Individuation and identity in Islamic philosophy after Avicenna: Bahmanyār and Suhrawardī

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Scholarship on medieval philosophy has rightfully acknowledged the historical
and systematical merit of Avicenna’s (d. 1037) thought in all divisions of
philosophy. Avicenna however did not provide a systematic theory of
individuation: matter, existence, ‘individual intentions’, and other candidates
equally appear in his works as candidates for the principle of individuation.
This systematic gap was to be filled in post-Avicennian Islamic philosophy. In
this paper, I will focus on two figures: Avicenna’s disciple Bahmanyār
b. Marzbān (d. 1066) and Šihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrawardī (d. 1191), the founder of
what has come to be called Islamic Illuminationism. We will see that
Bahmanyār, inspired by Avicenna’s Marginal Notes, connects individuation
with matter, motion, time, and position. Suhrawardī in his turn will present a
revolutionary attempt to break with the Aristotelian-Avicennian tradition of
explaining individuation through spatiotemporally designated matter. His
position, as I will show, comes close to what we nowadays call primitive
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-28
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Philosophy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jun 2019


  • primitive individuation
  • hylomorphism
  • Islamic illuminationism
  • time and place
  • universals


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