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Mulla Sadra's Appropriation and Critique of the Illuminationist Concept of Knowledge

By: Ibrahim Kalin

This paper aims to accomplish three interrelated goals. The first is stated explicitly in the title, and it is Mulla Sadra’s critical evaluation of Suhrawardi’s version of knowledge by presence (al-‘ilm al-huḍūrī). The second goal can be characterized as an exercise in grounding knowledge in ontology by looking at the case of Mulla Sadra and his stance towards Suhrawardi’s essentialist metaphysics. Although Sadra accepts wholeheartedly the primacy of self-knowledge and knowledge by presence, both of which have been fully articulated by Suhrawardi and theishraqi tradition, he takes a different approach in defining knowledge as a mode of being (nahw al-wujud) on the basis of his concept of gradation-of-being (tashkik al-wujud), which I shall call "gradational ontology". The third and the last aim of the present investigation is to hint at the roots of what one might call non-subjectivist epistemology as opposed to modern conceptions of knowledge which are founded upon a centrally posited knowing subject prior to the world.

Mulla Sadra's philosophy, especially his theory of knowledge, has usually been classified as belonging to the School of Illumination [1]. This view is partly justified by the fact that Sadra is the last grand synthesizer of the main three traditions of Islamic philosophy, viz., the Peripatetic school represented chiefly by Ibn Sina and Nasir al-Din al-Tusi [2], the school of Ibn Arabi via Davud al-Qaysari and Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi, and the school of Illumination founded by Suhrawardi. The synthetic nature of Sadra's thought allows him to borrow freely from these three and many other sources, and Sadra remains somewhat clouded under the heavy presence of such names as Ibn Sina, Suhrawardi, and Ibn al-‘Arabi. This common assumption, however, needs to be questioned as the final outcome of Sadra's philosophy can hardly be confined to any of the three strands of thought mentioned above. A closer examination ofSadra's texts, this paper supposes, would reveal a critical reading of all the major schools of thought with some fundamental revisions and reconstructions. We will take Sadra's appropriation and critique of the Illuminationist concept of knowledge as a case in point.

It is beyond doubt that Sadra takes from Suhrawardi the language of light (nur) with which he analyzes the concepts of knowledge and perception. His critique of the representational theory of knowledge, which is the mainstream view of the Peripatetic school, is to a large extent based on that of Suhrawardi[3], and in describing perception as a perfect case of the unity between the intellect and the intelligible, he makes profuse use of the illuminationist idea of knowledge as illumination (ishraq), presence (hudur), and manifestation (zuhur). The same holds true for the primacy and unmediated nature of self-knowledge that precedes all second-order considerations such as the universals, concepts, genus, difference, etc[4]. As Suhrawardi insists on the particular-ness and specificity of the act of knowing and perceiving, so does Sadra: in knowing a thing, both philosophers argue, we have the direct experience of something concrete, particular and specific.

Our 'ordinary' or natural encounter with the world, including ourselves, is not mediated through second-order concepts but given in first-order experiences. In perceiving the three in front of me, my knowledge-experience of the tree is a direct act of 'seeing' which involves an intuition of some kind and which is not predicated upon such universals as the species, genus, difference, and so on. It then follows that our most intimate and primary standing towards the world remains particular and specific. It is only at the level of second-order conceptualization that we talk about intelligible realities as abstractions, concepts, notions, and so on. This is also what is meant by the presence of something to itself and/or to something else: when something is defined as present, this implies something very concrete and particular. To emphasize the immediacy and self-evidentiality of perception, Suhrawardi chooses 'vision' (ibsar) and 'witnessing' (mushahadah) as his prime examples, and Sadra joins him on epistemological, if not ontological and physical grounds[5]. We shall have occasion to elaborate on the foregoing points. It is, however, extremely important to note that the fundamental differences between Sadra's ontology and natural philosophy and that of Suhrawardi lead to a number of ruptures between the two, rendering any easy classification concerning Sadra's position towards the School of Illumination rather problematic. In this study, we will limit our investigation to Sadra's ontology and try to show how his gradational ontology leads to a different notion of knowledge.

Suhrawardi’s most important contribution to epistemological thinking is without doubt his notion of “knowledge by presence” (al-‘ilm al-huduri), which Mulla Sadra accepts wholeheartedly. The non-subjectivist concept of knowledge is the most salient element of continuity between theishraqi doctrines of Suhrawardi and Mulla Sadra. The way the two philosophers justify this special theory of knowledge, however, shows significant differences and is grounded in two distinct versions of ontology, i.e., the essentialism of Suhrawardi, which is known as the primacy of quiddity (asalat al-mahiyyah) and Sadra’s being-centered ontology, which is known as the primacy of being (asalat al-wujud). Suhrawardi bases his analysis on the language of light, luminosity and presence while still holding onto his essentialist ontology. This leads the Illuminationist school, one may argue, to remain content with giving priority to self-knowledge as opposed to representational knowledge (al-‘ilm al-irtisami), which is the official view of the Peripatetic school.

Mulla Sadra takes a different approach and posits the unification of the intellector with the intelligible (ittihad al-‘aqil wa’l-ma’qul) as the central tenet of his ontologically-grounded epistemology. In fact, he has devoted a separate treatise to this subject[6]. For Sadra, knowledge is possible only if and when the intellector and the intellected[7] both participate in the realm of the intelligible. The kind of unity that Mulla Sadra advocates to explain the possibility of all knowledge has been vigorously rejected by Ibn Sina and Suhrawardi on physical and logical grounds of a strictly Aristotelian nature. This is the root of the difference between Sadra and his predecessors, especially Ibn Sina and Suhrawardi. What is surprising is that Suhrawardi has joined the Peripatetics in their denial of the unification of the intellector with the intelligible as a standing condition of knowledge. This is surprising because knowledge by presence, as Sadra so laboriously tries to show, can be justified only on the basis of the unification of the intellector with the intellected. According to Sadra, the most important reason why Ibn Sina and Suhrawardi have unanimously denied this unification is that they both have operated within a different scheme of physics and ontology[8]. As we shall have occasion to show, Sadra overcomes this problem through his notion of the primacy of being on one hand, and gradational ontology, on the other. Before delving into an in-depth analysis of the debate, however, we shall try to locate very briefly the importance of knowledge (al-‘ilm) in Sadra’s thought

In an important passage of theAsfartitled “concerning that intellection consists of the unification of the substance of the intellector (al-'aqil) with the intellected”, Sadra identifies man's ability to know as the most difficult and mysterious problem of all philosophy. The fact that we are able to know ourselves and the world around us is a mystery, Sadra argues, and the riddle cannot be solved within the exclusive matrix of sense-perception or knowledge as representation. The difficult question is not what kind of a relation, say a relation of correspondence or luminosity and presence, we can establish between the intellect and its object of intellection but rather how the soul is able to perceive the intelligible reality of things. Here is what Sadra has to say in the form of an aphorism:

“The fact that the soul is able to intellect the forms of intelligible things is the most mysterious and obscure problem of philosophy, which none of the scholars of Islam has been able to solve up to our own day. When we looked at the difficulty of this problem and pondered over the question that knowledge of the substance is substance and accident, we did not see in the books of the people [i.e., philosophers], especially those of their master Abu Ali [Ibn Sina] like theShifa',al-Najat,al-Isharat, and'Uyun al-Hikmah and others, what cures the disease and what quenches the thirst. Rather, what we have found among his group, likes and followers such as his student Bahmanyar, the master of the followers of the Stoics (al-riwaqiyyin) [i.e., Suhrawardi] [9], Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, and others who came after them, is that they did not propose anything on which one could rely. If this is the case with those who are considered to be the most respected [in philosophy], think of the situation of the people of fancy thoughts and imaginations, and those who are the first and foremost in talks and dialectical argumentation"[10]. The difficulty is further augmented by the fact that knowledge, just like being (wujud), does not lend itself to easy definitions. Knowledge is circular in that every time we try to define knowledge, we are bound to do it through knowledge. In other words, there is no way we can exclude the term to be defined, namely knowledge, from the definition we may provide for it. The similarity between knowledge ('ilm) considered from this point of view and being (wujud) as the most comprehensive reality is obvious, and Sadra states this point as follows:

"It seems that knowledge is among those realities whose ipseity (inniyyah) is identical with its essence (mahiyyah). Realities of this kind cannot be defined for definition consists of genus and difference, both of which are universals whereas every being is a particular reality by itself. It cannot be made known through compete description either because there is nothing more known than knowledge as it is a state of the consciousness-being (hala wijdaniyyah)[11] which the knower who is alive finds in his essence from the very beginning without veil or obscurity. It is not [in the nature of knowledge] to allow itself to be known by something more apparent and clear because everything becomes clear to the intellect by the knowledge it has. How does then knowledge become clear by anything other than itself [12]? Even though the circular and non-definitional nature of knowledge represents common sense epistemology in Islamic thought and is shared by various schools, this is where Mulla Sadra takes his departure from previous philosophers by equating knowledge (‘ilm) with being (wujud). For Sadra, the ultimate object of knowing is being through its modes and states. In fact, in more than one place, Sadra defines knowledge as a mode of being (anha’ al-wujud). This is so because to know something is to ‘grasp’, namely to appropriate its intelligible form (al-surat al-ma’qulah). In this sense, intelligible forms are not mere concepts or notions but rather substances that belong to the world of the intelligibilia[13]. The mind can only know the universal forms, i.e., the intelligible forms that actualize the Prime Matter (al-hayulah) without being completely absorbed and exhausted by it. As we all know, the Peripatetic school had conceived form to be immanent and inherent in material bodies, and it is the function of the mind to abstract and disengage the form from its corporeal surroundings. In this sense, knowledge is a negation, viz., a process whereby the mind negates all of the material and specific attachments from the form and reconstructs it as a universal applicable to multiple substances. It is obvious that this view of knowledge as abstraction and negation turns knowledge into a purely mental concept, and this, for Sadra, is the most important outcome of Aristotelian immanentism".

Sadra, following Suhrawardi’s critique, rejects the Peripatetic notion of knowledge as negation or privation on a number of ontological and epistemological grounds. He asserts that when we know the form, i.e., the essence of something, our knowledge of that thing does not become ‘less’ in any way because the reality of a substance is contained in its intelligible form that resides not in the thing itself, as Aristotelian immanentism presupposes, but in the realm of the intelligibilia, as the Platonists would agree[14]. Furthermore, the intelligible world, just like the order of being, allows gradation (tashkik) in terms of intensification (tashaddud) and diminution (tada’’uf): an intelligible substance becomes more intense and higher when it contains all of the intelligible realities below its state of being. At this point, one of Sadra’s favorite examples is the concept of man which contains in itself all of the possible intelligibility and meaning available to animal and vegetative states. When we talk about the essence of man-ness, we do not exclude from it anything that may and does belong to the definitions of animal-ness and plant-ness. Man-ness as an intelligible form contains all of these lower states of being in a simple manner – a conclusion supported by the most succinct formulation of Sadra’s gradational ontology: a simple reality contains itself all things (basit al-haqiqah kull al-ashya')[15].I have ventured into this short detour to show the extreme importance of Sadra’s ontology for a proper understanding of his epistemological assertions. As we have stated before, the dividing line between Sadra and Suhrawardi issues from Sadra’s ontological assumptions that are almost diametrically opposed to those of Suhrawardi. In fact, Sadra assigns such an importance to this point that he considers simply futile any attempt to say anything about philosophy without first outlining the principles of a proper ontology:

"If someone is ignorant about the question ofwujud, he is of necessity ignorant about all of the principles of knowledge and foundations because it is throughwujud that everything is known, and it is the beginning of all description (tasawwur) and more known than anything that provides description. When someone ignores it, he ignores everything besides it. As we have mentioned before, the true knowledge ofwujud comes about only through unveiling (kashf) and witnessing (mushahadah). It has thus been said that 'anyone who does not have unveiling has no knowledge’. It is strange that this great master [i.e., Suhrawardi], after establishing a number of arguments in theTalwihat thatwujud is a mental concept (i'tibari) possessing no form and reality in the external world, explained towards the end of this book that the human souls and what is above them are simple beings without quiddity. Is this not a clear contradiction on his part"[16]?

It is interesting to note that Sadra raises the above points in responding to Suhrawardi’s essentialist ontology, which conceiveswujud as a mental concept. By contrast, Sadra positswujud as the standing condition of all knowledge, and this has far-reaching consequences for his view of knowledge. Knowledge is defined as a mode of being because intelligibility, which makes knowledge possible, is grounded in being or existentiation (al-mawjudiyyah). In other words, being is intelligible in and of itself and all intelligible substances derive their reality from it. Furthermore, knowledge, just like the order of being, displays gradation and hierarchy: the more intense a thing is in its existential constitution, the more intelligibility it possesses. This is the gist of Sadra’s doctrine of the simple intellect (‘aql basit) that contains all intelligibility in itself in a simple, i.e., non-composite and irreducible manner. Sadra states this as follows:

“When the soul passes from potentiality to actuality, it becomes a simple intellect, which is all things. This is the matter that has been firmly established in our view. The explanation of this is as follows: knowledge and intellection (al-ta’aqqul) is a mode of being, and being is united with quiddity. In the same way, knowledge is united with what is known (al-ma’lum). Some beings are low in degree and weak and some lofty and strong. Those that are low [in degree] have very little share in meanings (ma’ani) and confined to one single meaning like a single quantity (…) whereas those that are noble [in rank] are the essence of the plenitude of meanings even if they are small in quantity or have no quantity at all like the rational soul. By the same token, knowledge has various kinds some of which are low in degree such as sense-perception [since] it is impossible to sense multiple sensibles through a single sensation. [But] some of it are higher in rank such as intellection in that a single intellect is sufficient to intellect infinite number of intelligibles as in the case of the simple intellect. In short, whatever as knowledge has a higher status in being, it is more capable of [attaining] knowables (ma’lumat) and more intense in containing quiddities(mahiyyat)" [17].

Sadra makes a similar point in the following passage, which gives us the first intimations of his critique of both Ibn Sina and Suhrawardi insofar as the unification of the intellector with the intelligible is concerned.

"The demonstration of this simple intellect is not possible without the doctrine of the unification of the intellector with the intelligibiliain the way in which we have established [its] proof. It is strange that the Headmaster (i.e., Ibn Sina) has granted the issues of this kind that he had mentioned in this context while insisting on the denial of the view of this unification (…) In short, this issue is among the fundamentals of Divine matters by which the problem of the knowledge of specific unity (al-tawhid al-khassi), by whose taste the godly people specialized, will be explained. The realization of this matter is impossible except through the principles that were mentioned in the beginnings of this book concerning the view thatwujud is the principal reality in existence and the quiddity is derived from it. It is certain thatwujud allows intensification and diminution, and whatever is strong in being (qawiyy al-wujud) becomes more inclusive and encompassing of universal meanings and abstract intellective quiddities. Whenwujud reaches the level of the simple intellect which is completely disengaged from the world of corporeal bodies and quantities, it becomes all of the intelligibilia and all things in a manner more virtuous and nobler than what they are based upon. Whoever has not tasted this path cannot understand the simple intellect which is the source of all detailed sciences. That is why you see most of the virtuous people finding it very difficult and unable to verify it in spite of their deep involvement in following the sciences of wisdom such as the Shaykh Suhrawardi in theMutarahat,Talwihat, andHikmat al-Ishraq who has clearly rejected this view, and Imam [Fakhr al-Din] al-Razi and those who are in their state and class" [18].
These two passages from theAsfar provide a number of clues for Sadra’s critique of Suhrawardi in spite of the fact that Sadra accepts knowledge by presence in principle as the primary way of knowing. At this point, we can identify two main points of criticism leveled by Sadra against Suhrawardi. The first concerns the reality of the simple intellect (al-‘aql al-basit) as the locus of intelligibilia. This is a crucial point for Sadra because he conceives knowledge to be a process of participation in the intelligible world, which is made possible by his central claim that a simple being contains all things below it (basit al-haqiqah kull al-ashya’). At this point, Sadra criticizes the Peripatetic notion of the “simple” and proposes his own definition on the basis of his gradational ontology (tashkik al-wujud)"[19].As Sabziwari, Sadra’s great commentator, points out in his note, the simple intellect as the depository of the intelligibilia refers to its union with the Active Intellect, and the Peripatetics accept in principle the conjunction of the soul with the Active Intellect even in its act of knowing the particulars. Sabziwari calls this a clear case of incoherence (tahafut) [20]. Moreover, the intelligible reality of a horse in the Active Intellect and a thousand individual intellects is the same. When the soul or the intellect becomes united with the intelligible world through the medium of the Active or Agent Intellect, it becomes united with the intelligible form of the horse as well, resulting not in two separate intellective substances but in a single intellect that has now become existentially more intense by virtue of the knowledge it has received[21]. The second point is a logical extension of the first view, and it pertains to the central component of Sadra’s epistemology, i.e., the unification of the intellect with the intelligible. As we have stated before, both of these points result from Sadra’s gradational ontology, which is absent both in Ibn Sina and Suhrawardi. Knowledge by presence, Sadra insists, cannot be proven without granting the unification of the intellect with the intelligible because knowledge by presence assumes an intellective unity and a relation of presence (hudur) between the subject who intellects and the object of intellection. Having stated these points, we can now turn to a closer examination of Suhrawardi’s rejection of the unification, which Sadra takes to be the most questionable part of ishraqi epistemology.

In his Peripatetic works, Suhrawardi, following the Aristotelian physics and ontology, clearly rejects any unification between two things. We can talk about conjunction (ittisal) or unitive synthesis (tarkib majmu’i) between two entities, says Suhrawardi, but not unification (ittihad), which implies the dissolution of the two entities in question. When I know the tree in front of me, i.e., when I have a direct vision of the intelligible form of the tree, I do not cease to be myself nor does the tree. Both of us remain distinct and intact throughout the process of knowing. Suhrawardi states this essentially Peripatetic point view in theTalwihat:

“Some people have thought that when the perceiver perceives something, he becomes [identical with] it. Some other people have thought that the soul perceives things through its union (ittihad) with the Active Intellect. You have learnt from the previous arguments that two things do not become one thing except through conjoining (imtizaj), conjunction (ittisal) or unitive synthesis (tarkib majmu’i). This is one of the qualities of [physical] bodies. When we say that A became B, does A remain the same and then we have B, thus both of them becoming multiple entities? Or is it rather that A is destroyed and B did not come into being, in which case there is no unity (ittihad) between the two? … When the soul thinks of A, does it remain the same as it was before [it thought of it]? If so, then there is no union or the establishment [of a new being]. Or, perhaps the soul is destroyed and something else comes into being, in which case again there is no unity [obtained between the soul and its object of intellection" [22]]. In theal-Mashari’ wa’l-mutarahat, another Peripatetic work, Suhrawardi reiterates the foregoing points in a similar way, focusing this time on perception itself:

"A group of people have thought that perception is of such a nature that when someone perceives something, he himself becomes the form of that thing. You know the fallacy of this from what has passed before by way of allusion to the fact that a thing by itself does not become something else. If the first thing remains together with the origination of the second thing, then we have two separate things. If the first ceases to exist and the second comes about – or the first remains and the second does not come about – then neither of them has become the other. True, it might be objected that black becomes white and air becomes water. But black-qua-black does not become white – or water-qua-water air. Rather, this form disappears from the carrier of the form for water-ness, and the form of air-ness comes about in it. In the same way, blackness disappears from the body qualified with blackness, and whiteness comes about in it. In both cases, the locus (of the forms) is the same. Now, if a form has come about but not a soul – or the soul has remained the same and not a form – then there is no perception (idrak). If both of them have remained, then there are two of them. Furthermore, your self-conscious substance does not change all the time. It is rather one single permanent thing before [perceiving] a form, or with it, or after it, and the form comes about through its permanence. You are yourself with or without perception. Hence, no such thing as unification (ittihad) "[23]. From these two passages, it is quite clear in what sense Suhrawardi interprets the word ‘unification’ (ittihad). For him as well as for the Peripatetics, unification between two things always entails the destruction of two discrete substances and the origination of a new one[24]. In this sense, unification cannot be accepted without substantial generation and corruption (kawn wa fasad). At this point, we should remember that both Ibn Sina and Suhrawardi were forced to propose generation and corruption as the only plausible solution to the question of gradual qualitative change because Aristotelian physics within which they had operated did not allow them to conceive qualitative change as the gradual intensification or diminution of substances [25]. Now, it might rightly be objected that Suhrawardi denies unification between the intellect and the intelligible only in his Peripatetic works such as the ones from which we have quoted above, and his properlyishraqi works contain a different doctrine. At its face value, this objection is certainly justified and merits serious consideration. This requires a separate study, which should be carried out in any case to clarify Suhrawardi’s position more fully, and we can only look at some those writings very briefly especially as they have been referred to by Mulla Sadra.

Towards the end of al-Mashari’ wa’l-mutarahat, Suhrawardi, after devoting a good part of his work to the analysis of philosophical issues from the standpoint of the Peripatetic school, inserts a separate section (fasl, paragraph 221) just before concluding the book with his testament (wasiyyah), and calls it “Concerning the Path of the Divine Philosophers” (al-hukama’ al-muta’allihin). This paragraph is of particular importance for our current discussion because Suhrawardi comes back to the question of unification after making an illuminationist liaison between “tasting” and “perception”: “Some people have thought that by these lights (anwar), we mean the conjunction and unification of the soul with the Originator (al-mubdi’). It was already demonstrated that unification is impossible except what is meant by it is a spiritual state proper to the disengaged realities (al-mufaraqat) and not physical conjunction and mixture, neither of which in itself is false[26]. It is obvious that Suhrawardi understands unification in the sense of physical mixture and even “incarnation” (hulul). Unlike Mulla Sadra who conceives the unification of two substances, whether elemental or intellective, as a mode of existential intensification, Suhrawardi remains faithful to the Peripatetic interpretation by defining any kind of unification as a form of generation and corruption. What is more, he applies the same principle to the non-corporeal world in which intellective and spiritual substances are subject to different rules. This is what Suhrawardi intends to emphasize when he says in theHikmat al-ishraq:

"Do not think that the disembodied lights (al-anwar al-mujarradah) become one after being disengaged [from matter] for two things do not become one. If both of them have remained [the same], then there is no unification. If both of them have ceased to be, there is no unification. If one of them has remained [the same] and the other has ceased to be, then there is no unification again. There is no conjunction (ittisal) or admixture (imtizaj) other than in corporeal bodies. The disengaged realities do not cease to be, and they are distinguished intellectively through their consciousness of themselves and their lights and their illuminations"[27]. Mulla Sadra takes this denial to be a necessary consequence of Suhrawardian essentialism which allows gradation only in the quiddities, not in the order of beingin concreto. Even though Sadra agrees with Suhrawardi on the primacy of self-knowledge as a paradigm case of knowledge by presence, his grounding of knowledge in being through gradation-in-being (tashkik al-wujud) appears to be a more forceful and convincing argument. In his important commentary on Suhrawardi’sHikmat al-ishraq, Sadra states that

“the Shaykh (i.e., Suhrawardi) has assumed that disparity (tafawut) takes place between two things in terms of perfection and deficiency in their shared quiddities without regard to any other condition concerning difference (fasl) or accident. The truth is that a single concept (mafhum) does not posses disparity from the point of view of its meaning (ma’na). Disparity can be only in reference to more intensity and weakness through the modes of actualization (al-husulat) and concrete beings (al-wujudat) because being allows disparity in [terms of] perfection and deficiency"[28]. As the preceding quote shows, the fundamental differences between the two philosophers lie in their ontological premises. Even though Sadra agrees with Suhrawardi on the generic validity of the Illuminationist epistemology, there are some significant differences that need to be articulated for a proper understanding of the relation between the two. In this essay, I have tried to highlight the differences between Suhrawardi’s essentialist metaphysics and Mulla Sadra’s gradational ontology insofar as they pertain to the epistemological postulates the two philosophers put forward. It would be extremely interesting to see how these two philosophers arrive at similar, if not identical, views of knowledge by working through two completely different sets of ontological assumptions. This, however, goes beyond the limits of our current analysis that has deliberately confined itself to Sadra’s critical reading of Suhrawardi’s concept of knowledge.

Before concluding this essay, an important component of Sadra’s as well as Suhrawardi’s epistemology, which connects the two in a rather remarkable way, needs to be spelled out notwithstanding the differences this paper tried to bring out. One might call this non-subjectivist epistemology. Sadra’s insistence on the unification of the intellector with the intelligible for a veritable knowledge of things emanates from a philosophical outlook in which intelligible reality is given priority over the discursive deliberations of the knowing subject. Once we stipulate that the intellecting subject participate in the intelligible form of things, we can no longer construe the world according to the a priori preferences of the knowing subject. To translate Sadra’s classical language to our philosophical vocabulary, we can say that the intelligible reality of the world is neither reducible nor containable in the mental constructions of the individual subject. The object of knowledge has to be affirmed before our epistemic constructions come on the scene, and this is to be done regardless of the way reality is grasped in the form of a representation or unmediated experience. The sharp contrast between modern philosophies of knowledge, all of which, we may say with Heidegger, are grounded in subjectivism in one way or another, and what a Suhrawardi or Mulla Sadra has to offer is abundantly clear, and further studies in this field will certainly present new possibilities for the contemporary articulation of a non-subjectivist epistemology.


1- See, for instance, Majid Fakhry,A History of Islamic Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983 (2nd edition)), pp. 304-5.
2- Sadra's main work Asfar contains no references to Ibn Rushd. This is not surprising for Ibn Rushd has played virtually no role in the post-Avicennan development of philosophy in the eastern lands of Islam.
3- See,inter alia, al-Hikmat al-muta'aliyah fi'l-asfar al-'aqliyyah al-arba'ah, (cited hereafter asAsfar) ed. by M. Rida al-Muzaffar (Tehran, 1383), III, pp. 284-7.
4- In responding to an objection raised by al-Mas’udi, Mulla Sadra says that “our knowledge of ourselves is the same as the being of ourselves, and our knowledge about our knowledge of ourselves is not the very being of ourselves but rather a mental form superadded to us. It is not the same as our particular identity and has a different mental identity.”Asfar, III, p. 295.

5-Asfar, III, pp. 296, 316-17, 385, and other places.
6- Sadra’s treatise called Ittihad al-‘aqil wa’l-ma’qulhas been published in Hamid Naji Isfahani,Majmua-yi rasail-i falsafi-yi sadru'l-mut'allihin (Tehran: Intisharat-i Hikmat, 1375 (A. H.)). The treatise is a summary of the epistemological section of the third part of the Asfar, which I have now translated in full.
7- At the expense of neologism and awkward language, I use the word intellector rather than ‘knower’ or ‘knowing subject’ foraqil and intellected rather than ‘object known’ forma’qul to emphasize the precise sense of non-subjectivism that comes to the fore in Sadra’s epistemology. ‘Knowing subject’ is philosophically too weak and general and does not convey the intellector’s connection to the intelligible world. The same applies to the word ‘object thought’ for it does not allow us to stress one of Sadra’s radical claims that the ‘intellected objects’ have intrinsic intelligibility.
8- For a historical survey of this idea, see my “Knowledge as the Unity of the Intellect with the Object of Intellection in Islamic Philosophy: A Historical Survey from Plato to Mulla Sadra”Transcendent Philosophy Volume 1, No 1 (June 2000), pp. 73-91.
9- It is interesting that Sadra refers to Suhrawardi as a Stoic in his writings. for a discussion of this point, see John Walbridge,The Leaven of the Ancients: Suhrawardi and the Heritage of the Greeks (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000), pp. 187-190.

10-Asfar, III, pp. 312-3.
11- I translated the wordwijdan as consciousness-being to bring out the etymological connection betweenwujud (being) andwijdan (consciousness), both of which come from the Arabic root w-j-d meaning to 'find' and 'to be found'.
12-Asfar, III, p. 278.
13- As Sabziwari points out, the word “form” (al-surah) has two meanings. One is the form in the Aristotelian sense, i.e., that to which abstracted concepts correspond in the representational theory of knowledge (al-‘ilm al-husuli). The second meaning is “essence” but not in the sense of quiddity (mahiyyah) as an abstraction of the mind but in the sense of concrete essences that belong to the intelligible world. SeeAsfar, III, p. 284, note 3. See also Fazlur Rahman,The Philosophy of Mulla Sadra (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975), p. 214.

14-Asfar, III, pp. 286-7.
15- Sadra,Asfar, III, pp. 324-5 andIttihad al-‘aqil wa’l-ma’qul, Isfahani, ibid., pp. 93-4.

16-al-Shawahid al-Rububiyyah, ed. by Sayyid Jalal al-Din al-Ashtiyani (Mashhad: al-Markaz al-Jami’I li’n-Nashr, 1981 (2nd edition)), p. 14.

17-Asfar, III, pp. 377-8.

18- Asfar, III, pp. 373-4.
19- See, Fazlur Rahman, ibid., p. 203.

20-Asfar, III, p. 373, note 3.

21- To clarify the specific meaning of “unity” in this context, Sadra gives the following explanation: “ […] The simple intellect is all of the intelligible things from the point of view of its differentiating meanings in a single wujud. The meaning of its being all of the intelligible things is not that these things have become unified insofar as the unification of their external and specific wujud with each other is concerned. This is impossible and known to anyone with even the slightest knowledge. The quiddity of the horse has a wujud in the external world with extraneous attachments such as quantity, position and color in a specific matter. It has also a specific quiddity with mental concomitants and corresponding meanings existing through an intellective wujud, with which its definitive parts and constituent elements are united. And it is the function of the mind to analyze it into these parts.”Ittihad al-‘aqil wa’l-ma’qul, Isfahani, ibid., p. 98.

22-Kitab al-talwihat, in Oeuvres Philosophiques et Mystiques ed. by Henry Corbin, (Teheran-Paris, 1976), Tome I, pp. 68-69.

23- Suhrawardi,Kitab al-Mashari’ wa’l-Mutarahat, Corbin, ibid., Tome I, pp. 474-5.

24- Mulla Sadra identifies three meanings of unification in philosophy: “ […] Unification between two things is considered to be of three kinds: First is the unification of an existent with another existent after it becomes multiple or in such a way that the wujuds of two things become one single wujud. As the Master and others have mentioned among their proofs for the rejection of unification, this is not plausible and its impossibility is obvious. Second is that a quiddity among the quiddities and a meaning among the meanings becomes by itself another quiddity and another meaning through essential-primary predication.[1][24] This is also impossible because separate concepts cannot become one single concept. Hence no quiddity-qua-quiddity can be another quiddity by itself unless the wujud of one of the quiddities ceases to exist and another wujud comes about. Third is that something becomes existent insofar as an intellective meaning and universal quiddity apply to it, which has not applied to it in the first place because of an intensification that has occurred in its wujud, and because of a perfection that has come about in its continuous individual identity through conjunction (ittisal). Now, this is not impossible. Do not you see that the form of a single man is the subject of numerous modes from the state of embryo and even sperm all the way to the state of being an intellect and intelligible? [Do not you see also] that all of the intelligible meanings whose different instances are found in inanimate beings, plants and animals are found together in man in a simple manner?”Ittihad al-‘aqil wa’l-ma’qul, Isfahani, ibid., pp. 82-3.

25- In his natural philosophy and especially through his concept of substantial motion, Mull Sadra defines change, both in the qualitative and quantitative senses, as an extension of his gradational ontology.

26- Suhrawardi,al-Mashari’ wa’l-mutarahat, Corbin, ibid., Tome 1, p. 501.

27- Suhrawardi,Hikmat al-ishraq, Corbin, ibid., Tome II, pp. 228-9. Cf. English translation by J. Walbridge and H. Ziai,The Philosophy of Illumination (Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1999), p. 148.

28- Sadr al-Din al-Shirazi,Hashiyah sharh hikmat al-ishraq, (Lithographed edition) p. 210, quoted in Ghulam Husayn Ibrahimi Dinani,Falsafa-yi Suhrawardi (Tehran: Intisharat-i Hikmat, 1376 (A. H.), 4th edition), p. 217.

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