Bidāyah al-Ḥikmah is an instructional philosophy book written by ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabāī (d. 1981), to be made use of in the seminary. In many schools it is still used as one of the first books for getting introduced to philosophy, and while some schools have replaced the text with Āmuzesh-e Falsafeh of Āyatullah Miṣbāḥ, anyone interested in studying philosophy as a specialist will eventually have to consider studying ‘Allāmah’s Bidāyah al-Ḥikmah.
The book has been translated into English by Sayyid ‘Alī Quli Qara’ī as ‘The Elements of Islamic Metaphysics’ and can be purchased at the Islamic College store.
What follows is a study guide for the book, utilizing explanations given by a contemporary philosopher, Ustādh Ghulām Reza Fayyāzī, and as well as additional clarifications in the footnotes.
Last Updated: 27, November 2020.
Definitions of Philosophy
There are multiple definitions proposed for the term “philosophy”, some of which are as follows:
a) The collective whole of all knowledge that mankind possesses
Taking this meaning would indicate that Ḥikmah and Falsafah are synonymous. A Ḥakīm and Filsūf was someone who knew of all the different sciences. This knowledge was traditionally divided as follows:
- Metaphysics (falsfat al-ūlā)
- God is discussed in this science although the discussions are not specific to God
- Mathematics (falsafat al-wustā)
- The discussions in this science were not found in the physical world. For example, the number 2 is not material; however, it can be used to describe two physical bodies.
- Physical sciences (falsafat al-ukhrā)
- E.g. Physics, chemistry etc.
- Metaphysics (falsfat al-ūlā)
- Related to the individual self
b) Metaphysics (falsafāh al-ūlā)
Eventually, the sciences under theoretical philosophy developed extensively, until they became their own sciences due to their vastness. At that point theoretical philosophy became a name for what was before only a part of it, namely, metaphysics. Today when the word falsafā is used, this is the meaning typically intended by this and this is also the definition we will be employing.1
The word philosophy is also used in the following contexts: philosophy of knowledge, philosophy of history, philosophy of ethics etc. In these usages, the term philosophy is not related to any of the two aforementioned definitions, rather this type of philosophy discusses matters such as the subject matter which differentiates these sciences, the methods used within them, the link between the different matters discussed within and so on.
As an example, in philosophy of law, one would discuss the subject matter of law, methods associated with it, and how the various issues within it are connected with one another and as well as with other sciences.
Another colloquial meaning of philosophy is employed by the laymen, when they ask questions like “what is the philosophy of fasting?” or “what is the philosophy of ḥijāb?” what they really mean to ask about is the reason as to why fasting, or ḥijāb is mandatory.
As mentioned earlier, philosophy is defined as the science that discusses the different states of existence. In other words, being is discussed in its absolute sense.
Some have claimed that the topic of philosophy is being, meaning things which possess existence such as a book. It is evident that this definition is incorrect as philosophy discusses all of existence and a book is something that possesses specific qualities other than existence, such as size and weight. This is the reason why the stipulation of being (mawjūd) qua being has been added to the definition, so as not to presume the aforementioned
Thus, philosophy is: The science that discusses being qua being – or simply put, the science that discusses existence.
As evident by the definition, the subject matter of philosophy is being qua being, or existence.
The ultimate purpose of philosophy is to differentiate between that which exists and that which does not exist. For example, philosophy will differentiate between existences that people derive (wujūd i’tibārī) and existences that the disillusioned believe in (wujūd wahmī). Derivative existences (i’tibārīyāt) are existences that rational people typically presume in order to ease and organize their lives. For example, the concept of ownership does not exist in the outside world, however it is presumed to exist in order to facilitate transactions and so on. If there was no general agreement about the concept of ownership, this concept would cease to exist.
On the other hand, wahmīyāt are existences that rational people would not typically presume to exist. One may ask why this purpose has any benefit, ‘Allāmah answers in the following manner:
It is self-evident (بديهي) that man knows that he himself exists. If one is of a sound state of mind, then they will also admit that existences other than themselves also exist in the outside world. Man is always seeking reality, he seeks existences and realities other than himself. As such, man would not seek something that does not exist. However, sometimes man may believe something to exist while it does not; or he may believe something to not exist while it actually does. Thus, to overcome this problem, just as one may experience problems speaking or reading properly and thus refers to grammar, one must in this case refer to philosophy
Philosophy also investigates causality (‘illīyah). As such, it observes that all beings have come into existence due to causality and for one to follow the chain of causality would lead them to the First Cause (Prime Mover) (‘Illat al-Awwalī).
The immaterial intellect (aql al-mujarrad) is an existent that is immaterial both inherently (dhātan) and practically (‘amalan). This is what the Qurān and narrations refer to as angels. This is not the intellect of man, as the intellect of man is representative of one of the dimensions of the soul (rūḥ). The soul (nafs) of man is as such that it practically requires the material although it may itself be immaterial. If man wishes to think, he requires a brain; if he wishes to perform an action, he requires hands and feet. Just as man, the immaterial intellect is immaterial inherently, but in contrast to man, it is also immaterial practically.
Philosophy is sometimes used in contradiction to knowledge. We do not agree with this because we define knowledge as the collective whole of everything that man has perceived and understood. As such philosophy is a part of knowledge.
Chapter One: The General Principles of Existence
1.1 The Self-Evident Character of the Meaning of Existence ⤵️
The first matter that is dealt with in classical metaphysics is that of existence and its meaning. It is asserted that the meaning of “existence’ is self-evident, that is, it cannot be defined.2 To explain this, it is necessary to know that concepts (taṣawwarāt) are of two types; they are either self-evident concepts or they are acquired concepts. Concepts that are self-evident cannot be formally defined by other concepts. On the other hand, acquired concepts require thought and are acquired or understood by previously attained concepts.3
It is important to note that all concepts cannot be acquired concepts. For example, let us presume that concept A is the first concept that we encounter. Concept A is an acquired concept; thus, its definition relies on us understanding concept B. If concept B is a self-evident concept, then we understand it without any dependence to other concepts. However, if it is also an acquired concept and each further concept relied upon to understand the previous concept is also an acquired concept, then the sequence of acquired concepts will lead to infinite regress (tasalsul). Infinite regress is impossible, therefore, there has to be at least one self-evident concept.4
A more practical way of putting the above is that if all concepts required thought and explanation in order to be understood, then we remain within a circle of ignorance. As such, there is definitely at least one self-evident concept.
The Concept of Existence
Existence is a self-evident concept. One example of this is children who will frequently identify different things as existing or not existing. They self-evidently understand the concept of existence. In fact, existence is the most general and well-known concept because it is inclusive of all existences.
It is also impossible to propose a valid definition for the word “existence”. This is because in logic we note that a definition must be more well-known than that which it defines. However, in this case, existence is the most well-known concept known to man and as such cannot be defined by any other concept. That is, there is no other concept that is more well-known than existence.
Another reason that existence cannot be formally defined is because definitions are composed of a genus (jins) and differentia (faṣl).5 In some cases definitions can be composed of just a proprium (khāṣah) or just a differentia. Existence cannot be defined in any such manner because it does not possess a genus, differentia or proprium, which will be discussed later on.
It is possible to criticize the assertion that existence cannot be defined by arguing that some people have indeed proposed definitions for existence. For example Islamic theologians (al-mutakallimūn) have proposed that existence is what “subsists” (al-thābit al-‘ayn). Others have argued that existence is “that which allows predication”. This is because if something does not exist, predicate something to it.6
The above quoted definitions are not actually definitions, they are merely elaborations (al-sharḥ al-lafẓī) or explanations of what existence is. It is not possible to produce an intensional definition (al-ta’rīf al-ḥaqīqī) of existence as an intensional definition would provide the quiddity of the reality that the definiendum refers to.
1.2 The Concept of Existence is Univocal ⤵️
There is no doubt that the word existence is used in different contexts. For example, we say that, “Zayd exists” or, “God exists” or that “color exists”. In all of these usages, existence is predicated to different subjects and, as evident, there is some sort of commonality within the usage of the word existence in all of these sentences. The question is, is there a commonality between these usages of the word existence because the word is equivocal (al-mushtarak al-lafẓī) and has multiple meanings, perhaps in each usage, or because it is a univocal term (al-mushtarak al-ma’nawī) and is one concept that just has multiple instances.
Existence: Is it Equivocal or Univocal?
There are three main opinions about the word “existence” in this regard. Some believe that the word existence has been named univocally (i.e. it is a mushtarak ma’nawī).
Others argue that the term has been named equivocally (i.e. it is a mushtarak lafẓī). This means that the word existence has multiple different definitions and that it is used with different meanings in different usages. Scholars of this view argue that every time existence is predicated it has the same meaning as its subject. For example, when one says, “humans exist”, they are really saying, “humans are humans”. Or, for example, when one says, “beards exist”, they are really saying, “beards are beards”. Thus, whenever existence is predicated to a subject, it is equivalent to predicating the same thing to itself; this is referred to as primary predication (al-ḥaml al-awwalī).
One other group also argues that the term existence is equivocal, however they argue that it only has two meanings. One meaning is specific to God and another is specific to anything other than God.
Al-Ṭabāṭabāī believes that the first opinion is correct and brings three proofs for this view.
It is presumed that existence is either necessary or possible. Possible existences are either substances (jawhar) or accidents (‘araḍ). This is a division of existence.
This above division is previously agreed upon and known to be correct. It is evident, from this division, that one thing (existence) is being divided. When different stipulations are added to it, different divisions come forth. These divisions would not be correct if existence had multiple meanings because then there would be divisions of multiple things but here only one thing is being divided
The second proof is as follows. Envision a scenario where we see something from afar but are not sure what it really is. It may be a horse, a man or maybe a pillar. In this case we would say that, “X exists”. We believe that something exists but we do not know what it is. In this case, regardless of what the thing is, we predicate existence to it. Our doubt in relation to the subject does not carry over to the predicate. This proves that existence only has one meaning regardless of what it is predicated to.
Existence and non-existence are two opposites in complete contradiction. We may doubt the concept of existence, but there is no doubt in the concept of non-existence; it only has one meaning. As such, since the opposite of existence only has one meaning, existence itself must have only one meaning.
If existence had two meanings then the first meaning would be that of existence which would be the opposite of non-existence. The second meaning would be something else but would also have to be the opposite of non-existence.
Now, in terms of the first meaning, we would be able to assert that it is not non-existence, as it is the opposite of non-existence. However, it would also not be existence (in reference to the second meaning of existence). Thus this existence would not be non-existence and it would not be existence either.
Such a thing is impossible because it goes against the law of the excluded middle. As such, existence must have the same meaning in all of its usages.
Review and Further Explanation
So far, we have briefly covered three different views on the meaning of the word existence. One of them asserted that existence is a univocal term while two views asserted that it is an equivocal term. Of the two views that asserted that it is an equivocal term, one of them regarded every usage of the word existence to have the same meaning as its respective subject while the second argued that existence has only two meanings, one that is used in relation to God and another that is used for anything other than God.
The groups that believe the meaning of existence is equivocal largely rely on a proof that resorts to causality. They argue that all existences have a causal relationship with each other. For those who ascribe to the view that existence has a different meaning for each existent, they argue that every cause and effect have differing existences. Thus, when a cause brings an effect into existence, their existences differ and as such there are just as many meanings to existence as there are levels in the causal chain of all existence.
As for the view that existence has one meaning for God and another for all other existents, this view has been espoused by the likes of Qāḍī Sa’īd Qumī.7 These sorts of scholars believe that we cannot understand things that are predicated to God. For example, if one says that “God is all-knowledgeable”, we can only really understand that God is not ignorant as we cannot conceive what it means to be all-knowledgeable. They argue that it would be incorrect for us to assume what it means to be all-knowledgeable as the Quran has said, [42:11] Nothing is like Him. According to them, the same goes for existence. We cannot conceive what it means for God to exist, all we can know is that He is not non-existent.
Their evidence for this view also refers to causality. They argue that if existence had one meaning then God (a necessary existence) and all other existences (which are possible existences) would have some sort of homogeneity (sinkhīyyah) and such a thing is impossible. That is, nothing can be similar to God and as such, existence must have different meanings.
The answer to this view (which ‘Allāmah has not mentioned in Nihāyah) is that not only is such a homogeneity (sinkhīyyah) possible, rather it is necessary for there to be a similarity. Ever cause and effect must have similarity. In fact, if there were not similarity, then a causal relationship would become impossible (this will be explained later).
Regardless of the previous answer, we will provide another answer to show the inherent contradiction within the views that existence is an equivocal term.
If someone claims that the meaning of God existing is different than that of possible existences existing, we will reply by asserting that when we say a thing other than God exists, it means that the thing is an existent.
If existence has a different meaning for God, then we will ask what meaning it has. If it does not mean that God exists or that he is an existent, then it must mean that God does not exist. This is because existence and non-existence are opposites and for something to both not exist and exist at the same time would deny the law of the excluded middle.
As such, claiming that the meaning of existence for God is different than the meaning of existence for anything other than God would result in the belief that God does not exist. However, no proponent of the view that existence is an equivocal term believes that God does not exist.
Furthermore, if someone claims that we cannot understand the meaning of existence that is used for God then this will cause any possible understanding of God to go under question. That is, if we cannot prove God’s own existence than we cannot even discuss his qualities or progress any further in any discussion about him. As such, we would have to put a stop to rationality even though the intellect perceives that existence has one meaning that is the same when predicated to all existences.
1.3 Existence is Additional to Quiddity ⤵️
This chapter of bidāyah is about one of the most famous discussions within philosophy.
So far, we have discussed and understood existence. However, we must define quiddity (māhīyyah). To understand this concept we must understand that when we conceive of something in our minds, it is really constituted by two parts. One is the fact that it exists and the other is its specification in terms of form (had). This form is what differentiates that thing from other things that exist. For example, think of the following things; humans, colors, mass, angels and ideas. All of these things exist and yet they are different from one another. That thing that causes us not to confuse each of these things with each other is referred to as quiddity; it is the whatness or the form of a thing.
Another way to understand this is to understand the Arabic word māhīyyah which is a verbal noun that is composed of two parts. The first part is the preposition mā which is used to ask questions and means “what”. The second part is the pronoun hīya which means “that”. The two words come together to mean something like “what is that?”.
The response to this question can be constructed in many ways. For example, one can convey the complete reality of the thing in question, also called the species (naw’), or one can describe parts of its reality.
All of the above responses, which are quiddities, are also universals at the same time. Nevertheless, the species is referred to as a complete quiddity, whereas the other two responses, which are either the genus (jins) or the differentia (faṣl), are a partial quiddity. This is because they do not reflect the entirety of a quiddity in which they are a response to.
Are Existence and Quiddity the Same?
Before engaging in any further discussion, we must address whether existence and quiddity are the same thing or not. If not, then what is the relationship between the two and what makes them different from one another. It should be noted that the discussion here does not concern extra-mental reality and outside reality (khārij), rather it concerns the mind and mental conceptions.
As an example, if one makes a statement like, “Zayd is standing”, in this case Zayd and standing are the same thing. These are not two separate entities in extra-mental reality. If they were indeed two different things outside, then it would be impossible to predicate one onto the other.8
Hence, the question addressing whether existence and quiddity are the same or not is concerned with the mental concepts. Are these two different mental concepts or not. The Ash’arītes believed that the concept of quiddity and existence were one and the same. This is because they proposed that “existent” was an equivocal term and that whenever existence was predicated to something it would have a different meaning. Thus, the implication of their view would be that the statement “man exists” is really equivalent to saying, “man is man”.
Our position is that quiddity has a meaning that is different than existence and that existence has a meaning that is different than quiddity, and that these two are not the exact same thing. There are three proofs we can bring for our position:
It is possible to say that “Man is not existing” (الانسان ليس بموجود). This is true because there was a time that man did not exist. Furthermore, if everyone stopped existing today, this proposition would again be true. However, since man does exist today, this proposition happens to be false.
If, however, quiddity was the same as existence, or even if it was a part of existence, then it would not have been possible to negate existence from it. This is because it is not possible to negate a part or the whole of something’s essence from itself.
For example, when we say that “Man is a rational animal”, it is not possible to negate rationality from man as this is part of man’s essence. As such, quiddity is different than existence.
If we consider a quiddity and want to prove that it exists, then we must either prove it through our five senses or through a rational proof (burhān). Thus, to just perceive a quiddity is not enough to prove its existence; as such, existence is something different than quiddity. Furthermore, if existence was the same as quiddity, then we know from logic that something that is part of the essence of something does not require a cause; as such to simply perceive the quiddity of something should cause it to exist.
If quiddity was the same as existence then it would not be possible for a quiddity to be attributed to non-existence, as this would cause ijtimā’ al-naqiḍayn (اجتماع النقيضين) – a real contradiction.9 However, we see that quiddity can be in a state where it does not yet exist, as it is indifferent to existence and non-existence. That is to say, it does not inherently have to exist and neither does it inherently have to not exist.
The relationship between existence and quiddity is ‘umūm wa khuṣūṣ min wajh.10 Some existences do not have quiddities such as God.11 Some quiddities do not exist, such as the quiddity of man before man came into existence.
1.4 The Fundamental Reality of Existence ⤵️
The Fundamentality of Existence and Derivative Nature of Quiddity
The first discussion we need to engage in is, does something by the name of existence exist in extra-mental reality or are we just conceiving of existence in our minds? If the answer is the latter, the that would mean that nothing actually exists in the outside realm. This would be similar to the view of the Idealists, who propose that nothing outside the mind actually exists – though everyone accepts the existence of existence itself.
We propose that the actual existence of existence is self-evident and does not require any evidence. However, what does require evidence is whether what we really conceive of actually exists outside of our minds as well or not.
In the previous chapter we discussed the perception the one has of the outside realm and established that that which one perceives is really a compound of quiddity and existence. We established that this differentiation between existence and quiddity is really only possible in the mind, not in the outside. That is, everything we see in the outside is individually one existence, when we conceive it then we can break it down into parts
Quiddity and Existence in Extra-Mental Reality
In this chapter we want to look at quiddity and existence in extra-mental reality rather than in relation to one who is perceiving the outside. For example, if one perceives a flower, one can divide it into flowerness and its existence within the mind, but in the outside there is only one thing rather than two. Once we perceive these two concepts, flowerness and its existence, there are 4 possibilities that come to mind12 in terms of their relation to the outside:
First Possibility: Both concepts are instantiated individually in the outside. That is one can find an instance of flowerness and an instance of existence that are completely independent of each other in the outside.
Response: It is evident that such a thing does not exist. If flowerness was instantiated outside without existence, then it would not exist. It is also not possible for something to be just pure existence in the outside and not have any sort of quiddity. In other words, if it was as such that these two concepts were not one in the outside then everything in the outside would be two things instead of one.
Second Possibility: None of these concepts are instantiated in the outside, rather they are only in the mind. This is what Idealists believe.
Response: It is self-evident according to the intellect that this view is incorrect.
Third Possibility: The concept of existence is instantiated in the outside. Thus, the flower in extra-mental reality is its existence, and its quiddity is something that is actualized within the existence. That is, existence has fundamentality (aṣālah) over quiddity, and quiddity is something that the mind derives (it is ‘itibārī). Thus quiddity is something that the mind derives when it encounters something in the outside so as to differentiate that thing from other things that also exist.
It is this view that is referred to as the fundamentality of existence or aṣālat al-wujūd and amongst those who believe this view are the Avicenna philosophers and the Aristotelian philosophers.13
Fourth Possibility: This view is the opposite of the previous view. That is, quiddity is instantiated in the outside and existence is something that the mind abstracts and constructs. In other words, existence does not exist in extra-mental reality. This view is referred to as the fundamentality of quiddity or aṣālat al-māhīyah and is attributed to the Illuminationists (school of Shaykh al-Ishrāq);14 however the founder of this school was Plato.
For something to be fundamental means for it to be the source of effects. Those who believe in the fundamentality of quiddity believed in this due to a confusion that they could not solve and as such adopted this view. They found two problems that they could not solve with the fundamentality of existence, which will be mentioned later.
Proofs for the Fundamentality of Existence
Anyone who believes in the fundamentality of existence or quiddity agrees on the following principle:
الماهية من حيث هي ليست الّا هي – Quiddity qua quiddity is nothing but quiddity
That is, if one considers quiddity itself without looking at existence or any other factor, they will realize that quiddity is nothing but itself. That is, it is neither existent or non-existent – its relationship to existence and non-existence is the same. Take for example the quiddity of man who is a rational animal. We can attribute both existence and non-existence to this quiddity. It exists right now, but there was a time when it did not exist. All quiddities have this property
As such, how can it be that quiddity is fundamental? If quiddity were to be fundamental in the sense that any quiddity in the outside would always have an existence. then this is just another way of saying that existence is fundamental. However, if we are to say that quiddities can be realized in the outside without existence being realized for them then this would cause the reality of quiddity to change without any cause which is impossible. For something to change without a cause is referred to as transformation (inqilab) in philosophy and any occurrence of transformation is impossible.
Those who believe in the fundamentality of quiddity, such as the Illuminationists, answer this problem in the following manner:
They say, we do not claim that quiddity becomes fundamental through existence, nor do we claim that transformation occurs to cause the fundamentality of quiddity. Rather we claim that quiddity, which has the same relation to both existence and non-existence, becomes fundamental through a relationship with a cause. Quiddity becomes fundamental through God, who is the cause, at which point it becomes fundamental in the outside and is the source of different effects. That is, quiddity in it and of itself is not fundamental, rather it becomes fundamental because of God.
The answer to this is as follows:
As evident, quiddity did not exist before its relation with a cause; and as such had the same relationship to existence and non-existence. Once it comes in contact with the cause, we ask: did quiddity change after coming into contact with the cause or not? If it did, and it did not exist before and came into existence after the cause, then existence is fundamental because that was the cause for quiddity to come into existence.
Another problem with the above answer is that the quiddity, before coming into contact with the cause, is non-existent, how can something non-existent establish a relation with existence? If it did not change then this means it still has the same relationship with both existence and non-existence. Thus, for it to be fundamental is an instance of transformation which is impossible.
We know that quiddities qua quiddities differ from one another. This is why one quiddity is that of a human, another quiddity is that of a horse and so on. Sometimes these quiddities are completely different, such as essentials and accidents, while other times they have certain similarities such as humans and horses which are similar in their genus (animal).
Quiddities that differ with each other are still predicated on to each other (at least in some instances). For example, we say that “Zayd is standing”. Here Zayd is one quiddity and standing is another quiddity that describes a state, which has been predicated onto Zayd. When these quiddities are predicated onto each other, it is a sign that both quiddities are really one. This brings forth the question, “How is it that two different quiddities become one in the outside?”
One who believes in the fundamentality of existence would address this by saying: Since the external instance of both of these quiddities is the same, they are both taken to be the same quiddity. If quiddity was fundamental, then two quiddities should have existed in the outside, such as the quiddity of Zayd and standing in this case. However, in accordance with the fundamentality of existence, since these quiddities are indicative of different levels of an existence in the outside, they are all one in the outside. The concept of man is indicative of the essential aspect of reality, and the state of standing is indicative of the accidental perspective. This problem is only solved if we accept the fundamentality of existence rather than that of quiddity.
It will be addressed in a later section that quiddity is what the mind perceives. It is evident that that which the mind perceives are not instances of external existence. The mind is not capable of bringing the physical existence of a fire into itself. As such, knowledge of fire is equivalent to knowledge of the quiddity of fire.
When we hear about man in the outside, we ask “What is fire?”, once someone has defined “fire”, we gain knowledge of that concept through conceiving the quiddity of that concept which relates information about the external existence of that concept
The “fire” that exists in the outside has certain effects such as temperature, movement, size etc. while when we perceive fire in our minds (wujūd al-dhihnī), these effects do not come along with that perception. Thus, when a quiddity is alongside an external existence then it has certain effects, but when it comes into the mind (i.e. it becomes a mental existence) it no longer has any effects.
Hence, if quiddity were to be fundamental and possess effects, then when this quiddity comes into the mind then it should have the same effects. It is evident that it does not have these effects and thus quiddity is not fundamental.
On the contrary, if existence was not fundamental and quiddity was, then there would be no difference between quiddities in the outside or in the mind. But there is a difference between quiddities in the outside and in the mind. Thus, quiddity is not fundamental (rather, existence is).
Everyone who accepts the existence of quiddity, whether they believe in its fundamentality or not, all believe that quiddity is equal in relation to different attributes. For example, the quiddity of a human does not warrant that he be born in a previous time or else we would not refer to humans born today as humans. Or for example, the quiddity of a human does not warrant that humans should be causes, if it was as such then anyone who was a son (thus an effect) would not be considered as a human. Thus quiddity is non-conditioned.15 If quiddity was fundamental, then things in the outside should not precede one another, or be causes and effects and so on. Or if one thing was a cause, then all types of that thing should be causes because it would be attributed to the quiddity.
Thus if quiddity was fundamental, then it should be indifferent to different qualities, but we see that since these qualities exist they must be related to quiddity. The necessary conclusion leads us to a real contradiction, which establishes that existence is fundamental.
On the contrary, if quiddity was fundamental then the different attributes in the outside would be attributed to quiddity. But quiddity is indifferent to different attributes (that is they cannot be attributed to quiddity) and so quiddity cannot be fundamental.
Proofs for the Fundamentality of Quiddity
The arguments presented below are made by those who believe in the fundamentality of quiddity as opposed to that of existence.
If existence was fundamental then the proposition ‘al-wujūd is mawjūd’ (existence exists or existence is existence) would be correct. However, it is not possible to say al-wujud is mawjūd because since mawjūd is a derived noun (mushtaqq), this proposition is indicative of an essence and a descriptive adjective. That means, when we say al-wujūd is mawjūd, that wujūd is an essence that has the attribute of being mawjūd. Thus, if existence (mawjūd) as a descriptive adjective is attributed to existence (al-wujūd); that means we have to say that descriptive adjective (which is mawjūd) must also have existence.
Therefore, we will have to have two existences, one which is existence (al-wujūd) itself and the other will be the existence as a descriptive adjective that also has existence. Now, we have to ask the question, does this descriptive adjective also exist? Of course, it exists, thus another proposition is derived which also says, ‘existence exists’. This produces yet another descriptive adjective, which will also form another proposition, and then another descriptive adjective and it will result in an infinite regress.
The answer to this problem is that everything that is accidental in this universe must end in something that is essential. For example, the greasiness of many things is an accidental quality, but for oil it is essential. Thus, existence is essential for existence, that is, when we say al-wujūd is mawjūd, we do not mean that wujūd is an essence to which existence is attributed to accidentally, rather we mean that existence is essential to existence and it has not gained existence from any other place.
There is another view attributed to Mullā Jalāl al-Dīn Dawānī,16 who believed in the fundamentality of existence in some instances and the fundamentality of quiddity in other cases.
He believed that Allah’s existence is fundamental and that He does not possess a quiddity, but for everything apart from Allah, quiddity is fundamental. Thus, the word mawjūd (existence as a descriptive adjective) has a different meaning when used for Allah and when used for other creations. When the term existence is used for Allah like in the proposition, “Allah exists”, then that means that He is Himself. It does not mean that he has existence such that they would be two separate things, rather he is essentially existent.
However, when used for things other than Allah, for example, to say “Humans exist” it does not mean that man is existent, and hence existence is not being used as an object, but rather as a suffix (nisbah). In Arabic, a suffix is indicated by adding a yā at the end of a word to attribute something to it. For example, Zayd is a Tehranī – the ī at the end of Tehran indicates that Zayd has a relation with Tehran. Over here a derived term is being used to convey the meaning of a suffix. Hence, when we say, “Zayd exists”, we are simply saying that Zayd has a relation to existence.
Once it is admitted that the fundamentality of quiddity is not possible in one instance (for God), then this means that it is not possible in all other instances.
1.5 Existence is One Gradational Reality ⤵️
Upon having established that existence is fundamental in the outside, this chapter discusses whether these different existences are all different (mutabāyin) or are they all part of one reality that is gradational (tashkīkī). For example, when it is said that the sky exists, God exists, pizza exists; is existence in all of this one reality or is it something that differs from thing to thing, i.e. everything has its own reality of existence. Naturally, there are two views here:
1) Many scholars including Mullā Ṣadrā believed that existence is gradational and everything is one reality. Thus, if the sky exists and man exists, they all receive their existence from one thing, the only thing that is different is the intensity of their existence as existence is gradational.17
For example, light is known as that which is visible for itself and makes other things visible. Like a metal which is bright because there is light shining on it; the metal is not essentially bright. The reality of light exists everywhere where there is light whether it be a small candle or a floodlight. It is not as if weak light is not considered to be light, or a strong light is not considered to be light. It is not as if weak light contains some darkness, rather it is light and darkness is just the absence of light; it is not possible for them to become compound.18
2) Those who believe all of reality is constituted by one existence and the different existences with their intensities are merely perceptions which hold no truth. Just like the perception of a mirage. In other words, all multiplicity is imaginal and not real. This view is held by many Sufis.
‘Allāmah accepted the first view, in that the reality of existence in every instance (miṣdāq) is the same, however the levels of existence in different things differ. For this claim, two proofs must be offered:
- The first must prove that existence possesses one reality in all instances (masādīq)
- The second must prove that this one reality possesses multiple levels
In terms of existence possessing one reality in its instances, we previously mentioned that existence has one meaning, i.e. it has not been equivocally. As such, its instances all possess the same concept of existence.19
All Instances of Existences Possess the Same Reality of Existence
One of the proofs used to prove that all instances of existence share the same reality of existence is as follows:
If one concept (mafhūm) was derived from differing instances, then what is singular qua singular would be numerous qua numerous. However, it is not possible for something to be singular and numerous at once.
It should be noted that this discussion does not pertain to the names of things. Thus, if we were to name everything in the outside as “existence”, it would not contribute to the above proof. As such one cannot claim that the reality of existence is the same in all instances because they are all called existence. Rather, the discussion pertains to the concepts behind the names of things. That is, everything in the outside is an instance of the concept of existence
Concepts can be actualized in the outside, or exist in the mind; in either case each concept, whether outside or in the mind, is the same. Thus, if one concept were to be derived from realities that differed from each other and were not similar to each other at all, then such a concept would have to be both singular in that it is a singular concept but also multiple in that it is derived from things that essentially differ.
To illustrate, consider two instances of concept X: instance 1 and instance 2
For concept A to be a concept of instance 1, it must reflect the reality of instance 1. Also, for concept X to be a concept of instance 2, it must reflect the reality of instance 2.
Now, if instance 1 and 2 are essentially and inherently different, then, since concept X is reflective of them it must be reflective of a multiplicity, two fundamentaly different instances, while it itself is one concept. Thus, it must be both singular and multiple at the same moment which is impossible due to the law of non-contradiction.
Hence, the concept of existence possesses one reality in all instances.
A second argument used to prove this claim is as follows:
If the concept of existence was not reflective of one reality in all instances then it would be reflective of differing realities in its instances. If one concept is to be derived from differing realities, then there are four possibilities (the following possibilities presume that the concept is being derived from two instances):
- We derive concept X from the essence of instance 1 and it is specific to instance 1, then the concept cannot be extended to instance 2.
- We derive concept X from the essence of instance 2 and it is specific to instance 2, then the concept cannot be extended to instance 1
- We derive concept X from two different essentials from instance 1 and 2. That is, concept X is made of the essence of instance 1 and another different essence of instance 2. In such a case, concept X will have no instances in the outside, seeing as concept X is composed of 2 essential attributes and each instance possesses only one independent essential attribute.
- We derive concept X from that which is essentially similar between instance 1 and 2. This goes against the initial presumption that concept X is derived from two instances that are essentially different and is as such ءnot possible.
As the first three possibilities are not possible, we must negate the presumption that concept X is derived from instances that essentially differ. As such, concept X, such as existence, is derived from that which is essentially similar between different instances; therefore the concept of existence possesses one reality in all instances.
Proof for Existence being Gradational (tashkīkī)
The proof for existence being a gradational quality is the same that the Fahlavīyūn philosophers20 used for other purposes. To put it simply, every existence possesses levels, qualities and effects that are essential to that existence that other existences do not possess. Thus, multiplicity which is manifested through these different levels, qualities and effects is an essential property of existence.
As such, existence must be gradational, as all of these qualities which cause existences to differ, such as in intensity or otherwise, are all in fact manifestations of existence. That which causes existence to differ is exactly what is common to existence. The meaning of something being gradational is simply that it is one reality that possesses multiplicity within it.
1.6 That Which Particularizes Existence ⤵️
The discussion in this chapter concerns the qualities which particularize existence or those things which differentiate existence from other concepts such as non-existence and quiddity.
Existence is particularized in three aspects:
1. It is particularized by that which is essential (dhātī) to it.
- This separates existence from non-existence.
- If one takes all of existence into account, then all of existence itself cannot possess a cause other than itself (its own dhāt).
- A cause other than existence itself cannot exist, since anything other than all of existence is non-existence which does not exist.
- Thus, there is existence because of existence itself.
- The above constitutes one of the preliminaries of the argument of the veracious (burhān al-ṣiddīqīn) for the conclusion that anyone who pays attention to existence will gain attention to the necessary existence as a corollary.21
- As such, all existences, at first thought, must be necessary, however, proofs for monotheism (tawhīd) and self-evidence (since it is evident that not all existents are necessary) are used to negate that.
2. Existence is particularized by the degrees that exist within itself.
- This is what separates different levels of existence from each other.
- Every degree of existence is particularized, which is why the existence of the intellect, the existence of man and the existence of ownership are all different particular instances of existence.
- The particularization of every degree is because of that degree itself; just as before, this is because there is nothing other than existence.
3. Existence is particularized through quiddities.
- This is what separates different existents from each other.
- One existent is a horse, another is a man, and another is a star because of quiddity, which is derived from existence.
- Quiddities can be essentially different, and multiplicity is an essential quality of quiddity.
- The fact that the quiddity of one thing is different than that of another is in fact caused by the particularization of existence through quiddities.
It should be noted that it is impossible for something to not possess at least one of these three types of particularizations (they are māni’at al-khulluw). However, it is possible for one existence to be particularized in more than one way (they are not māni’at al-jam’). In other words, every existence must be particularized.
The Particularization of Existence Through Quiddity
As mentioned earlier, particularization of existence through quiddity is not a real particularization because quiddity is not fundamental, rather it is a concept that the intellect has derived and constructed. Existence cannot be particularized through something that is constructed and derivative (i’tibārī). Quiddities which essentially differ from amongst themselves are what cause existences to accidentally (b’il ‘araḍ) differ amongst themselves. As such, there are two types of particularizations, but particularization through quiddities tells us that existences have been particularized.
The Predication of Existence onto Quiddity
Existence is predicated for quiddities in statements such as “man exists”, just like a predicate is predicated onto a subject like, ‘Zayd is a writer”.
There is a philosophical principle, known as the principle of far’īyyah, which states: Establishing something for another thing is a corollary of that thing already being established.22 Thus the predication of a predicate on a subject is a corollary of that subject already being existing.
The question then is as follows: when we say, “man exists”, since man must already exist before predication, what type of existence is being predicated onto it? Is the predicate the same as the existence that man already possesses before being predicated upon?
If it is as such, then existence is prior to itself. That is, the existence of the man before predication is prior to its existence that is predicated onto it. This leads to a contradiction, as man must both exist and not exist at the same time for the proposition to be true.
Another option is to say that the existence that already exists for man before predication is a different type of existence that is predicated. That is to say, man has a type of existence because of which existence can be predicated on him. If it is as such, we will ask what type of existence is it that allows existence to be predicated on man?
Since the existing being predicated is other than the existence of man, then once again the initial existence of man must be established before anything else. Thus, if the existence is of some other type then man must have existence of this other type to exist before he can exist, but to have that existence he must have existence of this other type, and so on. This will lead to an infinite regress. Thus, for the same existence of man to be predicated on to him leads to a vicious circle, and for a different existence to presumed for him before predication leads to infinite regress.
Another answer that was historically given for this problem is by Muḥaqqiq Davānī. He asserts that the principle of far’īyyah must be changed as follows: “To establish something for something else necessitates the establishment of that something else.”23
That is, when something is established for something else, the establishment of that something else automatically occurs. Thus, if existence is predicated to a quiddity it is necessitated that the quiddity already exists.
The problem with this solution is that it does not really solve the principle of far’īyah, rather it brings about another rational principle that is also true. Since the principle of far’īyah is a rational principle, it cannot be negated or changed, and neither can exceptions be made to it.
The third answer to this problem is that of those who believe in the fundamentality of quiddity. They claim that existence does not exist and everything in extra-mental reality is really quiddities. Therefore, the problem with the principle of far’īyyah does not even occur.
This view is dependent on the claim that the word “exists” (mawjūd) is a derived noun (mushtaqq). For example, when one says, “man exists” then the word exists literally means something that exists. The answer to this is that the word “exists” is not a derived noun, rather it is a simple word whose equivalent in Persian is “hast” or in English “is”.
The fourth answer is also proposed by those who believe in the fundamentality of quiddity. They say that existence in the mind has one meaning. However, when existence is predicated to a quiddity or when it is used as an adjective for a quiddity, it adopts another meaning.
The difference between this second meaning of existence and the first meaning of existence is that the first meaning is general in relation to all quiddities. However, when one says, “the existence of man”, this is only specific to man and no other quiddity. In other words, existence is like a stipulation to man.
Whenever we stipulate something through existence, the stipulation itself is not a part of the concept or quiddity. Thus, there are two meanings of existence; general existence and specific existence (i.e. that which is used to stipulate other quiddities). As such, when one says, “man exists”, a specific existence is intended which is one with the quiddity of man. General existence does not exist in the outside
This means that the predication of existence onto quiddity is not indicative of the establishment of something for something else, because existence (in its general meaning) does not exist in the outside.
‘Allāmah believes, all responses are problematic. He solves this problem by claiming that the predication in “Zayd is a writer”, is different than the predication of “Zayd exists.” In the proposition “Zayd is a writer”, a composite whatness (halīyyah murakkabah) is being addressed. However, in the proposition “Zayd exists”, a simple whatness (halīyyah baṣīṭah) is being addressed.
That is, the proposition “Zayd exists” is equivalent to the establishment of Zayd, it is not the establishment of something for Zayd, which would in turn necessitate the establishment of Zayd first.
In other words, what is correct is that the predication of existence onto quiddity is not the establishment of something for something else (ثبوت الشيء للشيء), rather it is just the establishment of something (ثبوت الشيء).
Another way to put it is that, to say “man exists” is the equivalent of kānā al-tāmāh (كان الانسان), whilst to predicate anything else like a quiddity is the equivalent of kānā al-nāqiṣah (كان الانسان قائما).
1.7 Negative Properties of Existence ⤵️
In the previous few chapters, the existential attributes of existence were discussed. For example, it was mentioned that existence is one reality and that it is gradational. This chapter discusses the negative attributes of existence. That is, predicates which are negated from existence or qualities that existence does not have.
The First Negative Attribute – Existence Does Not Have an “Other”
For something to be an “other” in relation to existence, it must be something whose reality differs from existence. There is nothing that exists, but at the same time is different from existence or has a different reality than existence. The reason for this is that anyone who believes in the fundamentality of existence will claim that which is in the outside and is the source of all effects is existence. Anything other than existence qua existence does not exist. As such, existence has no other
The Second Negative Attribute – There is No Second to Existence
For something to be a second to existence, it would mean for it to have the same reality as existence but somehow be secondary to it. It was previously discussed that in the outside, there is only existence that starts from the necessary existence all the way to primary matter (hayūlā).
For something to be second only has meaning when there are two things with one reality and some sort of difference. To illustrate, ‘Alī and Ḥasan are both humans, but both have specific differences. If they had no differences, then one would not be the second. Now, when two existences are conceived of and it is said that one is the second of existence then there must be some difference. This difference is either essential (bi al-dhāt) or accidental (bi al-‘araḍ).
An essential difference is like that between humans and horses, where humans are rational (nāṭiq) and horses neigh (ṣāhiq). An accidental difference is like that between ‘Alī and Ḥasan; they are both humans, but their differences are because of attributes outside of their essential essence like the shape of their noses, or the sound of their voice.
There can be no differences between two existences, because there is nothing but existence. This can be represented in 3 scenarios:
- Two existences essentially differ completely: This cannot be possible since they are both existences.
- Two existences essentiality differ partially: This is not possible, since there is nothing other than existence for it to differ by.
- Two existences accidentally differ: This is also not possible, because of the aforementioned reason.
Thus, there is no second to existence, and existence qua existence is absolute (ṣirf).
The Third Negative Attribute – Existence is Neither Substance (jawhar) nor Accident (‘araḍ)
Later on, there will be a discussion concerning quiddity and the fact that it is divided into substance and accident. For an independent quiddity to manifest in the outside it must be a substance (jawhar). Things such as colors require a substance to manifest and these are known as accidents (‘araḍ).
Existence cannot be a substance or accident, since substance and accidents are divisions of quiddity. Another point to note is that accidents depend on things other than themselves to actualize; and there is nothing other than existence for it to depend on to actualize. Thus, there are two proofs for why existence cannot be an accident whilst there is one proof for why existence cannot be a substance.
The Fourth Negative Attribute – Existence is Not a Part of Anything
If existence were to be a part of something, then a composite would exist in which the existent would be one constituent and at least one thing other than existence which would be another constituent. But something other than existence does not exist (as mentioned above). Thus, existence cannot be a part of anything.
If it is said that: every possible existence is a composite of existence and quiddity; thus, it is possible for a composite with one constituent being existence to exist in the outside. Then the response to that is: quiddity is something we derive in our minds from existence, it does not exist in the outside. Therefore, there is no true composition made of existence and quiddity.
The Fifth Negative Attribute – Existence Does Not Have Any Constituents
There are three types of constituents which can be conceived of:
a) Conceptual constituents (الجزء العقلي)
For example, the genus (jins) and differentia (faṣl) of a thing are conceptual constituents. A human is constituted partly by its genus, being an animal, and its differentia, being rational.
b) External constituents (الجزء الخارحي)
External constituents are those that are composed of forms (ṣūrah) and matter (mādah). Bodies consist of matter and a form. Wood, for example, has a certain form and is composed of a certain matter and this form will have certain effects. Form and matter are both things that exist in the outside; it is not as if one is derivative (‘itibārī); rather one perceives both things in the outside
c) Quantitative constituents (ألجزء المقداري)
Quantitative constituents, such as lines, surfaces and numbers, are those things that have quantities. Quantities are continuously divisible into smaller parts, regardless of whether one possesses the tools to divide them as such. Now we must prove that existence does not possess any of the following parts
Existence Does Not Have Conceptual Constituents
Existence does not have a genus or differentia. If it did then its genus would either have to be existence or something other than existence – something which we established earlier does not exist. This will be explained through two concepts which are generally discussed within logic:
1) The differentia is the formative element (muqawwim) of a species (naw’). That is, every species is a composite, which has one part that is formative in relation to it. However, the differentia is not formative in relation to the genus and is not part of the reality of the genus. For example, when we say, “rational animal”, rationality is not part of being an animal. Thus, the genus is divided by the differentia, i.e. we can say that animals are either rational or not rational
2) A genus is acquired through differentia in the sense that genera qua genera do not exist in the outside. For example, there is no body without a differentia in the outside. A genus in relation to existing in the outside is unintelligible until it has a differentia, so as to be acquired. The differentia is the acquirer (muḥaṣṣil) of the genus.
Existence cannot have a genus: If the genus of existence is existence, then existence will become a species. That would mean it has constituents, one of which is the differentia, the other of which is the genus which is supposed to be “acquired” through the differentia. However, in this case the genus already exists, as it is existence, thus the differentia does not “acquire” the genus.
Consequently, the differentia will no longer be the acquirer (muḥaṣṣil) rather it will become the constitutive element (muqawwim) of the genus. This is not possible as the differentia will no longer have the properties of a differentia; therefore, the genus of existence cannot be a genus.
The other possibility is that the genus of existence is something other than existence. However, as mentioned previously, there is nothing other than existence. Thus, the genus of existence cannot be something other than existence. Therefore, existence does not possess a genus.
Existence Does Not Have External Constituents
External constituents, as mentioned before, are matter (māddah) and form (ṣūrah). There are two preliminaries that need to be understood, before it can be demonstrated that existence does not have external constituents.
The first preliminary is recognizing that matter itself is divided into two, primary and secondary matter.24 Primary matter (hayūlā) is the same as substance (jawhar) which is measured as the potentiality of things and is actualized (given fi’līyyah) through a form (ṣūrah).
For example, iron is a composite of a potential (qūwwah); it has the potential to assume different forms (ṣūwar). If iron is burned and turned into ashes, it still maintains the potential to presume different forms. That pure potentiality (al-qūwwah al-maḥḍ) is referred to as primary matter (al-māddah al-awwalī). Primary matter is that which remains unchanging as different forms are applied to it.
For example, there is a primary matter which remains constant as it adopts different forms from the sperm-drop into a clot and then into a lump of flesh (See al-Mu’minūn 23:14). Secondary matter (al-māddah al-thānīyah) is when a form is applied to something that is already composed of matter and form.
The second preliminary is recognizing that matter, whether it is primary or secondary, is always present with a form and is always conceivable. If there is matter along with a form in the outside, then it will be possible to conceive it. When we say that “man is a sensitive (ḥassās) body (jism) that moves intentionally (mutaḥarrik bi al-irādah) that is rational (nātiq),” apart from “rational”, everything else is a description of the matter that man is composed of. The matter is different than the form and the form of matter is different than the reality of man, and the reality of man is different than its form.
If we conceive of the form and matter of something separately, then they cannot be predicated upon each other. For example, if we conceive of “being rational” as a part of the reality of man, it cannot be predicated on man; man is being rational. However, if we look at these as concepts rather than as being parts of man; then we are really looking at them as genera (ajnās); as such it is possible to predicate them onto man; e.g. man is a body. This is what is meant when it is said that form and matter are negatively conditioned. Form and matter have to be conceived separate of each other. However, genus and differentia are non-conditioned; they can have as many conditions as possible. That is why a genus can be predicated as a whole, “man is an animal”, or partly, “an animal is rational”.
Given these two preliminaries, the reason why existence cannot have any external constituents is because such external constituents (matter and form) are just genus and differentia from another perspective. Thus, for existence to have matter or form would mean that it must have a genus and differentia as well which it does not have. Thus, it does not have a matter or form.
Existence does not have Quantitative Constituents
Existence does not have quantitative constituents because then existence would have to be a quantity. Quantity is one of the properties of bodies.
If existence was a body, then it would also have to be composed of form and matter which would necessitate that it has a genus and differentia. However, as previously established, existence does not have genus and differentia, and therefore it does not have form nor matter which also necessitates it cannot be a body. If it cannot be a body, it cannot have quantitative constituents.
The reason why ‘Allāmah began with genus and differentia, then form and matter and then quantity was because all of they branch out from that which precedes them in order. That is existence does not have quantitative constituents because it does not have external constituents because it does not have intellectual constituents
The Sixth Negative Attribute – Existence is Not a Species (Naw’)
A species is a general (kullī) concept that is not individuated and actualized in the outside by itself. It is actualized when its instance is actualized. For example, man is a concept that cannot exist until an instance of it (e.g. Zayd) is not actualized in the external reality. However, existence is actualized because of itself; thus it cannot be a species.
1.8 The Meaning of ‘the Domain of Factuality’ ⤵️
- One type of actualization is that of existence, which is actualized because of itself (bi al-dhāt).
- Another type of actualization is that which is attributed to quiddities. The actualization of quiddity is because of the actualization of existence, and it is actualized within existence. If the quiddity exists in extramental reality (al-khārij) then it has effects, it can grow etc., however if it exists within the mind then it does not have those effects.
- Another type of actualization is that of secondary intelligibles (al-ma‘qūlāt al-thānīyah)25. Consider the concepts of “cause” and “effect”. These two are concepts, but they also have instances in extramental reality. In external reality, the hand is the cause of moving one’s finger, the effect is movement; however, the cause and effect here are not part of the quiddity of anything. These sorts of concepts are not specific to any sort of existence. In other words, they have instances but not anything specific that is limited to them. The concept of “oneness” is similar, it is actualized in the outside through its instance.
The idea of nafs al-amr means reality, where every concept and proposition gets its correspondence – the reality of everything is according to itself, the reality of existence is existence, the reality of a cause and effect is a cause and effect; the reality of a quiddity is quiddity and so on. This can be explained in further detail in the following manner:
It is possible to divide propositions in the following three manners:
1. In some propositions both the subject and predicate exist in external reality, e.g. Zayd is in the city.
The truth of this proposition is dependent on external reality, since both its subject and predicate exist in the outside. If Zayd is not actualized, or if the city is not actualized in external reality, then this proposition will not be true.
2. In some propositions the subject and predicate both exist within the mind, e.g. A universal is either essential or accidental.
3. In some propositions, universals and essentials, or accidentals do not exist at all.
The truth of the second and third propositions, in which the proposition or its’ predicate is related to the mind, is dependent on whether or not it is concordant with the mind.
Sometimes the subject exists in the outside, however the predicate exists in the mind, for example, ‘rationality is a differentia’ (al-nuṭq faṣl), the rules of the aforementioned propositions will apply to this as well.
In order to explain the truth factor of all three types of propositions, it is possible to say the following: if a proposition is concordant with the nafs al-amr, then it is true, if it is not, then it is false. Thus, the truth of a matter (ṣidq al-amr) is really the reality of that thing; sometimes the reality of something is in the mind, sometimes it is outside the mind. Thus, nafs al-amr, which means reality, is more general then the outside or the mind, meaning it is inclusive of both domains.
Some have claimed that the nafs al-amr is another world which they describe as the world of the immaterial intellect (aql al-mujarrad). They claim that for every proposition that is related to the outside, there is a similar type of proposition or a form of that same proposition in the world of the immaterial intellect. If the proposition which is related to external reality is concordant with the form that exists in the world of the immaterial intellect, then it is true, or else it is false.
The problem with this is that those propositions which are claimed to exist in the world of the immaterial intellect must then also be concordant with some sort of reality. If they are supposed to be concordant with what is in the external reality or with the reality of the mind, then this leads to a vicious circle. If it possesses another nafs al-amr, this will cause infinite regress.
From what has been previously mentioned it is clear that possessing a genus and differentia is something that is related to things that are composites of matter and form. Therefore, existents which are not composite existences within external reality do not possess a genus or differentia.
1.9 The Equivalence of Thingness and Existence ⤵️
This chapter focuses on establishing that existence is subsistent (thābit) as opposed to non-existence which is not subsistent. This is a matter that is very clear, however it became a source of debate due to some discussions brought forth by the Mu’tazilites. The Mu’tazilites proposed that non-existence is of two types, that which is subsistent (thābit) and that which is not subsistent.
Earlier it was mentioned that the reason for the existence of false views and incorrect understandings in philosophy is because many philosophers would encounter problems in other views that were correct, and so in order to solve those problems they would come up with other views. This position by the Mu’tazilites was held for a similar reason. They encountered a problem with their belief regarding the knowledge of God. They saw that God possessed of knowledge of things before they were created. For this to be true, God must have a conception (taṣawwur) of such things before they were created, but it is not possible to have a conception of something that has not been created.
In order to solve this issue, they claimed that there are some things that are non-existent but these things can never come into existence as they are inherently impossible, such as “a partner of God”.
On the contrary, there are other things which do not exist; however it is not impossible for them to exist. Like a person who will be born ten generations down the line from the current generation. This sort of thing has some sort of existence and subsistence, and this is why knowledge can be related to such things. As such, this is how God has knowledge of things before they are created, because they do have some sort of existence. Thus, the Mu’tazilites claimed that anything that is existent is subsistent (thābit) and anything that is non-existent but has the possibility to exist is also subsistent.
Thus subsistence (thubūt) is more general than existence, because every existent is subsistent (thābit), however some things that are subsistent are not existent. Subsistence is the opposite of negation (nafī), just as existence is the opposite of non-existence.
As such, subsistence is more general than existence, however non-existence is more general than negation, since non-existence is inclusive of that which is non-existent and inherently impossible, as well as that which is possible.
The view of the Mu’tazilites goes against human intuition. That is, if something is non-existent, then it cannot have any sort of subsistence at all. Something cannot both not-exist and have subsistence at the same time. Some of the Mu’tazilites went even further than the aforementioned view and claimed that there is something between existence and non-existence which they referred to as ḥāl.
They made this claim because they found that there are some properties which are only accounted for through relationships. The property of being knowledgeable can be taken as an example. The knower and the known both exist in external reality, however no such thing as “being knowledgeable” exists in external reality. This property is merely a relationship between two external realities, it does not exist, however since it is a property of something existential, it must exist.
The proponents of this view do not claim that there is another third state between subsistence and negation, rather they claim that this third state is between existence and non-existence. Thus, subsistence, which was inclusive of some things that were non-existent, is also inclusive of ḥāl, which is a state between existence and non-existence.
Thus, according to the Mu’tazilites, subsistence consisted of three things: that which exists, that which is not necessarily non-existent and that which is ḥāl. On the other hand, negation is inclusive only of that which is necessarily non-existent.
The answer that ‘Allāmah provides for these views is evident. He asserts that if something is non-existent, then this means that it cannot exist. For something to exist does not mean that it must have some sort of independent existence. A relationship such as “knowledgeable” exists within the two constituents of that relationship, the knower and the known. A relationship never has its own independent existence, if it had an independent existence then it would need another relationship.
1.10 No Distinction or Causality in Relation to Non-Existence ⤵️
A distinction is that which causes things to be separate from each other. Such as the sun and the moon which are both separate existents. They are separate and distinct from each other. Things that exist can be distinct from each other, however there is no such thing as distinction for that which does not exist because for something to be distinct from something else depends on whether those things exist or not.
It is true, that some sort of distinction can come about from relationships between non-existence and things that exist. For example, the non-existence of a table is different than the non-existence of a book. However, in such examples, the distinction is not acquired through non-existence itself; rather the distinction is acquired through the non-existence of those existences. That is, there is a distinction because of the relationship that is formed between non-existence and the existent.
The above is also true for the non-existence of faculties, such as the non-existence of one’s ability to see. This is only distinct and meaningful because the ability to see itself is an existential matter.26
The second rule related to non-existence is that there is no causality in relation to it. Causality is a form of bringing into existence and having effect, this is something that depends on existence for it to take place.
If someone argues that: The existence of a cause is the cause for the existence of an effect, that is, if a cause exists then the effect exists, then that means that the non-existence of a cause is the cause for the non-existence of the effect. Thus, the non-existence of a cause, is a cause, which is evidence that non-existence can be a cause.
The reply to this will be as follows: Such methods of talking are really a play on words. It is as if someone said, “I went to Zayd’s room and saw that he was not there”. In reality, the person simply did not see Zayd, it is not possible to see non-existence.
The same concept applies here. When one claims that the non-existence of a cause is a cause for the non-existence of an effect, the reality is that when there is no cause, there is no causality, because causality is dependent on the existence of a cause. Such speech is merely figurative.
1.11 Absolute Non-Existence Allows of No Predication ⤵️
1.12 What has Ceased to Exist Does not Come Back Itself ⤵️
If an existent, exists at one time and then the same existent exists at another time, there is no problem. For example, ‘Uzayr existed at first, then ceased to exist, then after 100 years, he came back into existence. This has been mentioned in the Qurān, [2:259]. In this case, the existent at a previous point in time became non-existent, and that particular existent came back into existence during another time.
Another example is that of all humans in general. The existence of a human from day to day is a similar existence to their existence from the day before, not the exact same existent. If it was the same exact existent from day to day (‘ayn al-mawjud), then the existent from yesterday would be the same as the existent today, not similar. They are both related to different times, thus they are similar to each other, but not congruent.
Secondly, if a quiddity existed within one time and later on became non-existent, that particular existent can come into existence, albeit with a different existence. For example, the quiddity of man can exist one day, then God can make it non-existent. At another time, He can make the same quiddity come back into existence (the quiddity of man is being discussed here, not the external existence of man).
The topic of discussion here is that that which previously existed and became non-existent cannot exist again in the same manner (bi ‘aynihi). ‘Allamah refers to this as takarur al-wujūd in al-Nihāyah.
Man, from one passing minute to another is merely similar to his existence the minute before. They are not the same existences. His existence in every moment is consistently an effect of his existence the minute before – this will be expanded on at a later point in the discussions regarding an effects, since apart from being initially caused (ḥudūth) it also entails a cause for its continuity. If this relation ceases to exist for even a moment, then the effect will cease to exist.
Thus, the existent that existed before cannot become non-existent and come back into existence just as it was in another moment. The reason for this being impossible is because everything is only one thing. If something would be the same existent in two different moments then that existent in so far as it is one existent would be multiple at the same time. This is why when Avicenna brings up this matter, he claims it to be self-evident. He also explains the matter in another manner claiming that for something non-existent to become existent again is nonsensical, because if something becomes non-existent then it is nothing. For anything to come into existence again would mean for it to be something completely new.
It should be noted that material existence that possesses motion is constantly becoming non-existent. The meaning of movement is for one part of a thing to constantly become non-existent while another part becomes existent, at no point does all of it exist together.
The theologians (mutakallimīn) believe the hereafter to be a sort of resurrection of things that ceased to exist. This is why they believe it to be possible, rather necessary, for non-existents to be resurrected. ‘Allamah, in this chapter, wishes to clarify that the hereafter does not imply the resurrection of non-existents.27
Anyhow, as mentioned, this matter is self-evident. However, philosophers have still brought forth a number of proofs for the claim, four of which are as follows:
If something existed before, then became non-existent and then came into existence again as the same exact thing, this would mean that the distance between the existence (not existences since the presumption is that it is one existence) of this thing is non-existent. This would mean that the thing is prior to itself. This brings about a contradiction (ijtimā’ al-naqiḍayn), as the thing will both exist before and therefore not after, whilst at the same time existing after and therefore not before.
If something exists as the same exact thing within two different times, then it must be able to exist with itself previously. The reason for this is because both things are the same things with a difference only in time.
Now, if these two things (the thing that exists presently, and the thing that exists with the first thing) are similar. Thus the following rule must apply, things that are similar must have the same laws (حکم الامتثال فیما یجوز و فيما لا يجوز واحد). If one is impossible, the other must also be impossible.
As such, it is impossible for one thing to exist with itself in a previous time, because that would cause something that is singular to be multiple at the same time. Since it cannot exist with itself, it cannot exist after itself, because that is similar to existing with itself.
The resurrection of something non-existent is impossible because it either results in an essential change (inqilāb) or a false claim. If something is resurrected from non-existence, it cannot be the same thing because time and its quiddity have changed. And if it is not the same thing then this goes against the claim that it is the same thing. Therefore, the resurrection of something non-existent is impossible.
If the resurrection of something non-existent is possible, then it must be possible multiple times leading to infinity. There is no way to decide upon how many times it can come back into existence (tarjīh bi lā murajjiḥ). Thus if such a thing should be resurrected, it should be possible for it to be resurrected an infinite amount of times. Since it is not possible for its number to be determined, it cannot come into existence because anything that exists must have a definite number and be singular.
On the contrary, those who believe that the resurrection of something non-existent is indeed possible, claim that if something non-existent cannot be resurrected then this can only be because of 3 reasons:
- The quiddity of that thing is something impossible and it is inherently (dhātan) impossible for that thing to be actualized, for example, the actualization of two contradictory things. They refer to this as something inherently impossible.
- The quiddity is not essentially impossible, rather the proprium (al-‘araḍ al-lāzim) of the quiddity is something impossible. This is referred to as something that is al-muḥāl al-wuqū’ī.
- A separable accident (al-‘araḍ al-mufāraq) related to the quiddity is impossible.
No one has used the first two reasons as an argument because according to the first two reasons the quiddity could have never come into existence, whilst the presumption is that the quiddity did initially exist. According to the third reason, the quiddity will only be possible when that particular accident which causes it to be impossible comes along with it.
‘Allāmah provides a fourth reason for which the resurrection of something could be impossible. He argues that all the previous reasons attempted to identify the impossibility of the existence of something based on its quiddity, while the impossibility of the existence of something is actually related to its existence. Thus, the previous reasons are of no use, as they are related to quiddities and the reason something cannot be resurrected from existence as the same way it was (bi ‘aynihi) was discussed previously.
The reason that some theologians believed in the resurrection of something non-existent is that they believed the hereafter to be an instance of the occurrence of this matter. They knew that belief in the hereafter was an essential part of the religion and thus attempted to determine a manner in which to prove the possibility of the resurrection of something non-existent.
‘Allāmah argues that the hereafter is not an instance of the resurrection of something non-existent. Rather it is an instance of progression (istikmāl). Upon death, the soul progresses from the body to a higher level. The soul does not become non-existent at all.
As for the body, it is always in a state of change. The body that is brought forth on the Day of Judgment is not the same body that existed within the world. If it was to be the same body that existed in this world, then it would have to have the same time, space etc. The implications of the belief that the body would be the same in both moments were previously discussed.
In short, the humanness of a human is manifested within the soul, and the soul never ceases to exist. The reason a person can claim that he or she is the same as they were 20 years ago is that their soul has not changed, although their bodies may have completely changed.
Chapter Two: The Division of Existence into External and Mental
However, there is a difference of opinion in this matter. Some claim that when we have knowledge of something existing, the quiddity of that thing does not come into our mind, rather something similar to that thing comes into our mind. An example of this is as if we see something from afar, the thing itself does not come into our mind, rather something similar to the thing comes into our mind. Another example is when we see a picture of something, the picture may reflect the colour of what is being seen but it does not reflect the depth, size etc of it.
This group believes that the mind is just like that photograph, it does not reflect the complete reality of what it perceives.
We will later mention that this group encountered some problems with the notion that the mental existence of a quiddity can reflect the external existence and thus they resorted to the above answer.
‘Allāmah answers this by asserting that this view necessitates the refutation of any sort of knowledge which results in sophistry, i.e. the claim that that which is perceived in the mind is not concordant with external reality. The only way to have any relation with external reality is through our conceptions of it, and thus to accept this view would be to deny the existence of an external reality.
What is worse than the previous belief is the belief of Fakr al-Rāzī, amongst others, who believe that nothing enters the mind. They believe that knowledge of things is really a relationship between ourselves and those things. The mind, just as it was empty before, remains empty, the only thing that changes is that relationships between myself and things are created.
‘Allāmah’s reply to this is that we sometimes have knowledge of things that don’t exist, e.g. if we saw a city before that does not exist now. If knowledge is really a relationship then how can a relationship exist between ourselves and something that does not exist. Such a relationship cannot exist, yet we have knowledge of such things, therefore this claim is incorrect.
- For a brief discussion on the history and development of Islamic metaphysics, refer to Arabic and Islamic Metaphysics in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Existence is the single most important subject discussed in Islamic metaphysics. Mullā Hādi Sabzwārī (d. 1873) in his popular work al-Manẓūmah begins the section on existence with the following couplet:
مُعَرِّفُ الوُجُودِ شَرْحُ الاِسمِ / وَ لَيْسَ بِالحَدِّ وَ لَا بِالرَّسْمِ
مَفْهُومُهُ مِن اَعْرَفِ الأشْيَاء / وَ كُنْهُهُ فِي غَايَةِ الخَفَاءِ
All defining terms of “Existence” are but explanations of the word
they can neither be a “definition” nor a “description”.
Its notion is one of the best-known things
but its deepest reality is in the extremity of hiddenness.
- According to Islamic logic, which itself builds on Aristotelian logic, to understand something, one must formally define it. A classical definition is that “humans are rational animals” where the definiens (rational animals) define the reality that the definiendum refers to. Note that such definitions do not define words. Self-evident concepts cannot be defined, whilst acquired concepts can be defined.
- This is a classic case of a philosopher resorting to an infinite regress argument to argue their point. The infinite regress argument has been used throughout the history of philosophy in many different discussions. For further information, refer to Infinite Regress Arguments in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy which briefly covers the different types of infinite regress arguments utilized when accepting or rejecting a proposition.
- Islamic metaphysics relies heavily on the use of terminologies that were coined within the framework of traditional Aristotelean logic and philosophy. Without knowledge of these terms, one simply cannot begin to understand philosophical texts written by Muslim philosophers. With this precedent, a perfect definition of an essence of a thing, also known as the species, can only be done through its genus and differentia. If something does not have a genus or a differentia, then there is absolutely no way to define it because it does not have an essence to begin with and neither is it a species. For further information, refer to section 7 on definitions in Aristotle’s Logic in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- For example, one can say “The book on my shelf exists”. Predicates about things that do not seem to exist but are still held to be true such as ,”unicorns have horns” will be addressed later under the discussion of mental existence.
- Qāḍī Sa’īd Qumī (d. after 1696) was a Shī’ī philosopher and mystic of the Safavid period. He also served as a judge in the city of Qom during the reign of Shah ‘Abbās II. For more information, refer to Qāẓi Sa’id Qomi in the Encyclopedia Iranica.
- ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabāī passes over this point very quickly in his work and other introductory works also seem to describe this point as an obvious one. However, Ustādh Fayyāzī himself believes both existence and quiddity are fundamental and exist in extra-mental reality, though he agrees that the fundamentality of quiddity is subordinate to that of existence’s. He argues that all evidence brought forth for establishing there is only one fundamental entity in extra-mental do not really prove that the two cannot exist together. Rather they simply prove that they both cannot exist independently of one another. There are too many extensive preliminaries behind the conclusions derived by Fayyāzi which make their explanation beyond the scope of this study-guide.
- The law of non-contradiction is considered the mother of all propositions in Aristotelean logic. All propositions and affirmations must return to this indemonstrable proposition. For more information, refer to Contradiction in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- This relationship is one of four studied in logic, which discusses the relationship of two universal concepts with one another. The relationship of any two concepts can be one of four possible scenarios:
1) Absolutely Equal: For example, humans and people – every instance of a human is also an instance of people and vice versa.
2) Absolutely Different: For example, humans and rocks – no instance of a human is a rock and vice versa.
3) ‘Umūm wa Khuṣūṣ min Wajh: For example, humans and white – some instances of humans are white and vice versa, but some instances of humans are not white and vice versa.
4) ‘Umum wa Khuṣūṣ Muṭlaq: For example, animals and humans – some instances of animals are human and all instances of humans are animals.
The relationship between “existence” and “quiddity” is like the relationship between “humans” and “white”, because some instances of existence are also instances of quiddity, but some instances of existence are not instances of quiddity.
- Interestingly, Ustādh Ghulām Rezā Fayyāzī himself is of the view that even God has a quiddity, however, this quiddity does not imply limitations on God Himself.
- As mentioned in an earlier footnote, Ustādh Fayyāzī accepts a possibility that is not mentioned here. That possibility is that both concepts are instantiated individually in the outside, but the quiddity is not independent, but rather completely dependent on existence.
- This attribution to Avicennian and Aristotelean philosophers is not completely accurate. The discussion on the fundamentality of existence or quiddity was not formally taking place in philosophy until the time of Mīr Damād (d. 1631). Philosophers and historians of philosophy attempt to determine the position of those before him by referencing and reading into their opinions on different issues. Hence, one will find both attributions being given to earlier philosophers, particularly Avicennian philosophers.
- Al-Suhrawardī (d. 1191), also known as Shaykh al-Ishrāq, is the founder of the Illuminationist school of philosophy. The Illuminationists are named such because they believed that one had to purify their inner selves, before God could effuse His light and knowledge onto them. Man can attain this knowledge only if they purify themselves to receive it from God. Also, once man develops the capacity to receive this light, it is not possible to simply transmit it to others. One of the verses cited by them to back their view is [2:282] Be wary of Allah and Allah shall teach you. For further information, refer to Suhrawardi in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- The following three terminologies are crucial to understand:
- Non-Conditioned (lā bi-sharṭ)
- Negatively Conditioned (bi sharṭ lā)
- Conditioned by Something (bi sharṭ al-shay’)
To explain these through an example, imagine a sandwich. In one instance, you desire a sandwich with hot sauce on it. When you conceptualize this sandwich, you have conditioned it to a sauce, hence it is referred to as a sandwich conditioned by something. However, you may be someone who does not like hot sauce at all, hence you desire a sauce ensuring it does not have hot sauce in it. When you conceptualize this sandwich, you are excluding hot sauce from it, hence this conception would be referred to as a sandwich negatively conditioned.
On the contrary to both cases above, you are completely indifferent to whether your sandwich has hot sauce or not. You simply want a sandwich. This conception of a sandwich is non-conditioned and it is absolute.
- Mullā Jalāl al-Dīn Dawanī (d. 1502) was a 15th-century Persian philosopher, theologian and jurist. For further information, see Davānī, Jalāl-Al-Dīn Moḥammad in Encyclopedia Iranica.
- For further information, see 3.2 Monism and Pluralism in Mulla Sadra in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- It should be pointed out that there are different types of gradations:
1) Intensity: this usually takes place in the category of quality.
2) Causality: there is gradation between a cause and an effect.
3) A Priori (taqaddum) and A Posteriori (ta’akhhur)
4) Addition and Deficiency: this usually takes place in the category of continuous quantities such as line, surface, body, time, space and place.
5) Few and Many: this usually takes place in discrete quantities, such as numbers.
6) Priority (awlawīyyah): some scholars have suggested this division is vain as it goes back to one of the five mentioned above. Hence, when Taftazānī (d. 1390) says that gradation is based on priority, it appears he was including all previous divisions into one.
- Gradation (tahskīk) in existence is one of the most important discussions within Sadrian philosophy. One of the major questions that needs to be addressed before getting into the discussion is determining whether the concept of gradation as discussed in philosophy the same as the concept in logic. Generally speaking, Muslim philosophers believe that the concept of gradation as discussed in philosophy is the exact same as the concept of gradation discussed in logic. Two contemporary philosophers who disagree are Āyatullah Jawādī Āmulī and Ustād Ghulām Rezā Fayyāzī. The latter two have collectively presented twelve arguments for why the concept of gradation in philosophy is different than the one discussed in logic. A summary of three of these reasons is as follows:
1) Gradation in logic is a quality of a concept, whereas gradation in philosophy is a quality of existence.
2) Gradation in logic is in opposition to the concept of being Univoque (mutawāṭī), whereas in philosophy it is discussed in context of concepts such as Waḥdah al-Wujūd (unity of existence) or entities being completely different in their existential essences.
3) Gradation in logic is the attribution of a concept on its different instances, but gradation in philosophy is unity in multiplicity, and multiplicity in the very same unity. Hence, when examples of gradation are given in logic, one resorts to quiddities such as the concept of light, colour and so on. In logic, it will be said that two blacks are the same in their blackness, but one shade is darker or lighter due to gradation. Philosophically this can be rebutted by saying this is gradation in quiddities, not in existence. In addition, gradation in quiddities is a disputed matter, some – like Sadra – arguing there is no gradation in quiddities.
- The Fahlavīyūn – an Arabized form of Pahlavīyūn – were pre-Islamic philosophers of Iran who believed in the two principles of Light and Darkness. Mullā Hādi Sabzwārī (d. 1873) in his popular work al-Manẓūmah also refers to them when he begins his section on existence being gradational:
“Existence” according to the Fahlavíyün is a reality having analogicity and comprising various degrees,
- Burhān al-ṣiddīqīn, as put forth by Mullā Ṣadrā (d. 1640 CE), is considered one of the strongest evidence for a necessary existent. In his al-Asfār (vol. 6, pg. 12) he writes:
The ways towards God are many, for He is the Possessor of multiple excellences and aspects. “And for everyone is a direction to which he turneth.” Nonetheless, some paths are more reliable, nobler, and have more illumination than the other ones; and the strongest and noblest of these demonstrations is the one in which the middle term is not, in fact, something other than Him. Therefore, a path as such to the destination is the destination itself; and this is the path of the veracious, who attest to the Almighty by witnessing Him, and then they attest to His attributes by witnessing His Essence, and attest to His actions by witnessing His attributes, attribute after attribute and action after action. People other than them, for instance, the theologians, the physicists, and so forth, prove the Almighty and His attributes by the entertainment of things other than Him—such as contingency of quiddities, the temporality of the world, motion of physical bodies, and so forth. Although these are al-so proofs of His Essence and evidence of His attributes, the articulated path is stronger and nobler, and in the Divine book the former path has been indicated by the Almighty’s saying: “Soon will We show them Our signs in the horizons and in their souls until it becomes manifest unto them that He is the Real,” and to the latter path by His saying: “Is not sufficient for thy Lord that He is a Witness over all things.”
He then argues without using quiddity, contingency, motion or temporality of the world. Instead, it is based on the reality of existence, its rules and a few philosophical principles such as fundamentality of existence, the simplicity of existence and its gradation. For further information, refer to 3.3 Proof for the existence of God in Mulla Ṣadra in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- ثبوت شيء لشيء فرع ثبوت مثبت له
- ثبوت شيء لشيء مستلزم لثبوت المثبت له
- For more information, refer to the discussion on hylomorphism in Form vs. Matter in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- See Jawhar al-Naḍīd or Encyclopaedia Iranica’s entry on Fārābī
- This is what Mullā Ḥādī refers to in Sharḥ al-Maẓūmah with the following line لا ميز في الاعدام من حيث العدم, there is no distinction in non-existence qua non-existence.
- This discussion is closely related to an important discussion in Islamic theology concerning corporeal resurrection. The philosophers who denied bodily resurrection in the hereafter relied heavily on this philosophical principle of that which has ceased to exist cannot come back itself. In recent times, some Sadrian philosophers such as Ustādh Ghulām Reza Fayyāzī have critiqued the use of this principle on the matter of bodily resurrection and have instead argued for the possibility of corporeal resurrection in accordance with what is signified in the Islamic textual tradition. See: Mu‘ād Jism ‘Unṣurī – Dalā’il Naqlī wa Naqd Dīdgāh-hāyi Raqīb.