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Philosophy with or Against Medicine? Avicenna’s Global Project in the Šifāʾ–Qānūn Ensemble

21 March 2023
5:00 pm
San Francesco Complex - Sagrestia

This talk will focus on the ‘zoological enterprise’ that Avicenna embarks on in his Book of Animals (Kitāb al-Ḥayawān, Liber de Animalibus), his only writing on this topic. In this regard, I will aim to answer two questions:

1) What is Avicenna’s goal in writing this book?

2) How does Avicenna reach his goal?

In answering these questions, it is essential to consider the composition of the whole Book of the Cure/Healing (Kitāb al-Šifāʾ), to which the Book of Animals belongs, and its complementarity with the Canon of Medicine (Qānūn fī l-ṭibb).

The anatomy and physiology of the organic body, that is, of the proximate matter of the living organism, is the field where (natural) philosophy and medicine interact, overlap, and conflict. According to my interpretation, in zoology as the philosophical study of the organic body, Avicenna aims to overcome the tensions between (Aristotelian) philosophy and (Galenic) medicine and to reconcile the two traditions and their different authorities (Aristotle and Galen) of which he is the heir.

To reach his goal, Avicenna makes use of three different modalities:

1) explicit refutation of Galen’s arguments and defence of Aristotle (e.g. in the case of the origination of blood vessels and nerves and the issue of cardiocentrism);

2) explicit refutation of Galen’s arguments but concomitant adherence to and silent use of parts of his arguments (e.g. in the theory of the two semina and the development stages of the embryo);

3) insertion of medical principles within an Aristotelian theoretical framework (e.g. in the theory of humors within the exposition of the three levels of composition of the organic body).


Join at:

Tommaso Alpina, LMU di Monaco di Baviera