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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences




 The purpose of The Philosophy of Illumination was the reconstruction of the foundations of philosophy on firmer ground of mystical intuition guiding and completed by rational thought; although this was completely accessible only to those willing to follow the mystical path of the Illuminationists. Suhrawardi was not concerned with replacing Peripatetic philosophy as a whole; he commended it to those who lacked mystical insight. Corbin tends exaggerate those passages in which Suhrawardi identifies himself with the ancient sages of Greece and the Orient in order to situate his Illuminist way within religious revelation. Ziai in his study Knowledge and Illumination shows that Suhrawardi's philosophy is consonant within his Peripatetic works as well as The Philosophy o f Illumination and that there is a clear structural relationship between The Philosophy of Illumination and Peripatetic philosophy. Any radical disjunction between the illuminate way and the logic of ibn Sina then is a misreading of Suhrawardi’s works.

As Aristotle explains, the first principles of a science are not demonstrated within that science. Suhrawardi's new Science of Lights is based on principles derived from his knowledge and criticism of Peripatetic philosophy. The form and conclusions of the science would, of course, be based on an investigation of the subject matter of the science and the inferences derived from it. Finally, the terms and expressions of this science are to some extent symbolic because of the abstrusity of the subject matter.

Although most of the logic of The Philosophy of Illumination seems to be no more than a compendium of essential rules of inference, it also includes a chapter on examples of fallacies that is, in fact, a list of Suhrawardi's main criticisms of Peripatetic philosophy. In the section, "On Deciding Certain Illuminationist Subtleties," he says that he will "examine particular principles, so that the truth thereof might be made known and thereby examples of fallacies might also be found. " In fact, this is his critique of Avicennan philosophy, a list of the chief erroneous opinions found in the philosophy of his predecessors with detailed refutations. Here he blasts down to philosophical bedrock to find firm foundations for the Science of Lights. He shows, for example, that the Peripatetic theory of definition makes knowledge impossible‑preparing a basis for his presential theory of knowledge. This section also, directly and by elimination, provides positive principles needed for the exposition of the Science of Lights, such as the division of all things into the contingent and the necessary. It seems to show that the Science of Lights cannot be considered in isolation from Peripatetic philosophy and that it can be discussed validly in Peripatetic terms.

The Leaven of the Ancients: Suhrawardi and the Heritage of the Greeks (SUNY: State University of New York Press), Walbridge examined how the principle themes of Suhrawardian thought addressed ancient Greek tradition. The twelfth-century Persian philosopher Suhrawardi was the key figure in the transition of Islamic philosophy from the neo-Aristotelianism of Avicenna to the mystically oriented Islamic philosophy of later centuries. Suhrawardi's "Illuminationist" philosophy was a vigorous reassertion of Neoplatonism at a time when Sufism was becoming a major presence in Islamic thought and society.

The Leaven of the Ancients traces the intellectual background of Suhrawardi's thought and of the Greek roots of non-Aristotelian philosophy in the Islamic world. Suhrawardi placed himself in an intellectual tradition that sprang from the "Ancients," the philosophical and mystical tradition of Hermes Trismegistus and his successors in both Greece and the Orient. The author argues that Suhrawardi typifies an approach to philosophy characteristic of Neoplatonism, in which Pythagoras is the key pre-Socratic, Plato is the central figure in the history of philosophy, Aristotle is respected but corrected by reference to Pythagoras and Plato, and philosophy is ultimately an eclectic revelation known symbolically by different nations. Mystical intuition is a key philosophical tool and symbolism is of particular importance.

The Leaven of the Ancients provides a translation of Suhrawardi's famous dream, in which Aristotle reveals the epistemological foundations of Suhrawardi's Illuminationist system. The book also analyzes the role played by Suhrawardi and his approach to philosophy in turning Islamic civilization away from physical science toward a subtle mystical psychology, thus offering a new explanation for the decline of science in Islam.

In The Wisdom of the Mystic East: Suhrawardi and Platonic Orientalism by John Walbridge (SUNY: State University of New York Press) Follows up on his The Leaven of the Ancients to situate the illuminationist thought of Suhrawardi attempted to revive Platonism in an era of Avicennan Aristotelianism. Modern scholars have portrayed Suhrawardi as wishing to revive an "oriental" wisdom and associate him with ancient Persia. In The Wisdom of the Mystic East, Walbridge uses Suhrawardi as a vehicle to explore the tendency of Platonic philosophers to romanticize oriental wisdom. The Wisdom of the Mystic East presents Suhrawardi and defines the problem of Platonic orientalism, both in general and in relation to Suhrawardi. Egypt and the Hermetic tradition, ancient Persia and the notion of metaphysical light, and India, Buddhism, and the transmigration of souls are all covered in terms of their influence or lack of influence in Suhrawardi's thought. The Wisdom of the Mystic East also explores the role of Platonic and Suhrawardian orientalism in various cultures over the years. Walbridge shows that Henri orbin’s pioneering account of The Science of Lights is severly flawed as a scientific account of Suhrawardi's Illuminationist mysticism.

The Philosophy of Illumination by Yahya Ibn Habash Suhrawardi translated by John Walbridge and Hossein Ziai (Brigham Young University Press: University of Chicago Press) and The Book of Radiance: A Parallel English-Persian Text by Yahya Ibn Habash Suhrawardi, Hossein Ziai (Bibliotheca Iranica. Intellectual Traditions Series No. 1: Mazda Publications) provides a key to a major strain of esoteric Platonism that would become foundational to Persian developments of Islam. In it we have a bridge from Peripatetic logic that are turn in upon themselves, following the lead of ibn Sina, to reinstitution an radical grounding of being in the concrete but the concrete becomes not the conceivable so much as the transcendental.  The principle metaphor for this liegeman is light. Suhrawardi divides things into those that are light in their own reality and those that are not, each of which is either self-subsistent or accidental‑dependent or independent, in Suhrawardi's terminology. This results in a fourfold division of reality into (1) self‑subsistent immaterial or pure lights, (2) accidental lights inhering either in immaterial lights or in physical bodies, (3) barriers or dusky substances, that is bodies, and (4) dark modes--accidents in either immaterial lights or physical bodies. Immaterial light is the cause of the other three.

Light is not, as some have thought, simply a substitute for existence. The Science of Lights is concerned with lights‑not with light. The immaterial lights are individual, concrete things that are by essence manifest in themselves and make other things manifest. As such they are existents, and not existence. They are monads‑worlds in the void‑and not waves of the sea of existence.

Moreover, although all things are caused by lights, not all of them are lights. Bodies and their nonluminous accidents are not lights, although their ultimate causes are the immaterial lights. Light is, however, the principle of the interrelationship of things. Suhrawardi defines light (descriptively, not essentially) as "that which is manifest in itself and manifests another" or, more simply, as "manifestation and its increase.” Things affect each other because it is in their nature to be manifest to each other or because they were made manifest to each other by something whose nature it is to do so. In themselves, however, they remain discrete and autono­mous ontological blocks.

 Neoplatonic philosophical systems such as Suhrawardi's are characterized by a hierarchy of causation, in which the contin­ued existence of a thing is dependent on a cause of a higher a order of being. Suhrawardi defines that relationship as being between the dependent and the independent. If an immaterial light is dependent on another, it is clearly depend­ent on another immaterial light, not on a body or something else of a lower order of being. Since there cannot be a hierarchy of causes with an infinity of levels, there has to be a light beyond which is no other lights.

In summary, at the heart of the philosophy of illumination is an intuition of the concrete particularity of things. A human being or a rock or an intellect or God is a distinct, particular, and unitary thing. Although there is a mental distinction between a thing's existence-the act of its being real‑and its quiddity or essence-what it is-this does not correspond to any real distinction in it. Only the particular and concrete in its particularity and concreteness is real. Each thing is absolutely discrete and discontinuous from other things.

Later Islamic philosophers quite correctly place this view in opposition to the theory of the unity and primacy of existence and call it the primacy of quiddity. In the philosophy of the unity of existence, the universe is continuous, and-at the deep­est level, at least particulars are illusory. Later philosophers like Sabzawari tend to refer to Suhrawardl's claim that existence is fictitious when they write of the primacy of quiddity. This does not mean that we should make a distinction between existence and quiddity and maintain then that this quiddity is what is fundamental, for Suhrawardi holds that quiddity in this sense is just as unreal as existence. What is real is the thing in its particularity and wholeness, not some part of it.

The proponents of the primacy of existence held that existence alone is truly real and that quiddities-things in their particularity-are determinations of existence. Considered alone, the quiddities are mental fictions. The doctrine of the primacy of existence owes much to Suhrawardi. In addition to the use of the term light and related terms as symbols, certain of its main features were borrowed from or responded to his ideas-for example, the systematic ambiguity of existence, which is the notion that things can exist in different degrees of intensity. Nevertheless, these philosophers considered themselves distinctly opposed to Suhrawardi, although to go beyond his arguments they had to make yet another basic distinction, between the self‑evident concept and hidden reality of existence:

Its notion is one of the best‑known things,
But its deepest reality is in the extremity of hiddenness

 The importance of light in Suhrawardl's thought comes from the other aspect of his intuition of the concreteness of things: the fact that we are aware of them. What is best known to us is the manifest‑not manifestation as some sort of immaterial entity, but just the concrete particular things we see and touch. Since physical light is the most conspicuous example of what is manifest and makes other things manifest, it is the best symbol for the fundamental knowability of things. In our world, the knowability of things is accidental. Substances are not essentially manifest but are manifested by other things. However, according to the principle of sufficient reason, we must eventually come to things manifest in themselves. These are the immaterial lights.

In Illuminationist terms, self‑consciousness is to be understood as a thing's being manifest to itself. Now, a body cannot be self‑conscious because it is not manifest in its essence. Nor, obviously, can even a luminous accident know itself since it is not a light to itself. In other words, self‑consciousness cannot be identified with the image of the self in the mind. We know this image as another, except insofar as it is known to be an image of the self through some prior direct knowledge of the self. Suhrawardi distinguishes between this sort of discursive knowledge of the self, in which the self is known as one thing in the world among many, and direct awareness of one's own existence and experience. The latter cannot be explained without some direct self‑awareness, unmediated by any concept or material or spiritual organ.

This direct self‑awareness is in turn the basis of life, perception, activity, and knowledge‑each of which thus implies consciousness and the presence of a soul. Therefore, every living thing has to be an immaterial light.

Vision happens simply by the presence of a lighted object before a healthy eye. That by light Suhrawardi means manifestation in a broader sense is shown by the fact that he criticizes the Peripatetic theory of sound as vibrations in the air with arguments very similar to those he advances against the conventional theories of vision. Although the Illuminationists would admit that hearing might be conditioned in some way on the vibration of air, sounds and other sensibles are experienced as simple subjective phenomena.

Peripatetic “real definition” is what captures the essence of the thing by crossing the boundary between concept and reality in that it purports to indicate the quiddity of the thing with all its essential attributes and the matters within its reality. By contrast, Peripatetic “descriptive definition” defines a reality by matters external to it, and “nominal definition” merely defines the concept, as it is in the mind both easier tasks. Suhrawardi himself uses the term making known, a more general term.

While real definitions clearly would be very useful in sciences, it is doubtful whether any have ever been constructed. There is no way to know whether a property is in fact peculiar to a given essence, and, once in possession of certain essentials, there is no way to know for certain that others were not overlooked. Finally, there were some things, like bodies, which everyone knew perfectly well, but where there was no general agreement about their essential parts or whether indeed they had any.

Moreover, whenever the Peripatetics actually advanced examples of their real definitions‑for instance, "Black is a color that gathers vision” --the definition in every case used intellectual fictions, such as color, or differences less known than what was defined, such as gathers vision. In fact, black was a simple reality, directly known to whomever saw it and unknowable to anyone who had not. Concepts went back to such directly known simple realities. Composite concepts were known by compounding simple realities.

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