ʿARAŻ, a term of philosophy meaning “accident.” In this article, chiefly the views of some major Iranian philosophers are discussed. The term ʿaraż, which translates the Greek symbebēkós, came from Aristotle, particularly from his Organon or logical works. Among Muslim philosophers, however, the discussion on ʿaraż has been strongly affected by the Isagoge (Īsāḡūǰī) or introduction to the Categories of Aristotle by Porphyry (Forfūrīūs, d. 305), which deals with “five universals” (al-kollīyāt al-ḵams)—genus, species, differential, property (ḵāṣṣa), and accident. Ever since its translation into Arabic from Syriac by Abū ʿOṯmān Demašqī (d. ca. 313/925), this work (Īsāḡūǰī, ed. A. Ahwani, Cairo, 1952) has had great influence upon Muslim philosophers’ treatment of logic. In the 4th/10th century Fārābī wrote a commentary upon it, and in the massive Madḵal (Introduction) to his magnum opus the Ketāb al-šefāʾ (Ketāb al-šefāʾ: al-Madḵal, ed. I. Madkūr et al., introd. by I. Madkūr, Cairo, 1952) Ebn Sīnā seems to have followed “not only the subject arrangement of (Porphyry’s) Isagogy but frequently its very wording” (ibid., p. 121).

Porphyry opposed ʿaraż to ǰawhar or substance; together the two exhaust all being. Ebn Sīnā and other philosophers followed his definition of ʿaraż as that “which inheres (yaḥollo) in a subject, i.e. a proximate substrate (maḥall qarīb) that exists by itself without the inherent being a constituting factor in it” (Ketāb al-naǰāt, Cairo, 1938, p. 81; cf. Avicenna’s De anima, ed. F. Rahman, 1959, pp. 9-10), as for instance “white” in relation to a horse. This definition refers to the famous nine accidental categories of Aristotle (quantity, quality, place, time, position, relation, possession, action, and passion) which exhaust all types of accidents and are therefore called “the highest genera,” i.e., of accidents. Some philosophers have reduced these nine to the three fundamental categories of quantity, quality, and relation, this last covering the seven remaining, while Šehāb-al-dīn Yaḥyā Sohravardī (d. 587/1191) recognized four accidental categories, adding that of movement to these three (see his Ḥekmat al-ešrāq, Tehran, 1952, pp. 64ff.). Porphyry also asserts that accidents belong primarily to individuals rather than to species or genera.

Ebn Sīnā went beyond Porphyry in distinguishing between “ʿarȧz ” and “ʿarażī.” He says (e.g. in the Madḵal [Cairo, 1952, p. 33] and the Ketāb al-nafs of the Ketāb al-šefāʾ [Oxford, 1959, pp. 10, 21, 28] and elsewhere) that one must differentiate between the ʿaraż, which belongs to the realm of the categories, and the arażī (accidental) which is distinguished from and opposed to essences. He emphasizes that logic since Porphyry has seen much confusion between these two. For Ebn Sīnā and subsequent Muslim logicians, ʿarażī is opposed to ḏātī or essential and comprehends all accidental and necessary attributes of an essence other than those constitutive of that essence. For example, “rational animal” is the essence (māhīya) of man, but “being liable to death or laughter” is “accidental” to that essence; “a figure with three sides” is the essence of a triangle, while the fact that the sum of its angles equals two right angles is “accidental” to that essence. The difference between ʿaraż and ʿarażī is that the latter (e.g. “white”) can behave as a subject (mawżūʿ ) or a substance—which contradicts what Porphyry says on ʿaraz—while the former (e.g. “whiteness”) can never behave like a substance—which agrees with that Porphyry says on ʿaraż. An ʿarażī may therefore be either a necessary property (lāzem al-māhīya, what the medieval Latin philosophers called proprium), like the sum of the angles of a triangle being equal to two right angles or like “capable of laughter” in the case of man, or it may be a “general accident” (ʿaraż ʿāmm), whether separable or inseparable. The former is applicable to a single species (even though that species may be further divided into other species, as a triangle) and is called a ḵāṣṣa; the latter is applicable to several species (e.g. “white” applies to snow as well as to a swan).

Beginning with Sohravardī, a new development takes place in the discussion of ʿaraż. Through a thorough critic of Ebn Sīnā he seeks to show (Ketāb al-talwīḥāt, Tehran, 1334 Š./1955, pp. 90ff.) that if existence is held to be an accident of essence—as Ebn Sīnā had often claimed—a vicious regress is entailed. Sohravardī then enunciates a general principle that all ideas (including that of existence) whose positing in objective, external reality would induce an infinite regress, are only mental in nature. That is, they only characterize concepts derived from external reality (called “primary intelligibles”) in the mind, and have no counterpart in external reality itself. Such ideas, called “secondary intelligibles,” include existence, necessity, possibility (including the objective possibility called potentiality), impossibility, being “something,” etc. (Some later philosophers also recognized third and fourth ascending mental-logical orders.) Now, while Ebn Sīnā had not explicitly discussed the problem, it is clear that these were, in some sense, objective realities for him. Certainly objective possibility (al-emkān al-ḥaqīqī) was an objective reality inherent in matter antecedent to all material beings, but so also were necessity, impossibility, contingency, and so forth. But if these are real, to which of the categories do they belong? According to Sohravardī and later philosophers, since these are purely mental, they constitute the “highest genera” of essence, parallel to, not included by, the categories of existence, and characterizing external reality only indirectly. In the 11th/17th century, Mollā Ṣadrā (d. 1050-51/1641) severely rejected the idea that existence was a secondary intelligible and declared it to be the sole reality, while categories were essences, since they were the “highest genera” of existential reality.

How the relationship of inherence (ḥolūl) between an accident and its substance or substrate is exactly to be conceived was a question that exercised Muslim philosophers of the great age of the commentaries. It was sometimes described as “a special relationship between one thing and another so that pointing to them is actually indivisible.” The final definition of inherence, accepted by most later philosophers, including Sayyed Mīr Jorǰānī (d. 815-16/1413; q.v.) and ʿAlī Qūšǰī (in his commentary on Ṭūsī’s Ketāb al-taǰrīd called al-Šarḥ al-ǰadīd, Tehran, 1311/1893-94) was that inherence is “a special relationship of description (al-eḵteṣāṣ al-nāʿet) such that the describing term inheres in the one described”—as, e.g., in “white body” where “white” is (a) perceptually indistinguishable from “body” and (b) is dependent upon it.” Mollā Ṣadrā (Moḥammad Ṣadr-al-dīn Šīrāzī [Mollā Ṣadrā], al-Asfār al-arbaʿa I, pt. 1, Tehran, 1387/1967-68, al-Marḥala al-ṯānīa, pp. 327ff.) makes a sharp distinction between substance-accident, on the one hand, and subject-predicate on the other. In the former, although it is correct to say that “the being of the accident in itself is exactly its being-for-the-substance,” i.e. accident has no being independently of the substance, nevertheless it does possess a being, viz. the being that belongs to its substance. But in the latter case, that of the subject-predicate relationship, the predicate has no being whatsoever and the only being is the being of the subject. Thus, when we say “the white house,” “white,” though dependent upon “house,” nevertheless has being, but when we say, “The house is white,” “white” has no being whatever that could be said to be dependent upon “the house.” The basis of this sharp distinction, which makes the predicate a pure relation and not something related, is Ṣadrā’s attempt—followed by Sabzavārī and others—to show that the world has no being whatever, is a pure relation to God, and not something related.

As for theologians (motakallemūn) as distinguished from philosophers, all of them except the grammarian and speculator Ebn Kaysān (d. 299/911) accept the existence of accidents, although their accounts of them differ from those of the philosophers. The Muʿtazilite Abu’l- Hadayl and a few other theologians (see Ašʿarī, Maqālāt, pp. 358ff.) assert that an accident can exist without a substrate (e.g. God’s will can exist by itself, whereby God becomes Willer), while all others hold that an accident needs a substrate to exist. According to theologians, accidents are broadly divisible into two types: those of living beings—e.g. life, knowledge, power, will, and so forth—and those of objects perceptible by the senses. Some of them hold that what is perceptible is the “thing” itself, not just its accidents, but most theologians (including the Muʿtazilites and the Asḥʿarites) believe that what the senses directly perceive are accidents and motion, rest, continuity and separation, and that from these qualities the existence of “things” is inferred. They therefore hold that the existence of “things” can be doubted and has to be proved rather than directly given (the influence of Greek scepticism on such doctrines is obvious).

This theory is, in turn, utilized by most Asḥʿarites in conjunction with their view that no accident lasts for more than a moment—a view also held by Naẓẓām and Kaʿbī among the early Muʿtazilites, but rejected by other Muʿtazilites and by Shiʿite theologians (who after the third century of Islam came under Muʿtazilite and, with Ṭūsī [d. 672-73/1274], philosophical influence) to prove that God annihilates and re-creates the world every moment. This argument is based on the assertion that if an accident were to last through the second moment, then it could not be removed in the third and subsequent moments and hence the world would be eternal. Further, persistence of substances, for them, is commensurate with persistence of accidents, and since accidents do not persist, neither can the substances.

This flux of accidents and substances is a basic point of difference between theologians and philosophers, who believe that accidents and, a fortiori, substances last through time. While both theologians and philosophers agree that accidents can not move from one substrate to another, they differ in their proofs. The former hold that only that which can occupy a locus, viz. bodies, can move locally, while the accidents can not occupy a locus except indirectly, i.e. through bodies. The latter hold that an accident can be individuated only through a locus and hence no accident can subsist in another, since that wherein an accident can subsist must be able to occupy a locus, and only a body can do this.

Finally, one very important development in Islamic philosophy to be noted here is that while all philosophers up to Sohravardī allowed that accidents could be “more or less,” they disallowed this difference in degree with regard to essences. Sohravardī was the first to contend that essences are also capable of difference in degree, while Mollā Ṣadrā developed this into his unique doctrine of movement-in-substance (ḥaraka fiʾl­ǰawhar).



See also primary sources: Ebn Sīnā, Ketāb al-ešārāt, pt. 1, Logic, with the commentary of Naṣīr-al-dīn Ṭūsī, Cairo, 1960.

Aṯīr-al-dīn Abharī, Hedāyat al-ḥekma, with the commentary of ʿAlīmī, Ḡāyat al-hedāya, pt. 1, Logic, ms., cf. Brockelmann, GAL, S. I, p. 840; Īsāḡūǰī, Calcutta, 1825 (it is this work and not Porphyry’s Īsāḡūǰī that is the basis of works later than Ebn Sīnā). Naṣīr-al-dīn Ṭūsī, Ketāb al-taǰrīd, maqṣad 11, sec. 1, with the commentary of ʿA. Ḥellī, Tehran, 1300/1883.

ʿAlī Qazvīnī Kātebī, al-Resāla al-šamsīya, Logic, with commentary of Masʿūd b. ʿOmar Taftāzānī, Lucknow, 1905.

Qoṭb-al-dīn Rāzī, Šarḥ al-Ażodī, commentary by Sayyed Mīr Šarīf Jorǰānī, unpublished, referred to in Tahānāvī, Kaššāf, p. 522 (see below).

Abu’l-Ḥasan Ašʿarī, Ketāb maqālāt al-eslāmīyīn, 2 vols., Istanbul, 1929-39, s.v. Faḵr-al-dīn Rāzī, Ketāb al-mabāḥeṯ al-mašreqīya, pt.1, Logic, Hyderabad, 1924; Moḥassal afkār al-motaqaddemīn, Cairo, 1925.

Ażod-al-din Īǰī, Ketāb al-mawāqef I, Logic, with several commentaries, Cairo, 1907.

Moḥammad-ʿAlī Tahānāvī, Kaššāf eṣṭelāḥāt al-fonūn, Calcutta, 1362/1943, s.vv.ʿaraż, mawżūʿ, maḥall, ḥaml, ḥolūl. Secondary sources: M. Horten, Die Philosophischen Systeme der Speculativen Theologen im Islam, Bonn, 1912.

A. J. Wensinck, Muslim Creed, Cambridge, 1932.

S. van den Bergh, Averroes’ Tahafut al-tahafut, GMS, Oxford, 1954, repr. 1969, II, s.v.

(F. Rahman)

Originally Published: December 15, 1986

Last Updated: August 10, 2011

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