The long chains of correct reasonings and calculations of which subjective logic is justly proud are only possible within a precisely defined universe of discourse, as has long been recognized. Since there are many such universes of discourse, thinking necessarily involves many transformations between universes of discourse as well as transformations of one universe of discourse into another. The results of applying logic in the narrow sense to the laws of these objective transformations are necessarily inadequate…—
Sets for Mathematics
(Lawvere and Rosebrugh 2007, pp. 239–240).
Surely those who possess the kernels of nexal-consciousness know that the way of guidance to what is there cannot be known except by what is here!—Imām ʿAlī ibn Mūsā al-Riḍā
, in the course of his debate with the Hermeticist ʿImrān al-Ṣābīʾ.
The terminology and other linguistic devices that Shaykh Aḥmad uses to express the outcomes of his cosmological meditations belong to his
. Within the object language of the Shaykh we do not find Arabic translations of words such as
’. The latter terms belong to the
within which we seek to explain the philosophical content of our Shaykh’s
, as well as to give it its proper context in the field of Islāmic philosophy. The scholastic philosophical terminology inherited by Shaykh Aḥmad was largely inadequate for the purpose of expressing a dialectical philosophy. As he sublated this terminology, the Shaykh did not coin any term that will exactly translate either
’. But once we have examined his object language precisely, we will see that the terminology in our meta-language perfectly captures the philosophical intentions of our Shaykh. So at this point we must get more precise about our meta-linguistic terminology.
Traditional Aristotelian and scholastic metaphysics (including pre-Awḥadī Illuminationism) is largely an exercise in
in the scholastic sense. The word
’ is unfortunately used quite loosely in Western intellectual discourse pertaining to Islāmic philosophy. Used precisely it has two standard senses relevant to our discussion of the
of Mullā Ṣadrā and of Shaykh Aḥmad. These are the scholastic, Parminidean sense and the modern-logical, meta-linguistic sense.
The Scholastic, Parminidean Sense
In the traditional scholastic sense:
is a branch of metaphysics concerned with being per se (existence and essence are special cases of being). The word
’ was popularized by Christian Wolff (d. 1754
). Wolff identified ontology with
; this corresponds very closely to
) in the terminology of Sabzawārī. In general, ontology in this sense considers
categories of being, grasped by rational thought, and derived abstractly via rational first principles and deduction. The axioms are (supposedly) known to be true via the intuitive activity of the
): This is called
. This sense of
’ may also be called the
sense, after the pre-Socratic Parminides, arguably the founder of ontology in this particular sense.
The Modern-logical, Meta-linguistic Sense
In the modern-logical sense: Given a philosophical theory, its associated
involves the universe of discourse constituted by objects, properties, and internal mappings whose existence is in some sense necessary in order for propositions expressed within that theory to be true. That philosophical theory may or may not be metaphysical; its subject matter could even be mathematical or scientific. The proponent of a given theory may or may not be aware of the ontology entailed by that theory; the proponent of that theory may not even be committed to the existence of the objects in the entailed universe of discourse. The sentences in a given philosophical theory itself belong to the object-language of that theory; generally, the sentences used in the effort to determine the ontology of a given theory belong to a meta-language with respect to that theory. So in a meta-language with respect to a given theory, one attempts to determine the ontology expressed by sentences in the object- language of that theory.
Shaykh Aḥmad does
do ontology in the scholastic, Parminidean sense. Parminides stands in opposition to his contemporary Heraclitus, who did not take being per se as the sole locus of reality. As we have indicated, the Shaykh was closer in spirit to the dialectical approach of Heraclitus rather than to the ontological approach of Parminides, whose focus on being per se dominates the entire history of Western metaphysics, including Islamic philosophy.
On the other hand one can ask the logical question: What kinds of objects have to exist as a necessary condition for propositions expressed within Shaykh Aḥmad’s dialectical metaphysics to be true? The answer to this question is not as straightforward as one might suppose. This is because the very notion
cannot be taken in isolation. The very question is still trapped within the confines of being per se. Ontology in the logical sense involves a single universe of discourse per philosophical theory. Now we could force an answer to the question about the Shaykh’s so-called
. But that would be unnatural or
(quoting Lawvere and Rosebrugh in the above epigraph). We could say,
but that would be misleading and confusing. It is much better to speak of
universes of discourse
(plural) in a dialectical unity with one another. Shaykh Aḥmad is explicit (Aḥsāʾī 2009, Vol. 2, p. 293–294):
It has been firmly established in
), through the
proof of Wisdom
), that all of the motes of existence, of both the invisible and invisible realms, including [what are traditionally classified as] substances and accidents, are [at once] correlational accidents and also correlational substances. What is meant is that a given substance is actually an accident in relation to its cause from which it has emanated; and that cause is an accident to its own cause, and so forth. Similarly, we may say that a given substance is a substance with respect to its accident, and that a given accident is a substance with respect to that which subsists through it.
To the traditional practitioner of ontology in the scholastic, Parminidean sense, this is utterly outrageous. In ontology the concepts
are fixed abstractions. An Aristotelian substance is a locus of being in an absolute sense, not a relative one. But what Shaykh Aḥmad is saying is that whether or not something is a substance or an accident depends on the perspective of the universe of discourse from which one looks at it. Within one universe, a given thing may appear to function as a substance; with respect to a higher universe, it functions as an accident. The mapping from the higher universe (locus of relative
) to the lower universe (locus of relative
) is what the Shaykh calls
. His more common technical term for this mapping is
’). Within a single universe of discourse, within an
ontology in the modern logical sense, what our Shaykh is doing appears odd. The now banal, oft-repeated fiction that Shaykh Aḥmad did not understand philosophical terminology begins to be mumbled. But when we switch to a conceptual system of multiple universes of discourse within a dialectical unity, when we move from
universes of discourse
, then we see that what the Shaykh says makes perfect sense.
Ontology in the scholastic sense, particularly as practiced in post-Avicennan Islāmic philosophy, from Naṣīruddīn Ṭūsī and Suhrawardī down to Mīr Dāmād and Mullā Ṣadrā, became obsessed with dualisms and solving those dualisms via reductionist abstractions. The entire existence-essence controversy that dominated later Illuminationist debates is a case in point:
is a concept of being;
is a concept of being. These two concepts are inconsistent with each other: Reality is therefore the extension of only one of them. It cannot be an extension of both concepts because then each thing would be two things. This would lead to an infinite regress; and so on. Thus the essentialist (such as Aristotle, Suhrawardī, or Mīr Dāmād) can only with great difficulty account for the genuine unity of the cosmos, if at all. And the existentialist (such as Mullā Ṣadrā or Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī) can only with great difficulty account for genuine multiplicity, if at all. For Shaykh Aḥmad (indeed, for any dialectical or process philosopher), such are the dead-ends of ontology.
The spirit of (the legendary) Hermes, Lao-Tzu (Taoism), Heraclitus, Shaykh Aḥmad, Hegel, and Whitehead suggests a way out of these reductionist dead ends. The chasms and dualisms that ontology proper derives largely result from committing the fallacy that Alfred North Whitehead calls the
“fallacy of misplaced concreteness”
. This is the fallacy where the intellect abstracts from its experience of external reality (or some significant subsystem of it) a set of concepts, and then identifies the external world with the extension of one or more of those concepts on the basis of conceptual analysis. Often, the concepts involve some binary opposition or mutual incompatibility (such as mind versus body, spiritual versus material, or existence versus essence). In such a case one either has to pull an intellectual high-wire act and maintain both concepts (dualism), or else abandon one of the concepts and identify reality (or some significant subsystem of it) with the extension of the other concept (reductionism). This is exactly the pit that Islāmic scholastic philosophy fell into (Aḥsāʾī 2009, Vol. 1, pp. 279–280):
I noticed many of the seekers penetrating deeply into the divine sciences, and supposing that they have penetrated deeply into the[ir] intended meaning – but it is only a deep penetration into
), nothing more…
In the effort to overcome the fallacious dualisms and/or reductionisms entailed by traditional scholasticism, we must leave ontology behind and seek recourse to
. The expression
’ itself is due to Hegel; the sense in which we are using it here is due to the contemporary mathematician William Lawvere (a deep and critical student of Hegel’s dialectic). Lawvere contrasts its sense with that of
’ (see the epigraph above). As a formal science, objective logic is a relatively new and very abstract discipline, closely connected or identified with that branch of mathematics called category and topos theory, of which Lawvere is one of the seminal developers. Yet the formal development is inspired by a very old idea, one that finds it roots in Hermeticism, Taoism, alchemy, and most importantly for the purposes of our Shaykh, in the teachings of the Qurʾān and the Ahlulbayt
. It’s not as though other philosophers or intellectuals never read these sources; the problem is that the cobwebs of Greek-influenced thought and other alien influences kept getting in the way of the presuppositionless movement of consciousness:
The symbol of those who have taken comforters in lieu of Allāh is that of the spider: It builds a house and moves into it. Yet the most flimsy of houses is indeed the spider’s house. If they could only know!
the Qurʾān sets up two universes of discourse: the world of those who go outside of the
) of God, and the world of the spider. Two points ensue. First, in stepping outside of the four-way system of categories and the presuppositionless objectivity required to seek truth by means of that framework, the
of God is now getting mixed with alien absolute axioms and principles. The result is manifested in the dead-ends of the flimsy framework that is ontology. Second, this
provides an example of objective-logical grasping, of the movement of objective-logical consciousness between those two universes of discourse.
But how does can the mind or psyche grasp any
connection between the symbol and the symbolized? From the perspective of ontology, this is all nice to meditate upon, but in the end it’s just an analogy, not a demonstration per se. The very next
And those are the symbols we propound to the people and no one is nexally conscious of them except the knowers.
Here the verbal form of the gerund
’ is being used. As
) and especially
begin to take over the educated discourse of Muslim civilization, the original dynamic meaning of this gerund and verbal noun was lost, being replaced with all sorts of Neoplatonist-inspired abstractions that totally divorce intellectual
. Thus the Intellect becomes, in yet another ontological dead-end for our scholastic, Neoplatonist, and Illuminationist philosophers, an absolutely
) substance immune from process, even from creation.
However, based on the use of the verbal noun and gerund
’ in the Qurʾān and the
of the Ahlulbayt
, the primary use of the word is to refer either a) to a very particular kind of
of consciousness that constitutes a
; or b) to a
locus of prehension
) within the microcosm (beyond the mind or psyche per se) which constitutes that which actually
that faculty. This movement of consciousness involves grasping the
) between the universe of discourse of the
, on the one hand, and the universe of discourse of the
, on the other. According to the
, only the
can exercise this objective logic correctly and
the cogency of its movement: The fruit of this objective logic is, according to our Shaykh, a higher knowledge belonging to a
locus of prehension
) higher than that of the mind or psyche, viz., that of the very
Even in the locus of prehension constituted by the mind or psyche, rules to specify the cogent movement of thought from one universe of discourse to another, to codify objective logic, were never developed by Aristotle or within the Aristotelian tradition, including the Avicennan and Illuminationist traditions. As one practical consequence, Aristotelian logic gives no path to the derivation of his famous ten categories of thought. It is only recently that mathematicians have begun to discover formal rules for objective logic with respect to the locus of prehension constituted by the mind per se. Objective logic as a formal science is rather abstract and has a reputation for being quite formidable, even for the mathematically inclined. Part of this author’s current research is to make the project of objective logic more accessible and clear at an informal level. Briefly:
In one’s thought and meditation on some significant
subsystem of the world
) around or within one’s self, one seeks to
that subsystem within a system of concepts that will to a significant degree
the reality of that subsystem. That system or class of concepts (of objects, properties, or processes) will then, for a given set of investigators, constitute a mutually agreed-upon category (i.e., universe of discourse). The observer seeking to mirror that subsystem of the world, to the degree that one is engaged in a genuine struggle to reflect that subsytem, is engaged in
Once a system of concepts is defined, we can identify or express propositions in that universe of discourse. Some of these propositions we may identify as
that we hold to be true: From them we try to deduce other propositions implied by those axioms. If the axioms are true, then every proposition deduced from those axioms is also true. The rules of thought governing the effort of deduction are
in the sense that thought is now restricted to movement within a single universe of discourse or category. Even if the axioms are false it does not affect the rules governing deduction: The cogency of a chain of reasoning that actually shows that some proposition is logically implied by a given proposition does not depend on whether or not the given proposition is true or false. That is, the correspondence (or lack thereof) of a given proposition to some subsystem of the world has no bearing on the movement of thought to deduce that the given proposition implies another proposition of interest. Yes, in order for the deduction to constitute a proof of some proposition of interest, the premises must all be true. But the chain of reasoning to establish a relation of implication between the premises and the conclusion does
depend on the truth of the premises. By virtue of these points Lawvere calls deductive logic
Let us extend this idea. Operating strictly within a given category or universe of discourse constitutes a
endeavor. There are many such universes; each discipline of human investigation may contain within it many other categories. The science of mathematics is one example, where each major sub- discipline constitutes a category within the larger universe of mathematics. Thus algebra consists of certain objects and relations that constitute a particular category. The same goes for topology. But these categories
be thought of as cut off from one another. Sometimes one gets stuck on an algebra problem. In order to solve it, maybe a concept from topology will help. Or vice versa. Can we turn an algebraic problem into a topological one? or a topological problem into an algebraic one? In the effort to do this one has to figure out how to translate concepts from one universe of discourse to another. In the movement from one category to another new concepts may be discovered that will enrich research in both categories. Put another way, each original category itself may find itself transformed in important and fundamental ways, and new categories may be discovered. Indeed, a study of the
transformations between topology and algebra resulted in a new branch of mathematics, algebraic topology.
The movement of thought from one category to another is analogous to the movement of the thought of the investigator in one’s effort to
the world (or a subsystem of it). Speaking from a cosmological perspective: The investigator oneself is a universe, a
seeking to reflect within oneself the
, the world external to oneself. From this point of view we can view
as involving stepping outside of a given universe of discourse of interest into another, accompanied by the effort to translate that other universe into the given one and vice versa. This could be the effort to translate the fact of the macrocosm (or a significant subsystem of it) into a system of concepts and objects of thought. But it can also involve the movement of thought from one category into another and back. This study of the cogent movement of thought to translate or transform the concepts of objects, properties, and mappings of one category or universe of discourse to those of another, with a view towards critiquing and clarifying the original concepts and deriving new ones, is the science of objective logic.
A terminological note: We use the word
’ to denote the world itself (microcosm and macrocosm) or any subsystem of the world; this is very close to, if not identical, in sense to the Arabic
’. The opposite of
. Fact (and fiction) contrast with
’; we use
’ to denote or name the object of thought that is grasped by the mind. A special kind of conceptual entity is the
: A proposition is the proper bearer of the properties true and false (in the narrow sense of
’ and of
’). The expression
’ denotes what in Islāmic philosophy is called
heart of the matter
state of affairs
Given an expression or linguistic symbol (word, name, phrase or sentence): It
its sense (viz., the conceptual entity grasped by the mind) and
its denotation (viz., the actual fact that is being named). With this in mind, let’s mention one of the key discoveries of modern logic. In the words of Lawvere and Rosebrugh (Lawvere and Rosebrugh 2007, p. 239):
The long chains of correct reasonings and calculations of which subjective logic is justly proud are
only possible within a precisely defined universe of discourse
, as has long been recognized. [My emphasis]
Thus a sentence expresses a true proposition or a false proposition within a specified universe of discourse. But there is a third possibility: If, for example, a given sentence predicates a property belonging to one universe of discourse of an object belonging to another, one runs the real risk of making a
. A sentence which expresses a category mistake is neither true nor false; rather, the object of thought it expresses is incoherent. In Islāmic intellectual thought, the closest Arabic word to capturing this is
Shaykh Aḥmad was very aware of the above points. One of his main accusations against the
is that they consistently and persistently make category mistakes. He could see this clearly because in his dialectics he always operated within a framework of multiple (yet objectively intertwined) universes of discourse. His opponents could not get his point because they operated within a single universe of discourse, a single ontology (in the modern-logical sense of
’). And a single ontology or universe of discourse constitutes a
box, in the sense of
’ explained above.
Thus given two categories or universes of discourse, or within a single universe: Rather than speaking of of
, instead we speak of
. That is, the question of how one category is objectively mirrored or transformed into another category itself involves a struggle with and discovery of dialectical contrasts between the two categories.This dialectical contrast will more precisely mirror the general movement of the subsystem of the world that is being investigate. The emphasis on rigid conceptual distinctions within scholastic ontology generally incurs the dire risk of running afoul of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness discussed earlier. The natural flow and the interlocking unity of the continuous and the discrete in macrocosmic and microcosmic
is cut asunder in a purely ontological conceptual analysis.
As an example, consider the north pole and south pole of a magnet: Conceptually these are two very different
. But there is no such
as a north pole or a south pole. Rather, we have are two modal extremes of a unified and continuous electromagnetic field. Using a Hegelian object-language of dialectics, we say that the north pole and south pole each constitutes a
of the electromagnetic field. A moment of any fact is a modality of that fact that is inseparable from the whole. Actually Shaykh Aḥmad has precise terms that he often uses to make exactly this point, viz.,
coterminous’, ‘dialectically inseparable
coterminousness’, ‘dialectical inseparability
’). Thus a strong dialectical strain runs throughout the cosmological meditations of Shaykh Aḥmad. The notion of the movement of consciousness and reality between pairs of
) – as it occurs
universes of discourse as well as
any particular one of them – constitutes one of our Shaykh’s most ubiquitous themes.
The job of the philosopher is not one of conceptual abstraction per se. One’s job is to, without presupposition, allow the consciousness of a given locus of prehension(thought, nexal consciousness, or, ultimately, unitary consciousness) to simply follow the flow of a given fact (subsystem of the world) and identify the universe of discourse or category (with its associated objects, mappings, and dialectical contrasts) that best mirrors that fact. Then examine another fact and once again identify the category that best mirrors it. Then struggle for the
) between them. Then reevaluate the original categories to begin with in light of the insights that come out of that struggle. Then repeat.
In the immediately preceding paragraph we alluded to an additional point that must be taken into consideration in the context of the philosophy of Shaykh Aḥmad.
is particular to the locus of prehension that is constituted by what is normally called the
. Thought in this sense is a special case of something more general, viz, consciousness. So where we spoke in the immediately preceding paragraphs of, e.g., the movement of
, we may speak more generally of the movement of
. According to Shaykh Aḥmad there are fundamentally three types of consciousness relevant to philosophy, each corresponding to its own
locus of prehension
): that of intelligent thought (mind), that of nexal consciousness (heart), and that of unitary consciousness (
One of the most important applications of this dialectical method is to the old scholastic problem of existence and essence. The concept and fact of existence or
being qua for-other-than-itself
is always relative to a particular category. Essence or
becoming qua for-itself
is always relative to a particular category. In a higher category, a moment of
being qua for-other-than-itself
becoming qua for-itself
. In a lower category
becoming qua for-itself
being qua for-other- than-itself
. Building on the earlier point that substantiality and accidentality are correlational, not absolute: In Shaykh Aḥmad’s cosmological hierarchy of universes essence and existence are always correlational and form a dialectical pair of contrary opposites (Aḥsāʾī 2009, Vol. 1, p. 591):
Know furthermore that the accidentality of each thing we have mentioned is the
) of its need to its contrary. So the accidentality of existence is the mapping of its need, with respect to
, to essence. The accidentality of essence is the mapping of its need, with respect to
, to existence. Due to this the accidentality of each one follows the entityness of the other.
There are a number of things that flow from this dialectic of existence and essence. For one, the discussion of essence and existence is removed from the straitjacket of a purely
analysis of words and their meanings (even one allegedly backed up by a particular kind of intuitive experience, as in the case of Mullā Ṣadrā). Through cosmological meditation and the application of presuppositionless objective-logic, the original
(the singular form of
’ is intentional here) behind the concepts can be followed via nexal consciouness and, more precisely, via the unitary consciouness of the blaze-heart.
Another point of this dialectic lies in its entailed
. In our presuppositionless meditation, when we consider the appearance and reality of a given fact, we see that it
itself to intelligent thought via its structure. Yet, with respect to that fact, our
) actually intuits the reality or content of that which lies behind its structure, i.e., its
). (The word
’) is used by Shaykh Aḥmad as a precise technical term: It is used to mention the actual reality or realization of a given fact. This technical usage must not be confused with the use of
’ to mention the
of an expression.) The
constitutes the reality behind the
) that presents itself to consciousness. That is, that structure or form of fact owes its realization to the reality or
of that fact. And the realization of the fact remains invisible to consciousness until it manifests itself to the world around it via some form or structure. We thus have a new dialectical contrast, that of realization and manifestation, as mentioned explicitly by Shaykh Aḥmad in the quote above. We can speak of this as the dialectical unity of metaphysics and phenomenology.
The content of this philosophical observation is captured in the following comprehensive dialectical principle enunciated by Imām Ṣādiq
, arguably the most important inspiration and guide for the cosmological meditations of Shaykh Aḥmad:
Servitude [yielding and receptivity, mirror, diversity, essence, yin, manifestation, microcosm, subjectivity] is a jewel whose ultimate reality is lordship [acting and activity, light, unity, existence, yang, realization, macrocosm, objectivity]. So what is missing in servitude is found in lordship; what is hidden in lordship is attained in servitude.
We will provisionally call this the Cosmic Dialectical Principle. The implications of this principle for the philosophy of Shaykh Aḥmad and for dialectics in general are far beyond the scope of this chapter. The expressions in square brackets hint at the principle’s broad range of application.
Following this dialectic, and in a brilliant application of Occam’s Razor, Shaykh Aḥmad now makes one of his most ingenious moves: Matter (content) is identical to existence; form (structure) is identical to essence. The second half of this sentence is not controversial in the history of ontology in the Parminidean sense; the first half is very much so (and was largely met with misunderstanding on the part of the traditional
) with essence is non-controversial because this is basically what Aristotle does anyway; his theory of substance or locus of being builds on the idea that what makes an
a being is its essential structure which, following Plato, is called
. The essence is just the essential form or structure from the perspective of the problem of
“What is it?”
Now the identification of the
(whose locus in turn is identified with
per se) with the
is perhaps the most fundamental axiom of Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysical thinking. Spoken or unspoken, this principle or axiom underlies the entire spectrum of ontological speculation, from Platonism to Peripateticism, to Neoplatonism, to Classical Islāmic Philosophy, to Illuminationism. The same goes for Western metaphysics and ontology: Even Hegel, despite his discovery of metaphysical dialectics and deep study of Heraclitus, explicitly emphasized the indispensable role of this principle in his own thought. Thus the main reason that both Plato and Aristotle identify being with essential form (structure), not matter (content), is that matter per se is not capable of being grasped by intelligent thought. Declared neither real nor intelligible, matter is only potential, i.e., only potentially real. That which is intelligible to rational thought is, per se, structure (form or essence).
, and this can hardly be emphasized enough, follows this presupposition
. Intelligibility in traditional
, following Plato and Aristotle, is a faculty of the
), in the traditional Peripatetic sense of
’. In the Shaykh’s prehensology (i.e., his phenomenology of the three
loci of prehension
) alluded to above), the faculty of
is capable of grasping the
of a given fact (i.e., its
This faculty of
is not the faculty of
that is denoted by the same name in the systems of the traditional
; rather, it is the activity of nexal consciousness particular to the heart of a given individual. The faculty of intelligent or rational thought in the sense that the traditional
understood it (i.e., passive or active
) constitutes, in the philosophy of Shaykh Aḥmad, only a very narrow mode of nexal consciousness. Put another way, when the
(passive reason or passive intelligence)
), they are using
’ in a very narrow sense; when they speak of the Universal or Active
), they are using
’ in a very narrow sense.
However, in the broad sense of
’ as nexal-consciousness, matter can indeed be intuited. One reason this works is because the matter of a given fact, its
being qua for-other-than-itself
, in a higher category constitutes a mode of
becoming qua for-itself
with an associated structure. Thus it can be intuited objective-logically. Furthermore, we find that,
matter carries many of the characteristics of existence: unity, unconditioned, and so forth. There remains only one step to enable the final identification of matter with existence. One of the great contributions of Mullā Ṣadrā to metaphysics lies, not so much in the doctrine that existence is
) whereas essence is not, but in establishing that the concept
really has an extension in external reality at all. Further, existence is an
principle. He could not identify existence with matter because the latter is, as we have explained above, a purely
) principle, not a real one. According to Aristotelian
: In the relation between matter and form within a given entity or substance, form constitutes the locus of being and the active principle; matter constitutes a purely passive and potential principle.
Shaykh Aḥmad now takes the needed step. According to Shaykh Aḥmad’s
: In the relation between matter and form within a relative entity or substance,
matter is the active and acting principle
. Going further, the relationship between matter and form is no longer understood within a static ontology but within a dynamic dialectics. Form is no longer the active or actualizing principle within a substance, nor is form now merely passive or potential:
Form is the receptive and responding principle
. Henry Corbin (1983, p. 264) points to this as a metaphysical revolution on the part of our Shaykh. On the surface this is indeed the case. But the real revolution lies in Shaykh Aḥmad’s move from an
metaphysics and Aristotelian
metaphysics and Hermetic
Another result of the Cosmic Dialectical Principle: Every entity (or universe) can only be
“What is it?”
) in terms of its relationship to other entities (or other universes). Within each given
) there are six
) or essential properties; these are expressed in terms of three dialectical contrasts: quantity and quality, space and time, and finally,
). A full discussion of all six is far beyond our scope. For example, the notion that space and time are essential features of a given entity has wide ranging implications for cosmology. The notion that quality and quality are essential features of a given entity implies a very rich theory of color. In the context of this essay, the last dialectical contrast is the most relevant: Each entity, microcosmic (such as a human being) or macrocosmic (such as the physical universe), constitutes a
(a generalized category or universe of discourse) with an associated objective and directed
to another one. In cosmology Shaykh Aḥmad emphasizes the
between the origin of creation and any particular creation. Thus
an entity or substance cannot be defined without taking its higher and lower objective mappings or functors into account
The ultimate purpose of dialectical metaphysics and objective logic is the
) of God and of the world in the broadest sense of
’. The fascinating way Shaykh Aḥmad applies the dialectic to the general problems of theology, cosmology, and eschatology are beyond our current scope. In the remainder of this chapter we will focus on only one issue in dialectical theology. It is a useful place to end our discussion for at least two reasons: It summarizes a critical point in the philosophy of the Shaykh that is often misunderstood; and it provides an anchor to help put the criticisms of the Shaykh by other philosophers into perspective.
In theology, whether based in mysticism or rational theology, there are three approaches to propositional knowledge of God: positive, negative, and
). According to positive theology, given an adjective (such as
’) that expresses a concept of perfection which can be applied to something other than God, that adjective means the same thing when we apply it to God. This may lead to anthropomorphism or pantheism. According to negative theology (in a strong sense of
’), given an adjective that expresses such a concept of perfection, it does not, in any way, express the same concept when we apply it to God. If one is not careful, this can lead to
) or a form of agnosticism. Ismāʿīlī thought, which negates even being of God, is often accused of this. According to analogical theology, an adjective that expresses such a concept of perfection
mean the same thing when applied to God or creation, but there is a
of intensity in the extension of that concept from inconsequential to infinity. The danger to avoid here is some form of panentheism (as distinct from raw pantheism). The Illuminationists of the school of Mullā Ṣadrā follow a form of analogical theology.
At each stage in the dialectical ascent of objective logic, nexal consciouness intuits the matter behind the form of the fact that is being meditated in its relation to some other fact. At each stage of the vertical movement, within each
) one encounters contrary opposites in dialectical contrast. What is intuited as matter is found to still manifest itself with a dialectical structure of continuity and discreteness, of existence and essence, of being and becoming, of choice and determination, of space and time, and so forth. But with persistent application of cosmological meditation on the
(macrocosms, large scale universes of discourse) and on the
(microcosms, small scale universes of discourse) eventually the locus of prehension that is the
) opens and the goal of
of God is achieved.
Here a new, phenomenological topos is entered, corresponding to a very special universe of discourse (category). Every dialectical contrast vanishes, and every attribute of perfection stands in a
) with, not its
opposite, but rather its
opposite. God is Far in His Not-Farness and Not-Far in His Farness; God is Near in His Not-Nearness and Not-Near in his Nearness; as expressed so often in the teachings of Ahlulbayt
. This phenomenological
topos of cognizance
, the reality of one’s self
manifestation and the manifestation of God
reality. In this topos the fact corresponding to
“Whoso has known one’s self, thereby has known one’s Lord”
, both realized and manifested. When one steps out of the topos of cognizance and looks back at it, one sees that this very act of cognizing God through the blaze-heart leaves a very precise shadow on the mind as
Between God and creation there is no continuity; between God and creation there is no discontinuity
. This corresponds
to two things: It corresponds to the way that God describes Himself
in the Qurʾān and the
; and to the Way that God describes Himself
, via the topos of cognizance, to the core unity of reality and manifestation within the servant. The core unity of reality and manifestation within the servant constitutes the very
of God to the servant, via the blaze-heart of that servant that is, in fact, that very servant. That topos of cognizance is recognized once every distinction and dialectical contrast within the microcosm is bracketed. Put another way: This
topos of the cognizance of the
reality of the self constitutes both God’s description of Himself to the self as well as the very reality of the self. When one steps out of the immediate phenomenological presence of the topos of cognizance and looks back upon it, the servant sees that the topos of cognizance stands in perfect correspondence to each node in the four-part system in which the journey of presuppositionless meditation began.
Space does not allow us to go further here, and this author has said more elsewhere (albeit in a somewhat different context). A final objective-logical point, in the words of the Imāms al-Bāqir
Anything that you discriminate through your prehensions, in its deepest meanings, is created like you are, and is reverted to you.
does not extend to God (i.e., extension of concept) in
objective propositional truth
); Shaykh Aḥmad is no Ismāʿīlī. The concept
does not extend to God in the
; Shaykh Aḥmad is no Ṣūfī. But neither does the concept
) extend to God in the
: The Illuminationists are only fooling themselves, according to our Shaykh. The
of the followers of Mullā Ṣadrā takes the issue of pantheism or panentheism, the doctrine of the radical immanence of God, and raises it to a higher level so as to remove the stigma of panentheism, let alone pantheism. Transcendence is affirmed in principle, but even more so is immanence via
). But our Shaykh is not fooled by this. Even further: Based on an ingenious objective-logical sublation of ontological terminology,
the univocity of
as well as
the equivocity of
’ are negated (unfortunately space does not allow us to follow his argumentation here).
Ḥawāshī ʿalā Sharḥ al-
), Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī takes issue with the Shaykh’s rejection of the
’. First he attempts an argument from authority, which he knows proves nothing. Then tries to rescue
via an appeal to an alleged distinction between
analogical gradation in the general sense
analogical gradation in the specific sense
). But he gives the reader little clue as to the exact propositional content of
; he says only, in effect,
‘it’s very difficult
’. But the entire point of theoretical
, from the time of al-Kindī onwards, is to achieve and to express propositional knowledge of
) to the best of human capability. Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī’s appeal to expressions such as
’ is just as vacuous as Mullā Ṣadrā’s appeal to locutions such as
’) to take the panentheist sting out of some of his more daring propositions. When we read Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī’s marginal notes on
, we find him over and over again falling back on what amounts to claims of higher meanings that cannot be expressed in a clear propositional form (
). But that is fundamentally
Shaykh Aḥmad elsewhere acknowledges that sentences promoted by the existential illuminationists, such as
‘The simple reality is, in its simplicity, all matters
’, may have some interpretation that corresponds to the philosophical
“But if the hermeneutic of the text is correct [inwardly] then the expression is void. And if we take it on its outward meaning then it is void both outwardly and inwardly”
(Aḥsāʾī 2009, p. 595). The critical point is that the way the concept and reality of
are posed in Mullā Ṣadrā’s existential illuminationism involves a category mistake. The topos of cognizance cannot be grasped by
discontinuity. This is, in part, why the Shaykh rejects both the univocity of
’ as well as its equivocality.
So the attempt by Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī to escape Shaykh Aḥmad’s criticism of
in its single-universe-of-discourse ontological version fails. When God is included in
then one can never reach the limit: The conceptual point in the universe of
where the Names of God express one identical Concept can be approached as a infinite limit, but never actually be reached. If it could be reached, the entire point of
would be vitiated and we are back to panentheism, even pantheism. Only in the topos of cognizance – via the shadow left by the blaze-heart on the locus of prehension that is mind– does the simultaneous negation of both continuity and discontinuity, of both transcendence and immanence, take place. In the corresponding topos of cognizance,
, as well as
are identical in every respect and every way. There is no other mapping or functor to or from this
It begets not, nor is it begotten
Finally, towards the end of his notes, Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī takes our Shaykh to task for affirming contradiction in the
with respect to God. After all, even the most elementary student of logic knows that a given pair of contradictory opposites constitutes a set of properties that is mutually exclusive (they cannot be joined together) and jointly exhaustive (each object must be one or the other). Joining together contradictory opposites cannot be conceptualized, let alone realized, he alleges. Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī’s mistake lies in the fact that he is not aware of the notion of a universe of discourse; his system of
constitutes a rigid one-universe-of-discourse ontology (in the modern-logical sense of
’ as we’ve explained earlier). There are a couple of points to be made here.
First, for the purposes of
we need a special universe of discourse that is a shadow of the topos of cognizance. Contradiction in that single, solitary category cannot be conceptualized within the distinctions of conceptual understanding in some universes of discourse, but they can be conceptualized in other categories. In mathematical objective logic (category theory) it is well known that the law of excluded middle (
“Either A is the case or not-A is the case”
) does not generally hold hold in a mathematical topos. Furthermore, in a universe fundamentally characterized by continuity, not discontinuity, it is also the case that the law of excluded middle does not hold. Contradictory opposites are not always jointly exhaustive. It is actually amazing that the existential Illuminationists did not discover this, given the continuous-field nature of their ontology of existence. Furthermore, there are also universes of discourse (in the context of
of logic) where some contradictions can be true.
Second, we have to remember that Shaykh Aḥmad is operating in full awareness and application of the universe-of-discourse framework. The chains of implication of a given proposition remain within the universe of discourse. Now, given a contradiction, it implies
within its universe of discourse
. Given the contradiction
“2 is even and it is not the case that 2 is even”
, it implies
proposition in the universe of discourse constituted by natural numbers and their properties. An infinite number of the propositions implied by that contradiction are false; therefore that contradiction is also false. But the contradiction
“2 is even and it is not the case that 2 is even”
imply the proposition
“Leaves are green”
. To suggest that the former does logically imply the latter is to commit a category mistake.
Now the situation in that single, singular universe of discourse which corresponds to the topos of cognizance is different. As mentioned, there is a mapping from the phenomenological topos of cognizance to that category of thought within which we can express true propositions about God
God. And each true proposition about God
God is either a tautology or a contradiction
within that category
. Given a contradiction in this singular universe-of-discourse, such as
“God is Near and it is not the case that God is Near”
, it also implies infinitely many propositions. But none of these propositions can escape the universe of discourse, and each of them is true. Indeed, in the unique category corresponding to the topos of cognizance, every contradiction is also a tautology, and every tautology is true.
can only approach this category one-sidedly; it always leans to one side of the opposition (continuity). Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī objects that allowing contradictions to be predicated of God has the negative consequence that God is, at once, a necessary and a contingent being. But contingency does
belong to the singular universe of discourse that corresponds to the topos of cognizance, and thus is not the contradictory opposite of necessity: another category mistake!
So Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī’s claim of sophistry misses the point entirely and is without merit. From the vantage point of a rigid ontological metaphysics he and his students such as Mullā Ismāʿīl Wāḥidu al-ʿAyn, Mullā Muḥammad Jaʿfar Lāhījānī, and Sabzawārī (each of whom attempted a response to some of the Shaykh’s criticisms of Mullā Ṣadrā) could not understand Shaykh Aḥmad’s dialectical philosophy or his objective logic.
This takes us back to an earlier observation. Although he did not explore the dialectical content proper to Shaykh Aḥmad as such, Henry Corbin does insist that it was the
of Isfahan who didn’t understand Shaykh Aḥmad, not the other way around; and that Shaykh Aḥmad knew
what he was doing. Given Corbin’s deep love of and preference for Persian philosophy and Persian philosophers, this says a lot. Furthermore, there was never, at any point, an attempt by Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī or his students to systematically refute the
of our Shaykh. The banal statements, repeated over and over in books and articles on Mullā Ṣadrā’s philosophy in Eastern and Western languages, to the effect that Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī and his students successfully responded to or refuted the Shaykh, or that the Shaykh didn’t understand philosophy, can no longer be uncritically accepted on their face.
Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī is illustrative of the collective hurt feelings and schizophrenia exhibited by the mainstream philosophy establishment of Isfahan with respect to the
of Shaykh Aḥmad. In the course of his annotations, ʿAlī Nūrī’s pendulum swings from extreme praise to charges of sophistry. This reflects very mixed and, ultimately, unresolved feelings about both the philosophy and the person of Shaykh Aḥmad. His notes on
also illustrate the often very cursory, even at times superficial, reading of the Shaykh’s work in philosophy on the part of the Mullā and his students. Sabzawārī restricts himself to some rather obscure notes on introductory comments Shaykh Aḥmad makes in his
Commentary on the Treatise on Knowledge
). Mullā Ismāʿīl only reaches about 5 out of 127 pages of
, and only 70 out of 840 pages of
. Shaykh Aḥmad himself responded to many of the criticisms and misunderstandings, as did an admittedly very small number of his students, but, as Corbin points out,
“no one has paid any attention”
(Corbin 1993, p. 356). Of the four philosophers of Isfahan who made even a cursory attempt, it appears to this author that the one who came the closest to
the Shaykh, and who perhaps made the best effort, is Mullā Muḥammad Jaʿfar Lāhījānī (author of his own commentary on
). This entire matter deserves a full study in its own right.
At the same time, the critical remarks made by the
of Isfahan should not be allowed to obscure the fact that, whereever they did understand the Shaykh, and even in some places where they did not, they thought he was nothing short of brilliant. Mullā Muḥammad Jaʿfar Lāhījānī, despite rejecting some of his criticisms of Mullā Ṣadrā, gives Shaykh Aḥmad the same status in knowledge and virtue as Mullā Ṣadrā. Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī and his chief students did not, in general, oppose the philosophical doctrines or insights of the Shaykh outright or
. Careful perusal of the record shows that, in many instances (including throughout Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī’s
), they went to great pains to make the case that Shaykh Aḥmad and Mullā Ṣadrā were, in fact, saying the same thing but in different languages.
To a certain degree the
of Isfahan were on to an important thought, although they never came into full possession of it: Mullā Ṣadrā’s doctrine of the extra-mental, extra-conceptual reality of existence; and his doctrine of
) are very important precursors to the dialectical metaphysics of Shaykh Aḥmad. Our Shaykh himself alludes to this: Upon reviewing a number of different theories of the relation of essence to existence, he says that the existentialist Illuminationist position is the one closest to his own (Aḥsāʾī 2009, Vol. 9, pp. 757–758). We will return to this theme in the final section of this chapter.
Hi there, I’m still working my way slowly through this very exciting chapter. Just a quick question to ensure I’m on the right track. You have “One of the great contributions of Mullā Ṣadrā to metaphysics lies, not so much in the doctrine that existence is principial (aṣīl) whereas essence is not, but in establishing that the concept “existence” really has an extension in external reality at all.” I assume at the end of this sentence, you meant to say “after all”, not “at all”. That would make sense to me.
Hello, for what it’s worth, I’d like to say how happy I am, and how privileged I feel, to have come across your work with Shaykh Ahmad. Thank you. I have your dissertation and a couple of other essays, and just a few days ago, I discovered this site and last night, read the chapter above. I’m looking forward to your further work on, and translations of, this obviously great thinker (and it would seem, so much more than a thinker). In a paper you say that you have critically edited and translated ‘The Wisdom Observations’, to be published soon as two volumes. When will this happen?
I read on one of the blog posts, I think in a comment thread, something of interest written by Dr. Samawi Hamid. He said that according to the Quran and Ahlul Bayt (as), evil, like death, is a creation of Allah. This is in opposition to the opinion posited by philosophers such as Mulla Sadra who say that evil is simply a lack of good. It suffices to look at Suratul Falaq to see that the Quran does in fact speak of evil as a creation.
Suppose I accept the view that evil is a creation of Allah. How does one then refute the argument of the skeptical philosophers who would claim that this entails that Allah is evil? In other words, how could an omnibenevolent Creator create evil? This is especially problematic if we take into account the ontological arguments (burhan al-siddiqeen) which are used to establish the existence of Allah on rational grounds. These arguments usually have a step in the argument whereby it is claimed that that all the perfections of existence must originate from the Necessary Existent (wajib al-wujood) in an absolute way. It is from this that we understand that while we observe power as a perfection in existence, the Necessary Existent must be All-Powerful. And similarly for knowledge, life, goodness and all other existential perfections. It is from this that we able to make the jump from claiming that there is a Necessary Existent (which could be anything; energy, or some lifeless unknown cause) to the claim that Allah is the Necessary Existent. Based on this argument, if evil is in fact a creation, then it seems that we must conclude that the Necessary Existent is Absolute Evil (na’ootho billah.)
On the view that evil is a lack of good, the argument of the skeptics is completely dismantled, as seen in Shaheed Mutahhari’s work Divine Justice (Adl-e-Ilahi). My question is how does one answer the question on the view presented by Dr. Samawi Hamid (which I’m presuming he is getting from Shaykh Ahmad Al-Ahsa’i.)
My apologies for the length of the question, but I hope my question is well understood inshaAllah. If not I can elaborate further.