To substantiate the claim that Spinoza and Mulla Sadra still lived in many respects in a common intellectual world, consider further their views on the hierarchy of knowledge. Aristotle, in the Posterior Analytics, describes three types of knowledge, “opinion”, “science” and “rational intuition.” Aristotle had no category for the knowledge afforded by religious texts, and theological writers –Christian as well as Islamic-revised his category to account for the truth of sacred writings and of revelatory expereinces, lest these fall into the category of “opinion.” Gnostic and neo-Platonic writings took “rational intuition” less in the Aristotelian sense of the apprehension of self-evident axioms or the appraisal of immediate sensory experience and facilitated the evolution of a specifically religious sense of intuition. “Intuitive knowledge “comes to describe the apprehension of unity and particularity, of particularity within unity and unity despite particularity. The three paths of knowledge according to Sadra are revelation (al-wahy ), demonstration or intellection (al-burhan, al-ta aqqqul ), and spiritual or “mystical” vision (al-mukashafah, al-mushahadah ).[^9]
Spinoza also has a tripartite scheme. It is hierarchical, and although Spinoza notoriously denied that the utterances of the prophets corresponded to knowledge, he preserves the religious and aspirational sense of intuitive knowledge which he describes as “the greatest endeavour of the Mind, and its greatest virtue.”[^10] He characterizes the three sorts of knowledge by reference to a homely example involving various tradesmen. They are given a sequence of numbers n, m, o, and they need to determine a fourth number p, such that n/m =o/p. The tradesman who remembers the rule p = m o/n that he has been taught and who applies it automatically is like the person who knows something “from particular things, represented to our intellect fragmentarily.” This corresponds to knowledge by hearsay, or opinion causally acquired. The second tradesman has learned the rule from Euclid’s Elements. He has symbolic knowledge, knowledge of the second type, for he sees why the rule follows from prior axioms. The third simply looks at the numbers, grasps the ratio intuitively, and experiences its necessity.[^11] Intuitive knowledge is identified with knowledge of “inmost essences.” Though the example is a mathematical one, Spinoza suggests that objects of experience as well can also be known “intuitively.”
The essences of singular, changeable things are not to be drawn from their series, or order of existing, since it offers us nothing but extrinsic denominations, relations, or at most, circumstances, all of which are far from the inmost essences of things. That essence is to be sought only from the fixed and eternal things, and at the same time from the laws inscribed in these things, as in their true codes, according to which all singular things come to be, and are ordered.[^12]
Such a conception of non-discursive knowledge of particulars recalls as Wolfson[^13] notes in his discussion, Ibn-Gabriol, who says that “the action of the intellect is the apprehension of all the intelligible forms in no-time and in no-place, without any investigation, without any labour, and without any other cause except its own essence, for it is completely perfect.”[^14] Similar
descriptions are employed earlier by St. Augustine and later by St. Thomas in characterizing perfect or angelic knowledge.[^15] Surprisingly perhaps, intuitive knowledge is standardly recognized in 17th century epistemology up to the time of Locke. The Paracelsian ideas that animated the English radical sects in the mid 17th century recalled the notion of a fusion of the knower and the known, and the absorption of the former into the hidden essence of the latter. For Paracelsus, healing is accomplished through a sympathetic identification with nature that enables the physician to become acquainted with the essences of the stars and plants, curative and poisonous drugs. Knowledge of the world in its particularities is knowledge of God and salvation is self-healing. These doctrines appealed to the opponents of school-philosophy who were looking towards the comprehensive moral and spiritual renewal of the world Thus Gerard Winstanley, the English radical reformer, writes in the 1640s:
To know the secrets of nature is to know the work of God. And indeed if you would know spiritual things, it is to know how the spirit or power of wisdom and life, causing motion or growth dwells within and governs both the several bodies of the earth below as grass, plants, fishes, beasts, birds, and mankind.[^16]
Now the notion that one can come to know spiritual things and thus be united with God through a direct intuitive experience of nature is not what we historians think of as typical 17th century Anglo-Continental epistemology. We understand under that heading Baconian and Cartesian claims about the importance of analytical methods. Discursive, not intuitive knowledge is required, and the methods leading to the truth are laborious and difficult. If mathematical relationships can still be grasped in an instant, essences, which turn out to be arrangements of particles, cannot. By the late eighteenth century, intuitive knowledge has been driven into a para-and sometimes counter-scientific metaphysics, and into aesthetics
But this is not yet the case for the post-Cartesian Spinoza. He says that immortality, for the philosopher, comes about through the possession of intuitive knowledge and is known introspectively. “The human Mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the Body, but something of it remains which is eternal.. And though it is impossible that we should recollect that we existed before the Body --since there cannot be any traces of this in the body...--still we feel and know by experience that we are eternal.[^17]
The ignorant man is driven by his appetites and constantly distracted, and, “as soon as he ceases to be acted on, he ceases to be,” whereas the wise man “is hardly troubled in spirit, but being, by a certain eternal necessity, conscious of himself, and of God, and of things, he never ceases to be....”[^18] The wise man experiences the intellectual love of God arising through the third kind of knowledge and this knowledge is indestructible and confers immortality. These claims has been found baffling by Spinoza’s recent commentators. Again it helps to have some background. The notion of an immortality-conferring intellectual endeavour can be traced back to an important passage in Aristotle’s De Anima III: 5 that reads as follows:
Actual knowledge is identical with its object: in the individual, potential knowledge is in time prior to actual knowledge, but in the universe as a
whole it is not prior even in time. Mind is not at one time knowing and at another not. When Mind is set free from its present conditions it appears just what it is an nothing more; this alone is immortal and eternal (we do not, however, remember its former activity because, while mind in this sense is impassible, mind as passive is destructible), and without it nothing thinks.
On the influential interpretation of this passage, offered by Averroes the human intellect rejoins the Active Intellect of the universe at the individual’s death. Aquinas glosses this passage and renders the connection between intuitive knowledge and immortality as follows:
Eternity differs from time in that the latter has its being in a kind of succession, whereas the former is all simultaneously. Now it has already been proved that there is no succession in the vision in question, and that whatsoever is seen in it, is seen at once and at a glance. Therefore, this vision takes place in a kind of participation of eternity. Moreover this vision is a kind of life, because the act of the intellect is a kind of life. Therefore, by that vision the created intellect becomes a partaker of eternal life.[^19]
There are two interesting aspects of this account of immortality. First it is generic rather than specific all individuals who attain it seem to experience the same afterlife. Second, it is intellectualistic. Aristotle says that life is “essentially the act of perceiving or thinking.”[^20] These features-genericity and intellectualism-- were welcomed by some philosophers, but they were found problematic by others, and they were not fully acceptable to most Christian and Islamic theologians. Ibn-Sina had remained in the Aristotelian tradition. Immortality is conditional upon an individual’s moving up the scale of enlightenment while undeveloped souls perish.[^21] But the Christian-Islamic doctrine of heaven and hell provoked philosophers to separate the question of eternal survival from the question of salvation. The good and faithful man, whether he is a philosopher or not, must be capable of salvation as far as religion is concerned, and the bad man cannot be spared the hell he deserves by annihilation.
Enough personality and capacity for pain and pleasure must remain in the afterlife for the notions of reward and punishment to make sense. Spinoza seems to stop short of a fully generic account of the afterlife, but he is frankly intellectualists, even when he appears to be speaking about the destiny of all men. That which remains of the good man after the death of his body is simply the divine idea of him and the personality it expresses. The divine idea of my personhood is perhaps best conceived as a thought or memory attributable to God, who is identical with nature taken as whole. The individual human mind is actually instantiated in or by two bodies; “mine” --so long as my body preserves its relationships of motion and rest--and, after this is no longer true, God’s, in virtue of his having the idea of my me. The bad man goes out of existence (though it is somewhat unclear why his essence is not just as permanent), while the philosopher enjoys immortality insofar as his essence becomes part of the whole of which it always was, and always will be, only a mode. The universe-God- continues to think the good man after death. In this sense he remains an individual.
Turning now to Sadra, we see that the theological requirement that both the good and the bad man be subject to or rewarded by the afterlife is firmly
in place. He too regards the individuality of the person as essential to an account of the afterlife. If Aristotle represents one extreme: an afterlife in which no trace of the former “conditioned” existence remains, Sadra’s conception belongs at the other. The bulk of humanity --commoners, women, children, craftsmen, (including doctors)-- experience, he says, an afterlife reflecting their lifelong involvement with matter.[^22] And each individual mind makes its own heaven or hell. The mind is active, not passive, in the generation of sensory or imaginal worlds. As the natural dispositions of the soul are seen to cause familiar external effects-blushing, pallor, shaking, illness, we can also understand how they can also make a world appropriate to them.
The “imaginal world” one of the most fascinating of Sadra’s concepts--is the third world that exists in addition to the world of material bodies and the world of intellects. In addition to extended forms and shapes of objects individuated by their matter, there can arise, Sadra says:
By mere volition… imaginal forms subsisting in no place, through the imaginal power which is separate from this world….Those forms do not subsist in the body of the brain, nor in the heavenly bodies, as some people have maintained, nor in a world of phantasmal images subsisting apart from the soul. Rather they subsist through the soul and exist in the domain of the soul.….Although now the being of these forms is weak, they are capable of becoming concrete particulars existing with a being even stronger than the being of material forms.[^23]
The imaginal power of a man is not dependent on the body and remains despite the decline and failure of this (bodily) frame. The unsoundness and passing away (of the body) do not pertain to its essence and its perceptions,…
After death it may conceive its essence as a man having the shape and dimensions of the form which he had in the world; and its (imaginal) body may be conceived as dead and buried.[^24]
The imaginal world does not exist “outside” the subject but it is not an interior delusion either. The essence of the good man after death is not absorbed into a totality; it creates the totality in which it is situated thereafter:
None of the things that a man sees and directly witnesses in the other world-whether they be the blessings of Paradise, such as …palaces, gardens, trees and streams…or the opposite sorts of punishment that are in Hell-- are outside the essence of the soul and separate form the soul’s being… No one should ask concerning the place and position of these forms, whether they are inside this world or outside it… The wellspring of all that a man attains and is requited with in the other world-whether it be good or evil, Paradise or Hell-is solely in his own essence, in such things as his intentions, thoughts, beliefs, and traits of character.[^25]