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The Principle of Primacy of ‘Existence’ over ‘Quiddity’ and its Philosophical Results in the Ontological System of Mulla Sadra

The Principle of Primacy of ‘Existence’ over ‘Quiddity’ and its Philosophical Results in the Ontological System of Mulla Sadra

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The Principle of Primacy of ‘Existence’ over ‘Quiddity’ and its Philosophical Results in the Ontological System of Mulla Sadra
The Principle of Primacy of ‘Existence’ over ‘Quiddity’ and its Philosophical Results in the Ontological System of Mulla Sadra

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The Principle of Primacy of ‘Existence’ over ‘Quiddity’ and its Philosophical Results in theOntological System of Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
 
Reza Akbarian, Tarbiat Modarres University, Iran
Abstract
 
Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
considers ‘being’ or ‘existence’ (also referred to as
esse, actus essendi
,
das Sein
, or
wuj
 £
) as the mostimportant issue in his philosophical deliberations. The views of Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
on existence include a precise andmasterful system based on the principle of ‘primacy of existence over quiddity’ (
a
 ¥¡
lat al-wuj
 £
d)
or the issue of the‘principiality of existence’. This issue is a firm philosophical idea that has deep roots in the metaphysical experience of ‘existence’. Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
utilizes this background to unite rational analytical thought with our direct experience of truth.He presents this unity in a clear, systematic manner to transform his own metaphysics from an Aristotelian philosophyto a philosophy which is essentially non-Aristotelian.
 In this paper, we analyze a central doctrine of Sadrian ontology relating to his account of ‘existence’. ‘Existence’ here denotes the ‘reality of existence’ (
 ¦
aq
 ¢
qat al-wuj
 £
)
 
and not the‘concept of existence’ (
mafh
 £
m al-wuj
 £
). The distinction between the reality of existence and theconcept of existence is of such importance that one cannot truly and properly understand themetaphysics of Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
without understanding this distinction.
1
Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
believes that,although other fields of study, especially the knowledge of soul, are important in understanding
divinalia
, the basis of all teachings is the ‘reality of existence’ (
 ¦
aq
 ¢
qat al-wuj
 £
).
2
In thebeginning of his book,
Kit 
 ¡
b al-Mash
 ¡
'ir (The Book of Metaphysical Penetrations),
Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
 discusses the most fundamental issues about ‘existence’. Indeed, this text is a concise andcomprehensive introduction to Sadrian ontology. Referring to this issue he says:
The issue of existence is the foundation of theosophical principles and the groundwork for divine issues and of 
Taw
 ¦¢
 d 
(Allah’s Oneness), eschatologyand the resurrection of the body and the soul, and other issues which I have personally followed, and which, prior to me, no one had dealt with. All of these issues revolve around the reality of ‘existence’. Anyone who is ignorant of the reality of existence will not be able to understand thesefundamental and weighty subjects. Lack of attention to these subjects will make one unable to understand mysteries and symbols. It will make itimpossible for him to gain access to knowledge, divinity, prophecy, and the principle of all principles and the Goal of all Goals. On this basis, I havedecided to begin my discussion in this treaty, which aims to clarify the principles of the reality of faith, theosophy and mysticism, with a discussion onexistence, and in conclusion prove that existence is essential in every existent (
 mawj
 £
 d 
). This is a reality and everything that is other than ‘existence’(meaning quiddity or
 m
 ¡
 hiyyah
) is like a reflection, a shadow, or a phantom. In proving this reality, I succeeded to present subtle principles andelevated discussions, which were absent in the works of my predecessors.
3
 The Reality of Existence and the Subject of the first Philosophy in Transcendent Philosophy
 Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
designates the ‘reality of existence’ as the basis of his philosophical discussion.Undoubtedly, a true understanding of his philosophy requires understanding the ‘reality of existence’, its levels and degrees. The key term in Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
’s ontology is ‘existence’ (
wuj
 £
)and not ‘the existent’ (
mawj
 £
). From a rational analytical standpoint, the term ‘existent’ refers tothe quiddity that exists in actuality, or the quiddity in the process of realization. This is differentfrom the act of existence, through which quiddity comes to be.This view is properly understood when we take into account the precise distinction between the twoqualifying modes of existence (
hast 
 ¢
),
meaning ‘the
 
existent’ (
mawj
 £
d,
that which exists at present),
 
and the act of existence - ‘to be’ (
b
 £
dan
in Persian) and ‘to exist’ (
wuj
 £
d d 
 ¡
shtan
in Persian). Theabove-mentioned distinction is an important point in transcendent philosophy (
al-
 ¦
ikmah al-muta‘
 ¡
liyah
). Preoccupation with the concept of ‘existence’ (
wuj
 £
) or the act of existencecharacterizes Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
’s philosophy, and this unique characteristic of his methodologyrevolutionized the study of metaphysics in Islam.The analysis of Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
on the question of existence, which is the main question in philosophy,differs from that of Ibn S
¢
n
¡
(d. 1037).
4
According to Ibn S
¢
n
¡
, the subject of the first philosophy is‘being
qua
being’ (
al-mawj
 £
d bim
 ¡
huwa mawj
 £
), meaning ‘the whole existent’ (al-
mawj
 £
d al-mu
§ 
laq
) and not ‘absolute existence’ (
al-wuj
 £
d al-mu
§ 
laq
). Ibn S
¢
n
¡
believed that ‘existence’ is ametaphysical element different from ‘quiddity’ and divided ‘existents’ (
mawj
 £
 ¡
) into twocategories- necessary (
w
 ¡
 jib
) and contingent (
mumkin
). He used the meaning of ‘existent’ (
mawj
 £
)in order to refer to ‘the existent’ itself, for pure existence, without other aspects, is not divisible intothe categories of necessary and contingent beings. According to Ibn S
¢
n
¡
, the thing that can bedivided into the necessary and contingent categories is the concept of ‘existent’ that can be eitheressential
(m
 ¡
huw
 ¢
)
or non-essential. Based on this, we must conclude that Ibn S
¢
n
¡
remainedfaithful to Aristotelian metaphysics, whose primary and direct concern is ‘the existent’ and whichconsiders ‘existence’ as a secondary issue.Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
focuses his attention on ‘existence’ (
wuj
 £
) rather than on ‘the existent’ (
mawj
 £
). Hebases his metaphysics on the principiality of existence and alters the course of traditional concernsin philosophy into a discussion of ‘existence’ (
wuj
 £
). As such, he finds it necessary to differentiatebetween the two meanings of existence. First, he defines the meaning of ‘the existent’ (
mawj
 £
) asthe secondary intelligible in philosophy. The existent, Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
believes, can be understoodthrough comparison and intellectual analysis. Second, he argues that the issue of ‘the concrete andextra-mental reality of existence’ (al
-
 ¦
aq
 ¢
qah al-‘ayniyyah wa al-kh
 ¡
rijiyyah li-l-wuj
 £
), which canbe understood through knowledge by presence (
al-‘ilm al-
 ¦
u
 ¤£
 ¢
)
.
5
 By shifting the emphasis from the existent to existence, Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
no longer categorizes thesynthesis of ‘existence’ (
wuj
 £
) and ‘quiddity’ (
m
 ¡
hiyyah
) as contingent (
mumkin
) or as dependenton the necessary (
w
 ¡
 jib
). He also shifts his emphasis from ‘essential possibility’ (
imk 
 ¡
n m
 ¡
huw
 ¢
) tothe ‘possibility in the sense of dependence’ (
imk 
 ¡
n faqr 
 ¢
). Finally, Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
concentrates on thedifferences between the levels of the ‘reality of existence’ (
 ¦
aq
 ¢
qat al-wuj
 £
) instead of thedifferences between the referent of the ‘necessary’ (
w
 ¡
 jib
) and the ‘contingent’ (
mumkin
), both of which relate to existence. He does not consider the differences between quiddity, existence and thecategorization of the existent (into necessary and contingent) as sufficient explanation for theexistent world created by God. Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
, however, uses this principle as the foundation of hisdemonstration of the ‘argument of the righteous’ (
burh
 ¡
n al-
 ¥
idd 
 ¢
q
 ¢
n
).
6
In this way, he infuses IbnS
¢
n
¡
’s spirit in his proofs, thus freeing himself from differentiating between the necessary and thecontingent in the existent.The primary concept in the metaphysics of Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
is the reality of existence. This conceptrefers to the evidential principles and the apriority of ‘to be’ (
b
 £
dan
) and ‘is’ (
hast 
). The opinion of Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
on this issue is different from that of Ibn S
¢
n
¡
. In his discussion of existence, in hisbook 
al-Shif 
 ¡
’,
in the section of metaphysics, Ibn S
¢
n
¡
begins by asserting that existence (
wuj
 £
) isone of the first and most fundamental concepts.
7
His exact meaning is that ‘the existent’ (
mawj
 £
)has priority and is self-evident; in other words, the concept of an existing thing (
shay’ mawj
 £
) isthat the thing exists. One cannot, however, interpret Ibn S
¢
n
¡
’s words to mean that existence is
 
primary and self-evident. In his book, a
l-Naj
 ¡
, Ibn S
¢
n
¡
uses the word ‘existent’ instead of existence:
We say that explaining and defining ‘the existent’ (
 mawj
 £
 d 
) is not possible, except as a nominal definition (
 shar
 ¦
al-ism
), for ‘existence’ (
wuj
 £
 d 
) is thebasis of every explanation and definition. Hence, the term ‘existent’ itself will not have a definition, but its form, without any intermediaries, willemerge in man's mind.
8
 
Ibn S
¢
n
¡
discusses ‘existents’ (
mawj
 £
 ¡
) as ‘the things that exist’. Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
’s concern is‘existence’ (
wuj
 £
) rather than ‘the existent’ (
mawj
 £
). Existence in his opinion is self-evident atthe level of ‘meaning’, which means that it is primary and self-evident (
bad 
 ¢
h
 ¢
). What is proven andunderstood directly is the definition of existence and not the existent. The definition of existence isindicative of the reality of existence, which encompasses all diverse stages and external objects inan indivisible and unified manner.The concept of existence is being and realization, either objectively or subjectively. And thisevident and universal concept is a subject of simple and luminous truth. This concept is simplerthan any concept. It is the first of all concepts and it is a manifestation of its own essence.Therefore, defining existence through one of its own manifestations is impossible, due to its intenseappearance and the scope of its definition. The concept of existence is something universal andcommon among all existents. And the reality of existence is simple and encompasses all contingentbeings, although in the mind it is extraneous to quiddities.
9
 It is important to note that although existence has a simple definition, in reality it is beyond anytheoretical analysis. Existence is not of quiddity, nor is it quiddity itself. We must therefore attemptto understand existence through knowledge by presence.
10
If someone were bestowed with thisknowledge, he would be able to achieve a unity that is the very unity of multitudes (
kathrah
) andthe diversification of multitudes (
tashakhkhu
 ¥¡
t kath
 ¢
rah
). This unity is neither a conceptual unity(
wa
 ¦
dat al-mafh
 £
m
), nor a generic unity (
wa
 ¦
dat al-jins
), nor is it a specific unity (
wa
 ¦
dat al-naw‘
). It is unity in an absolute sense (
wa
 ¦
dat al-i
§ 
l
 ¡
q
), which can only be comprehended by thetrue and the perfect gnostic. The gnostic philosopher, like the discursive sage, can present hisconceptual achievements through acquired concepts. These acquired concepts are the signifiers of truth, but are limited to a narrow conceptual scope. For example, based on our knowledge of ourself, we formulate the concept of ‘I’. The definition of this ‘I’ is a narrow concept as compared tothe real and presential truth [of I]. The same analogy can be applied to existence. Everyone knowswhat the word ‘existence’ means and everyone has some metaphysical intuition about it.From the point of view of metaphysics, this intuition can be explained by stating that the reality of existence is mysterious and hidden, even though the ‘conceptualization of existence’ is self-evident.Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
believes that the fact that something is self-evident does not mean that metaphysicallyit is clear and evident as well. He therefore aims to fully explicate the meaning of existence and itsnecessary principles in his philosophy.
The Primacy of ‘Existence’ over ‘Quiddity’: The most fundamental principle in Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
’s philosophy
 The most fundamental and important issue, which assists Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
in the explication of themeaning of existence and its necessary principles, is the primacy of existence over quiddity or theprincipiality of existence (
a
 ¥¡
lat al-wuj
 £
), which is particularly significant in his metaphysics.Mull
¡
 
¯
adr
¡
, who believed in the principiality of existence, adopted the view that the thing thatreally exists in the external world is existence. What he means by existence is the reality of existence and its degrees and modes. The external world’s equivalent for the mental combination

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