Copulative Existence (wujud-i rabit) in Mulla Sadra’s Philosophy[1]

 Prof. Mohammed Taqi Misbah Yazdi


The division of existence into copulative and non-copulative types in Islamic philosophy has given rise to a great deal of discussions. The writer believes that Mulla Sadra intended to provide a philosophical and rational explanation for his intuitive and gnostic findings in his school of philosophy. He had come up with such findings through his gnostic taste, and reading about them in different verses and traditions. These findings were related to the issues that the Peripatetics had not been able to clarify satisfactorily till then. In this regard, we can refer to the relation between man’s acts and those of God, in the sense that in religious texts a certain act is attributed to both man and God simoultenously. In the case of natural acts, sometimes even the same act is attributed to both God and nature. We read in the Qur’an that God makes plants grow; on the other hand, we know that the rain, which falls from the sky, also helps plants grow. We attribute the same act of causing the growth of plants to two different agents. Now the question is whether these two agents could come together. The philosophers and theologians preceding Mulla Sadra believed that the two have a linear relation with each other and are not in contrast, and tried to explain this in terms of unity of action in some way. However, the truth is that the depth of the issue could not be understood merely on the basis of such simplistic justifications.

Through his gnostic taste, Mulla Sadra had discovered something that could not be explained by such concepts. More importantly, it was the issue of the unity of the reality of being which was greatly emphasized by both Islamic and non-Islamic gnostics, and which could not be demonstrated though a philosophical approach. Historical evidence shows that there had always been a kind of conflict between the gnostics believing in the unity of being and the philosophers believing in plurality. Through the same gnostic taste, Mulla Sadra had discovered that these two ideas are not in contrast with each other, while in the works of preceding philosophers no clear explanation had ever been presented for this problem, and it had always been a point of debate between the gnostic and philosophers.

Mulla Sadra’s aim was to find a concept among philosophical concepts that could better clarify the existing ambiguities: the unity of actions, essential unity, and the relation between God and existence, particularly, the relation between God and man. The writer believes that from among all philosophical concepts, he found the concept of copulative existence the most suitable for the clarification of this relation. Therefore, his views on copulative existence are by no means less important than his theories of trans-substantial motion, the principiality of existence, and the gradation of existence. Rather, the writer believes that his explanation for copulative existence, particularly in theology and in relation to the problems of Oneness (tawhid), is more important than all of his other theories and principles. Therefore, in order to be able to clarify the other more complicated issues more comprehensively, the writer has first provided a short account of this concept in pre-Sadrian philosophy and discussed the changes made by Mulla Sadra in this regard.

Previously, copulative existence (wujud-i rabit) and inhering existence (wujud-i rabiti) were used almost synonymously in philosophical expressions and had two applications. Firstly, they were used in the discussions on the copula of propositions in logic. As we know, a cathegorical proposition consists of two components: a subject and a predicate; however, there is another component which relates the subject and the predicate to each other. In some languages there is a word which indicates this relation; for example, in Persian we say: ‘insan mutafakkir ast’ (man is rational). Here insan is the subject, mutafakkir is the predicate, and ast indicates the relation between the subject and the predicate. In logic, this element (words like ast) was sometimes called ‘wujud-i rabit’, sometime ‘wujud-i rabiti’, and sometimes ‘wujud-i rabti’. This word was in fact a logical term used in the discussion of concepts. In other words, it was said that there are two types of concepts: the first type consists of those concepts which can be understood independently and are called non-copulative or nominal concepts; the second type consists of those concepts which cannot be perceived independently and should be understood in the light of one or two other nominal concepts. Such concepts are called literal concepts. The copulative existence is in fact a literal existence, i.e. it is a concept which can be perceived through another concept rather than by itself. In this regard, we can refer to such universal connectives as from, until, in, and, or that. A literal concept could never be understood by itself and is meaningful only in the context of a sentence.

The second application of the meaning of copulative existence wujud-i rabit in philosophy was what philosophers referred to as inhering existence wujud-i rabiti. They applied this term to existents whose existence in the outside requires another object. However, such existents are conceptually independent; in other words, they have a nominal meaning which can be primarily perceived. For example, we can refer to accidental concepts such as line, surface, and volume.

Such concepts are accidental, and we can perceive their meanings. For instance, we understand the concept of line without considering a subject or predicate for it; however, it has no independent existence in the outside, and is realized only in the margin of the surface. A surface has no independent external existence, either, and is realized only at the margin of volume. A volume, too, follows the same rules. We can perceive the concept of volume, but its existence in the outside depends on its location and subject; it is an accident that depends on a substance. There should be an object for a volume to be realized, and it cannot exist independently and by itself. An existent whose external existence is in need of another object, so that it could dwell in it and become an attribute for it, was called inhering existence. It was also called the qualifying or attributive existence; that is, an existence that qualifies its subject of qualification; for example, whiteness whitens the object, or smallness makes its object of qualification small. Other accidental concepts act exactly in the same way. Of course, philosophers believed in the same idea with respect to some substances and maintained that the relation between the existence of the form to matter is of the inhering and attributive type.

The writer does not intend to give a detailed account of the issue here, and just suffices it to say that philosophers had identified in philosophy a kind of existence which had an independent meaning, but could not exist independently in the outside, and was in need of another existent to be realized in relation to it. They called this copulative existence. From among accidents having inhering existence we can refer to the category of relation. In classical philosophy, relation is an accidental concept depending on two sides. For instance, in the relation of brotherhood, two men are considered brothers if they are born to the same mother and father; nevertheless, apart from the two men who are brothers in the external world, there is nothing called brotherhood that could exist independently. Thus relation is one of the existents whose existence is of the inhering type and depends on two objects, i.e. it is realized between two objects or subjects. Such issues were discussed in pre-Sadrian schools of philosophy, and their followers called the both the logical and philosophical copulative existence copulative existence and inhering existence.

Mulla Sadra’s teacher, Mir Damad, proposed that in order to prevent the confusion of these two terms, we should call the copulative existence in propositions as wujud-i rabit, without the attributive ‘i’, and accidental existences as wujud-i rabiti (inhering existence). Following Mir Damad, Mulla Sadra refers to the same point in al-Asfar. He, too, recommends that to prevent the confusion of the logical and philosophical meanings of the terms, we should call the one with the logical meaning as rabit (copulative), and the one with the philosophical meaning as rabiti (inhering). The concept of copulative existence, both in its logical and philosophical senses, involved a specific meaning; it indicated that copulative existence has no independence. Copulative existence in its logical sense is an existence that even lacks independence in concept, i.e. it cannot be perceived independently. Thus, in contrast to nominal concepts, which have an existence by themselves, they are called existence through the other. In its philosophical sense, inhering existence is applied to accidents. Accidents cannot exist without depending on substance. Therefore, what is common between the two terms is dependence.

Mulla Sadra was always trying to explain the relation between God and His creatures in terms of independence and dependence. In other words, he intended to prove that all existents of the world have existence; however, their existence is the same as their dependence on God, and that they have no independence of their own. Accordingly, he tried to devise a philosophical principle in the light of which he could explain this relation.

In philosophical term, we consider the relation between God and the universe of a cause-effect type, of course, in a specific and precise meaning unknown to Western philosophy. In Western schools of philosophy, the cause usually refers to what we call ‘illat-i mui‘ddah (preparatory cause). In Islamic philosophy, the real cause is an existent that creates another existent and brings it to being from non-existence. When we say that friction causes heat and the release of energy, friction is the cause and the release of energy is the effect. According to Islamic philosophers, causation is preparatory rather than real. We use the real cause where the cause truly brings the existence of the effect from non-existence to existence. In order not to confuse the real cause with other causes, we call it the emanating (mufizah) cause, the useful (mufidah) cause, or the productive (majidah) cause, i.e. a cause that creates the effect or grants existence to it.

Therefore, when philosophers say that the relation between God and creatures is a causal one, they mean that God is the maker of all of them. Now the question is whether this causal relation is a relative one or not. Obviously, causation is a relative concept like the relation between a father and his child.

The parent-child relation is one of the referents for the category of relation. The cause and effect, too, conceptually hold the same relation to each other. Here, the cause is an existent from whom another existent comes into being. This existent depends on that cause, and the relation between the two is a continuous one.

That A is the cause of B, and that B is the effect of A are among the referents of the category of relation. Some thinkers believed that they could explain the relation between God and his creatures through this relation, that is, through stating that God is the cause of existents, and those existents are His effects.

As is known in philosophy the category of relation is an accident. This accident dwells in substance and is one of its attributes. If we state that this relation exists between the world of creatures and God, we should assume that there is an accident that can be realized in God, and that it is called causation. However, the station of God Almighty is incomparable with being a receptacle for accidents.

Illuminationists have presented a definition for the concept of relation and maintain that in addition to accidental relation, there is another relation called the illuminative relation that does not result from the repetition or continuity of the relation. They argue that this type of relation is one-sided, and that the relation between God and His creatures is of the illuminative type. In the light of his knowledge of Illuminationist philosophy and his interest in the concepts of relation and independence, Mulla Sadra devised a principle stating that the making cause is an independent existence, and its effect is a copulative existence in relation to it. Such a copulative existence has no independence by itself. However, we should not confuse this interpretation with the classical concept of inhering existence. This term meant that accidents and forms are in such relations to substances and matter, respectively. In order to include causation in this term, it was necessary for the cause to be the receptacle for an accident. That is, the effect had to be one of the accidents of the cause; however, this was not true about God. If Mulla Sadra explained the relation between God and creatures through using the classical term of inhering existence, this relation would be something like the relation between the substance and accident, which was not again true about God Almighty. As a result, he proposed a third type for inhering existence and said that in addition to the two known types of inhering existence, i.e. the classical and the logical concepts, there is a third type which is an existence whose being is the same as relation and connection. To clarify the issue, we must add that sometimes two existents are related to each other and, at the same time, each has some kind of independence, so that one has absolute independence and the other a kind of weak one. In this regard, we can refer to the relation between accidents and substances. Just think about a white object that changes its color and turns black. Here the object is the substance that accepts this attribute. The object is sometimes qualified by this attribute and sometimes is not. Thus color has an ipseity other than the object for itself; as a result, it is in a way independent of the object.

Mulla Sadra says there is a kind of copulative existence which has no independence other than the conceptual one. However, it is absolutely dependent in external existence. The relation between God and creatures is of this type: an existence which is the same as relation and connection. The problem here is how an existent could be the same as relation and connection on another thing, while relation necessitates the existence of two things. To explain how one thing could be inhering, although not appearing between two things, we can resort to literal concepts. If we accept that the copulative existence in propositions is of the type of literal concepts, we can imagine it through a nominal concept.

The following example could somehow help us to imagine such a copula, i.e. an existent that is the same as relation and has no independence by itself. Now we should find a way to prove that the relation of creatures to Glorified God is one in which the creatures are the same as relation and are absolutely dependent on Him in order to be able to clearly explain both unity of actions and essential unity in their real sense. To do so requires utmost precision and accuracy. One of the ways to prove the above point is to deliberate over our own knowledge by presence. In other words, we should observe our inner self through a kind of inwardly intuition and inquire about the relations between us and what we create in ourselves. Imagine that we create a mental form in our mind. Considering the fact that we do it ourselves, is it possible for this mental form to have an existence independent of our mind? If we pay attention, we see that this mental form is such that if our mind does not exist, it will disappear. When one evaluates his will in terms of his soul, he first wills something and then decides to do it. This decision is made by him. He is the doer of the act. Is it possible to separate the decision from him, so that he stands at one side and decision at the other side (independently)? Decision making could only exist in the soul, and depending on the soul. This is because if an existent has no independence in relation to another, all of its being will be dependent on that existent. Therefore, one way is to analyze the kind of the relation between our will and our soul, or the one between the mental form and our mind as the creator of those forms. Or we might ask what criterion is at work there. We can conclude from this analysis that it is only due to dependence that the soul creates that form, i.e. there is a real cause-effect relation between the two. We can also conclude that wherever there is a real making cause, its relation to the real effect will involve an effect which is the same as relation and dependence on the cause, and that it lacks any kind of independence.

Mulla Sadra presents another solution. He states when we say the cause grants existence to the effect, we assume that there is an existent called A as the cause, and another existent called B as the effect. Moreover, we assume that A grants something called C, which is existence, to B. Thus A is the cause; C is what the cause grants to the effect; and B is what receives C. As a result, there are three existents here: the giver of existence, the receiver of existence, and the existence which is the object of give and take.

In addition to the above three concepts, there are two more concepts in causation: giving and receiving. Therefore, we are dealing with five concepts in explaining the relation between the cause and effect. The point is that the cause gives existence to the effect, and the effect receives it. Now we should see what really happens in the external world. Is there really an essence called A as the giver, and another essence called B as the receiver? Where nothing has been created yet, God intends to grant existence to the world, while there is no world to receive it. Thus there is no effect in the outside as an essence to receive existence. Essentially it is through this very creation and exertion of causation that the effect comes into being. There is nothing beforehand to receive something, and when there is nothing, its receiving something will be absurd. When nothing is there, how could it receive something?

As a result, nothing remains there except for the essence of the cause and the existence that it grants. However, giving or granting is not another existence; otherwise, we could question how it is realized. And since giving is one of God’s creatures, there should be a cause-effect relation between them, and a vicious circle will follow. Thus it is an abstract concept, too. What exists there is the essence of God and the existence that He creates, i.e. the existence of the effect. However, the existence emanated from God is not anything which could be independent of Him. If it is so, why should it receive its existence from Him? As mentioned before, this existence is the object of give and take between the essence, which we called the cause, and the hypothetical and mental essence, which we called the effect. Apart from these, there is nothing in the outside to receive existence form the cause. As a result, the essence is both the cause and something which is related to and dependent on it. Thus the existing causation and the existence originating from Him are nothing but the very mode of relation and dependence on Him. If we wish to say that there is an independent thing, we must again establish a relation between them. If we say that something becomes, it will require existence, and that existence has to be granted, and this relation will continue infinitely, and requires a vicious circle again. The truth is that there is nothing but the existence of God and the existence which originates from Him: the existence of the world in general or the existence of each effect in particular. One existence is God and the other is the world, which lacks independence. Since the existence of the world is related to God, it is the same as relation. Consequently, through these two forms, we can identify a third type of inhering existence that, unlike the concept of copula, which comes between the subject and the predicate, is not held between two things. It does not indwell in the subject, either. In other words, it has no independence in existence, not even the independence the accident enjoys in relation to substance.

Copulative existence is a kind of existence that is the same as relation and is absolutely dependent. However, it enjoys a series of principles and concomitants in the light of its relation to the Effusing Sun of Being. To put it more clearly, it is merely a ray of that Shining Sun. Copulative existence is not exactly the same as it, but cannot exist independently and in separation form it, either.

This is the meaning of copulative existence innovated by Mulla Sadra. He added this new concept to two other types of copulative existence proposed before. In this way, he was able to explain the relation between God and creatures and provide the context for reconciling the gnostic and philosophical approaches with each other regarding the unity of the reality of being. In the light of this concept, Mulla Sadra was also able to explain many other religious concepts, particularly in relation to the unity of action and predestination.  



[1]. This article is the edited version of Mohammed Taqi Misbah Yazdi’s speech delivered at the World Congress on Mullŕ Sadrŕ in Iran in 1999.


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