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Avicenna (980-1037) is perhaps the most celebrated of the Islamic philosopher-scientists
whose works exerted a profound influence on Western learning in the Middle Ages.
His writings on medicine, like those of Rhazes, served as textbooks in European
universities for many centuries. Avicenna spent the early part of his life under
the patronage of the Samanid Empire. This comfortable existence ended with the
defeat of the empire by the Turkish king Mahmud of Ghazna, "the Idol Smasher"
(sultan 997-1030). Avicenna spent the majority of his remaining years as a wandering
scholar, but this did not diminish his intellectual activities. Indeed, he wrote
most of his nearly two hundred works during the years he spent wandering among
various courts in the territories of the old Persian Empire.
In addition to his medical works, Avicenna made important contributions to
Western philosophy, and to Scholasticism--the attempt to reconcile Christianity
with Aristotelian philosophy--in particular. Avicenna contributed to this discussion
both his own thought on Aristotelianism and some original texts and summaries
of Aristotle's works. His writings were in use in Paris by 1225 and were critical
for such scholars as Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). The encyclopedic work
of Saint Thomas's master, Albertus Magnus, could not have been completed without
the contributions of Avicenna.
More intriguing still is Avicenna's influence on Saint Thomas's proof of God.
The notion of God as the necessary force unifying all existence has its origin
in Avicenna's work. This idea unites Aristotle's philosophy with elements of
Neoplatonism to argue that God was not created but is the essence of creation,
conscious of himself, existing without beginning or end. It is from God's self-knowledge,
Avicenna argued, that there emanates a great diversity in creation and a multiplication
of beings through time. The work of Avicenna was thus essential in helping the
Scholastics achieve their own unity of Christianity and Aristotelian logic.
Works by the Author
Avicenna. Avicenna: His Life and Works. London: George Allen and Unwin,
Works about the Author
Arberry, Arthur J.. Avicenna on Theology. London: John Murray, 1951.
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The
Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.