Illuminationism


Illuminationism
(al-ishraq)
   Illuminationist (ishraqi) philosophy sees itself as an advance on Peripatetic (mashsha’i) philosophy, in the sense that it involves thinking on a more advanced level. It also has some strong objections to key claims of the Peripatetics, which it seeks to replace with an entirely new approach to logic and metaphysics. For al-Suhrawardi, knowledge is direct experience of something, and we do not need to use any abstract concepts to understand our experience. He created the notion of ‘knowledge by presence’ (al-‘ilm al-huduri), which is taken to be something we cannot doubt, and is like the sort of experience we have when something is lit up before us. He uses terms to describe this like illumination (ishraq), presence (hudur) and manifestation (zuhur), all of which suggest something immediate. This sort of direct knowledge is ‘truthful witnessing’ (mushahada haqqiya), and the best example of it is knowledge of the self. Although it is direct, most people cannot use this knowledge directly, and prefer to employ reasoning, which is slower and less demanding. Our basic sense experiences represent ‘simple meanings’ out of which concepts are constructed. We do not need to look at them from the viewpoint of abstract concepts. For the Peripatetics it is matter that is the cause of the diversity of things, but for al-Suhrawardi it is rather the degree of perfection (kamal) or completeness by which a particular ‘universal meaning’ is represented in the individual, and this can be outlined in terms of luminosity. ‘Illumination’ means the direct lighting up of the soul by what are ultimately higher metaphysical lights. The soul itself is a light that has descended from the realm of light into the world of darkness and is not able to return to its original home. Since the soul and the higher levels of being are originally ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY AZ 103 on the same level it is not difficult to understand how light can be received and what impact it makes. Illumination reveals the truth (haqq) immediately and requires no assent or judgement (tasdiq). Our rationality which is so important a way of finding out normally is useless at this level of direct knowledge, and has to be restricted to the less important and more indirect forms of knowledge.
   One of the most interesting defenses of the notion of al- ‘ilm al-huduri is that provided by Mehdi Ha’iri Yazdi, whose basic argument is that knowledge of ourselves is not to be classified as propositional knowledge, consisting of statements which could be true or false. If this knowledge was capable of being true or false then it would have to be assessable, yet any such assessment already presupposes the self that is doing the assessing. Experience of the self is so perfect that it is undeniable. The metaphor of light here is important, since once something is lit up, it is there in front of us and we are aware of it. On this basis Illuminationist thinkers construct an elaborate metaphysics, replacing the language of subject and object in terms of different degrees of luminosity. They also reject the Aristotelian notion of definition as the foundation of science, preferring instead to refer to our experience for the most certain principles in which we can believe.
   See Eastern philosophy; epistemology; floating man argument; Ibn Kammuna; logic; metaphysics; al-Shahrazuri; al-Shirazi; al-Suhrawardi
   Further reading: Aminrazavi 1997; Corbin 1998; Ha’iri Yazdi 1992; Nasr 1964; al-Suhrawardi 1982/99, 1998, 1999; Walbridge 1992, 2000b, 2001; Ziai 1990

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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