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AVICENNA °, as he is known in the West, or Abu Ali al-Hussein ibn ʿAbdallah ibn Sīnā (980–1037), physician, scientist, statesman, and one of the greatest Islamic philosophers.

His writings cover a wide range of topics. His encyclopedic work Kitāb Shifa-aʾl Nafs ("The Book Concerning the Healing of the Soul") is a magisterial summary of the kind of Neoplatonized Aristotelianism which at that time dominated philosophy in the Islamic East. Divided into four parts, dealing, respectively, with logic, physics, mathematics, and metaphysics, the work contains summaries, analyses, and reconceptualizations of those Aristotelian doctrines that appeared sound to Avicenna. In his expositions Avicenna was influenced by Aristotle and his Greek interpreters, Neoplatonic thinkers and writings (some of which were incorrectly ascribed to Aristotle), and by earlier Islamic philosophers, primarily, al-*Fārābī. Avicenna later composed an abridgment of the Shifaʿ, entitled Kitāb al-Najat ("Book of Deliverance"). His Isharat wa-al-Tanbihat ("Pointers and Reminders"), however, is generally regarded as his most mature work and the last major statement of his philosophy.

Avicenna wrote on all the branches of Aristotelian philosophy, but was primarily a metaphysician. As such, he maintained that in all beings other than God their essence or quiddity (e.g., horseness) is ontologically distinct from both their concrete existence (e.g., this white horse beside me) and from the universal concept of it (horse) that can be predicated of all instances. Thus, from what a thing is (its essence or quiddity), we cannot infer that it is, i.e., that it exists concretely, because existence is not a constituent part of its essence. We can infer only that its existence is possible. Assuming that the essence is internally consistent and that a concrete instance of it does exist, however, some other thing external to the essence would be necessary to cause it to exist concretely in space and time. In that respect, existence would have to be an accident added to essence. Closely related to this analysis is Avicenna's more general distinction between contingent and necessary being, according to which the world and everything in it are contingent (possible in themselves, and, if they exist concretely, necessary through some other being or beings acting as their cause), while God is the only being who does not depend on anything external to bring about or assure His existence because God is necessary through Himself. This is to say that God's essence is identical with His existence. This distinction between necessary and contingent being led Avicenna to formulate his famous metaphysical proof for the existence of God (later used by *Maimonides, Thomas *Aquinas, and others), according to which the existence of God as a being necessary through Himself can be demonstrated from the contingent nature of the world. For the actual existence of the world and any thing within it, which are possible in themselves, cannot be caused or explained by other beings that are only possible in themselves, for these might or might not exist. Rather, such beings must be "specified" to exist by external, necessitating causes. Since there cannot be an infinite number of such causes coexisting through time, there must be one that is necessary, not through yet another cause, but through itself. This Necessary Existent is God. In his description of God, Avicenna was the champion of the theory of negative attributes, according to which, essential attributes applied to God, such as existing, being one, and being wise, do not have a positive meaning but must be understood as denying the opposite characteristics of God. To explain creation Avicenna turned to the Neoplatonic theory of *emanation. From God's contemplative activity there emanates a series of intelligences, souls, celestial bodies, and finally the sublunar world of generation and corruption. The intelligences, ten in number, are hierarchically ordered; and the tenth intelligence, according to Avicenna, fulfills a dual function. As the "Giver of the forms" (a distinctively Avicennian notion), it provides sublunar matter with the all of the various forms that characterize concrete particulars, while as the "Agent Intellect" it is the decisive cause in producing actual knowledge within suitably prepared individual minds. It should be noted, however, that Avicenna understood this entire emanative process as atemporal and ongoing, which is to say that the world, according to him, is co-eternal with, yet dependent on, God. In human psychology, Avicenna maintained that each human soul is a simple, independent substance, created by God, and by nature immortal. In his political thought, Avicenna emphasized the social nature of man and the need for both laws and a legislator, who, in the best case, is a prophet. In addition to other works, Avicenna also wrote philosophical allegories, chief among them Ḥayy Ibn Yaqẓan ("The Recital of Ḥayy Ibn Yaqẓan," in: H. Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, 1960). This latter work served as a model for similarly entitled works by Ibn Tufayl and Abraham *Ibn Ezra.

Influence on Jewish Philosophy

The influence of Avicenna on Jewish philosophy remains largely to be studied. While it is quite clear that he influenced a number of Jewish philosophers, it is often difficult to determine just what his influence was. When Jews used Arabic as the language of philosophy, they had direct access to Avicenna's writings; but when the language of philosophy became Hebrew, they had to rely on Hebrew translations of his works, and on accounts of his teachings in other works available in Hebrew. Only a few of Avicenna's philosophical works were translated into Hebrew, and most of these, according to Steinschneider, were based on Latin translations. A work by Avicenna entitled Sefer ha-Shamayim ve-ha-Olam (De caelo et mundo) was widely read, as the number of extant manuscripts testifies. This work, apparently part of the Shifaʿ, was translated by Solomon b. Moses of Melgueuil (middle or second half of 13th century), most likely from the Latin. Solomon translated, from the Latin, a treatise Ha-Shenah ve-ha-Yekiẓah (De somno et Vigilia) attributed to Aristotle, but probably written by Avicenna. Todros Todrosi, between the years 1330 and 1340, translated Avicenna's Najāt under the title Haẓẓalat ha-Nefesh, though the one extant manuscript (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Cod. Hebr. 1023) contains only the physical and metaphysical sections of the work. There also exists a Hebrew translation of Ḥayy Ibn Yaqẓan together with a commentary (ed. by D. Kaufmann, 1886). Avicenna's views became known, also, through al-Ghazālī's Maqāṣid al-Falāsifa ("Intentions of the Philosophers"), Hebrew translations of which circulated widely in the Jewish world during the late Middle Ages.

Influence on Maimonides

Among Jewish philosophers, Maimonides made use of certain Avicennian doctrines, but it would be false to describe his philosophy as essentially Avicennian. In a famous letter to Samuel ibn *Tibbon (Marx, in: jqr, 25 (1934–35), 380), Maimonides registers some reservations about Avicenna's philosophical views. A number of Maimonidean teachings that medieval and modern commentators on the Guide of the Perplexed attribute to Avicenna, are, in fact, already found in al-Fārābī. Nevertheless, some typical Avicennian doctrines are found in the Guide (see S. Pines, Guide of the Perplexed (1963), xciii–ciii (introduction)). In metaphysics, Maimonides accepts the Avicennian distinctions between essence and existence, and between necessary and contingent beings. He holds, with Avicenna, that God's essential attributes are to be understood negatively and he uses the Avicennian proof for the existence of God, known as the proof from necessity and contingency. In politics, Maimonides agrees with Avicenna that man must live in a community, and that prophets are needed to establish the law of the community. Maimonides further agrees with Avicenna that the appearance of prophets is due to teleological provisions of nature. Avicennian influences also seem to be at work in Maimonides' contention that prophets can reach knowledge of reality without having previously grasped the theoretical premises for such knowledge, and in his view that meditation is superior to worship.

Prior to Maimonides, Abraham *Ibn Daud in his Emunah Ramah was strongly influenced by Avicenna's views, so much so, that certain sections of the work seem to be almost a compendium of Avicenna's views. Ibn Daud follows Avicenna in his psychology and often makes use of Avicenna's demonstrations. From Avicenna, Ibn Daud takes the proof of the existence of God as a necessary being, and the proof that there can be only one such being. *Judah Halevi who, in his Kuzari, polemicizes against Neoplatonic Aristotelian philosophy, presents as its spokesman a philosopher whose views show many connections with the teachings of Avicenna (Kuzari, 1:1). However, Halevi returns to several of these themes much later in the dialogue (Kuzari, 5:12), when he has his own principal spokesman, the Jewish sage, present Avicenna's views on the soul, its faculties, and the possibility of conjunction with the Agent Intellect after death much more sympathetically. Abraham *Ibn Ezra (commentary on Genesis 18:21) and *Levi b. Gershom (Milḥamot, 3:5) adopt Avicenna's view that God knows only universals, not individuals. Similarly, Ibn Ezra's view that God exercises His providence by means of the separate intelligences and the celestial spheres (commentary on Ex. 20:2) is probably also derived from Avicenna. Shem Tov *Falaquera based his Sefer ha-Nefesh on Avicenna's views (chapter 18 is an almost literal translation from the Najāt), and he accepted in his Moreh ha-Moreh (1:34) Avicenna's view that singular individuals receive illumination through the "holy intelligence." Avicenna's psychology also influenced the authors of the philosophical compendium Ru'aḥ Ḥen, as well as *Hillel b. Samuel of Verona in his Tagmulei ha-Nefesh. Avicennian influences are found in Hillel's proof of the existence of the soul (ch. 1) and in his contention that the soul is not body, property, or accident but substance and form (ch. 2). Avicenna's influence on Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ *Duran is evident in the latter's description of the internal senses and their position in the brain (Magen Avot, 4:21, 4:22, 5:1, 5:7, 5:8). The "Physics" of al-Shif ʾa, in particular the "Meteorology," was used by Samuel ibn Tibbon in his Yikkavu ha-Mayim. In this work he also cites Avicenna's view that it is possible that man may be generated from earth, a view for which *Immanuel of Rome (c. 1268–c. 1328) in his Maḥberet ha-Tofet ve-ha-Eden, the last section of his Maḥbarot, assigns Avicenna to hell.

[Shlomo Pines]

Medical Writings

Among Avicenna's medical writings, his greatest work is his al-Qānūn fī al-Ṭibb ("Canon of Medicine," called Avicenna's Canon). Divided into five books, the work deals with such topics as the description of the human body, the causes and complications of common ailments, treatment of diseases, the diseases that affect only parts of the body, diseases which affect the body as a whole, and pharmacology. Basing himself on Hippocrates and Galen and drawing on his own extensive experience, Avicenna is mainly concerned with practical matters rather than with theoretical discussions. The work achieved world fame and was accepted as authoritative not only by Muslim physicians, but also by Jews and Christians. The popularity of the work is attested to by the fact that many manuscript copies (in the Arabic original, and in Hebrew and Latin translations) are still extant. The work has been published, at different times, in Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin, and is still considered authoritative in parts of the Muslim world.

The principal Hebrew translation of the Canon (books 2–5) was made by Nathan ha-Me'ati (1279); printed at Naples in 3 vols. (1491–92). A beautifully illustrated manuscript of this translation exists at Bologna, Italy (Cod. 2197). Parts of the work were also translated by Zerahiah b. Isaac b. Shealtiel *Gracian (1249), and by Joseph b. Joshua Lorki (1408, book 1, included in the Naples edition). There exists also an abridged version in ten tractates of the Canon prepared by someone other than Avicenna (Arabic original in single manuscript, Ms. Escurial 863) which was translated into Hebrew twice: once by Moses ibn *Tibbon (Ha-Seder ha-Katan, 1272), a second time by an anonymous translator who entitled his translation Olam Katan (see Steinschneider, Uebersetzungen, p. 696). The anonymous translation has been preserved in many manuscripts (e.g., Bodleian Library, Ms. Mich. Add. 17).

Like other authors, Avicenna also composed a medical treatise in verse entitled Manẓūma (or Urjūza) fi al-Ṭibb. Averroes wrote a commentary to one version of this poem. The poem with its commentary was translated into Hebrew, in prose form, once by Moses ibn Tibbon (1260) and a second time by an anonymous translator (apparently by *Jacob ha-Katan). Solomon ibn Ayyūb of Granada (1261) and the physician Ḥayyim Yisra'eli (1320) prepared a Hebrew verse translation of the work. Another medical work by Avicenna entitled al-Adwiya al-Qalbiyya ("On Remedies for the Heart") was translated into Hebrew twice: once under the title Sammim Libbiyyim, a second time under the title Sefer ha-Refu'ot ha-Libbiyyot. Baruch ibn Yaʿish ibn Isaac composed a commentary on the first one (c. 1485, Italy) as did an anonymous commentator (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms. Mich. Add. 15, fol. 122).

[Bernard Suler]


A.J. Arberry, Avicenna on Theology (1951); A. Hyman and J.J. Walsh, Philosophy in the Middle Ages (1967); Pines, in: Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge, 19 (1952), 5–37; 21 (1954), 21–98; Husik, Philosophy, index; Guttmann, Philosophies, index. add. bibliography: L.E. Goodman, Avicenna (1992); D. Gutas, Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition (1988); H.A. Davidson, Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes on Intellect (1992); S.H. Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines (1964); S. Kemal, The Poetics of Alfarabi and Avicenna (1991); P. Heath, Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna (1992); D. Black, Logic and Aristotle's Rhetoric and Poetics in Medieval Arabic Philosophy (1990), 279–86, 677–702; M.E. Marmura, in: Journal of the American Oriental Society, 82 (1962), 299–312; idem, in: Mediaeval Studies, 42 (1980), 337–52; S.J.L. Janssens, An Annotated Bibliography on Ibn Sina (1991); H.A. Davidson, Moses Maimonides: The Man and His Works (2005), index; N. Samuelson and G. Weiss, Abraham ibn Daud: The Exalted Faith (1986), index; R. Jospe, Torah and Sophia (1988), index; A.W. Hughes, The Texture of the Divine (2004), index; C. Sirat, A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages (1985), index; D.H. Frank and O. Leaman, History of Jewish Philosophy (1997), index.