The relationship between the proof for “self” and the knowledge by Presence, in the philosophy of illumination

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A. Argument for the proof for self existence
With regard to the discussion knowledge of self to itself, it can be said that the first step in Suhrawardi’s epistemology is to argue for the existence of a self which is an immaterial and immutable substance. The proof for the existence of the “I” is the task of discussion philosophy. Suhrawardi, as a skillful philosopher, carries out the task of establishing the very existence of an independent self which, however, has many attributes that are attached to it. These attachments are the basic constituents of the human ego (nafs) whose existence is too obvious to argue for and include desires of the flesh.

B. The relationship between “self” and its desires and attributes
Suhrawardi holds the view that the self often appears to be nothing but a sum of desires towards wordly attractions and not two separate entities, a metaphysical “I” to two which desires of the flesh are supper-added. In order to make this crucial distinction, Suhrawardi calls for further philosophical analysis to firmly establish that the “I” and its attributes are not the same. It is only then that we see that whereas the nature of the “I” is divine and belongs to the luminous world, its attachments are ontologically rooted in the corporeal world. Rationalistic and discursive philosophy in this context is called for in order to establish the distinction between the self and its attributes.

Suhrawardi’s third step in dealing with the self would e to go beyond the separation of the self from its attributes. At this stage Suhrawardi argues that in order for the self to be able to reveal itself, the “Veiling” attributes of the self should be destroyed. To do so, Suhrawardi prescribes practicing asceticism and he goes on to illustrate in great the type and nature of these practices as was discussed previously. Such practices eliminate the nafs and the attributes of the self begin to vanish one by one. As this process goes on, the self, whose relation to its attributes is like the relationship between accidents to essence, begins to reveal its “I-ness,” This process will have to continue until the annihilation of the attributes of the self is completed, and once this process has been finished, the self will remain in its entirety without any veil from itself.

When you have made a careful inquiry into yourself, you will find out that you are made of “yourself”, that is, nothing but that which knows its own reality. This is your own “I-ness,” (ana’iyyatuka). This is the manner in which everyone is to know himself and in that, everyone’s “I-ness,” is common with you.

C. Methods of self’s perfection and revelation
The methodology of bringing the self to its fullness and thus enabling it to reveal itself can be summarized as the following:
1. Realization of the distinctness of the self from its attributes.
2. Separation of the “I” from its attributes, both philosophically and practically.
3. Employment of asceticism as a means for destroying attributes and leaving the self in its pure from.
4. The self in its pure from is a single and self –evident phenomenon from which nothing more apparent can exist.
5. That from which nothing more apparent can exist is light.
6. Self is light. (F4,5)
7. Things are known by coming into the mere presence of light.
8. Things are known by the presence of the self. (F6,7)
It is in regard to the above epistemology scheme that philosophy and asceticism have their own place and I fact are able to become integrated into a tradition of wisdom that brings about a rapprochement between discursive philosophy, intellectual intuition and practical wisdom.

K. The knowledge by Presence to presence of the object before its essence
For Suhrawardi, the concept of knowledge by presence is therefore defined as an awareness or presence of the object before its essence. He reminds us that this essence, which he considers to be the same as the self, light, and knowledge, is such that by virtue of its presence bridges the subject –object distinction.

Since all things are ultimately made up of light, and because it is absurd to say that one needs light to find another light, in light, in order for an epistemic relation to occur the veil that is separating the subject and the object has to be removed. In this case, self or light, which are equivalent in Suhrawardi’s philosophy, is knowledge as well. “To know is to exist and to exist is to know” therefore constitutes a major epistemological theme and one of the important contributions of Suhrawardi Islamic philosophy.


suhrawardi and illumination school


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