Trans-Substantial Motion and Its Philosophical Consequences

Reza Akbarian


Trans-substantial motion (al-harakat al-jawhariyyah) is one of the most important philosophical issues in the history of Islamic philosophy and has become known in close association with the name of Mullà Sadrà. One must admit that the greatness of this doctrine and its deep and wide-spread influence on the philosophical thought of Muslims is no less than that of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity in physics and Whitehead’s Process philosophy in philosophy.

This theory provides the basis for Mullà Sadrà’s worldview. In the light of this theory, he presents a new philosophical explanation of the physical and metaphysical problems including the temporal contingency of the world, the relationship between the permanent and the changing, the creation of the world, the perpetual creation, the relationship between the soul and the body, the resurrection of the body, and many different issues about resurrection. He also analyzes and explains the process of motion and transformation and its spread and generality together with its philosophical results and consequences in a deep and meaningful way and from a very powerful and effective viewpoint.

As a comprehensive and unifying theory, which deals with the origin (mabda’), and the return (ma‘àd) at the same time, it must be considered as one of the fundamental and distinguished characteristics of Mullà Sadrà’s theorizing. This article is intended to explain and introduce the consequences of this theory and determine the role of each in creating a new outlook in the domain of Philosophy. It has also been tried to shed some light on the history of evolution of trans-substantial motion and discuss the new thought proposed by Mullà Sadrà which has brought about a change in this theory.

The Place of the Theory of Trans-Substantial Motion in Mullà Sadrà’s Ontological System

Before the rise of the doctrine of trans-substantial motion, philosophers generally agreed upon the point that motion or change in the substance of an object is impossible. The ideas of the Islamic gnostics and theologians who believed in perpetual creation can rather be viewed as compatible with this doctrine.[1] But the one who has explicitly proposed this problem and bravely insisted on proving it is the most prominent philosopher of the Islamic world, Mullà Sadrà. He considers motion nothing but perpetual renovation and renewal of the world in each moment. He concludes that not only accidents but also the very substance of the world is constantly in a state of motion and renovation.

Mullà Sadrà’s words in defense of motion within the category of substance and in proof of essential instability and instability in the essence of the whole material entities are so deep and considerable that still leave the field open for further research and deep-pondering in their various angles. In his book, al-Shifà,[2] Ibn Sínà refers to the problem of non-subsistence of subject and attempts to refute trans-substantial motion with a non-interpretable explicitness and considers it impossible. In his opinion, the phenomenon, which vaguely represents the extended trans-substantial motion, in fact, lacks extension and is an interrupted process full of intervals, which is under the control of a force beyond the domain of nature. With respect to the unity of the four causes, and exactly the very Aristotelian example about the creation of individual human being and the evolution of his dispositions, Ibn Sínà states:

And it thus undergoes metamorphosis and transformation until it is intensified and then disconnected. But on the surface, it courses the mistake that it is a single journey from one form to another. As a result, it is assumed that there is motion within substance, while it is not so; rather, there are multiple motions and moments.[3]

The important and fundamental point in Ibn Sínà’s words exactly lies within this stillness (sukunat). Ibn Sínà considers sukunat as non-extended temporal moments like distances within which the Giver of forms grants a substance when the preliminaries are provided. In his opinion, the creation of human beings is not such that different forms of sperm, coagulum, lump of flesh, etc., are realized in the outside in the form of extended and continual motion. Rather, he believes that special quantitative and qualitative motions make the matter vulnerable to accepting form, and at a moment when this vulnerability reaches perfection, the Giver of form grants it. Hence, motion is not within the substance because substantial forms are not the products of motion; rather, they are created by the will of a creator beyond the internal activities of nature.

It is exactly at this point that Ibn Sínà’s philosophy, in particular, and Muslims’ philosophical thought in general, departs from Aristotle’s philosophy. Ibn Sínà considers the agentivity of God a creative one. Aristotle has referred to this issue where he has explored the relationship between the sensible and changing world with pure actuality and considers pure actuality as the ultimate cause of beings.[4] Pure act is not the agentive cause of the world. Contrary to the Islamic thought, the Greek philosophy is based on the idea that nothing comes into existence from non-existence; but existence only originates from existence. That’s why in Greek philosophy the manner of the origination of beings from non-existence was not considered a philosophical problem; rather, the manner of the origination of existence from existence provided the basis for their scientific and philosophical explorations. In order to solve this problem, Aristotle has proposed the principle of motion as a fundamental issue in his philosophy.

It is within this philosophical framework that Aristotle directs the range of motions and movers towards the unmoved mover and calls him Theos or God, a being that lacks any kind of motion and change and is the essence of Perfection and pure perfection itself; a God that necessarily lacks any kind of motion and change within its essence because of being pure perfection. This is because motion and change, for obtaining a higher perfection and removing any imperfection from existence, is limited.[5]

The logical requirement of such a statement, according to Aristotle, is not that God is the essence of existence and pure existence. He does not discuss the relationship between the first cause and existence in his philosophy. Had Aristotle understood that God is the very existence itself, it would not have been possible to excuse him for his negligence to accept creation. In his opinion, God, world and motion are all eternal and the Almighty God has not created the world. Such a God differs greatly from that of the Islamic God. Hence, the conversion of the Aristotelian God to the Islamic God is one of the greatest events in the history of philosophy; accordingly, the development of Aristotelian philosophy within the Islamic tradition and; afterwards, within the Christian and western tradition has been changed.

In line with this fundamental and trans-substantial change, there exist other transformations including the change in the Aristotelian idea of motion by Ibn Sínà and also its anew transformation in Mullà Sadrà’s thought as well. The world of Islam could never accept the Aristotelian idea of regarding the efficient cause within the nature of things and without any influence exercised by a metaphysical force. Rather, for Islam and its philosophers, creation has always been an important problem, which they attribute to the creator. Therefore, in order for the Aristotelian philosophy to be accepted by the Islamic world, parts of the Aristotelian physics should have necessarily changed. Such a transformation which can be regarded as a direct revision in Aristotelian motion can be explicitly and emphatically found in Ibn Sínà’s philosophy.

Ibn Sínà speaks of two kinds of agent in al-Shifà: one is the agent as conceived by natural philosophers, and the other is the agent as conceived by theologians. For the natural philosopher (as noted in the worldview of Aristotle), the agent is the source of motion and for theologians (as it is in the Islamic philosophy), it is the source of existence.

And this is because of the fact that by agent, divine philosophers, does not simply mean the origin of motion, as it is meant by natural philosophers. Rather, they mean the origin of existence and its conveyor like the relationship of the sublime creator to the world. However, the natural efficient cause does not convey any existence except excitement in one of the forms of excitement. So the conveyor of existence is the source of motion in the physics.[6]

It is evident that such an agent, who is considered as the source of existence and as the creator and giver of existence fits neither in Greek nor in Aristotelian philosophy.

Hence, as a result of the interplay of Greek and Islamic ideas, which are basically different, and by maintaining the dominance of Islamic thought over the Greek thought, one of the major pivots of Aristotelian physics and metaphysics was invalidated and replaced by a mixture of the Greek and Islamic thought. This idea, though a precise and praiseworthy one, confronted the philosophers with a problem that they were forced to solve by resorting to the theory of trans-substantial and existential motion. This theory has been accepted and regarded as a new principle for philosophical explorations by Mullà Sadrà.

In Mullà Sadrà’s philosophy, the Aristotelian natural motion and Ibn Sínà’s gradational motion were substituted by trans-substantial and existential motion which originates from the source of everlasting Divine grace which is ever-graceful and ever-bountiful. Yet, it should be taken into consideration that the source of grace does not cause motion but is the cause of perpetual and interconnected forms whose fruit is motion itself. Such a statement and thought is not compatible with Aristotle’s philosophy either with regard to its content or the relationship among the four causes. All motion, which Aristotle sees in the essence of nature and from nature, Mullà Sadrà sees within the essence of existence and attributes to the Divine creative power.

It is with respect to this point that Mullà Sadrà’s philosophy drastically differs from that of Aristotle; since Aristotle has presented his discussions about motion in physics and through which has reached to the metaphysical distinction between sensible and non-sensible entities. In fact, Aristotle’s real goal in his philosophy is to explain nature, that is, the “where about” and “why about” of the sensible, observable and tangible world in which man lives and is constantly involved with. It is this major goal which in turn characterizes the nature of his metaphysics. That is, if it were not for the necessity of completing his natural philosophy in line with his worldview, neither would the knowledge of metaphysics be necessary for him, nor would it be meaningful in his philosophical system. Therefore, Aristotle’s metaphysics is not an unrelated issue to physics and to the natural world; in other words, it is not beyond tangible and sensible facts.

Contrary to Aristotle, Mullà Sadrà considers the issue of motion as being related to metaphysics, and explores it in his philosophy under the title of division of existence into constant and becoming. He uses a precise expression in his al-Asfàr which indicates that the issue of motion is related to metaphysics. He states “motion is the renewal of event, not a renewed event,” and says that the permanence of motion for a renewed and moved individual is not like the occurrence of an accident for a subject; rather, it is an ‘analytic accident’ whose relationship with the subject is like the relationship of differentia to genus.[7] Sabziwàrí, in his commentary on al-Asfàr, presents the following statement:

Except that trans-substantial motion, like the flux of nature, is not one of the accidents of the body; rather it is one of the principles of it, because the existence of nature is moved and nature is the differentia of the body and prior to it. So this is particularization by the natural itself, and not after it.[8]

From the above discussions one may conclude that in Mullà Sadrà’s view and that of his followers, motion and becoming are not in contrast with being in the sense of existence; rather, being is of two kinds. The first one is a kind of being which is constant and lacks a temporal dimension which is not measurable with temporal criteria and; hence, is not subject to change and transformation. The second one is moved being that possesses a temporal dimension which extends in the stretch of time and its being is the same as its becoming. According to rational proofs, such an entity is either essentially material or belongs to matter and is in unity with it in the same way that man’s soul is capable of motion and change as long as it has some kind of belonging and attachment to the body.

Mullà Sadrà proves the existence of motion in the external world basically by means of rational proof and the rejection of Parmenides and Zenon’s arguments and not by sense perception. In his opinion, motion is a philosophical secondary intelligible and not an essential concept; and its discussion is a philosophical and metaphysical one, not a discussion within the field of empirical sciences. This is because he believes that the concept of motion is not attained through abstraction and generalization by sense perception; rather, similar to other metaphysical categories; it is attained through the analysis and interpretation of presential objects of perception. Thus, we perceive the existential motion and its extension over time first by knowledge by presence and recognize the properties of motion by rational analyses in the form of philosophical secondary intelligible. Then, through corresponding these properties to external objects, we recognize the existence of motion in the external world.

With respect to the point just quoted from Mullà Sadrà, this fact can be explained in a different way as follows: since motion is one of the “analytical accidents” of existence, the mode of motion is not objectively separable from the object’s mode of existence; rather, what exists in the external world is merely a restless existence and an unstable essence, which is separate from other beings only through rational analysis.[9] What was said holds true with respect to all metaphysical concepts which indicate the various aspects of existence. As constancy or stability is not a property which may occur to a constant existent in the external world, motion is not also a property which may occur in the external world to a moved existence either; rather, both count as concepts which indicate two modes of existence. As a result, in trans-substantial motion, according to Mullà Sadrà, there is no need to an external subject since the very object itself, in every moment, is different from the same object in one moment before or one moment after. In other words, in trans-substantial motion, unlike accidental motions, motion and moved are identical. Of course, an ordinary mind which is not philosophically oriented takes it for granted that no motion in the external world is possible without a moved being, and this is so because it is used to accidental and, specifically, spatial motions. However, after getting used to precise philosophical analyses, it would be clear that the need of accidental motions to a subject too is not because of their being “motion”; rather, it is because of their being “accidental”. That is why even immobility requires a subject. Hence, after proving motion in the essence and substance of an object, and recognizing the fact that the material existent itself does not remain the same in two successive moments, we understand that such a motion does not require the presupposition of an external subject and its external existence is the same as motion itself.

The Relationship between Trans-Substantial Motion and the Principle of the Primacy of Existence over Quiddity (Principiality of Existence)

Mullà Sadrà’s argument for proving trans-substantial motion is based on the idea that the existence of an object comprises its whole and that quiddity is a mentally-posited entity. By accepting the principiality of existence, flux becomes a mode of existence, and the existence of moved beings, which is nothing but their being, is pictured in a gradual manner. The question “In trans-substantial motion what becomes of the object itself?” is a question arisen from the principiality of the quiddity approach. According to the principiality of existence, the existence of an object is the object itself and motion is the mode of existence. Nevertheless, in the doctrine of trans-substantial motion, the object itself is the very moved existence and not something which is in motion.

The formal substance, too, in its gradual increase in perfection is a temporal unique being which is continual in one sense, and is connected gradually in another sense…. And a connected unit has a single existence. Existence for us and for all others with deep roots in theosophy is the same personal entity. If motion were not the single connected unit, the judgment that blackness does not remain constant in its gradual increase in intensity more black would be correct, and the same judgment would go through with trans-substantial form at the time of its perfection, while it is not so. The mystery lies in what was already mentioned, that is specific existence is fundamental for every object, and is determined by its own essence, and in spite of having entity and unity has degrees and stages.[10]

 It has been mentioned that Mullà Sadrà considers the individual unity of blackness in becoming more black which is acceptable for the opposite side and; despite its conjunctive transformation, he bases the survival of the individuation of substance on the same ground. The basis in both cases is that the conjoined unit has a unique existence. In fact, moved being is a scattered and spread existence that is fulfilled in every moment simultaneously with the motion of its component parts. However, these component parts have a conjunctive unity and; as a result, an individual unity. That’s why one can speak of the subsistence of subject along with its trans-substantial motion.

The Reasons for Proving Trans-Substantial Motion

Mullà Sadrà’s first proof for demonstrating motion in substance is based on the premise that the mobility and changeability of an object are not false attributes to be transferable from one thing to another. Such an event which is interpreted as the transference of accident necessitates that a phenomenon which is dependent upon other (outside factors) becomes dependent upon itself for a moment; and its ipseity which is the very dependence upon other, abandons its dependence and becomes independent. This is a contradiction in premises. So, the relationship between motion and moved is like the relationship between an object and its appearance. As a result, when a change takes place in an object, because of the new conditions, the object itself becomes the source of change. That is to say, motion originates from the object itself, not from external factors. External factors only prepare the substance of the object to move, and there after, it is the substance of the object which is the source of motion.[11]

The second premise is that the substance of an object, which is the cause of motion and change, must itself be moved and unstable and it must be identical to change and motion. This is because, according to a philosophical principle, any constant effect has a constant cause and any changing effect has a changing cause. Now that substance is the cause of the motion of the accident and the cause of motion itself must be moved; so why not one believes that substance is essentially moved?

Mullà Sadrà has a more exact statement in this regard which originates from his view on substance and accident.[12] Mullà Sadrà’s view concerning the relationship between substance and accident differs from that of Aristotle and even Ibn Sínà. With respect to existence, he regards accidents and attributes of every object as the stages and ranks of the existence of substance. The general assumption is that objects require their attributes for maintaining their individuation and exclusive characteristics. However, according to the genuine principle of the principiality of existence, in the Transcendent Philosophy, these various attributes are not the causes of individuation, but the signs of individuation.

Another illuminationist argument holds that: Any corporeal substance has a mode of existence that necessitates accidents which are inseparable from substance…These are the same inseparable accidents which are called the individualizing factors by the majority of philosophers; while the reality is that these are the signs of individuation.[13]

The point is that different beings differ from each other in essence and by depending on their own specific existence and it is because of the individuation of entity that their attributes turn to be different and not the other way round. Therefore, every existent is but one ipseity and that single ipseity has various appearances and faces. According to this idea, individuation is not imposed upon beings from outside; rather it originates from the very essence of the beings. Therefore, any attribute or accident in an object is exactly the attribute and accident of its specific existence and; as a result, the motion of the object is, in fact, the very ipseity of that object. In other words, the accidents and attributes of any object are the stages of the existence of substance with respect to existence. In this way the renewal of accidents is impossible unless through the renewal of substance; a renewal which is perpetual, conjunctive, and compatible with the maintenance of the individuation of the object and this is the very same as motion within substance.

With this point clarified, we now say: any corporeal individual in whom all or some of these individualizing factors, like “time”, “quantity”, “position”, “where”, etc. are transformed. This transformation is the function of the transformation of the existence that necessitates it, and in a sense is the very same transformation of this existence. Because the existence of any corporeal nature is inherently a continuous, quantitative substance having position, place and time. Thus the transformation of quantities colors and positions cause the transformation of the individual existence of the corporeal substance. This is the very motion within substance, because the existence of substance is substance, as the same way that the existence of accident is accident.[14]

To prove trans-substantial motion, Mullà Sadrà presents another argument which is based on his view of “the reality of time”. Mullà Sadrà considers time as an invisible extension or a fourth dimension of material existence. From his point of view, the temporality of objects is the sign of a kind of extension in their existence. This indicates a deep and essential motion which in no moment in time leaves the world in its previous disposition and creates a new world in every moment.

Mullà Sadrà’s words[15] concerning the material entities’ being four-dimensional is quite explicit. In his precise analysis, bodies have two extensions: one on the scale of place and the other on the scale of time. The spatial extension is the cause of three geometrical dimensions and the temporal extension originates from the internal mobility of material beings. It is impossible to place something which is essentially implacable in a place; and it is also impossible to place something which is essentially unstable and restless is time. The passage of time upon something, at least, indicates that, that thing is essentially ready to accept time. There are beings which are neither in time nor with time; rather, they are beyond time like God and pure non-material entities whose existence with respect to different times is identical. But a being whose existence is affected at different times and appears differently at each moment demonstrates the existence of a deep connection between its ipseity and time, not an accidental or superficial connection which is imposed from outside. Therefore, material beings cannot be conceived of as being essentially stable and unstable with respect to time.

So a sound Judgement states: that is impossible that one of the temporal and spatial things, with regard to its external existence and personal entity, keep from the accomplishment of time and space and turn to become the constant of existence that times are not different to it and different spaces are indifferent to it.  Anybody who considers this viable has opposed the requirement of his own Judgement, and his appearance has challenged his conscience and his tongue his heart. Thus, bodies that bear different relations to time, i.e., past, present, and future renovates with regard to them, this must be because of a formal affair that involves inherently in the integrity of their existence.[16]

Now it can be better understood why one cannot say that the world exists and time passes over it; rather, one must say that the world of the later moment does not exist and must come into existence. A correct conception of time indicates that neither time is something that passes over the world independently nor the claim that the world exists is meaningful. The world is nothing but a motion and since motion is a moved existent which gradually comes into existence, its parts do not come into existence together. Therefore, the world of tomorrow will occur tomorrow; it is not the case that the world exists but its being placed in tomorrow is incumbent upon the passage of time. The passage of time is the passage of the world, not the immobility of the world and the passage of time over it. The passage of the world means the motion of the world and the motion of the world means its gradual origination, and its gradual origination means its coming into existence in every moment.

Nevertheless, Mullà Sadrà considers the world, in the deepest sense, an existent dependent on and needful to other and this dependence and need have deeply penetrated into its spirit and have entirely captured its existence. That is why Mullà Sadrà considers the beings of this world as dependent beings whose existence is just their dependence and if they are deprived of this dependence for one moment, they will lose their existence. One cannot possibly present a deeper argument than this concerning the dependence of the created to the creator and the continual requirement of the world to a creator.

The Philosophical Consequences of Trans-Substantial Motion

1- With regard to the discussion of trans-substantial motion in Mullà Sadrà’s philosophy, the Aristotelian argument of motion takes up a more complete form and a richer content. For, on the basis of this principle, Mullà Sadrà presents both a new philosophical explanation for purposefulness of the world of nature and proves the need of the world to a creator, not in its appearances and states, but in its real existence and ipseity. Mullà Sadrà states that the nature of all beings and their existence is the same as their desire for the First principle.[17] As a result, these beings must have an essential goal; otherwise, it follows that the origination of this desire in their nature is purposeless and absurd; while “there is no vanity in existence and there is no suspension (ta‘tíl) in nature.”[18]

According to the Aristotelian argument of motion, God (the first mover) has neither created nor maintained the world; rather, he simply brings about motion in the world. “Motion” or “the first perfection” in this argument is something that the mover gives to moved. The work of the first mover is giving motion and mobility. Now, if somebody proposes the eternity of matter and states that matter is eternal, even though its attributes and accidents change, Aristotle’s argument of motion is not able to solve this problem. However, according to Mullà Sadrà’s trans-substantial motion, motion flows and circulates through the substance of objects and the changes in accidents and appearances have their roots in the essence and substance of objects. Hence, the need to the first mover has penetrated into the depth of moved existents, and indeed their existence is the same as poverty and need. Therefore, according to this philosophical principle, the story of the eternity of matter and the assumption of the need of the world of nature to a first mover only within the limits of superficial changes is absurd.

According to the theory of trans-substantial motion, Mullà Sadrà explicitly states that the first mover is the creative cause and not the instigator of motion.

But there is an exact point here which you will become aware of soon. That is, there must inevitably exist an event apart from motion and the immovable which is inherently moved and renewed. It is necessarily the source of motion and has a mover agent by which it is meant the creative cause of the essence of the renewed itself and not the maker of its motion. This is because making does not penetrate between the object and its essence (that is, the object is created together with its essence).[19]

Therefore, in trans-substantial motion, instigation does not mean the creation of motion in an object by a mover (to put the existence of an object into motion); rather, here, instigation is the same as creation and originating. So, Mullà Sadrà states that the mover in trans-substantial motion is the very creative cause (making the existence of an object) for whom mobility and instability are essential. In fact, according to the theory of trans-substantial motion, motion and moved being are the same in the external world, that is, the very transitory and moved existence and the mobility and transition of motion are the prerequisites for the existence of a moved being. “What is necessary for the existence of an external object does not penetrate between that object and its prerequisites with regard to the aspects of external existence.”[20]

Therefore, the making of a moved being is the making of motion and mobility as well. It is not the case that motion requires a separate cause and maker, because motion is essential in moved being and moved being doesn’t have an ipseity without motion. It is not the case that motions will join moved being at a stage after its realization; rather, it is abstracted from the inner being of its essence (i.e., from the inner of its existence.), so that the mode of existence is the mode of mobility. Thus, it doesn’t require a separate cause; rather, the making of the existence of a moved is the making of motion as well.

In this way one notes that Mullà Sadrà does not confine the mover to the maker of motion in a composite making.

In General, the discussion of the cause of motion can be carried out at two different levels: one at the scientific level and the other at a philosophical one. At a scientific level, the quality of the emergence of motions and their dependence on each other will be explored, and at the philosophical level, motion is considered as a phenomenon requiring a cause. The method of philosophical explorations concerning the agent of motion is a different one. No matter how much science develops and provides justifications for the interpretation of motion, still from the philosophical point of view, many questions may arise and one may ask what the creative cause and interpreter of moved existence is, and why and how such an existence partakes of mobility. Science seeks to gain more insight into the structure of an object, for example, whether it is simple or complex, and what the conditions of its transformation and change into another object are. But science doesn’t tell us what motion is and how the existence of something should be in order to be moveable. It is the right of philosophy to speak positively or negatively in this regard.

2- Mullà Sadrà uses different methods to prove the existence of separate forms in his works one of which is the very method of trans-substantial motion. He holds that due to being essentially renewable and unstable, every nature requires a mover that grants its existence through simple making (ja‘l-i basít). The mover that grants existence must be a constant entity, separate from matter and even material properties, because it is impossible for the range of causes and effects to be infinite.[21]

There is no contradiction between this account of motion, which leads to the demonstration of separate forms, and the previous account, which proves the existence of a mover that grants existence. The previous account is based on the unity of the world of nature so that the world as an individual unit,[22] whose parts are interconnected,[23] constitutes a real unit as a whole.[24] Nevertheless, it requires a creative cause to be granted existence so that instability and mobility be necessary and essential to it.

But the present account does not look at the world from this point of view; rather, it looks at every kind of nature with an independent view, and sees the world full of species whose existence is the very same as instability and restlessness. Accordingly, one can state that every moved nature requires a non-material existent which is separate from matter and material properties, and since the species of the world of nature are of different types, so are the archetypes.

Mullà Sadrà compares separate forms to the rays and beams of the light of the First Necessary which are the “forms of the Knowledge of God; and there is no independent existence in-itself for-itself for them, and they are only a kind of existence whose essence belongs to Truth.”[25] He also argues, “Those intellectual beings, luminous ideas, and Divine Knowledge are always connected to their agent and goal, behold the beauty of their creator, and are obsessed by the Divine Ocean and the axis of the light of Oneness.”[26]

3- Trans-substantial motion is one of the most genuine philosophical interpretations of the fundamental concept of “creation continua” (or perpetual creation) in the world of Islam. Throughout the history of Islamic thought, this concept has been interpreted in different ways by many thinkers. In addition to the atomistic philosophy of the Ash‘arites which can be considered as an obvious and purely rationalistic approach to the problem, we are also dealing with gnostics’ renewal of ideas which has thoroughly been explained by Ibn ‘Arabí.

Taking what Mullà Sadrà has proposed in this regard into consideration, every being in this world has essentially some existential need (imkàn-i faqrí). This statement means that every being in this world, by itself, is but nothingness or “Non-existence”. So if any being in the world is left to itself, it immediately moves towards its own denial. Thus, every object can only have a momentary existence, since in the same moment that it has been brought to the domain of existence, its own nature returns it to the domain of non-existence. The point that every being, due to its existential need, is inclined towards its own denial is exactly the very same meaning of mobility and renewal. It is where, according to the doctrine of trans-substantial motion, we state that every material entity is changeable in its essence and substance, its existence at every moment is different from its existence at another moment, and the act of perpetual creation is ceaselessly granted by the absolute Divine essence. At the intersection of these two factors, i.e., the existential need of all objects and the perpetual effusion by the absolute metaphysical source, the concept of “new creation” or “perpetual creation” is realized.

One could not possibly talk more forcefully than this on the dependence of the created to the creator and the continual need of the world to a creator. The momentary character of the world obviously reveals its needful character. This indicates that the world is in transition and mobility not only in its appearances and states but even in its very existence and ipseity. And dependence and need have penetrated into the depth of its spirit and have captured its whole existence. Mullà Sadrà takes the holy verse “kull-u yawm-in Huwa fí sha`an” [27] as a proof for demonstrating the truth of his statement.

Philosophers believed that the beneficence of the sublime truth is permanent and his effusion is un-interruptible… The statement of the sublime truth (Every moment He is in a state “of glory”) is related to this issue. And the concerns of the sublime truth are but his acts and the self-manifestations (theophanies) of his Names as mentioned before. And the origination of an act from the perfect source is impossible and the relationship of the variable to the eternal constant is impossible but by the aspect of the perpetuation of renovation, termination, and graduation in creation and subsistence and by the conjunction of transformation and interruption in existence and annihilation – as it is well-known by most philosophers – within motion it self. As it is stated, motion is an ipseity that is gradually created and destroyed in an object in the external world.[28]

God’s daily involvement in work is expressed in the best way in the theory of trans-substantial motion. This is also the very specific philosophical meaning of “new creation” which is stated in the holy Qur’an “Bal hum fí labsin min khalq-in jadíd”[29](Yet are they in doubt with regard to a new creation).

The problem of God, on the basis of such a conception of creation, will appear not as a problem but as an objective, evident, and obvious affair which one will face wherever he goes and what ever he sees. The closeness of the Truth to the beings, His dominance over the world, His knowledge over all events, His deep intervention in all affairs, and many problems concerning monotheism and God will receive an explicit meaning in this theory.

4- The quality of the relationship of changing beings which exist in the material world to God, who is essentially constant, is one of the most difficult problems of philosophy. After proposing motion within substance, Mullà Sadrà considers this problem as being solved and states, “That we say a contingent and changing effect requires a contingent and variable cause holds true only in the case of beings for which contingency and change are additional (non-essential) and occur to them from outside.” A cause must deal with such beings in two ways: The first is to create the object itself, and the second is the production of motion in them. But the need of those beings that are essentially moved and whose ipseity is the same as mobility to a cause is a simple and not a composite one. That is, their creation is identical with their mobility and creating them is like giving motion to them, because their being is just mobility and motion.

But we say if the renovation of an object is not an inherent property of the object, it requires a renovator in its renovation. And, if renovation is an inherent property of the object, the object, in its renovation, does not require a maker to renovate it; rather, a maker is required to create the object itself in a simple making and not a composite making that penetrates between the made and the made-for. There is no doubt in the existence of an entity whose reality requires renovation and mobility; that is nature in our opinion but motion and time for people. And every object has constancy and actuality and what the maker grants is the aspect of the constancy and actuality of the object.[30]

As such, whatever a being which has a transitory ipseity and depends upon its own cause with regard to its existence receives from its cause is just its very existence. That is, the creator does not grant motion to it; rather, he (the creator) gives itself to it. As a result, this created being is related to the creator with regard to the stability of its ipseity. However, this same existence whose relationship to God is one of stability is just transformation and mobility itself. So, it is possible for a being, which is stable from one aspect and transformed from the other, to become the source of transformation in the world. From Mullà Sadrà’s point of view, it is the very moved substance that becomes the connector of changing to the constant existence and contingents to eternal.

5- One of the most important consequences of trans-substantial motion is the demonstration of the temporal contingency of the world. According to trans-substantial motion, all existents in the world of nature are essentially transformable, and changeable, and all their parts are continually in the process of creation and extinction. So the whole world, which is the sum total of its parts in a sense, with all that exists in it, is created in time.

The world, including whatever it holds, is a temporal contingent entity since whatever is within the world is preceded by non-existence in time. That is to say there is no ipseity amongst the personal ipseities except that its non-existence, and its existence precedes its existence temporally precedes its non-existence. On the whole, there is no body and material body, be it celestial or elemental, or be it spiritual or physical, except that it is a renewed entity whose existence and individuation does not remain constant.[31]

And since there is “no whole but through the existence of its parts,”[32] “so the world with all its parts, be it the heavenly spheres and stars, or be it simple and complex, is contingent and perishable. And whatever exists in it, at every moment of time, counts as another being and a new creation.”[33] It is clear that according to this viewpoint, one cannot assume a starting point for the world, and there is indeed no necessity to assume a starting point because time originates from the world itself. It follows that there was no time before the creation of the world. So the question when the world was created is an irrelevant and meaningless one. This question would be meaningful only if there were a flowing time independent of the world, and the world was brought into existence in one of its hours and moments. But since it is not so, and since time is an offspring of matter, is not independent of it, and comes after and not before it, one cannot ask about the time of the creation of the world. In fact, the whole world is located in “timelessness”, the same way that it is located in “placelessness”. One can not ask where the whole galaxies are located, since when we consider the entire matter, there is no place outside it to determine the location of the world here and not there. The story of time is the same. When there is no time beyond the world, one cannot say that the world is at this time and not at another time. Having a time is only applicable to the parts of the world and not to the whole world. Accordingly, it will essentially be a void statement to speak about the temporal contingency and pre-eternity of the world as theologians have been trying to reject or confirm it.

6- According to the doctrine of trans-substantial motion, Mullà Sadrà regards the soul as a product[34] of trans-substantial motion of the body. In the same way that fruit and branch are naturally located beside each other, the soul and the body enjoy such a natural and essential relationship, and in no way, their relationship is a superficial and an accidental one. On this basis, the body has the status of a background and “potentia” with regard to the soul. It is not the case that the body generates the soul, and the soul is the effect of the body. The body only provides the conditions for the appearance of the soul. The soul is a special being that requires a material background both in genesis and in appearance, but in its survival and continuity, it is independent of matter and material conditions. Mullà Sadrà’s famous rule, which is recorded in his name in philosophical texts and indicates the above fact, is as follows, the soul is corporeal in contingency and spiritual in subsistence.

It means that the origination of the soul is corporeal and material but its survival and continuity are spiritual and non-material.

The truth is that man’s soul is corporeal in contingency (temporal origination) and physical and perceptive activities domination, but it is spiritual in subsistence and intellection. Its dealing with objects is corporeal, but its intellection of itself and of the essence of its maker is spiritual. However, non-material intellects are inherently and actually spiritual but natures in the world are inherently and actually corporeal.[35]


The distinction between the soul and other attributes of matter manifests itself at the point that the attributes of matter are always dependent upon matter; they are found within matter; they remain dependent upon material objects, and they perish together with the extinction of matter. In contrast, only the background of the appearance of the soul is material and it doesn’t require a material carrier for survival. Accordingly, the material and non-material world directly follow each other and are the natural continuation of each other so that “human form is the ultimate stage of corporeal perfection and is the first step of the spiritual perfection.”[36] A similar statement can be found in al-Asfàr:

At the time of origination, the soul is at the final stage of the evolution of material forms and at the first stage of the development of cognitive forms, and its existence at this stage counts as the final corporeal shell and the first spiritual core.[37]

Based on this principle, each body possesses a soul that absolutely belongs to it, has come into existence within its background, and is the continuation of the material motion of that body. Accordingly, one should never think that each person has a soul which accompanies him from birth to death. The reality is not so; rather the soul gradually and hand in hand with the body comes into perfection and actuality and is developed with the help of his achievements and acts.

How absurd and shallow it would be to assume that the soul, with regard to its substance and essence, from the start of its dependence to body till the end of its subsistence, is a unitary entity (remains identical and constant). While you learnt that the soul is pure non-thing at the beginning of its creation, as it is said in the holy Qur’an “There surely came over man a period of time when he was a thing not worth mentioning.”[38] “And the soul in its ascent reaches the active intellect.”[39]

Another consequence Mullà Sadrà draws from his theory is the rejection of the idea of reincarnation. Since the soul is the continuation of the body’s natural motion, it is not essentially reasonable to assume that one person’s soul turns to become another person’s soul. Each body in its trans-substantial motion seeks for and finds its own suitable soul. At the beginning, this soul is nothing, but gradually and, at the same time, harmoniously grows with the body and develops actuality and form. In this case, how would it be possible for a body to accept and conform to a soul which has been made, polished, cast, and grown to suit another body?

7- One of the problems of trans-substantial motion is the problem of resurrection. In no way does Mullà Sadrà claim that by trans-substantial motion one can explain and interpret all the details of the problem of resurrection which have been proposed in Divine religions and specially in Islam. What is intended is that the world, which is a motion, inevitably has a destination and goal and heads towards a direction in its depth and inside. This motion is the very coming into existence of the world. In other words, the world is created in such a way that heads towards an ultimate goal. This goal is not a place and location beyond the world itself. The source, destination and moved are the same here. Moved starts out from itself and moves within itself and reaches itself again. But this ultimate self is a stage higher than the starting self.

A great change occurs not only on the Earth but also in the whole world with the emergence of resurrection and a totally new world and scene appear. One can recognize here that the problem of resurrection is not confined to the Earth and human beings; rather, it is a cosmic event at the level of the entire material entities.[40]

Mullà Sadrà’s arguments concerning the issue of resurrection are not confined to the essential and trans-substantial transformation of the world; rather, they are related to human beings as well. He considers the world as a growing sapling, which undergoes essential and trans-substantial transformation, continual decay, and origination until it ultimately, leads to resurrection. Likewise, by presenting the deep inner motion in man, he demonstrates the Last Day and its certain and indispensable occurrence.

The soul in Mullà Sadrà’s view is an independent substance that by trans-substantial motion passes through the different stages one by one until it becomes free from dependence on matter and potentia and achieves eternity in the realm of the intellect. Following some gnostics, besides accepting the eternity of the rational faculty of the human soul, he maintains a kind of eternity for the faculty of imagination as well. Amongst the faculties of the soul, intellection, and imagination are essential to the soul while vegetative and animal faculties are transferred through the body. According to him, on the Last Day, the power to create external forms is granted to all souls and the parts of the body which seem to be external will be created from within the soul, so that the revivification of the soul will be really accompanied by the revivification of the body. According to Mullà Sadrà, this statement is another interpretation of the problem of the resurrection of the body which he prides to have solved.


[1]. Throughout the history of the Islamic thought, the concept of “perpetual creation” has been explained in different ways by Islamic thinkers.  Gnostics believed in the “renewal of similars”, and agreed with existence of renewal and transformation all over the world of possibility including substances and accidents. The Ash’arítes, based on the rule of “the accident does not remain the same in two successive moments,” consider the forms of beings in continual change and transformation, in spite of the survival and constancy of their substances. And Mullà Sadrà and his followers propose trans-substantial motion and; accordingly, conceive of the world with its substance and accidents as being in constant change and transformation. Mullà Sadrà’s trans-substantial motion is more compatible with the Gnostics’ renewal of similars with the difference that the gnostics believe in dressing after undressing of forms (al-labs ba‘d al-khal‘) while Mullà Sadrà believes in dressing after dressing (al-labs ba‘d al-labs). This differentia implies that in the Sufi doctrine, at every moment, the universe is annihilated and re-created. However, in Mullà Sadrà’s view, the form and matter of an existent become themselves the matter for a new form and this process goes on continuously as if one were to put on one coat on top of another. See: Mullà Sadrà, al-Asfàr al-arba‘ah, vol. 3, 4th, Beirut, Daro ihya al-toras al-Arabi, 1410 A.H., pp. 112-113; Taftàzàní, Sa‘d al-Dín, Sharh al-maqasid, vol.1, Egypt, 1305 A.H., pp. 181, 319; Ash‘arí, Abul Hasan, Madhàhib al-islàmiyín, vol.1, Egypt, 1389 A.H., p.710.      

[2]. Ibn Sínà, al-Shifà, Samà‘-i tabí‘í, Qum, Maktabat al-Mar’ashi, 1405 A.H., pp. 123-124.

[3]. Ibid., 101. 

[4]. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 12, 8, 1704a.

[5]. Ibid.,12, 1-10, 1069a-1076a.

[6]. Ibn Sínà, al-Shifà, al-Ilàhiyyat, p. 257.

[7]. Mullà Sadrà, al-Asfàr, vol. 3, p. 74.  

[8]. Ibid., al-Ta‘líqat, Mullà Hàdí Sabziwàrí, p. 21.

[9]. Ibid.,180; Ibid., al-Ta‘líqat, ‘Allàmah-Tabàtabà’í, p. 69.

[10] . Ibid., ch. 25, p. 97.

[11]. Ibid., ch. 26, p.101.

[12]. Ibid., Burhàn-i mashriq-yi àkhar, p.103.

[13]. Ibid., p. 103.

[14]. Ibid., p. 104.

[15]. Ibid., ch. 33, Bahth wa tahsíl, p. 133.

[16]. Ibid., vol.7, Mawàqif 10, ch. 2, pp. 290-291.

[17]. Ibid., ch. 24, p. 273.

[18]. Ibid., ch. 2, p. 201; See: vol. 5, ch. 2, p. 204; Mullà Sadrà, Mafà’tih al-ghayb, 12, pp. 426-427.

[19]. Ibid., vol. 3, ch. 12, p. 39.

[20]. Ibid., ch.12, p. 61.

[21]. Mullà Sadrà, al-Shawàhid al-rububiyyah, ed. Jalal Ashtiyani, Markaz Nashr-i Danishgahy, Tehran, 1360 H.S. pp. 244-245.

[22]. Mullà Sadrà, al-Asfàr, vol. 6, ch. 8, pp. 98-99.

[23]. Ibid., vol. 5, ch.17, p. 342.

[24]. Ibid., vol. 6, al-Ta‘líqat, Mullà Hàdi Sabziwàrí, p. 98.

[25]. Ibid., vol. 5, ch. 2, p. 202.

[26]. Ibid., vol. 3, pp. 95-96.

[27]. al-Rahman chapter: 29.

[28]. Mullà Sadrà, al-Asfàr, vol. 7, ch. 1, pp. 281-283.

[29]. Qàf chapter: 15.

[30]. Mullà Sadrà, al-Asfàr, vol. 2, ch. 21, p. 68; See: Mullà Sadrà, Mafàtih al-ghayb, al-miftàh 12, pp. 395-396; al-Asfàr, vol. 7, pp. 285, 292.    

[31]. Mullà Sadrà, al-Mashà‘ir, ed. Henri Corbin, Ketabkhaneh Tahori, 2nd, al-manhaj 3, al-Mashà‘ir, 3, p. 64. 

[32]. Mullà Sadrà, al-Asfàr, vol.7, ch. 2, p. 297; See: Ibid., ch.1, p. 287.

[33]. Ibid., ch. 2, p. 297; See: al-Mazàhir al-ilahíyyah, al-mazhar 7, p. 44.       

[34]. The phrase “a product of trans-substantial motion” must be perceived in its precise and special sense; and from the analogy of fruit and branch one must not wrongly assume that the soul, like a fruit, is dependent upon a branch and always feeds on it. The soul is like a ripe fruit that after ripening falls off the branch and starts out an independent life for itself. See: Mullà Sadrà, al-Asfàr, vol. 8, al-safar 4, bab 7, chap. 6, p. 390. 

[35]. Ibid., ch. 3, p. 347.

[36]. Mullà Sadrà, al-Shawàhid al-rububiyyah, p. 223.

[37]. Mullà Sadrà, al-Asfàr, vol. 8, ch. 1, p. 328. 

[38]. al-Insàn or Dahr chapter: 1.

[39]. Mullà Sadrà, al-Asfàr, vol. 8, ch. 1, p. 328. 

[40]. The holy Qur’an’s interpretations of considering resurrection simultaneous with great worldly events are far too explicit. “When the heaven becomes cleft asunder, and when the stars become dispersed, and when the seas are made to flow forth, and when the graves are laid open, every soul shall know what it has sent before and held back”. (al-Infitàr chapter: 1-5)


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