Suhrawardi and His Interpretation of Avicenna's Philosophical Anthropology

Dissertation, Mcgill University (Canada) (2000)
Suhrawardi's interpretation of Avicenna's philosophical anthropology greatly depends on the Peripatetic system, in spite of its novel light motif and the faculty of imagination's predominance. His definition of the soul does not depart significantly from Avicenna's: its definition as an entelechy and a substance, its incorporeality, its pre-existence, or the role of the vital spirits---pneumata. However, he criticizes the materialism implied in a number of Avicennan theses. At issue is the ontological unity of the soul that Suhrawardi perceives to be jeopardized by the localization in the body of the representative faculties---the active and passive imaginations and the estimation---and their objects. After criticizing the "extramissive" and the "intromissive" theories of vision, Suhrawardi introduces his own illuminative theory in an effort to simultaneously account for mystical vision. He also reduces Avicenna's faculties responsible for representation to a single faculty, focusing on the soul's role in perception. Suhrawardi analyses self-knowledge, discussing the primary awareness of one's own existence, self-identity, the unmediated character of this type of knowledge, and the issue of individuation. At the conceptual level, intellection is logically prior to imagination, while discussions about the active intelligence, its functions, and the conjunction of the rational soul---the Isfahbad-light---with the active intelligence---the light principle---still remain Avicennan. Epistemological concepts such as intuition and mystical contemplation become central in the debate over the primacy of mystical knowledge over philosophical knowledge. Suhrawardi's and Avicenna's discussions about the nature of prophetic knowledge are then contrasted with the nature of mystical knowledge by introducing the negative and positive functions of the faculty of imagination, namely, its role in the particularization of universal truths and its mimetic function. The survival of the imaginative faculty is alluded by Avicenna, but explicitly developed by Suhrawardi. Its survival is required for the experiencing of divine retribution and the perfecting of souls in the afterlife; while metempsychosis lurks in the background. And finally, Suhrawardi introduces two distinct spheres---Ether and Zamharir---that become the "pneumatic" substrata for the posthumous activities of the imaginative faculty
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