AVICENNA AND HIS LEGACY: A GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY (CULTURAL ENCOUNTERS IN LATE ANTIQUITY AND THE MIDDLE AGES)

AVICENNA AND HIS LEGACY
  • Book Title:
 Avicenna And His Legacy A Golden Age Of Science And Philosophy Cultural Encounters In Late Antiquity And The Middle Ages
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AvicennaY. Tzvi Langermann
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216
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AVICENNA AND HIS LEGACY – Book Sample

Introduction – AVICENNA AND HIS LEGACY

Readers of Aristotle are familiar with his account of the four causes in Physics 2.3 and Metaphyiscs 5.2. In both of these texts, Aristotle identifies four principles through which we can grasp “both coming to be and passing away and every kind of natural change”[01] Aristotle. Physics 2.3 194b 21. All quotations of Aristotle are from The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes. Princeton: Princeton … Continue reading.

One is “that out of which a thing comes to be”, e.g., the marble of the statue; we call this the material cause [02]Aristotle. Physics 2.3 194b 24-5. Another is the form or archetype of the thing made, which Aristotle identifies with the definition of its essence; in the case of a statue of the Virgin Mary, the formal cause is its Marian shape [03]Aristotle. Physics 2.3 194b 27-8.

The third is a cause “in the sense of end or that for the sake of which a thing is done”, e.g., the statue was made in order that we might revere her Holiness; we call this the final cause [04]Aristotle. Physics 2.3 194b 33-4.

Fourth is the “the primary source of the change or rest”, e.g., the sculptor who makes the statue; we call this the efficient cause [05]Aristotle. Physics 2.3 194b 30-32.

AVICENNA AND HIS LEGACY

Medieval philosophers retain Aristotle’s four causes, but they modify his account of them and their relations with one another in various ways. This dissertation examines efficient causality in the work of three Medieval philosophers, namely, Avicenna, Aquinas and Suarez. In its final chapter, it relates Medieval debates about efficient causality to Descartes’ account of the causal powers of bodies.

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Medieval philosophers typically object to Aristotle’s definition of the efficient cause on the ground that it encompasses only agents of change.

This objection seems odd, since Aristotle identifies and distinguishes his four causes in order that we may use them to understand “both coming to be and passing away and every kind of natural

change”[06] Aristotle. Physics 2.3 194b 21. . Medieval philosophers reason that since scientific inquiry concerns existence as well as change, it seeks causes of existence, as well as causes of change. Notice that the claim that scientific inquiry concerns existence and seeks its causes does not entail that existence stands in need of an efficient cause.

AVICENNA AND HIS LEGACY

An Aristotelian could hold that to identify Socrates’ formal and material causes suffices to explain his existence. Roughly speaking, this is Aristotle’s view, but not the view of Medieval Aristotelians.

The Medieval view that Socrates stands in need of an efficient cause of his existence is born from their view that Socrates is a contingent thing. A contingent thing is something actual whose existence is merely hypothetically necessary.

The existence of Socrates is hypothetically necessary if Socrates must exist given the existence of some efficient cause or set of efficient causes. In other words, the hypothetically necessary is not necessary in itself, but rather is necessary through its efficient cause or causes.

Thus understood, the claim that the existence of Socrates is merely hypothetically necessary seems uncontroversial. It is compatible with our ordinary belief that if things had been otherwise, e.g., if Socrates’ parents had not encountered each other, then Socrates would not exist.

The difference between our ordinary view of individuals as contingent beings and the view upheld by many Medieval philosophers has to do with the distinction between coming to be and existence. According to Medieval philosophers, our ordinary belief that if things had been otherwise, then Socrates would not exist, is a belief about the hypothetical necessity of Socrates’ coming to be, not his existence.

And the fact that Socrates’ parents encountered one another explains only his coming to be, not his existence. On this view, the claim that the existence of Socrates is merely hypothetically necessary is controversial. It is obvious that Socrates stands in need of an efficient cause

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subject of many articles. See Davidson (1979), Marmura (1980b) and Menn (2003). These articles focus for the most part on the proof’s reliance on Avicenna’s application of the modal concepts of necessity and possibility to existence in Metaphysics 1.6. I discuss Avicenna’s application of the modal concepts of necessity and possibility to existence in chapter 2. My focus there is not on

or set of efficient causes in order to come to be. It isn’t obvious that his existence, considered apart from his coming to be, stands in need of an efficient cause. One of the goals of this dissertation is to show why some Medieval philosophers hold this controversial view.

One important argument for this view draws a distinction between causes of coming to be and causes of being. This distinction is perhaps best known to us from Aquinas’ argument for the claim that God preserves all things in being in the Summa Theologiae.7

Several scholars of Aquinas note that he borrows the distinction from Avicenna.8 We will see that Suarez and Descartes also borrow this distinction to defend the view that God is the cause of the existence of creatures. Avicenna develops the distinction between causes of coming to be and causes of being in the course of his account of efficient causality in the Metaphysics of his Shifā’. This dissertation begins with Avicenna’s work on efficient causality.

The impact of Avicenna’s work on efficient causality on the Latin West has been noted by several scholars. He is credited with supplying an account of creative efficient causality within a basically Aristotelian philosophical framework, which influenced later attempts to define agency, to distinguish divine and creative agents and to prove the existence of a creative First Cause.9 This is perhaps one reason why Avicenna’s

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