that all sensible and material existents of nature in the world possess a similar form or symbol in the other world. This form is immaterial and, unlike the material existents of this world, is immortal and not prone to destruction and annihilation. He called these forms the ‘Divine Ideas’.[18] Muslim philosophers, each in line with his beliefs and thoughts, interpreted them in different ways; for instance, Farabi equated them with the same forms existing in Divine Knowledge, and Ibn-Sina said that they conformed to natural universals or quiddities. And Suhrawardi defined them as parallel and horizontal intellects; those intellects which are the origin of realization of material objects. Some others have also introduced them as suspending Ideal existents and spirits in the world of Ideas (between the world of matter and the world of intellects).[19]

After rejecting the above interpretations, Mulla Sadra defines and demonstrates the issue in his own way. He first refers to the point that the Ideas intended by Plato are immaterial realities which are completely of the same type of external objects rather than quiddities different from them. That is why in ancient Iranian philosophy the Idea of everything was called by its own name. For example, they had chosen the name ‘khordad’ for water, ‘mordad’ for tree, and Hum-e Izad (God’s Hum) for the holy plant, Hume (an angel whose name was khordad, one whose name was mordad, and one whose name was Hum).

Accordingly, Plato’s Ideas must be considered each as one of the individuals of a species and the main and primary creation and progenitor of each species; the material and this-worldly things are the other individuals of that species which, due to being bound by matter and its limitations, have turned into weaker and more imperfect existents.[20] He adds that from the viewpoint of the principiality of existence (and its gradation), it is not a problem for some of the individuals of a species to be stronger and more perfect than the other individuals of the same species. Besides, it should be taken into account that these ideas are not the patterns and moulds for other individuals; rather, they are their analogs.

In order to demonstrate this theory philosophically, Mulla Sadra has proposed some philosophical arguments in his al-Asfar and al-Shawahid.

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One of the basic consequences of the theory of Ideas is the ontological definition of the ‘universal’: Peripatetics declined the issue of the universal into a concept that only the faculty of the intellect can perceive, and some of them, when trying to solve the problem, completely evaded the burden of argumentation, and believed that the universal of everything consists of the mental abstraction of external objects from the characteristics of each individual or particular thing. In other words, through limiting the inter-species and inter-personal distinctions, something called universal (in contrast to particular) is obtained. In this interpretation, the ‘universal’ is an unreal, abstract, and absolutely mental concept. And even Nominalists and another group in the middle-age Europe did not suffice to this, and called ‘universals’ as homonyms (for them, each universal, like a homonym, was a word used commonly for denoting different meanings) and turned their back to Illuminationist philosophy.

However, in Illuminationists’ view, the universal was an external ‘reality’ rather than a ‘concept’, which is known to have been called ‘Idea’ by Plato.

In this interpretation, the distinction between the entity of the universal and the particular lies in the idea that since ‘the particular’ possesses a restricted range of existence, and is limited by material boundaries; it is more vulnerable to man’s perception, and is apprehended clearly, while the universal, due to its separation from the matter, is of such a wide range of existence (owing to lacking the imperfections of material entities) that a material existent such as man cannot see and perceive it accurately and clearly in the material conditions of this world, exactly in the same way that the image of a vast view or big body cannot be seen as it is in a small mirror, and, naturally, we only perceive a vague picture of it.

According to this theory, the ‘universals’ are perceived – but apparently in the form of a common and vast concept – by means of the intellect, because both the Ideas and the intellect are more in conformity with each other in terms of abstraction and separation from the matter, rather than the universals’ consisting of merely concepts.

Mulla Sadra agrees with Illuminationists in this regard, and maintains that although, in line with others (Peripatetics), we agree with the idea of universal species (natural universal), which is abstracted by accident from each individual of that species, and does not exist directly, we also believe that the rational universal is an independent reality in its own place. Nevertheless, in material conditions, man’s view shows that reality like a ghost, lacking the existing features of material objects. This ghost sounds quite common and universal, and is mistaken by more than one thing; we call the ambiguity resulting from such a viewing from a distance as universality. This is like viewing a cypress tree from a distance in a foggy environment; at first sight, it might look like a universal thing, and be commonly perceived as a stone, tree, or man. Such an illusion and commonality which originates from its ambiguity – which is a reference for universality – is nothing but just our mistake; however, when the fog and dust go away, and we get closer to what we saw from a distance, we will see it not only as a tree, but also as a cypress tree.

Following this example, Mulla Sadra states that the criterion for universality for the terrestrial perceiver is the viewer’s weakness of sight and existence, and, considering man’s weak intellect, he cannot perceive more than one ‘concept’ from immaterial realities.

All the above holds true provided that man reaches these Ideas through acquired knowledge and his bodily senses, and in a material situation. However, they will see the Ideas quite clearly if they perceive them through presential knowledge. Mulla Sadra, who, like Suhrawardi and Plotinus, has reached this stage of experience, prefers Platonists’ ideas concerning the issue of universals, and believes that there are two types of universals: the natural universal, whose extensions are external individuals, luminous universals or Ideas, which, due to their vastness of existence and lack of material limitations, reach an ‘absolute’ status, and affect the smaller existences by their inclusiveness and universality.

In Mulla Sadra’s philosophical system, this theory has had some other consequences as well.


3-6. Love

Mulla Sadra and Metaphysics of Love

Love is considered indefinable in Iranian (Persian) and Islamic gnostic literature, and thus we might inevitably introduce it as a state of bilateral attraction between two things in its general sense, and as a state of strong attraction and desire among human souls in its particular human sense. Love has also been defined as strong affection in dictionaries.

Man’s love can be divided into two major types: natural love and transcendental love. Natural and psychological love is an attraction originating from natural instincts coming into being on the basis of a kind of unconscious and spiritual agreement for obtaining the goals of nature, including preserving generations. This kind of love should be studied under the field of psychology. Transcendental love is based on philosophical and gnostic principles, and is among the issues studied in philosophy and metaphysics.

Since Mulla Sadra has devoted some chapters to love in his magnum opus, al-Asfar, and has dealt with it from philosophical and gnostic standpoints, we will deal with his theory in this regard, as follows:

Mulla Sadra’s metaphysics of love, like all his other theories, is based on the principle of the principiality of existence and gradation of existence. As we know, like some philosophers, he views the ‘good’ and ‘beauty’ the same as existence, since wherever there is existence, non-existence, imperfection, and evil (which all have the same meaning) are not witnessed, and perfection and the ‘good’ are all that flaunt before eyes. The good, perfection, and beauty are three of the existential things that man finds desirable. ‘Beauty’ is the same as absence of defect (the very perfection and good), and, all of them can be covered by a single word: ‘existence’. Existence creates love; wherever there is existence, there is love, too.

In the vanguard of the discussions related to love, Mulla Sadra says, ‘In the creation of every existent of any type, God has determined an end and a perfection, and has placed a motivation and enthusiasm in its instinct and essence to push it to obtain that degree of perfection, which is the end of the line of its existence. Such motivation and enthusiasm are called love.[21]

It is this very essential motivation that creates ‘motion’ in the existent, and if this very ‘motion’ reaches its natural limit, it will take that existent towards its natural perfection and end which have been set for it by its creation. Therefore, in his view, love is not restricted to man, and all things must be viewed as having instinctive love.

Here, we should refer to two important realities. First, where there is true perfection, that is, absolute existence (the Necessary Being), even  without a natural zeal and need, love still exists. This is because existence is the same as beauty, and absolute existence is the same as absolute beauty, and since there is a direct relation between love and beauty in absolute and pure ‘existence’, it is concluded that the Necessary Being loves Himself. This love is the Origin of all other loves, and He is both the Lover and the Beloved.

Second, the creation and effect of this Pure Existence is His Beloved in proportion to the existence and perfection it has received from that source. It is from here that we can conclude that God, the Compassionate, loves all His creatures on the basis of a general law.

In the light of what was discussed above, we can infer that existence is the origin of perfection and beauty; that the headspring of perfection and beauty is the Necessary Being Himself; and that love is necessary for them. Accordingly:

1. The Necessary Being loves Himself, too, since He is aware of His Beauty more than all others.

2. All existents, which suffer from certain essential limitations and defects in their existence, in order to achieve perfection, love the Necessary Being unconsciously, and all of man’s endeavors for seeking perfection, as well as his ambitions, are related to this very motivation for seeking God. No matter what the target of love is, the ultimate love will be for the Necessary Being and Pure Existence.

3. Pure Existence, Who is the cause of all existences, loves everything and everybody, and the love of the cause for its effect is more than the love of effects and creatures for themselves.

One of the important points of Mulla Sadra’s metaphysics is that, as he says, there is a direct relation between existence, love, and life (being alive), since, in his view, existence is equal to life, knowledge, and power. The higher the existential degree of something, the stronger his life, and the more his knowledge and power. Therefore, all existents – even inanimate bodies – possess a kind of silent life.[22]

When it is proved that everything has life, perception, and awareness, it will also be proved that it possesses the motivation and enthusiasm for obtaining perfection; in other words, it is full of love. Love relates all things to each other like a chain: ‘bodies’ are in love with ‘nature’, and nature means the world of matter, and loves its own ‘controlling soul’; the soul is in love with ‘intellectuality’, which is its perfection, and all intellects, souls, natures, and particles are in love and obsessed with the ‘Necessary Being’ and Pure Existence, Who is Absolute Perfection and the goal and end of the development of all objects, and this very love flows mutually from up to down, since, as mentioned previously, every cause loves the signs of its existence, that is, its effects and creations.

According to the theory of metaphysics, the whole world is full of love, and wherever there is existence, life, and beauty, that place swells with love, and it is this very view that grants meaning and enjoyment to man’s life. The spirit of Islamic gnosis and Mulla Sadra’s school of philosophy is mixed with the essence of love, and possesses a particular, all-inclusive, and exact view of the world of existence.




[1]. Some scholars had seen Heidegger reading the translation of Mulla Sadra’s al-Mashair into French, Les Penetrations Metaphisiques, by Henry Corbin. Thus it is highly probable that he was under Mulla Sadra’s influence in developing some of his ideas.

[2]. Gradation has no meaning when it comes to the concept of existence (with respect to its being a concept rather than a referent).

[3]. Perhaps because, in this way khalifs’ governments intended to culturally confront Batiniyyah, who were the heirs to Ishraqi philosophy.

[4]. The Fuzzy logic in physics has been inspired by the theory of gradation of existence.

[5]. The term used by Heidegger in his philosophy.

[6] Mulla Sadra demonstrated through a subtle philosophical analysis that the existence of the Necessary Being, and, basically, His existence, are different from the existence of contingent things. 

[7]. For example, we attribute wetness in all wet objects to water, but wetness is essential for water and not added to its essence. Thus wetness is ‘necessary and obligatory’ for water, but possible for other wet objects.

[8].Since existence is essential for the Necessary Being, it does not logically require demonstration, and, according to the philosophical principle of ‘the essential is needless of a cause’, the concept of the Necessary Being is concomitant with existence.

[9]. The Absolute and Pure Existence, Himself, is needless of a cause; rather, its essence necessitates existence; otherwise, the impossible will be necessitated, and the origin of existence will be negated.

[10]. Kant believed that employing such an existence in propositions is wrong and said that when existence is the predicate of propositions, nothing is added to the subject. Mulla Sadra had answered this objection about two centuries before him and argued that existence makes the subject in such propositions (known as simple whetherness), and reveals the affirmation of the subject rather than the affirmation of the predicate for the subject.

[11]. al-Mashair, p. 84, al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah.

[12]. In Islamic philosophy, cause is divided into perfect and imperfect ones. A perfect cause creates the effect without the mediation of another thing, and an imperfect cause is in fact a part of the cause and creates the effect through the contribution of other factors. For example, we cannot consider parents as the perfect cause of a child’s existence, and man’s acts all depend on a series of conditions and absence of obstacles.

[13]. In other words, the relation between substance and accident is similar to the one between a horse and its rider in that if the horse is motionless and its rider moving, it will be impossible for the horse to move along a distance.

[14]. Khamenei, S.M, 2000, Development of Wisdom in Iran and in the World, Tehran, SIPRIn Publications, p. 59.

[15]. Isutsu, T, Continuous Creation. In this book, Isutsu expresses that Master Kai, from Japan (1042-1117 A.D) has some statements which refer to the same gnostic ideas of Muslims and Heraclitus.

[16]. Peripatetics conceived of time as the product of the motion of spheres. Mulla Sadra, apparently, does not deny this view; nevertheless, he does not, in fact, agree with this view either, and believes that time is related to the trans-substantial motion.

[17]. Mulla Sadra, Huduth al-‘alam, p. 184, Tehran, Sadra Islamic Philosophy Foundation (SIPRIn), 1378 A.S.

[18]. Eidos.

[19]. al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah, p. 191, Tehran, Sadra Islamic Philosophy Foundation (SIPRIn), 1382 A.S.

[20]. In Mulla Sadra’s school, every quiddity whose existence and realization does not require going through the degrees of potency and act (and, as a result, through motion and time), and is an actual existence is a perfect existence. Nevertheless, not all existents and individuals of every species are like this, and thus they must go through a specific route to gain perfection in existence.

[21]. al-Asfar, vol. 7, p. 197, Tehran, Sadra Islamic Philosophy Foundation (SIPRIn), 1382 A.S.

[22]. Kenneth Ford calls the motions of electrons in the atom ‘the energy dance’. Capra (in his Tao of Physics), after referring to this issue, quotes from a Tibetan monk that all objects are masses of atoms which produce sounds and songs by means of their dance and motions. In the Qur’an, too, in order to say that all particles of the world ‘remember and glorify’ (dhekr) God, the word ‘tasbih’ (glorify, praise), which has a fluid sense, has been used. In Persian (Iranian) gnostic literature, all particles of the universe are said to be dancing and rejoicing.