Avicenna Biography and Philosophy

Who is Avicenna? Information on Avicenna biography, life story, philosophy and works.

avicennaAvicenna; (980-1037), was the most illustrious philosopher, scientist, and medical writer of medieval Islam. “Avicenna” is derived from the latter part of his Arabic name, Abu Ali al-Husayn Ibn Abdullah Ibn Sina, through the Hebrew, Aven Sina. He was born near Bukhara, then capital of the Samanid dynasty. By the time he was 10 years old Avicenna had learned the Koran as well as Arabic grammar and literature. While still in his teens, he knew enough about medicine to treat the ailing Samanid ruier Null Ibn Mansur. The successful treatment gained Avicenna access to the rich library of that prince. He soon emerged from it proficient in the Hellenic philosophical and mathematical sciences, including Aristotle’s Metaphysics. After an unsettled life, in which he served as physician and man of affairs at various courts in eastern Persia, he died at Hamadan, leaving behind him an enormous number of writings.

His two most important books, the Shifa (Healing of the Soul) and the Canon of Medicine, exerted much influence on the development of thought in the East and, through Latin translations, in the West. The Shifa was nothing less than a comprehensive account of the whole of ancient knowledge, both theoretical and practical, which it set out to explain, scrutinize, and systematize. The work evidences the author’s immense learning. It is divided into four principal parts, dealing with logic (including rhetoric and poetics), physics (including psychology, plants, and animals), mathematics, and metaphysics.

The part on logic covers the same ground as Aristotle’s works on logic but includes material from later Greek writers. The sections on physics deal with such subjects as cosmology, meteorology, space, time, vacuum, and motion. The mathematical part comprises a condensed version of Euclid’s Elements, an outline of Ptolemy’s Almagest, and compendiums on arithmetic and music. In philosophy Avicenna’s point of view combined Aristotelianism with Neo-Platonic elements and constituted an attempt to reconcile Greek ideas with Islamic beliefs. His later writings display a mystical tendency with a Gnostic and Hermetic influence.

Avicenna’s voluminous encyclopedia of medicine, the Canon, is a systematic digest of all medical and pharmacological experience available to him. Because of its clear arrangement and rich material, it was often preferred in subsequent centuries to the works of Razi and Galen. The book deals with general principles, simple drugs, diseases affecting specific parts of the body, diseases spreading over large areas of the body (such as fevers), and compound medicines.

In basic conceptions the Canon follows Galen and the ancient tradition (theory of the four elements—air, water, fire, and earth; theory of the four humors—blood, phlegm, choler or yellow bile, and melancholy or black bile), but it incorporates many observations that are not to be found in Galen. The Canon enjoyed great prestige in Europe, where it continued to be used until the second half of the 17th century. Avicenna’s medical writings included the Poem on Medicine, which was also widely read in Europe.




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