186 - To Be, Continued: Mullā Ṣadrā on Existence

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Mullā Ṣadrā, the greatest thinker of early modern Iran, unveils a radical new understanding of existence.



Further Reading

• J.W. Morris (trans.), Mullā adrā: The Wisdom of the Throne (Princeton: 1981). 

• S. Meisami, Mulla Sadra (London: 2013).

• S.H. Nasr, adr al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī and his Transcendent Theosophy (Tehran: 1997).

• F. Rahman, The Philosophy of Mullā adrā (Albany: 1975).

• S. Rizvi, “Process Metaphysics in Islam? Avicenna and Mullā Ṣadrā on Intensification of Being,” in D.C. Reisman (ed.), Before and After Avicenna (Leiden: 2003), 233-47.

• S. Rizvi, Mullā adrā Shīrāzī: his Life and Works and the Sources for Safavid Philosophy (Oxford: 2007).

• S. Rizvi, Mullā adrā and Metaphysics: Modulation of Being (London: 2009).


davlat on 28 July 2014

a comment and a request

hello Prof. Adamson,

enjoyed the podcast. one quibble though: towards the end of the podcast you said that Sadra thinks "all of existence is in constant motion". strictly speaking, this isn't true. from what i gather, he seems pretty clear that substantial motion only holds at the level/degree of material being. in fact, he even goes as far as to equate "being in motion" with "being material/a body".

also, seeing that you'll be treating the issue in the next podcast, i'd be curious to know your thoughts about the stance of the opposing side here:

thanks in advance!

In reply to by davlat

Peter Adamson on 29 July 2014


I think there is a problem in Sadra's theory in that the level of the divine (noted by Rahman, I think I mention it in the next episode), and in particular the Platonic Forms, seem to be unchanging whereas everything else is in substantial motion - but insofar as tashkik goes hand in hand with motion we don't really want him maintaining that standard Platonist picture of a flux-ridden world and a stable intelligible realm. I think most Sadra scholars want to say that God Himself is dynamic in His relation to all things and that terms like the breath of the merciful are supposed to reflect this. Hence I would say that on balance the best reading has Sadra maintaining universal change/motion but also retaining some metaphysical elements for the intelligible that don't sit so well with the overall theory. Would be interesting to see what other Sadrians think though.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

davlat on 30 July 2014


"[...] but insofar as tashkik goes hand in hand with motion [...]."

does it though? i'm more certain that it doesn't than i am that it does due to passages like as these (the only one i have in front of me at the moment unfortunately):

و (الجسم) ابداً في التحول والسيلان والتجدد والانصراف والزوال والانهدام. فلا بقاء لها (...). و بها يرتبط الحادث بالقديم, لأن وجودها بعينه هذا الوجود التدريجيّ و بقاءها عين حدوثها, و ثباتها عين تغيّرها

"And [the corporeal] is permanently in a state of change, flow, renewal, rupture, cessation, and destruction. Therefore, there is no permanence to nature [...]. And it is through [nature] that what is temporal and what is eternal are connected, because its wujud just is [bi'aynihi] this gradual wujud; its subsistence is its very generation, and its stability is its very change." (Kitab al-Masha'ir, VIII., tr. S.H. Nasr, with modifications).

In reply to by davlat

Ajmal on 30 July 2014



I think, Davlat, from the quote you provided, it is apparent that sadra is ONLY talking about the nature (being corporeal). Whether he thinks ALL things are in the state of motion is something not apparent in the quote.

In my opinion, it is not sure whether - in line again with the quote you provided - he extends substantial motion to metaphysical objects or not, but I think, as professor Adamson has mentioned, he (sadra)could simply stay in line with Ibn Arabi's idea that eventhough God seems like in some sort of motion (nafas ar rahmaan), it is the relation of God via His attributes due to which we apprehend substantial motion in God, while God in His essence is constant.

Joe on 3 August 2014


when did Aristotle's theology get recognized as a work of Plotinus rather than that of Aristotle in the Islamic World?

In reply to by Joe

Peter Adamson on 5 August 2014

Arabic Plotinus and Aristotle

That isn't fully clear. The preface to the so called "Theology of Aristotle" (in fact a part of the Arabic Plotinus) says it is by Aristotle, so the confusion arises there; then the question becomes who wrote this (part of) the preface and when. Probably we're talking 9th century, either in Kindi's circle itself or in the early reception. Farabi (or whoever wrote "On the Harmony of the Two Philosophers," who should at least be a contemporary of Farabi if not Farabi himself) already knows that the Theology is (supposedly) by Aristotle and he is first half of the 10th century, so no later than that in any case.

By the way I wrote the article on the "Theology" on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy so you can check that out for further info (I also wrote my first book on this text).

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Plotinus on 6 August 2014

quick followup

Thanks, will check out the SEP. My question then is how should we understand Mulla Sadra's use of the Theology of Aristotle? Is it that he reckognizes the Theology is a work by Plotinus that nevertheless correctly explains Aristotle, or is it that he is outside the mainstream and thinks this is a work of Aristotle or is it something else entirely/we just don't know?

In reply to by Plotinus

Peter Adamson on 6 August 2014

Sadra on the Theology

Actually this comes up in next week's interview with Sajjad Rizvi, who mentions that Sadra does quote the "Theology" as a work by Aristotle himself. So I guess that is what he in fact thought, but to be honest it may not even matter since the "Theology" had built up a certain aura of authority that could probably have survived doubts about whether it was in fact by Aristotle himself.

questorer on 14 September 2014

connections between So-Crates and Jesus

do you see a link between "socrates syndrome" and Western world's "passion narrative" of Jesus?

In reply to by questorer

Peter Adamson on 14 September 2014

Socrates and Jesus

No, I don't think so. I would say it's more an extension of the (actually quite reasonable) idea that philosophy should, or can be at least, a critique of social norms and of authority. After all philosophy asks us to reflect on our beliefs and see if they are really justified, so it goes well with such critique. Then that leads to the next natural thought, which is that a "real" philosopher is bound to run into trouble with the authorities who he or she criticizes. In fact though this seems to be rare, in part because philosophy has historically often been about many other things besides social or political critique. And in fact philosophers have more often than not been members of the ruling elite!

Hoom on 10 December 2016

things only differ in their intensity of existence?

Am I right to understand that Mulla Sadra thought that things only differed in their intensity of existence? How does he explain the fact that things appear to be different in more than one dimension? e.g. how would you rank a giraffe, a white horse, 15 different black horses, and a brown foal in order of their intensity of existence?

In reply to by Hoom

Peter Adamson on 10 December 2016

Intensity of existence

Well, first of all it might be that individuals within a given species (e.g. various horses) share the same degree of intensity and differ only "in number". I'm less sure about, e.g. a horse vs a giraffe - perhaps he could even say that the whole genus of non-human animals shares a degree of existence but I think probably he can't, since he wants to replace essences with intensities of existence. Still I don't believe there is any attempt to give a rank ordering of all species in levels of existence in Sadrian philosophy, it is usually handled more generically than that. We'd have to find texts on the question though, maybe someone else knows.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Alexander Johnson on 14 March 2019


As i was listening, i thought it sounded like how white light is pure light, but blue light is pure light but with everything but blue blocked, and red light has everything but red blocked, and purple light has everything but blue and red blocked.  Any possibility this is the intended reading?  You can still apply "in number" (as seen by the RCY numbers, or in vector addition).  This would then allow Life to be more intense "in number" in one of the gradiants (the light shade of "life"), possibly with viruses getting a very low shade of life, and animals getting a very high shade.

In reply to by Alexander Johnson

Peter Adamson on 14 March 2019


Nice thought but I'm afraid that can't be right as a reading of Sadra's intended reading, I don't think he would have known that white light is a fusion of all colors. I bet he would like your idea though!

Farooq on 20 August 2022

Similarity with Hegel

Do you find it something similar to what Hegel says about being and becoming.

In reply to by Farooq

Peter Adamson on 20 August 2022

Sadra and Hegel

Hm, well I am not the world's biggest Hegel expert but I don't really think so. I think Hegel's dialectic has a different structure and also is historically embedded in a way that seems not to apply to Sadra. But if you want to say what you think they have in common I would be interested to hear it!

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