A Compilation of Islamic Philosophy and Theology [edited]

Chapter One: What is Philosophy?

This chapter tries to provide a definition of philosophy. Real universal sciences are often defined by their subjects. Thus, in order to define philosophy, we have to know its subject and for that purpose we have to know what the subject of science in general is. In treating the subject of science, we start our discussion by comparing philosophy with other real universal science considering the variety of questions they discuss(the scope of their realm).

The scope of philosophy To understand the range of philosophy, it is better to consider the following philosophical question:

Is there a reality outside the mind? If there is, is it a knowable reality? I f so, what, essentially, is knowledge?

Is there a substance called a ‘corporeal body ‘or there are only corporeal accidents, such a colour, shape, heat and so on?

If there is such a substance, is it compound or simple ?if it is compound , what is its simplest part?

Do accidents have any existence other than the substance they characterize?

Does God, that is a being who is the cause of all things but needless of any cause, exist?

Doe God have attributes? if so , in what way do these attributes exist? Are they identical with existence of God or different from it ? Are they limited or unlimited?

Does spirit exist? If so, is it material or immaterial? What about angles?

Is there life after death?

What is movement and where does it occur? Does it occur only in the attribute and accidents possessed by bodies or it takes place in the depth of their existence as well? Do time and space exist? If so, what is their reality?

Does the world have a temporal beginning and ending?

Does it have any spatially?

Does an existent become non-existent or vice versa? Once an existent become nonexistent is it possible to bring it back into existence.

These are a few of the issue discussed in philosophy. But a careful consideration of even these few questions will show how extensive the realm of philosophy is. It discusses both the mind and the external world. Its investigations range from the simplest parts of the body to spirit, angels and god. It studies the accidents and the appearance and also the essence and the depth of things. It concerns itself with all that exists in the world and in the hereafter, from time without beginning to eternity without end. Therefore, in contrast to other fields of learning, the philosophical search is not limited to a certain pare of the universe. Why is that so? The answer should be looked for in the subject of science and philosophy. In general, each real science has certain subject, which determines the range of its issues. The subject of each of the sciences encompasses only a certain part of the universe, but the subject of philosophy is general and inclusive.

The absolute existent and its laws

As it has been mentioned above, the laws of all science deal with the special existent and the one condition for the applicability of these laws to an existent is that the existent should have a special quiddity. Now, are there any laws whose application to an existent is not conditional by the special quiddity of that existent, so that its mere; existence ‘’ would suffice and the presence or absence of a special quiddity would be irrelevant? In other words, are there any laws that are laws of ‘’ being’’ rather than law of ‘’ being with a special essence’’, laws of the absolute existent than those of an existent qua its having a special quiddity, and in philosophical term, law of “being qua being”? The answer is yes.

Philosophical laws are indeed of this nature. For example, the law of causality (every essentially possible existent needs a cause) which is a philosophical law, includes every possible existent, whether that existent has or does not have a quiddity is a man, a horse, a tree, gold, or an angel.

The subject Of Philosophy To Summarize, the laws of sciences are the laws of the special existent and apply to an existent only qua its possessing an essential determination; the laws of philosophy, however, are the laws of the absolute existent and do not require that it should possess a particular quiddity as a condition of their application. We may conclude that the subject of all other sciences is the special existent, that is, an existent qua its special essential determination. All other science study existents once their quiddities are determination. In other words, the subject of all other science is quiddity while that of philosophy is existence or being.

The Definition of Philosophy

Keeping in mind its subject, we can define philosophy as follows: Philosophy is that field of knowledge in which characteristic of the absolute existent are discussed. It is that field of knowledge in which qualities of ‘’ being’’ are studied, and as is commonly said, it is that knowledge in which the states of an existent qua existent are discussed.


1- Besides philosophy is there any other science that may include all things within its realm? Why?

2- What is the subject of science and what role does it have in science?

3- What is the meaning of terms ‘’ special existent ‘’ and ‘’ absolute existent?’’

4- What is the criterion by which we can distinguish between philosophies?

5- What is the definition of philosophy?

6- What is the definition of philosophy?

7- Why the absolute existent is more general than the special existent and is there anything more general that the solute existent? Why?

8- Which of the following proposition are philosophical and why Every existent is either black or not black Every existent is either a cause or effects Every moving object needs a moving force The cause of the movement of many bodies is the gravity that exists between them. If some of the elements that contribute to the existence of water did not exist, water would not exist.

9- Consider the law ‘’pressure does not change the volume of water Say whether the subject of this law is the special existence and why? Rewrite it in a more form by applying the qualifiers ‘’qua’' to which science does it belong?


The two qualifies ‘universal ‘and ‘real’ are used in order to exclude fields of leaning that deal with particular facts, such as history and geography and conventional and arbitrary fields of scholarship, Such as literature and jurisprudence from our discussion.

For the sake of clarity in this chapter the term ‘’ science ‘’ has been used in contrast to ‘’ philosophy’’, and the term ‘’knowledge’’ and ‘’ learning’’ have been used in a sense more general than the other two. Therefore, by science here we mean all science other than philosophy.

Insteadof the familiar term ‘’the subject of knowledge or learning’’ so that it may include philosophy as well.

For further explanation, see Mortada Mutahari, Majmauah Asar (collected worked) (Qom, Sadra Publication 1371) vol.6 pp. 469 - 473

Changing proposition 1 into proposition 2, which is more exact shows that intellectual the true subject of this law is heart and its metaphorical (unreal) subject is man. In philosophy in order to show this kind of truth and metaphor (unreality) we use the term ‘’ qua’’ which is used in proposition 4 and say ‘’man qua possessing heat is subject to the thermal exchange law. The meaning of this expression is that man’s possession of heat mediates so that man can be subject to such a law. In other words, instead of ruling that heat is subject to such a law, the intellect rules that man is subject to it is man who has heat. Therefore man’s possession of heat has been a medium so that the intellect can metaphorically attribute the law related to heat to man. Technically, in such cases philosophers say that heat acts as ‘’a medium in the occurrence ‘’ or that it is ‘’a qualifying aspect ‘’ so that the intellect could rule that man is subject to the thermal exchange law. In philosophy, distinguishing the true subject of one stipulation from its metaphorical subject and determining the medium in the occurrence are very important and the qualifier ‘’qua’’ is often used for this purpose. For further treatment of this topic see Collected Works, vol. [^5]:n.pp.496 and 498

See Avicenna, Al-Shifa,Al-llahiyyat (Theology) ,(Qom, the library of Ayatullah al- Maraashi al-Najafi, 1404 AH) pp. 10-[^12]:See also collected Works, Vol.5,p. 130 and also p.131

See collected Works, vol.[^5]: 130 and 131.

See also inid. Vol 6, pp. 59(No.2) - [^64]: