A Philosophical Enquiry into the Nature of Suhrawardī’s Illuminationism

Light in the Cave


Tianyi Zhang offers in this study an innovative philosophical reconstruction of Shihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrawardī’s (d. 1191) Illuminationism. Commonly portrayed as either a theosophist or an Avicennian in disguise, Suhrawardī appears here as an original and hardheaded philosopher who adopts mysticism as a tool for philosophical investigation.
Zhang makes use of Plato’s cave allegory to explain Suhrawardī’s Illuminationist project. Focusing on three areas—the theory of presential knowledge, the ontological discussion of mental considerations, and Light Metaphysics—Zhang convincingly reveals the Nominalist and Existential nature of Illuminationism and thereby proposes a new way of understanding how Suhrawardī’s central philosophical ideas cohere.

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Tianyi Zhang, Ph.D. (2019), University of Cambridge, is a Junior Research Fellow at Clare College, Cambridge. He has published in English and Chinese on Suhrawardī’s Illuminationist philosophy and Avicenna’s Peripatetic philosophy.
Notes on Abbreviations and Translations

Introduction: The Cave Story: Suhrawardi’s Illuminationist Project
  1 Background and Purpose
  2 The Cave Story Approach
  3 Scope and Methodology

1 From Four Peripatetic-Style Works to ? ikmat al-Ishra q
  1 The Contents of the Four Peripatetic-Style Works
    1.1 Al-Talwi?at (The Intimations) and al-Lama?at (The Glimpses)
    1.2 Al-Muqawamat (The Oppositions)
    1.3 Al-Mu?ara?at (The Debates)
  2 The Introduction to ? ikmat al-Ishra q (The Philosophy of Illumination)
    2.1 Deif?ication(ta?alluh) and Investigation (ba?th)
    2.2 The Ranking of Philosophers
    2.3 The Contents of ? ikmat al-Ishra q
  3 The Functions of the Four Peripatetic-Style Works
  4 Summary of Chapter 1

2 Presential Knowledge and the Nature of Illuminationist Philosophy
  1 The Context of the Theory of Presential Knowledge
    1.1 Two Problems with Avicenna’s Formal Knowledge
    1.2 Avicenna’s Primitive Self-Awareness as the Starting Point
  2 Establishing Illuminationist Presential Knowledge
    2.1 Self-Apprehension
      2.1.1 The Particularity Argument
      2.1.2 The I-ness Argument
      2.1.3 The Priority Argument
    2.2 Apprehension of One’s Body and Bodily Faculties
    2.3 Apprehension of Pain Caused by Amputation
    2.4 Visual Perception
  3 Presence as the Nature of All Human Knowledge
    3.1 Two Conditions for Knowledge
    3.2 The Nature of Human Knowledge
    3.3 What Is “Illumination” (ishraq)?
  4 Presential Knowledge as God’s Knowledge
    4.1 God’s Presential Knowledge of Everything
    4.2 God’s Knowledge of Particulars
  5 The Hierarchy of Knowledge in Illuminationism
    5.1 Three Levels of Presential Knowledge, and Formal Knowledge
    5.2 The Relation between Presential Knowledge and Formal Knowledge
    5.3 The Highest Human Presential Knowledge
  6 Summary of Chapter 2

3 On Mental Considerations: Univocal Existence
  1 The Context of the Discussion of Mental Considerations
    1.1 Three Camps and Three Positions
    1.2 Avicenna and Suhrawardi on the Quiddity–Existence Distinction
  2 Suhrawardi’s Existentialism and Systematically Ambiguous Existence (al-wujud bi-l-tashki k)
    2.1 Univocal Existence (al-wujud bi-l-tawa ? u?) and Systematically Ambiguous Existence
    2.2 Four Arguments for Suhrawardi’s Existentialism
  3 The qus?as (Test) and the Real–Mental Consideration Distinction
    3.1 Analysis of the qus?as
    3.2 What Are Real and Mental Considerations?
  4 Univocal Existence as a Mental Consideration
    4.1 The Indiffference Argument and the Inf?inite Regress of Existence
      4.1.1 The Indiffference Argument, Self-Predication and Non-Identity
      4.1.2 Sawi’s Argument, and Two Peripatetic Defences
    4.2 The Doubt Argument and the Inf?inite Regress of Existence
    4.3 The Hybrid Inf?inite Regress of Existence and Relation

4 On Other Mental Considerations
  1 Oneness, Contingency, and Necessity by Another
    1.1 Oneness
      1.1.1 The Indiffference Argument and the Inf?inite Regress of Oneness
      1.1.2 An Inference: All Numbers Are Mental Considerations
    1.2 Contingency (the Priority Argument and the Inf?inite Regress of Contingency)
    1.3 Necessity by Another
      1.3.1 The Hybrid Inf?inite Regress of Necessity and Contingency
      1.3.2 The Hybrid Inf?inite Regress of Necessity and Existence
  2 Summary of Suhrawardi’s Arguments from Inf?inite Regresses
    2.1 Ten Hybrid Inf?inite Regresses and Their Key Premises
    2.2 The Universal Patterns of the Arguments from Inf?inite Regresses
  3 Genera and Diffferentiae; Determinables and Diffferentiae of Determinates
    3.1 The Determinable–Diffferentia of Determinate Distinction
      3.1.1 The Replaceability Argument
      3.1.2 The Duality Argument
      3.1.3 The Inf?inite Regress Argument
      3.1.4 The Undef?inability of Determinates (and All Simple Species)
    3.2 The Genus–Diffferentia Distinction
      3.2.1 The Replaceability Argument
      3.2.2 The Inf?inite Regress Argument
    3.3 Genera, Diffferentiae, Determinables, and Diffferentiae of Determinates as Mental Considerations
    3.4 Individuation and Diffferentiation
    3.5 Simple Species and Composite Species
  4 Summary of Chapter 3 and Chapter 4

5 On Light Metaphysics: An Analysis of Book I of the Second Part of ? ikmat al-Ishra q
  1 Light and Existence
    1.1 Light as the Subject Matter of Metaphysics
    1.2 The Advantages of Light
  2 Light and Darkness
    2.1 The Fourfold Light–Darkness Division
    2.2 The Division of Light
      2.2.1 Light in the Non-metaphorical Sense
      2.2.2 Immaterial Lights, and Adventitious Lights as Visible Lights
    2.3 The Division of Darkness
      2.3.1 Dusky Substances, States Pertaining to Darkness, and Barriers (sing. barzakh)
      2.3.2 The Division of Darkness and Suhrawardi’s Critique of Hylomorphism
  3 The Argument for the Existence of Immaterial Lights
    3.1 Argument I : Adventitious Lights Are Impoverished
    3.2 Argument II : States Pertaining to Darkness Are Impoverished
    3.3 Argument III : Dusky Substances Are Impoverished
    3.4 Argument IV : Adventitious Lights, Dusky Substances, and States Pertaining to Darkness Cannot Cause Each Other
  4 Immaterial Lights as Self-Apprehenders
    4.1 The Immateriality and Substantiality of Immaterial Lights
    4.2 The Argument that Immaterial Lights Are Self-Apprehenders
      4.2.1 The Main Argument from the Fourfold Light–Darkness Division
      4.2.2 Argument I : Self-Apprehension Requires No Form or Any Other Intermediaries
      4.2.3 Argument II : The Constancy of Self-Apprehension
      4.2.4 Argument III : Whatever the Self Cannot Apprehend Constantly Is Not the Self
      4.2.5 Argument IV : The Self Is the Self-Apprehender Itself, and the Manifest to Itself by Itself
  5 Summary of Chapter 5


All interested in the history of Arabic philosophy and medieval philosophy, and specialists of Suhrawardī and the Illuminationist (ishrāqī) tradition, and Avicennian and post-Avicennian tradition.
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