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  • 8/22/2009

Who was Avicenna?


Arabian physician and philosopher, born at Kharmaithen, in the province of Bokhara, 980; died at Hamadan, in Northern Persia, 1037. Avicenna was actually Persian, not Arabian.

From the autobiographical sketch which has come down to us we learn that he was a very precocious youth; at the age of ten he knew the Quran by heart; before he was sixteen he had mastered what was to be learned of physics, mathematics, logic, and metaphysics; at the age of sixteen he began the study and practice of medicine;

 and before he had completed his twenty-first year he wrote his famous ‘Canon’ of medical science, which for several centuries, after his time, remained the principal authority in medical schools both in Europe and in Asia.

 He served successively several Persian potentates as physician and adviser, traveling with them from place to place, and despite the habits of conviviality for which he was well known, devoted much time to literary labours, as is testified by the hundred volumes which he wrote. Our authority for the foregoing facts is the ‘Life of Avicenna,’ based on his autobiography, written by his disciple Jorjani (Sorsanus), and published in the early Latin editions of his works.

Besides the medical ‘Canon,’ he wrote voluminous commentaries on Aristotle’s works and two great encyclopedias entitled ‘Al Schefa’, or ‘Al Chifa’ (i.e. healing) and ‘Al Nadja’ (i.e. deliverance). The ‘Canon’ and portions of the encyclopedias were translated into Latin as early as the twelfth century, by Gerard of Cremona, Dominicus Gundissalinus, and John Avendeath; they were published at Venice, 1493-95. The complete Arabic texts are said to be in the manuscript in the Bodleian Library. An Arabic text of the ‘Canon’ and the ‘Nadja’ was published in Rome, 1593.

Avicenna's philosophy, like that of his predecessors among the Arabians, is Aristoteleanism mingled with neo-Platonism, an exposition of Aristotle's teaching in the light of the Commentaries of Thomistius, Simplicius, and other neo-Platonists.

His Logic is divided into nine parts, of which the first is an introduction after the manner of Porphyry's ‘Isagoge’; then follow the six parts corresponding to the six treatises composing the ‘Organon’; the eighth and ninth parts consists respectively of treatises on rhetoric and poetry.

Avicenna devoted special attention to definition, the logic of representation, as he styles it, and also to the classification of sciences. Philosophy, he says, which is the general name for scientific knowledge, includes speculative and practical philosophy. Speculative philosophy is divided into the inferior science (physics), and middle science (mathematics), and the superior science (metaphysics including theology). Practical philosophy is divided into ethics (which considers man as an individual); economics (which considers man as a member of domestic society); and politics (which considers man as a member of civil society). These divisions are important on account of their influence on the arrangement of sciences in the schools where the philosophy of Avicenna preceded the introduction of Aristotle's works.

A favorite principle of Avicenna, which is quoted not only by Averroes but also by the Schoolmen, and especially by St. Albert the Great, was ‘intellectus in formis agit universalities“, that is, the universality of our ideas is the result of the activity of the mind itself.

 The principle, however, is to be understood in the realistic. Avicenna's meaning is that, while there are differences and resemblances among things independently of the mind, the formal constitution of things in the category of individuality, generic universality, specific universality, and so forth, is the work of the mind.

Other links:

Avicenna: Short biography

Avicenna: Early life

Avicenna: Adulthood

Avicennia's science

Avicennia's psychology

Avicenna’s philosophy

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