Shaykh al-Ishraq’s Attitude Towards Mantiq (Logic)

One of the areas in Illuminationist philosophy that has yet to be extensively studied by scholars is the views and attitude of Suhrawardī (1154–1191) towards logic. While some studies have been conducted, they appear to be in their infancy and by a limited number of scholars, as opposed to studies that have been conducted on the views and attitude of the Peripatetics on logic. In this paper, we intend on highlighting three key contributions of Suhrawardī to the field of logic and as well his critiques or reservations on it.

Suhrawardī studied logic in Isfahan under the logician Ẓāhir al-Dīn al-Fārisī who taught him the al-Baṣāʼir al-Nuṣayrīyah fī ʻIlm al-Manṭiq of ‘Umar b. Sahlān al-Sāwī (d. 540/1145). Ibn Sahlān’s work is different from Aristotelean logic in so far as it simplifies the division of logic into two parts: formal and material, as opposed to the 6-part division taken from the Organon.[1] This simpler division is later reflected in Suhrawardī’s 3-part division of logic into: semantics, formal and material.[2]

Before discussing Suhrawardī’s views on logic, it is important to be aware of his epistemic presumptions and as well as his reservations on the epistemology of the Peripatetics. Suhrawardī believed the Peripatetic rational approach to epistemology does not lead one to true wisdom and confesses that he did not receive true knowledge following their ways. Rather he only reached wisdom through the path of illumination. The reason for this was in part due to the fact that the Peripatetics believed in five sources of knowledge, namely the intellect, senses, testimony, memory and inner-senses, while Suhrawardī adds one more source which he refers to as Dhawq, Ta‘lluq or Ishrāq.

There is a dispute as to whether Ishrāq that Suhrawardi spoke about was a mystical intuition, as John Walbridge[3] suggests, or closer to what is deemed “religious experience” in contemporary theology, as Mahdī ‘Aẓīmī argues.[4] Irrespective of the nature of this additional source, Suhrawardī believed the five sources of knowledge put forth by the Peripatetics were not sufficient at yielding true wisdom.

What is even more intriguing is that Suhrawardī rarely uses the word manṭiq for logic in his works and instead chooses to use the phrase ḍawābiṭ al-fikr (rules for thought), either perhaps to distance himself from the Peripatetic connotations of the former term or perhaps this was in line with his overall habit of coining new terms and jargon in the study of philosophy and logic.[5] The opinions of Suhrawardī on logic can be found in most of his works, such as the beginning of Talwīḥāt, al-Mashār‘i, al-Lamaḥāt, and as well as at the beginning of Ḥikmat al-Ishrāq.


One of the key discussions in logic concerns definitions. For the Peripatetics, this is a crucial discussion as defining concepts and terms correctly is going to be the ultimate means by which an argument is to be made, conveyed and proven for others. These discussions go into considerable depth regarding the different types of definitions, finally concluding that the ḥadd tām (complete term) is the best and most ideal definition for anything as it captures an entity’s complete essence.[6]

A major concern of Suhrawardī is the way Peripatetics dwelled into the discussion of definitions. One of his critiques is that the Peripatetics made discussions on definitions too much about words rather than considering it a simple pragmatic way to agree on some concept regarding an existent. Suhrawardī believes definitions the way Peripatetics present it do not convey the true essence of an entity to anyone.

Suhrawardī argues that the Peripatetics brought extensive discussions about the genus (jins), differentia (faṣl), ḥadd, and rasm simply to figure out definitions, and given that the genus and differentia are simply matter (mādah) and form (ṣūrah) of an existent, we know humans do not speak or converse while having knowledge of these matters. Most do not know what matter and form even are yet are able to convey and understand one another just fine. In other words, not knowing the matter or form of something does not render you incapable of speaking and conveying meanings of words nor engaging in discussion and argumentation.

Suhrawardī also argues by making two further points:

1) He believes it is not possible for anyone to have defined something with its ḥadd tām, as more often than not one can never be sure as to whether they have perceived the essence of any given entity. In a Qā‘idah Ishrāqīyyah[7] dedicated to the critique of the Peripatetics’ take on definitions, he concludes:

فتبيّن انّ الإتيان على الحدّ كما التزم به المشّاؤون غير ممكن للانسان، و صاحبهم اعترف بصعوبة ذلك

It has become evident that presenting a ḥadd, as the Peripatetics have obliged with, is not possible for humans, and the proponents themselves have acknowledged its difficulty.

2) Furthermore, even if someone were to have perceived a certain part of the essence of an entity, like the faṣl, and they were to describe and mention it to others, Suhrawardī questions how its meaning can be conveyed given others would not be aware of it? Suhrawardi claims that definition occurs between two people, between a party who is trying to convey a meaning and another party who is trying to understand it. It is a dialogue, and not a monologue.

The departing point of Suhrawardī from the Peripatetics is that he believes the one who is defining anything, should have knowledge by presence of the quiddity,[8] something the Peripatetics never entertained in their discussions. According to Suhrawardi, one who is trying to understand must be aware of the ‘araḍ ām (general accidental attributes) of the entity being defined, but only after having attained knowledge by presence of other entities that share those similar accidental attributes. This is the most any definition can convey between two parties where one does not have knowledge by presence of the quiddity of the entity being discussed. As Walbridge puts it, “Suhrawardi’s theory of definition thus calls for the identification of things in the world, not for the exposition of their reality as such.”[9]

To illustrate with an example, consider the popular story of an elephant being brought forth for a group of people, which is then put in a dark room. The elephant is unknown and no one in the region has ever seen an elephant. The group of people are also asked to go into the dark room and asked to put their hands on it. Each of them puts their hand on a different part of the elephant and subsequently perceives and defines it to be something else, but not as what we know to be an elephant.

For Suhrawardī the aforementioned example will be altered slightly. One person should enter the room with an elephant and see it with the lights turned on. In fact, he should have knowledge by presence of this elephant. When he comes out, he cannot mention the faṣl of the elephant as no one outside the room would have any idea of it, it is unknown, just like the elephant since the faṣl can only be known by presence. What this person ought to do then is to define it using words that these people are familiar with, the general accidental attributes, such as feet, tail, big, ears, etc. After conveying these accidental attributes collectively, the listeners will mentally place them on one animal and that is what will make up the definition of an elephant for them. This is the best that they can perceive without themselves having knowledge by presence of the elephant.

Figure Four of Qiyās

One of the interesting discussions in the history of logic has been the case of figure four of qiyās where the middle-term appears as a subject for the first premise and as the predicate for the second premise. Aristotle does not mention this figure, but later Muslim logicians bring it up in their works of logic and some had even written separate treatises on it. Suhrawardī writes regarding this figure:

و اذا كان الحدّ المتكرّر- اعنى الاوسط – موضوع المقدّمة الاولى و محمول الثانية، فهو السياق البعيد الذى‏ لا يتفطّن لقياسيّته من نفسه، فحذف‏.

If the repeated term – by which I mean the middle-term – is a subject for the first premise and a predicate for the second premise, then this formulation is a distant [formulation of qiyās], which is not deliberated on as a means of qiyās, hence it is omitted.[10]

Why did Suhrawardī omit the fourth figure from his system of logic? To understand his reasoning, one should know of certain objectives that Suhrawardī is seeking to achieve through his overall system of logic. Within his framework, keeping figure four as part of the syllogistic system would be deemed redundant and irrelevant.

One of the objectives for Suhrawardī is to ensure that logic does not turn into a thinking process that is far away and distant from the natural dispositions and instincts of man. In other words, logic is an instrumental tool that every human has an affinity with, it is not meant to be a complex process of thinking that becomes convoluted to such an extent that it begins to harm ones thinking altogether. Such a matter makes a person more prone to fallacies and committing errors. In order to attain this objective, Suhrawardī believes figure four does not fit well in discussions of logic, because it is a way of thinking that is very distant from how humans normally and naturally think.[11] It is overly complicated and it requires numerous proofs and premises for one to revert it back to figure one, which is a self-evident figure and all other figures are established upon it.

Another objective Suhrawardī tries to achieve in logic – which is essentially rooted in the previous objective – is his overall attempt at simplifying the discussions in syllogism. Suhrawardī reduces all syllogisms and their derived propositions to a single necessary universal affirmative (mujībah kullīyyah bil-ḍarūrah).[12] If Suhrawardī is able to do this, all 256 moods (ḍarb) of the four syllogisms with all their variances (sālibah, mujībah, kullīyyah, juz’īyyah, muhmalah) can be reduced to one version. The most popular mood of figure four is as follows:

All A is B Necessarily,

All B is C Necessarily,

Therefore, All A is C Necessarily.[13]

Suhrawardī would have had to do this in a very painstakingly manner[14], and some have rightfully questioned as to whether this is indeed a simplification of logic or merely further complication.[15] Nevertheless, Suhrawardī believes that reducing the five moods of figure four down to one single proposition fulfills his objectives.


As has been alluded already, Suhrawardī refuses to use the word manṭiq for his discussions, instead opting to say ḍawābiṭ al-fikr. When he begins to speak about logical fallacies, he is essentially attempting to identify inconsistencies or mistakes in these ḍawābiṭ (rules). In one way, what Suhrawardī is doing is similar to what is considered critical thinking in modern discourse, although this was not an independent discipline in the pre-modern world, rather the skill was learned and taught under the section of fallacies. The importance of studying fallacies is not something highlighted by Suhrawardī. Even the Peripatetics would debate whether it is more appropriate for a student to first learn disputation (jadal) or demonstration (burhān), since by learning the former one would be better equipped to identify fallacies.[16]

Suhrawardī believed that when a person studies philosophy, during the course of their study they will find more mistakes than truths, and hence one must study fallacies rigorously. So while he does not reframe the discussion on fallacies significantly and sticks to the way Ibn Sīnā presents it, Suhrawardī does spend a considerable amount of time adding and identifying more fallacies. In total, he adds 46 new fallacies to the 13 or 14 fallacies Ibn Sina mentions in his critique of the Sophists. A few examples of these fallacies shall be mentioned below:

1. Fallacy of Perspectives: One of the fallacies Suhrawardī alludes to is as follows:

وقد يقع الغلط لقلة المبالاة بالحيثيات كمن يقول (كل ابيض داخل في مفهومه البياض، و زيد ابيض) ليتعدى اليه دخول البياض في حقيقته، فان البياض داخل في الابيض من حيث انه ابيض لا من حيث انه انسان او حيوان او غيرهما

At times an error occurs to due little care towards perspectives (ḥaythīyyāt), such as when one says, “Every white, contains the concept of whiteness; and Zayd is white,” to conclude that whiteness exists in the reality of Zayd. [This is an error] because whiteness is within white from the perspective that it is white, not from the perspective that it is a human, or an animal, etc.[17]

What Suhrawardī is pointing out in this fallacy is that the middle-term is not repeated correctly, because the perspective in both premises was different. The fallacy is seen more clearly as follows:

A: Zayd is white as an accidental attribute.

B: White as an essential attribute contains the concept of whiteness.

2. The fallacy of Confusing the Imaginal (Mithāl) Instance of an Entity with the Entity Itself: Another fallacy Suhrawardī points out in his work is as follows:

]و قد يقع الغلط بسبب[ أخذ مثال الشي‏ء مكانه

And sometimes an error occurs due to taking the mithāl of an entity with the entity itself.[18]

Suhrawardī explicitly cites this fallacy against the Peripatetics when he says:

و من الغلط الواقع بسبب أخذ مثال الشي‏ء مكانه قول المشّائين فى ابطال مثل افلاطون‏

And one of the errors that occurred because of taking the imaginal instance of an entity for the entity itself, is the argument of the Peripatetics in invalidating the Plato’s Forms.[19]

The theory of Forms says that the ṣūrah which is essentially the species (naw‘) of anything does not exist in nature and nor in the mind, rather it exists independently in a third realm. What exists in nature are the particular instances of this species and what exists in the mind are mental concepts.[20] Based on a principle that the Peripatetics had and Suhrawardi cites as follows:

فاذا افتقر شي‏ء من جزئيّاتها الى المحلّ، فللحقيقة نفسها استدعاء المحل‏

If a particular instance of an entity requires a maḥall, then its reality itself also requires a maḥall,”[21] by which they would argue that since the form of a reality in its instance does ḥulūl in a mādah and does not exist independently, subsequently the real sūrah for a species must also be dependent, it must also do ḥulūl in something.

Suhrawardī believes this is a fallacy where the rules of an instance are being applied to its imaginal form, and he critiques the principle likewise. Suhrawardī points out the inconsistency and the fallacy of this principle by referring to the Peripatetic’s own view that the mental existence of a substance (jawhar) that exists in extramental reality is not a substance in the mind rather an accidental attribute:

أ لستم اعترفتم بأنّ صورة الجوهر تحصل فى الذهن و هى عرض‏

Do you not confess that the conception of a substance that occurs in the mind is an accidental attribute?[22]


Suhrawardī is pointing out how the Peripatetics do not apply this principle when it comes to the discussion of mental existence as they themselves realized there is no necessary relationship in the two modes of existence having all the same qualities and attributes. Likewise, there is therefore no reason to assume that if the particular instance of an entity is dependent on a mādah, that its ultimate form must also be dependent on something. In other words, the Peripatetics committed a fallacy of confusing the imaginal instance of an entity with the particular instance of it.

Suhrawardī’s discussions in these three areas – definitions, syllogism, and fallacies – show that he had tackled and offered his reservations in all major areas of logic. He is very critical of the way the Peripatetics engaged with the various issues, and finds flaws in some of their discussions to the extent that he has to refute them completely, like in the case of definitions, while in some cases he chooses to be pragmatic, like in the case of figure four. When it comes to fallacies, Suhrawardī – perhaps after recognizing the numerous fallacies his predecessors had fallen into leading them to false or deceptive conclusions – quantitatively expands the number of fallacies so that one is mindful of committing them during their philosophical investigations.


[1] Putyagina, Valentina. (2019). Shihab ad-Din as-Suhrawardi al-Maqtul and His Ishraq System Within Islamic Culture. 10.2991/iccessh-19.2019.471; pg. 2196.

[2] Suhrawardi. The Philosophy of Illumination. Ed. J. Walbridge and H. Ziai. Brigham Young University Press. Utah, 1999. – P. xv.

[3] The Science of Mystic Lights: Qutb al-Din Shirazi and the Illuminationist Tradition of Islamic Philosophy, by J. Walbridge

[4] Manṭiq wa Ma‘rifat Dar Andīsheh Suhrawardī – Sharḥ Manṭiq Ḥikmat al-Ishrāq, by Mahdī ‘Aẓīmī, pg. 25

[5] Seminar #1 on Hikmat-e Ishraq with Ustad Ali Amininejad – Nov 28th 2019.

[6][6] For example, see discussions in Manṭiq al-Muẓaffar.

[7] Ḥikmat al-Ishrāq, pg. 21. Accessed on Noor Hekmat.

[8] The Leaven of the Ancients, by John Walbridge, pg. 150.

[9] Pg. 148.

[10] Majmū‘h Muṣṣannafāt Shaykh Ishrāq, vol. 2, pg. 34. Accessed on Noor Hekmat.

[11] Shikl-i Chahārum Qiyās Ḥamlī Dar Manṭiq Suhrawardī, by Mahdī ‘Aẓīmī, published in Ḥekmat Mu‘āṣir, year 7, Issue 1, Spring 1395, pg. 107-127.

[12] Seminar #3 on Hikmat-e Ishraq with Ustad Ali Amininejad – Dec 12th 2019.

[13] The Leaven of the Ancients, by John Walbridge, pg. 148.

[14] See Manṭiq wa Ma‘rifat Dar Andīsheh Suhrawardī – Sharḥ Manṭiq Ḥikmat al-Ishrāq, by Mahdī ‘Aẓīmī, pg. 357-361.

[15] Ibid., pg. 149.

[16] Burhān al-Shifā’, by Ibn Sīnā pg. 54.

[17] Ḥikmat al-Ishrāq, pg. 50-51. Accessed on Noor Hekmat.

[18] Ibid., pg. 50.

[19] Ibid., pg. 92.

[20] Manṭiq wa Ma‘rifat Dar Andīsheh Suhrawardī – Sharḥ Manṭiq Ḥikmat al-Ishrāq, by Mahdī ‘Aẓīmī, pg. 467.

[21] Ibid., pg. 92.

[22] Ibid.