The Development of Metaphysics in Persia Part 11

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9. Glory or beauty in its intensity.

10. Perfection, which is the unknowable essence of G.o.d and therefore Unlimited and Infinite.



Under the rude Tartar invaders of Persia, who could have no sympathy with independent thought, there could be no progress of ideas. ?ufiism, owing to its a.s.sociation with religion, went on systematising old and evolving new ideas. But philosophy proper was distasteful to the Tartar.

Even the development of Islamic law suffered a check; since the ?anafite law was the acme of human reason to the Tartar, and further subtleties of legal interpretation were disagreeable to his brain. Old schools of thought lost their solidarity, and many thinkers left their native country to find more favourable conditions elsewhere. In the 16{th} century we find Persian Aristotelians--Dastur Isfahani, Hir Bud, Munir, and Kamran--travelling in India, where the Emperor Akbar was drawing upon Zoroastrianism to form a new faith for himself and his courtiers, who were mostly Persians. No great thinker, however, appeared in Persia until the 17{th} century, when the acute Mulla ?adra of S_h_iraz upheld his philosophical system with all the vigour of his powerful logic. With Mulla ?adra Reality is all things yet is none of them, and true knowledge consists in the ident.i.ty of the subject and the object. De Gobineau thinks that the philosophy of ?adra is a mere revival of Avicennaism. He, however, ignores the fact that Mulla ?adra's doctrine of the ident.i.ty of subject and object const.i.tutes the final step which the Persian intellect took towards complete monism. It is moreover the Philosophy of ?adra which is the source of the metaphysics of early Babism.

But the movement towards Platonism is best ill.u.s.trated in Mulla Hadi of Sabzwar who flourished in the 18{th} century, and is believed by his countrymen to be the greatest of modern Persian thinkers. As a specimen of comparatively recent Persian speculation, I may briefly notice here the views of this great thinker, as set forth in his Asrar al-?ikam (published in Persia). A glance at his philosophical teaching reveals three fundamental conceptions which are indissolubly a.s.sociated with the Post-Islamic Persian thought:--

1. The idea of the Absolute Unity of the Real which is described as "Light".

2. The idea of evolution which is dimly visible in Zoroaster's doctrine of the destiny of the human soul, and receives further expansion and systematisation by Persian Neo-Platonists and ?ufi thinkers.

3. The idea of a medium between the Absolute Real and the Not-real.

It is highly interesting to note how the Persian mind gradually got rid of the Emanation theory of Neo-Platonism, and reached a purer notion of Plato's Philosophy. The Arab Muhammadans of Spain, by a similar process of elimination reached, through the same medium (Neo-Platonism) a truer conception of the Philosophy of Aristotle--a fact which ill.u.s.trates the genius of the two races. Lewes in his Biographical History of Philosophy remarks that the Arabs eagerly took up the study of Aristotle simply because Plato was not presented to them. I am, however, inclined to think that the Arab genius was thoroughly practical; hence Plato's philosophy would have been distasteful to them even if it had been presented in its true light. Of the systems of Greek philosophy Neo-Platonism, I believe, was the only one which was presented in its completeness to the Muslim world; yet patient critical research led the Arab from Plotinus to Aristotle, and the Persian to Plato. This is singularly ill.u.s.trated in the Philosophy of Mulla Hadi, who recognises no Emanations, and approaches the Platonic conception of the Real. He ill.u.s.trates, moreover, how philosophical speculation in Persia, as in all countries where Physical science either does not exist or is not studied, is finally absorbed by religion. The "Essence", i.e. the metaphysical cause as distinguished from the scientific cause, which means the sum of antecedent conditions, must gradually be transformed into "Personal Will" (cause, in a religious sense) in the absence of any other notion of cause. And this is perhaps the deeper reason why Persian philosophies have always ended in religion.

Let us now turn to Mulla Hadi's system of thought. He teaches that Reason has two aspects:--(a) Theoretical, the object of which is Philosophy and Mathematics, (b) Practical, the object of which is Domestic Economy, Politics, etc. Philosophy proper comprises the knowledge of the beginning of things, the end of things, and the knowledge of the Self. It also includes the knowledge of the law of G.o.d--which is identical with religion. In order to understand the origin of things, we should subject to a searching a.n.a.lysis the various phenomena of the Universe. Such an a.n.a.lysis reveals that there are three original principles.[178:1]

(1). The Real--Light.

(2). The Shadow.

(3). The not-Real--Darkness.

[178:1] Asrar al-?ikam; p. 6.

The Real is absolute, and necessary as distinguished from the "Shadow", which is relative and contingent. In its nature it is absolutely good; and the proposition that it is good, is self-evident.[178:2] All forms of potential existence, before they are actualised by the Real, are open to both existence or non-existence, and the possibilities of their existence or non-existence are exactly equal. It, therefore, follows that the Real which actualises the potential is not itself non-existence; since non-existence operating on non-existence cannot produce actuality.[179:1] Mulla Hadi, in his conception of the Real as the operator, modifies Plato's statical conception of the Universe, and, following Aristotle, looks upon his Real as the immovable source and the object of all motion. "All things in the Universe," he says, "love perfection, and are moving towards their final ends--minerals towards vegetables, vegetables towards animals, and animals towards man. And observe how man through all these stages in the mother's womb."[179:2] The mover as mover is either the source or the object of motion or both. In any case the mover must be either movable or immovable. The proposition that all movers must be themselves movable, leads to infinite regress--which must stop at the immovable mover, the source and the final object of all motion. The Real, moreover, is a pure unity; for if there is a plurality of Reals, one would limit the other.

The Real as creator also cannot be conceived as more than one; since a plurality of creators would mean a plurality of worlds which must be circular touching one another, and this again implies vacuum which is impossible.[180:1] Regarded as an essence, therefore, the Real is one.

But it is also many, from a different standpoint. It is life, power, love; though we cannot say that these qualities inhere in it--they are it, and it is them. Unity does not mean oneness, its essence consists in the "dropping of all relations." Unlike the ?ufis and other thinkers, Mulla Hadi holds and tries to show that belief in multiplicity is not inconsistent with belief in unity; since the visible "many" is nothing more than a manifestation of the names and attributes of the Real.

These attributes are the various forms of a "Knowledge" which const.i.tutes the very essence of the Real. To speak, however, of the attributes of the Real is only a verbal convenience; since "defining the Real is applying the category of number to it"--an absurd process which endeavours to bring the unrelated into the sphere of the related. The Universe, with all its variety, is the shadow of the various names and attributes of the Real or the Absolute Light. It is Reality unfolded, the "Be", or the word of Light.[181:1] Visible multiplicity is the illumination of Darkness, or the actualisation of Nothing. Things are different because we see them, as it were, through of different colours--the Ideas. In this connection Hadi approvingly quotes the poet Jami who has given the most beautiful poetic expression to Plato's Doctrine of Ideas in verses which can be thus translated:--

"The ideas are of various colours in which the Sun of Reality reflects itself, and makes itself visible through them according as they are red, yellow or blue."[181:2]

[178:2] Asrar al-?ikam; p. 8.

[179:1] Asrar al-?ikam; p. 8.

[179:2] Asrar al-?ikam; p. 10.

[180:1] Asrar al-?ikam; pp. 28, 29.

[181:1] Asrar al-?ikam; p. 151.

[181:2] Asrar al-?ikam; p. 6.

In his Psychology he mostly follows Avicenna, but his treatment of the subject is more thorough and systematic. He cla.s.sifies the soul in the following manner:--

The Soul

Heavenly Earthly

Human Animal Vegetative


1. Preserving the individual.

2. Perfecting the individual.

3. Perpetuating the species.

The animal soul has three powers:--

1. External senses+ Perception.

2. Internal senses+ 3. Power of motion which includes.

(a) Voluntary motion.

(b) Involuntary motion.

The external senses are taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight. The sound exists outside the ear, and not inside as some thinkers have held.

For if it does not exist outside the ear, it is not possible to perceive its direction and distance. Hearing and sight are superior to other senses, and sight is superior to hearing; since:--

I. The eye can perceive distant things.

II. Its perception is light, which is the best of all attributes.

III. The construction of the eye is more complicated and delicate than that of the ear.

IV. The perceptions of sight are things which actually exist, while those of hearing resemble non-existence.

The internal senses are as follow:--

(1). The Common Sense--the tablet of the mind. It is like the Prime Minister of the mind sending out five spies (external senses) to bring in news from the external world. When we say "this white thing is sweet", we perceive whiteness and sweetness by sight and taste respectively, but that both the attributes exist in the same thing is decided by the Common Sense. The line made by a falling drop, so far as the eye is concerned, is nothing but the drop. But what is the line which we see? To account for such a phenomenon, says Hadi, it is necessary to postulate another sense which perceives the lengthening of the falling drop into a line.

(2). The faculty which preserves the perceptions of the Common Sense--images and not ideas like the memory. The judgment that whiteness and sweetness exist in the same thing is completed by this faculty; since, if it does not preserve the image of the subject, Common Sense cannot perceive the predicate.

(3). The power which perceives individual ideas. The sheep thinks of the enmity of the wolf, and runs away from him. Some forms of life lack this power, e.g. the moth which hurls itself against the candle-flame.

(4). Memory--the preserver of ideas.

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The Development of Metaphysics in Persia Part 11 summary

You're reading The Development of Metaphysics in Persia. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): Muhammad Iqbal. Already has 935 views.

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