Between the Universal and Particular: Lessons from Suhrawardi


Wed, 12/01/2021 - 3:00pm


Part of the Fall 2021 Middle Eastern and North African Studies Colloquium Series

Reza Hadisi, Assistant Professor of Practice, Department of Philosophy, University of Arizona

headshot of Reza Hadisi

According to a long tradition in modern philosophy, unlike reason and sensation, imagination is only a secondary or peripheral source of knowledge. After all, unconstrained imagination seems to have no regard for truth. As David Hume famously put it, “to form monsters, and join incongruous shapes and appearances, costs the imagination no more trouble than to conceive the most natural and familiar objects.” Now, even Hume would agree that under constraints of reason and sensation, imagination can get us to knowledge: I could use imagination to find the most efficient way home, or to answer a geometrical question. However, on the dominant modern view, an ideal epistemic agent would know by relying on reason alone, sensation alone, or a combination of the two. In this talk, I discuss the views of a pivotal figure in the history of medieval Islamic philosophy, Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (1154–1191) who argued that imagination is a primary or sui generis source of knowledge. On his account, imaginative knowledge is not just a less vivid instance of perceptual knowledge, nor is it just a vaguer instance of rational knowledge. In its proper use, imagination has its own objects of knowledge. Thus, even an ideal knower must learn to know through imagination. My task for the talk is twofold. First, I offer an exegesis of Suhrawardi’s account of imagination. Then, I draw lessons from this historical account for contemporary debates in philosophy, answering the question: What does an account of imagination as a primary source of knowledge must assume about objects of knowledge?


Reza Hadisi is interested in questions about the relationship between theoretical and practical knowledge, the nature of practical reasoning and action, and moral epistemology. He often steals ideas from dead philosophers (especially Kant and medieval Islamic philosophers).

This event will be held in person at the Marshall Building, Room 490. Masks are required.

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