Attaining “the knowledge by presence” from “I/It” ,in “the philosophy of illumination” dichotomy

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A. Argument from “I/It” dichotomy
Suhrawardi presents his first argument by asking, “When I know P, do I also know myself?” If I do, then how did I come to know myself? Either I knew myself directly or through some other means. If I know myself through an intermediary, then the following problem arises:

A thing that exists in itself (al- qa’im bi’l- dhat) and is conscious of itself does not know itself through a representation (al-mithal) of itself appearing in itself. This is because if, in knowing one’s self, one were to make representation of oneself, since this representation of his “I-ness” (ana’ i yyah) could never be the reality of the that “I- ness” it would be then such that that representation is “it” in relation to the “I- ness”, and not “I”. Therefore, the thing apprehended is the representation. It thus follows that the representation apprehension of “I- ness” would be exactly what is the apprehension of “ it – ness” (huwa), and that the apprehension of the reality of “I- ness” would be exactly the apprehension of what is not “I- ness” This is an absurdity. On the other hand, this absurdity does not follow in the case of apprehension of external objects, for the representation and that to which that representation belongs are both “its”.

B. Analyzing the above argument
According to this argument, one either knows himself through himself or something else i.e. a representation. If the latter the case, then “self” A is known through a representation (mithal) B. Suhrawardi then argues that knowledge of A which is attained through B is really not knowledge of A, but is seeing A through B. Suhrawardi’s argument, allows for knowledge of the outside world to be attained through a representation (mithal), which is rather similar to Hume’s notion of “ideas” and “impressions”. However, knowledge of the self which is to be attained through anything other than the self is not knowledge of the self, but knowledge of that which is other than self. Suhrawardi goes on to argue that if I am to know A through B, then in a sense I am equating my understanding of B with A, which is an absurdity of B, through which A is supposed to be known? In other words, id I am to understand the self through something other than itself, then the problem arises that the understanding of something is the same as the thing itself.

C. Assumption o knowledge of the self before knowledge of (somebody) else
Let us examine Suhrawardi’s argument further. When one says “I know P”, he is saying that there exists an “I”, such that knows “itself” this “I” knows “P”. This implies that m when one claims to have any type of knowledge; one is implicitly saying that I know myself before knowing anything else. Therefore, in claiming that one knows something not only is knowledge of the self assumed, but “I” seems to be the object of its own knowledge. It seems to be the case that in the statement “I know myself” the knower, which is the “I”, and the known, which is the “self”, and the relationship between them is one and the same. If this were not the case, then there would be an “I” versus ‘it” which is the self. Now, either this “it” is made up of the same substance as the “I” (i. e. unchangeable), or it is not. This “it” is either identical to the “I” or “it” is something totally different. M. Ha’iri argues that “If we accept this argument of Suhrawardi, then the “I” and its representation ‘it” would then be both identical and different in one and the same respect,” which is a logical contradiction and therefore an absurdity.

F. Analyzing the conclusion of above argument
An analysis of how Suhrawardi arrives at this conclusions is as follows: If “I” did not know “it” directly and without mediation, then “it” has to know itself through objectifying itself which would be called “it” On one hand, “I” and “it” are the same, since “it” is a representation of the “I” on the hand, they are not the same since if they were the same, there would not have been an “I” and an “it”. Therefore, “I” and ‘it” are different since they stand in a subject/object relation, but are the same since “it” is a substitute for the “self” in the statement “I know myself”. According to Suhrawardi, the following propositions would then have to be the same if the “I” were not the same as the “self”.

1. Know myself.
2. I know it.
3. It knows myself.
4. “It” knows it.

Therefore, if it is the case that the “I” comes to know itself through its representation, then the above contradictions arise which maintain “I” and “it” are the same and different at the same time. That is absurdity which Suhrawardi, demonstrates in his first argument.

D. Summarizing the above views into three categories
To summarizing the views of Suhrawardi, on the basis of his first argument we can classify his first argument into the following three categories:
A. Epistemological
B. Logical
C. Semantical

A. Epistemological
If “I” can only know myself through a representation of myself, then I know myself through what is not myself which is an absurdity. This is to say that my understanding and apprehension of something are the same as the thing in itself. Therefore, either the self cannot be known or it has to be known by itself. We all know ourselves; therefore it is reasonable to conclude that we can know our “self” only through our “self”.

B. Logical
If the ‘I’ is to know itself through representation, then either the “I” and its representation, the “it”, are the same or not. If they are the same there cannot be two of them and therefore,” I” and “it” have to be one and the same. On the other hand, if they are different, then how can “it” be a perfect representation of the “I” ? This is a logical contradiction which arises if we are to accept the “I/it” distinction.

M. Ha’iri in his work The Principles of Epistemology in Islamic Philosophy, maintains that is a realm of “I-ness” and “It-ness”. I-ness naturally can only be known by itself and it is represented by something other than itself, then “it” becomes “not I”, whereas it should be nothing but “I”. According to Ha’iri, the “I” and the “it” are not same, but ‘it” exists because of the “I”. If the self comes to know of itself through the ideas or representation of the self (mithal) then it clearly can never know itself since according to Suhrawardi and Ha’iri, mithal does not represent the “I” but demonstrates the “it”. In fact, if two things are identically the same, then they cannot be separated. Therefore, by virtue of the distinctness of the “I” and its representation, the ‘it”, we conclude that knowledge of “it” is not the same as the “I”. If this were not the case then “I” and the “it” should have been the same and yet different same time, which is an absurdity.

C. Semantical
When I say “I know myself,” by “myself” I am referring to the representation of the, then I am actually saying that “I know it”. However, since “it” is “not I,” then I am also saying that “I know not I”, which is another way of saying “I do not know l.” This too is an absurdity. According to Suhrawardi, then if “I” is known through its representation, then the statement “I know myself” means “I do not know myself”, which is contradictory and therefore absurd since I know myself.

Several conclusions can be drawn from the above arguments, which are among Suhrawardi’s original contributions to Islamic philosophy. First, is that the he seems to have succeeded in establishing the existence of a being that can only be understood by itself, but also that this understanding takes place by virtue of the reality of its presence. The second conclusion is that since “self” can only know itself by the reality of itself, any other thing is foreign to it and thereby will never know it as it really is. M. Ha’iri states this as follows:

In this prime example of presence – knowledge, the meaning of knowledge becomes absolutely equivalent with the meaning of the very being of the self, such that within the territory of “I-ness” to know is to exist and exist is to know.

k. Suhrawardi’s original contribution in the Islamic epistemology
The third remarkable characteristic of Suhrawardi’s argument, which can be regarded as an original contribution in the Islamic epistemology tradition, is that he has offered a theory of knowledge without relying on such notions as essence, appearance and reality. Instead, he argues that if the “I” understand itself by virtue of its presence, then its existence is it primary mode or its essential character. The very fact that self can know itself by itself mere presence leads to the conclusion that self is pure existence or pure presence.


suhrawardi and illumination school


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