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The Arabic Hebrew and Latin Reception of Avicenna’s Metaphysics

The Arabic, Hebrew and Latin Reception of Avicenna’s Metaphysics

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 The Arabic Hebrew And Latin Reception Of Avicennas Metaphysics
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Avicenna, Dag Nikolaus Hasse
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The Arabic Hebrew and Latin Reception of Avicenna’s Metaphysics

The Arabic Hebrew and Latin Reception of Avicenna’s Metaphysics

Avicenna’s ‘Giver of Forms’ in Latin Philosophy, Especially in the Works of Albertus Magnus

Dag Nikolaus Hasse

The giver of forms (wahib as-suwar, dator formarum) is a piece of Avicennian philosophy that went against ˙th˙e grain of most scholastic philosophers ((I am grateful for the advice of Amos Bertolacci, Jon Bornholdt, Katrin Fischer, Jçrn MMller, Adam Takahashi and for suggestions from the audiences in Menaggio, Jena and Berlin (Leibniz-Kreis), where the paper was presented. Research on this paper was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation)). It is part of Avicenna’s emanation theory, which the Latins knew from books 8 and 9 of the Ila-hiyya-t (Divine Things) of Kita-b aˇs-Sˇifa- (Book of the Cure): the emanation of intelligences and accompanying celestial spheres from the first cause, the necessary being (wa-g˘ib al-wu¯g˘u¯d, necesse esse), which is an eternal efficient cause.

In a number of passages, Avicenna calls one of the celestial intelligences the ‘giver of forms’ ((Avicenna mentions the ‘giver of forms’ in five passages outside the Ta liqat: (1) Avicenna, Metaphysics, c. IX,5, p. 335, line 18 (‘the principles giving forms’); (2) ibid., c. IX,5, p. 337, line 26 (‘When it becomes prepared, it attains the form from the giver of forms’). These two passages appear in the same wording in Avicenna’s Nag˘a-t (The Salvation). (3) Avicenna, al-Kawn wa-l-fasad (On Generation and Corruption), c. 13, p. 187, line 3 (‘the giver of forms’); (4) ibid., c. 14, p. 190, line 14 (‘the giver of forms’); this passage is cited below, see n. 44. (5) Avicenna, F¯ı l-af a-l wa-l-infi a-la-t (On Actions and Passions), p. 256, line 10 (‘the giver of forms’). See also n. 7 below for one occurrence in the Da-neˇsna-me)). He apparently refers to the lowest intelligence, from which emanate the substantial forms of the sublunar world ((Avicenna, Metaphysics, c. IX,5, p. 335: ‘It follows necessarily, then, that the separate intellects – rather, the last of them, which is close to us, is the one from which there emanates, in participation with the celestial movements, something having the configuration of the forms of the lower world)). This intelligence is called ‘the active intellect’ in other passages ((Avicenna, Metaphysics, c. IX,4, p. 331: ‘This is the state of affairs in each successive intellect and each successive sphere, until it terminates with the active intellect that governs our selves’)). The forms emanate from the lowest intelligence when the elemental mixture reaches a certain disposition towards a form.

In most of his writings, Avicenna uses the concept of a giver of forms not in an epistemological but in an ontological sense: the wa-hib assuwar is not the giver of intelligible forms, but of the forms that combine with˙prepared matter ((As I have argued in my Avicenna’s ‘De anima’, pp. 187 – 9)).

An exception is Avicenna’s late treatise Taliqa-t (Notes), where the expression appears more than twenty times in various contexts, some of them epistemological. In the Ta liqa-t, the wa-hib as-suwar supplies substantial forms

in the first place, but also provides first principles of knowledge, the forms of the things known (suwar al-ma lu¯ma-t), an excellent moral disposition and the actualisation of light ((As shown by Janssens, The Notions, pp. 551 – 62, esp. pp. 554 – 7)). In the inflationary usage of the expression ‘giver of forms’, the Ta liqa-t resemble a text by a later author: al-G˙ aza-l¯ı’s Maqa-sid al- fala-sifa (Intentions of the Philosophers) of the late eleventh century AD.

Here the expression is used, for instance, in the context of the theory of odors and visual forms ((al-G˙ aza-l¯ı, Maqa-sid, p. 350, line 17; p. 352, line 14; p. 359, line 5; p. 369, line 12. One might suspect t˙hat the Maqa-sid reflect Avicenna’s original usage of the term, since Avicenna’s Da-neˇsna-me-ye Ala-¯ı (˙Philosophy for Ala–al-Dawla) is the ultimate source of the Maqa-sid (see Janssens, Le Da¯nesh-Na¯meh, pp. 163 – 77). But, in fact, only one of the eight ˙occurrences of the term ‘giver of forms’ in al-G˙ aza-l¯ı’s text has a parallel in Avicenna’s Da-neˇsna-me (see Janssens, The Notions, p. 552; the Persian expression is: su¯ra dinanda).)). It is likely, therefore, that the epistemological interpretation of the expression was developed by Avicenna toward the end of his life and adopted by some of his readers, such as al-G˙ aza-l¯ı. When the scholastics refer to the dator formarum, they do this in the context of theories of substantial forms and not of intelligible forms (with very few exceptions) ((Hasse, Avicenna’s ‘De anima’, p. 189, n. 620. Possible exceptions are the following: Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 11 a. 1, p. 349 (‘formas omnes sensibiles esse ab agente extrinseco quod est substantia vel forma separata, quam appellant datorem formarum vel intelligentiam agentem’) and Anonymous (Van Steenberghen), Quaestiones de anima, 2.19, p. 228, line 47 (‘… et datricem intelligibilium et naturalium quam dixit [sc. Avicenna] motricem decimi orbis’).)). In modern literature, however, Avicenna’s concept is often misrepresented as epistemological ((Examples are: Weisheipl, Aristotle’s Concept, p. 150: ‘to be receptive of new concepts from the dator formarum, the “agent intellect”’; Dales, The Problem of the Rational Soul, p. 8: ‘intelligible objects provided by the Giver of Forms’.)).

Around 1160 in Toledo, Dominicus Gundisalvi translated the metaphysics part of aˇs-Sˇifa- into Latin under the title Liber de philosophia prima sive scientia divina.

Among its first Latin readers in the twelfth and early thirteenth century, there are some who adopt central doctrines of Avicenna’s emanation system: Gundisalvi himself in his treatise De processione mundi and the anonymous author of The Book of First and Second Causes (Liber de causis primis et secundis) ((Anonymous (de Vaux), Liber de causis primis et secundis. Avicenna’s ‘Giver of Forms’ in Latin Philosophy             227)). But the great majority of the later scholastic tradition considers Avicenna’s emanation theory to be in conflict with the idea that the world is created. This creation is not a necessary process, it is argued, but depends upon

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