Avicenna (980-1037)

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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, Ltd., 1958.

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.

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