Self- Body Problem

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1) Suhrawardi’s arguments for proving “Self”
In Partaw –namah, he begins by offering several arguments for the existence of an independent “self” from the body. His first argument goes as follows: We often refer to ourselves and say “I” did this or that. If I would separate a part of myself ( hand) and put it on the table, I would neither refer to it as “I” nor would I be any different as far as my personality is concerned. On this basis he concludes that “I” or “self” is different from the body and therefore it has to be immaterial.

2) Creation the “Soul” and “body” and correlation between them
There are basically two problems with Suhrawardi’s arguments. First, the argues that “self”, which he calls “ nafs”, is above and beyond the body. On the other hand, he implies that there exists a correlation between them. For example, in Partaw –namah, he states:

Know that nafe (soul) was not present before the body. If it were present prior to it, it would not have been one and many since this is impossible. The reason why a variety of souls (selves) could not have existed before the body is because all things when they share in the same thing, i.e. soul, are one and when they become numerous they become different.

Suhrawardi then offers his own view which is the instantaneous creation of the body and the soul. On this point he states: Therefore it becomes apparent that the soul cannot exist before the body and that they come into existence simultaneously. Between them there is attraction, love and anxiety but no like the attraction of beings and their accidents.

With regard to dualism, a theory that maintains mind and body are two different and distinct entities which interact with each other, Suhrawardi argues that this distinction is a superficial one.

Suhrawardi in a number of treatises such as Partaw –namah and Hayakil al-nur alludes to the dichotomy between a changing body and an immaterial self and states:

All the parts of the body change and if your “self” consisted of these parts of the body, they would also be in a continuous state of change. (Thus) yourself yesterday is not same “self” as today, but each day your self is other than itself and this obviously is not the case. And since your knowledge is continuous and permanent it is not all body nor part of the body, but it is beyond all this.

The problem Suhrawardi alludes to, however, is for him the body is nothing but the absence of light, the lowest level on the ontological hierarchy of light. Therefore, a relationship between the “I” and the body is a relationship between light and its absence, which is not possible. Whereas the “I” is the seat of wisdom, the body handles lower functions. Therefore, that self and body are essentially of the same ontological texture. The only difference between them is their “ intensity” which signifies they belong to different ontological statuses.

3) Interactions of “self” and “Body”
From the above, Suhrawardi concludes that the self and body are different aspect of the same phenomenon whose interactions are in accordance with the principles of mahabbah (love) and qahr (domination). The body, belonging to a lower order, has an innate love yearning for the higher order, light, knowing that the higer order dominates what is below it. In the ultimate analysis, however, various levels are of the same source and thus there exists a kinship between the mind and the body. This theory is neither dualistic nor epiphenomenalistic, in that the mind and body are viewed in different context all together. It can be called “ spiritual monism” since it is based on the interaction of different manifestations of the same thing, namely light.

Suhrawardi’s theory can be viewed from two ontological perspectives. Looking at it from below, the self and body are two different entities, since the lower order, to which the body belongs does not include the higher order, to which the category of the self belongs. However, looking at the same ontological hierarchy from the above, the self –body problem fades away since body is contained within the self whose nature is only a more intense light that the body.


suhrawardi and illumination school


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