Muslim world in the last four hundred years. The author of over forty works, he was the culminating figure of the major revival of philosophy in Iran in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Devoting himself almost exclusively to metaphysics, he constructed a critical philosophy cultural identity essay introduction brought together Peripatetic, Illuminationist and gnostic philosophy along with Shi’ite theology within the compass of what he termed a ‘metaphilosophy’, the source of which lay in the Islamic revelation and the mystical experience of reality as existence. Mulla Sadra’s metaphilosophy was based on existence as the sole constituent of reality, and rejected any role for quiddities or essences in the external world.
Existence was for him at once a single unity and an internally articulated dynamic process, the unique source of both unity and diversity. From this fundamental starting point, Mulla Sadra was able to find original solutions to many of the logical, metaphysical and theological difficulties which he had inherited from his predecessors. Shaykh Baha’ al-Din al-‘Amili, Shaykh-e Baha’i, before retiring for a number of years of spiritual solitude and discipline in the village of Kahak, near Qum. He was then invited by Allah-wirdi Khan, the governor of Fars province, to return to Shiraz, where he taught for the remainder of his life.
1640 while on his seventh pilgrimage on foot to Mecca. Safavid Iran witnessed a noteworthy revival of philosophical learning, and Mulla Sadra was this revival’s most important figure. From this, al-Suhrawardi deduced the more radical conclusion that existence is merely a mental concept with no corresponding reality, and that it is quiddity which constitutes reality. Iran up to Mulla Sadra’s time. Indeed, Mir Damad, Mulla Sadra’s teacher, held this view.
However, Mulla Sadra himself took the opposite view, that it is existence that constitutes reality and that it is quiddities which are the mental constructs. By taking the position of the primacy of existence, Mulla Sadra was able to answer the objections of Ibn Rushd and the Illuminationists by pointing out that existence is accidental to quiddity in the mind in so far as it is not a part of its essence. Mulla Sadra adopted this theory but replaced quiddity with existence, which was for him the only reality. He was thus able to explain that it was existence and existence alone which had the property of combining ‘unity in multiplicity, and multiplicity in unity’. Reality is therefore pure existence, but an existence which manifests itself in different modes, and it is these modes which present themselves in the mind as quiddities.
Everything is thus comprehended by existence, even ‘nothingness’, which must on being conceived assume the most meagre portion of existence in order to become a mental existent. However, this ‘existence’ which the mind predicates of the quiddity is itself merely a notion or concept, one of the secondary intelligibles. It is this which is the most universal and most self-evident concept to which the Aristotelians referred, and which al-Suhrawardi regarded as univocal. They also held that the continuity of movement is something only in the mind, which strings together a potentially infinite series of infinitesimal changes – rather in the fashion of a film – to produce the illusion of movement, although time as an extension is a true part of our experience. Mulla Sadra completely rejected this, on the grounds that the reality of this substance, its being, must itself be in motion, for the net result of the peripatetic view is merely a static conglomeration of spatio-temporal events. The movement from potentiality to actuality of a thing is in fact the abstract notion in the mind, while material being itself is in a constant state of flux perpetually undergoing substantial change.
Mulla Sadra likened the difference between these two understandings of movement to the difference between the abstracted, derivative notion of existence and the existence which is reality itself. In other words, existence can be conceived of as a continual unfolding of existence, which is thus a single whole with a constantly evolving internal dynamic. Time is the measure of this process of renewal, and is not an independent entity such that events take place within it, but rather is a dimension exactly like the three spatial dimensions: the physical world is a spatio-temporal continuum. All of this permits Mulla Sadra to give an original solution to the problem which has continually pitted philosophers against theologians in Islam, that of the eternity of the world. In his system, the world is eternal as a continual process of the unfolding of existence, but since existence is in a constant state of flux due to its continuous substantial change, every new manifestation of existence in the world emerges in time. Mulla Sadra’s epistemology is based on the identity of the intellect and the intelligible, and on the identity of knowledge and existence.