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A medieval Arabic analysis of motion at an instant: the Avicennan sources to the forma fluens/fluxus formae debate

  • JON McGinnis (a1)

Abstract

The forma fluens/fluxus formae debate concerns the question as to whether motion is something distinct from the body in motion, the flow of a distinct form identified with motion (fluxus formae), or nothing more than the successive states of the body in motion, the flow of some form found in one of Aristotle's ten categories (forma fluens). Although Albertus Magnus introduced this debate to the Latin West he drew his inspiration from Avicenna. This study argues that Albertus misclassified Avicenna's position, since Albertus could not conceptualize motion at an instant, whereas it is claimed here this was the very position Avicenna adopted. The paper includes an overview of Albertus's discussion and a brief survey of the Avicennan sources upon which Albertus drew. The heart of the paper treats Avicenna's analysis of motion at an instant. Avicenna's general argument was that since spatial points have no extremities, nothing in principle prevents a moving object from being at a spatial point for more than an instant, understood as a limit. It is then argued that Avicenna had the philosophical machinery to make sense of a limit, albeit not in mathematical terms, but in terms of an Aristotelian potential infinite.

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I would like to acknowledge the National Endowment for the Humanities, the University of Missouri Research Board and the University of Missouri, St Louis Center for International Studies, whose support made this project possible. Many thanks go to Jules Janssen for allowing me a preview of the relevant chapters in the forthcoming edition of the ‘Marinus’ Latin translation of Avicenna's Physics. I am also grateful for the extremely helpful comments made by two anonymous reviewers, comments which certainly have helped improve the content and accessibility of this study. All translations into English, unless otherwise stated, are my own. As always, any shortcomings are my own.

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A medieval Arabic analysis of motion at an instant: the Avicennan sources to the forma fluens/fluxus formae debate

  • JON McGinnis (a1)

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