Forming the Mind: Essays on the Internal Senses and the Mind/Body Problem from Avicenna to the Medical Enlightenment (Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind) 

  • Book Title:
 Forming The Mind Essays On The Internal Senses And The Mind Body Problem From Avicenna To The Medical Enlightenment Studies In The History Of Philosophy Of Mind
  • Book Author:
AvicennaHenrik Lagerlund
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  • Introduction: The Mind/Body Problem and Late Medieval
  • Conceptions of the Soul  Henrik Lagerlund
  • Memory and Recollection in Ibn Sînâ’s and Ibn Rushd’s Philosophical
  • Texts Translated into Latin in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries:
  • A Perspective on the Doctrine of the Internal Senses in Arabic
  • Psychological Science Carla Di Martino
  • Imagination and Experience in the Sensory Soul and Beyond: Richard
  • Rufus, Roger Bacon and Their Contemporaries Rega Wood
  • The Soul as an Entity: Dante, Aquinas, and Olivi Mikko Yrjِnsuuri
  • Self-Knowledge and Cognitive Ascent: Thomas Aquinas and Peter
  • Olivi on the KK–Thesis
  • Christopher J. Martin
  • The Invention of Singular Thought
  • Calvin G. Normore
  • John Buridan on the Immateriality of the Intellect
  • Jack Zupko
  • How Matter Becomes Mind: Late-Medieval Theories of Emergence
  • Olaf Pluta
  • Passions and Old Men in Renaissance Gerontology
  • Timo Joutsivuo
  • Why Isn’t the Mind-Body Problem Medieval? Peter King
  • Matter, Mind, and Hylomorphism in Ibn Gabirol and Spinoza
  • Tamar Rudavsky
  • Cajetan and Suarez on Agent Sense: Metaphysics and Epistemology in Late Aristotelian Thought
  • Cees Leijenhorst
  • Is Descartes’ Body a Mode of Mind?
  • Deborah Brown
  • Mind and Extension (Descartes, Hobbes, More) Robert Pasnau
  • Emotional Pathologies and Reason in French Medical Enlightenment Timo Kaitaro
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Contemporary philosophy of mind or philosophical psychology traces its origin almost exclusively to René Descartes. Almost all textbooks in philosophy of mind start with a discussion of Descartes. A legitimate question is, of course: Why? The answer is complicated, but one reason is that contemporary philosophy of mind is almost exclusively concerned with the so called mind/body problem, i.e., the problem how meaning, rationality, and conscious experience are related to a physical world, and they think Descartes was first to formulate this problem.

In a lot of ways, the problem I just described, as the mind/body problem, was not the problem Descartes formulated, but it is, of course, still true that there is a problem or perhaps a set of related problems of how mind and body are related for Descartes. This set of related problems is what I will call the mind/body problem and in the course of this introduction I will try to show that this set of problems, or at least some of the problems in this set, can be traced back to the introduction and Latinization of Arabic thought and Aristotelian philosophy in the twelfth century. It was with the translation of Avicenna’s De anima and the subsequent translation and discussion of Aristotle’s De anima and Averroes’ commentaries that the discussion began that continues today [01]See Lagerlund (2007) for further discussions of the importance of Avicenna for subsequent philosophical psychology..

The mind/body problem that was a concern in the Middle Ages and in early modern times is, however, as indicated not the same problem that occupy contemporary philosophers. Today we want to explain how phenomena like consciousness and intentionality are possible in a material (or physical) world.

The problem that faced medieval philosophers and Descartes was rather the opposite, that is, how can matter at all have an effect on the mental (non-material) and how can such a noble thing as a mind be united to a material body.

The reason this was problematic was because material things and minds (or souls) was thought to be far apart on the great chain of being.

Matter was considered to be lower on this chain than the mind or the soul. The mind/body or soul/body problem for medieval thinkers was thus foremost a metaphysical problem and to a much lesser extent an epistemological and a semantical problem.

This is not to say that they were not concerned with epistemological and semantical problems–on the contrary–but the mind/body problem was not such a problem.

It is often unclear in discussions of the history of the mind/body problem what the problem actually is or rather was.

The reason for this is, I think, that the problem can be spelled out in different ways and also that there are, as already indicated, in fact several mind/body problems. One problem is the so-called interaction problem, that is, how can such different things (or substances) as the mind and the body have an efficient causal effect on each other. Another problem is the unification problem, that is, how can the mind and the body, which can exist apart from each other, be united into one single thing; a human being.

A third way of stating the problem has to do with the existence of sensations or sense ideas in the mind, which means that the problem is really how to explain in what way there can be sensations in a mind without a body.

 A fourth mind/body problem, which is quite neglected and which the present book does not deal with at all, but which is very important, is how final and efficient causality can be combined. How do we reconcile the material and animal world, which is governed by efficient causality, with the mental and divine world, which is governed by final causality.

This problem it seems to me, as the other three mentioned, grows out of the later Middle Ages. It starts primarily in the early fourteenth century when thinkers like William Ockham and John Buridan start to flirt with a mechanized view of the material world.

They explicitly argue that efficient causality is all that is needed to explain movement and change in nature, and hence they limit final causality to immaterial object like minds, angels and God. From their argumentation a mind/body problem follows, namely how is human action and free will, which is governed by final causality, incorporated into a world, which otherwise is solely explicable by efficient causality.

This problem can be traced from the early fourteenth century into early modern times and is a major concern for Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz.

The essays in this book do not all deal with the mind/body problem but they all in one way or another treat problem associated with the mind or the soul and its relation to and functions in a body. They give samples from a long tradition starting with Avicenna and continuing up to and past Descartes.

This incredibly rich tradition has been far too little discussed and its importance for modern philosophy of mind and the tradition following Descartes has not been appreciated enough. This book tries to fill in some of these gaps.2

In this introduction, I will give a brief account of the conceptions of the soul in the Middle Ages and up to Descartes. Given the similarity in conceptions of mind or soul, it is clear that the same problems associated with these conceptions will appear for the medieval thinkers as well. I will end this introduction with a short summary of the papers collected in this book.

The word for ‘mind’ used by Descartes in the Meditations is the Latin ‘mens’ and the French ‘esprit’. In other works, he also uses ‘anima’ or ‘ame’, and seems to mean the same thing. The Latin tradition that Descartes depends on uses both these words. ‘Anima’ is of course the main word used and it is usually translated with ‘soul’. According to the standard Aristotelian divisions, it is divided into the vegetative, sensitive and intellective.

 These are either functions, powers or parts of one soul, or they are divisions of different souls in one or several beings.

For example, plants have vegetative souls, animals have one soul that is both vegetative and sensitive or two souls one of which is vegetative and the other sensitive, and humans have one soul with have all three powers or three souls (some thought humans have two souls one that is vegetative and sensitive and another that is intellective). The Latin word ‘mens’ was almost always reserved for the intellective soul or the intellective part of the soul.

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References / Footnotes

01See Lagerlund (2007) for further discussions of the importance of Avicenna for subsequent philosophical psychology.