God’s Existence and Limit and Infinity in philosophy of illumination

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B. Limit and Infinity
The discussion concerning limit and infinity for suhrawardi has bearing upon his epistemology. While suhrawardi argues against the existence of an infinite series of contingent dependent beings, he maintains that an infinite divisibility within a limited set with a beginning and an end exist. The process of divisibility, however, will never come to an end and thereby the existence of such a set remains within the domain of logical possibility. Suhrawardi states:

Know that in each succession (of beings) within which there is order, however, they may be arranged. If they are within the domain of existence, they necessitate a limit or an end. Between each integer of this succession and another integer there exist infinite integer. Then it is necessary (for infinity) to be limited to these two integers and this is impossible. If in that succession two integers cannot be found in such a way that the numbers between them are not unlimited, then it is necessary that there be no unit (integers) between that and every other integer that is conceived in that succession be finite and therefore it will be necessary that all that succession be finite.

This is a rather unusual approach to be problem of infinity. Suhrawardi’s argument goes as follows: Either it is the case that the principle of infinite divisibility between two beings, i.e. two integers, is true or not. If it is true, then there must be an infinite set of numbers between two different integers. For example, between the numbers 2 and 3 there exists an infinite numbers of integers i.e. 2.1, 2.2,2.3, etc. From this it can be concluded that infinity exists, but its existence is contingent upon the existence of a beginning and an end. Suhrawardi uses this argument both in a philosophical and mystical context and applies this conclusion in a number of Sufi doctrines as will be discussed later.

B. God’s Existence
In the ishraqi school God is equated with the light of lights from Whom emanate the lower levels of light, the angelic order and the archetypes. Therefore, the existence of God is fundamental for the validity of the philosophy of illumination and in particular the emanationistic scheme.

1. Necessity of the cause of contingent beings
Suhrawardi argues that every event has at least one cause whose existence is necessitated if or when that cause is present. However, an effect is often a compound entity, and therefore, when A causes B, it should be regarded as the cause of all its individual components. Since B, by virtue of an effect, is a contingent being, all its components are contingent. The reverse is also true, that is, if individual members of a set are caused, From the above argument Suhrawardi concludes that:

The cause of contingent beings cannot be contingent, because that will then be in this set. Therefore, (the cause) must be something that is no contingent or non existing and thus, the cause and the source of the existence of all the contingent beings must be a Necessary Being.

2. Impossibility of more than one “ necessary being”
Having argued that the cause of all things is Necessary Being, Suhrawardi then tries to respond to the possibility of having several necessary beings by offering the following:

If there be more than one Necessary Being, (i.e. A& B) then one of the following cases will occur:
1. A and B have nothing in common.
2. A and B have everything in common.
3. A and B have something in common i.e.C.

The first one cannot be true since A& B at least have one thing in common, their property of being Necessary Being. Therefore, it is not possible for several Necessary Being to exist without sharing at least one common property.

The second alternative cannot be the case either because if A & B had everything in common, then they would be same. What makes A & B to be two different things is that they must have at least one difference between them. Therefore A & B can not have everything in common, otherwise they would be the same, which they are not.

The third option implies that A & B have something in common, and yet there are differences between them. This possibility is not a viable one either. As Suhrawardi’s states:

If that which is their differences were not, then none of them would have existed. And if that which they have in common, were not, then each one would not exist.

Suhrawardi’s argument require further elaboration: If A+C is a Necessary Being, then C cannot be a contingent part of this Necessary Being. A Necessary Being by definition cannot have a contingent element in it. The same holds true with regard to B+C If C is a Necessary Being and being and part of A and B, then we will arrive at the second alternative which we have already excluded.

Suhrawardi offers similar arguments in various places throughout his works. For example, in the Alwah imadi, he summarizes his views on the existence of Necessary Being and its attributes as follows:

Since there is no other Necessary Being, He has no match and because there is no force equal to Him in power and might, thereis nothing to oppose Him. Since He has no location, He has no negation like the negation of whiteness that is black. All the power is emanated from Him and therefore nothing is His enemy. He is the Truth, meaning He exists because of His own essence and everything other His essence is not real ( batil) since in their own essence they are not worthy of existence by necessity. Therefore, their truth comes from the ultimate truth and not of their own essence.

By demonstrating that the existence of all beings is contingent, Suhrawardi has also prepared the path which leads to his ishraqi views where he equates God with Light and Light with Being.


suhrawardi and illumination school


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