Islamic Studies Ibn Sīnā
by
Oliver Leaman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0040

Introduction

Ibn Sīnā (370–429 AH/980–1037 CE) is generally considered to be one of the most creative thinkers within the Peripatetic tradition, doing much to formalize the structure of philosophy of his time. Like most of the other philosophers, he was also interested in mysticism, although the extent of this interest is often overemphasized. Known as Avicenna in Latin, he went on in translation to have a considerable impact on Jewish and Christian thought and established for the first time a highly developed systematic approach to theoretical problems. His work on medicine is particularly important, and here as elsewhere it is the exactitude with which he wrote and his attempt to be comprehensive that is so impressive. It was written over a considerable period while he was on the move in Iran and yet displays a remarkable coherence and completeness. His style is often elusive and suggestive when he is writing on subjects he regards as having a deeper meaning.

Life

Ibn Sīnā was born in 370 AH/980 CE near Bukhara and at thirteen started to study medicine, and he reports in Ibn Sīnā 1974 successful treatment of the Sultan of Bukhara, which first brought him into the official public eye. He became involved in the intrigue among the various claimants for the throne, and his personal life was difficult; at the same time, however, he managed to complete a number of significant philosophical works, including the Kitab al-shifā’ (Book of healing), a compendium of ideas and arguments that established him as the leading exponent of falsafa (Peripatetic philosophy) during his time. The Kitāb al-najāt (Book of salvation), an abridgment of al-Shifā’, probably helped establish his status, since as Goodman 1992 suggests, Ibn Sīnā provides a summary of his more complicated theses that is far more accessible than the complete work. His al-Ishārāt wa’l-tanbī hāt (Remarks and admonitions) is also an attractive work, which Inati 1984 and Inati 1996a describe as helping readers to work through various types of logical arguments for themselves. Some of Ibn Sīnā’s short works are lost, not surprising given the tumultuous life that he lived. And he wrote on not only philosophy but also science, language, poetry, and especially medicine. His work on medicine, al-Qanun, continued to wield influence in Christian Europe for many centuries after his death and continues to be used in local medicine in the Islamic world today. The title means “the canons [of medicine],” and the implication is that the total sum of contemporary medical knowledge is in it. Ibn Sīnā did not lack ambition, or a high opinion of himself, as his autobiography clearly displays.

  • Goodman, Lenn. Avicenna. London: Routledge, 1992.

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    The best general account of Ibn Sīnā’s philosophy.

  • Heath, Peter. Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna, Ibn Sīnā: With a Translation of the Book of the Prophet Muhammad’s Ascent to Heaven. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.

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    Useful discussion of the links between Ibn Sīnā’s theology and philosophy.

  • Ibn Sīnā. The Metaphysica of Avicenna (Ibn Sínā): A Critical Translation-Commentary and Analysis of the Fundamental Arguments in Avicenna’s Metaphysica in the Dānish nāma-i ‘Alā’i. Edited and translated by Parviz Morewedge. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973.

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    (The book of scientific knowledge.) Originally a Persian text representing Ibn Sīnā’s attempt to explain his ideas to a more general audience.

  • Ibn Sīnā. The Life of Ibn Sīnā: A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation. Edited and translated by William E. Gohlman. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1974.

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    A translated critical edition of Ibn Sīnā’s autobiography, Sirat al-shaykh al-ra’is.

  • Ibn Sīnā. “Ibn Sīnā’s ‘Essay on the Secret of Destiny.’” In Reason and Tradition in Islamic Ethics. Translated by George F. Hourani, 227–248. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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    Excellent unfussy translation and clear analysis of Risalah fi sirr al-qadar by Hourani.

  • Ibn Sīnā. The Metaphysics of The Healing: A Parallel English-Arabic Text. Edited and translated by Michael E. Marmura. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2005.

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    One of Ibn Sīnā’s most important and influential works. The definitive translation and edition.

  • Inati, Shams C. Remarks and Admonitions. Part 1, Logic. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1984.

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    Useful account and translation of Ibn Sīnā’s thought on logic and reasoning.

  • Inati, Shams C. Ibn Sīnā and Mysticism: Remarks and Admonitions. Part 4. London: Kegan Paul, 1996a.

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    A thorough study accompanied with an introduction and annotated translation of Ibn Sīnā’s al Isharat wat-Tanbihat: at-Tasawwuf (mysticism).

  • Inati, Shams C. “Ibn Sīnā.” In History of Islamic Philosophy. Edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman, 231–246. London: Routledge, 1996b.

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    Balanced analysis of Ibn Sīnā’s main ideas and role in Islamic philosophy.

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