Soul - Eschatology


1. Corporeal Origination of the Soul

In the past, two major theories concerning the human soul were quite popular among philosophers. One of these theories was the Platonic theory of the spirit and the soul, suggesting that the existence of the soul was eternal, spiritual, and prior to the creation of the body (Timaeus). The second theory belonged to Peripatetics, and Ibn-Sina provided a thorough explanation for it. This theory dealt with the immaterial or non-corporeal origination of the soul, along with the corporeal origination and creation of the body. Later Mulla Sadra presented an innovative theory in this regard. He proved that although man’s soul ultimately becomes immaterial in its particular course of development, it is corporeal at the outset of creation, and is born from the body.

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

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

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

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

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

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Mulla Sadra’s philosophical psychology is based on his other philosophical principles, which are considered exactly the very reasons he adduces to prove his theory. Such principles are presented below:

1. Material substance naturally enjoys a developmental motion, and, unlike what Peripatetics say, nature is not static; rather, the trans-substantial motion is at the heart of its dynamism.

2. The ultimate goal of the creation of each existence leaves a series of predispositions in it which must be divulged through its trans-substantial motion. Although both the body and the soul are in the matter of the existent’s body, the difference between their ultimate ends has left two different types of predispositions in them, which is quite natural, since as we can see, both a plant and an animal are born from matter, yet one obtains an animal soul, and the other remains vegetation.

3. Man’s soul is his very ‘I’ and ‘self’, and, in spite of the graded difference between the soul and body, man’s ‘self’ or ‘I’ cannot be decomposed. The synthesis of the body and the soul is in the form of unity, rather than annexation and external synthesis.

4. Although the body is made of the matter, and consists of several components, the human ‘I’ or soul is simple and indivisible. According to the philosophical principle stating that ‘the simple truth is everything’, all man’s internal and external effects, acts, and affections belong to his ‘self’ and soul and originate from his unity. In other words, the soul, while having unity and simplicity, consists of all his faculties.

5. Despite being abstract and independent, the soul is practically dependent on the five senses, the brain, and nerves for its perceptions. Likewise, for its physical activities, it depends on the related organs. All these organs and senses are the soul’s tools for its affections and activities. Mulla Sadra considers the soul the director and guide of the body rather than vice versa, and states that it is the wind that directs the ship forward rather than the other way round.

6. The more the soul is developed in the course of the trans-substantial motion, the less its dependence upon the body will be. Natural death (one that is not due to accidents) is the result of the voluntary separation of the soul from the body and its actual abstraction. Such an interpretation of death by Mulla Sadra is in contrast to that of both ancient (Galen and Hippocrates) and modern medicines.

To demonstrate the immateriality of the soul,[1] Muslim philosophers have adduced a number of arguments, including the following:

- In addition to sensing and perceiving particulars, man is capable of apprehending and analyzing abstract and universal issues and concepts, and developing some judgments for them. All abstract and universal affairs are immaterial (since all the related characteristics have been previously negated to them), and each immaterial thing ranks higher than matter, and cannot depend on it; it should possess an independent and immaterial receptacle and field for itself to predicate it;[2] otherwise, it will become material.

- The independent field containing the universals (man’s universal and abstract perceptions) is called ‘mind’ by philosophers. This field must be viewed as being separate from the material tools and layers of the brain (cortex).

- Denying the immateriality of the soul or the mind is a kind of leniency in research, and philosophical laziness. This is because paying attention to philosophical reasons could lead one to the immateriality of the soul and mind, which does not seem an easy undertaking to some people.

Philosophers have also adduced some others reasons which have been presented in Mulla Sadra’s books, as well as in those of others.

Experiences such as the sixth sense, telepathy, after-death perceptions for those who have come back to life, true dreams, and the like are among those meta-psychological and supernatural phenomena that are not in conformity with the structure of the body, and can refer to the immateriality of the soul.

2. Resurrection

One of the important topics of the philosophical discussions related to the soul is ‘death’, which Mulla Sadra has borrowed from natural sciences, and introduced and discussed in the field of philosophy.

Mulla Sadra views death as the soul’s desertion of the body. He disagrees with this idea of biologists and physicians suggesting that death is the effect of the destruction and annihilation of the body, and the derangement of its natural order, like one whose house has been destroyed and is forced to seek shelter somewhere else.

He maintains that death is of two types: natural death and accidental death. In natural death, the soul, in its journey towards perfection, leaves the body when it does not need it anymore. He assimilates the body to a ship, and the soul to the wind that pushes the ship forward, and says that if there is no wind, the ship will stop moving; likewise, when the soul departs with the body, there will be no life.

By reference to a hadith from the Holy Prophet (saas), stating that ‘the soil will rot the whole body except for the substance[3] from which it has been created’, Mulla Sadra states that, after death, man takes the faculty of imagination away with himself. This faculty is his substance, contains all forms and data of the worldly man, and is immaterial and independent from the material world. The personality of the same worldly man is reconstructed in the Hereafter with more abilities and faculties in the light of this very faculty of imagination.

Death does not ruin the body; rather it disperses it, and, while maintaining its origin and substance, takes its attributes away from it, and ,whenever it wishes, it can return those attributes to the original substance of the body.[4]

In the Iranian Islamic gnostic literature, particularly in Rumi’s Mathnavi, death is considered a rebirth and a gate for entering another world, and it had better to call it life rather than death. Rumi uses the words ‘dying’ or ‘being reborn is stages’ to refer to the change of the human embryo from spiritless matter into the vegetative form, then into the animal form, and finally into the human form. He maintains that the developed man can turn into an angel by death, or even go higher than angels.

3. Metaphysics of Death

The issue of resurrection can be considered as one of the neglected themes in philosophy and metaphysics. Although resurrection is one of the subcategories of the issue of the soul, and although its mortality or immortality after death is among the themes dealt with in philosophy, before Mulla Sadra, it was classified under the subjects studied in theology.[5] The most non-philosophical answer to this problem is the denial of resurrection, the world, or other worlds that religions and Illuminationst philosophers have referred to.

Mulla Sadra could propound this subject in the mould of a philosophical issue, and place it among the discussions following the issues related to man’s soul and his faculties and perceptions. According to Islamic and Qur’anic beliefs, the world of matter has a destiny in which the matter changes shape[6] or is completely annihilated. However, in a repeated event (which can be called the big explosion or the second Big Bang), human beings and objects will appear in a specific form.

Mulla Sadra stated in a new theory that ‘revivification’, or collective presence in the resurrection day, is not restricted to human beings and includes all existents.[7] This theory of resurrection is more in conformity with the theories of the end of the transformation of the physical quiddity of the world.

Resurrection or the day of deranging the order and form of nature is followed by the scene of revivification, i.e., the presence of all human beings and things.

According to Mulla Sadra, time is the cause of separation among people in its course of passage, and when time and place, which are the two factors causing dispersion among people, are annihilated, all of them will come together in the same place. In Mulla Sadra’s philosophy, the world of the Hereafter is another world which is no different from this world except in its matter, mass, body, and time, yet the form and shape of objects are apparently the same as before.

This world has been called the ‘Ideal world’, and its characteristics are mainly similar to the characteristics of pure energy.

The ‘Ideal world’ is one of the three-fold worlds Mulla Sadra – in line with sophists – agrees with in his worldview. These worlds consist of the world of matter, the world of Ideas (or imagination), and the world of intellect and intelligibles.

The above worlds are not three separate places; rather, their classification is based on their strength, weakness, perfection, imperfections, and, in Mulla Sadra’s words, their proximity to or distance form the Pure Origin or God.

In this theory, the world of intellect is more complete than other worlds, and has complete dominance over its lower worlds. This dominance has a philosophical sense rather than a geometrical one, thus the world of intellect possesses all the positive aspects of the lower world. The world of matter is an imperfect world, and its existents are the prisoners of time, place, and corporeality, and suffer from numerous physical and natural limitations.

A higher world is the world of Ideas, with no temporal, spatial, and corporeal limitations (like man’s faculty of imagination). The existents of this world have a more perfect life, and their existential degree is higher. The world of intellect is even more infinite and perfect than this world.

In Mulla Sadra’s view, after death or the destruction of the world, although man apparently loses his outward body, he will own another body which is like his previous one, and has its characteristics.[8] He also possesses in the new mould the scientific data which had been stored in his faculty of imagination (it was previously mentioned that, according to Mulla Sadra, this faculty is immaterial). As a result, after his death, man’s ‘I’ appears as a body possessing a soul with all his attributes, characteristics, and worldly desires. And all human beings will see each other in that world in the same form (without matter), and with the same worldly characteristics, and will recognize each other quite clearly.

Some of the theologians who agreed with bodily resurrection assumed that on the Day of Resurrection the soul must return to its previous material status in retrogression. Mulla Sadra argues that this idea merely originates from the common sense, and tries to prove that the body will possess a body without retrogression to the previous material status; a body which he believes is like a dress which is worn under the dress on the top; it is in the innermost of this outward body, and functions as the mould of man’s soul. This body has been made of apparent chemical and organic substances (and its cells change everyday), and since it has no stability, it does not deserve to belong to the abstract soul.  

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Mulla Sadra believed that his solution for demonstrating man’s corporeal resurrection is in conformity with the Qur’an; however, some of his succeeding philosophers have some doubts in this regard, or completely deny this idea. They maintain that this brave and innovative theory is in need of completion, and that future scientific advancements might contribute to the perfection of man’s ideas of after-death life and eternity.

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Mulla Sadra harshly attacks the idea of reincarnation and rejects it by philosophical reasons. He tries to justify the theories attributed to some pre-Socratic philosophers, and argues that man’s real body, which accompanies his soul after death, is influenced by his thoughts and conducts and changes face. Those people with prominent animal characteristics turn into the same animal, and are embodied and imagined in the same form in the Hereafter and the Day of Revivification. He maintains that the intention of early philosophers and some religions of reincarnation was this very transformation of man’s inner nature.





[1]. Henry Corbin believes that ‘mujarad’ (abstract) in the terminology of Islamic philosophy is the same as the Greek ‘khoristos’ and an equivalent to ‘transcendent’ rather than to ‘immaterial’ or ‘incorporeal’.

[2]. Such independence for abstract things from the matter is not in contrast to the idea that the material body should make the provisions necessary for abstract things; for example, the upper layer of the brain and the nervous system serve as tools for exerting the soul’s will or transferring affections to it. In real life instances we see that electrical keys and tools are not electrical by themselves, but they can (and must) be at the service of electricity and its connection to other parts, and manifest its benefits.

[3]. We can consider it as DNA or something like it but unknown. It is called ‘ajb al-dhanab’ in the hadith.

[4]. In the Qur’an, human death has been assimilated to vegetations’ hibernation.

[5]. Considering the entropy of the world matter, and the assumption of the subsistence of energy, natural sciences and physics, too, should inevitably deal with this problem, and find out about the fate of the world and the universe after the ‘Big Bang’ or another possible event.

[6]. In physicists’ words, anti-matter will dominate the matter, and the present matter of the world will be destroyed.

[7]. Mulla Sadra’s treatise, Risalat al-hashr, is on this issue.

[8]. Mulla Sadra emphasizes that, unlike the common belief, the body is not the guard and carrier of the soul; rather, it the soul that preserves the body after its own establishment. Thus the soul has a body for itself after death.