Avicenna. the Physics of the Healing: A Parallel English-Arabic Text in Two Volumes

By Belo, Catarina | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, January-March 2012 | Go to article overview

Avicenna. the Physics of the Healing: A Parallel English-Arabic Text in Two Volumes


Belo, Catarina, The Journal of the American Oriental Society


Avicenna. The Physics of The Healing: A Parallel English-Arabic Text in Two Volumes. Translated by JON MCGINNIS. Islamic Translation Series. Provo, Utah: BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2009. pp. xxxiv 259 259 arabic: xi 304 260 arabic. $49.95.

This edition, with introduction, notes, and a glossary, of Avicenna's Physics of the Healing by Jon McGinnis constitutes the first full English translation of this important work of the Avicenna corpus, and fittingly complements the edition and English translation of The Metaphysics of the Healing by Michael E. Marmura for the same series (2005). Prior series publications included fresh English translations and editions of important works of medieval Islamic philosophy such as Averroes's Decisive Treatise and Epistle Dedicatory and al-Ghazali's Incoherence of the Philosophers.

The Avicenna specialist Jon McGinnis has long been engaged in the study of medieval physics, and this momentous task could not have been entrusted to a more qualified expert. In his introduction McGinnis notes that this is the first English translation of the Physics of the Healing alongside only two other modern-day translations, into Turkish and Persian, while Avicenna's Metaphysics of the Healing has been translated more widely, with available translatons in French, German, Italian (twice), and English. This renewed interest in the Physics of Avicenna is remarkable because both the Physics and the Metaphysics of al-Shift' were translated into Latin in the Middle Ages, although the metaphysical aspects of Avicenna's philosophical system were the most enduringly influential from the medieval period to modern times.

As McGinnis points out, this work sheds light on Avicenna's philosophy as a whole, for instance on his psychology and defense of "substance dualism," whereby "for Avicenna, the human intellect is not the form of the body, but an immaterial substance that is the perfection of the body and that uses the body as a tool" (p. xxii), which argument is made explicit in the Physics. While the Physics and the Metaphysics complement each other, a full account of certain metaphysical issues, such as causation, is to be found only in the Physics. We also find there modal proofs for the eternity of the world based on the concept of possibility. In providing an interpretative reading of Aristotle's Physics, Avicenna demonstrates knowledge of previous commentaries on the same work by the Stagirite, such as those by Alexander of Aphrodisias and Themistius, as well as the objections of John Philoponus to Aristotle's argument for the eternity of the world. In the Physics of the Healing Avicenna further engages in argument with the mutakallimun, Islamic theologians, in particularly with regard to atomism.

McGinnis's excellent introduction also provides an overview of the four books comprising this work, which deal with the main topics of Aristotle's Physics but are not intended as a literal commentary, as were those composed later by Averroes. In his introduction McGinnis explains the place of Avicenna's physics among other theoretical sciences such as mathematics and metaphysics. The first book corresponds to Aristotle's first two books of the Physics and describes the causes and principles of natural substances and phenomena. The second book deals with motion as well as place and time, offers arguments denying the void, and treats various aspects of book three of Aristotle's Physics. Book three of the Physics of the Healing is devoted to the refutation of atomism in its different varieties, as propounded by Democritus, the Epicureans, or the mutakallimfin. Nevertheless, Avicenna defends the doctrine that a substance cannot be infinitely divided without losing its substantial form. So in continuously dividing a drop of water there will be a point where the substance ceases to be water. This third book also explains the ways in which the infinite is and is not real. Although we cannot have an actual infinite in the present, an infinite past and future are possible, which goes hand in hand with Avicenna's position on the eternity of the world. …

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