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

By Ibrahim Kalin | Go to book overview

II
MULLĀ ṢADRĀ’S THEORY OF
KNOWLEDGE AND THE
UNIFICATION ARGUMENT

2.1 ṢADRĀ’S ONTOLOGY

Ṣadrā’s defense of the unification argument is rooted in his general ontology. Definition of knowledge as a mode of existence is an attempt to redefine epistemology in terms of existence and its modalities. In this sense, Ṣadrā’s theory of knowledge is an exercise in his ‘gradational ontology.’ Very often we find Ṣadrā reverting back to his ontology before discussing a particular problem in epistemology. His constant references to the principality of existence (aṣālat al-wujūd) over against essence confirm the ontological weight of his thought. Therefore, we will begin with Ṣadrā’s ontological assumptions and work our way to his theory of knowledge and the unification argument.

The first observation Ṣadrā makes concerning existence (wujūd) is that it is self-evident (badīhī). Although a common theme in Islamic philosophy, this has a particular significance for Ṣadrā’s overall purpose to establish existence as the primary reality over against quiddity (māhiyyah). He develops a line of argument that can be summarized as follows: in everyday thinking, existential propositions do not present any particular problem. When we say ‘there is a tree in the garden’ or ‘stars exist,’ we have an intuitive grasp about the meaning of these statements: a tree, a horse, stars, my neighbor, the school building down the block ‘exist.’ i.e., they are within the realm of concrete and detectable existence. This minimal intuition

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