Ibn Sina (980-1037)

views updated

IBN SINA (980-1037)

Ibn Sina (Avicenna), was a poet, music theorist, astronomer, and politician, but he was best known as a philosopher and as a medical doctor.

From his autobiography we learn that he was born in an Isma˓ili family in Afshana, in the Persian region of Bukhara. By the age of ten, he had completed the study of language and literature and memorized the Qur˒an. He studied Greek logic and mathematics under his father's friend al-Natili, a teacher and a prominent advocate of Isma˓ili Shi˓ism. However, he soon felt that his education and skills exceeded his teacher's and he no longer needed him. By the age of sixteen, he had covered the various sciences and became a teacher and practitioner of medicine. Because of his fame as a doctor, he was called upon to treat the prince Nuh Ibn Mansur, who then gave him access to the princely library, which was rich in rare books. By eighteen, he was confident that he had mastered the sciences except for metaphysics. He read Aristotle's metaphysics many times without understanding it until he came across al-Farabi's interpretation of it. He spent his last years writing and practicing medicine in Isfahan, but owing to constant travel, insufficient sleep, and hard work, he fell sick and died. He was buried in Hamadhan.

Ibn Sina wrote over 250 works, including books, odes, and essays. The most important of his philosophical books are Healing and Remarks and Admonitions. Each has four parts, the first three being logic, physics, and metaphysics. The first work closes with a part on mathematics, the second with one on Sufism. His most important medical work is the Canon of Medicine, which served as a significant reference in Europe from the eleventh to the seventeenth century.

Ibn Sina's philosophy centers primarily on the divine and human natures and their relationship to each other and the rest of the universe. The human soul individuates its body and gives it motion and life. Thus the body is dependent for its survival on its soul, but the soul's existence is independent of the body. In life the soul uses its body for gaining sensory knowledge. This knowledge, when abstracted, becomes pure universals that can be imprinted on the theoretical intellect, the highest and noblest part of the rational soul—the latter being the highest part of the human soul and the only part that survives death. Such imprinting actualizes the theoretical intellect, rendering it eternal, because these universals are eternal and because known and the knower are one. With eternity, the soul attains its highest pleasure or happiness.

Ibn Sina was an intellectual giant whose philosophy combined Greek and Islamic thought but was unique in many respects. His ideas left a strong impact on future Eastern and Western thought.

See alsoFalsafa ; Wajib al-Wujud .


Avicenna. Healing: Metaphysics X. In Medieval Political Philosophy: A Sourcebook. Edited by Ralph Lerner and Mhusin Mahdi. Translated by Michael E. Marmura. New York: Free Press, 1963.

Gohlman, William E., ed., trans. The Life of Ibn Sina: A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1974.

Shams, Inati. Ibn Sina and Mysticism: Remarks and Admonitions, Part Four. London: Kegan Paul, 1996.

Shams C. Inati

About this article

Ibn Sina (980-1037)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article