The Empiricism of Avicenna Essay

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Oriens 40 (2012) 391–436 The Empiricism of Avicenna* Dimitri Gutas New Haven, CT To Professor Wilferd Madelung, Recipient of the Giorgio Levi Della Vida Award Abstract The core of the article presents a systematic survey of Avicenna’s empirical epistemology on the basis of his texts (for related subjects also discussed see the table of contents below). The human rational soul, upon its first creation, is absolutely potential, a tabula rasa. As the child grows up, experience (mušāhada) provides him with information about the sensibles through the senses (hiss), from which he abstracts (tajrīd) intelligible concepts, and ˙ about himself and the operations of his soul through reflection (iʿtibār). The natural operation of his mind (fitra) sorts out the concepts so developed and classifies and orders them ˙ according to notions of whether they are particular or general, essential or accidental; it invests them with mutual relations like those of affirmation and negation; and then combines them to form definitions and primary and self-evident propositions which constitute the logical and mathematical framework of thinking. Once these primary notions (awwaliyyāt) are acquired at the stage Avicenna calls dispositional intellect (al-ʿaql bi-lmalaka), and with further input from the senses, both external and internal, the intellect acquires other intelligibles through syllogistic thinking and the discovery of middle terms (hads), attaining the stages of actual and acquired intellect (al-ʿaql bi-l-fiʿl, al-mustafād). ˙ With the help of the empirical datum of one’s existence and then the realization of the *) A preliminary version of this paper was presented at a conference in UCLA in the spring of 2007 in honor of Wilferd Madelung for the occasion mentioned above, to whom I am grateful for the invitation and the opportunity to work on this subject. A
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