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Ibn Sina (Avicenna)

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enter image description here Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980-1037) was born in today's Balkh (Afghanistan) and is one of the foremost philosophers of the golden age of Islamic tradition that also includes al-Farabi and Ibn Rushd. He is also known as al-Sheikh al-Rais (Leader among the wise men) a title that was given to him by his students.

His philosophical works were one of the main targets of al-Ghazali’s attack on philosophical influences in Islam. In the west he is also known as the "Prince of Physicians" for his famous medical text al-Qanun "Canon". In Latin translations, his works influenced many Christian philosophers, most notably Thomas Aquinas. His father governed a village in one of the royal estates. At thirteen, Ibn Sina began a study of medicine that resulted in ‘distinguished physicians . . . reading the science of medicine under [him]’ (Sirat al-shaykh al-ra’is (The Life of Ibn Sina): 27).

His medical expertise brought him to the attention of the Sultan of Bukhara, Nuh ibn Mansur, whom he treated successfully; as a result he was given permission to use the sultan’s library and its rare manuscripts, allowing him to continue his research into modes of knowledge.

When the sultan died, the heir to the throne, ‘Ali ibn Shams al-Dawla, asked Ibn Sina to continue al vizier, but the philosopher was negotiating to join the forces of another son of the late king, Ala al-Dawla, and so went into hiding. During this time he composed his major philosophical treatise, Kitab al-shifa’ (Book of Healing), a comprehensive account of learning that ranges from logic and mathematics to metaphysics and the afterlife. While he was writing the section on logic Ibn Sina was arrested and imprisoned, but he escaped to Isfahan, disguised as a Sufi, and joined Ala al-Dawla. While in the service of the latter he completed al-Shifa’ and produced the Kitab al-najat (Book of Salvation), an abridgment of al-Shifa’. He also produced at least two major works on logic: one, al-Mantiq, translated as The Propositional Logic of Ibn Sina, was a commentary on Aristotle’s Prior Analytics and forms part of al-Shifa’; the other, al-Isharat wa-‘I-tanbihat (Remarks and Admonitions), seems to be written in the ‘indicative mode’, where the reader must participate by working out the steps leading from the stated premises to proposed conclusions.

He also produced a treatise on definitions and a summary of the theoretical sciences, together with a number of psychological, religious and other works; the latter include works on astronomy, medicine, philology and zoology, as well as poems and an allegorical work, Hayy ibn Yaqzan (The Living Son of the Vigilant).

His biographer also mentions numerous short works on logic and metaphysics, and a book on ‘Fair Judgment’ that was lost when his prince’s fortunes suffered a turn. Ibn Sina’s philosophical and medical work and his political involvement continued until his death.