A New Version of the Principiality of Existence in Sadrian Philosophy

Hussein Ghaffari


Mulla Sadra’s philosophy represents the peak of development of thought in the Iranian philosophical tradition, so that the Sinian philosophy, in spite of its essential solidity and power, does not have much to say in comparison to this school of philosophy. However, the Transcendent Philosophy is an almost unfamiliar name to those who study Islamic philosophy overseas.

If we view Sadrian philosophy from the outside (that is, in the rational atmosphere created by this philosophy) and evaluate it with regard to the criteria common in western rationalist philosophies, we will find it a synthesis of Peripatetic rational issues, gnostic intuitive matters, theological motifs, and religious evidences. For one who is profoundly familiar with both the internal atmosphere of Sadrian philosophy and the external atmosphere of the world’s philosophical thought, which is mainly western, this philosophy is a treasure of immense capabilities for solving the everlasting problems of the history of world philosophy. It is also a response to the needs of contemporary man, who is painfully suffering from the absence of philosophical rationality and spiritual faith and intuition. Outwardly, Sadrian philosophy might appear considerably similar to a Peripatetic philosophical school to a western reader; however, a little scrutiny reveals a sea full of waves of basic evolutions in the matter and forms of philosophical problems.

The most important and fundamental philosophical contribution of Mulla Sadra’s philosophy is that of 'the principiality of existence'. It is undoubtedly the foundation of all the issues that were later posed in his philosophy.

On hearing the title of this principle, a western researcher of Sadrian philosophy should not immediately start conjecturing about its content due to its formal similarity to what we have in Heidegger’s existentialism or Thomas Aquinas’s principiality of existence. Mulla Sadra views this issue quite differently. Of course, it is emphasized that 'the principiality of existence' is not an unprecedented topic in the history of western philosophy. We will discuss this issue later.

Here, before presenting our own version of Sadrian principiality of existence, we will firstly deal with a criticism of  this issue in order to understand our version of this principle properly. According to this criticism, there is a place for discussion as to whether the issue of the principiality of existence or quiddity, as they are viewed in Islamic philosophy, could be propounded as an original philosophical issue. On the basis of this criticism, the fundamental distinction that this principle claims originates, in fact, in linguistic ambiguities and mental terminology-constructions rather than a real distinction concerning the reality of the external world. In order to pose this problem, we should, firstly, explain the classic framework of reasoning concerning the principiality of existence in short and then proceed to discuss the related issues.

Sadrian principiality of existence is based on a number of premises, some of which are traceable to the beginning of Islamic philosophy and, even before that, in the vanguard of the history of western philosophy, and rooted in Aristotle’s Metaphysics, or in Plato’s Sophist. In this regard, we can refer to the issues such as 'the obviousness of the concept of being' in the sense of its primacy and originality in the context of concept, as well as its distinction from quiddative meaning and the synonymity of the concept of being. Moreover, there is an explicit judgmental premise underlying the pillars of this reasoning. This premise is not stated in the classic version of the principiality of existence; however, it is indeed the judgmental cornerstone of this argument and a great number of other basic issues in Islamic philosophy. This premise consists of the epistemological viewpoint of Islamic philosophers and which is based on a pure philosophical realism. In this viewpoint, all mental concepts of existence represent an objective reality independent of subject’s mind. Accordingly, the mind is not capable of creating a primary and independent innovation of any concept, whether sensory or rational. Therefore, if there are any fictitious, imaginative, and abstract concepts in the mind, they are referable, directly or indirectly, to quiddity and external entities. It is here that the concept of 'principial' is formed in contrast to the concept of 'mentally-posited'. The term 'principial' is applied to those mental concepts that possesses a direct external referents. By contrast, mentally-posited concepts, although referring to the outside world, have no independent and objective reference in the outside and are, rather, abstracted from external principial quiddities in some way.

The basic elements of the argument are, so far, provided as follows: 1. Any assumed object in the outside world is the essential referent of a concept and exclusively belongs to it in the mind distinct from other concepts of that object. We refer to that object in distinction from other objects through that concept, which is commonly called quiddity or whatness. Thus, everything in the world is the referent of a specific and distinct quiddity so far as it is the object of our perception.

2. On the other hand, every object is as much a referent of the concept of existence as it is a referent by itself of the specific quiddity that is related to it. For instance, we can say about every quiddity, e.g., a horse or a color such as 'whiteness', that it is a horse or a color exactly in the same way that we can say it is an existent. Of course, concerning quiddative concepts, it is completely conceivable for an object to be a referent of various quiddities. However, these quiddities should stand in a general to particular relation to each other. For example, a horse is an 'animal' at the same time that it is a 'body' and a 'substance'. Nevertheless, to be more accurate, we should say that the meaning of animal is, in fact, a part of the meaning of the horse, and the meaning of the body is a part of the constitutive elements of the meaning of animal. Likewise, substance is one of the constitutive components of the concept of the body. Now, we can limit the domain of the reasoning more than before by referring to a premise which was demonstrated long ago: Existence is a part of no quiddity, i.e. the concept of existence can be neither the genus of quiddities nor their differentia, and thus, while being in complete conceptual distinction from all assumed quiddities, existence is applied to all quiddities extensionally in the same way that it is to all of their essential and specific meanings in terms of its extensions. Now the extent of our reasoning becomes smaller, according to realism, each concept must be related to its own referent. On the other hand, every single referent can only be the referent by itself of a concept. Therefore, how is it that, in addition to the specific quiddity of each object, the concept of existence equally applies to the object as well? The logical conclusion here is that only one of these two concepts, quiddity or existence, possesses an external referent by itself. We should pay attention that taking the existence of two referents by themselves into account is against the main assumption, stating that if we consider a 'single object', and if the logic of increasing one referent to two is accepted, we will enter a vicious circle which will never come to an end. That is the first two referents by themselves for either 'quiddity' or 'existence' will be divided into two referents again, since every 'quiddity' is an 'existent' itself, and its existence is other than its quiddity. Similarly, the secondary quiddity of that quiddity will consist of two modes of existence and quiddity, and this sequence will continue until eternity. Thus if we accept the real distinction of the meaning of existence from the meaning of quiddity, which, due to the preliminary premises, is inevitable, we have no choice but to conclude that an objective and external thing cannot be the referent by itself of two contradictory concepts. Rather, only one of them, either quiddity or existence, could represent the external world and be in conformity with it. And the second concept, whichever it is, does not principially apply to the world; rather, it is, in a way, manipulated and created by the mind. That is, although the second concept is also applicable to the outside world, its application is a subordinate and accidental one. In other words, the external world is not the essential and principal referent of the second concept. Such a concept is commonly called a mentally-posited one in contrast to the first one, which is called a principial concept.

From the viewpoint of advocates of the theory of the principiality of existence, the reasoning should continue with explaining that the concept of 'quiddity', alone, is insufficient for justifying the reality of the external world, and that without including the concept of existence to the concept of quiddity in the structure of a rational model of the external world, there will be a logical contradiction. However, this is not the case with the concept of existence, and it is capable of logically justifying the external world by itself. Of course, the task of a philosopher advocating the principiality of existence in presenting a perfect rational model of the objective world does not come to an end here, and he has, yet, a relatively long way to go to finalize this model. Nevertheless, we will suffice to the explanations given so far to pose the problem referred to at the beginning of this paper.

A short story might help to a better understanding of the issue and give some variety to the article. On a beautiful spring day, a student of philosophy and two of his professors were walking and talking about different things in the campus of the university. Suddenly, they saw a beautiful bush full of colorful and odorous flowers and a butterfly with hundreds of amazing designs on its wings descended on one of these flowers like a glider, as if it had a lot of stories of love to tell the flower in its own world. All of them were standing in front of the flower-bush, watching the beauty and glory of nature. Suddenly, the student told his professors, "My honorable professors, I have attended your classes, and I am quite familiar with the ideas of both of you. At the same time, I am well-aware of your disagreements on certain issues such as the principiality of existence and quiddity. I know that you share the same ideas in the premises of this issue but hold absolutely contrasting ideas concerning the conclusions of this discussion about the external world. In spite of all my efforts, I have never succeeded to have a correct understanding of this disagreement. Now, if you allow me, I would like to clarify this disagreement for you and I by means of an objective experiment which I believe might be helpful in solving the problem." Both professors announced their agreement with a smile. The student turned to the professor believing in the principiality of existence and said, "Please hold the existence of the beautiful butterfly on this flower in to your two hands as carefully as possible." The professor was stretching his two hands from the two sides towards the butterfly quite calmly and confidently that the student said, "Be careful please, because the wings of quiddity are too fragile and might be hurt under the hands and feet of existence." The professor laughed and said, "Be certain that a mentally-posited issue cannot even be hurt without the help of existence," and then took the beautiful butterfly quickly and kept it within the fingers of his two hands. The student who had been excited by the professor’s dexterity and care praised his teacher by clapping. Then he turned to the professor advocating the principiality of quiddity and said, "My dear professor, it is now your turn. I would like to ask you to hold what you find from the quiddity of this butterfly in the outside world in your fingers completely in the same way that my other professor did. And, of course, since I have repeatedly heard you saying that existence is excess to its quiddity, I am sure that in aiming at your target, you will only attend to the quiddity of the butterfly and not harm its existence." The second professor cast a satisfactory look at his student and cautiously moved his hands towards the flower. At this time, the student added, "Of course, I know both of my honorable professors by their dignified and graceful souls and never wish to cause a conflict between them over a small and unimportant butterfly. Rather, my only intention here is to clarify the theory practically." As the second professor was extending the fingers of his two hands forwards, he said, "Don’t worry, existence is an accidental thing for the quiddity, and if one who really knows his job well lays his hand on the referent by itself of quiddity correctly, there will be no sign of existence. So, look carefully if you don’t believe me." A moment later, a strange scene was created. The face of professor Q (the one believing in the principiality of quiddity) blushed more and more at every moment, and professor E (the one advocating the principiality of existence) was heavily sweating on the forehead, as if he was carrying a weighty load on his shoulders. Professor Q increased the pressure of his hands at every moment, and professor E had formed an impenetrable space around the butterfly with all his power, as if it was the problem of existence and non-existence which was as stake. Professor Q did not think about anything but the butterfly’s beautiful wings, and professor E was defending the identity of this beautiful existent, which was drowned in its lovely dream with the flower, at the height of his power. However, the pressure of quiddity was about to break the resistance of existence. When witnessing the big drops of sweat on professor E’s face, the student felt the danger and asked them with an imploring but determined voice, "Let it go for God’s sake. The lovesick butterfly is going to die. Please, let it free just for one second." The warning made the two masters gain control of themselves. The quiddity’s hands were loosened and so did the fingers of existence, and then the lovesick butterfly got immediately out of the prison of existence and quiddity and flew away. On witnessing this, it seemed as if the two professors thought once more about the theme of discussion, since Existence tightened his fingers so that his fist was completely clutched, and quiddity was about to follow existence that the student laughed and said: "Dear professors, the bird has escaped the cage."On hearing this, for a moment, professor Q stretched his hand towards the butterfly that had now flown from that flower-bush to another, but professor E said ironically, "The reality is lost." And the student said, "But the problem was solved, and, thus, there is no conflict!"

You might consider this an absolutely imaginative story; however, you must know that here, in contrast to philosophical principles, it is the imaginal form that has been abstracted from the rational form rather than vice versa. Shaykh al-Ishraq, the most distinguished philosopher of the Islamic world, who has adduced numerous reasons to prove that existence is mentally-posited and strengthen the front of believers in quiddity, responds to an important argument posed by believers in the principiality of existence on the basis of the above story in his famous book, Hikmat al-ishraq. The followers of the principiality of existence say to the advocates of the principiality of quiddity that in the outside world, a horse walks, a bird flies, a cow gives milk, and bodies have weight; however, in the world of the mind, all of them exist without having any of the above effects. That is why there must be something other than quiddity in the outside world; otherwise, we must say that quiddity enjoys these properties without possessing any of them, which is impossible. Thus the external world must be the abode of existence possessing effects rather than quiddities lacking in them. Suhrawardi says,

and some people, when trying to substantiate the externality of existence by objective existents, say that if something from the cause is not added to quiddity, it will remain in non-existence. However, this is a mistake, since they firstly assume a quiddity and then annex existence to it. Yet, the enemy (the opponent) says that this objective quiddity, itself, has been emanated from the agent (cause).[1]

According to Suhrawardi, you (the followers of the principiality of existence) have distorted our words. You assume a mental quiddity, then add existence to it and say where it has come from. However, by quiddity we mean the external 'objective quiddity'. This 'objective quiddity' has certain effects, whereas what is lacking in them is 'a mental quiddity', which is created by the mind. Yet, objective quiddity is created by God and, thus, possesses effects.

We will not deal with the truth of Shaykh al-Ishraq’s reasoning and the objections advanced against it by the people of the principiality of existence here. What is important to us is the essence of his claim. He argues that by quiddity he means the very external objective quiddity, that is, the butterfly’s similar. In the principiality of existence, too, nothing is intended but the existence of the butterfly. In fact, both are pointing at the same thing. However, the problem here is that in this case there must be no difference between the principiality of existence and that of quiddity; after all, the main concern of philosophy is inquiring into the external representations of objects. When there is no disagreement concerning the external object, any disagreement on premises originates in the premises, themselves, and is not related to the conclusion of the discussion, which is the world of objective reality. And since philosophical discussions circle around external realities, when there is no disagreement in this regard, the disagreements concerning the previous levels are unimportant and probably due to language-related ambiguities and limitations. This is exactly what some of the religious scholars and those who were to some extent familiar with philosophy claimed concerning the fundamental differences between these two philosophical schools.

More than 25 centuries ago, a thinker from Elea (a city in ancient Greece), called Parmenides, distinguished between the 'path of reality' and the 'path of illusion and imagination' in a long poem. Plato speaks of this thinker with great respect and chooses the young Socrates as his addressee in one of his most important treatises under the same title (Parmenides). Parmenides talks in a beautiful ode of an unveiling during which he goes on a spiritual journey to the skies in a coach pulled by intellectual horses, ridden by immortal coachmen, and guided by daughters of the sun. They take him along a road towards the palace of the most famous goddess of  the sun. After passing the house of night and leaving all the cities behind, they go through the gates of light, which are guarded by justice. Then the goddess of sun takes his hand and teaches him 'every thing', both the 'truth' and what mortal existents wrongly believe in. The goddess teaches Parmenides:

a) The 'moment' is pre-eternal; it is never created nor destroyed. The whole is a motionless and endless single entity. The 'moment' did not exist in the past. Nor will it be in future, for it exists at present in a unique, integrated, and continuous form (page 73); b) The 'moment' is not divisible, since it is uniform everywhere. Its existence is not more perfect in one direction so that its continuity is disrupted. Likewise, it is not weaker in the other direction; rather, its all directions overflow with what it is. Thus, it is completely continuous and consistent, since whatever it is stands close to us (p. 81)."

The goddess then teaches Parmenides, "Hence, these things have apparently been created, exist at present, and will die out in the future in the same way that they grew before. And man has given each of them a name (part 19, p. 98)." When explaining mortal existents’ wrong path in the Poem of Parmenides, Aristotle interprets his words as follows: "He was convinced that, in addition to what is in existence, what is not is nothing and, he necessarily assumed that there is only one thing, that is, what it is and nothing else (Metaphysics, part 28, p. 986)", and "some of the early philosophers, such as Melisius and Parmenides, denied origination and annihilation. They claimed that nothing ever comes into being, nor does it annihilate. It only appears to us that such things happen (On the Heavens, part 14, p. 298).

Adopting a wrong path and developing a false idea stems from sense perception and illusion of plurality. At the same time, finding the path of the truth is the result of rational deliberation over existence, which leads to no where but unity and the single truth. In the eye of the intellect, 'existence' is one and cannot be other than this, since what is perceived cannot be other than what is in existence. And what exists cannot be judged by any term other than existence. Thus the appearance of this existence necessitates contradiction, since it can not have existed prior to the appearance of existence. Likewise, annihilation and mortality have no way in existence, since this will require the non-existence of existence. Therefore, existence merely exists and nothing else.

Man cannot simply resist the temptation of the truth lying in Parmenides’s words. However, yielding to this temptation means giving up some of man’s most obvious beliefs, including what he sees, what he hears, and what he touches. Obtaining wisdom at the expense of the sense and accepting unity at the expense of refuting plurality are the contradictions man has always been dealing with since the dawn of the history of philosophy.

Now, let’s return to the atmosphere of Sadrian philosophy. Imagine that we have so far agreed with a brief sketch of the principiality of existence. The result of this agreement is that quiddities (all quiddative concepts of the world) have no real and principial external object. Thus one might ask, "What is the outside world?" 'Existence or what we consider as the world and something out of mental perception are the referents and significations of the concept of existence. This is because the concept of existence is a single and unique concept that is used in the same sense everywhere (synonymity of the concept of existence). Therefore, the objective reality of the world is a single reality, and this is the very issue that Mulla Sadra explicitly emphasizes:

Finally, we should say that objective existence is a single and simple reality with no genus or differentia. Besides, universality and particularity do not occur to it. Rather, its plurality and distinctions stem from its essence and not from the outside. However, we should emphasize that existence is shared by all quiddities. It is in unity with and true about all of them.[2]

In sum, the objective reality of existence is single which is not qualified by any of the mental qualities that are attributed to it at the level of concept. And if there is any plurality or distinction, it originates in the essence of this single truth rather than in anything in the outside. Moreover, it is a single, shared, and real issue applying to all quiddities. Mulla Sadra also emphasizes:

It is necessary to know that our views concerning the demonstration of levels of multiple beings and levels of the discussion and teaching of the plurality of existence are in agreement with what we intend to demonstrate in future, if God wishes. And it means nothing apart from demonstrating the unity of being in terms of essence and truth …, and we will adduce a convincing proof that existents, although plural and separate from each other, are among the levels of the individuations of the First Truth and the manifestations of His Light (nur) and the modes of His Essence. And independent issues and essences are not separate from Him …[3]

He also explains the same concept in al-Masha'ir, and then bases his discussion on the falsity of the principiality of quiddity and says:

So, it was proved that the ipseity of what is called 'made' is not different from the ipseity of the cause that produces it. And it is not possible for the intellect to refer to the presence of an effect whose ipseity is different from that of its maker, so that two independent rational ipseities exist in the intellect: the effused ipseity and the ipseity that effuses.[4]

In other words, there are no two things in the world of being so that we could call one of them the effect and the other the cause. In al-Asfar, after rejecting witnessing the cause and effect in the sense discussed above, he says:

It was clarified that all existents possess a single Origin, Who is the only Truth, and the rest are His modes. And He is the essence, and other than Him are His Names and Attributes. He is the Origin, and other than Him are His modes. And He exists and other than Him are His directions and aspects.

Then he considers the perception of this point as the most supreme outlook of the human intellect that is enlightened by the light of divine guidance and states:

And, here, when the sun of inquiry rises from the horizon of the human intellect which is enlightened by the light of guidance and grace, it obviously appears that the single existence of the Truth is a unique which comes second to none. All pluralities are the products of illusion and false perceptions of the faculty of estimate. Now the Truth has appeared, and the penetrating light of the Truth is radiated on the bodies of possible things … since it became clear that anything that is named existence does not exist unless as one of the modes of God, the everlasting One…[5]

The gist of the above words and tens of other similar statements in al-Asfar and in Mulla Sadra’s other books is that the objective world is the referent of a single and unique concept, i.e. 'being', and what appears as quiddative plurality in the world – if viewed rationally and attentively – is nothing but illusion and illusive error. And what can be named existence in a way is nothing but one of the modes of a unique and single Truth. The word 'is' can only be used for Him, and anything other than 'is' is a mentally-posited and illusory issue that is the consequence of the human thought’s adopting the wrong path. This is the very conclusion Parmenides arrived at after discovering the path of the truth, however, this time, not through the guidance he received from the goddess of the sun. Rather, he managed to learn the truth by means of listening to the king of an intellect that is enlightened by the light of the divine guidance, ornamented by logical reasoning, and dressed in a philosophical garment. So far, we can say that Mulla Sadra’s words are not only similar to those in the poem of Parmenides but also in perfect unity with them, yet the end of the story, which we will deal with later, is different. Nevertheless, a comparison at this scale between the ideas of a philosopher belonging to the early years of the history of philosophy and those of one belonging to its most recent years is extremely helpful in obtaining our goal in posing a new version of this discussion.

The issue of the principiality of existence or quiddity basically means the principiality of unity or plurality. Human beings have no choice other than employing mental concepts and meanings in order to have access to the external world in the sense of knowledge. The external world is what such mental concepts reveal to us. At least, there is no other way to do so in philosophy. Such meanings, whether sensory, imaginal, or rational, which we generally refer to as quiddity or concept, are heterogeneous in essence. That is, each concept is essentially other that the other one. It is true that a series of meanings can be included in a unitary mould; however, at the heart of that series, each part of meaning is other than the other. Plurality and separation are the absolute rulers of the world of meanings and quiddity. This point is interpreted in Islamic philosophy as follows: "Quiddities are the origin of plurality." That is, our birthplace is the plurality of quiddity. Among all mental meanings, there is a concept called existence, which, as mentioned before, is, firstly, a part of none of the quiddative concepts, and, rather, there is a conceptual separation and difference between this concept and others. Secondly, existence is in unity with all these quiddities in terms of objectivity and extension. And there is nothing in the objective world, unless it is a referent for existence. Thus we are confronting two pictures of the objective world. In one picture, the objective world is a series of numerous points which are completely distinct and separate from each other. From each point we have a mental concept that is technically refereed to as the quiddity of that particular point. In the second picture, everything that is called the objective world is nothing but a single truth and a unique reality. And this is because we are talking about the entire objective world in the sense of a single and common concept, i.e. being. Now, it is the time for making a decision. Either the truth of the world is a single, unique, and uniform one, or there is basically no single truth at work, and the world consists of an infinite number of realities which we refer to by means of concepts and meanings that signify their whatness and quiddities. The first view is called the principiality of existence and the second the principiality of quiddity; the first advocates the principiality of unity and the second the principiality of plurality; the first leads to the path of the truth and the second to the path of fantasy and illusion. Now we must make a choice. Our philosophy, whatever it is called, can follow only one of these views rather than both or none of them. The first view is the way of the pure intellect and the second is the way of the sense and a kind of understanding which is similar to the intellect. Considering the issues discussed above, the writer does not believe that any rational and wise person might regard the disputes among the followers of these two standpoints a non-principial one having originated in linguistic ambiguities and fallacies. This is because the distance between unity and plurality is equal to the one between existence and non-existence. Believing in the principiality of both quiddity and existence is nothing more than an illusion, either, since its meaning necessitates the gathering of existence and non-existence in the same place. Each of these views has a strong point as well as a weak point. The strength of the second approach, that is, the principiality of quiddity, is its agreement with sense perceptions and the sensible world.

Moreover, it prevents the rise of a great number of theological ambiguities and religious temptations, such as purifying the Creator from the created and separating the divine world form the material world. The weak point of this approach is its lacking in a basis for justifying any kind of unity in the objective and even subjective world. If absolute dominance belonged to quiddity, i.e. plurality, what would be the basis for unity among quiddities? We can clearly see that man is a rational animal, and that an animal, itself, possesses the three-fold dimensions of growth, sense, and motion. All these meanings are connected and united to each other and, in fact, turned into one concept in a single being. What is the criterion for this unity? Every single unit in the world of external objects consists of tens of other quiddative meanings by itself. If the objective world is the same as the manifestation of quiddities and nothing else, how could the connection of quiddities to each other by justified? This is also the case in the world of the mind. When thinking about a rose and the red color at the same time, the image of a red rose might appear in your mind. This 'red rose' is a single and unified unit rather than two different images that have been put beside each other. The 'red rose' is other than the rose and the red color, as the rational animal is other than the animal and the rational. It is at this point that unity turns into a question-raising issue in philosophy, and the philosopher following the principiality of existence asks about 'the criterion for predication'. This is the very question that Kant has truly taken into consideration as the most important part of his philosophy. However, the solution he proposes for the problem, i.e., the problem of 'the transcendental unity of the soul', will yield no product other than a 'quiddity', unless it is rooted in the land of existence. And, unfortunately, quiddity will be of no help in solving the problem of unity, and the transcendental use of 'I' as a 'phenomenon' will produce nothing but quiddity. And this is the red line that Kant does not allow himself to pass. That is, the abode of existence is 'the land of the thing in itself', whose discussion has been closed forever in a phenomenological system of philosophy. Following this comparative discussion poses the danger of deviation from the topic of interest here; however, it is necessary to refer to it for a better understanding of the problem, on the one hand, and, more importantly, for emphasizing that the fundamental discussions in philosophy are uniform and eternal, whether they are eastern or western, or whether they are old or new. The point here is to try to find the solution unanimously. It is the attention to this very problem in the principiality of quiddity that the advocates of the principiality of existence refer to as one of the reasons for the rightfulness of their position and viewpoint. The Sadrian commentator and philosopher, Hajj Mulla Hadi Sabziwari writes in his al-Manzumah: "If existence were not principial, there would be no unity in the world."

However, the strength of the principiality of existence lies in the very justification of unitarianism. Moreover, the followers of this view will be able to find some very convincing responses to many theological and religious questions. In the framework of the principiality of existence, the relation between the creator and created becomes so close that it appears as if the whole world points at His direction. Here, the God is with us at all times and in all places. This approach presents vast outlooks concerning issues such as resurrection, torment, other worldly punishment, and the like before man’s eyes. Of course, it suffers from certain problems concerning the justification of plurality and the sensible order of the world. Similarly, it has to propose some solutions for issues such as anthropomorphism, rejecting God’s oneness with His creations, God’s transmigration in the world, and similar views. It seems that the most important reason for the disagreement of a great number of people of Shari'ah and religion in the Islamic world with Sadrian philosophy, or perhaps with philosophy in general, is the fear of falling into this perdition.

Parmenides’s distinguished student, Zenon, through using or abusing the defects of logical reasoning, posed his famous paradoxes. One of them is about a tortoise which races Achilles, the mythical runner. However, the magical Achilles will never reach it, since it is a little – perhaps a few centimeters, ahead of him. His other paradox concerns an arrow which is shot from a bow at one side of the stadium but will never mange to reach the other side … He has some other similar reasonings whose shared goal is to prove the invalidity of sense perception and inefficiency of this part of human perceptions as a symbol of reality. Zenon’s goal in posing such logical fallacies was to support his master’s (Parmenides) view as to introducing the path of the sense simply as the path of illusion and error. Nevertheless, the king of the intellect is apparently more skillful than the goddess of the sun, and since Parmenides blinds the eye of the sense to support the intellect, Mulla Sadra develops a theory which appreciates and respects the role that each of the human perceptive resources plays in the process of perception. The Sadrian theory of gradation of being is the solution to Parmenides’s mistake concerning equating that of errors with the path of human ideas. Where Parmenides acknowledges plurality at the expense of unity and sacrifices sensibles and sense perception for intellectual perception, Mulla Sadra, through seeking help from the reality of being, grants such breadth and width of domain to being that it embodies all the grades of the world and rightfully details the characteristics of each world. In Mulla Sadra’s specific theory of gradation, being, while a single entity, possesses such degrees of strength and weakness in its innermost that each of them comprises a world, or perhaps some worlds. The vertical gradation of being represents the system of cause and effect, and the horizontal one unravels the correlative, network-like, interconnected and complex relations among the grades, with each grade representing all its higher grades at a single latitude.

On the other hand, by a profound analysis of the cause-effect relation and transforming it from a bi-categorical relation into a one-sided pure relation, which he refers to as the Ishraqi relation, this theory grants such a station to the effect that, while maintaining its effectual degree and position, due to its pure annihilation and being pure relation in comparison to the cause, it does not leave any room for duality and ontological disjunction. In fact, without doing any harm to the individual unity of the system of being and absolute Being, it is immune against falling into the abyss of anthropomorphism and dwelling through distinguishing between ontological forms and modes, on the one hand, and the essence, on the other hand. The issue of gradation of existence is what corrects and justifies this distinction.

In this way, for the first time, instead of sacrificing unity for plurality or vice versa, philosophy finds access to a system consisting of plurality in unity and unity in plurality in an interconnected relation to each other, as well as to an individual unity while enjoying particular gradation. Following this, the wall between philosophy and theoretical gnosis is totally shattered so that some might assume that the hero of the principiality of existence has taken refuge in the field of gnosis rather than in philosophy in his encounters with problems.

Nevertheless, it is at this point that the glory and reverence of the king of the intellect, enlightened by the light of Divine guidance, radiates so brightly that it fears not giving some way to the subjects of the realm of the sense. On the other hand, the amplitude of the domain of love does not cause such ecstasy that the weapon of the intellect is given up. Rather, through adopting a wide perspective and exercising unique precision, this theory takes the role of all human senses in the perception of the inward and outward aspects of being.

The problem of the gradation of being is one of the pure and complex problems which does not easily yield itself to conception. Likewise, 'being', itself, is a purely rational concept of the reality of the system of being. The combination of these two concepts with each other manifests the rational picture of the world in its real form to the philosophers advocating the principiality of existence. Accordingly, the writer believes that Sadrian philosophy is the only philosophy which can be called philosophy in the real sense of the word in the history of thought, whether western or eastern. In other words, Sadrian philosophy has found access to the rational domain of the world, and if other philosophers, however distinguished and eminent, do not give up their belief in quiddity, they will merely develop a general and sensory, or in Kant’s words, an illusive, concept of being. They will, in fact, find no way into rationality. As we can see, in the west, Kant has obviously denied the intellectual aspect of philosophy altogether and limited it to the area of understanding of logical categories. Likewise, although Islamic philosophers have talked a lot about unity and union, as long as they do not establish a rational system in conformity to the justification of unity, they will be deprived of having access to the real realm of philosophy.



[1]. Suhrawardi, Hikmat al-ishraq, part 1, 3rd article, Iranian Academy of Philosophy, p. 66.

[2]. Mulla Sadra, al-Asfar, vol. 1, p. 68.

[3]. Ibid., p. 71.

[4]. Mulla Sadra, al-Masha'ir, 7th mash'ar, part 1.

[5]. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 301.


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