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Knowledge and Power in the Philosophies of Ḥamīd al-Dīn Kirmānī and Mullā Ṣadrā Shīrāzī pdf download

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Knowledge and Power in the Philosophies of Ḥamīd al-Dīn Kirmānī and Mullā Ṣadrā Shīrāzī 
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1 Introduction 1

  • Philosophy and Authority in Shiʿism: Kirmānī and Mullā Ṣadrā 1
    • Notes on Method and Style 11
    • Bibliography 20

2 Ḥamīd al-Dīn Kirmānī on the Human Soul and Knowledge 25

  • 2.1 Ḥamīd al-Dīn Kirmānī, the Fatimid Philosopher/ Summoner 25
  • 2.2 Qurʾanic Narratives in Kirmānī’s Cosmology 29
  • 2.3 Knowledge and the Evolution of the Human Soul 32
  • 2.4 The Rational Soul and the Intellect 38
  • 2.5 Intellective Emanation, Perfect Souls, and Infallible Knowledge 44
  • Bibliography 70

3 Kirmānī’s Discourse on the Imamate and its Influence 77

  • 3.1 Rational Discourses of the Imamate in Shiʿism 77
  • 3.2 Kirmānī’s Theory of the Imamate 84
  • 3.3 Reappearance of Philosophical Imamology in
  • the Works of Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī 95
  • Bibliography 118

4 Mullā Ṣadrā on Knowledge and the Imamate 125

  • 4.1 Mullā Ṣadrā in Context 125
  • 4.2 Mullā Ṣadrā on the Nature of Knowledge 128
  • The Soul in Progress and the Perfection Narrative 133
  • The Ultimate Source of Knowledge: Emanation Narrative 140
  • 4.3 Perfect Souls, Imams, and the Necessity of Instruction 143
  • 4.4 Mullā Ṣadrā’s Political Imamology and the Imam’s
  • Representatives 155
  • Bibliography 177


  • 5.1 Shīʿī Philosophy and Politics: Mullā Ṣadrā’s Legacy 185
  • 5.2 Concluding Remarks 198
  • Bibliography 212
  • Index 217


Following the lead of Plato and Aristotle, classical Islamic philosophers built their political views on their understanding of a hierarchical cosmos, including a hierarchy of souls (nufūs). Abū Nasr Fārābī (d. 339/950), commonly referred to as “the Second Master” in works of Islamic philosophy,(( In Islamic philosophical literature the First Master is Aristotle, the Second is Fārābī, and the Third is Muḥammad Bāqir Mīr Dāmād, the Safavid philosopher and Mullā Ṣadrā’s philosophy teacher. See Muhsin Mahdi, Alfarabi: Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1962), 4.)) formulated the first systematic political discourse in Islamic intellectual history.

He made a discursive framework for Islamic political theory based on Platonic idealism and intellectual authority. Nowadays, Fārābī’s work and the continuation of his political philosophy by later thinkers is widely known to scholars of Islamic studies.(( For the political philosophies of classical Islamic philosophers including FārābÄ«, see Charles E. Butterworth, ed., The Political Aspects of Islamic Philosophy: Essays in Honor of Muhsin S.  Mahdi (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992).)) In addition, Shīʿī scholars have written extensively on the unique authority of the imams, signifying a designated line of the genealogical descendants of Prophet Muḥammad.

What still needs attention is the discursive bond between philosophy and Shiʿism. This is particularly true regarding the relation between the narratives of Islamic epistemology/psychology((Throughout this book, I use “epistemology/psychology” because there is no clear delineation of a border between cognitive psychology and epis-temology in the works of Kirmānī and Mullā Ṣadrā. Moreover, I am not engaging in epistemology in the technical sense of analyzing the condi-tions of knowledge and justification. I use the adjective “epistemic” in a broad sense as descriptive of narratives of knowledge formation.)) and that of Shīʿī authority in its complex religious and political applications. The possibility of historical confluence aside, the two fields share narratives, arguments, statements, and concepts, as well as a synthetic methodology which is prominent in the philosophical texts produced in a Shīʿī context.


The present book is a critical investigation into the shared discursive ground between epistemology/psychology and religio-political theories of authority in the works of two thinkers who represent the intellectual dimensions of two influential Shīʿī dynasties. Ḥ amīd al-Dīn Kirmānī (d. 412/1021) and Mullā Ṣadrā Shīrāzī (d. 1050/1640) contributed to the generation of Shīʿī discourses of absolute authority in Fatimid Egypt and Safavid Persia. This analysis will show that the religio-political discourses of the two states are similar in character and orientation, sharing analogous arguments and narratives with respect to the doctrine of the imamate. This will be demonstrated based on the place and function of epistemology/psychology in narratives of authority as developed by the two thinkers. However, the differences between Kirmānī and Mullā Ṣadrā in their application of some of the narratives also reveal the influence of the dominant religious and political ideologies of their times.

Though separated by time and location, Kirmānī and Mullā Ṣadrā belong to the same tradition of incorporating Aristotelian philosophy in their writings as well as Neoplatonic readings of Aristotle and Plato’s works. This is due, in part, to early Muslim philosophers adopting pseudoAristotelian writings, the intellectual attractiveness of Aristotelian logic and epistemology, and the political significance of a Platonic perfect ruler for Muslim thinkers.

I argue that the utopian aspect of Plato’s philosophy has been appealing particularly to those philosophical discourses that were formed in Shīʿī contexts.4 From this point of view, it does not matter if Fārābī was Shīʿī or not, nor does it make much difference whether Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) was influenced by his own Ismaʿili family background, which he actually criticized and turned against.(( ʿAbd al-Wāḥid Jūzjānī, The Life of Ibn Sina: A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation by William E. Gohlman (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1971), 19. Robert Wisnovsky, “Avicenna,” in The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy, eds. Peter Adamson and Richard Taylor (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 95.))


Rather, the present study is focused on the confluence of discourses as not fully determined by the intentions of the writers in question or by specific historical links. This is not to underestimate the fact that Kirmānī and Mullā Ṣadrā were unquestionably Shīʿī and dedicated to the Shīʿī cause of intellectually reinforcing the imamate. Rather, their conscious motivation is not the subject of the present study.

Moreover, it is posited that the philosophical narratives of knowledge and authority that the two philosophers incorporated into their works are discursively rooted in a tradition which organically grew on the bedrock of Greek philosophy rather than solely on Shīʿī ideology. To reveal the intricate relationship between knowledge and power in the philosophies of Kirmānī and Mullā Ṣadrā, I will begin with their epistemology/psychology, focusing specifically on their narratives of intellectual-spiritual evolution and existential transformation through knowledge. I use the term epistemology in the broad sense of the study of the nature, scope, and source of knowledge rather than as part of a theory of logical demonstration and conditions of knowledge and justification. Next, I will analyze the relation between these narratives, and their philosophical accounts of the imamate. By comparing Kirmānī and Mullā Ṣadrā, I elucidate (1) the main components of their epistemic/ psychological discourses in terms of concepts, narratives, and arguments;

(2) the common grounds of their epistemic narratives about the source and scope of human knowledge in light of their Shīʿī philosophies; (3) the function of their epistemic concepts, arguments, and narratives in their discourses on the absolute authority of the Shīʿī imam; and (4) knowledge-power dynamics within philosophical discourses of Shīʿī background and the influence of such dynamics on modern and contemporary Shīʿī religio-political discourses.

In view of the above findings, the book also sheds light on the possible influence of Ismaʿili philosophical discourses on Mullā Ṣadrā’s writings.

To better investigate this issue, I discuss the discursive influence of Nasīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī (d. 672/1274) as a key to the transmission of Ismaʿili narratives of knowledge and authority to later Islamic philosophy in the Twelver context.

The analysis specifically explores the influence of Ismaʿili philosophical imamology on Mullā Ṣadrā’s writings on the imamate through the medium of Ṭūsī; however, as a Twelver Shīʿī in the Safavid period, Mullā Ṣadrā could hardly admit to this influence.

In my comparison of the two thinkers, I have consulted a great number of primary sources and major secondary literature. Among Kirmānī’s works, Rāḥat al-ʿaql,6 which is my main primary source for his philosophy, is the broadest in scope, and the most philosophically ambitious. This volume has been edited twice and is not yet available in translation apart from several passages translated by Daniel C. Peterson7 and other scholars in journal articles. The volume is divided into seven major parts….

Ḥamīd al-Dīn Kirmānī on the Human Soul and Knowledge


Apart from a few scholarly books and articles on Kirmānī, which address an academic audience, scholarship on him is limited, with only one of his treatises, al-Masābīḥ,2 having been fully translated into English. Major themes from Kirmānī’s most philosophically ambitious work, Rāḥat al-ʿaql, have been discussed by Daniel De Smet.3 This is the most elaborate discussion of Kirmānī’s philosophy, and in it the author stresses the Greek origins of the philosopher’s thought. He focuses mainly on Kirmānī’s ontology and cosmology in view of his Neoplatonic emanationism.

In contrast, Paul E. Walker shifts his emphasis toward the Aristotelian aspect of Kirmānī’s work.4 In this respect, he particularly highlights the influence of Fārābī on Kirmānī and the latter’s divergence from his Ismaʿili predecessors such as Muḥammad Nasafī (d. 322/943) and the latter’s Neoplatonic circle and followers, most prominently, Abū Yaʿqūb Sijistānī (d. after 360/971).5 Similar to De Smet, Walker is focused on Kirmānī’s theological philosophy. In the same vein, Faquir Muḥammad Hunzai’s dissertation on Kirmānī is concerned with the philosophical theology of divine oneness (tawḥīd),6 and that of Carl Daniel Peterson is focused on cosmogony.7

There is also an article by Hunzai on Kirmānī’s theory of knowledge, which is discussed in connection with the important role of esoteric knowledge in the quest after truth and the salvific role of knowledge for the human soul.8

In my critical analysis of Kirmānī’s discourse on knowledge, the major sources used are Rāḥat al-ʿaql and a number of his edited treatises that will be cited later in this chapter.9 There are two editions of Rāḥat al-ʿaql, one by Kāmil Ḥusain and Muṣṭafā Ḥilmī, which was published in 1953,10 and the other by Muṣṭafā Ghālib, published in 1967.11 Both editions have been used by scholars and I rely primarily on the Ḥusain and Ḥilmī edition to reference my citations. As far as my citations are concerned, the two editions are almost identical but by citing from the first one, I pay tribute to the original attempt to edit Kirmānī’s manuscript. Apart from its thematic comprehensiveness and philosophical character, Rāḥat al-ʿaql also provides a frame of reference for understanding other works by Kirmānī because it is believed to have been a work in progress over a long period of time in both Iraq and Cairo.12

 The structure and major divisions of Rāḥat al-ʿaql follow the model of a city, which in this case is a city of knowledge reminiscent of the famous tradition (ḥadīth), particularly prominent in Shīʿī literature, according to which the prophet says, “I am the city of knowledge and ʿAli is its gate.”13

 In my discussion of the relation between Kirmānī’s theory of knowledge and his philosophical politics, his al-Maṣābīḥ fī ithbāt al-imāma has an important place due to his use of philosophical narratives in formulating his imamology in general, and in proving the authority of the imam of his age, al-Ḥākim bi-Amr Allāh (r. 386–411/996–1021), in particular.

Ḥ amīd al-Dīn Aḥmad ibn ʿAbd Allāh Kirmānī (d. 412/1021) was a prominent figure from one of the most tumultuous periods in Fatimid Ismaʿilism. He was an intellectual dignitary who represented and advocated ‘moderate’ Ismaʿili thought during the imamate of the Fatimid imam/caliph, al-Ḥ ākim bi-Amr Allāh.14 Challenged by some dissident movements15 that revolved around the attribution of divinity to al-Ḥ ākim, the official Fatimid institution of the Summons (daʿwa) in Cairo resorted to the intellectual forces of the time.

 The Fatimid imamate was already built on an intellectual tradition which was being propagated and expanded by a variety of educational institutions, the most influential of which were the Assemblies of Wisdom (al-majālis al-ḥikma). It is believed that the assemblies were constantly interrupted during the rule of al-Ḥ ākim. The exact reason for the interruptions is not determined in historical documents but it must have been primarily caused by the rise of ‘heretical ideologies’ and the safety measures taken against their spread.

 The Majālis were reopened by al-Ḥ ākim’s successor.16 The term majālis (singular. majlis) has a certain ambiguity as it refers both to the assembly and the discussion therein. Moreover, an important Ismaʿili genre of literature consists of collections of lectures given in those assemblies, one of which is attributed to Kirmānī and is titled Majālis al-Basriyya wa Baghdādiyya.17 Over time, the genre of literature known as majālis has gone beyond Fatimid Ismaʿilism and is now generally associated with a formulized presentation of Shīʿī discourses at large.18

 As for the term ḥikma, to which the majālis—the assemblies as well as the literature—are committed, it is important to note that in Islamic history, the term is laden with philosophical, spiritual, and Qurʾanic connotations. In addition, in the Shīʿī context it can sometimes be used interchangeably with the term philosophy despite the reluctance of Fatimid scholars to call themselves “philosophers.”19 Whether or not we call Fatimid thinkers such as Kirmānī a philosopher or simply, as he would prefer, a man of wisdom (ḥakīm), the intellectual discourse that such thinkers contributed to has a strong philosophical character in terms of both content and methodology. With these points in mind, one can regard the Fatimid Assemblies of Wisdom as a concrete example of the influential role of intellectual/philosophical discourses in the power structure of the time.

According to the evidence of Kirmānī’s own writings, we know that he was affiliated both with the Buyids (r. 322/934–446/1055) in Baghdad and the Fatimids (r. 296/909–566/1171) in Cairo, though he finally moved to Cairo to help the reorganization of the Summons20 after a period of religious and political upheaval. There are some reports suggesting that he was invited there by al-Ḥ ākim’s chief ʿī, Abū Mansūr al-Khatkīn, and arrived in Cairo around 405/1014. As Walker explains, Kirmānī was invited to “strengthen the central apparatus of daʿwa by his considerable scholarly presence.”21 At the time when he arrived in Cairo, Kirmānī was already an established scholar and ʿī in Iraq. Though there must have been considerable secrecy around his religio-political activity therein as a missionary of al-Ḥ ākim, there is a strong belief among some scholars that he played a major role in building up support for the Ismaʿili faith in some parts of Iraq.22

During his long career as ʿī, Kirmānī drew on both religious and rational sciences to help the cause of the imamate. Although in his imamology he followed the mainstream Ismaʿili doctrine of the imamate,23 his cosmology was more in line with Neoplatonism; in this he was similar to his intellectual predecessors, Fārābī (d. 338/950), Muḥammad Nasafī (d. 322/943), Abū Ḥ ātim Rāzī (fl. 4th/10th centuries), and Abū Yaʿqūb Sijistānī (d. after 360/971). While early Islamic philosophers were concerned about the relationship between reason and revelation,24 Kirmānī was heir to the Shīʿī customization of this tradition among those Ismaʿili thinkers who are sometimes categorized as belonging to the “School of Khurāsān.”25 The main philosophical characteristic of this school, Neoplatonism, found its way through the next generations of Ismaʿili philosophers and Kirmānī also adopted many of its tenets, especially in his cosmology.26 However, he tried to redirect Ismaʿili philosophy toward Aristotle and modified some of its teachings regarding the configuration of the universe and the origin and nature of the soul. This redirection should have been considered as progress by his successors as it was more consistent with the metaphysical psychology of Farābī and Ibn Sīnā that would later be dominant, but this is not what actually happened. The next generations of Ismaʿili thinkers/ʿīs, most prominently, al-Muʾayyad fi’l-Dīn Shīrāzī (d. 470/1078) and Nasir-i Khusraw (d. after 469/1077)27 preferred to remain loyal to the Neoplatonic discourse of

Sijistānī to the exclusion of Kirmānī’s Aristotelian modifications.28 Kirmānī’s intellectual discourse is also invested with his Qurʾanic

interpretations and, as we will see, in most of his arguments he relies on Qurʾanic allusions and analogies. While Kirmānī’s use of Qurʾanic concepts and narratives is more frequent than that of other major Islamic philosophers, he shares with them the tendency to show the rational ground of the Qurʾan. Regarding his religious background, he is a good example of “the Ismaʿili formulation of a new synthesis of reason and revelation based on Neoplatonism and Shīʿī doctrine.”29 In what follows, I will show how Kirmānī relies on Qurʾanic narratives in order to support his cosmology. More importantly, the next section will demonstrate the significance of philosophical interpretation of the Qurʾan for Kirmānī.

2.2 Qurʾanic Narratives in Kirmānī’s Cosmology

In Rāḥat al-ʿaql, there are many references to verses from the Qurʾan along with philosophical interpretations. By revealing the philosophical relevance of Qurʾanic ideas, Kirmānī proves his respect for rationality as a touchstone of authenticity and balance. One of the themes for which Kirmānī relies on the taʾwīl or esoteric interpretation of the Qurʾan is the process of creation, which he expounds along the lines of both Neoplatonic cosmology and the doctrine of balance. Beginning his picture of creation with “the Exalted Transcendent” (al-mutaʿālī subḥāna),30 Kirmānī mentions the Verse of the Throne (Q. 2:255)31 which is the only place in the Qurʾan where the term “throne” (kursī) is mentioned in relation to God. His explanation for the first creation by God diverges from both Greek Neoplatonists such as Plotinus, and Muslim philosophers such as Fārābī and Ibn Sīnā in that he dismisses the theory of “emanation” or “procession” (sudūr) from the Transcendent God and applies it only to the causal relation among the intellects in their ontological hierarchy. As for the creation of the first intellect by God, it was neither causation (ʿilliyya) nor emanation but “transcendent innovation” (ibdāʿ), which is the same as the “Command” (al-amr) in the Qurʾan. The mechanism of ibdāʿ is a divine mystery, hence beyond human reason, but Kirmānī provides a sketch of those attributes (sifāt) that are mentioned in the Qurʾan in relation to the first intellect. Therefore, in the first place, he addresses the divine attributes such as “life,” “knowledge,” and “power.” In his reading, these are the attributes of transcendent innovation (ibdāʿ) rather than of the transcendent innovator (mubdiʿ).32 He visualizes these attributes as different sectors of a circle

whose center is “life” (ḥayāt)33 and identifies the latter as “the quintessence of this transcendent innovation,” (jawhar hādha’l-ibdāʿ),34 an idea that he supports with his interpretation of the following verse from al-āya al-kursī in the passage below:

And Life precedes the rest of these Attributes, which is the reason why the Exalted Lord gave priority to the feature of Life in describing Himself … “Allāh, there is no god but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting. No slumber can seize Him, nor sleep[(Q:2:255)]. Thus, He is One (mutawaḥḥid) with respect to being transcendent innovation and one single being, while with respect to the existence of attributes in Him, as we explained, He is many (mutakaththir).35

For Kirmānī, the first intellect is transcendentally innovated and the innovation (ibdāʿ) and the innovated (mubdaʿ) are identified. The first intellect is the Word or Command (al-amr) of God, rather than being an intermediary. The first intellect is what the Qurʾan refers to as God and invests with divine attributes.

By this interpretation, Kirmānī is not defying the exoteric sense of the verse, but simply pointing out the philosophical layer of it consistent with his modified Neoplatonic cosmology and the Ismaʿili doctrine of divine transcendence. However, his approach tends more toward the allegorical once he comes across physical imagery used to suggest metaphysical and religious ideas. His parallelism between the first transcendentally innovated being who is the first among “the ranks above” (al-ḥudūd al-ʿulwīyya) and that of the speaking prophet (al-nātiq), who is the first in “the ranks below” (al-ḥudūd al-sufliyya),36 draws on his reading of the verse “a good word is like a good tree whose root is firm and whose branches are high in the sky” (Q. 14:24) in that the first intellect and the Prophet are, respectively, the source of life and the source of knowledge (al-ʿilm) and guidance (al-ḥudā).37

Continuing with his cosmology, Kirmānī interprets “the Pen” (alqalam) as the second intellect or the first proceeded being (al-munbaʿith al-awwal).38 “The Pen” that appears in the Qurʾan (Q. 68:1) is interpreted in relation to “the Tablet” (al-lawḥ) (Q. 85:22) as the prime matter (al-hayūlā).39 The Pen or the second intellect is also identified with the Archangel (al-malak al-muqarrab).40 As a pen can make letters appear on paper, the second intellect includes all the first principles and confers them onto the potential aspect of the third intellect, which is symbolized as “the Tablet.” As Kirmānī says “in the divine tradition, the second proceeded being (al-munbaʿith al-thānī) is symbolized as the Tablet since it is a receptacle for the forms, dependent on reception, such as the tablet receives the forms of sketches.”41

The cosmic relation between the first three intellects is also expressed by the verse “He is Allah, the Creator (al-khāliq), the Bestower (al-bāriʾ), the Generator of Forms (al-musawwir), to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names (al-asmāʾ al-ḥusnā)” (Q. 59:24).42 According to Kirmānī, the first intellect is the “Generator of Forms”; these include the first principles of existent things (al-aʿyān al-mabādīʾ fi’l-wujūd). The second intellect is “the Bestower” in the sense of “giving the existent forms that thing which befits them based on what is necessary for an order of wisdom (naẓm al-ḥikma).” And finally the third intellect is “the Creator” since He is in charge of “composition” (tarkīb).43

The world of intellects above is in charge of governing the world below, hence Kirmānī’s use of “throne” imagery consisting of al-ʿarsh and al-kursī. Functioning as the actual and potential aspects of the “supreme sphere” (al-falak al-aʿlā) which is associated with the first intellect, al-kursī and al-ʿarsh—both meaning “the Throne” though in this context al-ʿarsh is the Throne and al-kursī is the Footstool on which one descends from it—respectively correspond to the form (ṣūra) or soul (nafs) of the supreme sphere, and the quasi-material body of it.

Following Aristotle and Fārābī, Kirmānī considers the motion of the spheres as the source of motion and change in the material world.44 This governing aspect of the first intellect, functioning through the supreme sphere with respect to the rest of the spheres and the world of nature, is Kirmānī’s interpretation of “the throne” including both al-ʿarsh and al-kursī. He identifies the supreme sphere with “the Archangel who is given the charge of governing the affairs of the material world, [and] who in the divine tradition is called the Throne.”45

One can hardly overemphasize the significance of taʾwīl and those who possess the knowledge of taʾwīl in Kirmānī’s philosophy. For him, knowledge of taʾwīl is the achievement and the sign of great human souls that reach the level of intellects and become the mediators of true knowledge to their followers.

Furthermore, “the purpose of religion cannot be achieved without taʾwīl, which enables the human soul to attain the second perfection.”46 Yet, the human soul has a journey to take before it can access this knowledge.

 Knowledge and the Evolution of the Human Soul

In Kirmānī’s works, on one hand, knowledge formation is discussed mainly in the context of the ontological divisions and development of the human soul. On the other, his cognitive psychology is based on his overall view of the cosmos as a hierarchy based on emanation or procession.47 Kirmānī never deals with knowledge for its own sake. In his system, not only are the lines between epistemology, psychology, and cosmology blurred, but his scattered views on knowledge formation are part and parcel of the Shīʿī synthetic discourse of authority based on excellence in knowledge, and his arguments are replete with theological and Qurʾanic ideas, statements, and narratives.

In his philosophy, Kirmānī shares with one of his most important philosophical influences, Fārābī,48 and his own contemporary, Ibn Sīnā, a reliance on Greek philosophy. Old histories of Islamic thought portrayed early Islamic philosophers as following Aristotle, although they were in fact influenced by a Neoplatonic work that was mistakenly attributed to Aristotle.49

In this tradition, The Theology of Aristotle, which is now known to be an extract from the Enneads by Plotinus, is usually mentioned as the intellectual bedrock of the emanationist orientation of Fārābī and, following him, Ibn Sīnā.50 Nevertheless, nowadays this picture is considered simplistic and many questions have been raised in recent times with regard to the process of intellection, which could, at first glance, be considered as an unintentional combination of the Neoplatonic emanation of intelligible forms from the agent intellect, with the abstraction of intelligible forms by the human intellect, as in Aristotle. For example, regarding Ibn Sīnā’s theory of knowledge, one scholar has asked: “Is the intelligible


abstracted by the soul or does it flow from the agent intellect [through the Neoplatonic process of emanation]?”51 As a contemporary of Ibn Sīnā52 and strongly influenced by Fārābī, Kirmānī’s psychology and theory of knowledge show a synthesis of the Aristotelian doctrine of the soul and Neoplatonic narratives of emanation.53 In this respect, I would differentiate between Kirmānī and Muslim Peripatetics.

Within the Peripatetic framework, the Neoplatonic orientation of discourses could be explained in view of the many-layered history of commentaries on Aristotle, dubious authorships, changes through translations from Greek into Arabic, the attempts by Greek scholars in late antiquity to reconcile Aristotle with Plato, and the influence of dialectical theology (kalām). But, for Kirmānī, the adoption of Neoplatonic elements in his cognitive psychology can also be understood in light of the Shīʿī discourse of the epistemic authority of the imam and the ranks following him within the Fatimid institution, though one cannot exclude the influence of the previously mentioned factors.54

Kirmānī’s theory of knowledge formation has a strongly soteriological character in that it explains the nature and function of knowledge from the perspective of the salvation of the soul. His theory of knowledge is developed within his metaphysical psychology, which appears to correspond with his discussion of the animal soul, yet is differentiated from it by its human spiritual teleology. He opens his discussion of the human soul by saying:

As for the human soul, though it is from the animal species, unlike the latter it subsists (in existence) in actuality (ʾima bi’l-fiʿl) rather than being potential, for the very reason that its existence is not for the sake of its body but for its own sake, and also because it is the telos (ghāya) which is sought as the end of creation.55

This remark on the superiority of the human soul over the animal soul is preceded by an important point on the basis of which we can locate Kirmānī’s psychology on the continuum between Aristotle and Plotinus. While accepting the Aristotelian definition of the soul as “the perfection of the organic body,” he regards it as an “inclusive definition” (ḥadd al-ʿāmm) rather than an exclusive one. For him, while the soul, in general, is the entelechy of organic bodies,56 the human soul in particular goes beyond this state, which is called “the first perfection” (kamāl al-awwal) in Peripatetic parlance.57


This evokes Plotinus’ criticism of Aristotle’s definition of the soul as the form or actuality of the body.58 However, unlike in the earlier Shīʿī Neoplatonism, Kirmānī would not consider the human soul as a separate substance that exists before joining the body.

 The ontological independence of the soul from the body is particularly explicit in The Theology of Aristotle, according to which the rational soul had a “descent from her original abode into the material world.”59 The soul is accepted as the first perfection of the body, but it does not stay at the level of bodily attachment.

The unique nature of the human soul is explained in comparison to “her sisters,” (ikhwātihā) that is, the vegetative and the animal souls. While sharing with them the natural knowledge necessary for the life of body, the soul also needs to connect with what is above it. The end of the human soul is a “second perfection.”60 The doctrine of the second perfection of the soul is the main link between Kirmānī’s psychology/epistemology and his Ismaʿili understanding of the imamate.

The second perfection of the soul, which is also called “the second procession” (al-inbiʿāth al-thānī), is its ultimate actualization, which can happen only through the “instruction” (taʿlīm) of “the possessors of divine inspiration” (al-muʾayyadīn).61 While using the Aristotelian framework of potential/ actual with respect to the functionality of the soul, Kirmānī reframes the role of the actualizing source within his Shīʿī narrative. Before explaining this doctrine in more detail and in relation to the Ismaʿili discourse of the imamate, it is necessary to explain the nature and function of the soul and its faculties.62

One of the hallmarks of Kirmānī’s understanding of the human soul is his evolutionary view of it in the sense that the soul is like a tabula rasa at birth, with the potential to grow in knowledge. What is particularly noteworthy is the association of knowledge with “form,” which is an Aristotelian concept. He maintains:

When the human soul comes into being, it is possessed of a pure, individual and free existence that has no form (sụ̄  ra), no knowledge, no belief, no thoughts;  it  acquires  knowledge  and  belief  through  the  teaching  of  the instructors  (muʿallimūn)  among  whom  the  closest  to  the  soul is the

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