Tuesday, December 19, 2017

An important Safavid text of the masāʾil genre

I have previously written a blog post on the significance of the Safavid thinker Mullā Shamsā Gīlānī (d. c. 1064/1654), student of Mīr Dāmād (d. 1040/1631) and friend of Mullā Ṣadrā (d. 1045/1636). One of the works of his that is worth examining is his Investigations into the States of Beings, recently published by Mazda in California. I have previously mentioned it as forthcoming. I will later upload my introduction to it onto academia.edu as well.

You can find details about this from the Mazda website here. I also wrote the introduction which attempted to locate it within the philosophical corpora of the Safavid period. There is a slightly earlier edition of this text published by the Bunyād-e Mullā Ṣadrā based on the same collection of manuscripts although this edition includes one codex from Āstān-i quds-i rażavī in Mashhad. The Bunyād edition focuses on what distinguishes it from Mullā Ṣadrā and divides up the text into sections such as ontology, eschatology, the properties of bodies (physics), the problem of ontology primacy in contingents, and a final brief section on philosophical theology. It also names 18 questions - the Mazda edition names 20.

There are the following:
1) an epistemological preliminary on the distinction between self-evidence and acquired knowledge
2) on the nature of perception
3) on the intensionality of being
4) on the concept of being (being qua being or wujūd muṭlaq)
5) on the nature of causality - the rehearsal of the Avicennian proof for the existence of God
6) on the existence-essence distinction in contingents
7) on the simplicity of God
8) a critique of the notion of mental existence (which is unusual as the Avicennian tradition usually embraces the notion)
9) Fārābī and Mīr Dāmād on the being of contingents as beings of reason
10) on being super-added to essence in the mind
11) being is ontologically prior in contingents but as a conceptual priority
12) on the soul as separable substance and distinct from the body
13) on Avicenna's suspended person thought experiment
14) on the possibility of the return of the non-existent
15) on the impossibility of atomism
16) on the impossibility of infinite regress in matter
17) on the impossibility of the actual infinite
18) on contingent beings as beings of reason - another approach
19) on the denial that being is a universal
20) on the definition of a science

The Mazda edition is more faithful to the approach of Mullā Shamsā since it shows his adherence to the Mīr Dāmād reading of Avicenna in which the focus is upon being of contingents as purely posited in the mind and conceptually prior in the mind to essences. However, like Mīr Dāmād, he suggests that essences are produced by God in the causal chain of emanation and it is essences that are in extra-mental reality since only God truly is worthy of the title 'being'. So in terms of the formulations of Mullā Ṣadrā, only God is worthy of 'being', contingents possess the ontological priority of essence (aṣālat al-māhīya) in extra-mental reality and it is essences that are produced by God in the chain of emanation (majʿūlīyat al-māhīya). Mullā Ṣadrā compensates by going the opposite direction in asserting that only being is emanated and essences do not exist in extra-mental reality at all, and that the relationship between God and the cosmos through being is expressed in his principle of the simple reality encompassing all things (basīṭu l-ḥaqīqa kullu l-ashyāʾ).

As a witness to this particular reading of Avicenna that redefined the Avicennian tradition in the Safavid period and continued to have an impact until the Qajar period, this work is an essential read. One sees him debating with issues in the Sadrian reading of Avicenna. It also shows him responding to key questions - and in that way it resembles the Taʿlīqāt and Mubāḥathāt of Avicenna -  and also deeply engaging with the Avicennian traditions not only the works of Avicenna himself but also with his commentators such as Ṭūsī (d. 674/1274) through his commentary on al-Ishārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt and his Tajrīd al-iʿtiqād and subsequent glossators such as al-ʿAllāma al-Ḥillī (d. 725/1325), al-Sharīf al-Jurjānī (d. 816/1414), and Jalāl al-Dīn Davānī (d. 908/1502). Thus we can see how the Mīr Dāmād and Mullā Ṣadrā readings of Avicenna competed for supremacy in the later Safavid period and beyond, with the latter emerging as victorious by the time of Mahdī Narāqī (d. 1795) and ʿAlī Nūrī (d. 1831). 

No comments: