Attainineing “the knowledge by presence” from Pre- cognitive mode of knowledge and from attributes

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A. Argument from Pre- cognitive made of knowledge
Suhrawardi offers two arguments in support of the view that our knowledge of ourselves requires the existence of a Pre- cognitive mode of knowing and that can only be possible through knowledge by presence. In his first argument, Suhrawardi attempts to demonstrate the absurdity of not accepting the argument. Through the use of reductio ad absurdum, in a very difficult passage he states:

Indeed, if that which is unknown to you becomes known, then how do you know that it is what you sought? For inevitably either [your] ignorance remains, or [your] prior knowledge of it existed so that it could be known as such […]For that which is sought, if it is unknown from in all aspects, it could have never been known.

In the above argument Suhrawardi maintains that if I am to know A through B, then I must have come to know that B, in same sense, represents A. However, if we say this, then it is necessary for a person to first know A, and then fact that B represents A. How can I begin to know myself through something other than myself, if I do not already know myself? This argument originally goes back to Plato, who argued that in searching for truth, we in essence must know the truth or else, even if we do find it, how will we recognize it? Suhrawardi is applying the same concept with a great deal of emphasis on the precognitive mode of knowledge .Therefore, prior knowledge of A is necessary if A is to know itself through B, otherwise any object of one’s reflection may be a representation of A.

Suhrawardi’s second argument for having precognitive knowledge is as follows: If A knows itself through
its representation B, then the question arises as to how it knows that B represents A? If A does not know itself directly, then it must have come to know B through C, and this process goes on ad infinilum. In other words, either A knows itself directly or else there will be an infinite chain of representation, each of which is know through the other one. This, according to Suhrawardi is impossible. From this he concludes that A knows itself directly and without mediation or representation. Suhrawardi is careful to point out that this process is true only in regard to the knowledge of the self of itself and not of the object of the external world.

B. Argument from attributes
Suhrawardi offers an argument that is based on the primacy of the essence over the accident. The primacy of the essence over the accident is the underlying philosophical principle upon which the argument is based, despite the fact that Suhrawardi does not use the concepts of essence and existence explicitly to argue for his position. This view, which has come to be known as the “principality of essence” (asalat al- mahiyyah) held by the peripatetics, is an integral part of the Ishraqi school. To know something is it to know its essence, and if one to know the essence of a necessary being through its accident or in this case its predicate, then it is as if one were to know a major premise though a minor one. To argue for his position, Suhrawardi relies on the method of reductio ad absurdum by assuming that we know ourselves though the representation of the “I” On this he says:

Indeed the thing which necessary exists and which is self perceived does not know itself from a representation of itself in itself. If it knows [itself] through its representation, and the representation of I-ness is not itself, then regards to it [I-ness], it is the one perceived and it is the representation at that time. The perception of I-ness must be, by itself, the perception of that what it, itself, is and must be the perception of itself, by itself, just like the perception of other than itself –and that is impossible –in contrast to the externals, representation and that which it has of it are both it. Moreover, if it is through a representation, it, itself, did not know it was a representation and thus it knew itself through representation. And how was it not? It imagines that it knows the very thing by that which is attributed to itself from outside. It is an attribute of it. If it is judged according to every super-added attribute to itself, then it is knowledge of other than itself. It already knew itself before all attributes and the like. I did not know itself though attributes which are super-added.

D. Knowledge of the self, as the basis of realizing
The above argument seeks to establish the reality of the knowledge of the self by itself through an examination of the attributes of the self. The argument is based on key concept, which is that if one is to know himself, then he must have had prior knowledge of himself. If this were not case, then how could one realize that the thing which is supposed to be the representation of the self does actually represent the self? The representation of one’s self which in this case are the attributes of the self, are useful recognizing the self and only if those attributes a pre-knowledge of the self. Thus, it can be said that if one is to know oneself through his attributes, then he has to know that these attributes are actually the attributes of the self. To know this, one has to have pre-knowledge of his own “self”, which implies the “self” knows itself through itself as has been argued for in the first two arguments.

F. Problems of Suhrawardi’s arguments about knowledge of the self
In the second part of this argument Suhrawardi’s maintains that one knows himself either directly or indirectly. In the first case, the problem is solved. However, if A is to know itself through its representation B, then it is reasonable to conclude that t cannot know B except through its representation C and this process can go on ad infitum… Therefore, it can be concluded that A can never know itself through its representation. Suhrawardi considers this to be an absurdity on two grounds. First, it leads to an infinite series of contingent dependent beings, which he argues, is impossible for there is an end to everything. Secondly, we know ourselves, while the above argument indicates that we cannot know ourselves, an absurdity Suhrawardi rejects.

Suhrawardi has made an assumption here which is that the self knows itself. What if this is not the case and the self is ignorant of itself? Suhrawardi does not reply to this point since our knowledge of ourselves is so certain and appears to be so “clear and distinct,” as Descartes would say, that one may not mistake his notion of self with the actual self as it really is.

The above objection, in my opinion, is a shortcoming in Suhrawardi’s philosophy. There is no question that self knows itself. However, there is every reason to doubt that this knowledge of the self is the self as it really is. For example, it is true that my relationship to my headache is marked by certainty and directness. However, my concept of my headache and its characteristics, through certain to me, should not be mistaken for the true nature of that headache which may never be known to me. I have an idea of my “self”, but how do I know this is my actual self or that my knowledge of it corresponds to the actual self? Suhrawardi’s would reply to the above by saying that the mode of cognition with which the self knows itself is such that it does not lend itself to any logico- semantical analysis. Therefore, it is not a proper analogy to compare one’s relationship to one’s headache and the knowledge of the self of itself. The problem with this argument is that Suhrawardi leaves no room for any verification of his claim by an outsider.

The above problem is one that Ha’iri also notices, but he does not elaborate on it and in fact considers it to be an issue opens for further study. However, having offered a discussion of the concept of “awareness” and “presence” Ha’iri concludes that our knowledge of ourselves is one that goes beyond the “noumena” and “phenomena” distinction. As he states: The most outstanding feature of knowledge by presence, however, is that the immediate objective really of the thing as,
it is, is its being known.


suhrawardi and illumination school


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