Is Trans-Substantial Motion Intensive (Ishtidàdí)?


Muhsin Gharawian


1. What is trans-substantial motion (al-harakat al-jawhariyyah)?

2. What is the meaning of the intensification of trans-substantial motion?

3. How do the proponents of the intensification of trans-substantial motion justify their position?

4. How do the opponents of the intensification of trans-substantial motion justify their position?

5. Final assessment.

1. What is Trans-Substantial Motion?

Motion in the category of accidents is an evident issue, whereas motion in the category of substance requires proof. A great number of the Peripatetic and Illuminationist philosophers believed that motion only occurs in accidents and argued that motion in substance is indemonstrable and impossible.

The main objection raised by the opponents of motion in substance was that since a constant essence is required from the beginning to the end of each motion, if motion is supposed to penetrate into the essences and substances of the very objects, then we have to necessarily accept the existence of motion without a moved (mutaharrik), and the existence of qualification without a qualified, which are both absolutely unreasonable and unimaginable.

The proponents of trans-substantial motion; however, believe that if motion is properly analyzed, not only motion in substance will be possible, but it will also be necessary, definite, and inevitable. Basically, if motion in substance is not considered as being Necessary, motion in the category of accidents will not be demonstrable, either. The followers of trans-substantial motion maintain that motion is nothing but the flux of existence, whether this existence is in itself (fi nafsih) or other than itself (li ghayrih). If existence in itself, that is, substance, enjoys flow, interruption, and continuity, it is motion itself. Similarly, if existence other than itself, that is, accident, is fluid and interrupted, it means that accident is the same as motion.   

Those who believe in trans-substantial motion maintain that motion is among the secondary philosophical intelligibles and analytical accidents of existence, and, unlike Shaykh al-Ishràq, one should not regard it as an external accident to existents.

According to the doctrine of trans-substantial motion, when we say that the substance of a flower moves, it is just like saying that its color is changing.  Is there any fixed color during the process of the change of the flower’s color to which the transformation of color could be attributed? The answer is “No”. Therefore, it is not necessary to assume a fixed subject in trans-substantial motion so that motion could be attributed to it.

Principally, motion and constancy are considered as two analytic qualities for the fluid and constant existent. Such qualities do not require an objective qualified which is independent of qualification. Like constancy, the quality of motion for a constant existent is not an accident that externally occurs to it, so that irrespective of its occurrence, to be qualified by lack of stability. According to experts, motion and constancy are among analytic accidents and do not need an independent subject. Rather, their existence is the same as their accidental existence.

Hence, the attribution of motion to the nature of substance or accident is an accidental attribution.  In fact, according to the principiality of existence, motion has to be attributed to existence as “an analytic accident”, and such an attribution is an essential one.

2. What is the Meaning of the Intensification of Trans-Substantial Motion?

Some philosophers have defined motion as “the gradual movement of an object from potency to act,” and some have stated, “Motion is the first perfection for the potential existent because it is potential itself.”

On the basis of these two definitions, some philosophers have concluded that since the moved achieves a new actuality and perfection through motion, each motion is necessarily intensified and causes the perfection of the moved.

Here, two points should be distinguished from each other: one is the perfection of motion and the other is the perfection of the moving agent. A moving agent may constantly attain new perfections in the course of its motion; however, the speed of this process might be different, that is, the speed of perfection might be sometimes increasing, sometimes decreasing, and sometimes constant and steady. The constancy of speed and even its decrease are not in contradiction with the perfection of the moved. For example, when the process of an apple’s becoming sweet is slowed down, it will be sweeter in the next moment comparing to the previous moment, even though this change is becoming slower. Consequently, assuming that in a specific motion, the motion itself causes greater perfection for the moving agent is not in contradiction with assuming negative velocity for the speed of perfection.

The claim that each motion is perfected due to its mode of being motion is in contradiction with accepting the existence of steady and slow motion. Obviously, such a claim is against conscience and reason, and in order to demonstrate it, one cannot resort to some of the definitions for motion. At most, it might be inferred that the moving agent achieves a new actuality and perfection in the light of motion, and as mentioned before, the perfection of the moving agent is not in contradiction with the decreasing speed of motion.

3. How Do the Proponents of the Intensification of Trans-Substantial Motion Justify their Position?

If the meaning of the perfection of motion is taken as its intensification and acceleration, it will lack generality and cannot be applied to all kinds of motion. However, some have interpreted the intensification and perfection of motion in the sense that the moving agent will obtain a higher level of perfection through motion. By a higher level of perfection, they mean a new actuality. Accordingly, they have concluded that every motion is necessarily intensified and will always cause the perfection of the moving agent. This includes trans-substantial motion through which a substance is necessarily intensified and perfected.

The main justification of the proponents of trans-substantial motion is derived from the definition of motion. They argue that if motion means the gradual movement of an object from potency to action, and if action is a higher level comparing to potency; therefore, every motion is necessarily evolutionary and intensified.

The problem that the followers of trans-substantial motion are faced with is that a great number of existents in the course of their motion move towards decline, weakness, and dejection.  Their gradual motions and transformations do not enhance their perfection; rather, they steadily decrease it and bring them closer to death and nonexistence. We can clearly observe this phenomenon in animals and plants, which after going through the stages of growth and flourishment, enter the stage of aging and debility and their declining motion begins.

To solve this problem, they argue that, through deliberation, one will see that such declining or descending motions are accompanied by other motions. For instance, if the roots of a tree are worm-eaten and decayed, the tree withers, and at the same time, the worm of the tree gradually grows. Here, the real motion is the evolutionary motion of this worm that causes decline in the perfection of the tree whose decay is a motion in accident and not essence.

The second reason provided by those who believe in the evolutionary nature of motion is that every object seeks its own perfection and, at all times, tends to approach ultimate perfection in each motion; and that is why it goes through motion.  Thus, if motion does not increase the perfection of the moved, why does it go through motion at all? And what is its motive for motion?

The third reason is that according to Divine Wisdom, the resultant of motions in the world should be positive and directed towards perfection.  Otherwise, if the outcome of these motions is not positive and the result of their aggregation is not the realization of higher perfections for the creatures of this world, their creation will be absurd and unwise. And since God is wise, the motions of the world should necessarily be towards perfection and intensification. This argument is in fact based on the Divine Wisdom.

4. How Do the Opponents of the Intensification of Trans-Substantial Motion Justify their Position?

Those who deny the intensification of motion believe that not every motion is necessarily evolutionary. Although some or the majority of motions may be considered as intensive, some weakening or declining motions may also be found in the world.  The existence of such descending motions is evidence for rejecting the generality of the argument of the intensification of motion. 

However, the justification that the declining motion of a moved is linked and simultaneous with the intensified motion of another moved is not demonstrable in all cases. Besides, the gradual transformation of a declining existent cannot be ignored or considered as an accidental motion. After all, this question remains to be answered: “How is the decreasing and gradual change in the declining existent analyzed and explained from a philosophical point of view?”

Moreover, relying on the common definitions of motion for demonstrating the evolutionary and intensive nature of motion is incorrect and not enough, for non-evolutionary and non-intensive motions obviously exist in nature and their existence cannot be denied.

Supposing the contents of the definitions of motion are not compatible with the declining motions, one should doubt the truth and generality of those definitions rather than denying the declining motions or providing unreasonable justifications by resorting to those definitions.  Moreover, the above definitions may be interpreted in ways that do not require the negation of non-evolutionary motion. It is emphasized that potency and action are two relative concepts that are abstracted from observing the priority of a being over another, as well as the inclusion of the latter over the whole or a part of the former being. This interpretation does not necessarily indicate that the whole of the second being is more complete than that of the first. On the other hand, conceiving of motion as a prerequisite for achieving the cardinal perfection does not necessitate the subsistence of all the previous perfections in the subsequent being. The reason is that the necessary condition for motion and obtaining the resulting perfection might be for the moved to lose some of its perfections. In this manner, the perfection which is obtained through motion might be equal to the lost perfection or even weaker than that.

Thus applying the common definitions to various kinds of motion does not necessarily imply that the perfection which is attained following a motion to be existentially superior to the lost one. As a result, comparing to its former situation, the moved will necessarily become more perfect.

Basically, in defining motion, it is not necessary to resort to the concepts of potentiality, act, or perfection, since such concepts need clarification and interpretation themselves and cannot solve the ambiguities in the concept of motion.

The opponents of the generality of the intensification of motion suspiciously pose this question: Is it really possible to accept that when any object is transferred from one place to another, it will actually become more perfect and attain a new and higher perfection comparing to its earlier perfection? Or is it really possible to prove that the wilting and descending process of each plant and animal is the result of the evolution of another existent? 

In response to the question of “if motion does not increase the perfection of the moved, then why it undergoes that motion, and what is its motive for doing so?” they say that: First, not every motion is rooted in the wisdom and motives of the moved as in the case of natural and compulsive motions. Second, even a rational being, in order to achieve a real or imaginary pleasure, might make a movement which results in losing certain more valuable perfections. This may also be due to being ignorant of this inevitable consequence, or to a deep interest in gaining the intended pleasure. However, if such a motion is not rational and wise, it does not necessarily follow that it is impossible, too.

With regard to the argument that if the outcome of motions in the world was not positive, the creation of the world would consequently be unwise and in vain, they state: “On the basis of the Divine Wisdom, we prove that the creation of the world has not been in vain, and it has certainly had many wise consequences. Yet, in order for the resultant of the consequences of motions to be positive, it is not necessary for each motion to be evolutionary and cause greater perfection for the moved itself.”

The Conclusion of the Arguments of the Opponents of the Intensification of Motion

The conclusion is that the perfection of each moved in the course of motion, in the sense that the new perfection enjoys existential priority over the former, is not justified. Meanwhile, experience indicates that there are not only steady motions, but also the descending and weakening ones. This means that the moved either gradually loses the existing perfections or acquires certain perfections that are not superior to the lost ones. We can only conceive of one true meaning for the evolutionary nature of each motion and that is, “in each motion the moving agent attains an existential quality which was previously lacking, even though another entity might have enjoyed a similar or more complete example of it, as mentioned with regard to potency and action.”  

5. Final Assessment

In order to judge the issue under discussion, the following points are worthy of attention:

a. We must exactly know the definition of the perfection of the moved, and personally determine the referent of the perfection and the final stage of a moving agent in the world. In that case, we can judge whether a motion is evolutionary and intensive or descending and weakening. In doing so, it is necessary to determine a criterion for ascent and descent or intensification and weakening of beings. If there is no criterion to distinguish between perfection and imperfection, how can one regard a motion as weakening or evolutionary? What we consider as weakness, aging, wilting, or annihilation, may be regarded as perfection, intensification, and growth on the basis of a different criterion. For example, we conceive of man’s death as annihilation, whereas from a different point of view, it is deemed as perfection and subsistence.

Taking the above points into consideration, it can be said that each motion, including all trans-substantial motions, since they emerge as a matter of moving from potency to action, are evolutionary and intensive.  The criterion for evolution and intensification is existential actuality. Undoubtedly, the actuality of a potency, comparing to the potency itself, is at a higher and more complete level. On the other hand, motion is nothing but the collection of these continuous and repeated movements. Therefore, in the process of motion, the moved always reaches actuality from potentiality and attains a higher level of existence

b. We do not claim that since the descending motions coincide with evolutionary motions, all motions are intensive. Rather, we believe that those motions that appear to us as descending and weakening are basically evolutionary and intensive within the vast realm of existence. If we have an exact criterion for perfection and intensification, we will not regard such motions as descending, weakening, wilting, destructive, annihilating, aging, debilitating, declining, shrinking, corrupting, and degenerating.

c. Those who believe in the existence of non-evolutionary motions and refer to examples such as humans’ aging, withering of trees, decay of an apple, or the like consider the criterion of perfection and imperfection as a natural and not existential criterion. Otherwise, considering existential levels, actuality is always superior to and higher than potency, and potency itself is nothing but the same previous actuality that is considered as potency comparing to the subsequent actuality. Hence, at all times, the subsequent actuality is existentially superior to the previous one. Thus, motion is constantly and necessarily evolutionary and intensive.

d. If in only one of the motions of the world, there is the possibility of descending from a higher actuality to an inferior one, it means that such can happen to all existents of the world. However, this is not in conformity with the Divine Wisdom. If the resultant of the consequences of motions in the world has to be positive on the basis of the Divine Wisdom, why is it not possible to claim that in each motion the resultant of the repeated movements from potency to actuality should be evolutionary and positive?

e. It is true that some of the moving agents do not possess any wisdom and motive of their own; however, the First Mover, that is, The Most High, owns both of them, and since all motions in the universe are directed towards Him, it can be claimed that if motion had not invariably been evolutionary and intensive, it would not have been actualized by The Most High in the world of existence, and He would not have had any motive to create it, either.

To sum up, it must be said that all kinds of motion in the world, including trans-substantial motion of objects, are intensified and evolutionary throughout the general processes of existence. The movement towards perfection that prevails the realm of existence and the domain of the existential manifestation of the Sublime Necessary dominates all kinds of the motion in the world, and at the same time, it requires the intensification and evolution of the entire moving beings.


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