[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
IsfahbadLightmanaging 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

[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