[3.7.2] Suhrawardi’s Illuminationist Ontology

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 ontology and metaphysics (see [3.3.1]), sustaining that quiddity and existence are just mental considerations, and proposed a new ontology, based on the concept of Light.

  • The essential quality of the Light is its direct and immediate manifestation, an aspect necessary for its epistemology based on the concept of presence (see [3.7.1]).
  • The basic structure of his ontology is derived from the dual nature (substance and state) of the Light, and its relation to the “dark” substances which lack light.

Suhrawardi’s ontology is presented in the following OntoUML diagram:

Suhrawari’s illuminationist ontology
Light“al-Suhrawardī’s basic ontological scheme posits that light can have not only accidental but also substantial being. This twofold occurrence of light as a state and as a substance is explicitly singled out for discussion in a passage from the second treatise of the Philosophy of Illumination’s second part, where the author has an anonymous opponent demur: “Here [in the material world] light is [invariably] a quality and an accident, so how could it be self-subsistent (kayfa yaqūmu bi-nafsihi)? And if some lights were to be not in need of a substrate (maḥall), then this would have to hold for all of them [since they all share the nature of luminosity]. What underlies this objection is clearly the assumption that luminosity could only have a single ontological modality, as it were: either all luminosity is substantial or all luminosity is accidental; how could it occur sometimes in the one mode, sometimes in the other if all its occurrences share in the same essence of being light? Al-Suhrawardī responds by envisaging light in general as essentially self-subsistent, or as substantial by default, and accordingly conceives of accidental light as deficient light, as light whose immanent character has been impaired or weakened to such a degree that it becomes dependent”is a Category including LuminousSubstance and LuminousState
SubstanceSubstances can be luminous (“pure lights”) and nonluminous
LuminousSubstance“A luminous substance can only possess states that are themselves luminous.”
Luminous substances are immaterial, manifest and self-manifest, like: intellects, souls, celestial bodies.
subkind of Substance
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)‘”.
Non-luminous substances are material, not-manifest like earthly bodies.
subkind of Substance
StateState is “distinction between the luminous and the non-luminous – or the manifest and the nonmanifest – with the Aristotelian sounding distinction between that which is a ‘state’ (hayʾah) of something else and that which is not”.characterizes NonLuminousSubstance
LuminousStateluminous states – which include, but are not limited to, visual light – can be possessed both by luminous and non-luminous substances”. Luminous stat is accidental.subkind of State; characterizes LuminousSubstance
“while a non-luminous state (e. g., shapes and quantitative determinations such as weight) must have a nonluminous bearer”subkind of State


First published: 02/04/2020

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