The Principle of Primacy of “Existence” over “Quiddity” and Its Philosophical Results in

the Ontological System of Mulla Sadra

Dr. Reza Akbarian


Mulla Sadra considers “being” or “existence” (also referred to as esse, actus essendi or das Sien, or wujud) 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-wujud) 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 utilizes 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.


What is meant here by “existence” is the “reality of existence” (haqiqat-i wujud) and not the “concept of existence” (mafhum-i wujud).  The distinction between the “reality of existence” and the “concept of existence” is of such importance that one cannot truly and properly understand the metaphysics of Sadr al-muta'allihin without understanding this distinction.  Mulla Sadra believes that although other fields of study, specially the knowledge of soul, are important in understanding the Divine Knowledge, the basis of all teachings is the “reality of existence” (haqiqat-i wujud). 1  In the beginning of his book, Kitab al-Masha'ir (The Book of Metaphysical Penetrations), Sadr al-muta'allihin discusses the most fundamental issues about “existence”.  Referring to this issue he says:


The issue of existence is the foundation of theosophical principles and the groundwork for Divine Issues and of Tawhid (Allah's Oneness), eschatology and the resurrection of the body and the soul, and other issues which I have personally followed, and which, prior to me, no one had dealt with.  All of these issues revolve around the reality of “existence”.  Anyone who is ignorant of the reality of existence will not be able to understand these fundamental and weighty subjects.  Lack of attention to these subjects will make one unable to understand mysteries and symbols.  It will make it impossible for him to gain access to knowledge, divinity, prophethood, and the principle of all principles and the Goal of all Goals.  On this basis, I have decided to begin my discussion in this treaty, which aims to clarify the principles of the reality of faith, theosophy and mysticism, with a discussion on existence, and in conclusion prove that existence is essential in every existent (mawjud). This is a reality and everything that is other than “existence” (meaning quiddity or mahiyyah) is like a reflection, a shadow, or a phantom. In proving this reality, I succeeded to present subtle principles and elevated discussions, which were absent in the works of my predecessors. 2


The Reality of Existence and the Subject of the first Philosophy in the Transcendent Theosophy

 Sadr al-muta'allihin designates the “reality of existence” as the basis of his philosophical discussion. Undoubtedly, a true understanding of his philosophy requires understanding the “reality of existence”, its levels and degrees. The key term in Mulla Sadra's ontology is “existence” (wujud) and not  “the existent” (mawjud). “From a rational analytical standpoint,” the term “existent” refers to the quiddity that exists in actuality, “or” the quiddity in the process of realization. This is different from the act of existence, through which quiddity comes to be.

This view is properly understood when we take into account the precise distinction between the two qualifying modes of existence (hasti), meaning “the existent” (mawjud, that which exists at present), and the act of existence – “to be” (budan) and “to exist” (wujud dashtan). The above-mentioned distinction is an important point in the Transcendent Theosophy. Preoccupation with the concept of “existence” (wujud) or the act of existence characterizes Mulla Sadra’s point of view, and this unique characteristic of his methodology revolutionized the study of metaphysics in Islam. 

The analysis of Mulla Sadra on the question of existence, which is the main question in philosophy, differs from that of Ibn Sina.3  According to Ibn Sina, the subject of the first philosophy is “being qua being” (mawjud bi ma huwa mawjud), meaning “the whole existent” (mawjud-i mutlaq) and not “absolute existence” (wujud-i mutlaq).  Ibn Sina believed that “existence” (wujud) is a metaphysical element different from “quiddity” (mahiyyah) and divided “the existents” (mawjudat) into two categories – necessary beings (wajib) and contingent beings (mumkin). He used the meaning of “existent” (mawjud) in order to refer to “the existent” itself, for pure existence, without other aspects, is not divisible into the categories of necessary and contingent beings.  According to Ibn Sina, the thing that can be divided into the necessary and contingent categories is the concept of “existent” that can be either essential (ma huwi) or non-essential.  Based on this, we must conclude that Ibn Sina remained faithful to Aristotelian metaphysics, whose primary and direct concern is “the existent” (mawjud) and which considers “existence” as a secondary issue. 

Mulla Sadra focuses his attention on “existence” (wujud) rather than on “the existent” (mawjud).  He, who bases his metaphysics on the principiality of existence and alters the course of traditional concerns in philosophy into a discussion of “existence” (wujud), finds it necessary to differentiate between the two meanings of existence. First, he defines the meaning of “the existent” (mawjud) as the secondary intelligibility in philosophy. The existent, Mulla Sadra believes, can be understood through comparison and rational endeavor.  Second to him is the issue of “the concrete and external reality of existence” (haqiqat ayni wa kharij-i wujud), which can be understood through knowledge by presence (ilm-i huduri).


By shifting the emphasis from “the existent” (mawjud) to “existence” (wujud), Sadr al-muta'allihin no longer categorizes the synthesis of “existence” (wujud) and “quiddity” (mahiyyah) as contingent (mumkin) or as dependent on the necessary (wajib). He also shifts his emphasis from “essential possibility” (imkan-i mahuwi) to the “possibility in the sense of dependence” (imkan-i faqri). Finally, Mulla Sadra concentrates on the differences between the levels of the “reality of existence” (haqiqat-i wujud) instead of the differences between the referent of the “necessary” (wajib) and the “contingent” (mumkin), both of which relate to “existence” (wujud).  He does not consider the differences between “quiddity” (mahiyyah), “existence” (wujud) and the categorization of “the existent” (mawjud) (into necessary and contingent) as sufficient explanation for the existent world created by God.  Mulla Sadra, however, uses this principle as the foundation of his demonstration of the “argument of the righteous” (burhan-i siddiqin). In this way, he infuses Ibn Sina's spirit in his proofs, thus freeing himself from differentiating between the necessary and the contingent in “the existent” (mawjud).

The first concept in the metaphysics of Mulla Sadra is the reality of existence (wujud). This concept refers to the evidential principles and the apriority of  “to be” (budan) and “is” (hast).  The opinion of Mulla Sadra on this issue is different from that of Ibn Sina.  In his discussion of “existence” (wujud), in his book al-Shifa', in the section of Metaphysics (Ilahiyyat), Ibn Sina begins by asserting that “existence” (wujud) is one of the first and most fundamental concepts.4  His exact meaning is that “the existent” (mawjud) has priority and is evidential; in other words, the concept of an existing thing (shay’-i mawjud) is that the thing exists.  One cannot, however, interpret Ibn Sina’s word as meaning that “existence” (wujud) is primary and evidential.  In his book, al-Nijat, Ibn Sina uses the word “existent” (mawjud) instead of “existence” (wujud).


We say that explaining and defining “the existent” (mawjud) is not possible, except as in defining a name (sharh-i ism), for “existence” (wujud) is the basis of every explanation and definition. Hence, the term “existent” itself will not have a definition, but its form, without any intermediaries, will emerge in man's mind. 5


Ibn Sina discusses “existents” (mawjudat) as “the things that exist”. Sadr al-muta'allihin's concern is “existence” (wujud) rather than “the existent” (mawjud).  “Existence” in his opinion is evidential at the level of “meaning”, which means that it is primary and self-evident (badihi).  What is proven and understood directly is the definition of “existence” (wujud) and not “the existent” (mawjud).  The definition of existence is indicative of the reality of existence, which encompasses all diverse stages and external objects in an indivisible and unified manner.


The concept of “existence” is the very being and realization, either objectively or subjectively. And this evident and universal concept is a subject of simple and luminous truth. This concept is simpler than any concept. It is the first of all concepts and it is a manifestation of its own essence.  Therefore, defining existence through one of its own manifestations is impossible, due to its intense appearance and the extent of its definition .… The concept of existence is something universal and common among all existents. And the reality of existence is simple and encompasses all contingent beings, although in the mind it is extraneous to quiddities.6

It is important to note that although “existence” (wujud) has a simple definition, in reality it is beyond any theoretical analysis.  Existence is not of quiddity, nor is it quiddity itself. We must therefore attempt to understand existence through knowledge by presence.7  If someone were bestowed with this knowledge, he would be able to achieve a unity that is the very unity of multitudes (kisrat) and the diversification of multitudes (tashakhkhusat-i kathirah).  This unity is neither a conceptual unity (wahdat-i mafhumi), nor a generic unity (wahdat-i jinsi), nor is it a specific unity (wahdat-i nu'i).  It is unity in an absolute sense (wahdat-i itlaqi), which can only be comprehended by the true and the perfect gnostic. The gnostic theosopher, like the researching sage, can present his conceptual achievements through acquired concepts. These acquired concepts are the signifiers of truth, but are limited to a narrow conceptual scope. For example, based on our knowledge of our self, we formulate the concept of “I”.  The definition of this “I” is a narrow concept as compared to the real and presidential truth [of I].  The same analogy can be applied to “existence” (wujud). Everyone knows what the word “existence” (wujud) means and everyone has some metaphysical intuition about it.

From the point of view of metaphysics, this intuition can be explained by stating that the “reality of existence” is mysterious and hidden, even though the “conceptualization of existence” is self-evident (badihi). Mulla Sadra believes that the fact that something is self-evident does not mean that metaphysically it is clear and evident as well.  He therefore aims to fully explicate the meaning of existence (hasti) and its necessary principles in his philosophy.


The Primacy of “Existence” over “Quiddity: The Most Fundamental Principle in Mulla Sadra's Theosophy

The most fundamental and important issue which assists Sadr al-muta'allihin in the explication of the meaning of “existence” and its necessary principles is the primacy of “existence” (wujud) over “quiddity” (mahiyyah) or the “principiality of existence” (asalat-i wujud), which is particularly significant in his metaphysics.

Mulla Sadra, who believed in the “principiality of existence”, adopted the view that the thing that really exists in the external world is “existence” (wujud). What he means by existence is the reality of existence and its degrees and modes. The external world’s equivalent for the mental combination (murakkab-i dhihni) of “quiddity” (mahiyyah) and “existence” (wujud) is nothing but “existence” (wujud) in different forms and manifestations.  Those forms, which intellect considers as independent quiddities, are essential demonstrations of existence. They seek to specify an essence for “existence” (wujud). They merely encompass the manifold forms of the internal “existence” (wujud). “Existence” (wujud) itself can be found everywhere and manifests itself in different forms and shapes; however, since these forms and shapes are all from one united “existence” (wujud), they are in reality one and the same.  The differences between various things are their differences in degrees and stages.  This view has been entitled “the unity of the reality of existence” (wahdat haqiqat-i wujud).  That is why theosophers and gnostics agree upon the principiality of existence. 


The issue of the principiality of “existence” (wujud), as the highest principle in metaphysics, was established for the first time in the history of Islamic philosophy by Mulla Sadra.  Mulla Sadra’s theory on existence owes a great deal to the tradition of Ibn Arabi, who emphasized existence as the basis of his mystical thought. 8 In the opinion of Ibn Arabi and his followers, since the different stages of existence are nothing but diverse manifestations of the “absolute being” (wujud-i mutlaq), all the things in the universe (from heavenly secrets to corporeal bodies) are one metaphysical entity.  This is the same concept as the “unity of existence” (wahdat-i wujud).  Although the “unity of existence” (wahdat-i wujud) is different from the theory of Mulla Sadra, the “unity of the reality of existence”, it has strongly influenced his opinion about existence.  It is an important criterion for understanding his philosophy and metaphysics.

Mulla Sadra's intellectual transition and his thinking process are bestowed with special merits. Mulla Sadra, like Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi (Shaykh-i

Ishraq), considers the knowledge of the soul as the origin of all knowledge, and begins the period of his seclusion and spiritual purification from the intuition of the reality of the soul. He seeks knowledge of the self through immediate knowledge (ilm-i huduri) and discovers existence (hasti). He concludes that what is real is “existence” (wujud) and not “quiddity” (mahiyyah). He further witnesses the gradation (tashkik), the simplicity (bisatat) and the unity (wahdat) of existence.  This transition is not only a change of viewpoint; it is a strongly founded philosophical concept which stems from a personal experience based on a different intellectual level with deep roots in gnostic experiences of reality. For this reason, the issue of principiality of existence (asalat-i wujud) becomes the foundation of his philosophy and transforms its course.

Mulla Sadra, who came to be known as the chief advocate of this doctrine (principiality of existence), was at one time a proponent of the other camp, that is, principiality of quiddity.  He later praises God for illuminating his heart and allowing him to reach the truth and later says:

In the past, I held the opinion 9 that “quiddity” (mahiyyah) is real and “existence” (wujud) is non-factual, until the Creator guided me and demonstrated His truth to me.  Suddenly, my spiritual eyes opened and I fully realized that the truth is contrary to what most philosophers believe.  All praise is to God whose Spiritual Light emancipated me from darkness and made me believe in a lasting doctrine which will never change in this world or in the hereafter. That is why I now believe that “existences” (wujudat) are essentially and fundamentally real and that “quiddities” are “immutable essences” (a'yan-i sabit), which have never been existent. “Existences” (wujudat) are nothing but illumination and radiation from the true light – which is self-subsistence – that is everlasting. They (existences) are manifestations of God's essence and attributes, the quality of each has been determined, and which have come to be wrongly known as “quiddity”(mahiyyah). 10 


The last section of the above passage best clarifies the relation of Mulla Sadra’s view on “quiddity” (mahiyyah) and “existence” (wujud).  “Quiddities” have been described as “intelligible qualities” (kayfiyyat-i ma’qul), meaning those subjective qualities that intellect grasps in certain “existences” (wujudat) and serves to separate quiddities from these existences. These existences possess the essence of the “reality of existence”  (haqiqat-i wujud) and are essentially and internally determined.  And thus they can abandon the absolute stage and become particular.  Mulla Sadra explains this point in some of his works:

Beware that the existence of quiddities (mahiyyat) is not dependent on the existence of a “characteristic” (sifat); it is rather dependent on the intellect's grasp of quiddity in certain existences that are externally united with quiddity.  The thing that can be understood by intuition (shuhud) is existence and the thing that can be understood in the form of intelligible qualities (kayfiyyat-i ma’qul) is quiddity, to which I have referred in the past.11

 When existences are diffused with God's will and take a distinct reality in various forms, with each is a united quiddity that is seemingly independent from existence, but it united to its illuminated spirit.  The distinct relation of quiddity to existence is of this case and as a result quiddity does not precede existence in any of its levels.  A quiddity relates to existence and its certainty is dependent on the certainty of existence.12


The opinion of Mulla Sadra on the relation of “quiddity” (mahiyyah) to “existence” (wujud) is different from that of Ibn Sina. Mulla Sadra, who believes in the principiality of existence (asalat-i wujud), does not accept the “qualification” (ittisaf) of quiddity and its relation with existence outside the mind.  He is not, however, completely against the qualification of existence outside the mind and believes that in the objective world “qualification” (ittisaf) can apply to existence. Nonetheless, he adds that “qualification” (ittisaf) in the outside world occurs in a reversed form: instead of “quiddity” (mahiyyah) becoming endowed with “existence” (wujud), “existence” (wujud) becomes endowed with “quiddity” (mahiyyah). Therefore, although conceptually and analytically it may seem that “existence” (wujud) is an accident (a'rad) of quiddity and quiddity is the receiver of the accident, in reality existence is not an accident. On the contrary, existence is something real and all quiddities are nothing but determined and limited forms of a unified true existence. The real existence cannot be a fraction of something.  In its absoluteness it is unlimited and undetermined. Only when it descends from the highest stages of absolute metaphysical simplicity does it take metaphysical form in various limited and determined things.

In a few of his works, Sadr al-muta'allihin compares the relation between the reality of existence (haqiqat-i wujud) and its limitations (mahdudiyyat) to a shadow (dil) and the actual shadow (dhi dil) or an image (shabah) and the actual thing (dhi shabah).  He says:


The truth about quiddity and existence is that existence precedes quiddity, but that quiddity is not active in existence, because, as we said, quiddity is not fabricated.  Existence is the actual principle and quiddity is dependent upon it.  This relation is not analogous to the dependence of a creature upon another creature, but it is rather similar to the dependence of a shadow upon a person or that of an image upon the actual thing.  It is worth noting that in this example a person or a thing does not create a shadow or an image, nor can it interfere with it. It should therefore be said that existence is in reality and in its own essence “existent”, while quiddity is existent through its relation with existence. Thus are existence and quiddity united.13


Existence, although its forms are different with respect to its quiddities, and although its categories and kinds are distinct with regard to essence and definition, is self-subsistent. Existence has a single entity with different stages of higher and lower degrees.

The above arguments are based on the gradation of existence and the participation of quiddity in existence.  There is, however, another interpretation regarding the “personal unity of existence” (wahdat-i shakhs-i wujud) and the non-participation of quiddity.14

Sadr al-muta'allihin considers the simultaneous unity and plurality of existence as one of the most important principles of his metaphysics.  This paradox can be best understood in his explanation of the “gradation of existence” (tashkik-i wujud).  Mulla Sadra proves that existents (mawjudat) are what they are due to their illuminated relation with the “absolute true existence” (haqiqat-i mutlaq-i wujud). We should not consider them as separate entities that are self-subsistent. This understanding of the ontological status of “specific existents” leads us to think that “existence” (wujud) is a unique reality which possesses different levels and stages based on degrees of intensity, weakness or strength, on perfection and deficiency, on priority and order, etc.  These differences are consistent with the reality of existence, for their differences are exactly similar to their unity.

To support this theory, Mulla Sadra uses “light” (nur) as a suitable example in describing the unity and gradation of existence.15 He praises those illuminationists who believe in this. Quite clearly he owes the concept of “light” as “metaphysical reality” to the founder of the Illuminationist school of Philosophy, Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi. It was Suhrawardi who explicated the meaning of “light” (nur) as  “the reality of metaphysics”  (haqiqat-i ma ba'd al-tabiah) and considered light (nur) as identical with existence.  The result of this analysis is that “existence” (wujud) is a “luminous truth” that manifests itself in different levels and degrees.

Mulla Sadra believes that existence or the ultimate reality is luminous in nature and that it shines upon other things, and, as something that transcends the faculties of mind or logic, it can only be understood and proven through inner illumination and intuitive knowledge.16


Philosophical Derivation Based on the Primacy of “Existence” over  “Quiddity”

1) One of the important derived conclusions on the basis of the principiality of “existence” (wujud), which is very significant in Sadr al-muta'allihin’s philosophy, is the principle of  “ontological possibility” (imkan-i wujudi). Based on this principle, he tries to clarify and explain the different stages of “gradational existence” (wujud-i tashkiki) and concludes that what is considered as the stages of existence are the modes and the manifestations of absolute existence.In this analysis, cause is considered as the essence of effect and effect as the appearance of cause. On the one hand, this viewpoint changes all discussions regarding cause and effect, the dependence of effect on cause, their bases and criteria, the kind of relation between cause and effect, the creator and the creation, and gives the philosopher a novel, deeper outlook. On the other hand, it expands the field of philosophy and prepares new grounds for philosophical growth and gives concepts like appearance (zuhur), manifestation (tajalli), dignity (tashaun) and the revealed verse (ayah) philosophical significance.  In this way Mulla Sadra sows the field of knowledge for a new and unique approach to the study of philosophy.

The concept of “existential possibility” (imkan-i wujudi) is a turning point in the history of Islamic philosophy.  The unique brilliance of Sadr al-muta'allihin and his extensive research in this field remains among the best of human accomplishments.  He discovered the reality of causation and revealed its mystery.  He proved that effect is like “dependence” (niyaz) and that relation belongs to a cause and is not independent of cause.  An effect, he believed, depends on cause.

 The cause and merit of a mode (atwar) is manifested in other modes.17

 It was Mulla Sadra who was able to establish a relation between an “effect” (ma'lul) in philosophy, an “appearance” (zuhur) or “manifestation” (jilvah) in gnosticism, and the “revealed verse” (ayah) in the Qu’ran. He was able to give these things meaning and establish a unity between them.  In this way a great philosophical step was taken towards uniting mysticism with rational demonstration, conjoined with the Holy Qur’an. But why didn’t this theory play any of the roles in Ibn Sina’s philosophy as it did in Mulla Sadra’s? Sadr al-muta'allihin admits that in his thinking Ibn Sina had experienced “privation of existence”  (faqr-i wujudi).18 In reality both philosophers have discussed the dependence of the existence of effect upon cause.  The difference lies in the fact that whereas Ibn Sina sought to prove this relation alongside many other philosophical issues and came to believe in it in the end, Mulla Sadra constructed a philosophy based on the principiality of existence that puts aside quiddity and its essentials such as contingent possibility (imkan-i ma huwi). Actually, it is only in the framework of the “principiality of existence” (asalat-i wujud) that this concept of “existential possibility” (imkan-i wujudi) can be fully expressed and analyzed.

2) One of the most profound issues in Sadr al-muta'allihin's philosophy is his argument for the “existence of God” (wujud-i haqq).  Mulla Sadra in his various works uses different methods to prove the existence of God.  The result of his theory is called the “argument of the righteous” (burhan-i siddiqin), which asserts that all things are created by God and are dependent upon Him and whatever exists in the world belongs to Him and nothing has an existence independent of Him.  What Mulla Sadra proves is not only the existence of God, but also the true meaning of God as the existence which has an encompassing authority over all other existences.  It is only God who truly exists and all creation is “presentation” (nomud) and “manifestation” (zuhur) of Him. This theory rejects any possibility that a creation can exist without it being the shadow (dil) of the Creator. Sadr al-muta'allihin considers the “argument of the righteous” (burhan-i siddiqin) as the way for true seekers, theologians and gnostics. They, with the spirit of the “reality of existence” (haqiqat-i wujud), prove the existence of the “Necessary Being” (wajib al-wujud), and witness Him based on His attributes, and witness his attributes based on His creation and act.


The path that we mentioned at the beginning of this exposition was the essence of reality of existence and what necessitates the reality of existence.  This principle is the strongest and the most honorable and expedient path in reaching the Truth.  It is the path of siddiqin (righteous men), who hold the existence of God as a proof for the existence of everything else, not holding everything else as a proof for His existence, although the latter way can also be used as a proof for His existence, as it is written in the Holy Qur’an about the way of the righteous men in regarding the creation of the world: "Soon We will show them Our signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own souls, until it becomes manifested to them that this is the Truth." (Fussilat: 53)  The latter part of the same verse also corresponds with the path of the scholars and the siddiqin regarding the creation of the world: "Is it not enough that your Creator is a witness upon all things?"  The views of the righteous cannot be anything but the essence and reality of existence.  They see the Divine Essence as a witness and a testimony to His Essence and the essence of everything else.  Hence, they witness the congregation of existences and their essence as a manifestation of the Divine and they identify all of His names and attributes through His own names and attributes.  For there is no existence that does not partake of the complete and true names and attributes of Him. 19


Mulla Sadra believes that Ibn Sina’s argument does not merit the title of “argument of the righteous”. He does not consider it as a desirable demonstration.20It is true that Ibn Sina did not consider God's Creation and His acts as means of demonstration, but his proof, much like the one presented by theologians (muttikallimun) and natural philosophers, utilizes possibility, which is a characteristic of quiddities, as a mean of demonstration.

When Mulla Sadra criticizes the reasoning of Ibn Sina and disqualifies it from being the “argument of the righteous men” (burhan-i siddiqin), he does not mean that Ibn Sina's argument is conceptual and has nothing to do with the world outside.  Mulla Sadra believes that in Ibn Sina's philosophy there is a discussion of the “concept of the existent” (mafhum-i mawjud), of course as a representative, whereas his philosophy deals with the “reality of existence” (haqiqat-i hasti).  In Ibn Sina's philosophy, the “concept of the existent” (mafhum-i mawjud) includes both the necessary and the contingent and it also applies to quiddity, whereas in Mulla Sadra's philosophy the only thing that is under consideration is the “reality of existence” (haqiqat-i hasti), which includes nothing except different levels of existence.

Generally, two different approaches are used in Islamic philosophy to prove the existence of God; one is the approach used by the Avicennan philosophers and the other is the philosophical methodology used by Mulla Sadra. 21 The demonstration of Ibn Sina divides existence – according to intellectual arguments – into two categories of necessary and contingent beings. In the next stage, he proceeds to prove that contingent beings without necessary beings lead to an infinite regression, which would be impossible to justify. Mulla Sadra’s philosophy starts off from the notion that the “existent”– which is the subject of the first philosophy and admitting to the reality of which is the first necessary step that separates true philosopher from sophist – is either quiddity or existence, and of these two one is real (asil) and the other is non-factual (i’tibari). In the next stage, Mulla Sadra proves that what is real is existence and not quiddity.  In the third stage he asserts that the reality of existence is a single truth and whatever exists in multiples or variances is the manifestations of the different stages of this reality, meaning that whatever exists is the reality of existence and that these things are not second to existence itself. Lastly, Mulla Sadra mentions that the reality of being (haqiqat-i wujud), which is real and unique, is equal to and the same as essential necessity and, notwithstanding any causal or determinating quality, it excludes non-existence. And since the world is constantly changing and accepts the notion of non-existence, we believe that the world is not like the reality of existence.  The world is the shadow, the image or the manifestation of existence.

Having said this, it becomes clear that Mulla Sadra’s first philosophical discovery is the reality of being (haqiqat-i wujud).22  He must then investigate the realm of contingent things and in order to prove their existence he must use as his proof the “necessary essence” (dhat-i wajib). And of course he does not believe that contingent things belong in the second stage of creation.  They are rather manifestations of God's essence; although they are not at the same level of God's essence, His essence is present at that stage.

This belief in God that Mulla Sadra reaches through the “argument of the righteous” (burhan-i siddiqin) is because of centuries of extensive research and intellectual advances during which philosophers and thinkers strove to solve difficult issues in philosophy. This implication reveals the deeper and the more complete implication of the course of religious experience as it can be found in the Holy Qur’an and the traditions of the Holy Prophet (s) and his purified family ('a). In Mulla Sadra's philosophy, the existence in things – compared to the existence in God – is not real existence (wujud-i haqiqi); rather, they (things) are a manifestation of God, even before they become a manifestation of their own existence. Based on this philosophical attitude, created things are manifestations of God and not the outward appearance of God – meaning that the essence of things (in creation) is this manifestation and reflection. When we are bestowed with the knowledge to understand creation as it is, we shall understand that absolute and real truth belongs to a pure essence (dhat-i pak).

Based on this, the explanation that Mulla Sadra presents on God is different from the one that Farabi or Ibn Sina set forth. They, in explicating God, relied on the Necessary Being and saw God as an existence whose essence and quiddity are identical with His Being (hasti). Mulla Sadra, who believes in the principiality of existence, rejects their notion of essence and existence or the relation of the two. Farabi’s and Ibn Sina’s belief is based on the fact the assumed existents (mawjud) are real existents and not non-factual ones. Based on this,  in order for a thing to be a necessary being, apart from having true existence, it must be free from any determination and dependence on any cause. There is no condition and stipulation for a being whose existence is identical with his realization, and it is absolute being.

3) In his research concerning the reality of existence, Mulla Sadra presents an idea that relates to his theory of the “absolute” (mutlaq).  In the order of metaphysics, the reality of existence is a single truth, which takes multiple and variant stages due to determination.  The highest of these stages must necessarily be the state of the “absolute”, which is also referred to as the level of the unseen of the unseen realities (ghayb al-ghuyyub), or the level of pure entity, and it is said that “ one cannot know of His Name nor of His Way” (la isma wa la rasma lah) in this stage, and there is no way to understand Him at this level.  As for the lowest level, it is the limitation of “truth” (haqiqat) that manifests itself in this level and shows itself in stipulated things. 

What is of primary importance is that in the Transcendent Theosophy when we say that the essence of God is absolute, we do not mean that the essence of God is the most universal concept and that this concept, like the concept of corporeal things, does not have any limitation. We mean that it has a kind of existential connotation, for the essence of God is limitless and is not limited by place, time, space, quiddity or existence.


According to Mulla Sadra, the reality of existence (haqiqat-i wujud) has three levels:23  The first level contains “existence” (wujud) itself and has no relation to anything other than itself.  From a theological point of view this existence is God, Who is absolute and distinct from and higher than His creation.  According to this view God is the absolute light (nur-i mutlaq) and for this reason is hidden from human intellect.

The second level pertains to the “unfolded existence” (wujud-i munbasit).  Existence at this level is still pure, meaning that it is still simple or unfolded and a single truth (haqiqat-i wahid). But apart from this, it has the potential of effusion to all directions.  From a theological point of view, it is the basis of the appearance and the manifestation of God.

The third level relates to “particular existences”  (wujudat-i khas).  These things are the stages and the levels of the realization of the “unfolded existence”.  At each of these levels, when human intellect considers existence as an independent entity in relation to itself, it changes itself into quiddity. However, if quiddities that are formed in this way are compared to the “unfolded existence” (wujud-i munabasit), they are mere shadows.

A man of knowledge and wisdom can discern the reality of being and its absoluteness at one glance and at the next glance he can see different and variant things.  He will see the truth behind the veil of variant things and realize that it is the “pure existence” (wujud-i mahd) and the “simple (non-composite) identity” (huwiyyat-i basitah), which has by no means any trace or sign of multiplicity (kithrat).  The reality of existence in this sense is “one” (wahid) with the “absolute unity” and is free from “absoluteness” (atlaq) and “determination” (taqyyid).  The reality of existence encompasses all levels and signs. 24

4) Mulla Sadra's thoughts on participation (ishtirak) and intensification (ishtidad) of existence lead to the issues of matter (madih) and form (surat).  Mulla Sadra believes that matter accompanies form during its descend and it is at the same time united with it.  For this reason, before it can reach the highest stage, the world of rationality, it accompanies form.  It is only in the world of rationality that existences are exempt from having even the smallest amount of matter. 

This issue carries with it the issue of motion (harakat).  Mulla Sadra, much like gnostics, believes that the universe is constantly in motion and in a state of change. He refutes the possibility of the annihilation of one’s essence and its transformation into a new essence, which is a belief held by Ibn Sina.  Mulla Sadra believes that motion is but the revival and renewal of universe in every moment.  This principle applies not only to accidents but also to substances.  This motion is not perceivable by our senses and keeps the identity and the continuity of each entity in spite of constant trans-substantial motion. The principle can only be based on the belief that the existence of a thing is the thing itself and that quiddity is non-factual.  With the acceptance of principiality of existence, constant change becomes part of existence and the question of what happens to the thing itself in the course of its “trans-substantial motion” (harakat-i jawhari) becomes a non-issue, for the thing is its own existence and motion is a mode of existence. 25

Trans-substantial motion (harakat-i jawhari) has the two aspects of changing and constancy (thabat).  Each aspect has two faces, a face towards the constant and eternal universe and a face towards the world of nature.  The first face emphasizes constancy, and the second, revival and renewal. That is why it is not as if existence and “being” (budan) are incompatible with “becoming and changing” (shudan and ta'qir), for becoming is a kind of existence.  In Sadra’s opinion, existence is basically of two kinds: One is constant and the other is changing. 

  Mulla Sadra, using the concept of trans-substantial motion, proves many difficult natural and metaphysical issues,  including the temporal creation of the world (huduth-i a'lam), the relation between permanence and change, the creation of the world, the creation of the soul, the resurrection of the body and other issues relating to resurrection.  This should actually be considered as one of the basic characteristics of his philosophy.

On the issue of creation, Mulla Sadra disagrees with theologians (mutakkallimun), who believe that God “created the universe” out of nothing. He also disagrees with Ibn Sina, who only accepts “essential contingency” (huduth-i dhati) and rejects “temporal contingency” (huduth-i zamani). Mulla Sadra rejects Mir Damad's explication of atemporal createdness (huduth-i dahri) as well. He believes in temporal contingency.  He believes that because of trans-substantial motion the universe is constantly regenerating. In a sense it can be said that the existence of the world in each moment is its non-existence in the previous moment.  Thus the whole world is a collection of parts and is created and of temporal contingency.  Its whole does not have an existence independent of its parts.  Hence, the question of when the world was created is absurd.  This question is valid only when we can have an independent  “fixture” of time in the world and can determine at which time the world was created. But it is not possible to determine such a time, for time itself is a product of matter and not an independent entity.


5) Mulla Sadra, as with gnostics, ascertains that the knower ('alim) and the known (ma’lum) in essence are one and the same, and considers the existence of things as that of God’s knowledge.  Based on the principiality of existence and the important principle of  “simple reality”  (basit al-haqiqah), Mulla Sadra believes that God has an immediate knowledge (ilm-i huduri) of things.  The fact that God is aware of His own essence, allows Him to have knowledge of all things.26

Mulla Sadra, much like Illuminationist philosophers, divided knowledge into the two categories of “acquired knowledge” (ilm-i husuli) and “knowledge by presence” (ilm-i huduri). As with Illuminationists, Mulla Sadra further divides intuitive knowledge into three categories: the knowledge that self has of itself, the knowledge that cause has of its effect, and the knowledge that effect has of its cause.  Knowing in his opinion is the movement from potentiality to actuality and the promotion of existence.  During this process, the perceiver or the knower surpasses this stage and reaches the stage of perceptibility (mudrak), where the known and the knower or the intelligent and the intelligible achieve a kind of unity which is characteristic of intellection.  It is worth saying that acquired knowledge, or the knowledge that human soul has of anything but itself is not merely the reflection of things on the soul; rather, the soul has a power of creativity similar to the Creator. That is to say that it can create forms in the soul – forms that are dependent upon the soul, in the same way the external universe is dependent on the essence of truth (dhat-i haqq).27

6) Another important philosophical accomplishment by Mulla Sadra is his emphasis on psychology (ilm al-nafs).  Mulla Sadra considers this topic important, more important than what Ibn Sina believed. He also excludes the topic of the soul from his physics and includes it in a branch of metaphysics and in a part which is supplementary to the science of the principle of things.

Mulla Sadra, based on the principiality of existence, thought of the soul as  “the corporeality of its contingency and immortality of its soul” (jismaniyya al-huduth wa ruhaniyyat al-baqa).  In his opinion, soul is an independent substance that at first appears like a body and is then transferred by the trans-substantial motion (harakat-i jawhari) into a vegetable stage, and then into an animal stage and finally into the soul of man.  All of these stages are in the first substance or the first life-germ (fetus), which passes through all the substantial stages as a result of trans-substantial motion, until it frees itself from matter and potentiality and achieves immortality in the plenum of intellects.  In other words, soul in the beginning is corporeal and then passes through several stages, until it finally frees itself from matter and changing.28

Although the inner potentialities that Mulla Sadra presents are basically the same as those which Muslim thinkers before him presented following Aristotle, Mulla Sadra takes these concepts far and beyond the peripatetic philosophers before him.  We know that Aristotle thought that only the universal intellect (a'ql-i kulli) is eternal.  Muslim Peripatetic Philosophers, like Ibn Sina, expanded this concept of eternity and included in it the intellectual faculty of the human soul.  Mulla Sadra, following the tradition of some gnostics, also counted the faculty of imagination as eternal, or at the very least an independent entity from body.

Mulla Sadra considers the corporeal resurrection of the body in the hereafter as part of Divine mysteries and gives it a unique interpretation. He believes that the individuality and the distinction and the unique characteristics of each human being are because of his soul and not his body, for the substance of the body alters every few years without affecting personal unity.  Intellection and imagination are essentially a part of the substance of the soul, while vegetable and animal faculties, like senses, are transmitted through the body.  He believes that in the hereafter all souls are given the power to create external forms. For example, every soul, without dependence on an external member, can attain the pleasure of seeing from within.  In other words, bodily parts that seem external to the soul in the hereafter are created from within the soul, and in this body and soul truly accompany one another during the time of resurrection.



1) Sadr al-Din Shirazi, al-Hikmat al-muta’alliyah fil-asfar, 4th  edition, vol. 9, pp. 278, 318. Also refer to vol. 8, p. 224, Beirut-Lebanon, Dar ahya’ al-trath al-arabi, 1410 AH. (Lunar Calendar), 1990 AD.

 2) Mulla Sadra, al-Masha’ir, p. 4, Isfahan, Mahdawi Publications. Also refer to, al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah, 1st edition, p.14, Markaz Nashr-i Danishgahi, 1360 HS.

3) Ibn Sina, al-Shifa, al-Ilahiyyat, pp. 5 and 14, Qum, Maktabat al-Mara'shi al-Najafi, 1404 AH;  Idem.,'Ayun al-hikmah,  p. 47, revised by Abdul al-Rahman Badawi, 2nd edition, Beirut, Wakalat al-matbu'at wa dar al-qalam, 1980 AD. Compare with Mulla Sadra's Shawahid al-rububiyyah, pp.16-17.

4) Ibn Sina, al-Shifa al-Ilahiyyat, p. 29, Cairo, 1960 AD.

5) Idem., al-Nijat, p. 496, Tehran University Press,1364 HS.

6) Mulla Sadra, al-Mabda' wa'l-ma'ad, 1st edition, p. 6, Qum, Maktabat al-Mustafawi.

7) Mulla Sadra, al-Masha'ir, p. 6.

8) Principiality of existence, simplicity (bisatat) and the real unity are commentaries by the well-known arif (gnostic) Mahy al-Din and his student.  Also refer to Qaysari, Sharh-i fusus al-hikam, 1st edition, p. 93 and p. 5, Qum, Bidar Publications, Sa'in al-Din Ali Ibn Muhammed Tarakih, Tamhid al-qawa'id, p. 33 and pp. 56-59, Tehran, Anjuman-i islami-i hikmat wa falsafih, 1360 HS.

9) Mulla Sadra has other interpretations on the knowledge of distinguishing truth (ilm-i tafsili haq) and its relation to things before their existence and other issues such as (jismaniyyat al-huduth wa ruhaniyyat al-baqa) and their relation to the soul.  Mulla Sadra at one time agreed with Ibn Sina about the knowledge of God (ilm-i haq), he later discovered the concept of “simple reality”  (basit al-haqiqah) which changed his mind on true knowledge and other related topics.  Mulla Sadra also proved the concept detailed knowledge (ilm tafsili) which was neither in the philosophy of the peripatetic or the illumitionists.  Refer to Mulla Sadra, al-Asfar al-arba'ah, vol.6, p. 249, and vol.8, pp. 391-393.

 10) Mulla Sadra, al-Masha'ir, p. 35, Mulla Sadra, al-Asfar al-arba'ah, vol.1, p. 49.

11) Mulla Sadra, al-Asfar al-arba'ah, vol. 2, pp. 348-349.

12) Ibid., pp. 349-350.

13) Mulla Sadra, al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah, p. 8.

14) Refer to Mulla Sadra, Sharh-i hidayah, p. 285, Qum, Bidar Publications.

15) Mulla Sadra, al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah, p. 36.

16) Mulla Sadra, al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah, p. 7.

 17) Mulla Sadra, al-Masha'ir, p. 54; al-Asfar al-arba'ah, vol. 2, pp. 300-301, and p. 292; al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah, p. 51.

18) Mulla Sadra, al-Asfar al-arba'ah, vol. 1, pp. 46-47.

19) The holy Qur'an, Fussilat: 53 and 56, Mulla Sadra,al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah, p. 46.

20) Mulla Sadra, al-Asfar al-arba'ah, vol. 6, pp.13-14; al-Masha'ir, p. 68.

21) Mulla Sadra, al-Masha'ir, p. 69.

22) Refer to Mulla Sadra,' Arshiyyah, p. 219, Tehran: Mawla Publications; Mulla Sadra, al-Masha'ir, p. 45.

23) Mulla Sadra, al-Masha'ir, p. 41.

24) Mulla Sadra, al-Asfar al-arba'ah, vol. 1, p. 262.

25) Ibid., vol. 3, p. 97.

26) Mulla Sadra, Sharh al-hidayat al-athiriyyah, pp. 308-309, Qum, Bidar Publications.

27) Mulla Sadra, Rasa'il, p. 240, Qum, Maktabat al-Mustafawi.

28) Mulla Sadra,al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah, p. 152 and onwards.


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