A muta’alih argument against ‘existence’ as instantiation

A ‘quiddity’ is simply that which makes something the kind of thing that it is – excluding anything that isn’t constitutive of its identity as that thing. Example: equinity, whatever its content, is a quiddity by virtue of which a horse is a horse and not, say, a cow. In its meaning, equinity or horseness excludes any property that isn’t essential to horses qua horses, like e.g., being white, swift, a particular size, etc.

Now what is ‘existence’ (wujud) and its relation to quiddity? Does it belong to quiddities themselves or does it belong the individual things out there in the world that we experience daily, like that horse of over there in the barn? Similar to contemporary (Fregean-Russelian) analytic philosophers, suppose someone holds that ‘to exist is to instantiate some quiddity’. Example: the statement ‘a horse exists’ would mean ‘the quiddity equinity has an instance’. On this view, existence would be something like a non-constitutive attribute of quiddities; it would not belong or characterize individual objects out there in external reality, at least no primarily. The reason is because ‘instantiation’ itself concerns quiddities, not individuals – e.g., the statement ‘Dhuljanah is instantiated’ or ‘has an instance’ makes no sense but ‘equinity has an instance’ (i.e., Dhuljanah) makes perfect sense. Primarily, therefore, ‘existence’ would be a property of quiddities, though not a property included in their very definition. This is arguably one way to understand the claim that ‘existence is an i’tibar ‘aqli – that is, a construct of the intellect’s activity on the quiddities it conceptualizes, and not some real feature of the concrete external object itself from which said quiddity is abstracted. Perhaps the Shaykh al-Ishrāq held something like this view.

The argument against the above, from the Kitāb al-Mashā’ir III.2.22, is as follows (my translation):

.فلو لم يكن للوجود حقيقة إلا مجرّد تحصّل الماهية, لم يكن حينئذ فرق بين الخارج والذهن, وهو محال

“If wujud didn’t have a reality other than the mere instantiation of a quiddity, then there wouldn’t be any difference between the extra-mental and the mental, which is absurd.”

Ta’liqa (تعليقة): a quiddity is univocally instantiated both in the mind and in external reality. But, the one has āthār (effects) which the other does not. Example: the quiddity fire, when instantiated in external reality, is hot, when instantiated in the mind, is not. Therefore, existence can’t be the mere instantiation of quiddity.

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10 thoughts on “A muta’alih argument against ‘existence’ as instantiation

  1. Salam friend.

    “If wujud didn’t have a reality other than the mere instantiation of a quiddity, then there wouldn’t be any difference between the extra-mental and the mental, which is absurd.”

    This is a nice and elaborate argument against the concept of such.

    But, how can ‘a quiddity is univocally instantiated both in the mind and in external reality’ be proven? Can you elaborate on this premise of yours?

    Thanks.

    Salam

  2. salam friend,

    if the two weren’t the same, knowledge of the horse would be impossible. but we do have knowledge of it. therefore, just qua equinity, the concrete horse in the barn and the concept of horseness in the intellect are the same.

    1. Salam again.

      May be not.

      We do have the knowledge of the horseness by observing a particular horse (or many horses) and infer that there must be a universal idea of horseness.

      But this idea of horseness in the mind is not the same as outside the mind (extramental reality). That is because outside the mind, we have particulars which are composed of accidental qualities. But is this the case with the universal idea of horseness?

      In addition, even in the extramental reality we cannot and do not ponder the horseness qua horseness, but only inference of its presence (its mawjudiyat). Hence, we cannot conclude that the mental and extramental existence of horseness is univocal; because we do not comprehend horseness qua horseness at the first place.

      Thoughts?

      Salam

      1. salam.

        “But this idea of horseness in the mind is not the same as outside the mind (extramental reality). That is because outside the mind, we have particulars which are composed of accidental qualities. But is this the case with the universal idea of horseness?”

        right, but i’m not saying the idea itself of horseness in the mind is the same as the horse outside the mind. i’m saying qua equinity, the idea in the mind and the horse outside the mind are the same. remember: the quiddity ‘equinity/horseness’ is not the same as the universal (concept of horseness) in the mind.

  3. salam friend.

    Hope you are fine.

    Right. That is granted. Mental and extramental IDEA of horseness in that case is univocal because if that was not the case, as you mentioned, we would not grasp what is it to be a horse both mentally and extramentally.

    To extend it, what do you think would constitute the instantiation of the essence in to existence of a particular horse qua horseness in the extramental reality? If such is the case, how can a universal idea devoid of any particular characteristics (such as height, weight, facial expression, etc..) would be the cause (not the ultimate cause) of particular features?

    Be safe.

    salam

  4. salam.

    what the essence would be the cause of is technically called ‘property’ (khaasah). it wouldn’t be the cause of every attribute/feature that the particular horse may have. for example, in our case, our essence is the cause of us having the property of ‘risibility’ (i.e., the ability to laugh), but not, say, the attribute/accident of ‘being white’ or some particular height. they’re due to matter and its concomitants.

    1. Salam.

      That is interesting.

      Well, again, whatever attribute it causes, or property, again, can the essence qua essence contain such properties? If yes, then how can a concept or idea contains such, and if no, how can IT cause some properties that it does not contain?

      That is my question. If our essence is the cause of us having the property or potency to laugh, then it must also be the cause of potency to cry, walk, talk, and utility of reason, what constitutes the differences between these concepts in the essence? If it is the essence that contains these properties, that is unlikely because in that cause it won’t be universal anymore, and if does not contain these, how could it cause something that it does not contain?

      Also, being of a particular heingt or colour cannot be due to matter because if that was the case, all the material beings would be of a similar height and colour: hence, such attributes cannot be due to matter, but it (the matter) being a receptacle to these attributes which must be caused by something other than matter.

      Salam

      1. salam.

        yes, the essence contain such properties, but not as (what’s technically called) constituents (muqawwimaat). the ability to laugh, cry, wonder, talk, etc., are all due to the fact that we’re rational animals – and rationality is a constituent of our essence. (walking, etc., is not a property (khaasah) because other animals possess it). the essence contains such properties as (what’s technically called) ‘necessary concomitants’ (lawaazim). They emanate from our essence in the way that the property “interior angles of 180°” flows from, or is a necessary concomitant of, the definition of ‘triangularity’.

        “If it is the essence that contains these properties, that is unlikely because in that cause it won’t be universal anymore, […].”

        why not? the definition of a universal is ‘that the conception of which does not preclude it from being predicated of many things’.

        when i said the particular height, color, etc., is due to matter i meant in the sense of the particular body, genes (in the case of animals), etc. of the individual thing in question. in another sense, it’s due to form, since things like height and color are accidental forms, but the point is that such forms neither flow from nor are constitutive parts of our essence as such.

  5. Salam.

    That is granted, that “the ability to laugh, cry, wonder, talk, etc., are all due to the fact that we’re rational animals – and rationality is a constituent of our essence.” That mentioned, the acts emanated from the essence is up to the one acting in a free (will) manner, hence his essence not being the cause of his actions but his actions being the cause of his essence performing whatever willed by the willer.

    ” … why not? the definition of a universal is ‘that the conception of which does not preclude it from being predicated of many things’”. This is clarified as per above.

    Salam

    1. Salam.

      “his acts emanated from the essence is up to the one acting in a free (will) manner, hence his essence not being the cause of his actions but his actions being the cause of his essence performing whatever willed by the willer.”

      My claim was that his essence is the cause of the “capability” i.e., potency, of laughing, not the “actual” (action of) laughing at some time (in his life) which, you’re right, is up to his will.

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