Knowledge in Later Islamic Philosophy: Mullā Ṣadrā on Existence, Intellect, and Intuition

Knowledge in Later Islamic Philosophy: Mullā Ṣadrā on Existence, Intellect, and Intuition

Knowledge in Later Islamic Philosophy: Mullā Ṣadrā on Existence, Intellect, and Intuition

Knowledge in Later Islamic Philosophy: Mullā Ṣadrā on Existence, Intellect, and Intuition

Synopsis

This study looks at how the seventeenth-century philosopher Sadr al-Din al-Shirazi, known as Mulla Sadra, attempted to reconcile the three major forms of knowledge in Islamic philosophical discourses: revelation (Qur'an), demonstration (burhan), and gnosis or intuitive knowledge ('irfan). Inhis grand synthesis, which he calls the 'Transcendent Wisdom', Mulla Sadra bases his epistemological considerations on a robust analysis of existence and its modalities. His key claim that knowledge is a mode of existence rejects and revises the Kalam definitions of knowledge as relation and as aproperty of the knower on the one hand, and the Avicennan notions of knowledge as abstraction and representation on the other. For Sadra, all these theories land us in a subjectivist theory of knowledge where the knowing subject is defined as the primary locus of all epistemic claims. To explore thepossibilities of a 'non-subjectivist' epistemology, Sadra seeks to shift the focus from knowledge as a mental act of representation to knowledge as presence and unveiling. The concept of knowledge has occupied a central place in the Islamic intellectual tradition. While Muslim philosophers haveadopted the Greek ideas of knowledge, they have also developed new approaches and broadened the study of knowledge. The challenge of reconciling revealed knowledge with unaided reason and intuitive knowledge has led to an extremely productive debate among Muslims intellectuals in the classicalperiod. In a culture where knowledge has provided both spiritual perfection and social status, Muslim scholars have created a remarkable discourse of knowledge and vastly widened the scope of what it means to know. For Sadra, in knowing things, we unveil an aspect of existence and thus engage withthe countless modalities and colours of the all-inclusive reality of existence. In such a framework, we give up the subjectivist claims of ownership of meaning. The intrinsic intelligibility of existence, an argument Sadra establishes through his elaborate ontology, strips the knowing subject of itsprivileged position of being the sole creator of meaning. Instead, meaning and intelligibility are defined as functions of existence to be deciphered and unveiled by the knowing subject. This leads to a redefinition of the relationship between subject and object or what Muslim philosophers call theknower and the known.

Excerpt

Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhim ibn Yaḥyā al-Qawāmī al-Shīrāzī (15711640), known as Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī and more popularly as Mullā Ṣadrā, is one of the most prominent figures of postAvicennan Islamic philosophy. His school of thought called ‘transcendent wisdom’ (al-Ḥikmat al-muta‘āliyah) has made a deep impact on Islamic philosophy in Persia, Ṣadrā’s homeland, and the subcontinent of India. Like his predecessors, Ṣadrā worked and composed his works from within the Islamic intellectual tradition and sought to combine the major strands of that tradition. As a diligent student, he dealt with all of the central problems of Islamic philosophy handed down from the Greeks to his own time. As a master, he made a number of important contributions to the form and content of those problems and introduced several new concepts. His relentless effort to dovetail revealed knowledge, (i.e., the Qur’ān), philosophical demonstration (burhān) and realized or mystical knowledge (‘irfān) has led him to span through the entire spectrum of classical and medieval philosophy from the question of existence and causality and to self-knowledge and knowledge of God.

This makes Ṣadrā an invaluable resource for the later history of Islamic philosophy. Tracing the sources of Ṣadrā’s thought is also a search for the soul of Islamic philosophy. the rich tapestry of ideas we find in this history bespeaks the resilience of the Islamic intellectual tradition after the influence of Hellenistic lore had considerably dwindled and many homegrown problems of Islamic philosophy had taken the center stage. To read Ṣadrā is to read the history of how persisting philosophical problems can be re-discussed, restated, and reformulated in new contexts. the fact that Ṣadrā was born into a world imbued with what we . . .

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