The Ontological Nature of Perceptual Evil (Sharr-i Idràkí)
in the Transcendent Theosophy

M.H. Qadrdan Qaramalaki



The existence of deficiencies and evils (shurur) in the glorious pages of the divine book of being draws the attention of every observer and thinker and gives rise to certain questions concerning the compatibility of evil (shar) with the essence of the existence of God – as well as God’s perfect attributes, such as absolute justice, power, knowledge, and benevolence. Some philosophers and theologians confess their inability to offer a satisfactory answer to this question and consider the matter of evil among secrets and mysteries.[1] 

But most Islamic philosophers have tried to find an answer, and have come up with different solutions, and here we cannot deal with their proofs deservedly. (The author has discussed this issue in detail somewhere else.)[2] However, among the presented theories, two of them are not only most important but also seem to be the basic key to settle the controversies concerning the matter of evil. These two theories are Plato’s theory (evil as a privation), and Aristotle’s solution (the theory of the division of evil).

Most Islamic philosophers have adapted Plato’s argument and have tried to clarify and substantiate the theory in different manners. And thus Islamic philosophers consider all creatures as absolute goodness and attribute all evils to privation. In defending the theory of evil as privation, Mullà Sadrà states:

Philosophers believe that essential evil does not have a positive reality but tends to non-existence (‘adam); it is either the privation of its own essence or the privation of essential perfection, because if evil is a positive reality, it is evil either for itself or for another one. But the first form is not permissible because in this way it should not have become existent from the beginning, since an object cannot be the cause of the non-existence of its own essence. But the second case, in which evil becomes the cause of the privation of another perfection or essence, in this assumption evil will be the very negative matter and not a positive reality which presents the role of agent and destroyer.[3]

The sum of it all is that, based on Plato’s theory, which is the source of Islamic and western philosophy, the world of existence is absolute goodness and its evils are nothing more than privations. The above-mentioned theory is more practical in explaining the matter of evil and in solving the related problems. But this theory faces a problem known as the existence of the perceptual evil (e.g. pain and suffering), which claims that some creatures are attributed to essential evil. And if this theory is proved, one ought to reject the theory of evil as a privation, a theory which, along with Aristotle’s, undertakes to settle some problems concerning Grace and Justice as well as the elimination of “dualism”.    

The present article aims to clarify the issue of perceptual evil and to study arguments and counter-arguments in the “transcendent theosophy”. Here, the ideas of some philosophers such as Mullà Sadrà, Mullà Hàdí Sabziwàrí, ‘Allàmah Tabàtabà’í and some other contemporary philosophers will be briefly analyzed. Also, the issue of Mullà Sadrà’s deviation from the doctrine of evil as a privation and his argument on the positive reality of perceptual evil – which, according to him, is a strange and serious matter and has been neglected by recent philosophers – will be discussed.

Perceptual Evil

As it was mentioned in the introduction, perceptual evil is considered as the greatest problem for the theory of evil as a privation, and if it is proved, every philosophical reasoning from Plato’s era to the present time will be rendered unfruitful. That is why philosophers are willing to put every effort into solving this problem. But were the philosophers living before Mullà Sadrà successful in this regard or not? Answering this question is beyond the scope of this article and therefore the author suffices to acknowledge Mullà Sadrà’s own comment when he says,

Beware that there is a great problem about evil which has not been solved up to the present century and I will solve it with the help of God.[4]

Whether Mullà Sadrà himself or his succeeding philosophers have been successful in this regard or not will be discussed in the following parts.

A Word of Reminder

Before discussing and reviewing the issue of perceptual evil, I would like to point something out. The point is that if we analyze all the pain and suffering that man or any sensible being experiences due to different factors such as maintaining bodily injuries, witnessing a frightening scene or receiving unpleasant news, we will see that all these pains are related to the perception of human soul. And it is the soul with its unity and bond with the cognitive form which is affected and grieved because of the above mentioned factors. So every pain and suffering follows the perception of an unfavorable event, and if there is no perception, there will be no pain and suffering at all. This is accepted by all philosophers. For example, in defining pain and pleasure Ibn Sínà says,

Indeed pleasure is the same perception and what is on the perceptive perfection. Goodness is the same and pain is also the same perception and reaching what is called evil and calamity by the knower.[5]

An Introduction of Counter-arguments

Disagreements between proponents and opponents stem from the perceptions of matters, which are unpleasant to the nature of human soul. That is, the proponents of the existentiality of perceptual evil claim that these perceptions of evil, which are positive, are essentially inconsistent and in contrast with the nature of the affected soul; therefore, they are attributed to evil. But opponents have tried to explain perceptual evil in two ways: denying the existentiality of the perception of privations (Mullà Sadrà’s way), and, essentially denying the evilness of perceptions.

Here I would like to draw your attention to a subtle point. In discussing our topic, we should not ignore a very subtle and important point and that is the claim of the opponents, which is denying and totally rejecting evil as a positive reality. That is to say that there is no entity, whether big or small, which is essentially evil, and all evils tend to privations. Therefore, if a very small being is found that is essentially attributed to evil, this in itself suffices to deny and reject the theory of evil as a privation.

But those who believe in evil as a positive reality (accidental evil) propound their theory in the form of a particular proposition. They say that some creatures are essentially attributed to evil and evil in this application is not negative and non-existential but is pain and suffering, mental and spiritual suffering which either needs no definition or cannot be defined.

Therefore, if some creatures are attributed to evil and at the same time have some advantages and benefits, this is not considered as a shortcoming of the claim of the proponents, because they claim the absolute realization of essential evils, whether it be pure evil or a combination of good and evil.

The Proponents’ Proof

A. The Claim of the Evident: Some of the proponents of the existentiality of perceptual evil refer to “the evident” and “the necessary” to support their claims. We will state here the theories of Fakhr al-Dín al-Ràzí and Muhaqqiq Dawàní:

Fakhr al-Dín al-Ràzí:

Necessarily, pain and suffering are positive realities and there is no disagreement among philosophers regarding this issue. But there is disagreement on the matter of the existence of pleasure (as a positive reality). Some consider pleasure as a privation and define it as the absence of pain and suffering.[6] But even among the members of this group there is no disagreement on the existentiality of pain.[7]

Muhaqqiq Dawàní:

The evilness of perceptual evil is because of the fact that it is a perception that is related to an opposite (munàfí) matter and this perception is of a positive reality which belongs to a privation. That is why perception is attributed to essential evil, even though its object is another evil. This is a clear issue that no philosopher rejects.[8]

B. Rejecting Counter-arguments: The second way, in which the proponents prove their claim, is by refuting the opponents’ proofs, and since the idea of evil as a positive reality is regarded as an incontrovertible issue, as long as it has not been clearly rejected, it should be accepted as an unopposed theory. For, as long as the proofs of the opponents are not strong enough, the claim of the evident will remain unchanged.

In analyzing and criticizing the opponents’ proofs, Mullà Jàlal al-Dín Dawàní says,

A scholarly statement is one which says that if by the theory of evil as a privation philosopher mean that the source of evil is a negative matter, then this is a correct opinion and we have no objection to it. But if they mean that real and essential evil is limited to “non-existence”, and what is attributed to some creatures as evilness is accidental and is therefore unreal, in this assumption our objection to philosophers is acceptable (the ontological evidence of pain).

Calling for proof from the opponents, he cites the following example:

In case of amputation, why it is not permissible to consider pain and suffering, which are positive realities, as the real evil? Opponents should bring forth reasons and proofs to deny and reject this, and when in a case such as amputation the arguments of the opponents are not fulfilled, it will be the lapse of the universality of the opponents’ claim. [9]


The proponents of the theory of evil as a privation, to relieve themselves of contradiction, have resorted to the interpretation and the explanation of the “perception of pain”, which most of them consider as a positive reality. They argue that pain is not evil in itself, but its evilness is related to the afflicted person who has lost a body member. And therefore the evilness of “perception” is referable to a privation. Below we will review the opinions of some Islamic philosophers.


Since pain and suffering are perceptions of opposite matters (munàfí), they are not considered as evil, nor can we attribute the presence of the opposite matters (objects) or their emanation from their special sources to evilness. Rather, evilness is related to the afflicted person who has lost a part of a body which should have been intact and in harmony.[10]

Mír Dàmàd:

Pains, with regards to perceptions and the object of perceptions or their emanation from special sources, are not evil; rather, their evilness is related to the afflicted person who lacks a body member and bodily harmony.[11]

Mullà Shamsà Gílàní:

The pain in a part of the body is not an essential evil on the strength of the fact that the present pain is in that part. It is rather the evilness of pain on the strength of its accompanying an essential evil, which is the absence of comfort and harmony in the body.[12]

Mullà Sadrà’s reasoning:

After giving an account of the theory of Muhaqqiq Dawàní, Mullà Sadrà concentrates on its criticism and represents his own reasoning,

What philosophers mean by evil is the second kind (the real evil of privation) and his (Dawàní’s) criticism of philosophers is not justified. Because pain consists of the perception of a negative matter – such as the loss of body parts – through immediate knowledge, in which the known and the knower are one, and not through knowledge by presence, in which (Dawàní claims) there are two different issues known as the separation of a body member and the image resulted from the separation in the human soul; on the contrary, there is only one object and that is the presence of the negative matter, which is real pain.

Mullà Sadrà, in his response to the question of whether negative entities are affiliated to perceptions or privations says, “The presence of a negative entity, even if it is regarded as a kind of perception, is among the non-existent.” In justifying how an object may be both among perceptions, which are positive, and also among negative matters, he resorts to “deprivation”, which to some extent has a share of existence, and says,

The non-existentiality of the presence of an opposite entity (munàfí), which is a kind of perception, is not the absolute non-existence but there is a kind of positive existence for it, like the existence of a privation such as “blindness”. On the other hand, because it is proved that the existence of an object is the same as its quiddity, thus the existence of a privation is exactly the same privation, as the existence of a man is the exact man and the existence of the universe is the exact universe. Also, in philosophy, it is taken for granted that knowledge of every object is the same as the essential known; therefore, it is argued that “because perceptions belong to negative matters”, the existence of “evil” is the exact separation – which tends to non-existence – and its perception would also be the exact existence of the knower, that is, the negative matter.[13]

In part four and at the end of the discussion of resurrection, in the same argumentative fashion, Mullà Sadrà opens the discussion of the topic of evil.[14] The sum of it all is that Mullà Sadrà wants to prove his claim through the three following statements:

1. The identity of perception with knowledge by presence: Perception of pain and suffering derived from bodily disjunction is through knowledge by presence. “Pain is the perception of opposites like the separation of a body member through knowledge by presence, in which the very knowledge and the known are one and there is no image of them.”

2. The union of existence and quiddity: The existence and the quiddity of every object are one; therefore, the existence of a “privation” is the same privation. “The existence of everything is the exact quiddity of it, so the existence of a privation is the same privation, as the existence of man is the same man.”

3. The union of knowledge and the known: “The ‘perceptive’ existence is the same separation or corruption which is a negative matter and the perception belonging to it is the same existence which is privation itself.”


To sum up, we can say that the perception received by the afflicted man through pain and suffering belongs to a negative matter (such as amputation) and because the existence of a privation is the exact privation, it cannot change its quiddity. So the grieving one’s knowledge and perception is the lack of a body organ, which is a negative matter; therefore, according to the principle of the union of the known and the knower, this would also be a privation. So, the perception of pain means the perception of separation and privation, which are both not positive beings.

Deliberation on Mullà Sadrà’s Theory

1. The first and the second objections are proposed by ‘Allàmah Tabàtabà’í[15] to the first of the above mentioned statements. He states that the real problem in the concept of perceptual evil is that it is not limited to a sensible perception of evil such as amputation so that immediate knowledge might be claimed. But the main problem is on the part of sensible and non-sensible perceptions, including judgmental and conceptual sciences, such as the pain felt at the death of friends and relatives, in which knowledge by presence does not exist.

2. If, supposedly, we limit the problem to the sensible-perceptual evil, still claiming knowledge by presence is faulty. That is because in the perception of sensible things, the errors of knowledge are so many and so frequent that any claim concerning the existence of any kind of knowledge by presence is regarded as inaccurate and exaggerated. For instance, we can point to the pain and suffering of a patient who has lost his leg after an operation but who after a while feels the pain of his amputated leg again.

3. This criticism is again concerned with the first statement. Even if we accept that perception is achieved through knowledge by presence, its object cannot be a negative matter, because the negative matter is the absolute non-existence and cannot stand as an object of a relation. That is why some philosophers such as Fakhr al-Dín al-Ràzí[16] put forth a criticism as to how it is possible that a negative matter (lack of a body limb) can have an effect (pain and suffering).

Apparently Mullà Sadrà himself was aware of this problem and tried to solve it with proposing the concept of “privation” (‘adam-i malakih): “But it has existentiality like that of privations.” Sabziwàrí criticizes this issue and states, “This explanation of Mullà Sadrà means falling into a trap from which man runs away, because in this case evil becomes a positive being, while Mullà Sadrà’s purpose was to deny it.”[17]

4. We may accept that the object of a perception is a negative matter, but this does not mean that the “perception” itself is also a negative matter. If there is a perception, whether we assume its object to be a positive being or a negative matter, we cannot deny its existentiality under the pretext that its object is a negative matter. If the object of knowledge is privation, it does not imply the denial of knowledge; rather, it is like the knowledge of the object, which is existent, and it does not mean absolute denial of knowledge.

Therefore, Mullà Sadrà’s second statement, which claims the unity of the existence of “non-existence” or the quiddity of “non-existence”, seems unreasonable. Because Mullà Sadrà’s word is true if “non-existence” remains in the category of “non-existentiality”. But if non-existence comes out of non-existentiality and acquires existence, then it cannot be said that the existence of non-existence is the exact non-existence. This leads us to the flaw of the third proposition.

1. The problem is about the object of perception (which is present in the soul in the form of knowledge by presence). The question is whether this is a negative or a positive matter. Mullà Sadrà in many instances introduces the present issue as “the non-existent opposite”. “Indeed pain is the same perception of the opposite like the separation of a conjunct, and the presence of that negative opposite matter (munàfí ‘adamí) is exactly like pain.”[18] So there is a difference between a negative matter and a negative opposite matter, and Mullà Sadrà has adopted the second one in his reasoning. And this distinction, which is clear to everyone, is that an opposite matter should definitely be existential in order to find consistency of meaning; this is in contrast with a negative entity, which does not exist.

Therefore, the known and the perceived in the concept of “pain” from Mullà Sadrà’s point of view mean opposite matters and not negative matters. Therefore, if we are supposed to draw a conclusion from the unity and the identity of “knowledge and the known” in the issue of pain, it should be the unity of pain and the opposite matter, not the negative matter. So what is present in the afflicted and grieved soul consists of a negative opposite matter. But Mullà Sadrà in the conclusion of his introductory reasoning ignores the word “munàfí” and speaks about the unity of perception with the negative matter. In other words, Mullà Sadrà’s conclusion is logically acceptable, if it does not fall to fallacy. While one of the premises of his reasoning is amr munàfí ‘adamí, it seems that Mullà Sadrà evades drawing a conclusion and ignores the issue.

2. The last problem is a fundamental one, which some contemporary[19] scholars have mentioned and the clarification of which requires a preliminary explanation. That is the fact that among philosophers there is disagreement on the real definition of “pleasure and pain”, on whether pleasure and pain are the same perceptions of the opposite or stages higher and later than that state. Ibn-Sínà’s opinions on this subject seem diverse. In al-Ishàràt wa’l-tanbíhàt, he defines “pain” as a perception of the opposite.[20] But in al-Adwíyàt al-qalbiyyah he adopts another point of view and says, “The reality of the matter has not yet been proved beyond doubt, but it seems that pain is other than the perception of the opposite.”[21] In the fourth volume of his al-Asfàr, Mullà Sadrà defends the well-known idea of those philosophers who believe that pain is identical with the perception of the opposite.[22] According to this statement, if one interprets pain as something other than the perception of the opposite, then one can criticize Mullà Sadrà’s first statement and say that pain is not the perception of the opposite, which is the idea Mullà Sadrà adopts in the first statement.

It may be concluded that with regards to these six problems, Mullà Sadrà’s reasoning about the non-existentiality of perceptual evil is incompatible with logical rules and cannot be accepted as the answer to the criticism of Muhaqqiq Dawàní.

Mullà Sadrà’s Deviation from the Theory of Evil as a Privation

Mullà Sadrà, in most of his works, supports the theory of evil as a privation and considers it demonstrative; however, from some of his statements in his Shrah Usul al-kàfí, which seems to be among his last works, it can be understood that he deviates from his previous theory. Because of this, here I quote some of his statements to support this claim.

In his commentary upon a tradition (hadíth) based on the idea that “goodness” is the minister of intellect and “evil” is the minister of ignorance, Mullà Sadrà opens an argument on the concept of evil. But apparently he does not hasten to present his new idea but tries at first to prove the theory of evil as a privation under the title of “al-tahqíq”. After this argument, which supports the idea of evil as a privation, he opens a second argument and there he brings forth some justifications that not only show the existence of perceptual evil, but also specify that there is no doubt concerning this issue. In the justification of perceptual evil as a positive reality he says,

My view is that perceptual evil is real in essence and it is double evil as well, as the realization of every meaning is emphasis upon its own essence and quiddity. So in this kind of perceptual evil, there is double evil. Then, whenever the perceptive faculty of an evil is stronger or a faculty is lacking in a more serious degree, pain will be more serious and the evil will become more so too. Pay close attention to this issue because it is strange and important (and its purpose clear). And arguments have been raised on the absolute evilness of some creatures, and the torment of compound ignorance is of this kind – that is, existential evil. Because there is perception in compound ignorance (unlike simple ignorance, which lacks perception).[23]

Mullà Sadrà then proposes the four following referents for evil:

1. Negative matters such as poverty and death,

2. Perceptual evils such as pain, suffering, and compound ignorance; all those things which do not exist independently of their possessor’s perception,

3. Immoral deeds like murder and adultery,

4. Sources of immoral deeds such as lust, wrath, jealousy and deceit.

The first two kinds are essential evils and the last two are accidental.

After the above-mentioned divisions he says, “Both of two first kinds are essential evil and both of latter kinds are accidental evils.”[24]

Here a question arises concerning the relationship between ontological evils and Divine Creation. Are evil beings among divine creations or not? And if they are, how can we reconcile their existence with Divine Grace? It is as if Mullà Sadrà is aware of such ambiguity when he resorts to Aristotle’s famous five-fold division and says,

What emanates from Divine Grace is either absolute goodness, such as intellectual substances, or it is superior and plural goodness which is accompanied by little evil, like the soul and heavenly bodies and others. But the other three forms [many evil – little goodness, equal evil and goodness, absolute evil] are not emanated from God, except necessarily and accidentally. So far as the last three kinds are concerned, they are either negative matters, which are independent of cause and creature, or probably they are existential evils, which can be justified in three ways: A) There is little ontological evil compared to the unlimited goodness. B) Ontological evils are the prerequisites for the realization of that unlimited goodness (in a way that if that little evil does not exist, then we should give up hope for the existence of that unlimited goodness). C) Apart from these two, little evils are the source of unlimited goodness.[25]

The Interpretation of Mullà Hàdí Sabziwàrí

On the subject of “perceptual evil”, unlike Mullà Sadrà, he believes in the existentiality of the perception of the opposite (pain). And to justify pain and suffering, which are subjective, he draws a distinction between “real good” and “what is mild and pleasant to the nature”. It means that the pain that man suffers from the perception of the opposite or from something else is undoubtedly hateful and unpleasant to human nature. But pain and suffering are derived from this lack of mildness, which is a negative matter. And this lack of mildness cannot be a reason for the non-existence of real goodness. To elaborate on his claim, he uses mental affairs based on the idea of evil as a privation and says,

Pain cannot be essentially evil because that is possible only if evil becomes a positive being, and then it can be considered evil, and then it becomes the destroyer of its own essence and faculty.[26]

Then Sabziwàrí mentions the following advantages for evil in order to elaborate on the issue:

1. Pains come from the primal cause and thus they are consistent with Divinity and are attributed to good.

2. Pains are the means of improvement for those blessed and favored by God, an improvement to be achieved through patience, contentment and acceptance.

3. Pains give man awareness of what the afflicted and grieved man goes through. 

Of course, applying inductive reasoning, some western philosophers have also tried to deal with the evilness of pain through proposing some benefits and advantages to be derived from pain. For example, Frederick Copelston, the famous historian of philosophy, justifies toothache as a warning for the existence of microbes or a disease in the body.[27]

‘Allàmah Tabatabà’í’s Interpretation

Like Sabziwàrí, he believes in the existentiality of the perception of the opposite but denies its evilness. Rather, he considers the perception of pain as goodness, since it leads to the perfection of the human soul, and attributes its evilness to its lack of outward existence and states,

The cognitive form of pains (the perception of pain) is a negative matter, for it is identical with the outward known. That is because the cognitive form and the perception belong to an external known entity such as amputation. And these matters are privations, so real and essential evil can be realized in the outer world.[28]

Interpretation and Review of Sabziwàrí’s and Allàmah’s Theories

These two great men, who were aware of the flaw in Mullà Sadrà’s theory in proposing the non-existentiality of the perception of the opposite, believed in the positive reality of the perception of pain. The only way they saw to the justification of their theory was expanding the discussion to the causes and reasons of the perception of pain – which are negative matters – and so they tried to find the reasons or causes of the realization of Divine Perception and cognitive forms. And finally they suggested “non-existence” as the cause of the existence of perceptual evil. However, regarding this justification, the following points are worthy of notice:

1. The first problem is the objection of ‘Allàmah Tabàtabà’í himself to Mullà Sadrà’s theory, which indicates that we cannot reduce the source of all perceptual evils to sensible matters and from there to negative matters. And Sabziwàrí supports the theory of Muhaqqiq Dawàní and believes that the cause of the appearance of pain is the existence of a state in a soul in disgust.[29]

2. The second objection, which seems important as well, is that the reasoning of ‘Allàmah Tabatabàí is actually a deviation from the discussion. Because what really and essentially is regarded as evil and painful for the afflicted man is the very perception and the cognitive form belonging to the opposite. In other words, if we accept that the source and the origin of perceptual evils is a negative matter, this does not change the evilness and the perception of pain and does not keep man from being afflicted and grieved from this side. ‘Allàmah himself acknowledges this point when he says, “It is through cognitive forms in virtue of which man is subjected to pain and suffering.”

But it is not clear why these two distinguished men of the transcendent theosophy, while admitting to the “painfulness” of the perception of an opposite, do not regard it as evil and still look for non-existential reasons.

Now is when one remembers what Fakhr al-Dín al-Ràzí said:

 “Philosophers are free to apply the term evil to negative matters and the term good to positive beings. But they cannot change or deny the reality and quiddity of the pain of a real entity through the application of terms.”[30]

Perhaps ‘Allàmah Tabàtabà’í himself was aware of the weakness of his answer and that is why he began his reasoning with the word perhaps, which is an evidence of uncertainty.

The Distinction between Philosophical and Common Evil

Some contemporary scholars, to defend the theory of evil as a privation, have proposed the theory of the existentiality of perceptual evil from the common viewpoint and of its privation according to philosophical interpretations. They have argued that pains and suffering from the common viewpoint of people are considered as existential evils, but if we consider them from a philosophical point of view, they are non-existent.

“If we treat the interpretation of evil with more care and study the source of something being attributed to evil, then we can accept the view that the origin in all cases is privation and absence of perfection.”[31]

This exposition is similar to the previous one and the problems are those mentioned before.

Advantages of Perceptual Evil

The advantages that these two theosophers attribute to perceptual evil are not deniable, but this does not alter the evilness of perceptual existence. At most it means that some advantages can be said to come from perceptual evil. And as it was mentioned before, the proponents of the existence of perceptual evil do not claim its absolute evilness; therefore, the existence of a few advantages does not result in contradicting the claims of the other side. Rather, finding the existence of a combination of good and evil can be regarded as the rejection of the theory of the proponents of the idea that evil is a positive being. Furthermore, there are pains and sufferings, which can be considered as absolutely evil. For example, how can one justify the pains and the sufferings of the incurably ill, who continually suffer through perceptions and cognitive forms? And even more difficult than that is the justification of all the evils and punishments suffered by disbelievers and obstinates in hell, from which, according to the beliefs of most Islamic sects, there is no deliverance and relief.[32] This is where the weakness of some researchers’ explanations for the justification of perceptual evil by assuming the existence of grace and advantages resulted from it becomes clear too.

Pain has only been accidentally created for the purpose of improving and perfecting selective beings, so it is good and just both for the order of the whole and for its perceiver, although it is painful and unpleasant.[33]

In this exposition, the existence of perceptual evil has been clearly acknowledged, and it has been defined as “unpleasant” and “painful”. The advantages assumed for perceptual evil at first have been studied and analyzed. It has also been stated that in these expositions the trend is toward the justification of temporary pains and sufferings, but there is no word on permanent pains, which are clear instances of perceptual evil, either in this world or the other world. Perhaps, like evils, they are “non-existent”.

The Adopted Theory

From what was said it can be concluded that Mullà Sadrà and his succeeding philosophers were unable to solve the problem of perceptual evil. That is why Mullà Sadrà in the last years of his dignified life believed in the positive existence of perceptual evil, and apparently the efforts of other philosophers such as Sabziwàrí and ‘Allàmah Tabàtabà’í in proving perceptual evils as privations were not successful either.

But the theory of perceptual evil as a positive reality does not in any way contradict Divine attributes of perfection such as Justice, and by justifying the existence of perceptual evil, Islamic philosophers realistically try to solve the problem. Below we will mention the results.

Islamic theologians, admitting the existence of pain, oppression and cruelty in the human world, believe that God will compensate for and reward the pains and sufferings that the afflicted men have born, compensations which are in no way comparable to the amount of the received pains and sufferings, so that the oppressed men in the next world will actually be happy for the pains that they suffered in this world. Islamic theosophers have presented extensive and profound discussions in this field and have tried to solve such ambiguity by basing their justifications on theological rules such as the principle of “compensation (intisàf) and reward (i‘awàè)”.

According to these theological principles, constant pains of the believers in this world are justified, because God in the next world would make up for the past through giving “compensations”. But perhaps some have doubts as to the pains of disbelievers in this world and the next, and as to how God will treat them.

To answer this ambiguity, it should be said that the concept of “theological justice” has such an extensive scope that it is beyond man’s understanding and there are even some theologians who believe in compensation for the pains and the oppression of animals. As for disbelievers, (according to theological ideas), God will compensate for their received pain through decreasing their punishment in the next world. But according to mysticism and the transcendent theosophy, the punishment of disbelievers will be terminated one day, after they have born it for a long time. But what their future situation will be, whether they will come out of hell or remain in hell and enjoy Divine bounty, or whether they will be kept between bounty and punishment is a comprehensive discussion, which the author of this article has dealt with before and which cannot be discussed here.[34]

It would be seemly to end this article with the theory of the distinguished theologian and philosopher Khwàjah Nasír Tusí, who in his book, Tamhíd al-usul dar ‘ilm al-kalàm, which is written in Persion, says,

Every pain that the Most Superior God brings to every living creature, whether that living creature has reached puberty or not, if that pain has not been made by the creature, indeed it is up to the Most Superior God to compensate for it, in a way that is no longer cruel.[35]



[1]. Most of western philosophers, confronting the problem of evil, have treated the issue weakly and passively. Among such philosophers we can name Hegel [Hegel’s Philosophy, vol. 1, p. 71], Maurice Maeterlink [The Great World and Man, p.56], Russell and Mill [Copelston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 8, p. 520], the French philosopher Elminard [Recognition and Being, p. 145], Rendel and Bockler [An Introduction to Philosophy, p. 170], Fredrick Copelston [A History of Philosophy, vol. 8, p. 121].

But Islamic philosophers, as it was mentioned in the text, claim to solve the problem and present a logical answer; however, some contemporary Islamic thinkers, like western scholars, consider the matter of evil among the mysteries of divine religions. Here we can point to the contemporary Pakistani thinker and poet, Iqbàl Lahurí. On page 95 of his book, A Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, which was not free from scholarly criticism from Mutahharí, he says, “How can we reconcile the absolute goodness and power of God with that extensive evil among His creatures? This painful issue has really become a mystery in theology.”

[2]. See God and the Problem of Evil, published by Qum Islamic Propagation Office.

[3]. Al-Hikmat al-muta‘aliyyah (The Transcendent Theosophy), vol. 7, p. 58.

[4]. Ibid., p. 62.

[5]. Sharh al-ishàràt, Part 8, vol. 2, p. 87, library of ‘Àyatullàh Mar‘ashí, Qum.

[6]. See the theory of Muhammed Zakaría Ràzí. See: P. Krovas,  Philosophical Treaties, Kitàb al-Lidhah, (The Book of Pleasure) p. 139.

[7]. Sharh al-ishàràt, vol. 2, p. 79.

[8]. Glosses  on Tajríd al-i‘tiqàd, in Qushchí’s Sharh al-tajríd, p. 15.

[9]. Ibid.

[10]. Sharh al-ishàràt, vol. 2, p. 79.

[11]. Mír Dàmàd, al-Qabasàt, p. 432. 

[12]. The treaties of Izhar al-kamal al-ashab al-haqíqat wa’l-hàl, quoted by Jalal al-Dín Ashtíyaní, Muntakhbati az athar-i hukamà-yi Iran (An Anthology of Iranain Theosophers), vol. 1, p. 455.

[13]. al-Asfàr, vol. 7, pp. 63-67.

[14]. al-Asfàr, vol. 4, pp. 122-126.

[15].‘Allàmah Tabàtabà’í’s glosses upon al-Asfàr, vol. 7, p. 63.

[16]. Al-mabahith al-mashriqiyyah, vol. 1, p. 515, Beirut publications.

[17]. Sabziwàrí’s glosses upon al-Asfàr, vol. 7, p. 63.

[18]. al-Asfàr, vol. 7, p. 64.

[19]. MisbahYazdí’s glosses upon Nahàyat al-hikmah, …. 188.

[20]. Ishàràt, the first part of namat 8, vol. 2, p. 87.

[21]. Quoted from: Fakhr al-Dín al-Ràzí, al-mabahith al-mashriqíyyah, Dar al-Kitàb, Beirut, vol. 1, p. 513, Tehran publications, p. 388, and also see: Misbah Yazdi, Glosses …188.

[22]. al-Asfàr, vol. 4, pp. 119-124.

[23]. Mullà Sadrà, Sharh Usàl al-kàfí, Kitàb al-‘aql wa’l jahl (the book of Reason and Ignorance), bàb-i ‘aql wa’l jahl, commentary upon Hadith 14, p. 414, and p. 407, ed. Muhammed Khwajawi.

[24]. Ibid.

[25]. Ibid., p. 414.

[26].  Sabziwàrí’s glosses upon al-Asfàr and also see Sharh al-asma, p. 648 onward.

[27]. Frederick Copelston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 1, p. 447.

[28]. al-Asfàr, vol. 7, p. 63, notes.

[29]. Ibid., p. 64.

[30]. Sharh al-ishàràt, Ràzí’s glosses, vol. 2, p. 80, namat 7.

[31]. Misbah Yazdí, Glosses on …, p. 455.

[32]. Here some may think that the eternal punishment and torture of disbelievers is because of their immoral deeds in the world. And this punishment is genetic punishment. According to the theory of ‘embodiment of deeds’, we should say that our discussion here does not concern itself with the main punishment, either eternal or temporary, being just or unjust, or with defending the justice of the punishment. What we discuss here is whether existential evil (perceptual evil) is realized in the world or not, and whether the existing evil is absolute evil or a combination of good and evil. It is here that the proponents of the existence of perceptual evil claim that obstinants are the absolute evil. (For more information about the theory of ‘embodiment of deeds’ and other worldly punishment see the writer’s article in the journals of Kayhan Andisheh, No. 68, Nameh Mufid, No. 7; on the subject of the torture of disbelievers an article will be published soon in Kayhan Andisheh.)

[33]. See: the article of Mr. ‘Àbidí Shàhrudí in Kayhan Andisheh, No. 52, p. 96.

[34]. See: Kayhan Andisheh, No. 71, 72, 73, “The Eternity of Disbelievers’  Torture”.

[35]. Tamhíd al-usul dar ‘ilm-i kalàm-i Islàmí , p. 507. For more information about the ideas of theosophers on this subject refer to the following sources:

A)      al-Yàqut fi‘ ilm al-kalàm, Ibn-Nawbakht, p. 49.

B)      al-Munqadh min al-taqlíd, ‘Allàmah Ràzí, vol. 1, p. 307.

C)      Nahj al-haq, p.37.

D)      Nahj al-mustarshidin, p. 55.

E)       Ihqaq al-haq, vol. 2, p. 184 and Kashf al-muràd, p. 329 on.


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