Mulla Sadra on the Platonic Forms
Prof. John Walbridge
The second volume of Mulla Sadra’s al-Asfar al-arba’ah, where he discusses quiddity (mahiyyah), contains a lengthy survey of views on Plato’s Forms or Ideas as they were known and discussed in Islamic philosophy and in some Greek texts such as the Theology of Aristotle. I will survey the major stages in the development of Islamic philosophical thought on the Forms.
Mulla Sadra was aware that the doctrine goes back to Socrates but was fully formulated by Plato, criticized by Aristotle in such works as the Metaphysics, and then rehabilitated by the Neoplatonists, as reflected in the Theology of [Pseudo] Aristotle. Muslim thought on the Forms went through several stages:
1) Ibn Sina’s neo-Aristotelian rejection of the Forms. Ibn Sina’s reasoning is largely that of Aristotle in the Metaphysics.
2) Suhrawardi’s nominalist revival of the Forms as immaterial substantial lights. Suhrawardi used the Forms to explain the regularity of the universe while launching a vigorous nominalist critique of the Aristotelian epistemology of Ibn Sina.
3) The eighth/fourteenth century re-examination of the doctrine of the Forms, in the course of which at least five separate interpretations of the Forms are distinguished.
4) Mulla Sadra’s reconciliation of these various views within his philosophy of existence.
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