What Grounds What? Suhrawardī’s Light (Nūr) vs. Husserl's Transcendental Ego in the (Meta)Metaphysics of Knowledge

Document Type : Original Research Article


Professor, University of California, Davis; The Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, California, USA


I argue that Suhrawardī’s concept of light, while placed in contemporary phenomeno-metaphysical contexts, advances metaphysical claims about the nature of reality by switching them from primacy of objects to primacy of relationships. To reach this conclusion, I analyze Philosophy of Illumination in the phenomenological key, and show that its logos is similar to the realistically vectored apophantic logic in Husserl’s interrogations. Both Husserl and Suhrawardī find epistemic absolutes: nūr in Suhrawardī and the transcendental ego in Husserl. As per Husserl, in the ego intentional relationships are ontologically inseparable from their object and have no substrate or qualities other than aboutness/asymmetry. By contrast, Suhrawardī qualifies light as alive (ḥayy), grounds it on itself, treats it as its own substrate, and describes it as a universally present self-identical form of relationships which has its own regional ontology. Suhrawardī’s maintaining that light, which is phenomenologically a special (peculiar) form of relationships, is in itself the epistemic absolute, as opposed to a self-contradictory absolute inclusive of temporality and objects whose being doesn’t belong to this absolute, gives his logic an advantage over the “zig-zags” of Husserl’s interrogations. The incoherence of the logic of phenomenology supplied, e.g., Michel Henry with a reason for the “ontological destruction” of Kant’s transcendental psychology and Husserl’s reductions. By contrast with transcendental reduction, which ends in the irreality of being, Suhrawardī discovers being as relationships. Thus, if we were to develop a phenomenologically-grounded science of all being, for Husserl this science would grant the classical ontological primacy to individual objects, while if we were to follow Suhrawardī, ontological primacy would belong to relationships whose nature is living light. Since light (as opposed to the transcendental ego) doesn’t carry a hidden dependence on the object, it is present as ground for all objects and, in this sense, transcends all opposites.


Main Subjects

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