Kalin’s book is a result of a growing interest in the later developments in Islamic philosophy and it is a culmination of scholarship in this area. For a long time interest in Islamic philosophy has focused mainly on early periods, acknowledging Ibn Rushd as the last great Muslim philosopher. However, more and more studies have come out discovering later developments in Islamic philosophy, either by focusing on the later developments in the Shiite world or on the Ottoman scholars who worked out a kind of synthesis of falasifa, kalam and sufi positions. Among the body of literature devoted to exploring later developments in Islamic philosophy, studies on Mulla Sadra perhaps outnumbers studies focusing on any other philosopher. This may not simply be explained by the fact that Mulla Sadra has become something of a national hero for the Persian people. Apart from the interest of Iranian scholars in a fellow Iranian philosopher, quite important scholarship is dedicated to exploring various aspects of Mulla Sadra’s thought. Fazlur Rahman’s pioneering study The Philosophy of Mulla Sadra was followed by works of other historians of Islamic philosophy. The attraction of researchers to Mulla Sadra’s thought is well justified, since his thought is rich enough to provide something to anyone who visits it who is interested in wisdom either from an analytical perspective or from a mystical viewpoint. It has a new outlook to offer, one that is traditional yet conversant with the modern, to those who seek for a cure in the name of philosophy for the mischiefs of modern analytic philosophy or for the disaster of the modern world.
Kalin’s book consists of three chapters and a translation of Mulla Sadra’s treatise “Risâla fî Ittihâd al-Âqil wa al-Ma’qûl”. Chapter one, “The Problem of Knowledge and the Greco-Islamic Context of the Unification Argument,” provides a historical survey on the issue of the unification of the intellect and the intelligible. Chapter two, “Mulla Sadra’s Theory of Knowledge and the Unification Argument” explains Sadra’s theory of the unification in the context of Sadra’s ontology. Chapter three, “Sadra’s Synthesis: Knowledge as Experience, Knowledge as Being,” attempts to identify Mulla Sadra’s place within the broader currents of Islamic thought, between philosophy and mysticism or Sufism.
In chapter one, Kalin surveys the arguments for and against the thesis outlined by Sadra provided in his magnum opus al-Asfâr al-Arba’a on the unification of intellect and the intelligible within the Greco-Alexandrian context as well as within the context of Islamic philosophy. In this regard, Kalin examines how Plato’s “attempt to posit existence and knowledge as a single experience of participation makes him a part of the debate,” and how Aristotle’s statements allowing opposite interpretations were used to support positions for and against the thesis of the unification of intellect and the intelligible. Certainly Plotinus had a strong influence in the development of positions since excerpts from his Enneads were known as the Theology of Aristotle, the first teacher from whom nobody could turn away. Kalin’s detailed analyses also include an examination of commentators’ positions of Aristotle, the chief among them being Alexander of Afrodisias. Kalin pays close attention to two major philosophers, who are against the unification thesis, within the Islamic milieu. These are that of Ibn Sina, who strongly rejected the thesis in the case of human knowledge, while approving it in the case of divine knowledge, and that of Suhrawardi from whom Sadra draws a lot on for other issues.
In chapter two, Kalin investigates the way Mulla Sadra defends and establishes the unification of the intellect and the intelligible. The chapter provides a thorough exploration of Sadra’s conception of existence inasmuch as it provides the foundation for the unification thesis. He brings out the relationship that Sadra construes between existence and knowledge. Another major discussion in the second chapter is the examination of theories of knowledge defended by major figures in Islamic thought. Four approaches to knowledge are examined: the definition of knowledge in negative terms, the considering of knowledge as representation as the one and only kind of knowledge, the definition of knowledge as a relation, and the definition of knowledge as an accident in the mind. Kalin provides a detailed analysis of Sadra’s criticism and revision concerning these four conceptions of knowledge. For Sadra, out of these four conceptions of knowledge, representational knowledge has to be kept but its status must be revised. It is not the one and only kind of knowledge any more.
Representation or conceptual knowledge is only secondary to knowledge by presence. Just as the sense-perception is something particular, and is an experience of something particular, for Sadra knowledge—inasmuch as it is intellectual-perception—consists of the experience of something particular. Kalin clearly brings out the interconnection between epistemological and ontological aspects of the issue by providing a detailed discussion of his concept of simple intellect. The intellectual apprehension or knowledge pertains to particulars just as existing things are particulars. Universal concepts come about only as a byproduct of reflecting upon intelligible particulars which are intellectually apprehended. Kalin clearly shows to what extent Sadra’s position differs from that of philosophers. Indeed Sadra’s position in assigning the knowledge of intelligible particulars and its representation in the mind as universals seems to be a working out of the platonic idea of the world of intelligibles, such that mystical experience and philosophical knowledge are somewhat synthesized. Sadra’s thesis that intellectual knowledge requires a unification of the knower and that which is known is established on the basis of his concept of simple intellect and of the way he relates knowledge to existence.
In chapter three, Kalin attempts to identify Sadra’s place in Islamic thought and the nature of his work. He argues that unlike the two major interpretations of Sadra’s thought, it must be considered a “philosophical mysticism.” One line of interpretation of Sadra’s position emphasizes the analytical aspects of his work and considers him a philosopher interested in Sufi themes. Kalin puts Fazlur Rahman’s and Oliver Leaman’s interpretation into this camp. The other line of interpretation underlines the mystical aspects of Sadra’s thought and considers him a gnostic or a Sufi. Kalin points out the shortcomings of both interpretations. He argues that one might consider Mulla Sadra a “mainstream” philosopher only if one reads Sadra’s al-Asfâr al-Arba’a and neglects his other works. Taking his works as a whole, Kalin considers Sadra’s work a “philosophical mysticism.” In his effort to allocate a middle ground to Sadra between philosophy and Sufism, Kalin has carefully related Sadra’s position to philosophers, e.g., al-Fârâbî and Avicenna, as well as the Sufi heritage of figures like al-Ghazâlî and Ibn Arabî.
Kalin reads Sadra more in context and in relation to the philosophical tradition rather than isolating him from this tradition in the name of novelty and originality. This is seen in his efforts to trace Sadra’s debt to his peripatetic and illuminationist predecessors. In this regard his reading of Sadra is consistent with the general trend in Sadra scholarship. Kalin does a great job in reading Sadra as a philosopher taking new steps to solve the problems that emerge either in relation to religious teachings or in explaining mystical experience in philosophical terms or in explaining the internal coherence of the philosophical positions. Kalin’s analyses and the relations he uncovers is quite rewarding.
However, I wonder if one should do more to check the accuracy of Sadra’s self-portrait with reference to the historical context. That is, one could be more attentive in checking whether Sadra’s self-image is placed accurately or not. Trying to emphasize his position, at times, Sadra sharply distinguishes between his position and that of his predecessors. If one takes Sadra’s statements at face value, one might be misguided. I wonder, for example, if the difference between Avicenna’s and Sadra’s positions concerning definition of knowledge in terms of immateriality is exaggerated.
Kalin’s book must be considered a major contribution to Mulla Sadra scholarship for the topics he discusses as well as the way he discusses them. Kalin discusses focal issues in not only Mulla Sadra’s philosophy and but also in all Islamic philosophy. He successfully traces how Mulla Sadra’s epistemology is closely tied together with his ontology. Although the topic is Mulla Sadra’s theory of knowledge, especially his theory of the unification of the intellect and the intelligible, we find a through discussion about Mulla Sadra’s conception of existence. With his in-depth knowledge, Kalin successfully uncovers the interconnection among diverse philosophical issues and talentedly knits together bits and pieces into a meaningful unity. He interprets Sadra’s views with due attention to his historical context while also clearly identifying their relations to modern philosophical discussions. His work is well balanced and free from hasty judgments and unwarranted generalizations. It has something to offer for the experts as well as for the novices. While he discusses minute details, he smoothly locates them in their broader philosophical context.