Representational Beings: Suhrawardī (d. 1191) and Avicenna’s Mental Existence

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Avicenna designed his notion of mental existence (wuǧūd ḏihnī) in order to account for an alternative mode of being that things have when they do not exist in the world. Should we interpret Avicenna’s mental existence as some kind of quasi-existence that falls outside of the real categorial being of things? In this paper, I will argue that one of the most influential figures in post-Avicennian Arabic philosophy, Šihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrawardī (d. 1191), develops Avicenna’s mental existence in a different direction. According to Suhrawardī, what is in our mind are images or representations of things and not things as such. Therefore, what is different about mental objects is not how they are in the mind (that would be a special, intentional, mode of being) but what they are. Unlike Avicenna, Suhrawardī claims that the essences of mental objects are different from their extramental counterparts. I will discuss which elements of Suhrawardī’s theory go back to Avicenna himself and which might originate from ʿUmār Ḫayyām (d. 1123-24) and Abū l-Barakāt al-Baġdādī (d. 1164/64). We will see that all four authors share the common attitude that mental beings should not be excluded from the ‘usual’ kind of existence and the real world, since mental forms are properties of our minds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-317
JournalRecherches de Théologie et Philosophie Médiévales
Early online date30 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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