Sadr al-Din Shirazi (Mulla Sadra) (b. 1571-1640)
of the most important figures of post-Avicennan Islamic philosophy, and
certainly the most eminent philosopher of the Safavid era in Iran. Known more
commonly as Mulla Sadra,
he was born in Shiraz where he received his early education.
went to Isfahan to complete his studies in transmitted and intellectual
sciences. In Isfahan, which was then a major center of learning, Sadra
studied such transmitted sciences (al-‘ulum al-naqliyyah)
as Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir) and jurisprudence (fiqh) with Baha'
(d. 1031/1622). Amili,
also known as Shaykh-i Baha'i,
was the great theologian of the Safavid era and at once a philosopher,
theologian, jurist, mathematician, architect, and poet.
the field of intellectual sciences (al-‘ulum al-‘aqliyyah), Sadra
studied with Sayyid Baqir
known as Mir
(d. 1040/1631). Mir
al-Qabasat haqq al-yaqin
al-‘alam, known shortly as Qabasat,
is a tour de force philosophical work combining the principles of
Avicennan philosophy with the doctrines of the school of Illumination (ishraq),
founded by Shihab
al-Din Suhrawardi. Sadra
had a close relationship with Mir
and it was through him that he became a master of traditional philosophical
schools. Some sources mention, among Sadra’s
(d. circa 1050/1640-1), who was both a Peripatetic philosopher and an ascetic
Sufi, and had traveled to India several times. It was under the intellectual
patronage of these figures that Sadra
developed his ideas and gave one of the most important examples of the unity of
the transmitted and intellectual sciences in Islam.
completing his formal education in Isfahan, Sadra
was faced with the fierce opposition of some of the akhbaris
in Isfahan, known for their strict literalism. In tandem with his predilection
for spiritual discipline, Sadra
refrained from the public life by withdrawing to a small village called Kahak,
near Qom where he completed the groundwork for the composition of his major
works. After a period of both physical and spiritual retreat, Sadra
returned to Shiraz to teach in the Khan madrasah whose building is still extant
today. In his personal life, Sadra
lived the life of an ascetic, and died in Basra on the way back from his seventh
pilgrimage to Mecca on foot. In addition to producing ground-breaking works in
traditional philosophy, Sadra
also trained a number of notable students, among whom 'Abd al-Razzaq
ibn al-Husayn al-Lahiji
(d. 1662) and Mulla
(d. 1680) are the most important.
composed works both in the field of transmitted and intellectual sciences, and
they span through the entire spectrum of traditional philosophy from cosmology
and psychology to metaphysics and Qur’anic commentaries. His monumental
4-part, 9-volume al-Hikmat al-muta'aliyah
fi'l-asfar al-'aqliyyah al-arba'ah
(“The Transcendent Wisdom in the Four Intellectual Journeys”), known simply
can be read as a classical encyclopedia of philosophy minus the section on
logic. His al-Shawahid al-rububiyyah
is a rigorous treatment of some of the most difficult questions of traditional
philosophy. Kitab al-Masha’ir,
a work completed towards the end of his life, is Sadra’s
own summary of his philosophical system, which he calls ‘transcendent
wisdom’ (al-hikmat al-muta’aliyah). al-Hikmat al-‘arshiyyah
most important work on eschatology. Sadra
was particularly interested in eschatology and wrote a number of treatises on
the subject, among which Risalat
is to be noted. Sadra’s
Qur’anic commentaries have been edited and published by Muhammad
in 7 volumes.
doubt, the Asfar is the most important work of the Sadrean corpus
in which every single problem of traditional philosophy is addressed from the
point of view of Sadra’s
transcendent wisdom. Sadra
structures the entire Asfar according to the four journeys of the soul in the
path of spiritual realization. The first journey is from the world of creation
to the Truth and/or Creator (min al-khalq
addresses the questions of metaphysics and ontology known also under the rubric
of ‘general principles’ (al-umur
al-‘ammah) or ‘divine science in its general sense’ (al-’ilm
It is in this part of the Asfar
deals with the ontological foundations of his system including such issues as
the meaning of philosophy, being (wujud)
and its primacy (asalah)
over quiddity (mahiyyah),
gradation of being (tashkik al-wujud), mental existence (al-wujud al-dhihni),
Platonic Forms (al-muthul al-aflatuniyyah),
causality, substantial movement, time, temporal origination of the world, the
intellect, and the unification of the intellect with the intelligible. The
second journey is from the Truth to the Truth by the Truth (min
the second journey, we find a full account of Sadra’s
natural philosophy and his critique of the ten Aristotelian categories. Among
the issues discussed extensively are the categories, substance and accidents,
how physical entities come to exist, hylé
and its philosophical significance, matter and form (hylomorphism), natural
forms, and the roots of the hierarchy of the physical order.
third journey is from the Truth to the world of creation with the Truth (min
goes into his reconstruction of theology, which is discussed under the name of
‘metaphysics’ or ‘divine science in its particular sense’ (al-‘ilm al-ilahi
It is in this section of the Asfar
that the theological dimension of Sadra’s
thought and his relentless attacks on the theologians (mutakallimun)
come to the fore. Among the issues Sadra
addresses are the unity and existence of God and the previous kalam
proofs given of it, the ontological simplicity of the Necessary Being, the Names
and Qualities of God, God’s knowledge of the world, His power, Divine
providence, speech (kalam)
as a Divine quality, good and evil (theodicy), procession of the world of
multiplicity from the One, and the unity of philosophy (‘wisdom’, hikmah)
and the Divine law (shari’ah).
fourth and final journey is from the world of creation to the world of creation
with the Truth (min al-khalq ila’l-khalq
bi’l-haqq) where the great chain of being is completed with
psychology, resurrection, and eschatology.
concept of “journey” (safar) has two closely related meanings in Sadra’s
thought. First, the intellectual journey of the traveler (salik)
comes to an end in the present and posthumous state of human beings. Second, the
material and spiritual journey of the order of existence, which begins with the
creation of the world and the reality of being, is brought to full completion in
its ultimate return to God. This part of the Asfar
provides a thorough investigation of traditional psychology with material culled
from the Peripatetic psychology of Ibn Sina and the gnostic views of Ibn al-‘Arabi.
As in the other parts of the Asfar, Sadra
presents a critical history of the ideas and theories on the human soul from the
Greeks to the Muslim philosophers and theologians. Among the issues discussed
are the soul and its states, various powers of the soul in its interaction with
the physical and intelligible world, sense perception, imagination (takhayyul)
and the imaginal world (‘alam al-khayal), his celebrated doctrine that the soul is bodily
or material in its origination and spiritual in its subsistence’ (jismaniyyat
impossibility of the transmigration of souls (tanasukh),
spiritual and bodily resurrection, and the reality of heaven and hell.
Mulla Sadra stands at the crossroads of four major intellectual perspectives in Islam, which are the Illuminationist school (ishraq) established by Surawardi, Peripatetic school (mashsha’i) represented chiefly by Ibn Sina and Nasir al-Din Tusi, and the gnostic (‘irfan) school of Ibn Arabi with such prominent members as Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi and Dawud al-Qaysari, and Islamic theology (kalam). In many ways, the Sadrean corpus is an attempt to synthesize these major philosophical perspectives within the context of Sadra’s ontology. This was a natural result of Sadra’s concern to reconcile theoretical/discursive thinking with realized knowledge.
The tension between the purely theoretical, discursive and analytical thinking and metaphysical/intuitive knowledge, which is a ubiquitous fact across the world civilizations, had already been noted and described by Suhrawardi as an impediment on the way to realized knowledge. To overcome this dichotomous relationship, Suhrawardi proposed the unification of discursive mode of thinking (bahth), represented primarily by the Peripatetics, and realized or tasted knowledge (dhawq) exemplified by the metaphysician Sufis (‘urafa’). For Suhrawardi, the ideal philosopher or sage is the one who combines analytical thinking and intuitive knowledge, through which one reaches illumination (ishraq).
his grand synthesis, Sadra
incorporates Suhrawardi’s model and takes it even a step further by
articulating the unity of revelation (qur’an),
demonstration (burhan) and metaphysical or realized knowledge (‘irfan).
He subjects nearly all of the major problems of traditional philosophy to the
triple scrutiny of Qur’anic teachings, logical analysis and intuitive
knowledge. In culling material from the four major intellectual perspectives, Sadra
does not create a syncretic synthesis but rather integrates them into a coherent
whole under the rubric of his transcendent wisdom. This is where Sadra
becomes particularly important in the history of Islamic thought as the
tradition of integrating the revealed and human knowledge reaches a remarkable
peak in his system.
leads him to the unity of what is called the transmitted and intellectual
sciences. The transmitted sciences (al-‘ulum al-naqliyyah)
comprise such disciplines as Qur’anic commentary (tafsir), hadith,
and grammar (nahw),
and their methodology is based on the literal transmission and analysis of the
text under investigation. In contrast to the intellectual sciences, the study of
transmitted sciences does not require rational analysis because the subject
matter is not constructed like a philosophical or logical problem even though
one can certainly develop a systematic discourse about it.
study of Arabic grammar, for instance, is based on the simple fact that we learn
it from others, and there is no logical reason, or lack thereof, for the use of
Arabic verbs at the beginning rather than at the end of a sentence. The only
source to which we can turn for an explanation is those who have used the Arabic
language in this way, and the justification for this is to be found nowhere
other than in the subject-matter itself.
contrast, the intellectual sciences (al-‘ulum al-naqliyyah)
are based not on imitation (taqlid) or mere transmission but on rational and
intellectual analysis, which includes metaphysical intuition. The justification
of a philosophical argument derives not from the received authority of a text or
person but from its cogency and rationality. In this sense, the intellectual
sciences require an intellectual effort or exertion (ijtihad)
on the part of the philosopher or simply the seeker of knowledge. It would be
absurd, for instance, to cite the authority of one’s teacher or a text to
prove that two plus two is four or that A cannot be both A and non-A at the same
time. In a broad sense, the aim of this methodological distinction between the
transmitted and intellectual sciences, whose earliest formulation goes back to
Muslim philosophers before Sadra,
is to show the complementary nature of the two kinds and sources of knowledge,
viz., the knowledge sent by God through His books and messengers and the
knowledge acquired by the unaided human intellect. Sadra
insists on this point throughout his writings both in the field of transmitted
and intellectual sciences. In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that Sadra
is the most notable Muslim philosopher to have devoted a large number of works
to the study of the Qur’an. This is especially true when we consider his
Qur’anic commentaries that take up a conspicuous space in his corpus, and his
hermeneutics of Qur’anic exegesis, which presents an interesting blend of
purely Qur’anic terminology with a strictly philosophical vocabulary.
unifying perspective runs through his entire corpus, and it is against this
background that we should understand Sadra’s
insistence on maintaining the close relationship that traditional thought had
established between philosophy and sciences of nature. To translate this into
the language of contemporary philosophy of science, the context of justification
and the context of experiment were kept intimately close to one another, and
this has prevented the separation of metaphysical and ethical considerations
from the operation of physical sciences. This approach enables Sadra
to move easily between physics and metaphysics. In fact, his natural philosophy
is an application of his metaphysical principles to the order of nature.
was certainly not a scientist in the ordinary sense of the term. His writings on
cosmology and nature, however, present one of the most articulate examples of
natural philosophy. But it is extremely important to keep in mind the centrality
ontology for his natural philosophy as he reformulates nearly all branches of
knowledge in the light of the all-inclusive reality of being (wujud). Sadra
defines wujud, which can be translated as both existence and
being depending on the context in which it is used, as the principal reality by
which everything exists. As opposed to the views of the Illuminationists and the
theologians, he defends the primacy or principiality of being (asalat al-wujud) against quiddity (mahiyyah),
and defines it as the source of all existence and intelligibility. In contrast
to the mental representation of being (mafhum al-wujud) which is abstract, conceptual, and static, the
reality of being (haqiqat al-wujud)
does not lend itself to mental analysis (i’tibar ‘aqli)
except as a second order concept. But once formulated as an abstract concept, wujud
no longer remains as a reality in concreto which defies all
It is within the context of this dynamic picture of being that Sadra introduces the most central concept of his natural philosophy, viz., substantial motion (al-harakat al-jawhariyyah). The doctrine of substantial motion is based on the premise that everything in the order of nature, including celestial spheres, undergoes substantial change and transformation as a result of the self-flow (fayd) and penetration of being (sarayan al-wujud) which gives every concrete individual entity its share of being. In contrast to Aristotle and Ibn Sina who had accepted change only in four categories, i.e., quantity (kamm), quality (kayf), position (wad’) and place (‘ayn), Sadra defines change as an all-pervasive reality running through the entire cosmos including the category of substance (jawhar).
argument for introducing change into substance, which was not possible to
explain within the confines of Aristotelian physics, is that change in the
accidental qualities of physical bodies has to come from their substance because
accidents can not have existence independent of the substance to which they
belong. In fact, every accidental change is the result of a deeper change/motion
(istihala, harakah) that takes place in the very substance and
constitution of things. In both the accidental and essential processes of
change, physical bodies undergo a substantial change. This holds true even for
cases where we do not observe essential transformation in the physical
constitution of things such as in the case of positional movement, i.e., when
the object A moves from point B to point C. Sadra
calls this kind of motions accidental and describes it as movement-in-movement (harakah
In a nutshell, every accidental change, which is immediately available to our
five senses, can be traced back to substantial motion. Seen under this light,
substantial motion or change is an intrinsic feature of things, and since every
positional movement, which we take to be the measure of time, is ultimately a
modulation of substantial movement, time should be redefined in tandem with the
existential transformation of physical substances. Once we take this step, we
realize, as Sadra
and his commentators have noted, that time is a dimension of physical bodies.
Furthermore, since the celestial spheres, whose circular movement the
Peripatetics had taken to be the ultimate measure of time, are themselves
subject to substantial motion, we can no longer turn to them for the measure of
applies this theory of substantial motion to a number of metaphysical problems
including the generation of the soul and temporal origination of the world. He
defines the human soul as a being whose origination is bodily but whose
subsistence is spiritual. To use Sadra’s
words, the soul is a bodily or material substance in its origination and
spiritual in its subsistence (jismaniyyat
Through substantial transformation and perfection, the soul reaches a point
where it leaves the domain of material existence and enters into the abode of
spiritual reality. The process of essential change continues until the soul
becomes completely separate from the limitations of bodily existence.
Substantial motion of the soul, however, continues even after the soul has left
its bodily home as the degrees of perfection for it are potentially infinite
until it becomes re-united with its Divine origin.
a similar fashion, Sadra
explains the temporal origination of the world on the basis of substantial
motion. If everything in the cosmos is in constant change, that is, in a
different mode of being at every moment, then it is always different from what
it was before and will be different from what it would be at the next instance
of its existentiation. This suggests that every physical being is preceded by
non-existence (masbuq bi’l-‘adam),
and such an order of being, taken as a whole, can neither subsist by itself nor,
in contrast to the Peripatetics, could be eternal (qadim).
Thus the world of physical existence is temporally originated and renewed at
every successive phase of its existential transformation. For Sadra,
what makes this existential transformation possible is not an external agent
that acts upon the world of nature antecedently but what he calls nature (tabi’ah) in a particularly Sadrean sense. Nature as
defined by Sadra
signifies the immediate cause of movement and transformation in physical bodies.
In this sense, nature is the principle of change as an essential quality of
however, hastens to add that nature is also the principle of continuity and
permanence because the preservation of natural forms, in spite of the ceaseless
change of the natural realm, is a constant phenomenon in nature. Thus, in
contrast to the modern image of nature as only the abode of change, Sadra
construes nature as an order of being that carries in itself both the principle
of change and permanence.
dynamic view of being and cosmos leads Sadra
to a world-picture that is thoroughly teleological, i.e., having a purpose (telos,
states in the Asfar
that chance or accidental coincidences (ittifaqiyyat) are not constant in nature. On the contrary,
everything in nature is directed towards a ‘universal purpose’ (aghrad kulliyah),
and this is nothing but the existential actualization and perfection of the
cosmos. The ever-continuous ‘intensification’ (tashaddud) of the
order of nature comes about as a result of the self-effusion (fayd) of Being, which is, so to speak, God’s Face
turned to the world of relative existence. In this regard, it would be fair to
say that the world displays a dual nature: on one hand, it subsists by and is
utterly dependent upon the Command of God (kun, esto). On the other hand,
God has created the world in such a way that it possesses a remarkable
regularity and constancy. It is thus through the binary relationship of these
two ‘agencies’ that Sadra
seeks to establish a harmonious relationship between the vertical and horizontal
lines of causation. The Islamic occasionalists, especially the Ash’arites, had
come to the radical conclusion that they had to accept vertical causality at the
expense of horizontal causality in order to make space for miracles. Sadra,
being acutely aware of occasionalism’s intrinsic difficulties and
inconsistencies, defines the two lines of causality as in a perfect accord in
that God sustains the world of creation in such a way that it is bound to be
causal and rule-governed in the most concrete sense of the term. The great chain
of being (da’irat al-wujud),
of which Sadra
has given one of the most sophisticated expositions in the history of
philosophy, is thus construed as a unified structure that allows for a
self-regulating dynamism on the one hand, and the perpetual presence of the
creative act of God, on the other.
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includes the French and the Persian translation of the Masha'ir
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