Avicenna: The summit of Arabian thought
- Avicenna was born in 980 in Boukhara.
"an extremely precocious child he assimilated successibely the Doran,
elementary arithmetic and geometry, logic, then medicine, which he
learned from both books and practice. He then was sixteen years old.
After a year and a half devoted to free studies and medititions, he
chanced upon the treatise of Alfarabi _On the Intentions of Aristotle in
His Book on Metaphysics_. This reading cleared up for him all the
difficulties which he still found in the metaphysics of Aristotle.
Avicenna wrote his first book at the age of 21. His whole life was
devoted to the composition of the poetic, scientific and philosophical
writings, as well as to various teaching, legal and political
activities. He died at Hamadan, in July, 1037, in his 58th year"
(Gilson, 639-40, n. 11).
According to Avicenna:
The first task of theology is to establish the existence of a First
Cause. This is the crowning point of metaphysics. But what, then, your
may ask, exactly is the First Cause? That is, apart from the vagueness
of the Plotinian position?
This occasion prompts Avicenna to define the meaning of the term
And so he distinguishes "between the causality of the mover and the
causality of the maker. the notion of efficient cause, always more or
less confusedly present to the mind of the Christian theologians
describing the divine act of creation, finds itself integrated by
Avicenna with the Arsitotelian doctrine of the four causes. This
metaphysical initiative was to have far-reaching consequences in the
history of Christian philosophy" (Gilson, 210).
Avicenna, in his original thinking which is so greatly to influence the
theology of the western High Middle Ages, distinguishes a new type of
causality in relation to God: that is, the agent cause (causa agens)
whose proper effect (as coming from God) is precisely the ESSE of the
the thing caused. The agent cause then -- as Avicenna writes -- "is the
cause that gives to the thing an ESSE distinct from its own (Avicenna,
Metaph. VI, 1).
Agent cause, or causa agens, therefore is very different from the cause
of mere motion which is tied to matter. It is very specifically, a
metaphysical causality and as such is very different in its nature as a
cause from the strictly physical causality investigated by the
"The theologians do not understand by agent the principle of motion
only, as the natural philosophers do, but rather, the origin of
existence (principium essendi), and its giver (et datorem ejus), as the
creator of the world is."
Once again, Avicenna's notion of efficient causality (apart from
martter, and in relation to the creation of God) is directly tied to the
notion of ESSE in terms of its principle -- or causa agens -- seen here
as the origin of existence. However, Avicenna's thought of this ESSE as
an effect of the Essence of God, and not as Aquinas will later see it as
the effect of IPSUM ESSE PER SE SUBSISTENS, or the Existence of God.
Now the reason for Avicenna's positing the cause of the effect known as
ESSE in the Essence of God will be treated in the next post.
Suffice it for now to see that
"The metaphysical complex resulting from the combination of Avicenna's
notion of efficient causality as origin of existences, with the Proclean
universe described in the BOOK ON CAUSES, will become very common about
the end of the thirteenth century. The upshot will be an universe
neoplatonic in structure but permeated throughout with the efficient
causality proper to the creating God of the Old Testament" (Gilson,
We will discuss Avicenna II in the next post.
But if there are any questions in regard to the first part of the above
presentation on Avicenna's thinking, please feel free to ask.
I hope everyone had a tremendous and good Easter.
May God bless everyone.