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The philosophy of Mulla Sadra
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A. Mulla * Sadra* and the Character of His Philosophy

Factual information about the life of Mulla Sadra is extremely scarce. He was born in Shiraz to a certain Ibrahim ibn Yahya at an unnamed date, came to Isfahan at a young age, and studied with the theologian Baha’al-Din al Àmili (d. 1031 A.H./1622 A.C.) and to an extent with the Peripatetic philosopher MirFendereski (d. 1050 A.H./1641 A.C.), but his principal teacher was the philosopher-theologian Muhammad* known as MirDamad (d. 1041 A.H./1631 A.C.).

MirDamad appears certainly to have been a thinker of eminence and originality, but there is no modern scholarly study of him as yet.

It seems that when our philosopher (named Muhammad*, titled Sadr* al-Din*, and generally known as Mulla* Sadra* or simply Sadra*) appeared, philosophy, as it was generally taught, was the Peripatetic-neo-Platonic tradition of Ibn Sina* and his followers.

During the 6th/12th century, al-Suhrawardi* had criticized some of the basic doctrines of Peripatetism and laid the foundations of the mystic Philosophy of Illumination (Hikmat* al-Ishraq*) which subsequently found several followers.

In the Peripatetic tradition itself, the important thirteenth-century philosopher, scientist, and Shiìt* theologian Nasir al-Din al-Tusi was influenced by certain views of the Illuminations philosopher, although the exact extent and nature of this influence still need to be closely determined.

These Illuminationist injections into the Peripatetic tradition chiefly concern the Ishraqi* attack on Ibn Sina’s* conception of God’s knowledge as forms or accidents inhering in God’s mind but later grew in other directions as well—the most important being the view that existence is an unreal mental concept to which nothing corresponds in external reality.

Mir* Damad* himself, for example, held the latter doctrine. For the rest, however, there is little evidence of the existence of any important Ishraqi* school of thought at the time of the appearance of Mulla Sadra.

Nor is there any palpable evidence for the existence of a scholarly Staff tradition immediately before Mulla* Sadra*, although certain Sufi claims and clichés had become common due to the infusion of Sufi ideas into philosophy and, even more importantly, due to the permeation of Sufi terminology into poetry; the Shiì * orthodoxy had shown itself to be unsympathetic to Sufism, an attitude which, by and large, has continued to modern times.

In this background grew Mulla* Sadra’s* peculiar system of thought which he seems to have evolved as something quite distinct from the intellectual and spiritual situation of his times.

His devotion to religion is partly brought out (apart from his numerous works on religion, of which we shall speak briefly below) by the fact that he is said to have died in 1050 A.H./1641 A.C. (the year of Mir* Fendereski’s* death) at Basra while going to the pilgrimage to Mecca or returning therefrom for the seventh time.

His life span is estimated at being seventy or seventy-one lunar years.(( On the irreversibility of the substantive movement, ibid., p. 16, lines 12-23, and as applied particularly to the soul, ibid., p. 21, lines 5-11. For the simultaneous development of soul and body, see the previous reference.))

The point we wish to make here is that Sadra* is a philosopher of the genre, say, of Bergson since the content of his experience as well as of his thought is the same and is cognitive in character. Experience or intuition is needed not to produce new thought content but to bestow on this thought content quality of personal experience.

This is very different from those Sufis who deny intellectual content to their experience, which they declare to be ineffable.

These Sufis, rather than dealing with philosophic or intellectual propositions, devote themselves to a purely experiential spiritual itinerary, divided into a hierarchical chart of “stations” ( maqamat*) and their concomitant spiritual “states (ahwal*),” ending up in an ethico-ecstatic ideal. There is no trace of this in Sadra’s* thought and there he differs fundamentally from al-Gha/ali*. Hence his model becomes—presumably since his experiences in his seclusion—Ibn

‘Arabi* who. although he often uses Sufi terminology, is a theosoph with a cognitive content through and through.

Under the root of this over-arching model which has profoundly influenced Sadra’s* ontology, psychology, and eschatology, all the thought currents of Islam are brought anti-synthesized—Kalam*, philosophy, Illuminations.

We have somewhat dilated upon this point because several contemporary scholars of Sadra * seem to insist that, according to Sadra* or even for understanding his thoughts, Sufism is needed besides philosophy, as though Sufism was an independent cognitive avenue to truth, indeed, over and above philosophy.

This is simply not true. What Sadra* claims to have performed and he also strongly advocates is the sincerity of purpose ( khulus*), single-minded devotion (tawajjuh gharizi*) and light of faith (nur* al- iman*) in philosophic activity, which alone will result in intuitive certainty and direct appropriation of objective philosophic truth. This is what is meant by wisdom ( hikma*).

Extrinsically motivated thought will be sterile philosophy, since extrinsic considerations—of gaining worldly power and fame—will detract from true philosophic pursuit. He denounces Ibn Sina* for pursuing medicine and a professional career while God had given him the capacity for the highest art—philosophy: the result was a truncated philosophy full of doubts and uncertainties.

But this is true of every pursuit: if a scientist spends time in horse racing and other hobbies at the expense of his work, his scientific work will be truncated. For Sadra*, this is most true of philosophy, the crown of all knowledge, since it is knowledge of God and man’s destiny.

This, however, is a far cry from saying that one should be a Sufi in order to be a philosopher, and Sadra* gives no hint anywhere of his Sufism, except in the sense of theosophy, which he calls màrifa or ‘Irfan*—after Ibn ‘Arabi’s * model. But whereas Ibn ‘Arabi’s* method of writing is not philosophical—he works by analogies and images rather than rational proofs, Sadra’s* method is out-and-out rational and philosophical.

Indeed, just as Sadra* condemns philosophy without intuitive experience, so he denounces pure Sufism without philosophic training and pursuit.

Sadra’s * Sources and His Originality

1. General

This brings us to the question of the source of Mulla* Sadra’s* doctrines and the assessment of his originality which, in various contexts, he proclaims loudly and unreservedly.

He does it particularly and recurrently when he expounds on his doctrine of the sole reality of existence (as opposed to essences), of motion-in-substance, and of the identity of the subject and object of knowledge on the basis of his doctrine of existence.

Mulla Sadra had his critics in his own time, but later he was charged by some critics with having “stolen” the views of others and given them out in his own name. Particularly since Mirza* Abu’l- Hasan* Jilwa (d. 1312 A.H./1894 A.C.), a series of “Sadra* debunkers” have tried to prove that all of Sadra’s* ideas were either borrowed or stolen.

It appears that this trend parallels the opposite and stronger trend—since ‘Ali* Nuri* (d. 1246 A.H./1831 A.C.)—of an ever-increasing number of his students, commentators, and admirers. Some of the latter also hold extreme views and think that Sadra* represents the”truest” of all philosophy and the apogee of all Islamic philosophic thought.

Indeed, lately Sadra* has come to occupy a focal point of interest for many intellectuals in Persia, for some of whom our philosopher has become the greatest symbol of Persian intellectual nationalism.

That this spirit is diametrically opposed to Sadra’s* own teaching is manifest enough, but it is basically a kind of symptomatic protest at the relative neglect, on the part of modern Western scholarship, of post-al-Ghazali* Islamic philosophy in the East, which—whether Sunni * or Shi’i*—occurred mainly in Iran.

While—partisan controversialism apart—the question of Sadra’s originality can only be fully settled after a comprehensive history of post-al-Ghazali* Islamic philosophy is written, the claims that Sadra* took over earlier doctrines whose sources he did not disclose must be summarily dismissed.

This is because in the pages of his vast work, the Asfar*, he has named the sources from whom he has quoted and either rejected or supported them. It is unthinkable that he should have had access to sources whom he considered important and yet chose not to reveal them.

This attitude also goes against the very grain of stern demands for sincerity, discounting of worldly importance, fame, etc. that he makes on all would-be genuine students of philosophy. More important is the following consideration.

Although Sadra *, claims absolute originality in some of his fundamental doctrines, as indicated here, he is at times acutely aware that these doctrines will be branded as “novel” and rejected by the followers of traditional philosophy.

He, therefore, makes strenuous and, indeed, often fruitless efforts—as we have pointed out in the body of the book on the discussions of existence and substantive movement—to draw support from the authorities of Ibn Sina or the pseudo- Theologia Aristotelis or the “Pahlavi Sages” to justify his stance. In doing so, Sadra* is in line with those ancient and medieval writers who attributed their opinions to earlier and more accepted authorities.

These two positions, claims to originality on the one baud (although he usually claims originality only within Islamic times) and attribution of his ideas to earlier authorities, are apparently contradictory.

What is true—and also what probably Sadra* wants to say—is that the inspiration for his doctrines on which he claims originality came from certain passages in these earlier writers, which he alone has been able to see in this new light.

Anybody who peruses the Afsar* is struck by the hypercritical spirit displayed therein. Not infrequently does Sadra reject all tile alternative solutions to a problem given by earlier thinkers and finally give his own solution which is identically, or almost, the same as one of those alternatives.

This is the case, for example, when he rejects, in the discussion of eschatology, the solutions of al-Ghazali*; and yet his own solution is hardly distinguishable from the one offered by al-Ghazali* on physical resurrection being of the order of an image-body.

Al-Ghazali*, indeed, is the first Muslim thinker, so far as I know, who pioneered this line of thought on the bodily resurrection—influenced undoubtedly by certain remarks of Ibn Sina*—out of which grew the idea of a World of Images (‘Alam al-Mithal*) propounded by al-Suhrawardi*.

Although Sadra has criticized pretty well all of his Muslim predecessors, he reserves unqualified praise for the author of the pseudo- Theologia Aristotelis (i.e., Plotinus) and the “Pahlavi Sages” about whose identities, however, we are given no clue. Among Muslim thinkers, Ibn ‘Arabi* is criticized only rarely (for example, Safar, IV, Part 2 pp. 253 ff.), while Sadra’s* most persistent targets are Fakhr al-Din* al-Razi*> and Jalal*

al-Din* al-Dawwani, about whom he sometimes uses unusually harsh language. Both of these men wielded great influence on the subsequent philosophical tradition in Islam and both were Sunnis. (Al- Dawwani has been more recently claimed by some to be a Shiì*, but apparently without requisite evidence.) Yet it would be wrong to conclude that their Sunnism was a motivating factor in Sadra’s criticism since on occasion he supports al-Razi* (and al-Ghazali*) against al-Tusi and his own teacher MirDamad (for example, Asfar*, III, Part I, pp. 380-82).

Al-Razi, although an extremely learned man in philosophy, is basically an Ash’arite theologian, while al-Dawwani * is a rationalist philosopher in the Peripatetic line; neither’s attitude is in harmony with Sadra’s* gnostic orientation.

Sadra’s critical spirit stops only at texts which tradition regards as sacred: the Qur’an*, the Prophetic Hadith, and the dicta Shiì tradition has attributed to the infallible Imams. Here faith must guide and inspire reason even if this leads to an interpretation that apparently the words of a text do not bear. A striking illustration of this is afforded by Sadra’s* quotation of an alleged khutba* (sermon) of the Imam* ‘Ali during the discussion of God’s Attributes (Asfar*, III, Part 1, p. 135 ff.).

Sadra* inveighs against those who deny God’s Attributes and affirm a pure Divine Existence, as well as against those who affirm God’s Attributes as being additional to His Being; and he wants to prove the identity of Existence and Attributes in God on the basis of his dot trine of the primordiality of existence.

The relevant words of this quote are: “The perfection of sincerity for God is to deny attributes of Him since every attribute is evidence of its otherness from its subject and every subject is evidence of its being other than its attribute. Thus a person who assigns an attribute to God is guilty of pairing Him and anyone who pairs Him duplicates Him….” (p.136, line 2).

Now, these words absolutely and uncompromisingly deny attributes of God—quite in Muslim Mùtazilite rationalist spirit, and to think the opposite would render all language meaningless; yet Sadra* gives us an extensive commentary on this text where the words “deny attributes of Him” are simply restated as “deny additional attributes of Him.”

2. Sadra’s* Predecessors

Sadra* studied the entire philosophical, religious, and spiritual heritage of Islam, the apparent notable exceptions being the Spanish philosophers Ibn Bajja, Ibn Tufail*, and Ibn Rushd—from Spain and the Islamic West; and was particularly indebted to Ibn ‘Arabi*, who exerted, indeed, one of the foremost influences upon him.

The Peripatetic philosophical tradition emanating from Ibn Sina*, the tradition of the Kalam* theology, both Shiì* and Sunni*, the Illuminations philosophy of al-Suhrawardi* and his followers and commentators and, finally, the Sufi tradition culminating in the theosophy of Ibn ‘Arabi* and his disciples and commentators—all these went into the intellectual makeup of our philosopher.

Both Sunni* and Shiì* Kalam* had become thoroughly penetrated by the rationalist philosophical ideas and themes, the former at the hands of Fakhr al-Din* al-Razi* in the twelfth century, the latter in the work of Nasir* al- Din* al-Tusi* in the thirteenth. The more mystical ideas of Ibn Sina’s* philosophy, which had al-

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