What’s the exact relation between God’s existence and that of everything else? The followers of Mulla Sadra (d. circa 1636) offer a profoundly ‘ajib answer: it’s one of part to whole. That is, they seem to view God’s existence to be, in a real, i.e., non-figurative, sense, a “metaphysical part” of the existence of everything else. In what real, non-figurative sense though? Answer: in a causal sense; that is, God, for them, is a real causal part of His effects. But why is this ‘ajib? After all, isn’t that what every (or at least most) theists hold anyway?

The ‘ajibness of the position comes, I think, from the model of causality they base that claim on. That model, strictly speaking, isn’t one of efficient causality (as it is for the others), though they may talk in terms of it. For efficient causality is extrinsic (at least according to the other schools) and so entails too strict a separation between beings; but in their system, beings are not as separate from each other as they may appear to be –given wahdat al-wujud and all that. Rather, the model seems to be one of formal or quasi-formal causality; God contributes to the wujud of a being as a formal part of it. Or to put it another way, but which comes to the same thing, the model involves an efficient-formal union; God contributes to the wujud of a being as a quasi-formal/efficient part of it. God is not strictly an efficient cause, because He is not really extrinsic to a being, nor is He strictly a formal cause either, because He doesn`t really compose with prime matter. But, He’s also not entirely not an efficient cause, because He gives being; nor is He entirely not a formal cause, because He is – in their words, a ‘constituent’ (muqawwim) of the effect.

Wa bi-hadha a’jab!

Why do I think this? Well, because of what Mulla Sadra says in the seventh mash’ar of his Kitab al-Masha’ir, entitled ‘that the item produced (al-‘amr al-maj’ul) per se from the maker (ja’il) and [that] emanates from the cause is existence without quiddity’. The chapter is about what the per se (bi’l-dhat) effect or product of a cause’s act of ontological production is. You might wonder: ‘per se’ as opposed to what? Answer: as opposed to ‘per accidens’, the idea (I think) being:

  • c is a per se cause of e iff c causally produces/makes (ja’ala) e not in virtue of something else e* being produced/made by c

If so, then given the essence-existence distinction, when some c produces some e, he claims c either causes:

  1. e’s essence/quiddity
  2. e’s existence
  3. e as a whole (i.e., the essence-existence composite), or
  4. e’s essence/quiddity being necessitated to exist

Sadra’s own position is option 2: the per se causal product of an act of causation is the existence of an object, not its quiddity. He offers eight arguments or ‘witnesses’ for that claim. I here only consider the first, but in a way that forgoes analysis and evaluation. I simply want to relay the argument, state an objection Sadra raises to it, and the response to that objection – all of this in order to note why I think he construes the causal relation between God and other beings quasi-formally/efficiently.

In the first witness (shahid), Sadra explicitly rules out option 1, but not 4, and doesn’t even consider 3. The reason may be because he thinks 3 is reducible to either 1 or 2 (and perhaps even 4) – insofar as to cause a composite whole is to, first and foremost, cause its simple (assuming they’re simple) parts. Also, it might be because what’s at issue here is what he calls ‘simple causation’ (but never mind that now).

Anyway, here is the gist of what the first ‘witness’ he calls up has to say in testifying against option 1:

[…] if quiddity depended, by way of its substance (jawhariha), on the maker-cause (al-ja’il), it follows that it would subsist by it in its definition (fi hadd nafsiha) and meaning, due to the fact that the maker-cause would be conceptually contained (mu’tabiran) in the subsistence (qiwam) of [the quiddity’s] very self (dhatiha) such that it can’t be conceived without the maker-cause. […]. (Kitab al-Masha’ir VII.1.89, 41)

Grant the argument arguendo. He then raises this worry for it:

If you object: in that case, it follows that the maker-cause is constitutive of the existence of the made-effect (maj’ul), not extrinsic to it, just like what followed from [assuming] ‘the making of the quiddity’ and ‘its being a made-effect’. (ibid., VII.1.91, 41)

The objection states that just as option 1 would imply that the cause would be a part in the definition/subsistence of the quiddity of the effect, so 2 would imply the same thing with regards to the wujud of the effect. Sadra’s response is:

I say: true, there’s no ill-consequence in that though; for the existence of the effect subsisting by the existence of its cause is [like] the subsisting of the deficient by the perfect, and the weak by the strong, and the contingent by the necessary. (ibid.)

But the extra-mental correlate of a definitional (i.e., mental) part of a quiddity is the formal (i.e., non-mental) part/cause. This is the part that is technically referred to as the muqawwim (i.e., constituent) part of a whole being. The upshot of the response: God’s wujud (or better: wujud qua God) seems to be a formal/efficient or quasi-formal/efficient ontic constituent (muqawwim) of the being of all else(!)


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