Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

The Doctrine of the Analogy of Being in Avicenna's Metaphysics of the Healing

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

The Doctrine of the Analogy of Being in Avicenna's Metaphysics of the Healing

Article excerpt

IN THIS ESSAY I EXPLICATE THE GENERAL CONTOURS of Avicenna's doctrine of the analogy of being as it is presented in his Aristotelian philosophical summa, the Book of Healing (Kitab as-Sifa'), which presents his own views on logic, natural philosophy, mathematics, and metaphysics. I focus on the function of the analogy of being in Avicenna's Metaphysics of the Healing (as-Sifa', al-Ilahiyyat), which is the final treatise in the Book of Healing. (1) I address two questions: What is his doctrine of the analogy of being? And: Is his doctrine of the analogy of being consistent with his presentation of the subject of metaphysics in the Ilahiyyat? Many features of his doctrine of analogy raise issues and difficulties that I cannot address here. My aim is to provide an overview of the way Avicenna employs distinct analogies of existence within the central argument of the Ilahiyyat, which brings us from being qua being to the existence of the divine necessary existence in itself.

I

Before jumping into the complexities of Avicenna's doctrine of the analogy of being, we should begin with some contextual remarks that orient our investigation. Avicenna's Book of Healing consists of four major parts dealing with logic, natural philosophy, mathematics, and metaphysics. He adopts this Aristotelian order of the philosophical sciences, yet not without introducing some significant innovations of his own. (2) The principal task of logic is to order the intellect's two acts of conceptualization (tasawwur) and assent (tasdiq). Logic perfects our capacity to conceptualize primary and acquired descriptions and definitions, propositions, and syllogisms. Logic also instructs us in the realm of truth and falsity; this is the concern of primary and acquired assents to propositions known in themselves and through syllogisms, whether they be demonstrative, dialectic, rhetoric, or poetic syllogisms. (3) This organization of the intellectual acts of conceptualization and assent provided by the study of logic is, for Avicenna, a necessary prerequisite to the scientific inquiries that belong to physics, mathematics, and metaphysics. Consequently, the various sciences that belong to the domains of physics, mathematics, and metaphysics are formed through the appropriate conceptualizations of primary and acquired notions along with assents to primary and acquired true propositions. Such noetic acts commence with the basic questions: What is it? Is it? (Or, whether X is Y?) And, why is it? The primary answers to these fundamental questions with respect to different objects of investigation provide each science with its subject and first principles of conceptualization and assent, and they direct us toward the major objects of inquiry to be explored within any particular science on the basis of its first principles. In other words, each science consists of three epistemological elements: a subject, first principles, and its objects of inquiry. Avicenna works out in detail this epistemological profile of a demonstrative science in his Book of Demonstration from the Logic of the Healing, which is his reworked version of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. (4)

The ten books of Avicenna's Ilahiyyat are tailored to fit this epistemological profile of a demonstrative science. He treats the subject of first philosophy in 1.1-4, its first principles of conceptualization and assent in 1.5-8, and his extended treatment of the objects of inquiry in books 2-10 concern various ontological, aitiological, and theological problems. The objects of inquiry begin with his ontological investigation into the division of being per se into the quasi-species of being, that is, the categories of substance and accidents, (5) and continues with his ontological treatment of the quasi-proper accidents of being (6)--such as the prior and posterior, universal and particular, cause and effect, one and many. All of these inquiries culminate in his aitiological and theological demonstrations concerning the existence and nature of, and all creation's emanation from and return to, the uncaused first cause that is the divine necessary existence in itself. …

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