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Our Philosophy – Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir as-Sadr

Conception and Its Primary Source

By the term ‘primary’, we mean the real source of simple conceptions or simple knowledge. The human mind contains two kinds of conceptions. One of them is simple conceptual ideas, such as the ideas of ‘existence’, ‘unity’, ‘heat’, ‘whiteness’, and similar single human conceptions. The other is composite ideas, which are the conceptions that result from a combination of simple conceptions. Thus, you may conceive ‘a mountain of soil’, and then conceive ‘a piece of gold’. After that, you combine these two conceptions. Thus, deriving from this combination a third conception which is (p. 59) ‘a mountain of gold’. This third conception is in reality composed of the previous two conceptions; hence, all composite conceptions are reduced to simple conceptual units.

The issue under consideration is the attempt to know the real source of these units and the cause of the arising of these simple conceptions in human knowledge. This issue has an important history in the various stages of Greek, Islamic and European philosophy. Throughout the history of philosophy, it received a number of solutions. These solutions can be summarized in the following theories.

I The Platonic Theory of Recollection

This theory states that knowledge is a function of the recollection of previous information. [24] Plato was the founder of this theory. He based it on his specific philosophy of the archetypes. [25] He believed that the soul has a prior existence. Thus, he believed that prior to the existence of the body, the human soul had existed independently of the body. Since the soul’s existence was completely free from matter and its restrictions, it was possible for it to be in touch with the archetypes – that is with the realities that are free from matter. Thus, it was also possible for is to know them. However, when it became necessary for the soul to descend from its immaterial world in order to be conjoined to the body and linked to it in the world of matter, this caused it to lose all its knowledge of the archetypes and fixed realities, and to forget them completely. But the soul can begin to retrieve its knowledge by means of the sense perception of specific ideas and particular things. This is because all such ideas and things are shadows and reflections of those eternal archetypes and realities that are everlasting in the world in which the soul had lived. When is perceives a specific idea, it immediately moves to the ideal reality that it had known before it became attached to the body. On this basis, our knowledge of the universal human being -that is, the universal idea of a human being – would be nothing but a recollection of an abstract reality that we had forgotten. Indeed, we remember it only due to our sense perception of this or that specific human being (p. 60) who reflects that abstract reality in the material world. Thus, universal conceptions are prior to sense perception. And perception is not realized except through the process of retrieving and recollecting such universal conceptions. Rational knowledge is not related to particular things in the sensible realm. Rather, it is only related to those abstract universal realities.

This theory is based on two philosophical propositions. One of them is that the soul exists prior to the existence of the body in a world higher than matter. The other is that rational knowledge is nothing but knowledge of the fixed abstract realities in that higher world – the Platonic technical term for these realities being ‘archetypes’.

Both propositions are false, as was pointed out by critics of Plato’s philosophy. For the soul, in the rational philosophical sense, is not something that exists in an abstract form and prior to the existence of the body. Rather, it is the result of a substantial movement in matter. The soul begins with this movement as material, characterized by material qualities and subjugated to the laws of matter. By means of this movement and process of completion, it acquires an immaterial existence not characterized by material qualities and not subject to the laws of matter, even though it is subject to the general laws of existence. This philosophical notion of the soul is the only one that can explain the [present] issue, and give a reasonable clarification of the relation between the soul and matter or the soul and the body. As for the Platonic notion, which supposes that the soul has an existence prior to that of the body, it is most incapable of explaining this relation, of justifying the link that exists between the soul and the body, and of clarifying the circumstances under which the soul falls from its own level to that of matter.

Besides, it is possible to explain rational knowledge – with the notion of the archetypes put aside in the field of discussion – (p. 61) by the explanation given in Aristotle’s philosophy: namely, that the sensible ideas are the same as the universal ideas that the mind knows after is abstracts them from the proper qualities of individuals, and retains the common idea. The universal human being chat we know is not an ideal reality that we had previously seen in a higher world. Rather, he is the form of this or that human being, after it has been subjected to the process of abstraction by means of which the universal idea is extracted from it. (p. 62)

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