[3.7.3] Suhrawardi’s Illuminationist Methaphysiscs and Cosmology

The Persian Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (1154–1191 AD) was the founder of the “Illuminationist” (ishraqi) philosophical tradition. In the “Philosophy of Illumination” he criticized the Avicennan peripatetic metaphysics (see [3.3.1]), and cosmology (see [3.3.2]), and elaborated an original theory based on the concept of Light:

  • All things in the universe partake in and of Light.
  • The intensity of light of the essence of things makes them distinct however, they share the same light.
  • The origin and sustaining entity of all lights and so all things is the Light of Lights.

Although Suhrawardi criticizes Avicenna, the structure of their cosmology shows resemblances, because of the shared Neoplatonic emanational roots (see also [2.4.2][3.2.1][3.3.2]).

Suhrawardi’s metaphysics and cosmology is presented in the following OntoUML diagram:

Suhrawardi’s methaphysics and cosmology
LightOfLightsThe Light of Lights is God.is Light; irradiates the first DominatingLight; rules Formal DominatingLight
Light“For Suhrawardi (PI, §§111–3), being is grasped through the (non-sensible) vision of lights that lie beyond the essences, as even the existence of bodies depends upon incorporeal lights: ‘Nothing that has an essence (dhat) of which it is not unconscious is dusky, for its essence is evident (zuhur) to it. It cannot be a dark state (hay’a zulmaniyya) in something else, since even the luminous state (hay’a nuriyya) is not a self-subsistent light (nur li-dhati-ha), let alone the dark state. Therefore, it is nonspatial pure incorporeal (nur mahd) light’ (PI, §114). Access to this ultimate reality of beings is achieved through the direct experience of its ontic light reality, rendering intuitive and non-discursive knowledge (logically) prior to any other type of knowledge.”(Marcotte)
“all luminous substances (“pure lights”) […] ultimately proceed from the uncaused “Light of Lights”, al-Suhrawardī’s official appellation for the deity.(Sinai)is Light
Some “self-subsisting and incorporeal dominating lights are identified as formal dominating lights, as ‘Lords of Species’ (archetypes) or ‘idols’ (arbab al-asnam): “though they are not imprinted in the barriers (bodies), they occur from each master of an idol in its barrier shadow with respect to some exalted luminous aspect” (PI, 155). These are, at times, labelled the Platonic Forms (muthul Aflatun) (located perhaps at the lower threshold of the world of souls), which Suhrawardi incorporates into his metaphysics, over which rules the Light of Lights (PI, §§246–8; Suh. 1999, 111). Each of those eternal, unchanging and pure luminous lights can differ in kind without differing in ontological level. They are “lights of equal strength” that “differ from others of the same strength by luminous and dark accidents”, some of the lights of this horizontal order being “the efficient, not the formal, causes of natural kinds” (Walbridge 2017, 270; Suh. 1993a, 67–8; PI, §§94–5, 164–71). The function of those Platonic Forms is analogous to the archetypal Forms of Plato, but only in so far as they govern various species whose exemplars they existentiate (rather than being mere universals), such as the species of bodies that move the celestial spheres and being the cosmological efficient causes of all sublunar matters, including human souls (Walbridge 1992, 61–6, 2017, 270–1).” (Marcotte)is subkind of Luminous
DominatingLight“The first vertical order of lights proceeds from the Light of Lights. These are the pure and incorporeal (mujarrada) dominating (qahira) lights. From the Light of Lights proceeds an incorporeal First Light — following the Neoplatonic principle ex uno non fit nisi unum, i.e. ‘from the one, in so far as it is one, comes only one’ (principle at the heart of Avicenna’s emanationist (fayd) cosmology, cf. Lizzini, 2016, sect. 5.4) — thus assuring ontological dependency of all that comes into existence upon the Light of Lights. From this First Light proceeds a Second Light and the all encompassing barzakh (highest heaven); from the second proceeds a Third Light and a second barzakh, or the Sphere of fixed stars; and so forth (PI, §141–3, 151–2) […] Light operates at all levels and hierarchies of reality: irradiation proceeds from higher dominating (qahira a‘la) lights, whereas the lower lights desire the higher ones (PI, §147). […] There is a correlative relation of dominance (qahr) and yearning or love (mahabba) between the higher incorporeal lights and the lower accidental lights” (Marcotte)
The dominating lights are somehow similar to the Avicennan Peripatetic immaterial intellects.
is subkind of Luminous
Substance; irradiates DominatingLight and ManagingLight; emanates Body; related to Sphere
ManagingLight“the managing (mudabbira) lights — the Avicennan Peripatetic immaterial souls of the spheres associated with the various bodies (barazikh), […]is subkind of Luminous
IsfahbadLight“managing Isfahbad light that rules over human souls (PI, §155).”is subkind of ManagingLight
Sphere“Each of level of immaterial dominating lights is associated with a celestial sphere. They are no longer limited to al-Farabi’s (d.950) nine spheres or to those and their “varying number of subordinate spherical bodies” Avicenna suggested with his “second kinematic model” (Janos 2011, 172–9). This development may have inspired Suhrawardi’s indefinite, though not infinite, number of immaterial dominating (qahira) lights that are more “than ten, or twenty, or one hundred, or […], or a hundred thousand”, lights that are, in fact, as numerous as the stars in the fixed heavens (PI, §151; Arslan 2014, 138–9).” (Marcotte)
Non-luminous or ‘dark’ [substances] entities therefore do not form a positive contrary of light but are conceived in privative terms, as entities lacking in (or perhaps lying below a certain threshold of) luminosity: ‘darkness is simply an expression for the lack of light (ʿadam al-nūr)‘”. (Sinai)
BodyBodies can be: celestial, like stars, and erathly, like human bodies.is subkind ofNonLuminous
HumanBodyHuman bodyis subkind of Body


First published: 09/04/2020

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