Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

The Thought Experimental Method: Avicenna's Flying Man Argument

  • PETER ADAMSON (a1) and FEDOR BENEVICH (a1)

Abstract

No argument from the Arabic philosophical tradition has received more scholarly attention than Avicenna's ‘flying man’ thought experiment, in which a human is created out of thin air and is able to grasp his existence without grasping that he has a body. This paper offers a new interpretation of the version of this thought experiment found at the end of the first chapter of Avicenna's treatment of soul in the Healing. We argue that it needs to be understood in light of an epistemological theory set out elsewhere by Avicenna, which allows that all the constitutive properties of an essence will be clear to someone who understands and considers that essence. On our reading, this theory is put to work in the ‘flying man’: because the flying man would grasp that his own essence has existence without grasping that he has a body, connection to body cannot be constitutive of the essence.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      The Thought Experimental Method: Avicenna's Flying Man Argument
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      The Thought Experimental Method: Avicenna's Flying Man Argument
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      The Thought Experimental Method: Avicenna's Flying Man Argument
      Available formats
      ×

Copyright

Footnotes

Hide All

We are grateful for helpful suggestions from Salimeh Maghsoudlou, Helen Beebee, and Miranda Fricker as well as participants in a seminar on this paper at the University of Toronto. We are thankful to Dag N. Hasse and all other members of the Arabic reading group held at Würzburg and Munich, where we first started exploring the ideas that led to this paper. Finally we gladly acknowledge the DFG for support of our work under the aegis of the project ‘The Heirs of Avicenna: Philosophy in the Islamic East, 12th–13th Centuries’.

This article is the second in a special series of commissioned articles on non-Western philosophies. The first article ‘Marxism and Buddhism: Not Such Strange Bedfellows', by Graham Priest, appeared in Volume 4, Issue 1, pp. 2–13.

Footnotes

References

Hide All
Adamson, Peter. (2004) ‘Correcting Plotinus: Soul's Relationship to Body in Avicenna's Commentary on the Theology of Aristotle’. In Adamson, P., Baltussen, H., and Stone, M. W. F. (eds.), Philosophy, Science and Exegesis in Greek, Arabic and Latin Commentaries. (London: Institute for Classical Studies), 2: 5975.
Alpina, Tomaso. (2016) ‘Subject, Definition, Activity: The Epistemological Status of the Science of the Soul in Avicenna's Kitāb al-nafs’. PhD diss., Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa.
Avicenna. (1952) ‘Introduction’. In Qanawatī, Jurj Sh., al-Ḥudayrī, Maḥmūd M., and al-Ahwānī, Aḥmad F. (eds.), al-Shifāʾ, al-Manṭiq, al-Madkhal. Cairo: al-Maṭbaʿa al-amīriyya.
Avicenna. (1959) ‘On the Soul’. In Rahman, Fazlur (ed.), Avicenna's De Anima: Being the Psychological Part of Kitāb al-Shifāʾ. London: Oxford University Press.
Avicenna. (1985) ‘Salvation’. In Dānishpazhūh, M. (ed.), al-Najāt min al-gharq fī baḥr al-dalālāt. Tehran: Dānishgāh-I Tehrān.
Avicenna. (2008) ‘Pointers and Reminders’. In al-Zāriʿī, M. (ed.), al-Ishārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt. Tehran: Bustān-i kitāb.
Avicenna. (2014) Commentaire sur le livre Lambda de la Métaphysique d'Aristote. Edited and translated by Sebti, M., Geoffrey, M., and Janssens, J.. Paris: Vrin.
Benevich, Fedor. (2017) ‘Fire and Heat: Yaḥyā b. ʿAdī and Avicenna on the Essentiality of Being Substance or Accident’. Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, 27, 237–67.
Bertolacci, Amos. (2006) The Reception of Aristotle's Metaphysics in Avicenna's Kitāb al-Shifāʾ: A Milestone of Western Metaphysical Thought. Leiden-Boston: Brill.
Black, Deborah L. (2008) ‘Avicenna on Self-Awareness and Knowing that One Knows’. In Rahman, S. et al. (eds.), The Unity of Science in the Arabic Tradition (Dordrecht: Springer), 6387.
Chalmers, David J. (1996) The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.
D'Ancona, Cristina. (2008) ‘Degrees of Abstraction in Avicenna: How to Combine Aristotle's De anima and the Enneads’. In Knuuttila, S. and Kärkkäinen, P. (eds.), Theories of Perception in Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy (Berlin: Springer), 4771.
Descartes, René. (1984) ‘Sixth Meditation: The existence of material things, and the real distinction between mind and body’. In Descartes, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, translated by Cottingham, J. et al. , vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 5062.
Druart, Thérèse-Anne. (1988) ‘The Soul and Body Problem: Avicenna and Descartes’. In Druart, T.-A. (ed.), Arabic Philosophy and the West: Continuity and Interaction (Washington DC: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University), 2749.
Hasnawi, Ahmed. (1997) ‘La conscience de soi chez Avicenne et Descartes’. In Biard, J. and Rashed, R. (eds.), Descartes et le Moyen Âge (Paris: Vrin), 283–91.
Hasse, Dag N. (2000) Avicenna's De Anima in the Latin West. London: Warburg Institute.
Hasse, Dag N. (2001) ‘Avicenna on Abstraction’. In Wisnovksy, R. (ed.), Aspects of Avicenna (Princeton: Wiener), 3972.
Hasse, Dag N. (2013) ‘Avicenna's Epistemological Optimism’. In Adamson, P. (ed.), Interpreting Avicenna (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 109–19.
Kaukua, Jari. (2015) Self-Awareness in Islamic Philosophy: Avicenna and Beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kukkonen, Taneli. (2014) ‘Ibn Sīnā and the Early History of Thought Experiments’. Journal of the History of Philosophy, 52, 433–59.
Marmura, Michael E. (1986) ‘Avicenna's ‘Flying Man’ in Context’. Monist, 69, 383–95.
McGinnis, Jon. (2007a) ‘Logic and Science: The Role of Genus and Difference in Avicenna's Logic, Science and Natural Philosophy’. Documenti e studi sulla tradizione filosofica medievale, 18, 165–86.
McGinnis, Jon. (2007b) ‘Making Abstraction Less Abstract: The Logical, Psychological, and Metaphysical Dimensions of Avicenna's Theory of Abstraction’. Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, 80, 169–83.
Sebti, Meryem. (2000) Avicenne: L’âme humain. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.
Sorabji, Richard. (2004) The Philosophy of the Commentators, 200–600 AD: A Sourcebook, vol. 1, Psychology. London: Bristol Classical Press.
Sorabji, Richard. (2006) Self: Ancient and Modern Insights about Individuality, Life, and Death. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Wisnovsky, Robert. (2003) Avicenna's Metaphysics in Context. London: Duckworth.
Zupko, Jack. (1993) ‘Nominalism Meets Individualism’. Medieval Philosophy and Theology, 3, 158–85.

Keywords

The Thought Experimental Method: Avicenna's Flying Man Argument

  • PETER ADAMSON (a1) and FEDOR BENEVICH (a1)

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed