Perceiving things in themselves: Abū l-Barakāt al-Baġdādī’s Critique of Representationalism

Fedor Benevich*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What are the proper objects of perception? Two famous responses to this question hold that they are either the images of extramental objects, that is, the way in which they appear to us (representationalism), or they are the objects themselves (direct realism). In this paper, I present an analysis of this issue by Abū l-Barakāt al-Baġdādī (d. 1164/65), a post-Avicennian scholar whose impact on the history of Islamic philosophy has been largely neglected. Abū l-Barakāt argued against the traditional Aristotelian-Avicennian epistemological dualism, which distinguishes between the sense-perception of material particulars and the conception of immaterial universals in terms of the perceiver and/or the structure of perception. In Abū l-Barakāt's own theory, all epistemic acts have the unified structure of direct relation between one and the same perceiver (immaterial soul) and the objects themselves – both material and immaterial. His main thesis is that having corporeal organs is not necessary for sense-perception. In the final section of the paper, I show that Abū l-Barakāt's critique of the Aristotelian-Avicennian tradition was received as a breakthrough in epistemology. It may have also determined the epistemological theories of two of the most important post-Avicennian Islamic philosophers: Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1210) and Šihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrawardī (d. 1191).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229 - 264
JournalArabic Sciences and Philosophy
Issue number2
Early online date14 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020


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