Individuation in Mullà Sadrà’s Philosophy

Mohammad ‘Ali Ejei


Among those Muslim philosophers who deal with the issue of individuation, Mullà Sadrà is the most eminent, and also one who compiled an independent treatise concerning the issue. He discusses the issue of individuation in his various works, but here we intend to debate three of them: al-Asfàr, al-Shawàhid al-rububiyyah and al-Tashakhkhus (risàlah fí). Concerning the issue of individuation, it can be said that these three works supplement each other.

There is no independent chapter dedicated to the issue of individuation in al-Asfàr. It is rather discussed in a chapter covering the issues of “Universal and Particular”. The importance of the discussions concerning individuation in al-Asfàr is mostly due to the views referred to (about 10 views). These views are discussed in al-Asfàr briefly, and the main thrust of the present article is to show that these views are referable to what Mullà Sadrà accepts. Except in a few cases, Mullà Sadrà does not mention the sources of these views. Nevertheless, it is very significant to make an attempt to collect them and put them in a comparative perspective in order to understand them perfectly and to understand the issue in a better way. His al-Shawàhid al-rububiyyah, in addition to being divided into chapters in a very proper manner, includes some subtitles which, as will be seen, reveal a point to be taken into account to understand Mullà Sadrà’s achievements concerning this issue. Some ideas that are mentioned in al-Asfàr are discussed in detail in al-Tashakhkhus.

Historical Backgrounds of Individuation

Individuation is among metaphysical issues, and in his Metaphysics Aristotle refers to it cursorily. In relation to the Trinity and some other Christian theological issues, philosophical circles from Boethius’ time onward seriously took into account the issue of individuation.[1] But how is it possible to reconcile monotheism with trinity?

In his treatise “On the Trinity”, Boethius, who is regarded as the last philosopher of the ancient Rome and the first philosopher of the Middle Ages, asks how there can be many individuals for a single specific meaning. Christian philosophers tried to make the issue of the unity of the three essences understandable through exploring the concepts of particularity, substance and individuation. Other issues relevant to the issue of individuation are those of resurrection and the survival of the soul after death. It should be noted that even in the earlier period of modern philosophy and in the time of Leibniz, the theological aspect of the issue was important. It is a well-known fact that Ibn-Rushd and his followers believed that there was only one universal soul, to which particular souls would return after death. They were of the view that no particular soul would survive [after death]. In his critical remarks on Ibn-Rushd’s idea, Leibniz states that his criticism is meant to defend the religion and the belief in the survival of the soul.[2]

If the issue of individuation is regarded merely as a metaphysical one, it will be important primarily for those philosophers who believe in the Platonic Idea concerning the issue of universals. According to these philosophers, since the world of universals enjoys reality and since particular individuals belong to the world of appearance, the cause of individuation and the plurality of the individuals of the same material species should be explained. In Islamic philosophy this issue is not irrelevant to the permanence of Platonic realism, the belief in the reality of universals, and in the form of wujud qabl al-kithrah (existence before multiplicity) in Divine knowledge. The way of posing the issue also implies its Platonic origin. In al-Tashakhkhus (risàlah fi) for example, the issue is posed as follows:

wa dhahaba ba’duhum…” Or in his al-Shawàriq al-ilhàm, using similar terms, Làhíjí writes: “al-màhiyyah al-na’wiyyah…”.[3] That is to say that the very concept of one quiddity does not prevent it from being communal with various individuals. However, this is not the case for the individuals of that quiddity because its concept does not exclude its participation in all individuals. Thus there should be either a cause or an external thing in an individual which prevents its concept to be applied on many individuals. Now a question may arise: What is this cause? In both cases one can see that a comparison between the quiddity of species and the individual is the basis of the problem. Upon the fading of this Platonic origin, philosophers of the Middle Ages and the well-known British philosophers of the 17th century no longer discuss the issue of individuation. For philosophers such as Locke, Francis Bacon and Hobbes, in whose works all traces of Platonic realism vanish completely and a sort of nominalism appears, only particulars exist. They do not regard the issue of individuation as an important philosophical issue.[4] But such issues as the distinction and the identity of individuals – as philosophical issues – were important for them. It should be noted that nominalists were, theologically, accused of believing in three gods.

Some Aspects of the Issue of Individuation

Before proceeding to discuss Mullà Sadrà’s and other philosophers’ ideas as dealt with in al-Asfàr, we will briefly discuss some aspects of this issue which can help understand the issue better and help find some solutions for it.

The first aspect of the issue of individuation is related to how philosophers understand and interpret this term. What is meant by the individuation of a thing? In other words, if we regard this term as a predicate of a thing, and call a thing existent or individual, which aspect of that thing do we intend? According to the general impression of this term, various interpretations for individuation may be provided. One of the popular interpretations for individuation is “indivisibility”. According to a version of this interpretation, the term “individual of nature” is applied to a thing which cannot be divided to more individuals physically. According to this definition, when it is said that a thing is an individual of a specific nature, it means that it is a unit of that species. And if it is divided into parts, what is obtained will be no more an individual of that species. Evidently, if this interpretation of individuation is accepted, then there should be a principle or cause on the basis of which the indivisibility of a thing can be explained. This principal or formal cause is the same thing by which the individuation of a thing may be explained.                 

The other interpretation of individuation is based on “distinction”. Here the “distinction” of a thing does not mean distinction in terms of genus or differentia; rather, the reason behind individual distinction is intended. Distinction in terms of genus is realized where two things belong to two different genera. Similarly, distinction in terms of species is realized when two things are classified under two different species. Numerical distinction, however, makes an individual of a species distinctive from the other individuals of the same species. Wherever there are distinctions in terms of genus and species, there is numerical distinction as well, but not vice versa. This interpretation of individuation is close to what is intended by the term in the ordinary language. When one speaks of the cultural, scientific, or political figures of a society, he speaks of them in terms of those characteristics which separate one individual from others. Evidently, if this notion of individuation is accepted, then we should look for a principle which draws a distinction between certain individuals and others and thus makes her or him unique. In this case, the “sum of the characteristics of the thing” as the principle of individuation may be regarded as a proper solution.    

Another interpretation sometimes given for individuation is that it cannot be predicated. This interpretation of individuation is more popular among Muslim philosophers. When it is said that the quiddity of species can be predicated on many things but the individual of that species cannot, then it may be inferred accordingly that individuation means that it can be predicated on many individuals. Here again it should be noted that by unpredicated the metaphysical and not the logical sense of the term is intended. What does not exist in another thing cannot be predicated. If individuation is spoken of in this sense of the term, then the existence of the thing or its matter or a mixture of the two may be regarded as the cause of individuation.

Not only the meaning of the term “individuation” and the way in which we interpret the term but also what is regarded as an individuated thing is effective in finding a solution. When we speak of the individuation of a thing, do we mean the individuation of primary substances only, or is the individuation of accidents intended as well? Are material and immaterial substances intended at the same time, or only the individuation of material substances? Do we regard the real world as being composed of universals and the sensible world as pure appearance or, vice versa, do we regard the real world as the world of particulars and universals only as their shadows? With regard to the answers provided for these questions, all of which are ontological, there are different plausible solutions for the problem of individuation. For example, for one who believes only in the existence of natural universals in ontology and regards the existence of natural universals the same as the existence of their individuals, the difference between the individuals of a species and that species itself is a conceptual one. The difference between “man” and “Socrates” is a conceptual one, and that individual who is called Socrates is but a state of man. “Zayd” is a state of man, and “‘Amr” is another state.

Another point to be mentioned concerning the issue of individuation is the confusion between the terms individuation (tashakhkhus), distinction (tamíz) and determination (ta‘ayyun). Sometimes, in various texts, philosophers (and even one philosopher in the same text) use these terms interchangeably. Ignoring this point may lead to certain ambiguities, but it is not a serious problem, and when one gets familiar with the foundations of the issue, it will not cause so many difficulties.[5] 

Mullà Sadrà’s Solution

In Mullà Sadrà’s philosophy, the issue of individuation is spoken of as a metaphysical issue. He introduces the issue of individuation as follows: The concept of a universal quiddity such as the quiddity of man by itself can be applied to many individuals. However, the concepts of its individuals, such as “Zayd” and “Amr”, cannot be applied to many individuals. Thus, in each individual there is an extra aspect which causes it not to be universal, and makes its concept inapplicable to many things. The question that arises is what causes this individuality and its inapplicability to many things.

A possible answer is that the individuality of a thing is caused by its distinguishing characteristics. Mullà Sadrà, however, rejects this solution and introduces another one. His answer is introduced in al-Asfàr as follows:

“Truly the individuation of a thing means …”[6]

Mullà Sadrà first explains the term individuation in the sense that he uses in this discussion, and then proposes his own point of view. The meaning of the term is the same as what is already explained. Here the infinitive and the general mental sense of the term individuation are not intended. What is intended is the sense according to which a thing becomes unable to be predicated and prevents its concept from being applied to many individuals. The solution Mullà Sadrà provides is that the individuation of a thing is what causes a quiddity to be individual and makes its concept unable to be predicated [on many things], which is a quality other than the very quiddity of a thing and is nothing other than the existence of a thing. The proof Mullà Sadrà adduces to confirm his view is that if from a particular which exists in the external world we eliminate its particular existence and consider it merely as a series of properties, reason will not bother to predicate it on many things, even though we add many other properties to it. This is due to the fact that all the necessary and unnecessary accidents are of the kind of universals, and can be applied to many things. Thus they cannot explain the individuality of a thing.

Accordingly, Mullà Sadrà opposes the view that regards the individuation of the thing as depending on its properties. The latter view has been introduced in various versions. Boethius introduced the first version when discussing the issue [of individuation]. Mullà Sadrà considers his view in agreement with that of the Second Teacher (al-Fàràbí), who writes in his Ta‘líqàt: “al-mukhassas huwa mà yata ‘ayyina …[7]  

The phrase, which Mullà Sadrà regards as implying al-Fàràbí’s agreement with his own view, is the first part of the above view. He says: “A distinctive aspect is an aspect by which the existence of a thing is determined and, accordingly, it will be distinctive from its likes. A distinctive aspect plays a decisive role in the constitution of the thing and its actual existence as an individual.” This phrase may be regarded as the most proper phrase that Mullà Sadrà emphasizes. As it can be understood from the repetition of the phrase “distinctive aspect”, this phrase is concerned with the “distinctive aspect of a thing” and not its “individuating aspect”. The definition for individuation is introduced in the second phrase, in which individuation is regarded as being caused by individual accidents of a thing such as position, quality, and time.[8]

Nevertheless, if the “distinctive aspect” in the first phrase is the “individuating aspect” and if “individuation” in the second phrase is “distinction”, then two successive parts of al-Fàràbí’s statement will be in agreement with each other, and both of them will be compatible with Mullà Sadrà’s view.

Despite the importance of Ibn-Sínà’s views, Mullà Sadrà never speaks of his view concerning the issue of “individuation”. European philosophers of the Middle Ages attribute to Ibn-Sínà this view that the individuation of a thing is caused by its existence.[9]

Other Views and Theories

After introducing the problem and proposing his own solution, Mullà Sadrà quotes other views as well. Here Mullà Sadrà tries to refer other theories to his own, or to interpret them in a way as to be compatible with his own view. Otherwise he tries to show their drawbacks. These views are as follows:

1- The individuation of a thing is caused by its accidents;

2- The individuation of a thing stems from the way of the knowledge of the thing (Dawàní and Sayyid Sanad’s view);

3- The individuation of a thing pertains to its objective ipsiety (Shaykh al-Ishràq, al- Mutàrihàt);

4- The individuation of a thing results from its analytic part (view of certain scholars);

5- The individuation of a thing is caused by its agent (introduced as ma‘qul…);

6- The individuation of a thing is due to the real agent and the origin of objects, i.e. God (view of some verifiers);

7- The individuation of a thing results from the matter of objects (thinkers such as Aristotle and many other philosophers);

8- The individuation of a thing stems from the states of matter such as time, place and position (Bahmanyàr’s view);

9- And finally, the individuation of a thing depends upon its concomitant and the possessors of a thing (view of certain philosophers).[10]

The above-mentioned views are briefly spoken of in al-Asfàr, without their sources being mentioned. Nevertheless, we will discuss them in this paper as much as possible.

A) The Bundle Theory of Individuation

This is the view against which Mullà Sadrà poses his own, but he does not attribute it to a certain philosopher. This theory has been set forth in various versions. According to one of these versions, individuation stems from a series of properties, whether essential or non-essential, concomitant with or separate from the object. According to this theory, which is known as the bundle theory of individuation, the sum of the properties of a thing, say the table on which one is writing, causes that thing to be individuated. Properties such as its certain measurements, certain width, hardness and the like are among the factors that make the table numerically other than a table, which is located in another place. Among the important concomitants of this theory is that if we suppose that two things are identical in all their properties, they will be numerically identical as well (the principle of the identity of non-distinguished things).

 The objection which can be raised against this theory is that if an object may share its essential properties with another individual of the same species, why can it not share its non-essential properties with it?

B) Temporal and Spatial Accidents

According to this theory, the individuation of a thing depends upon accidents such as time, place and position. If the sum of the properties of a thing cannot explain individuation, perhaps it may be said that the individuation of a thing stems from those accidents which cannot be shared. Bahmanyàr poses the theory that even if other individuals may own this package of properties as well, it cannot be accepted that the same substance may be at this time, in this place, having the same position and at the same time be universal. Here, those accidents which can be owned by no more than one individual are emphasized upon as the standards of the individuation of a thing. Mullà Sadrà maintains that here by individuation Bahmanyàr means distinction; that is, he means to say that what makes distinction between material substances is time and place, and it should not be supposed that the two (time and place) cause them to be individuated. This is of course true, for the existence of a thing logically precedes its existence in a certain place and time. Time and place, in which a material substance is located, can only draw a distinction between the substance and other material substances, and they cannot cause it to be individuated. In other words, these properties are among the tokens of individuation and not its causes. Neither can this theory explain the individuation of immaterial substances. And there are even those who ask what the basis of the individuation of time and place is.

Among the European philosophers of the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas believed that so far as material substances were concerned, a thing was individuated on account of its matter while its distinction depended upon time and place.[11]

C) Individuation Due to the External Qualities of a Thing

Sometimes certain external causes, whether natural or supernatural, are regarded as the causes of the individuation of a thing. The fifth and sixth views quoted from al-Asfàr are of this kind, according to which the individuation of a thing is due to its agent. The fifth view maintains that the individuation of a thing is due to its agent, and the sixth view holds that it is due to the real agent of the thing, i.e. God. Mullà Sadrà further adds that this view is true in the sense that “the agent of a thing” is taken as “what grants it existence”, and since existence is the same as individuation, “what grants a thing existence” is the same as the cause of its individuation.

The objection which may be raised against this view is that an agent, say an artist, may create various works at different times. Thus, a thing other than the agent should be regarded as the distinguishing element of the thing.

D) Analytic Views

There are theories other than those mentioned above in which the individuation of a thing is deemed as depending upon its analytic element. The most well known among these theories are those which consider the individuation of a thing as depending upon existence, substantial forms, or the matter of the thing. The third and fourth theories quoted from al-Asfàr are of this group. In the terminology of “existence and quiddity”, for every existing individual or thing, say “Zayd”, there is nothing in the external world through which one can draw a distinction between his or its existence and quiddity. However, a distinction can be drawn between his existence and quiddity through rational analysis. The third theory is Shaykh al-Ishràq’s view, according to which what prevents the participation of the object is the same as its objective ipseity (huwiyyat ‘ainiyyah) that is its existence. As regards the fourth view, its exponent, Sayyid al-Mudaqqiqín,[12] who believes in the principiality of quiddity maintains, “The individuation of an object depends upon its analytic element”. Mullà Sadrà says that by the analytic element he [Sayyid al-Mudaqqiqín] means existence. Mullà Sadrà mentions the inconsistency between this theory and the belief in the principiality of quiddity.

There are, however, other theories according to which instead of the definitive or rational element or the existence of a thing versus its quiddity, the analytic element is taken as part of the external existence of the thing, i.e. its matter and form. In Aristotle’s philosophy for example, natural universals and substantial forms have no existence independent of things. They are distinguished from each other through rational analysis. Either form or matter can be regarded as the cause of individuation.

Ibn-Rushd and his European followers in the Middle Ages believed that substantial forms in things are the causes of their individuation, for in everything there is a substantial form which is the source of certain effects, such as growth in a particular way, propagation, etc. It is again this substantial form which constitutes the unity and identity of things in the course of various changes. Among those philosophers whose views Mullà Sadrà quotes in al-Asfàr no one advocated this view.

Against this theory there is another one according to which the individuation of an object is due to its matter. This is the same view to which we referred as the seventh theory in al-Asfàr. In his al-Asfàr Mullà Sadrà refers to this theory beginning with the phrase “but some scholars have said”, and in his al-Shawàhid al-rububiyyah he begins with “but what has gone according to some scholars”. In his al-Tashakhkhus he discusses this theory under the title of “fi tahqíq qawl al-hukamà” (On the Views of Some Scholars). This view draws the attention of many scholars. At the end of the eighth chapter of the seventh article of book II of his Metaphysics Aristotle writes:

And when we have the whole, such and such a form in this flesh and in these bones, this is Callias or Socrates; and they are different in virtue of their matter (for that is different), but the same in form; for their form is indivisible.[13]

In his al-Ta‘líqàt Ibn-Sínà writes: “al-Surah shabah…”[14], which is to say that form is the cause of constitution and the actual existence of matter, and the cause of  individuation of form is matter, although it is not the cause of the existence of form. And when matter departs from form, there will be more individuation, and there will also be no more form, since its being had been determined in this matter.[15]

Having mentioned this theory, according to which matter is the cause of individuation, Mullà Sadrà says in al-Asfàr, fa yajibu…”[16] Those who maintain that the individuation of a material thing is caused by its matter mean that its distinction is due to matter and not to its individuation, for matter is conceptually a universal quality.

It is to be noted that when Aristotle regards matter as the cause of numerical distinction between Socrates and Callias, by matter he does not mean hyle; he stipulates that by matter he means this flesh and these bones. Socrates is other than Callias, for the flesh and bones from which Socrates has been composed are other than the flesh and bones from which Callias has been composed. Despite the fact that in al-Asfàr he rejects this theory, Mullà Sadrà confirms it through an interpretation in al-Tashakhkhus. In the last part of al-Tashakhkhus, while defending the theory of al-Tusí’s who, like Aristotle, thinks that the individuation of an object is caused by its matter, he refers to this point. In this treatise Mullà Sadrà writes,“Truly by matter Tusí means wal Hàq…”[17].

Here Mullà Sadrà says that by matter al-Tusí and thus Aristotle and those who regard matter as the cause of the individuation of thing do not mean a separate matter or hyle, but that they mean a natural body which can be separated or conjoined.

E) The Individuation of an Object is caused by Sense Perception

Among the views referred to in al-Asfàr, the second view enjoys a different nature. While other views discuss the issue of individuation from an ontological point of view, this view discusses it epistemologically. According to this view, the individuation of a thing stems from the way of the knowledge of it. If perception is made through reason, it will be universal perception, and if it is made through the senses, it will refer to the particular and individuated perception. In al-Asfàr Mullà Sadrà quotes this view beginning with “It is quoted from some philosophers”, and Làhíjí in his al-Shawàriq mentions it as Muhaqqiq Dawàní and Sayyid Sanad’s view.[18]

In his al-Tashakhkhus Mullà Sadrà discusses this view in detail and writes:

One of the scholars who is known as Tahqíq says that what prevents a thing to be universal is not the reality of the conceived thing. He further adds that a substantial individual, for example, is not but a specific quiddity accompanied with quantity, quality, position, etc. from among the nine accidental categories, and that there is nothing except specific reality. That is why when one asks about this individual (as he is) he is answered in terms of species. Now, if the mentioned individual is perceived through the senses, his concept will prevent it from assuming the participation of plural things; and if it is perceived through other than senses, its concept will not prevent the universality of many individuals. The perceived thing, however, is the same in both cases.[19]  

In order to explain the issue Mullà Sadrà then quotes Dawàní on the following points:

Suppose you perceive a drop of water through the senses, and now you wish to inform some other that in a certain place there is a drop of water with certain dimensions and certain properties, so that the addressee perceives that drop of water with all those properties you have perceived through the senses…

Thus it is clear that the origin of prevention of universality is sense perception, and not some other thing which is present in the perceived thing, and conduced to individuation and particularity. The other argument Dawàní adduces to confirm his view is that when you perceive, through sense perception, a thing which is far away, this sense perception of yours suffices to prevent universality, even though most of those properties which are necessary for knowing its quiddity are still unknown to you.

In his al-Asfàr Mullà Sadrà refers this view to his own theory.[20] Yet, in his treatise (al-Tashakhkhus), he tries to prove its drawbacks through various proofs. These proofs convinced Mullà Sadrà’s followers in the next periods. For example, the late Sabziwàrí in his Sharh al-manzumah regards Dawàní’s view as being unfounded:“wa laysah kullima al-juzi…”[21]

Nevertheless, considering the ever-increasing importance of those views of modern philosophies which are based on epistemology, this theory should be discussed in more details, and it should be compared with the view of those philosophers like Kant, who share a similar view.

Dawàní means to say that firstly in various modes of perception the same thing can be known both through reason and through the senses. In addition, since these two modes of perception are different ones, and as at the same time their perceived thing is the same thing, the perceived thing can be identified with none of them, and this is among the consequences of this theory. In his al-Tashakhkhus, relying on his accepted foundations, Mullà Sadrà tries to prove that both claims are unfounded. Here we avoid discussing this in detail. We will only try to show the similarity between Dawàní’s view and that of Kant, which is introduced under “identity”. Kant says:

Since things can have a twofold relation to our faculty of knowledge, namely, to sensibility and to understanding, it is the place to which they belong in this regard that determines the mode in which they belong to one another. For this reason, the interrelations of given representations can be determined only through transcendental reflection, that is through [consciousness of] their relation to one or the other of the two kinds of knowledge. Whether things are identical or different or in agreement or in opposition cannot be established at once from the concepts themselves by mere comparison (comparatio), but solely by means of transcendental consideration (reflexio), through distinction of the cognitive faculty to which they belong.[22]

Kant’s commentators of course debate the distinction that he draws between things by themselves and phenomenal things. Some of them regard it as a distinction between two perfectly independent groups of things. Things by themselves are intelligible, and they are individuated according to the principle of the identity of non-distinguished things. But the individuation of phenomenal things – external phenomena – depends upon their place. Considering his own view concerning the previous modes of sense faculty Kant says:

Thus in the case of two drops of water we can abstract altogether from all internal difference (of quality and quantity), and the mere fact that they have been intuited simultaneously in different spatial positions is sufficient justification for holding them to be numerically different.[23]

As can be seen, Kant regards the plurality of the external things as resulting from sense perception and it’s a priori patterns. This is what Dawàní, who regarded the sensuality of perception as the cause of individuation, had said before. Dawàní of course does not say how sense perception may be a cause of individuation. In Kant’s philosophy, however, this issue has been explained through the a priori patterns of sensuality.

We have already mentioned the impact of the interpretation of the concept of individuation on the solutions to this problem. If the issue of individuation is introduced as an issue of the knowledge of those principles and causes that cause the knower to be aware of the individuals as individuals, Dawàní’s and Sayyid Sanad’s view will be plausible. In this case universality and particularity stem from the mode of perception. If the issue of individuation is regarded as an ontological one, his answer will not be adequate.


As can be seen, Mullà Sadrà interprets some views quoted in his al-Asfàr, including those of Shaykh al-Ishràq and Sayyid Sanad, in a way which makes it possible to regard them as being in agreement with his own views. As regards the views of other philosophers, including Bahmanyàr, or the view of those who regard matter as the cause of individuation, he rejects Dawàní and Sayyid Sanad’s view in al-Tashakhkhus and goes on to justify al-Tusí, who regards matter as the cause of individuation

Now the question is that if in al-Tashakhkhus Mullà Sadrà is of the view that matter can be regarded as the cause of individuation, why then does he not accept it as the signifier of the individuation of an object in al-Asfàr?

In addition, in his al-Shawàhid al-rububiyyah, Mullà Sadrà pays more attention to the explanatory role of various views and their contributions to different parts of the issue. Also, through interpretation, he accepts the explanatory role of various views in proper places. However, he emphasizes that this interpretation does not disagree with his own view, according to which he regards the existence of an object as that which individuates it.[24]

To sum it up, it can be said that existence possesses various levels of imperfection and perfection and dependence and independence. In certain levels of existence, the individuation of a thing is caused by its essence, like that of the Divine Essence. However, in the lower levels of existence, say in the level of the three generables, the individuation of a thing is caused by its matter, and there are other levels of existence between the two which are individuated because of other things such as agent, position or time. In certain cases merely its relation or connection to another thing causes the individuation of a thing.

The primary impression of al-Asfàr leads one to think that Mullà Sadrà considered the view according to which the individuation of a thing is caused by its matter or by its matter along with temporal and spatial accidents as being wrong. But with reference to the above classification, it seems that it is true that only in the case of the material substances is Mullà Sadrà’s view the same as that of Aristotle, Ibn-Sínà, Khwàjah Nasír al-Dín Tusí and many other philosophers who, when discussing individuation, had the three generables in mind. Concerning these substances, Mullà Sadrà also regards a weak grade of existence, which is the same as the mode of the material existence of a thing, as the cause of its individuation. Nevertheless, as is common among divine philosophers, if we extend the issue at hand so that it covers all substances, whether material or immaterial, then a thing which is able to explicate all issues, including intellects and souls, should be regarded as the cause of individuation. Thus, existence is the only thing which can be accepted as the cause of individuation.

It may seem that what has been quoted from al-Shawàhid al-rububiyyah is in disagreement with what Mullà Sadrà says in al-Asfàr. There is no disagreement between the views according to which the cause of individuation of a thing is its existence and the classification introduced here. As we mentioned, however, in al-Asfàr Mullà Sadrà rejects the view according to which the cause of individuation of an object is its matter. But there he regarded matter as a “mental substance”. Yet this is an interpretation which satisfies only the interpreter. As we see, Aristotle maintains that Socrates is other than Callias, for the flesh and bones from which Socrates has been composed are other than the flesh and bones from which Callias has been composed. Here, by flesh and bones one can mean no rational substance.

Apart from the fact that Mullà Sadrà assigns his own view to al-Fàràbí, the main distinguishing dimension of his theory should be looked for in its comprehensiveness. This comprehensiveness results from a unique principle according to which he explains the individuation of a thing – from the Divine Essence to intellects and souls, to the three generables, to accidents, and to other things which he probably accepts in his ontology. It can be said that, neglecting various things proposed as the cause of individuation, he attains a comprehensive cause for individuation, according to which he succeeds in expressing his own theory and explaining the individuation of all things, which he accepts in his ontology.


I would like to express my appreciation to Dr. Udo Thiel, who sent me copies of his articles, not available in Iran.



[1]. See the epilogue of Gracia, Jorge, J.E. “Individuation in Scholasticism: the Later Middle Ages and the Counter Reformation”.

[2]. See The Cambridge History of Seventeen Century Philosophy, vol. 1, p. 214.

[3]. Lahiji, al-Shawàriq al-ilhàm, p. 176.

[4]. The scholastic philosopher of the late period of the Middle Ages, Suarez, in his book “Metaphysics” has devoted 150 pages to the issue of individuation.

[5]. See 1.

[6]. Mullà Sadrà, al-Asfàr, vol. 2, p. 12.

[7]. Al-Fàràbí, al-Ta‘líqàt, pp. 14-15.

[8]. Also see, Àyatullàh Jawàdí Àmulí, Rahīq-i makhtum, vol. 2, first part, p. 65.

[9]. See Ibn Sínà, al-Mubàhithàt, p. 288 and p. 342. Mullà Sadrà writes in his al-Asfàr that while writing this book he had no access to al-Mubàhithàt. (al-Asfàr, vol. 2, p. 8)

[10]. The classifying of various views under the above-mentioned titles was introduced for the first time by Jorge Garcia in his Individuation in Scholasticism: the Later Middle Ages and the Counter Reformation.

[11]. Gracia, Jorge, J.E. (ed.), Individuation in Scholasticism: the Later Middle Ages and the Counter Reformation, pp. 14-15

[12]. Mullà Sadrà, al-Shawàhid al-rububiyyah, p. 114, footnote 2.

[13]. Aristotle, Metaphysics, W.D. Ross, the Internet version.

[14]. Ibn Sina, al-Ta‘liqat, p. 67.

[15]. Unanimous with al-Fàràbí, he also says: “al-tashakhkhus huwa an yakuna lil mutashakhkhis…” (al-Ta‘liqat, p. 107).

[16]. Mullà Sadrà, al-Asfàr, vol. 2, p. 12.

[17]. al-Tashakhkhus (risàlah fí) (Treatise on Individuation), p. 131.

[18]. Làhījī, al-Shawàriq al-ilhàm, p. 176.

[19]. Mullà Sadrà, The Collection of Treatises, al-Tashakhkhus (risàlah fí) (Treatise on the Individuation), p. 124.

[20]. Also see marginal glosses by the late ‘Allàmah Tabàtabài'i (footnote 3) on Mullà Sadrà, al-Asfàr, vol. 2, pp. 10-11.

[21]. Sabziwàrí, Sharh al-manzumah, the Chapter Hikmah, Mullà Sadrà, pp. 379-380.

[22]. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Trans. Norman Kemp Smith, London: McMillan, 1970, pp. 262-4.

[23]. Ibid.

[24]. Mullà Sadrà, al-Shawàhid al-rububiyyah, p. 121.



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