- Mulla Sadra's Transcendent Philosophy
Mulla Sadra is one of the most significant philosophers of the later period of Islamic philosophy. Unfortunately there is still not a single comprehensive study on his system as a whole apart from the late Fazlur Rahman’s 1975 work, The Philosophy of Mulla Sadra. 1After the publication of Rahman’s book, Sadra, his doctrines, and his philosophical system attracted wide interest. There is also a journal, Transcendent Philosophy, published by the Islamic Research Institute of London, in which there is a considerable number of articles on various philosophical theories of Sadra’s. In Tehran, an Institute was established devoted completely to the study of his philosophical system. One recent study, Mulla Sadra’s Transcendent Philosophyby Muhammad Kamal, a comprehensive investigation of Sadra’s philosophical doctrines, is an attempt to capture the general outlook of Sadra’s system as a whole. The thesis of this book is primarily what the author calls “Sadra’s ontological turn,” which is claimed to be similarto Heidegger’s project in Being and Time. This is clearly expressed in a number of places in the book—for example, “Mulla Sadra’s philosophical ‘turn’ or shift from the philosophical position of the primacy of essence to the primacy of Beingand to thinking of being as the primordial metaphysical reality is similarto the ontological enterprise of Being and Timeby Martin Heidegger” (p. 106; my emphasis). The phrase “ primacy of Being” is repeated over and over again in the book.
It is not correct to use this phrase in relation to Sadra’s ontology and more particularly to his doctrine of Being. I do not recall him saying that “essences are not primary but being is primary.” All he says throughout his magnum opus, Asfar, is that “essences are not real, being is real.” What the phrase “primacy of being” means is that there are a number of realities and that Being is primaryamong these realities, whereas Sadra claims that there is no other reality deserving to be identified [End Page 385]as existent other than Being—hence the absolute monism, wahdat al-wujud(unity of being). There is a study by Megawati Moris that Kamal did not consult which establishes that there is only one reality, Being. 2In this study there is no indication as to Sadra’s use of this phrase in his major works. I call upon those who ascribe the phrase asalat al-wujud(primacy of being) to Sadra to show how many times Sadra uses it! I counted one instance in the Masha’ir, where Sadra says that “Being is the genuine reality” ( haqa’iq muta’assilah), 3which does not mean “primacy.” On the other hand, as I have indicated, Asfaris full of the statements haqiqat al-wujudand tashkik al-wujud. These are the phrases representing Sadra’s doctrine of Being, not the phrase primacy of Being. I think this statement found its way into Sadra studies through the work of Toshihiko Izutsu. 4It is utterly misleading to express Sadra’s position as holding the primacy of Being as opposed to the primacy of essence. An essence is not real at all, to be given this higher status. Its only reality is that of being mental. Therefore, since the use of the phrase “primacy of Being” would imply that there are realities among which Being is primary, it is not right to use this in Sadra’s ontology.
The first chapter, which is the Introduction, starts unfortunately by characterizing Sadra’s doctrine as primacy of Being. This leads to a misrepresentation of Sadra’s ontology, which makes a distinction between Being as a concept that is mental, an essence-like notion, and Being as reality par excellence. In this sense Being is an individual existent, representing the universal existential evolutionary process. In the former sense the use of the phrase primacy of Beingmay be compromised. On the other hand, since to utilize this phrase would be to put an emphasis...