Sadr al-Muta'allihín and the Question of Knowing and Being

Hossein Ziai


I.  Preliminary Background

             In this presentation I shall first discuss the essence of the 12th century reconstructed Aristotelian philosophy, named Philosophy of Illumination by its creator, the young, charismatic Persian philosopher, Shihāb al-Dīn Suhrawardí. This I deem necessary in order to have before us the philosophical distinctions in the reconstructed epistemology of Illuminationist philosophy, which impacted the subsequent development of philosophy in Iran, and which was further refined by Sadr al-Muta’allihín in the 17th c. Suhrawardí (36) was brutally executed in Aleppo by the express command of Saladin, Islam’s Champion in the second Crusade. Judges and jurists oversaw his public execution, but almost no common citizens attended. The King himself was there together with his son, whom he had forced to give the order to kill and to also attend the killing. The charges against Suhrawardí were “heresy” not sufficient nor the real reason for Saladin to leave the battle-scene in the year 1191 at a crucial moment of battle. For, King Richard had landed at Acre with a throng of armored Knights. Saladin must have been deeply alarmed by something other than a “rag-wearing” youthful heretic to act so irrationally, almost betraying his army, and to journey some 100 miles inland to personally reside over the killing of a youth.[1]  

Not for discussion here, but by a near exhaustive study of some 26 extant texts of our youthful thinker (50 are named by the 13th c Illuminationist philosopher Shahrazurí in his History of Philosophy), I have discovered a radical political dimension in his new system. I have named it “The Illuminationist Political Doctrine,” and have discussed it in detail elsewhere.[2] Briefly, his aim was to overthrow the Caliphate and establish a new political order. Conceptually similar to Plotinus’ idea of a Platonopolis, but at the grand scale of an empire, ruled by a philosopher-sage, who would combine the wisdom of the Greeks and the Brahmins; the truths gained by a carefully selected list of Muslim visionary and mystics; the acumen of ancient kings of Iranian myth, epic and legend, who best knew how to govern vast empires with justice. And he saw himself as such a figure, whom had inherited the quintessence of the discursive philosophy (the term signifies philosophy & science in our present language of discourse) of all the ancients, plus the intuitive philosophy of past sages. 

Apart from his ambitious political scheme, who was Suhrawardí, and what the Philosophy of Illumination is. Further, can a man killed at the age of 36 possess the necessary depth, maturity and wide ranging technical knowledge, as well as mathematical and logical skills to construct a novel holistic system, and be known as its founder? History of philosophy names only a few figures as originators/founders of novel and creative ways, or schools of thought. But the youth did construct a system, which is remarkably refined and genuinely philosophical. One that later was hailed as a great achievement by highly regarded scientists, such as by the little known yet great philosopher of the 13th c. Ibn Kammuna. He wrote lengthy commentaries on Suhrawardí’s texts, where he would finish the youth’s drafts of ideas, refine principles and arguments, but also refute what he found to be false.

So, we know that the youthful creative Persian philosopher managed to leave a great legacy, a new philosophical system named after him deemed by majority of later thinkers to be a more complete system than that of the Peripatetics, where all major inconsistencies of the latter are removed and most dilemmas solved. But still what was he aiming at? Refutation of Peripatetic philosophy, or its refinement? Despite clearly stipulated statements that his aim is to improve philosophy per se and to construct a new system whereby a novel scientific method named “science of lights” will be defined and formulated in detail, by Suhrawardí himself in each of his major text’s Prolegomena (also a novelty, because unlike the Peripatetic Isagoge, or Introduction, given to semantics and the Five Universals, his introductions are on method, aim, and at times a critique of the history of philosophy). This latter point is to be noted, because he believed that in order to clean-up the disarray of 12th c philosophy he had to delve into its origins, i.e. commence with pre-Socratic texts and fragments with the intention to remove the fallacies, dilemmas, and logical gaps in the Aristotelian method of science. A few modern authors, commencing with Henry Corbin, have totally misrepresented the creative new philosophy by naming it “theosophy” [a term coined in Europe by figures such as Swendenbourg, and Mme Babatsky, and made into a way of life, which pivots on Eurythmic dance, by Rudolf Steiner]. Suhrawardí’s new system has nothing in common with theosophy (a term that is not found in classical Greek philosophical texts), his ambitious aim was to combine into one system the best of Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus, whose Enneads IV and V plus bits from VI and other’s he knew, but believed them to be a work by Aristotle, plus works by al-Fàràbí, Avicenna, Abul Barakàt al-Baghdàdí, 'Umar Ibn Sahlàn al-Sàvají, and a few other original thinkers, in a sound scientific and well-thought manner. And for the first time defined and used a meta-language, he named “Language of Illumination,” hoping it would become the common language of all schools of philosophy. Suhrawardí was a scientist not an ignorant claimant to visions of ghosts and such; and such meaningless epithets as “theosopher”; “Sufi mystic” are offensive to his Illuminationist tradition that has gone through many changes in the past 7 or 8 centuries in Iran, and at present is studied through not just Suhrawardí’s texts, but by more recent and more refined ones. [However, Corbinism has so strongly misrepresented this great thinker of history that much work is required before the West will come to know the Philosophy of Illumination as genuine, and yet, analytic philosophy.]

I will concentrate on three problems Suhrawardí finds fault within Aristotle’s system. These are problems that have serious bearings on the foundations of epistemology, ontology and cosmology. Suhrawardí first names the problem and then thoroughly examines them. Then he presents the pros and cons of the several arguments pertaining to each one in the three parts of his texts: logic, physics [these two parts were not published by Corbin, nor did he ever examine nor mention anything about their contents, while the theoretical side of Illuminationist argumentations are mostly found first in logic, then physics, and only finally reformulated and outlined in metaphysics], and metaphysics, of his four major texts: Intimations; Apposites; Paths and Havens; and the Philosophy of Illumination. These are:

The epistemology of “obtaining” the First Principles of Science; the axioms which may only be known by the cognitive mode “immediate knowledge” and are un-demonstrable; they may be known “by themselves” and are necessarily prior to as well as the causes of conclusions. Aristotle himself discusses this fundamental first step of any systematic philosophical construction, first in the Posterior Analytics. I.2-3: 71b-72b30, where he states the necessity of “immediate knowledge” and those known by themselves for science to hold. However, he never pursues this side of epistemology, and resolves the issue in his Theory of Intellectual Knowledge in Metaphysics. XII, 7: 1072bff. He calls for a type of “Creative Intellect” (Late Hellenic commentators named this the Active Intellect, a term Aristotle does not use himself) and states that science commences from First Principles known through this Intellect, the locus of all intelligibles: the thinking which thinks itself, thus “identity” between nous and the intelligibles. He, however, disregarded the immediate and indemonstrable and known by itself, cognitive modes. Even calling immediate knowledge “opinion” (doxa). The Islamic Peripatetic philosophers took over this theory, elaborated it and hailed it as proof of prophecy, and put it in the form of this proposition: “union; or, connection with the Active Intellect,[3] imparts the forms of all intelligibles to the human “receptive”; or, “Holy intellect,” who then is identified as the “law-giver” Prophet and/or as the divinely inspired First Ruler of the Virtuous City.

Suhrawardí found major faults here:

1- The mathematics, and principles of “identity” were faulty, a logical gap in contemporary language, union; connection; equal to; and the like, between knowing and being; or, subject and object, can not be left ambiguous. So he examined the logical and mathematical foundations of the many ways things may be said to be/become equal, or identical, or same, etc. He argued that the equality/identity said to be established by the copula of predicative propositions is not well defined in Peripatetic texts. When we say, “x is y” or “xy-is”; or “xy are same/equal” we are merely making a tautological statement, thus of no value. For in all of the above what is signified is simply that x and y are two different “names” for the same thing, say z. This dilemma was of fundamental significance because it affects the very basis of syllogistic reasoning as well as the above-mentioned problem regarding the epistemology of the First Principles, the axioms of science. Syllogistic terms (the Minor, the Major, and the Middle) are all in the form of a variety of predicative propositions. This meant that the Aristotelian essentialist definition, was tautological and without value. Also union and connection with the Active Intellect as the most prior first step of science was faulty from another perspective, which is the second problem.

2- The discrete, mechanical cosmic model of Aristotelian realm of the separate Intellects, the very foundation of the system of causes and effects, of movers and moved, and so on, is an ideal structure which does not reflect the real as continuum. And this leads to yet further and more serious problems concerning Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover and Cause of causes. Avicenna, the greatest Persian philosopher-physician of all time, had seen this and rectified the problem by his construction of the Necessary Being. So had the clever, state sponsored anti-rationalist Ash’arite theologian, Abu Hāmid Ghazzàlí. He had put forth elaborate, often indicative[4] of creative philosophical thinking in his text, The Refutation of the Philosophers. The result was devastating to freethinking and his aim, to control intellectual activity and confine it to seminaries governed by the state, was so met.

Suhrawardí had to rectify this two-fold problem also. First he had to show why the essentialist definition is of no value in conveying the Principles of science; and next he had to construct a cosmic model not based on Ptolemaic Astronomy turned into Ten discrete, separate, spheres, each moved by an Intellect, and the Ten Intellects discrete from one another, too.

It is first argued that Avicenna’s complete essentialist definition; say D, deemed the first step in science, cannot be constructed. Because, similar in sense to the impossibility of definition, say of a set G, by extension through exhaustive enumeration of elements, or members of the set (die G), which may require infinite time- thus absurd- or be impossible because of non-countability, it is argued that the sequence of genera and differentia may not be all known at the time of constructing the formula; or they may not have an upper bound. This is also typical of the Philosophy of Illumination’s reliance on mathematical models, terms and techniques especially of number theory (e.g.: types of inclusion of the constituent members in the “whole” where members are together part of a continuum); and the conclusion is reached that the formula of an essentialist definition cannot be constructed in any finite given time.

The critique next establishes that the Aristotelian formula, Universal Affirmative Proposition, does not signify the fundamental nor the most unchanging laws of science, and this is a second logical gap.[5] It is argued that universal “scientific” validity must be 1) necessary; and 2) always true, but because of necessary future contingency,[6] formal validity of a law deduced at times (‘now,’ i.e. the time of construction), may be invalidated at some future time t ntm by the recovery of exceptions, or other negating concomitants of it. The most prior, necessary, and always true knowledge (to satisfy the Platonic dictum that knowledge must serve as the basis for knowledge), cannot be predicative in form (x is y; the form of all constructed’s) in the language of logical discourse this fundamental Illuminationist view of scientific law may be stated thus: Laws of present-time science, say G(y)tn  formulated as Г(y)↔"yf(y), or equated with the formula:  are inherently refutable (similar to Popper’s views), and may in fact in some future time and/or other possible world be demonstrated to be wrong, i.e.: because at time t: à$´®f(y), Therefore à´®ù é (y).

But it is ‘knowledge by presence’ at any time S (now and in future) when, the knowing, self-conscious subject, O, (established elsewhere in the system) “sees” (yushàhid, a technical term that indicates a unified epistemological theory: sight, in external sensed reality, and vision-illumination, similar to Plato’s intellectual vision in non-corporeal, internal, realities. Cf. Anshauung, in the context of German Idealist philosophical discourse)[7] the manifest, real object, O, and obtains knowledge in a durationless instant. Thus the a-temporal relation, R, between S and O, called “Illuminationist Relation” will actualize [in the unified theory] when 1) S is “sound” (functioning organ of sight in its external application, and, say through praxis, heightened intuition and visionary experience; or, through an external source, inspiration and revelation, as the case may be, in its other form); 2) existence of proper medium (corporeal light in the case of sight, and what Suhrawardí calls “abstract light” of the non-corporeal, separate, “boundary realm” called Mundus Imaginalis); and 3) removal of all external barriers between them (S and O). The primary, intuitive and immediate knowledge, in the form SRO determines knowledge and serves as the foundation for syllogistic construction of scientific laws. In technical language of logical discourse, Knowledge by Presence, which establishes the relation between thinking and being, is stated thus:

Let S  É {x} Ù É{yj}& R {QX}    

Then relational correspondence is defined as:

S (f) I (xm) O (j)’m for all m & i & n

if and only if R is identity preserving one-to-one correspondence.

The implication of this methodology, here stated simply, is quite clear. One defines x and y and z, say, and subsequently one employs a figure of syllogism to arrive at a proposition with positive truth-value. Say, “All x are y, all y are z, then all x are z.” Thus without valid definitions, and without a constructed universal proposition there can be no science in the Aristotelian sense.

3- The distinction between the intuitive and the rational was utilized to establish the necessity of primary intuition, as an act by a self-conscious subject to thus obtain the Primary Principle upon which a system can be constructed by using Aristotelian Syllogistic reasoning. Stated differently, scientific investigation based on a “first step” that presupposes a differentiated reality (Prime Matter and Form) will result only in a system that is limited to the purely rational side of reality. This meant that the ‘new’ philosophy had to begin by explaining the intuitive, both as a continuous part of the whole reality, and as an epistemological first act by the nous.

Medieval historians of philosophy almost unanimously name Suhrawardí’s Philosophy of Illumination as the most perfect construction, where the intuitive and the rational are harmoniously brought together in a single, consistent system.[8] The distinction is further employed to define “Intuitive Philosophy”[9] and “Rational Philosophy”.[10] Suhrawardí, for example, claims that his new method named “The Science of Lights” is capable of describing how both intuitive and rational knowledge are obtained.[11] Suhrawardí's discussion of the epistemology of intuition and his fusion of intuitive philosophy and rational philosophy into a single system, are in my view major contributions to the developments of post-Avicennan systematic philosophy. Let us examine the significance.

J.L. Teicher is one of the first historians of Islamic and Jewish philosophy to single out Avicenna as the first thinker in the history of philosophy to have made the ontological distinction between Necessary and Possible Being, and thus also to have discovered “intuitive reality.” Teicher presents this view to be a height in Islamic philosophy, and states:

A confirmation of the contention that Avicenna introduced into Arabic philosophy the notion of reality as a ‘creative evolution’, disguised under the cloak of the cumbersome formula of the ‘Necessary and Possible Being,’ may be found in the fact that the notions of duration and evolution in the Bergsonian sense were clearly formulated by an Arabic and a Jewish thinker, Averroes and Maimonides, who both derived their inspiration from Avicenna’s work.[12] 

In my view Teicher is correct to point out that Avicenna’s formulation of the doctrine of the Necessary Being includes three essential points of Descartes method, including the notion of intuitive thinking, but also contains a conception that goes beyond the point at which Descartes apparently halted, – which is a primacy of the intuitive mode necessary for the systematic definition of Necessary Being as ‘starting point’.[13] But, he concludes that since ‘clarification of the issues between intuitive and rationalistic philosophy has not yet been achieved . . . it is not surprising  . . . that Avicenna was unable, despite the discovery of intuitive reality, to reach a satisfactory solution of the problem of its relation with the rationalistic philosophy of his own days’.[14] Teicher offers two possible solutions, none systematically achieved by Avicenna or after him in Islamic philosophy.[15] In my view Suhrawardí does resolve the ‘issues’ in the Philosophy of Illumination neither as some kind of “theosophy” nor as a re-statement of Avicenna’s Peripatetic philosophy.

A brief examination of Suhrawardí’s theoretical solution to the problem is in order, since the epistemological theory of Knowledge by Presence discussed later is better understood when the Illuminationist concept of reality as a continuum of the rational and the intuitive has been discussed. Suhrawardí’s system combines Teicher’s ‘two possible ways of dealing with this problem’:

1) Admitting that “A chasm  . . .[exists] between the intuitive and the rationalistic realities – a chasm that could be bridged only by means of mystical ecstasies”; and 2) “to attempt to combine the two realties together,” but goes beyond. Above all, Suhrawardí is able to analyze the rather vague notion of “mystical ecstasies” as a primary intuition, which results from the act of self-identity. The intuitive knowledge gained is described as pre-inference non-propositional (i.e. not as the predicative x is y mode) apprehension (apperception, to be compared with Husserl’s Aufclarung, and with Fichte’s Anschauung) by the self-conscious subject prior to any objective differentiation. This is clearly stated in the Prolegomena to the text, Philosophy of Illumination.[16]  “I did not obtain the principles of Hikmat al-Ishràq first from cogitation, but through something else . . . I subsequently found proofs for them.” This “something else”, as indicated by Shahrazurí in his first and most major (13th c) Sharh, is defined by a generalized epistemological theory named “Knowledge by Presence”. Here the “knowing”; or best-said “self-conscious” subject, at the durationless instant of relational correspondence with the knowable object (knowability is also a state of light-essence) barring no obstacle in between will grasp what-is the object. However, as I have detailed elsewhere, the knowledge thus obtained must be stated in a well-defined meta-language, here “The Language of Illumination” in a scientific system using refined Syllogistic compound arguments. Self-consciousness of subject indicates that it is cognizant of its own light-essence propagated, not emanated, nor disjoined nor differentiated into intellect and soul, by will or otherwise, from a one source, nor from a first nous from the source, The Light of Lights, who propagates by virtue of being and is One but is unknown in uncountable ways, and is not discretely disjoint from the whole continuum of light reality. It differentiates, not by essence, but by degree of light intensity; even darkness is light, but the feebler; or, the least intense; or, the lower bound, said to be the realm of boundaries of the whole continuum Reality.

The grand finale: Unified epistemological theory. I will point out that the theory is the logical conclusion to the critique of the predicative essentialist definition, as it is further argued in physics and finally developed as a generalized theory. This includes Suhrawardí’s technical refinement of the Peripatetic view that knowledge is founded by the principle of union, or connection, with the Active Intellect, where union as the Peripatetics are said to understand it is refuted and first introduced as a logical law of identity, and then carried beyond and stated as a metaphysical principle. However, in order to explain the new epistemology to have uniform validity (a unified theory) over the entire range of reality: the seen and the unseen, the sensed and the intellected, the phenomenal and the nominal, and then some, Suhrawardí recognizes the need to define a different structure of the universe than that described by Avicenna. This also requires priority be given to “essence” the real-over existence, the derived, logical ideal. Knowledge is not founded on the input of sense data and the extrapolation of universal concepts. At best the universals established in logic are nothing but relative truths.

Intuition, personal revelation, and insight are integral constituents of the Illuminationist theory of knowledge. And knowledge at every age, argues Shahrazurí rests on a superior individual’s personal experience of reality. This person, who, we are told, assumes positions like the axio mundi of speculative gnosis, and is God’s vicegerent on earth, is responsible for the linkage between man and the divine, which establishes knowledge. A favorite paradigm of the Illuminationist philosophers that helps explain this process is given the name metaphysical, or spiritual observation. They argue that just as astronomers observe the heavens, and arrive at certitude vis-a-vis planetary motion and are thus able to predict such phenomena as eclipses and so on, so too the divine philosophers (who combine discursive philosophy with intuitive philosophy to a perfect degree) observe reality as-it-is and are thus the most perfect potential leaders of society. However, the foundations will have to be renewed in all future time, or in other possible worlds (whichever the case), based on future/other knowing subject’s observations.

II. Sadr al-muta’allihín and Epistemology as Seen in the Text of al-Ta'líqàt

Sadrà draws from a number of basic texts in order to demonstrate the principle epistemological distinction between acquired knowledge and knowledge by presence. Among these texts I have chosen Sadrà’s use of the text of Uthulogia in order to demonstrate how he goes beyond the Illuminationist philosophical approach to epistemology by examining the proposition “sameness of knowing and being” which he had discovered in the text to the Uthologia as a simple proposition stated as al-‘aql al-‘àqil huwa huwa. The argument begins in Enneads ,vol.3.

1. The naming Enneads, vol.3 may be a bit misleading for those among you who know the Plutonian tradition in Arabic and Persian texts. For customarily – at least in the Orientalist tradition – vol.3 is not counted among the parts of Enneads well known generally in “standard” Arabic and Persian texts. These include the Arabic version – I should say versions – of Uthulogia (the Arabic form of theologia, with an initial alif added perhaps due to rules of Arabic morphology, though there is no hard rule here), but does not include the rather extensive body of texts either: 1) Early Ismà'ílí Persian texts paraphrases of Plutonian/ Neoplatonic writings (Abu Ya'qub Sijistàní’s Kashf al-mahjub; Nàsir Khosrow, Gushàyish wa rahàyish, Jàmi‘ al-Hikmatayn, and Kirmàní’s Rahat al-'aql); 2) Psuedo-philosophical texts and fragments in a variety of sources; 3) Illuminationist tradition of Arabic and Persian texts which demonstrate a distinct Plutonian influence; 4) there are certain principles – of special concern to me here – relating to Knowing and being found also in Arabic versions of late antiquity Hellenic works whose influence had been to harmonize Aristotle and Plato such as Simplikios and Ammonious.

A brief point on the Islamic Tradition of Uthulogia

1) F. Dietrici first published the Arabic text in 1882 with the German translation in 1883 in Leipzig there is an Arabic version printed prior to this in 1879 (np) and is not of great significance.

2) The Arabic text of Uthulogia is printed on the margins (hàshiya) of the lithographic edition of one of Mír Dàmàd’s (17th c Persian philosopher of the revivalist school of Isfahàn) major Arabic theoretical work, al-Qabasàt (Tehran, 1897). Mír Dàmàd’s complex Persian text, Jadhawàt (printed in lithographic edition around the turn of the century in India) includes paraphrases of Uthulogia, specifically mi'màr (chapter headings, meaning “header”, etc. Mahbub al-qulub) 1-3 “On the Soul” which resemble the subject matter of Enneads, vol.3, vol.4, and vol.6, (Mind, knowing and being interrelated).

3) The so-called critical edition of the Arabic text is by Badawí (Cairo, 1955) based on 9 manuscripts (but many fragments, and other special partial mass of the later Iranian tradition of philosophy are missing here).

4) The accepted sections of the Arabic text were incorporated into Paul Henry and Schwyzer’s Plotini Opera, plus partial sections of Proclus by Geoffrey Lewis in the 1959 edition. Lewis had prior to Badawí prepared a doctoral dissertation of the Arabic text plus the English translation later published in Plotini Opera. The dissertation as far as I know was never published but Lewis did publish an interesting article “A re-examination of the so-called Theology of Aristotle” in Oriens, 1957.

5) The first 4 mi'màr of Uthulogia plus the Arabic commentary of the post 18th c Persian philosopher, Qàzí Sa'íd Qumí, was published by Jalāl Āshtīyānī (Tehran, 1978). The commentary is interesting in that certain philosophical arguments concerning use of the metaphor propagation of light as the model for becoming – multiplicity from the One – the Light of Lights model of Illuminationist continuum cosmos are discussed and refined.

Apart from 1-5 which constitute most of the well-known state of western scholarship on Arabic and Persian Plutonian tradition, there are the following additional points need be made:

6) There are roughly 22 known copies of Uthulogia – of the accepted Arabic text – in collections as reported by Paul Fenton in ‘The Arabic and Hebrew Versions of the Theology of Aristotle’ in Pseudo-Aristotle in the Middle ages, ed. J. Kraye (London, 1986).

7) Additional copies are found in lesser-known collections in small libraries in Iran at present (some private). A cursory study of a number of these has shown that most are roughly the same as Badawí’s edition, but a few include additions which in spirit resemble especially Enneads, vol.3, ff.

8) In 1929 the Russian Orientalist, Borisov, discovered three Judeo-Arabic, described as “old” copies of the Theology with substantial additions to the Badawí edition. Felton mentions these but I don’t think anyone has examined their content fully.

9) Finally, I have discovered several keys, what I should term “uses” of Plutonian ideas concerning: the knower, known, knowing; use of a mathematical model for becoming (here the sequence 2nd, somewhat like the series of “world souls” in the Timaeus); philosophical way of life (as reported in Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus (such as abstaining from eating flesh of animals, ascetic practices as a pre-condition for some kind of Parmenides, and/or Aesklepious-like “incubation” in order to receive wisdom from the source, etc.); the Plutonian “spontaneous” production of the whole of reality from the First principle; that the One may never breach by human thought or ordinary language (thus other than fikr and in language other than normal –Lisàn al-ishràq); the activity of nous as direct mental sight, or immediate grasp of object and not as conclusion of a process of discursive reasoning –thus Plotinian noesis for ta’alluh and dianoia for bahth; and also statements such as bring back/out the divine in you to the divine in all; and many other such points in illumination is writings and commentary a system initiated by the Persian philosopher Suhrawardí. Here of course the Greek influences the Persian, while earlier as Gordian marched against the Persians Plotinus goes along to learn of Persian thinking.


A Key Distinguishing Proposition in Islamic Philosophical Schools

The question of what is the Uthulogia has occupied Orientalist studies since 1857 when Munk demonstrated its close connection to the Enneads; since then up to the most recent superb study by Zimmerman in 1986 “The Origins of the So-called Theology of Aristotle” much interesting work has been done in this regard. I do not wish to dwell on these today at all. Instead I have chosen the proposition “sameness of knowing and being” and will discuss it to indicate 1) the most essential distinction between the two principle epistemological theories in Islamic philosophy; and 2) the apogee of Plutonian thought in Islamic philosophy in its Illuminationist refinement.

a) The problem of the story, if you like begins with Parmenides in his famous, albeit controversial statements on being (and knowing) in that it has been rendered rather differently into European languages from the Greek fragments III and VIII. Thinking is identical with the object of thinking, and so the origins of the logical notion of the law of identity between thinking and existence, as he said: “to think and to be are the same thing.” Of course, I am aware of the wide ranging ways the statement of Parmedines has been interpreted from a more philological way by Zeller ‘only what exits can be thought’ (from ‘it is the very same to think and to be’; to Heidegger’s most philosophical ‘identity/sameness of knowing and being’ (Moira) [one may even bring logicians on identity relations, sense and meaning such as Frege, but that will be another talk]). What, however, is significant for me here is that one of the two ways this Parmenides’ statement was transmitted into Arabic was via the Uthulogia, i.e. in its Plutonian form. The other was in Aristotle’s De Caelo, which had a different impact.

b) I must now take a moment to bring out the significance of the Arabic formulation here. In support we should also look in other places in the Uthulogia.

c) The other proposition is Aristotle’s on more or less a similar concept. Here the impact on the very foundation of “standard” Islamic philosophy (i.e. Peripatetic Avicennan) is monumental and I shall presently briefly touch on this. It is widely accepted, and Professor Herbert Davidson has brilliantly demonstrated, that one of the most talked of propositions in certainly medieval and Arabic and Hebrew philosophy is the “connection with the Active Intellect.” Let us briefly look at Aristotle himself on this issue. Aristotelian intellectual knowledge as you all know is a crucial first step to scientific theory constructed in Posterior Analytics. I will be very brief, for I presume deep familiarity here: Aristotle talks of two aspects/modes of intellect (nous): the active and the passive. Perhaps the theoretical motivation for this two-fold distinction is the polarity of form and matter. The name, however, of nous poietihos (as also reported by Avicenna in his al-Mabda’ wa'l-ma'àd  – not translated into Latin and attributed to Porphyry) is not to be found in Aristotle. But by the commentators (e.g. Alexander) Aristotle names this nous theoretikus, or nous apathes. In De Anima III 5, 430a we must distinguish between two intellects: one able to become all things, and another able to give all things a form (dator formarum): the first represents the matter of thinking, the second the cause and its form.

Any science starts from principles best known through nous. Therefore the theoretical intellect is the locus of the intelligibles, it is in the act, the intelligibles themselves – the thinking which thinks itself noesis noeseus noesis. Here is Aristotle’s account of this identity between nous and the intelligibles (Met. XII, 7, 1072b). “Thus thinking thinks itself by participating in the intelligibles, because it becomes the intelligible itself, coming into touch with its own object of thinking about it, so that the intellect and the intelligibles fuse becoming identical. This is so because the receptacle of the intelligible and of essence is thinking, which manifesting its presence by the act, possesses the intelligibles.” The noetic absorbs the ontological in a supreme fusion: the ontological background of reality is the intelligible that is intelligence in act. The nous is thus the locus of intelligible forms.’(De Anima, III, 4, 429a).

Now this Aristotelian model in its Avicennan interpretation (earlier by al-Farabius too) becomes the cornerstone of science in Islamic Peripatetic philosophy: Union with the Active intellects is the first step, the grounds, the principle of all knowledge. However there were problems seen with this as briefly indicated.

The alternative is Illuminationist Philosophy: And here, without line by line comparison I still hope the Plotinian influence will be seen, from the becoming of many from the One and nous to the identity of knowing and being: Mind and body in many texts of which I only must here hint, but will have no time to show

d) Result is that Ittihàd has problems associated with it mainly due to the implication of physical infisàl.

In general, in the philosophy of illumination and following it Mullà Sadrà in al-Ta'líqàt treats a number of problems in the Islamic Peripatetic style; but elsewhere, the arguments follow a distinct Illuminationist approach. Some of these problems are Illuminationist by common association, such as the multiplicity of Intellects (kathrat-i ‘uqul); the attribution “rich” and “poor” to equivocal being; and the adding of “nobility” and degree of intensity to standard Aristotelian types of priority. Other problems are more complex and require a closer examination.

In the domain of epistemology, Suhrawardí’s unified theory of apprehension (Arabic, idràk; Persian, daryàftan), is well-known in Islamic philosophy as “knowledge by presence” ('ilm-i huzurí), and it is this theory that forms the core of Mullà Sadrà’s epistemology of knowing and being. This theory rests on an inquiry into the relation between being and knowing. Here self-consciousness plays a fundamental role. “I-ness”; (maní, in Persian) is expanded to include ‘thou-ness’ and “he/she/it-ness” (u’í); i.e. ipseity (huwiyya) is generalized and encompasses the second and third persons as well. The subject, or the “one who apprehends/knows” (Arabic, mudrik; Persian, daryàbandih) apprehends the object (mudrak; daryàftih) when an atemporal relation is actualized between them. Self-consciousness/self-apprehension does not derive from the dyadic differentiation of being but is prior to any differentiation. Thus, “I think” and “I am” are “sameness,” which is a non-predicative identity relation. In The Book of Radiance, this relation is named bà ham budan, lit., “togetherness” of subject (daryàbandih) and object (daryàftíh); and is applied to the rational soul (nafs-i nàìiqih) and body.

Togetherness is an identity preserving one-to-one correspondence between each and every member of the set of all-knowing subjects and knowable objects. Mullà Sadrà here extends a logical principle of identity on to a metaphysical principle of relational correspondence. Each side of the relation is defined as a continuous domain consisting of multiple things, and the sum total of all things constitutes the whole. Every member of each of the two domains is said to be self-conscious, which is further attributed with “living”; therefore, the whole is also said to be self-conscious and thus “alive”.

The reasons for Suhrawardí’s and then following him Mullà Sadrà’s departure from Avicenna’s Aristotelian methodology where the first principles are constructed as predicative, essentialist definitions – are complex. To put it succinctly, he questions the universal validity of predicative laws. Aristotelian scientific theory must necessarily be constructed on principles that are most prior and most well known. Aristotle reiterates that such principles cannot be obtained by syllogistic demonstration. And though he states in more than one place, that principles of science are known not by the temporally extended process of inference-specific demonstration, but through some ‘other way’ (i.e. “immediate knowledge”) he is uncertain regarding their validity, never completely distinguishing immediate knowledge from opinion. Later philosophers regarded this as ambiguous, and Suhrawardí tried to overcome the problem. For example, Aristotle names the necessary primary knowledge of first principles a kind of immediate knowledge, or intuition and states that it is “a starting-point of knowledge”, but then leaves it unclear as to whether this type of pre-inference knowledge is opinion, valid by common acceptance, or something known as scientific knowledge.[17] This ambiguity is resolved by Suhrawardí’s ‘Science of Lights’ ('ilm al-anwàr), which is the methodology of his new philosophy of illumination.

Further, Illuminationist philosophy, and following it Mullà Sadrà in his al-Ta’liqat, contests the Aristotelian position that the laws of science formulated as A-propositions (the universal affirmative, al-mujiba al-kulliya; i.e., af(a)) are both necessary and always true, or universal. Through an elaborate process of arguments starting with the sections on logic in his major Arabic texts, Suhrawardí establishes future contingency (al-imkàn al-mustaqbal) as a scientific principle. Using this and other principles he argues that contrary to the Aristotelian position, laws of science cannot be universal. For us, this would mean that the current laws of science, such as f(a)tn formulated as, or equated with the formula é(a)ó" af (a) are inherently refutable, and may in fact turn out to be wrong, because at time tn+m :    àэxэ(X → ù f(a) thus invalidating universality of G (a).[18]

Suhrawardí sought to construct a system that would yield the same type of certitude in intuitive knowledge as is obtained by mathematical deductive reasoning. This means that atemporal and non-spatially extended intuitive knowledge obtained by the acts of the self-conscious ‘I-ness’ (al-ana’iyya al-mudrika) would permit primary principles to be obtained and given validity beyond the predicative, temporal mode of inference. Suhrawardí first critically evaluates the Law of Identity in logic, then, among other problems, examines the physics of continuity (ittisàl) and discontinuity (infisàl) against the notions of ‘equality’ and ‘connection’ between the apprehending subject (al-mawzu' al-mudrik) and the apprehendable object (al-mawzu´al-mudrak).[19] The theory is formulated in full for the first time in the section on Metaphysics in Paths and Havens: Book Three. It replaces Aristotelian predicative knowledge, thought to be inapplicable to the process of obtaining Primary Principles, with the unified theory of ‘knowledge by presence’. In logical terms, this means that forms of equality such as x are y and x = y, are replaced with a unified law of relational correspondence between each and every (kull wàhid wàhid) individual member (ahad) of aggregate wholes (al-ijtimà', novel Illuminationist term): the “realm of knowing,” and the “realm of being”. This relation between subject and object is named al-izàfa ishràqiyya, meaning “Illuminationist relation”.

The idea of relational correspondence between thinking and being, subject and object, thinker and the thing thought, is one of Illuminationist philosophy’s great achievements. The theory clearly defines the multi-level relation between the thinking subject and the knowable object as a relation function between each member of the two realms: thinking and being. Thus, non-predicative knowledge by presence is given priority over predicative knowledge, and finally, X = Y is replaced by {xi} I (q){yj}, which is named a unified law of metaphysics.[20]

Illuminationist Cosmology: One/nous/the many

Ontology and the structure of reality. The texts of Hikmat al-ishràq and al-Ta'líqàt.

The universe is described as a continuum of “lights” deferring only in terms of their respective degrees of luminosity, starting from the Light of Lights down to the elemental. Every light in this “whole” has a real identity (huwiyya) and is “conscious” of it to a degree – Light of Lights the most self-conscious, whose identity as self and as other are the same, Its act of self-identity triggers an eternal process best named ‘propagation’. But, to define a new structure of the whole of reality and to re-define realist ontology, requires a new language.

The new language. One of the least analyzed components of an entire range of non-Aristotelian texts, from Baghdadi to Ibn Kammuna,[21] is the varying attempts made by these authors to define a new language that is deemed better suited in explaining differences with the Peripatetic system. This does not mean that the entire range of Peripatetic technical language is changed. In most cases terms are added to the Peripatetic set, or terms are substituted. Often Peripatetic terms are scrutinized in order to explain how many ways they are said, and to distinguish between common usage (ordinary language) and technical usage. The boldest attempt is made by Suhrawardí, who in addition to technical refinements of terms of philosophy defines a ‘comprehensive’ meta-language (often called symbolic) he names “The Illuminationist language” (lit. tongue) (Lisàn al-ishràq).

Let us examine Suhrawardí’s Hikmat al-ishràq to demonstrate how carefully constructed this symbolic language is.[22] It includes two types of symbols: 1) A set of light symbols employed predominantly to describe the ontological continuum.[23]  The entire spectrum consists of lights – all real in the identified real-continuum existing not as a construct’ in the knowing subject’s mind – whether visible or not that differ only in respect to degrees of intensity (shidda wa za'f) of their visible luminosity (istinàra). 2) A set of proper names taken mostly from Iranian mythology, epic, legends and popular lore. As with all constructed systems that include a symbolic language defined in that system so as to describe complicated compound arguments, it would be a mistake to re-assign meanings to the symbols chosen almost at random from multiple, different systems. This, you would agree, would result in confusion, and would certainly negate the system’s aim to convey a sense not limited by the conventional and the ordinary, nor by limits imposed by other systems. A simple example might help: I think everyone reading these lines would agree that to replace the symbol “+” with any number of possible equivalents that would convey its presumed sense, such as “with”, “together with,” and, “plus,” might do if you are trying to convey the sense, say of  2 + 2 isolated from the whole system of first order arithmetic, but its global replacement with a randomly chosen equivalent, would certainly create havoc, and be tantamount to taking many steps backward in the development of mathematics. You would agree that no sensible professional mathematician would ever do this. The case with the constructed Illuminationist symbolic language, I would argue is precisely the same. Other examples may be taken from first order logic, perhaps more significant to the philosophically minded reader.

Suhrawardí's notion of primary intuition and the two-fold division of philosophy into: intuitive, and rational, were misunderstood as a kind of “mystical experience”.[24] Two examples illustrative of the two types of symbols used in the Philosophy of Illumination will suffice, I hope to indicate the nature of the underlying intention from its construction, and to show how a random re-assignment of “equivalents” meanings to them serve only to confuse the issue and do not help us recover the philosopher's intention.

First, most commentators simply replace the light symbolism with randomly selected perceived equivalents taken from Avicenna’s ontology. They took light (nur), for example, to be the equivalent of being (wujud, some replaced it with dhàt), well in a way it is, but light also conveys more than wujud just as, for example, the operator as defined in say some First Order Logic, stands for more than ordinary language possible equivalents, such as “not”  “it is not the case that,” “no”; etc. To do so would negate the philosopher’s intention in constructing the symbolic language. Also, the reduction and re-assignment of terms such as Necessary Being in place of the Light of Lights, pure being for abstract light, etc. never gave satisfactory results. Take, for example, an array of ‘light entities: Nur al-anwàr; al-anwàr al-mujarrada; al-anwàr al-mujarrada al-qahira al-anwàr al-mujarrada al-mudabbira; shadda wa za’f fi al-anwàr; istinàra fi'l anwàr, etc. Surely a replacement of all such symbols by randomly selected “equivalents” taken from different systems would not be helpful to understand Suhrawardí’s attempt to describe a time-space continuum and a unified theory of knowledge operative in every sector of the continuum – one of the cornerstones of the Illuminationist system. Lights continuously[25] propagating (thus not given number, such as the 10 in Avicenna’s system)[26]from a source in ‘measureless time–'Suhrawardí here uses the most innocuous term he could find in the Arabic language, yahsal, where other previous terms used were taken from verbs denoting emanation such as fayz, must be distinguished from ordered, and numbered Intellects of Aristotelian cosmology, that are discrete and demonstrate a kind of priority in terms of causality. All lights are distinguished from the source, differing in terms of their manifest luminosity, which seems to be more suited to describe being as continuum, as well as the ontological position known as equivocal being (tashkík fi’l wujud). An attempt has to be made to recover what Suhrawardí had intended, and not to dismiss the system as nothing but the Avicennan in fancy terms.

The result of the above outlined two-fold mistaken interpretations of the new holistic system Philosophy of Illumination has led scholars to overlook that Suhrawardí’s explicitly stated aim is to present an improved, non-Aristotelian scientific method, he calls “the Science of Lights”, and claims that it is defined by the new system. The new scientific method is considered to be more refined and capable of investigating and explaining a wider range of real phenomena. The wider range includes: things corporeal, extended in three dimensional space with temporal extensions in measured time; non-corporeal but shaped things extended in a different segment – yet in (fi) the total space-continuum--exhibiting non-Euclidean characteristics (e.g. here and there may coincide; time now, before, and after) are non-linear and may coincide or exhibit different order; and the most abstract things. Based on information reported by historians, as well as textual evidence, it is clear that Suhrawardí had studied the standard Peripatetic corpus of Avicenna’s texts. His most informed biographer, Shahrazurí, relates that he had also studied the logician Saw’is text al-Basà’ir- a fact confirmed by Suhrawardí – indicative of his studies of the non-Aristotelian trend. More importantly in this regard, though not reported by historians, is the fact – I have demonstrated elsewhere – that based on textual evidence Suhrawardí had studied Baghdadi’s work some of whose fundamental logical and epistemological non-Aristotelian arguments he does utilize in his own reconstruction, while taking care to argue against others, especially those relating to creation and emanation.  I do not aim here to trace the origins and developments of the non-Aristotelian trend in Islamic philosophy I have indicated above, but I should emphasize that its most significant, distinguishing characteristic is the manifest intention of the thinkers associated with it to reconstruct a philosophical universal system, with the aim to define unified theories, based on principles, theorems, lemmas, and rules, incorporating a new method claimed to be non-Aristotelian. To use such terms as “mystical”, “theosophical”, and the like, as used by Orientalists and historians to describe this side of Islamic philosophy is to misrepresent the carefully delineated desire of some of the most creative minds in Islamic history.


The Epistemology of Knowledge by Presence

I hope that the reader has been convinced by my discussion of non-Aristotelian texts presented above in Part One, that: a) philosophical investigation in the early post-Avicennan period is not limited to Scholastic Islamic philosophy; and b) some 12th c. authors do achieve a measure of success in technical refinements pertaining to a wide range of philosophical problems. I will now focus my attention on the new epistemological theory defined by Suhrawardí’s Illuminationist Philosophy.

This generalized epistemological theory, as we saw is founded on the logical identity relation, and is valid if and only if;

a) S exists, which we know to be extensions of self-consciousness; b) O exists, which is established as a real thing in the continuum, and is evident because of the continuous illumination of light throughout reality forever; c) a medium exists, which is the light in the various sectors of the continuum. Moreover the theory is capable of explaining how knowledge is obtained in every sector of the real continuum. Physical sight is explained as Knowledge by Presence operating in the corporeal sector. Here S is the seeing subject; O is any real object; and light is the corporeal light of the sun or moon or a lamp. Swill know O, if and only if, S is capable of seeing, and is manifest (i.e. not hidden behind a way, a wall or something), and there is light. At the moment S beholds O it will know what-it-is. No one can describe O, nor define O as-it-is to S, who however will use a constructed system that includes rules of inference, etc. to communicate knowledge of O to another. In the non-corporeal sector of reality knowledge by presence operates on the same principle, but here knowledge obtained is described as another kind of ‘seeing  (mushahàda, maybe witnessing, or vision), and S is the apprehending subject  (al-mawzu' al-mudrik, whose apprehension is = a degree of self-consciousness), O is any non-corporeal, and luminous to a degree, entity, or thing. Light in this sector is not bodily, but real, and obstacles between S and O may include S’s ignorance, etc. Seeing in this sector, thus knowledge obtained, may be through a number of acts such as true dreams, visions, inspirations, and revelations, all of which depend on the degree of the Subject’s perfected creative imagination, or intuition, or intellection. All function, but according to differing degrees.


The Model: Equivalence Relation between Thinking and Being Presented in Hikmat al-Ishràq and al-Ta‘líqàt

From a philosophical point of view the central problem intimated [27] by the story is to investigate the relation[28] between knowing and being discussed by Suhrawardí in each level of the syllabus on1 Illuminationist Philosophy in an increasingly more technical and elaborated way. I will here present the overall characteristics of this problem that I have extrapolated from its extended discussion through all Three Parts of al-Ta‘líqàt, and will next examine how the relation is first argued step-by-step, usually in contrast to another view, and finally constructed as a unified equivalence relation. This I hope will inform the reader of the logical foundations of Illuminationist epistemology, namely the principle, or law of identity established in logic.[29] We will then be in a better position to explain the unified theory to be the metaphysical extension of the logical principle, or law, of identity.

Self-apprehension (idràk al-dhàt in Arabic, also entailing the meanings self-cognizance; self-knowledge; self-sensation; and so on) does not begin from being-as-differentiated (form and matter, the substrata of Peripatetic philosophy).[30] Rather, self-apprehension is self-identity prior to differentiation, i.e. the identity –equivalence relation, or correspondence – of the thinking subject (generalized as apprehending subject and [31] its object (which, beheld from another position in the system, it too is self-identified) prior to dyadic differentiation (substance/form; subject/object; actual/potential, in Peripatetic terms) from Being-as-One, or the Whole continuum what is called Reality in a less technical way. Thus, I think  & I am  (being qua being & being-as-this; potential being & actual being; and so on) are signified by an identity relation. Taken one step further, we can re-state the proposition this way:  the process by which equivalence (as the complete signification by correspondence,[32] of the set of all “I” s; “we” s; “it” s; “this” s, and so one; each with its self-identity is established. In short, through this explanation Suhrawardí extends the logical (and mathematical) principle of identity onto a metaphysical principle of correspondence: Self-Knowledge: Self-Identity; each side of the relation defined as a domain consisting of multiple continuous things – & the sum total of all things in each and every domain is together the Whole (what Suhrawardí names al-Kull bi'l ma‘nà al-ijtimà'í). Or, to be = to think. This further informs intuitive reality as undifferentiated and non-prepositional. Thus, “I” is defined to be one real individual among the set of all “i” s, and is distinguished from the logical abstracted universal, common genus predicated of se of “i” s. In this way A is A and A = A are distinguished beyond Descartes' recognitions to also include Kant’s transcendental ego, but entailing additional components that relate to the cosmological structure that must be constructed so as to then consistently apply this relation at all levels in each sector of the universe.

To explain the relation between thinking and being--signified by Suhrawardí’s statement presented at the beginning of this section – requires a well-defined description of correspondence among the structure of Reality, epistemological process, and ontological theory (equally applicable to the range of each and everything in the Whole). Synchretic Peripatetic epistemology fails to accomplish this task, so claims Suhrawardí because of several reasons which will be examined below. Briefly, the fusion (or, juxtaposition) of Aristotelian theories of intellectual knowledge (including ambiguities concerning the potential intellect as material devoid of independent existence outside the soul – after Alexander – or as incorporeal, separate substance independent of the soul, and so on), with Plutonian doctrine of nous (self-identity, independence, immaterial transcendence, essential priority, and so on), into an Islamic theory claimed to prove validity of revealed truth deduced syllogistically, was not accepted to be sound, nor consistent. The multiple correspondences among the things of the different realms: Separate intellects and substantial souls with individual thinking subjects, whose knowledge was ultimately based on a union with the separate Active Intellect, made to correspond to the angel Gabriel of revelation, did not convince many thinkers, notably Suhrawardí. Plutonian cosmology was seen as a continuum of being, in which real existence of things were substantially identical differing in equivocal degrees of an essential self-consciousness permeating the Whole. This differed from Aristotelian cosmic structure seen to explain numbered, discretely distinguished and ranked Intellects based on a mechanical model. Multiplicity of Intellects (kithrat al-‘uqul) based on mathematical models – sequences such as 2 n-1  – to this day is one of the ways used to explain differences between the two systems.  In addition, Plutonian theories of apprehension (idràk) – interpreted to signify the most general view of knowledge – presented in Uthologia  (and other texts) – made no reference to, nor ever named the Active Intellect and others related to its function.  Finally, the Aristotelian method of science defined by the Nine Books of the Arabic corpus of the Organon, applied by the Muslim Peripatetics equally in discussing Aristotelian and Plotinian principles, lead logical gaps, so claimed the 12th c. thinkers (explained above). After all texts such as the Uthologia  did not include sections on logic, nor included discussions we may describe as logical foundations of epistemology.  This is precisely what philosophers such as Suhrawardí aimed to rectify by re-examining and by refining Aristotelian logic, which as we shall see will describe just what the identity relation  (or more precisely, the equivalence) posed in the above statement does signify.

In sum, Peripatetic epistemological theory, specifically relating to the function and nature of the Active Intellect, first formulated by al-Fàràbí in several of his works, signified both Classical Islamic Political Philosophy, and its theoretical basis  Islamic Political Philosophy, defined by Fàràbí as an independent discipline in texts bearing political titles was never extended beyond him. Political doctrine, however, does not die out, but is incorporated by Avicenna into the final chapters of metaphysica specialis,[33] which is defined by Fazlur Rahman as 'Theory of Prophecy'. [34]

Statements in texts by Fàràbí and by Avicenna that appear to be similar to Suhrawardí’s statement here examined, however, signify something other than what is intended by the Illuminationist relation between thinking and being. Let us briefly indicate some of the differences:

The logical foundation of the Peripatetic apprehension rests on the two-part division conception (tasawwur, or said more precisely concept formation) and assent  (tasdíq), some types of which are formulated as predicative propositions (x is y, or (x) f (x), or ("xf (x), and so on), while others--said to be grasped by the intuitive intellect (e.g. Post. Anal. II, 19, 100a) --are formulated as existential propositions (x is). This sense of idràk is to be differentiated from its intended meaning in Illuminationist texts, which is used in defining unified epistemology--signifying cognition as a kind of knowledge established through an equivalence relation of self as subject and as object, but more on this later. The point that need be emphasized here is that the terms idràk, mudrik, mudrak (and other derivatives of the verb d-r-k) are used extensively in Plutonian texts available to Islamic philosophers in Arabic versions – most importantly in the Uthulujiya, the so-called Theology of Aristotle, and in Kitàb fí khayr al-Mahd, known under the titles, Liber Aristotelis de expositione Bonitatis purae (shortened as: Liber Bonitatis purae), or Liber de Causis. In the latter work we find the attempt to define the term anniya as self-identity and to establish its relation to the living and to the human; and a generalized sense of intellectual apprehension,  (idràk ‘aqlí).[35] More significantly we find the following statements, significant to our discussion at hand: “Every intellect who is self-cognizant is identified both as the thinking subject and the object of thought becoming one another”.[36] This is to be contrasted with the Aristotelian corresponding statement: noesis noeseous noesis; applied to nous alone where “thinking thinks itself, coming into touch with its own object and thinking about it, so that the intellect and the intelligible fuse, becoming identical. This is because the receptacle of the intelligible and of essen is thinking, which manifesting its presence by the act, possesses the intelligible” (Met. XII, 7, 1072b), which as in the statement in the De Anima (III, 4, 429a) establishes Nous as the topos of intelligible forms – then passed down to the rational soul by the Active Intellect – and not any equivocal nous. I would like to here suggest that the concept of noetic continuum greatly inspired Suhrawardí, whose constructed ontological structure of Reality corresponds its noetic counterpart, which was necessary for his definition of the relation between being and thinking.

The text which shows more of an influence on the Philosophy of Illumination is the Uthologia [37] This impact has been recognized by western scholarship on Islamic philosophy in general and on Illuminationist texts in particular since more than a century ago by Alfred von Kremer, Max Horten, Carra de Vaux, and others,[38] who had characterized Illuminationist texts as Neo-Platonist. I would like to, however, add here a philosophical precision to the earlier generalizations. Just as I have argued above that some manifest Peripatetic elements of elementary texts of the Illuminationist corpus does not signify simple borrowing, nor an earlier period in Suhrawardí’s thinking, so too the Plotinian dimension manifest more in the advanced texts of the same corpus does not signify synchretic addition nor the last period of his thought, incorrectly characterized to be his Period finale: avicenno-platonicienne.[39] The Neo-Platonist impact on Illuminationist philosophy may be viewed from two levels:

First, there are a number of terms readily manifest in Illuminationist compositions most of which are rarely, if ever, employed in a technical sense in Peripatetic texts. These, for example, include: iniyya (self-as-self, or self-identity changed to ana’iyya, I-ness by Suhrawardí); khal' badan (removing bodily shackles to free the soul); nur and sharaf (light and nobility) attributed to the divine realm; extensive reference made to al-Awwalun (Pre-Socratics) and to the divine Plato so as to recover philosophical sense of ambiguous problems; nur al-anwàr (Light of Lights) said to be the Being beyond the Intellect,[40] and the One without limit . . . whose light eternally shines upon the realm of Intellect ;[41] hay’a (the idea form, or pure shape); ibsàr al-shay (seeing-the-thing as grasping what-it-is, later given priority over essentialist definition in the process of obtaining the thing’s essence, by Suhrawardí in his theory of knowledge, and extended to the incorporeal realm as mushàhada, lit. “seeing,”  but more in the sense of intellectual vision), and so on.

Second, there are a number of ideas presented in the Uthulogia , which are extended in a novel philosophical way in the construction of the Illuminationist system. These include: the idea of a light force gushing from the One upon the Intellects of the souls down to the corporeal realm of generation and corruption.[42] This idea is used and refined in the cosmic structure of the continuum of lights propagating from the Light of Lights and by it so does the element control. The concept of communicating intuitive truths is presented in several places in the Uthulogia  that may only be conveyed by the use of metaphor and allegory.[43] Suhrawardí, as we saw above, extended this much beyond the idea of using metaphor and allegory and developed a multi component meta-language he named “Language of Illumination”, deemed better suited for the explication of abstract philosophical principles and unified theories. There are other such technical extensions of Plutonian concepts, but I will single out the most significant one. This is the idea of the relation between thinking subject and the object of thought, which, as we saw may be seen in statements by Parmenides. Its formulation in the Arabic text of the Uthulogia  is Porphyry’s interpretation of Plutonian epistemological doctrine (Enneads, vol. 9. Cf. Enneads I, 3) where the nous has a dual function: perceived object and perceiving subject. The ontological corresponding doctrine should also be kept in mind:[44] “In Heaven .  . . all things are in unity, and each substance is identical with its sufficient reason”.[45] 

In the Arabic text the discussion of the question begins in Book II: On the Soul, where it is said that the soul when existing in the realm of intellects becomes united with the intellect . . . and will come to know its essence which is when it becomes the thinking subject and the object of thought… the two united as though they were one thing.[46] Later an attempt is made to add another element to the identity relation by equating what-is and how-is the thing in the mind as one and the same thing.[47]  The most important discussion of the topic, however, is included in Book VIII.2: ‘On the Potential and the Actual [48] Here potentiality is said to be more noble than actuality in the highest realm, and explained as that which is in intelligible substances and is self-sufficient. This thing is the principle of self-consciousness permeating all things, in this text limited to the non-corporeal.



[1]. Bahà al-Dín Ibn Shaddàd (1145-1234) the famous biographer of Saladin and the judge of Jerusalem and the army refer to Suhrawardí as the youth (al-shàbb). See Ibn Shaddàd, al-Nawàdir al-sulìàniyya, ed. Jamal al-Din al-Shayyal, pp. 31-32, Cairo, 1964.

 [2]. See my “The Illuminationist Political Doctrine”, in The Political Aspects of Islamic Philosophy, edited by Charles Butterworth, pp. 334-89, Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993.

[3]. See R. S. Walters, Laws of Science and Law like Statements, in E. Phil, vol. 4, pp. 410-414.

[4]. Introduced as part of the Illuminationist unified theory called Qài'dat al-imkàn  al-ashraf- the former, similar to contemporary notions of possible worlds.

[5]. Cf. The phenomenological concept of seeing, or intuition of essences   Wesensschau. Also Anschauung, seeing when applied to essence implies a seeing of a different kind, just as the distinction between ibsàr and mushàhada. See Richard Schimmitt, Phenomenology, E. Phil, vol. 6, pp.135-151.

[6]. See Shahrazurí, Nuzhat al-arwàh; Cf. IK; B, MD.MS, etc.

[7]. Terms for Intuitive Philosophy.

[8]. Terms for rational.

[9]. Characteristics of non-Aristotelian texts of the 12th c. Baghdàdí states the problem in his own Introduction to al-Mu'tabar, but it is Suhrawardí who fully develops the problem and discusses it in both theoretical and practical domains of Illuminationist philosophy.

[10].Teicher, pp. 37-38.

[11]. Ibid., pp 36-39. And this point I wish to emphasize here, Teicher after, again I think correctly, rejecting the two-fold identification: NB = potential; PB= actual, in the Aristotelian sense.

[12]. Teicher, p. 38.

[13]. But, it should be remembered that post Avicennan texts in the East were either not known in his time, or imagined to be some kind of theology he would have rejected prior to examining them. Thus he never looked further. (Teicher was alone and he so states. see his notes.)

[14]. First let me state briefly that increasingly many texts in the centuries that follow Avicenna’s Peripatetic works first compose a Prolegomena to their work where, among other things, they discuss problems of method and intention, and how their works differ from previous ones. This notion of an independent Introduction to philosophy is quite different from the Peripatetic texts, where Introduction to the study of philosophy is set according to the subjects of Porphyry’s Isagoge, i.e. introduction to the Organon – and the Organon, is the tool for philosophical investigation. This idea is the standard Peripatetic one and continues to this day to define Introduction to its study. Especially in Abharí’s Arabic version of it, together with countless commentaries and glosses (some even in verse). The text of Abharí, known also in the Latin world and published in a bi-lingual edition in 1625, defines the primer for the study of philosophy. On the other hand the non-Peripatetic texts, as B’s and S’s and the Commentaries, include a Muqaddima different in every respect from the Isagoge Ísàghují. Many things are established by the new type of Prolegomena to non-A texts, including the three Rules I have named above that distinguish them.

[15]. Aristotle’s notion of immediate knowledge is mentioned in Posterior Analytics, I.2; Metaphysics XII, as well as in several places in De Anima, III.

[16]. Suhrawardí’s novel criticism of Aristotelian logic is paralleled in William of Ockham’s Summa Logica: Pars Prima: 13, 14. Other parallels include: Illuminationist critique of Aristotelian horos and horismos, in the Philosophy of Illumination, Part One, I.7, ¤13 through ¤16, with Summa Logica, Pars Prima: 26: On Definition; and Summa Ligica, Pars Prima: 12: Second intentions, with i'tibaràt ‘aqliyyah, in the Philosophy of Illumination, Part One, III.3.1, ¤56ff.

[17]. Consider: Selbsgefühl, as the central and original idea that underlines all of subsequent writings [of Fichte] states the translator Daniel Breazeale. (See Fichte, Early Philosophical Writings, pp.11-13. Translated and Edited by Daniel Breazeale, Ithaca: Cornell UP. 1988.) In addition, Breazeale reports Fichte's discussions with Henrick Steffens (a former student who wrote the conversation in vol. IV of hisWas ich erlebte, pp. 161-162, Breslau: J. Max,18421). In one passage we read: For some time he [Fichte] had dimly realized that truth consists in the unity of thought and object. He  . . . thought that the act by which self-consciousness seizes and holds onto itself is clearly a type of knowing. Then I recognizes itself as something produced through its own activity; thinker and thought, knowing and its object, are here one and the same. All knowledge proceeds from this point. . . . he tried to establish the I as the principle of philosophy (Was ich erlebte, p. 13).

      Now consider Suhrawardí’s statement as explained by his commentator Shahrazurí: All things self-apprehending are ‘pure lights’ and all pure lights are evident (Evidenz of German texts) to their I-ness (al-anàniyya, which is extended in Persian to include mani, tu, andSo here the self-conscious subject (al-mudrik) and the knowable object (al-mudrak) and awareness itself (al-idràk, as Vernehmen in German philosophical texts) are one (Shahrazurí, Sharh hikmat al-ishràq, ed. Hossein Ziai, p. 301ff, Tehran, 1992.

[18]. Aristotle concurs on this, Posterior Analytics, I, 2.

[19]. See Hilary Putnam, Philosophy of Logic, p.46, London:Alen & Unwin, 1972.

[20]. More extensively than any other of his other three main theoretical works, which must, however, be examined in relation to one another if we are to recover the full extent of the aim and meaning of its place in Illuminationist philosophy. This is especially important for our analysis of the new methodology of science, named the Science of Lights, defined by the Illuminationist system. The constructed symbolic language is named Language of Illumination (Lisàn al-Ishràq) by Suhrawardí himself.

[21]. Where the All (al-Kull), and every multiple member included in all four-segments, of the continuum, including the source which is one in respect to all possible dimensions (al-wàhid min jamí' al-wujuh) – but is continuous (muttasil) on the one hand with the closest Light (al-Nur al-Aqrab), the propagated first light – also one but cardinally distinguished from the ordinal one Light of Lights – as well as with all other propagated lights that together identify the whole spectrum (visible and invisible).

[22]. They are real not ideal.

[23]. Ittisàl wa infisàl

[24]. Problem of infinity.

[25].Note that I have consistently since my book translated al-Talwíhàt as Intimations, which is based on my reading of Ibn Kammuna’s explanation of the distinction between al-Talwíhàt al-lawhiyya and al-Talwíhàt al-'arshiyyah. See Ibn Kammuna, al-Tanqíhàt fi sharh al-talwíhàt: al-'Ilm al-awwal fi'al mantiq (Unpublished ms: Tehran: Majles, No.  ), fols. Cf. Herbert Davidson’s translation of the same title as Elucidations, which though similar to mine entails a more rationalist sense. See Herbert Davidson, Alfarabi, Avicenna, & Averroes, on Intellect, p. 161. Corbin and others have misunderstood the sense by failing to investigate the work beyond the vague notion mystical wisdom they have attributed to Suhrawardí, which has led some scholars to name Suhrawardí Sufi and his system Sufi philosophy. See, E. Phil, and Ebra Jabra Jrji. Illumination in Islamic Mysticism, pp. 10-15, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1938, to name but a few.

[26]. The relation is variously explained, first in terms of the category izàfa, and then expanded into an equivalence relation named muìàbaqa, which means correspondence or more precisely, a one-to-one correspondence between each and every element of structures of Reality, the noetic and the ontological.

[27]. Cf.  law of identity in the three schools of the foundation of mathematics.

[28]. Cf. Ibn Kammuna on this.

[29].  (the same; equal to, etc. we shall see).

[30]. Problems of and; in Peripatetic texts beoming, same, etc. are used imprecisely.

[31]. Cf. generalizations of I and we and this and that.

[32]. I, we, he – maní tu'í, uí, mà'í, etc. as mind – i.e. al-darràk al-hayy (living apprehender) a degree of al-darràk al-fa''àl, both real and living – lights. sources and comparisons.

[33].Cf. Hads, etc. Said by Muslim Peripatetic logicians to be زconception of things whose assent coincides with the conception. Note that here it is said conception of things, not by things, i.e. subjects, which presupposes reality differentiated, and this is different form the Illuminationist concept of primary intuition prior to differentiation. The Peripatetic intuition is no more than a kind of quick wit to use Aristotle’s term by a clever thinker.

[34]. See, for example, al-Shifà, logic, etc.

[35]. Badawi, al-Aflàtuniyya al-muhdatha ind al-‘Arab, pp. 14-15, Kuwait, 1977.

[36]. See Alfred von Kremer, Geschichte der herrschenden Ideendes Islams, pp. 90-97, Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus, 1868. See Max Herten, Die Philosophie der Erleutung nach Suhrawardí , Halle, 1912. See Carra de Vaux, La philosophie illuminative d’apres Suhrawardí Meqtoul, Journal Asiatique, xix, vol.19, pp. 63-94, 1902.

[37]. See Loius Massignon, Recueil de textesinedits concernant l’histoire de la mystique en pays d’Islam, pp. 111-116, Paris: Paul Geuthner, 1929.

[38]. E.g. Uthulogia, p. 6. Cf. texts of S.

[39]. E.g., Ibid., pp. 8, 44. Cf. Khalan al-badan said of Plato, etc.

[40]. E.g. Ibid., p. 44ff. Cf. morphe (Enneads, vol. 9), translated consubstantial form of pure entities. I think this means something like the idea of shape prior to its formation within a defined space. Cf., HI.

[41]. Uthulogia, pp. 56 ff. Cf. sight and vision in HI.

[42]. E.g. Uthulogia, p. 44. Also said to be used by some of the most noble of the early philosophers.

[43]. Enneads, VI, 7.

[44]. Uthulogia, p. 21.

[45]. Ibid., p.58.

[46]. Ibid., p. 94.

[47]. Ibid., Incidentally the idea of idràk al-naar made to resemble this self-sufficiency of things is the basis for irsad ruhànī.

[48]. Ibid., pp. 105-109. Cf., Enneads, I, 3: 13.


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