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O rd er N u m b e r 9 4 1 0 1 0 9

A vicenna on final causality


Wisnovsky, Robert, Ph.D.
Princeton University, 1994

Copyright 1994 by W isnovsky, R obert. All rights reserved.

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300 N. ZeebRd.
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AVICENNA ON FINAL CAUSALITY

Robert Wisnovsky

A DISSERTATION
PRESENTED TO THE FACULTY
OF PRINCETON UNIVERSITY
IN CANDIDACY FOR THE DEGREE
OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

RECOMMENDED FOR ACCEPTANCE


BY THE DEPARTMENT OF NEAR EASTERN STUDIES

January 1994

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Copyright by Robert Wisnovsky, 1994. All rights reserved.

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A bstra ct

"Avicenna on final causality "

Robert Wisnovsky

Avicennas theory of final causality stands out as one of the most profound and original
achievements of Islamic philosophy. Writing mainly in Arabic in various cities of Persia
from the end of the 4th/10th to the beginning of the 5th/l 1th centuries AH/AD, Avicenna
extended the range of Aristotelian teleology to encompass not only motion but also
existence; he did so by dividing the final cause into an extrinsic, kinetic end (gaya), and an
intrinsic, static perfection (tamam).

My dissertation is organized to test Avicenna's hypothesis that the final cause thus extended
was applicable to every subject of every science. I begin by examining how the final cause
behaves in the relations between logical entities-terms, premises, definitions, quiddities
and then argue that Avicenna saw the final cause as a bridge between that world of logical
entities and the sensible world, whose own relations logic is supposed to systematize. I go
on to explain how Avicenna used the twin aspects of Aristotle's notion of natureone an
extrinsic agent keeping the world of natural things in order, the other an intrinsic form
serving as the natural thing s source of motionas a basis for his division of final causes
into ends and perfections; I also examine how this division helped Avicenna attempt a
reconciliation of chance and natural necessity. I then assess how Avicenna's medical
experience-specifically his close observation of the complex teleological processes that
cause an organism to exist and functionprovided empirical support for his distinction
between ends and perfections. Finally I argue that Avicenna viewed the relation between

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final and efficient causes as one of reciprocal necessitation, based on the premise that each
was both cause and effect of the other; here Aristotle's notions of limit and actuality provide
some of the metaphysical background to Avicenna's teleology.

Previous studies of Avicenna's theory of causality have focused almost entirely on the
efficient cause; my intention here is to prove that an understanding of Avicenna's teleology
should be a prerequisite to any future such study.

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Acknow ledgm ents

Many people have helped me complete this dissertation. I would like to thank in particular
my supervisor, Hossein Modarressi, who first suggested die topic to me, and who experdy
and patiently guided me through Avicenna's texts; Dimitri Gutas, who read drafts of four of
the five chapters, and who helped me refine my translation of Sifa/Ilahlyat VI, 5; and
Fritz Zimmermann, who first interested me in the problem of causality when we were
reading GazaH's Tahafut in the Medieval Arabic Thought program at Oxford

Several philosophers also helped me: Sarah Waterlow Broadie, my Second Reader, who
straightened me out about a number of controversial and confusing issues in Aristotle;
Pierre Pellegrin, whose graduate seminar on Aristotle's natural philosophy helped me
understand the positions of various commentators on Aristotelian teleology, and who read
drafts of four of the five chapters; Allan Gotthelf, who read a draft of the biology chapter,
and who helped me in particular with the problem of hypothetical and simple necessity; and
Stephen Menn, who gave me my General Examination in methodology, and who identified
the questions I should try to answer in my dissertation.

I would also like to thank my friend and fellow graduate student Will Robins, who read a
draft chapter and helped me with a problem about the Sifa*s Latin translation; and Mary

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Alice McCormick, the Graduate Secretary of my department, whose kindness, patience,


and efficiency helped ease the logistical burdens of submission and defense.

Most of all, I want to thank my family: my brother Peter, for buying me the computer on
which this dissertation was written; my parents-in-law Tony and Sheila Parsons, for their
generosity and good humor; my three-year-old son Simon, for spurring me on by asking
every day "Have you finished your book yet Daddy?;" and my beloved wife, Laila, for
everything.

I am dedicating this dissertation, the culmination of twenty-four years' education, to my


parents Mary and Joe Wisnovsky, for all their love and support

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PREFACE: ANSWERING WHY

Consider the following questions:


*

Do we help an elderly friend get out of the car for the sake of being kind to him, or

is our behavior the necessary result of electrochemical impulses forcing us to act in a certain
way?
Do we have children for the sake of perpetuating our species and thus partaking in
immortality, or is reproduction the necessary result of a hormonal triggering of our sexual
impulses?
*

Do we grow for the sake of being mature adults, or is maturity the genetically

preprogrammed set of dimensions at which growth ceases necessarily?


*

Does the heart exist in order to pump blood, or is it the necessary result of the

combination of certain tissues and chemicals?


Is fruit delicious so that animals will eat it and then spread the digested seed (along
with a neat pile of manure), or is fruit the necessary result of a distant ancestor's material
mutation into a more successful form of plant life?
Does water freeze at a certain temperature for the sake of fulfilling an essential
property of being water, or because at a certain temperature molecules in water necessarily
interact in such a way as to solidify?

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Does a stone fall to the ground for the sake of fulfilling an essential property of

earthy matter, or because the force of gravity acts upon it in such a way as to make it
necessarily descend?

As you can see, the questions listed above run from those concerning human intentional
action (where we assume the final, purposive explanation to be most viable) to physics
(where we assume the necessitating, material explanation to be the most viable).
Philosophers and scientists, particularly those in the Aristotelian tradition, have tried to
determine the precise dividing line between the finality that operates in final and formal
causation (contained in the first answer to each of the questions above) and the necessity
that operates in efficient and material causation (contained in the second answer to each
question). Are these two brands of causation mutually exclusive? Does one type of cause
cease to be effective at a certain point, and the other type begin? Can the two typa. of cause
operate in tandem?

This dissertation is about where the Persian philosopher and physician Abu 4AH al-IJusayn
ibn cAbd Allah ibn al-IJasan ibn All ibn Sina (370-428 AH/980-1038 AD), known in the
West as Avicenna, drew the line between finality and necessity. Using Aristotle as a model,
Avicenna created a system of causes in which both types of causation were employed
equally in order to give a complete causal account of a thing, event, or process; in other
words, to give a complete answer to the question "why?"

Before we jump into the dissertation we must first put ourselves in Avicenna's
philosophical shoes, so to speak, and try to imagine his assumptions about causation and
teleology. First of all, Avicenna (as well as Aristotle) thought that answering the question
"why?" involved both finality and necessity; necessity was as much included in the
province of "why?" as finality. The reason we must bear this in mind is that when we call

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philosophers like Avicenna and Aristotle "scientists," we often assume that their concerns
were similar or even identical to those of modem scientists who, to put it very generally, are
more concerned with "how?" than with "why?" We should therefore avoid assigning
finality exclusive domain over answering "why?" and necessity exclusive domain over
answering "how?"

We must also note that Avicenna (and Aristotle) wanted, when answering why, to isolate
the essential cause of a thing, event, or process, from its concomitant, accidental causes.
With this epistemological goal-providing the essential cause in an answer to the question
"why?"it is unsurprising that in Avicenna's and Aristotle's philosophies the final and
formal causes rose as the cream of causality, both because of the apparent unchangingness
of forms and because of the simple observational difficulty of knowing when to stop
splitting the thing, event, or process into ever more minute material and efficient causal
processes.

I have organized the dissertation in the following way: in the Introduction, I set out the
method with which I approached the subject of Avicenna's teleology, and I list the most
important sources and terms to be examined. Chapter 1 concerns logic and is primarily
introductory rather than technical; my purpose is to show how the final cause's behavior in
explanations serves as a model for the behavior of final causes in the real world. In
Chapters 2 and 3 I study how the final cause operates in nature, even in apparently
purposeless phenomena. Chapter 4 examines how Avicenna extended finality to cover pure
being. Chapter 5 is a translation of die only chapter in the Avicennian corpus exclusively
devoted to the problem of final causation. Finally, I give in the Conclusion a brief synopsis
of how Avicenna changed the notion of the final cause.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

A bstract

iii

A cknowledgments

P reface

vii

Table o f Contents

In t r o d u c t io n

1-15

0.1 Scope and methodology

2-6

0.2 Sources and T erminology

7-15

CHAPTER 1: LOGIC AND EPISTEMOLOGY

16-65

1.1 THE DEFINITION OF FINAL CAUSE: MIDDLE TERMS

19-25

1.2 CAUSATION AND DEMONSTRATIVE QUESTIONS

26-34

1.3 CAUSAL RECIPROCITY AND COMPLEMENTARITY

35-43

1.4 PERFECTION AND NECESSITY

44-57

1.5 THE FINAL CAUSE OF DEFINITION

58-65

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ch apter

2: P h y s ic s

66-109

2. l T he definition of final cause : natures and forms

70-77

2.2 N ature : immanent or transcendent ?

78-84

2.3 M aterial disposition and formation

85-91

2.4 M otion and inclination

92-99

2.5 Chance , finality , and natural necessity

CHAPTER 3: BIOLOGY

100-109

110-134

3.1 H umors , parts , and functions

113-120

3.2 Reproduction and growth

121-128

3.3 P erfection and

129-134

life

CHAPTER 4: METAPHYSICS

135-195

4.1 The definition o f final cause : beings and things

139-155

4.2 A ctualization , actuality , and perfection

156-163

4.3 G ood , evil , and generosity

164-172

4.4 C elestial motion , perpetuity , and providence

173-179

4.5 God knows

180-187

4.6 F or G od 's sake

188-195

CHAPTER 5: THE CURE/METAPHYSICS VI,5

196-217

Co n c l u sio n

218-219

B ib l io g r a ph y

220-232

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I n t r o d u c t io n

This Introduction is divided into two sections. In Section 0.1, "Scope and Methodology," I
set the limits of and describe my approach to the subject. Section 0.2, "Sources and
Terminology," catalogues both the texts and the technical vocabulary used in the
dissertation.

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SCOPE AND METHODOLOGY

0.1

I hope to answer a series of questions in this dissertation: 1) How does Avicenna define the
final cause, and how does he apply it? 2) How does the final cause differ from Avicenna's
other causes? 3) What sources did Avicenna use to come up with his theory of final
causation? 4) What was original about Avicenna's theory of final causation?

The answers to these questions are embedded throughout the dissertation; for now, let us
briefly state that: 1) Avicenna divided the final cause into extrinsic ends and intrinsic
perfections, and maintained that the final cause was architectonic; 2) Avicenna viewed the
final cause as essentially prior but existentially posterior to the other causes; 3) Aristotle's
notions of form, essence, limit, and actuality, were the most likely sources of Avicenna's
theory; and 4) Avicenna made original contributions to several topics, including a) the
connection between logic and ontology, b) causal directionality and reciprocity, and c)
chance, necessity, and teleological mechanism.

I have not organized the dissertation in such a way as to treat each of these questions in
order, however. Instead, I took as a starting point Avicenna's statement that the final cause
may be applied to the subjects of every science, and organized the dissertation so that the
final cause's role in each science may be examined in turn. The result is that my approach is
mainly textual rather than thematic or developmental. There are a number of problems with
the textual approach which make the dissertation occasionally repetitive, when a topic is

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3
treated the same way in different texts, and paraphrastic, when a particularly difficult topic
is being examined.

I felt, on the other hand, that the thematic and developmental approaches both suffer from
potentially severer weaknesses. By imposing a thematic framework and then selecting and
isolating passages from different contexts, I feared I might inadvertently stray from the
texts and thereby blur the dividing line between my own ideas about teleology and
Avicenna's. The problem with the developmental approach is that by positing a strict
chronology of Avicenna's works (about which there is still no absolute consensus), I might
also stray from the texts and begin operating under the facile assumption that because
Avicenna wrote a certain work after another, the later work is ipso facto more definitive
and "truly Avicennian." Given these advantages and disadvantages, I decided that the
textual approach was safest.

As for the problem of how to read these texts, I have applied Ockham's Razor and common
sense. Therefore I have followed Leaman's advice and accepted Avicenna's philosophical
statements at face value, as philosophy rather than mysticism, as exoteric rather than
esoteric literature. 1 This approach is slightly controversial because, surprisingly, much
scholarship in Islamic philosophy (and Avicennian studies in particular) has been premised
on the opposite assumption.^ However, I hope to show in die dissertation that Avicenna's
theory of final causation is philosophically coherent, and stands on its own without any
need for constant recourse to mystico-religious suppositions. When the discussion does
Icf. Leaman's criticism of Strauss and Butterworth in O. Leaman, Does the interpretation of
Islamic philosophy rest on a mistake?," International Journal o f Middle East Studies 12/4
(1980), pp.525-538/reprinted, with some changes, in Chapter 6 ("How to read Islamic
philosophy") of his An Introduction to Medieval Islamic Philosophy (Cambridge: 1985),
pp.182-201. cp. Gutas's criticism of Butterworth in his review of Butterworth's Averroes'
Middle Commentary on Aristotle's Poetics, in On translating Averroes' commentaries,"
Journal o f the American Oriental Society 110/1 (1990), pp.92-101.
2Leaman has in fact been vilified for this suggestion; cf. C. Butterworth, "The study of Arabic
philosophy today," Middle East Studies Bulletin 17/2 (1983), pp. 173-74/reprinted in T.-A.
Druart, ed., Arabic Philosophy and the West (Washington, D.C.:1988), pp.96-98.

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4
focus on religious topics, such as God's final causation of the world, the religious
influences will be obvious. However, it is my opinion that religious concerns, while
certainly influential, did not motivate or frame Avicenna's discussion of final causation. As
Leaman puts it:
"The argument throughout this study is not opposed to the esoteric interpretation as
such, but is rather opposed to an assumption which is crucial to it, namely, that the
conflict between religion and philosophy is of overriding importance to the
construction of Islamic philosophy and all the arguments within that philosophy...The
first questions I should ask about a text of Islamic philosophy are philosophical
questions, e.g. are the arguments valid? Do they cohere with other arguments
produced by the author? Do they increase my understanding of the concepts
involved? Are they interesting? If I cannot make any progress with these sorts of
questions then it may well be appropriate to ask other kinds of questions about the
way in which the text is written, and what the author may have tried to conceal." 3
I, too, maintain that the burden of proof is on those who would posit such overriding
importance to mystico-religious concerns in a subject (such as final causation) where other
more purely philosophical motivations are immediate and obvious.

I also decided that it was safest to apply Ockham's Razor to the problem of selecting preAvicennian sources. The result is that of two possible sources for an Avicennian idea, one
a text of Aristotle and die other the text of another philosopher, the Aristotelian source will
be selected as providing the most likely background. This is because Avicenna felt himself
to be writing in, and indeed completing, the Aristotelian tradition, and because Aristotle's
works were more widely disseminated and discussed in medieval Islamic philosophy than
those of any other philosopher.4 In addition, there are methodological weaknesses inherent
in hunting for non-obvious sources; these include diverting the historian of philosophy
from what should be his major focus, namely understanding and explaining what the
philosopher in question says about a particular subject Mahdi puts it starkly:

3 Leaman, Introduction, pp. 186,201.


4On this crucial point and on Avicenna's access to Aristotelian texts, cf. D. Gutas, Avicenna and
the Aristotelian Tradition: Introduction to Reading Avicenna's Philosophical Works
(Leiden: 1988), pp. 15-78,149-159,199-218.

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5
"The source-hunter's argument here, as everywhere else it is employed, seems to
absolve the commentator of having to wonder about the one thing die author and his
readers did care about: the subject matter of the book...Source hunting is not the
innocent game it appears to be. It tends to turn the commentator away from his
primary task of analyzing and explaining the work's structure, method, problems, and
point of view. Excessive concern with source-hunting, especially when it is so
uncertain as to require many levels of hypothetical construction, is liable to distract the
commentator's attention from even the salient characteristics of the work on which he
is supposed to be commentating." 5
In addition, it is my opinion that if one looks hard enough, precursors could be found for
almost any philosophical notion; it is therefore somewhat nihilistic to speak, as
Zimmermann does, of the "worn coins" of Hellenistic thought jangling dully in the purse of
medieval Islamic philosophy. While I do not discount the possibility that some more
obscure sources may have influenced Avicenna, I feel that the burden of proof, at least in
die topic under consideration, is on those proposing the less obvious precursor.

My final methodological point concerns what I have not done in this dissertation, rather
than what I have done. I have been careful to limit my examination of post-Avicennian
commentaries and interpretations for a seemingly obvious reason: I wanted to approach
each topic as much as possible from Avicenna's own standpoint This approach necessarily
involves seeing the history of philosophy as ending at Avicenna, who had little idea how
his philosophical works would be used and interpreted. In other words, just as we make a
distinction between Aristotle and Aristotelianism, we must likewise distinguish between
Avicenna and Avicennism. O f course I do not mean to imply by this that neither the
Avicenna that was transmitted (via Gazali, Averroes, Albertus Magnus, and Thomas
Aquinas) to the Latin West, nor the Avicenna that was transmitted (via Suhrawardl, Josl*
Sabzivari, and Mulla $adra) to the Persian East, bore no relation to the historical Avicenna

^cf. Mahdi's criticism of Walzer and the "charmed circle of source-hunters," (p. 700) in his review
article of Walzer's Al-Farabi on the Perfect State: M. Mahdi, "Al-Farabi's imperfect state,"
Journal o f the American Oriental Society 110/4 (1990), pp.691-726 passim, esp. pp.701704.
^Butterworth also takes Zimmermann to task for this approach: Butterworth, "Study," pp. 17273/(Druart) pp.95-96.

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6
Nor do I wish to belittle the achievements of these philosophers, each of whose notions of
final causation deserves to be examined individually.

Instead, I felt that because the traditions in which these philosophers operated sometimes
focused on questions and problems which were alien to Avicenna himself, the study of
Avicenna s philosophy should concentrate on Avicenna's past, not on Avicenna's future; in
this way we avoid imposing on Avicenna the concerns and suppositions of philosophers
who followed him. In short, my dissertation approaches Avicenna's philosophy as the
culmination of Aristotelianism rather than as the beginning of Avicennism.

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S o u rc e s a n d te rm in o lo g y

0.2

This section consists of two lists. The first is a list of the main primary sources I have
consulted in the course of writing the dissertation; it includes works of Avicenna in Arabic,
and the corresponding works of Aristotle in Greek and Arabic, each with the shortened
form I use in the citations. The second is a list of die technical vocabulary of final causation
used by Avicenna, including Greek antecedents and their Arabic versions.

This first catalogue lists those works of Aristotle that correspond to the sections of
Avicenna's Kitab al-Sifa3(The Cure) that I cite most frequently; other works I have
consulted are listed in the footnotes as they come up.

So u r c es

Aristotle (G reek )_________ A ristotle (A rabic )

1) Categories (C atfl
2) Prior Analytics (A.Pr.)l

Avicenna (Arabic )

Categories (Ar.Maqalatfi Categories (Maqdlatft


Prior Analytics (Tajflilat Syllogism
o la fll

(Q iyas)^

^L. Minio-Paluello, ed., Aristotclis: Categorise et Liber de Inteipretationc (Oxford: 1949).


8A. Badawi, ed., Manjtiq Arista I (Beirut: 1980), pp.33-133.
^G. Qanawatl, M.M. Hu<Jayrl, A.F. al-Ahwaifl, S. Zayid, eds., al-Sifa3/Manfiq (2): al-Maqalat
(Cairo: 1959).
10\V.D. Ross, ed. and comm., Aristotle's Prior and Posterior Analytics (Oxford: 1949).
A. Badawi, ed., Manfiq Arista I (Beirut: 1980), p.137-316.
12S. Zayid, ed., al-Sifa3/Man.tiq (4): al-Qiyas (Cairo: 1964).

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ARISTQILE (Greek) __________ Aristotle (Arabic )

A vicenna (A rabic )

3) Posterior Analytics

Posterior Analytics

Demonstration

(A.Po.fi 3

(Tajflilat tanlyafi 4

(Burhanfi5

4) Topics (Top.fi^

Topics (Toplkafil

Dialectic (Jadalfi

5) Physics (Phys.fi 9

Nature (al-Tabl'a)2

Physics (Samae fablci)2 1

6) On the Heavens (D .C .fi2

On the Heavens (FI

Heaven and Earth (Sama3

sam a3) 2 5

wa-'alam)2^

7) Generation and Corruption

[Generation and

Generation and Corruption

(G.C.fi5

CorruptionflG

(Kawn wa-fasadfil

8) Meteorology (M eteor.fi*

Celestial Effects

Celestial Effects (Atar

(FI ajar)29

culw1yafi 0

On the Soul (Fl'l-nafsfi2

Soul (N afsfi2

9) On the Soul (D A .p l

l^W.D. Ross, ed. and comm., Aristotle's Prior and Posterior Analytics (Oxford: 1949).
14*A. Badawi, ed., ManfiqArispl II, (Beirut: 1980), pp.329-485.
l^A. Afifl, ed., al-Sifa3/Manfiq (5): al-Burhan (Cairo: 1956).
l^E.D. Forster, ed. and trans., Aristotle II: Topica (Cambridge, Mass.:1989).
A. Badawi, ed., Maitfiq Arista ZZj (Beirut: 1980), pp.487-695.
18A. F. al-Ahwanl, ed., al-Sifa3/Man.tiq (6): al-Jadal (Cairo: 1965).
l^W.D. Ross, ed. and comm., Aristotle's Physics (Oxford: 1955).
20A. Badawi, ed., Aristufalls: Al-fabica (Cairo:1964).
21s. Zayid, ed., al-Sifa/TabWyat (1): al-Samac al-fabW (Cairo: 1983).
22D.J. Allan, ed., Aristotelis: De Caelo (Oxford:1936).
25<A. Badawi, ed., Arisfutalis: Ft'l-sama3; al-atar al-culwlya (Cairo:1961).
24m. Qasim, ed., al-Sifa,/Tablciyat (2): al-Sama3 wal-ealam (Cairo: 1983).
25h.H. Joachim, ed., Aristotle: On Coming-to-be and Passing-away (Oxford: 1922).
2&Isbaq b. Hunayn's Arabic translation of G.C is not extant
27m. Qasim, ed., al-Sifa/Jabi'iyat (3): al Kawn wa'l-fasad (Cairo:1983).
28h.D.P. Lee, ed. and trans., Aristotle: Meteorologica (Cambridge, Mass.: 1952).
29C. Petraitis, ed., The Arabic Version o f Aristotle's Meteorlogy (Beirut: 1967).
20A. Muntair, S. Zayid, A Ismael, eds., al-$ifa3/Tablclyat (5): al-Maeadin wa'1-atar aleulwlya (Cairo: 1965).
21W.D. Ross, ed. and comm., Aristotle: DcAnima (Oxford: 1967).
32<A. Badawi, ed., Arispifalis: Fl'l-nafs (Cairo:1954).
33p. Rahman, ed. and comm., Avicenna's DeAnima (Arabic Text) (Oxford: 1959).

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9
Aristotle (G reek )________

A r ist o t l e (A r a b ic )

10) Parts o f Animals (P .A .fi^

Parts o f Animals (FI


aetfa 3f i $

11) Generation o f Animals

Generation o f Animals

(G A .fil

(FI kawnfiS

12) Metaphysics (M eta.fi 9

Metaphysics (Ma bacd


al-fab1ea fi 0

A y l c e m a XAb a b ic )

Animals (Hayawanfi^
it

Divine Things (UahlyatfiI

^L Tonaca, ed., Aristotele: Le Parti degli Animali (Padova: 1961).


3 'R . Kruk, ed., Aristoteles Semitico-Latinus: The Arabic Version o f Aristotle's Parts o f
Animals (Amsterdam: 1979).
3**A. Muntair, S. Zayid, A. Ismail, eds., al-Sifa/Tabl'lyat (8): al-Hayawan (Cairo: 1970).
3?A.L. Peck, ed., Aristotle: Generation o f Animals (Cambridge, Mass.: 1953).
38j. Brugmann and H.J. Drossaart Lulofs, eds., Aristotle: Generation o f Animals; The Arabic
Translation Commonly Ascribed to Yafrya ibn al-Bipiq (Leiden: 1971).
39\V.B. Ross, ed. and comm., Aristotle: Metaphysics I and II (Oxford: 1958).
40m. Bouyges, ed., Averroes: Tafsir ma baed at-tabicat (Beirut: 1938).
41g. Qanawati and S. Zayid, eds., al-Sifar/Iiahlyat (1) (Cairo: 1960) and M.Y. Musa, S. Dunya,
and S. Zayid, eds., al-$ifa3/Hablyat (2) (Cairo: 1960).

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10

T erm ino lo gy .

The second catalogue is a brief index of the Arabic terms used most often by Avicenna to
describe final causation; the Greek terms that these Arabic terms were used to translate; and
their basic meaning in Avicenna's philosophy.

t mm

1) tamam-telos: "perfection"

Fi sama.3, p.347 [D.C. 306al5,16].

Ft a'<fa3, p.7 [P.A. 639b27,29]; p. 10 [641a28]; p.20 [645a25]; p.24 [646b9]; p.92
[673b27]; p.97 [675a35,bl] .42

Ft kawn, p.l [G A . 715a5,8]; p.144 [767bl4]; p.162 [774a29]; p.164 [775a21]; p.167
[776bl]; p. 174 [778bll].

Ma ba'd al-fabt'a I, p.183 [Meta. 996a26]; I, p.185 [996bl2,24]; II, p.482


[1013a33,36,b2]; II, p.483 [1013bll]; II, p.488 [1013b25,26]; II, p.622
[1021b23,25,26]; 27, p.655 [1023a34]; 77, p.1023 [1042a4j; 77, p. 1074 [1044bl]; 77,
p.l 186 [1050a8,9]; 77, p.1210 [1051al6]; 7Z7, p.1301 [1055al2,14,15]; HI, p.1678
[1074a30j.43

2) tamam-entelecheia: "perfection"

Ft nafs, p.34 [D.A. 414bl8].44

42ln Ft a'4a3, telos is also translated as tamam wa-gaya; Ft ae<Ja3, p.II [P.A. 641b25]; p.32
[650a27]; p.80 [669al3]; p.87 [672a5J; p.96 [675al6].
43cp. tamammtcleutaion: Ma baed al-tablca II, p.532 [Meta. 1016a20].
44ln Fi oafs, entelecheia is also simply transliterated as iafilaStya , cf. Ft oafs, p. 30
[D.A.412a21,b9j; 412b28/p.31; p.31 [413a6,7j; p.34 [414bl7,26,27]; p.38 [415bl5J; p.43
[417bl0,13]. cp. infilahiya, yacni al-tamammentelecheia: Ft oafs p.29 [D.A. 412al0];
iptilaStya, wa-buwa [awwal] tamam -entelecheia: Ft nafs, p.30 [D.A. 412a27];
infilaStya [al-ala], ay awwal tamamen telech eia: Ft oafs, p.30 [D.A. 412b5]; al-

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11

3) tamam=teleiosis: "perfection"

FI sama3 {Oxford: Ms. Hatton (Or.) 98rl5} [Meteor. 379bl8].45

Fikawn, p.106 [G.A. 753al0]; p. 117 [757a33]; p. 167 [776b2] 46

4) gayr tamm=ateles: "imperfect"

Tabi'a U, p.566 [Phys. 228b 14]; U, p.856 [257b7].

FI kawn, p.3 [G.A. 715bl6]; p .ll [718b7]; p.54 [733a29]; p.102 [751a26]; p .l l l
[755a8,10]; p.114 [755b32]; p.115 [756a23]; p.117 [757a35]; p.163 [774b5,7]; p.163
[774bl 1,28,361; P-164 [775al]; p.174 [778b22] .47

5) tamma=teleo: "to become perfect"

Fikawn, p.105 [G.A. 752b21J; p.117 [757a29,34]; p.118 [757 b2 6 ].48

infilaSIya allati hiya tamam-entelecheia: FI nafs, p.33 [D.A.413bl8]; al-intilaSiya wahuwa al-fi'l al-tamm-entelecbeia: FI nafs, p.43 [DA. 417b5].
45cp. eala 7-tamammteleios: Maqulat, p.67 [ Cat 13a26,29]; tamam-tcleiotes: Tabi'a I,
p.260 [Phys. 207a21]; istitmamapergasasthai: Tabi'a I, p. 149 [Phys. 199al6].
46iq pi lawn, teleiosis is also translated as tamam wa-kamal; cf. FI kawn, p. 171 [G A 777b28];
cp. tamammteleutes: FI kawn, p. 171 [GA. 777b31]; 'adam al-tamam-ateleia: FI kawn,
p.121 [GA. 758b21]; tamam-telesiourgos: FI kawn, p .ll [GA. 718bll]; 'inda tamam
wa-kamaImtete!eiomenos: FI kaw n p. 159 [G.A. 773al4[; 'a li tamam wakamal-teleioo: FI kawn, p.166 [GA. 776a4]; ff tamam halqihi-teleioo: Ft kawn, p. 164
[G A 775al0,12]; tamamteleothenai: FI kawn, p. 106 [G A 753al3] and p. 118 [757bl6];
47q>. gayr tamm-atelesteros: FI kawn, p.117 [G A 757a31]; gayr tamm-atelestatos: FI kawn,
p.120 [C.A. 758a33[; laysa bi-tammmateles: FI kawn, p.54 [G A . 733al9j; laysa bitamm^ateleia: FI kawn, p. 152 [G A 770b5]; laysa bi-tamm-atclesteros: FI kawn, p.65
[GA. 737b8]; laysa bi-tamm-atelestatos: FI kawn, p.175 [G A . 779a25]; la yaknn
tammanmateles: FI kawn, p. 118 [GA. 757b20[; qabla an yatimmamateles: FI kawn,
p.134 [G A 763b27]
48q>. tammamcpitelco: Tabi'a I, p.149 [Phys. 199al6]; tamma wa-kamalamepiteleO: FI
kawn, p .ll [GA. 718b8]; tamma-gigncsthai telos: FI a'd&3, p. 129 [PA. 686b31];
tamma-gigncsthai telcios: FI kawn, p.110 [GA. 754bl9]; tammamteIeiousthai: FI
kawn, p .16 [G A . 720a3]; tammamteleothen: FI kawn, p.105 [G.A. 752b8];
tamma-cktrepho eis telos: FI kawn, p.163 [GA. 774b25]; tammamlambanein telos: FI
kawn, p.55 [GA 733b 16] and p. 77 [742a7]; tammamlambanein teleiosis: FI kawn, p. 170
[GA. 777bl 1]; hatta yatimmameis telos: FI kawn, p.92 [GA. 747b27] andp.95 [748b31];
tamma framl tanl-epikuiskesthai teleios: FI kawn, p. 161 [GA. 773b29].

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12
6) tamm=teleios: "perfect"

Tabi'a I, p. 170 [Phys. 201a6]; I, p.259 [207a9]; U, p.566 [228bl2,13]; U, p.912


[264b28].

Fi sama.> p. 127 [D.C. 268a21]; p.224 [284a7]; p.239 [286b21,22].

Fi a'4a>, p.44 [P.A. 655b29].

iawn, p. 12 [G.A. 718bl6,34]; p.55 [733b5,7,8]; p.65 [737b9,10,ll]; p. 101


[751a26]; p.109 [754al7]; p . l l l [755a7]; p.114 [755b30]; p.115 [756a22]; p.118
757bl9j; p. 120 [758a35].

Ma ba'd al-fabi'a U, p.537 [Meta. 1016b23]; U, p.621 [1021bl2,13,16,18,19]; U,


p.622 [1021b21,22,24,25,31,1022a2]; H,p.655 [1023a34]; M , p.1301 [1055al 1,12];
m , p. 1304 [1055al6]; m , p.1305 [1055a23,24,29]; III, p. 1309 [1055a32]; III,
p.l624[1072b34,35]49

49cp. tammmtcleOtera: Fi kawn, p.53 [G.A. 732'b29] and p.54 [733bl]; atammmtclcotcra: Fi
kawn, p.53 [GA. 732b32]; tamm [wa-] kamihteleotatos: Fi kawn, p.134 [GA. 763b22];
tamm-tetelesmena: Fi kawn, p.86 [GA. 745bl2]; tamm-tctcleiomcnos: Ft kawn, p. 162
[GA. 774b4,6]; tamm-telesiourgos: Fi kawn, p.53 [G.A. 733a7]; tammmteleothen: Fi
kawn, p.153 [G.A. 771a6] tamman-teleios: Ma bacd al-fablca II, p.622 [Meta.
10211)26,27]; $ara tamman-teleo: Fi kawn, p.118 [G .A. 757b25]; walad
tamm-teleiogonos: Fi kawn, p.152 [G.A. 770a34, bl]; awlad tammmteleiotokei: Ft
kawn, p.163 [GA. 774bl8].

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13

gyy

1) gaya=telos: "end"

Ft sama3, p.205 [D.C. 281all,19].

Tabi'a I, p. 95 [Phys. 194a27,28,29,32]; 7, p.96 [194a35]; 7, p. 102 [194b32]; 7,


p. 140 [198b3]; 7, p.147 [199a8]; J, p.150 [199a25]; 7, p.151 [199a31,32]; I, p.161
[200a22]; I p.163 [200a34].

Fi nafs, p. 16 [D .A. 407a27]; p.38 [415bl7]; p.41 [416b24]; 433al5/p.82;


434bl/p.85.50

Ma ba'd al-fabi'a I, p.30 [Meta. 994b9]; 7, p.33 [994bl6]; I p. 183 [996a24,26].51

2) gaya=peras: "purpose"

Fi sama3, p.224 [D.C. 284a6].

Fi a'4a3, p.24 [P.A. 646b9.

Fikawn, p.105 [G A. 752b9]; p. 171 [777b30].52

^ I n Fi nafs, telos is also translated as muntaha; cf. Fi nafs, p.32 [DA. 413a30] and p.81
[432b21].
5*for gaya-telos, also cf. Oxford: Ms. Hatton (Or.) 99rl7 [Meteor. 381al].
52cp. ahir, a'tsi gaya-peras: Fi kawn, p.12 [G A 718b27]; gaya-paula: Fi sama3, p.224 [D.C.
284a8,ll]; gaya-eskhaton: Ma ba'd al-fabi'a U, p.622 [Meta. 1021b25,29,30];
gayamtcleuten: Fi sama3, p.224 [D.C. 284a9]; gayamelatton: Fi sama3, p.206 [D.C
281a26]; kana 'ala 'l-gayamteleioustbai: Tabi'a n, p.761 [Pbys. 247al]; la gaya
lahu-apeiron: Fi kawn, p.3 [GA. 715bl5,16].

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14

km 1

1) kamil=teleios: "perfect"

Tabfflat ola, p. 143 [A.Pr. 24b22]; pp. 148-49 [25b34]; p. 152 [26a20,b29].

Tabi'a II, p.530 [Phys. 226a31]; U, p.761 [246b28j; H, p.917 [265a23].


FI sama3, p.239 [D.C. 286b21].
FI nafs, p.37 [D.A. 415a27] 53

2) kamal=entelecheia: "perfection"

Tabi'a I, p. 168 [Phys. 200a25,26]; I, p.171 [201al0,l 1,17,18]; I, p.177 [201a20]; I,


p. 184

[202al 1 ]; I

p .3 3 3 [ 2 1 3 a 7 ,8 ] .5 4

3) istikmal=entelecheia: "perfection"

Tabi'a I, p. 16 [Phys. 186a3]; J,

p.86 [193b7]; II, p.856 [257fc7,8]; II, 862

[258b2].55

53cp. kamil-teleiousthai: Tabi'a II, p.883 [Pbys. 261al7].


54 cp. kamah-telciosis: Tabi'a JT, pp.760 [Phys. 246a26-7] and 761 [246b28];

kamahteleiotes: Tabi'a 17, p.887 [Phys. 261a36],


55Cp. mustakmal-teleiousthai: Tabi'a II, p.881 [Phys. 260b33]; istakmala watammamlambaaeia telos: Tabi'a II, p. 760 [Phys. 246a26]. kamala is used only rarely to
translate Greek technical terms about finality; cf. kamah^telesiourgsd: Fi kawo, p.51 [ GA.
732a26] and kamala-teleiothen: Fi kawn, p.105 [G~A. 752bll].

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15

1) min ajli=heneka:56 "for the sake of'

Tablilat taniya, pp.408-9 [A.Po. 85b29,36]; p. 454 [95a9].57

Tabi'a I, p.95 [Phys. 194a27]; I, p.96 [194a36]; I, p.102 [194b33]; I, p.118


[196b21]; I, p.136 [198a20]; I, p.137 [198a24]; I, p.140 [198b4]; I p.144 [198bl7]; I,
p. 145 [198b28]; I, p.147 [199all,12]; I, p.150 [199a25]; I, p.151 [199a32]; I, p.155
[199bl9]; J, p. 158 [200a8]; I, p.160 [200al4]; I, p.161 [200a22]; I, p.163
[200a33,34]; U, p.746 [243a32].

FI nafs, p.37 [D A. 415b2]; p.38 [415bl 1,16,20,21]; p.51 [420b20]; p.82 [433al4,15];
p.8858 [435b21].

F ia 'fr3, p.6 [P.A. 639bl2,14,19]; p .ll [641b24]; p.46 [656al8]; p.89 [672b22].

Fi kawn, p.l [G.A. 715a5,8]; p.78 [742a21,29]; p.79 [742b5]; p.144 [767bl3]; p.174
[778bl2,13].59

Ma ba'd al-fabi'a U, p.474 [M eta. 1013a21]; H, p.482 [1013a33];

n,

p.488

[1013b26]; H, p.1074 [1044a36]; H, p.1079 [1044bl2]; m , p.1599 [1072b2].60

^ 1 have not distinguished between the various forms that beneka can take, e.g. to bou beneka,
beneka ton, and beneka tinos.
3?In Tablilat taniya, beneka tinos is also translated as najfw mada; cf. Tablilat taniya, pp.45153 [APo. 94a23,b8,b27].
^reading min ajli for min a$li, contra Badawi.
Fi a 'da3 and Fi kawn, beneka is also translated as li-bal; cf. Fi a'da3, p.21 [P.A.
645b 14,15]; p.24 [646b6]; p.65 [663b23]; p.102 [677al4]; and Fi kawn, p.173 [GA
778a32,33]; p.174 [778b7,llJ.
Ma ba'd al-fabi'a, beneka is also translated as bi-sabab; cf. Ma ba'd al-fabi'a I, p.30
[Meta. 994b9,12]; I, p.33 [994bl5]; I, p.183 [996a25,26]; I, p.185 [996bl2]; 27, p.622
[1021b30]; U, p.l 186 [1050a8].

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16

L o g ic

a n d e pist e m o l o g y

In this chapter we shall focus on the role the final cause plays in logic and epistemology.
Our main sources will be Avicenna's Kitab al-burhan (Book o f Demonstration), Kitab aljadal (Book o f Dialectic), and the sections on logic of his Kitab al-iSarat wa'1-tanbihat
(Book o f Hints and Reminders)& 1 and DaniS-nama-yi Ala*i (Philosophy for Ala*
al-D aw la).^

This chapter is divided into five sections. In section 1.1, "The definition of final cause:
middle terms," we introduce our subject by surveying Avicenna's works on logic and
comparing the explicit statements he makes about the final cause and about how end
differed from form, agent, and matter. Section 1.2, "Causation and demonstrative
questions," identifies which types of question Avicenna thought were best answered using
a final cause, and how relevant these answers were to scientific explanation. Section 1.3,
"Causal reciprocity and complementarity," explains how Avicenna saw different elements
within a demonstrative syllogism as efficient, final and formal causes whose interaction,
both in causing each other and in helping each other function as causes, reflected the reality
they described. Section 1.4, "Perfection and necessity," introduces Avicenna's notion of
perfection, and describes how it helps us better understand the thorny issue of the
61j. Forget, ed., al-Uarat wa'1-tanb'aat (Leiden: 1892) [henceforth: iSarat]
62m. Mucin, ed., Risala-yi manfiq-i daniS-nama-yi Ala*! (Tehran: 1952). [henceforth: DaniSnama [Mantiq]]

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17
necessary relations between final cause and effect Finally, in Section 1.5, "The final cause
of definition," we shall discuss the notion of quiddity and the role it plays in the final
causation inherent in the act of defining.

Modem scholars continue to puzzle over Aristotle s description of the logical role of final
causes in Posterior Analytics 11,11. How exactly does a final cause operate in a syllogism?
Can the middle term of a syllogism really be seen as functioning like a final cause? Does
the conclusion serve as the purpose of the terms of a syllogism and thus "cause" them?
Many take the position that this passage simply shows Aristotle in sloppy form; often this
criticism veils a more general reductionist attack on Aristotle's t e l e o l o g y . 63 Others take the
passage as one element of a description of causes that is explicable on its own, but
ultimately irreconcilable with Aristotle's other descriptions and uses of causes; this criticism
tends toward a thesis in which the apparently different world-views presented in the
Posterior Analytics and in the Physics and Metaphysics are taken to indicate a profound
incompatibility between Aristotle's logical and non-logical w o r k s . 64

Concerns such as these are likewise evident in the expansions and elaborations found in the
Arabic Aristotelian tradition. That many of the most important themes of Avicenna's notion
of final causality originated from just such extensions and elaborations of Aristotle will, we
hope, become clear as we proceed in the chapter and throughout the dissertation. For now,
let us list three of them: 1) Avicenna's attempt to distinguish final from formal causes by

63c.g. Ross, Prior and Posterior Analytics, pp.642-7; Ross calls A.Po. 11,11 one of the most
difficult [chapters] in A.; its doctrine is unsatisfactory, and its form betrays clearly that it has
not been carefully worked over...: p.638. cp. J. Barnes, trans. and comm., Aristotles
Posterior Analytics (Oxford: 1975); Barnes calls the passage on final causes miserably
obscure: p.218. Discussing the corresponding description of the four causes in the Physics,
another recent commentator exclaims I can think of no plausible way to regard principles as
'that on account of which the conclusions hold true; R.D. McKirahan, Jr., Principles and
Proofs: Aristotle's Theory o f Demonstrative Science (Princeton: 1992); p.226. cf. A.W.
Burks, "Teleology and logical mechanism," Synthese 76/3 (1988), pp.335-9 and 365-8, for a
broader discussion of the history of the logical aspects of this common reduction.
64cf. D. Graham, Aristotle's Two Systems (Oxford: 1987), pp.49-51,78-9,110,160-6.

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18
dividing the former into ends and perfections; 2) Avicenna's attempt to understand
Aristotle's somewhat opaque examples of the final cause serving as the middle term of a
syllogism by stressing the causal reciprocity of necessity and finality; and 3) Avicenna's
attempt to fix the epistemological status of the demonstrative syllogism by emphasizing (he
final cause's role in formulating a thing's quiddity and hence in defining it scientifically.

But the importance of studying Avicenna's logic of final causation lies not merely in his
reworking of problematic Aristotelian passages. Avicennas teleology relies heavily upon
the notion that definition, an apparently subjective logical concept, can serve objectively and
ontologically as the perfection of a things existence. That any real connection existed
between Aristotelian metaphysics and logic (which Avicenna considered as both separate
science and methodological tool^S) is not immediately obvious, as the agitation
surrounding the Posterior Analytics passage mentioned above makes clear; therefore we
must bear in mind throughout this chapter what Avicenna the teleologist wants from logic:
to provide a framework of meanings which supports his notion that ends and perfections
exist and serve causally in all entities, be they logical, intellectual, physical, biological, or
metaphysical. Put another way, we hope to use the example of final causes to prove the
correctness of Gutass insight that:
[according to Avicenna] not only do the contents of this [philosophical] knowledge
correspond, one to one, to ontological reality, but the progression of this knowledge
also corresponds to the structure of reality. The structure o f reality is therefore
syllogistic.66

c f. G. Qanawatl, M. al-Hu<jayri, F. al-Ahwanl, eds., al-Sifa/M anfiq (1): al-Madhal


(Cairo: 1952), pp. 15-6. [henceforth: Madhal] We shall discuss this passage in Section 1.5.
66[his italics] Gutas, Tradition, p.174.

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19

Th e

d e f in it io n o f

FINAL CAUSE:

m id d l e t e r m s

1 .1

Given this chapter's difficult subject-matter it seems simplest to begin by examining those
passages in Avicenna's logical works where die final cause is defined explicidy, particularly
those passages where it is contrasted with the three other Aristotelian causes: agent, matter,
and (most importantly) form.

Avicenna defines the final cause, or end (al-gaya), as "the perfection on account of which
everything that is, is, and toward which the principle of motion propels." 67 This is
contrasted with the efficient cause, or agent, which is the principle of motion; the material
cause, which is the subject or ground; and the formal cause, which is the form. All of these
causes may be combined in a single thing, or, as is the case with separate substances such
as the celestial intellects, only the efficient and final may apply.

Even in this preliminary discussion we can discern traces of our first theme, namely
Avicenna's attempt to distinguish the final from the formal cause; we shall examine the
interaction of these two types of cause in Section 1.3. For the moment, we should simply
note that according to Avicenna, in those things to which neither matter nor motion apply
(for example, the subjects of abstract sciences such as mathematics^), form and end

6?reading a1-tamam alladl li-ajlihi yakon ma yakon wa-ilayhi yasOq mabda3 al-baraka:
Burban, p. 181; for this reading cp. ya3ummuba '1-Say3: Ilahlyat, p.295; cp. A Badawl,
ed., Ibn Slna: al-Taehqat (Cairo:1973), pp. 138,169. [henceforth: TacUqat]
culom intizaclya: Burban, p. 181. cp. Bahlyat, pp.299-300.

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20
possess analogous relations to the a g e n t . 69 By contrast, the subjects of the natural sciences,
in which all these causes function together, require that form, unlike end, be tied necessarily
to a corresponding matter, "it not being possible for this [type of] form to exist separately
from it, or in another matter." 70 Rather, the form's nature is specific to the matter that i.s
appropriate to it, and thus matter is intrinsic to the definition of form.

Avicenna returns to this definition and differentiation elsewhere in the Burhan, where he
elaborates upon what he means by the final cause being a thing's "perfection." He describes
the four causes this way: the final cause is "the thing for the sake of which the entity's
matter and form unite, namely the p e r f e c t i o n . " 7 1 Form, on the other hand, is described as
being intrinsic to the reality of the existence of the thing itself; matter must first exist in
order to receive the form during the actual occurrence of the entity; and agent is, again,
simply the principle of motion. Avicenna once more appears eager to stress the difference
between form and end, and because of this distinguishes two types of finality, end and
perfection, a topic which will be explored in detail in Section 1.4.

The examples Avicenna gives, as opposed to the definitions, are taken straight from
Aristotle, ^ 2 with the major exception that in the Posterior Analytics the necessitating
ground (which we assume Aristotle intended to presentproblematicallyas a kind of
logical matter) and the essence (which Aristotle identified with the formal cause) are both
described using the same geometrical e x a m p l e . 7 3 Avicenna, on the other hand, takes only
^Burban, p.181. Also note Avicenna's implicit distinction between mechanical causes (i.e. agent
and matter) and what might be termed "ideal" causes (end and form) through the different
ways he says etc.:" wa-ma fi jumlatibi ("and the lot of things like it") with agent and
matter, and wa-ma yajra majrabu ("and what is analogous to it") for end and form.
7madda mulaima laba: Burban, p.181; cp. Sama3 wa-ealam, p.33.
Burban, p.294; "perfection" is again al-tamam.
H a .Po. H I I:94a28-94b26; cf. Burban, p.294, n.7.
73A.Po. II,ll:94a34-5. In Pbys. 11,3:195al6-20 Aristotle equates the logical ground with the
material cause, and says that both matter and form are enhuperchontos, i.e. that out of which
(ex bou) something comes into being (cp. Meta. XII,4:1070bl6-26); this is probably why
Aristotle felt he could use the same example to illustrate the material and formal causes in the
A.Po. passage (elsewhere matter and form are separated more fastidiously; cf. Ross, Physics,

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21
the form as applicable to Aristotle's geometrical example; for the material cause a medical
example is given. This is probably due to die fact that Aristotle's method in this passage is
obscure; indeed, in another context, Avicenna admitted that he failed to understand exactly
what Aristode meant by "ground here. 74 But another explanation might take into account
the fact that according to his autobiography, Avicenna wrote the Manfiq, or Logic, of the
Sifa3after he wrote the Uahlyat, or Metaphysics,75 the opposite of what has traditionally
been taken to be Aristotle's order of composition. Thus, in an attempt to merge the two
apparently inconsistent conceptions of causation presented in the Aristotelian corpus,
Avicenna stressed the more physical and metaphysical roles of the formal and material
causes. Applying this developmental approach to Aristotle, 76 we can say that he needed, in
the logical part of his work, to present a cause that operated as a middle term in a syllogism
but which could later be made analogous to the matter operating in the natural world; for
this reason Aristode called it a "necessitating ground."

As Avicenna allowed in the first set of definitions, an example of form perse (i.e., taken as
existing separately from matter) may be gleaned from the abstract science of geometry and
said to function in Aristotle's proof concerning the place of a right angle in a semicircle. The
efficient cause is contained in the answer to the question "why do the Athenians make war
against such-and-such a city?" The principle of motion in this case (the fact that the nonAthenians first attacked the Athenians) is given as the efficient cause.77 Avicenna draws
his example of the material cause from medical theory: in answering the question "why
p.512). cf. Rosss attack (.Prior and Posterior Analytics, pp.638-644), supported in H.
Treddenick, ed. and trans., Aristotle H: Posterior Analytics (Cambridge, Mass.: 1960)
p.210, n."e," and Barness defense (Posterior Analytics, pp.216-7). cp. Graham, Two
Systems, pp. 158-160.
74cf. Samaf fab1% p.52.
7^W. Gohlman, ed. and trans., The Life oflbn Sina (Albany: 1974), pp.54-60.
76fts most famous proponent is W. Jaeger, in his Aristotle: Fundamentals o f the History o f bis
Development (Oxford: 1934), pp.3-7, and passim. This approach is also called organic,
genetic, and evolutionary.
77Burban, p.295. In Aristotle's example, it is the Persian expedition of Cyrus which returned
Athens' attack; as Aflfi points out dryly, for some reason Avicenna did not want to mention
Persia in his example; Burban, p.295, n.4.

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22
does man die?," the material cause is given, namely the fact that man is a composite of
opposing elements.78

Both examples of the "perfecting" cause are taken straight from Aristotle: in answering the
question "why does so-and-so take a walk?," the final cause may be given, namely the fact
that so-and-so strives to be healthy, and he who strives to be healthy walks in order to
exercise. Also, in answering the question "why does this house exist?," the final cause may
be given, namely in order to protect the c o n t e n t s . 79 Problems arise, though, when the point
is driven home that these causes are all taken to function as middle terms in syllogisms; as
this equivalence is crucial to Aristotle's notion of scientific explanation, his whole theory of
logical causation may appear to be built upon shaky ground. But for the moment, it is
enough to note that like Aristotle, Avicenna maintains that each of the four causes may be
posited as middle terms. How exactly they function as middle terms will be examined in
Section 1.3.

Avicenna does go further than Aristotle when he explicitly lists the various causal modes:
proximate and distant, essential and accidental, potential and actual, specific and general,
and particular and u n i v e r s a l . 80 Examples of these are mainly taken from medicine, to which
Avicenna turns when Aristotle fails him; the exception here is form, which Avicenna again
illustrates with an extension of Aristotle's geometrical e x a m p l e . 81

Distant and proximate final causes are contained in the answers to the question "why does
so-and-so walk?:" preventing indigestion (distant) and breathing fresh air to prevent the
78cp. L al-QaSS, ed., al-Qanan fi 1-Tibb (1-2) (Beirut 1987), pp.196-7. [henceforth: QanOn]
l^al-'illa al-tamam1ya...al-3atat: Burhan, p.295. Barnes finds the latter example more
convincing than the former (Posterior Analytics, p.220); cp. Graham, Two Systems, p.161,
a 10.
8cp. Phys. II,3:195a26-bl5.
8iThis could be because he did not want in this context to be drawn into the problem of whether to
identify the body's soul as form or perfection.

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23
congestion of a humor (proximate). Examples of the other causes in their ultimate mode are
a high temperature,82 for so-and-so's being feverish (distant efficient); die opposition of the
elements, for the animal dying (distant material); and the perpendicularity of one line on
another, for such-and-such an angle being a right angle (distant formal).83

The proximate versions of these causes are given as

d e c a y , 84

which is the efficient

principle of fever; dryness overwhelming moisture in the humors, which is the material
principle of death; and the perpendicularity of a line in between two equal angles, which is
the formal principle of such-and-such an angle being a right angle.

Examples of essential causes are health, for making sure one walks before eating (essential
fin a l);8 5

heaviness, for the wall's collapse (essential efficient); a mirror's shininess, for the

reflection of an image (essential

m a te ria l);

8 6 and two adjacent lines, for fixing a

perpendicular line (essential formal). Examples of the accidental versions of these causes
are the fatigue arising from the pre-(or post-!)prandial walk, which is an accidental
perfecting principle of health; the removal of a buttress, which is an accidental efficient
principle for the wall's collapse; the piece of burnished iron, which is an elemental principle
of the image's reflection; and the fact that the right angle is accidentally perpendicular to a
line parallel to the one upon which it is set

82al-Sidda; alternately, it could be al-Sadda, meaning simply "affliction;" Burban, p.296


83Making an implicit distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic causes, Avicenna says that the
effects of final and efficient causes come "from" ( wa-dalika min al-ttavamin al-mabda3
al-faHl) the agent principle and end, while the effects of material and formal causes exist
"through" (.wa-dalika ki'l-mabda3 al-'unsurliii'l-mabda3 al-$orf) the elemental principle
and the formal principle; Burban, p.296.
Z^al-'ufana could also be translated as decomposition or putrefaction.
85this is the essential "perfecting principle" (al-mabda3 al-tamaml); Aristotle (A.Po. II, 11:94b 1213) talks of walking after dinner (peripatos apo deipnos), and Abu BiSr translates the phrase
faithfully as al-maSy baeda l-'aSa3: Badawi, Tablilat taniya, p.452. Avicenna (perhaps
because clinical experience told him otherwise) says aabla'l-taeam here; Burban, p.296.
86ka'1-saqqala li-aks al-Sibb; cf. Burban, pp.296-7, nn.9,11.

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In his discussion of accidental causes Avicenna touches upon the important question of
chance, a problem which has served to cast doubt on the philosophical coherence of final
causation. Avicenna appears to introduce the concept of accidental cause here partly in
order to escape this dilemma: chance events are not without final causes, but rather are
caused accidentally, not essentially. The example which Avicenna gives in the Burhan is
stumbling across buried t r e a s u r e ; 8 7 in the Uahiyat, it is a chance meeting with a friend. 88
We shall return to this topic in our discussion of necessity in Section 1.4, and examine it
fully in Section 2.5.

Finally, causes may be potential or actual, specific or general, particular or u n i v e r s a l . 89


Avicenna evidently felt these divisions sufficiently self-explanatory or well-known to
require a list of examples for them in the Burhan indeed, just such a list is given in Chapter
12 of his al-Samaf al-fabM (Physics).** But Avicenna does go on to make the
following distinction, one that will prove important to his metaphysics: the cause's being
actual is a cause of the effect's being actual, but when the cause is potential its being
potential is nsl a cause of die effect's being potential; rather, this is the proper possession of
the effect in and of itself. 91 We shall return to this subject in Section 4.2.

Fisewhere Avicenna seems to be splitting final causes along further, different lines. In the
K . al-Jadal, that part of the M a n fiq of the S i fa 3 which is devoted to dialectical
argumentation and which corresponds to Aristotle's Topics, Avicenna mentions motivating
causes; these describe how the means in an argument motivate towards the assent, although

87aj.'utar calal-kanz: Burhan, p.297.


88cp. his discussion of accidental and essential ends in Jlahlyat, pp.284-289.
89Burhan, p.297.
9Samacfabl% pp.55-9. We will discuss these further divisions in Section 2.1.
9 Icp. his discussion of the fact of coming into existence after non-existence and its causedness in
Uahiyat, pp.260-3.

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25
the assent is not perfected by
"preserving"

c a u s e s ,

th e m .

92 He also mentions "inclining

c a u s e s ,

93 and

94 which also turn up in the TabWyat and the Uahiyat, and which

accordingly will be discussed in those contexts.

92cffla min al-rilal al-mustadlya; al-eilla ai-dac1ya: Jadal, p. 147; cp. Top. 111,1:116b23-27.
9^al-asbab al-murajjiba: Jadal, p. 148.
94asbab bafT^a: Jadal, p.267.

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CAUSATION AND DEMONSTRATIVE QUESTIONS

1.2

Having seen that Avicenna, like Aristotle, attempted to create definitions of causation in
general, and final causation in particular, in which the causes could plausibly be said to
function as, or at least like, middle terms in a demonstrative syllogism, we must determine
exactly which type of question calls for the middle term to fulfill such a causal function.

Avicenna states that there are three fundamental questions; "what?," "is?," and

" w h y ? "9 5

Avicenna further splits "why ?" questions, with which we shall be mainly concerned in this
section, into two further subdivisions: one which seeks the middle term as a purely logical
cause of belief in a statement, and hence as the cause of assent in a syllogism which
concludes a given question; and another which seeks the middle term as an ontological
cause of something in itself, and hence as the cause of the thing's existence, whether
absolute or m

o d a l.

96 The precise nature of the link between these two causal functions

one logical, the other ontological-will play a crucial role in Avicenna's world-view, in
which the middle term, often gleaned immediately through intuition (bads), can be seen to
serve as the nexus between language and reality.^?

95Burban, p.68; cp. Burhan, p.263. In a comparable passage these are called "the mothers of (all)
questions" (ummahat al-mafalib): Barat, pp.85-6.
96Burhan, p.68.
9?cf. Burhan, p. 177; cp. Ta'ttqat, p. 141, and M. Mu'ln, ed., Tablelyat-i daniS-nama-yi 'Alad
(Tehran: 1952), pp.142-45. [henceforth: DaniS-nama [Tabl'lyat]] For important
discussions of the role of intuition (bads) in Avicennas epistemology, cf. Gutas, Tradition,
pp.159-76,316-7, and M. Marmura's review of Gutas, "Plotting the course of Avicenna's
thought," Journal o f the American Oriental Society 111/2(1991), pp.333-42.

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For the moment, however, we must concentrate on the more prosaic task of comparing
Avicenna's scheme with Aristotle's. Avicenna understood Aristotle as also splitting
questions into "what?," "is?," and "why?," and, like Avicenna (who split all three questions
into subdivisions), reducing "is?" questions into two further subdivisions, simple and
compound. Looked at through Avicenna's eyes Aristotle's system of questions meshes with
the former's conception of causation in scientific explanation: Does the thing possess this or
that characteristic? (compound "is?" question, the answer to which presupposes the material
cause^); Why does the thing possess the characteristic? ("why?" question, the answer to
which presupposes the final cause); Does the thing exist? (simple "is?" question, the
answer to which presupposes the efficient caused); and What is the thing? (i.e. "what is its
definition?:" "what?" question, the answer to which presupposes the formal cause). 100
Again, Aristotle's intention here is to present these questions in such a way that the middle
terms in each of their corresponding syllogisms can function as causes, since discovering a
phenomenons cause is the object of scientific knowledge. 101

In other words, Avicenna understood Aristotle as implying the following: given that there is no
sensible unformed matter, in answer to the question "Does X possess the attribute P?," we
must distinguish X as P (as opposed to Q) by giving X as the material cause of the
form/matter compound PX (as opposed to the form/matter compound QX).
99flere Avicenna appears to be imposing his own notions on Aristotle a bit more: the efficient
cause, in its broadest Avicennian sense, is what necessarily brings P into existence from non
existence; in the answer to the question "Does P exist," the existence or non-existence of
efficient cause X is given in the answer.
100 to boti, to dioti, ei esti, ti estia: A.Po. II,l-2:89b24-90a5; cf. Afifi's comments in Burban,
p. 19, n.1. For a discussion of Avicenna's predecessor al-Farabt's division of demonstrative
questions into "why?" (lima) and "how?" (kayfa) questions, and thence into "what?"
(mada), "for what?" (li-mada), "through what?" (bi-mada), and "from what?" ( ean mada),
taken from his Ifurof, Burban, and Qiyas faglr, cf. S.B. Abed, Aristotelian Logic and the
Arabic Language ofAlfarabl (Albany: 1991), pp.87-104; for a discussion in particular of limada questions and the final cause, cf. p.89. For Avicenna's contemporary al-Hiwarizmls
division of questions (in the '' fl afadiqflcjl" section of his Mafatib al-culam) into bal
f"is?"/material cause], ma ["what?"/formal cause], kayfa ["how?"/efficient cause] and lima
["why?"/final cause (literally the "whyness" cause-al-cilla al-limalya)], cf. L al-Abyari,
ed., Mafatib al-culam li'1-Hiwarizml (Beirut: 1984), p.174; translated by N. Rescher in his
"The Logic-Chapter of Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Khwariznti's Encyclopedia, Keys to tbe
Sciences (c.980 AD.)," Arcbiv fdr Cescbicbte der Philosophic 44/1 (1962), p.73.
11 A.Po. n,2:90a6ff.

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But I believe that Avicennas division of "why?" questions into logical and ontological roles
is evidence that he read Aristotle as making a subtler point than the one usually ascribed to
him, a point that nevertheless leaves a wide wake across our understanding of Aristotle's
epistemology. Taking the lead from Philoponus rather than Themistius (the two Greek
commentators on the Posterior Analytics available to A

v ic e n n a ),

102 Avicenna could read

the hoti in Aristotle's discussion of lunar eclipse in Posterior Analytics I,31:88al instead
as another, first dioti, thus splitting "why?" rather than "is?" questions into two
c a te g o rie s ;

the

103 this despite the fact that the Arabic text we have implies the hoti rather than

< 2 r o ti.l0 4

The result is that we can translate 88al-2 Qgl as "For we perceive that it is

eclipsed, and not why at all," 105 or ^ "for what we would be sensing is the fact that there
is an eclipse at that moment but not the reason for that fact," 106 but rather as "for while we
perceive why there is an eclipse at this particular moment, we do not perceive why it is an
eclipse in general." 107

102Alexander's commentary was not extant, according to Ibn Nadim and Ibn al-Qifti (although the
former reports that Yafcya b. Adi said he saw Alexander's commentary on A.Po. but that a
man from Hurasan bought it before he could). For Ibn Nadlm's list of commentaries on
A.Po., cf. G. FlUgel, ed., Kitab al-Fihrist (Beirut: 1966), p.249; for Ibn al-Qiril's identical
list, cf. J. Lippert, ed., Ta}iib al-Hukama} (Leipzig: 1903), p.36.
103For Philoponus's interpretation, cf. esthanometha gar an, phesi, dioti nun ekleipei, kai ou
dioti holos: CACXHI/3, p.310. For Themistius's, cf. ou men dia touto apodeixis estin be
aistbesis, oudepote gar to dioti deiknusin, all' aei monon to hoti: CAC V /l, p.38, or the
same passage in L. Spengel, ed., Tbemistii paraphrases Aristotelis, I (Lipsiae:1866),
pp.61-2. For the fact that Avicenna did not advertise his use of Philoponus's commentaries,
and his uncommon belief in their close adherence to Aristotelian doctrine, cf. F.
Zimmermann, "Philoponus' impetus theory in the Arabic tradition," in R. Sorabji, ed.,
Philoponus and the Rejection o f Aristotelian Science (London:1987), pp.126-7; for
Avicenna's familiarity with Themistius's commentaries, cf. M.C. Lyons, ed., The Arabic
Translation ofThemistius Commentary on Aristoteles De Anima (Norfolk: 1973), pp.xivxv.
104For Abu BiSr's rendering of 88al-2, cf. wa li-hada '1-sabab fa-inna wa-law kunna ba$illn
fawq al-qamr wa-kunm nueayinu anna'1-ard tasturahu, la-ma kunna naelamu cilla alkusaf; wa dalika anna innama kunna nahussu blnaidin naclumu bil-kulllya lima:
Badawi, Manfiq Arisfn II, p.418.
105Barnes, omitting the nun: p.47.
10&H. Apostle, trans. and comm., Aristotles Posterior Analytics (Grinnell, Iowa: 1981), p.43.
107And thus following Philoponus in taking the holos as untied syntactically to the ou (i.e. not as
in "not at all"), but as functioning separately; for similar uses of holos, cf. Phys. II,3:202bl9 20, and Meta. V,26:1023b29-32.

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29
This reading not only makes more sense of the previous chapter (Posterior Analytics
1,30), in which Aristotle states that chance cannot be used in a demonstrative syllogism, but
also flows better from the sentences immediately preceding, which describe an observer on
the moon. Why, we ask ourselves, would one need to stand on the moon to observe just the
fact of an eclipse? One could just as easily observe the fact of an eclipse standing on earth.
Rather, Aristotle's point is that if we stood on the moon and saw the earth passing in front
of the sun, we will simultaneously perceive the fact and know whv a particular darkness
fell over the moon at that particular moment; but we would not understand what an eclipse
is in any formal, universal w

a y .

108 This is because we understand something only after

observing repeated instances of it, for at that point we are Anally able to separate essential
from coincidental causes, and, as Aristotle states in the previous chapter, only the causally
essential belongs in a demonstrative syllogism. 109 J o take the eclipse example further, let
us imagine a situation where we stood on the moon and observed an eclipse at a particular
moment. Let us suppose that at the moment of eclipse (or just before it) some other celestial
event took place, such as the passing of a meteor. Until we had stood on the moon a second
time and witnessed another eclipse, we could not be sure whether the meteor's passing was
causally relevant, or perhaps even essential, to the phenomenon "eclipse" one wished to
define and understand. Hence the second dioti requires a series of answers to the first dioti
in order to distinguish the causally essential from the causally accidental. 110

108cf. Meta. IQ,2:996bl8-19. As Bumyeat puts it, Again, the reason why according to Aristotle
there is no cpisteme of particular things or events is that one does not in perception discover
why something is as it is: M. Bumyeat, "Aristotle on understanding knowledge," in E. Berti,
ed., Aristotle on Science: The Posterior Analytics (Padua: 1981), p.l 14.
109Bumyeat: [Aristotles]...contention is that the accidental falls outside the reach of systematic
explanation and understanding; of things which are or come about accidentally the cause is
also [the cause] accidentally; (Meta. VI,2:1027a6-7) Bumyeat, "Understanding," p. 113.
But Avicennas insight is that a coincidence's having no systematic explanation (and thus, in
the strictest terms, being scientifically un-understandable) is not the same as saying that it is
causeless, or specifically, without a final cause.
UOfiumyeat, attacking J. Hintikkas Time and Necessity: Studies in Aristotles Theory o f
Modality (Oxford: 1973), says: But since the causes of the accidental are in this sense
indeterminate or irregular (Phys. II,5:196b23ff/Meta. V,30:1025a24-5, X,8:1065a32-5),
knowing them is not cpisteme. It is not understanding a recurring type of phenomenon from
first principles. It is not even the accidental or qualified cpisteme which we have when we

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30

A passage from Metaphysics 1,1, supports my interpretation. Aristotle says that:


"We assume that artists are wiser than men of mere experience (which implies that in
all cases wisdom (sophia) depends rather upon knowledge (eidenai)). This is
because the former know die cause (ten aitian), whereas the latter do not For the
experienced know the fact (to hoti), but not the wherefore (to dioti); but the artists
know the wherefore and the cause."HI
What Aristotle is referring to in the Posterior Analytics passage, therefore, is the second
rather than the first epistemic transition, from the dioti to the aitian, not from the hoti to
the dioti.112

Where Avicenna appears to depart most drastically from Aristotle 1I 3 js when he contrasts
"is?" questions with "why?" questions by stating that whereas an "is?" demonstration will
give the middle term only qua cause of logical assent, a "why?" demonstration will give the
middle term both qua cause of logical assent and qua cause of e x i s t e n c e . H 4

Jq

other

words, in the world of existence, the middle term in a syllogism given in response to an
"is?" question need be neither die cause nor the effect of the major terms existence in the
m in o r.

H 5 Elsewhere Avicenna says that in an "is?" demonstration the causality of the

middle term is presented as evidence only in terms of the logical assent, but not presented
as evidence in terms of the thing's existence; H 6 answers to "is?" questions presuppose
apply the explanation of a recurring type of phenomenon to a particular instance of it, e.g. a
particular eclipse: Bumyeat, "Understanding," p. 113. cp. Uahiyat, p.289.
HI Meta. I,l:981a26-30/H. Treddenick, ed. and trans., Aristotle: The Metaphysics Books 1-DC
(Cambridge, Mass.:1947), p.7; cp. Meta. I,2:982a4-5.
H^This first transition, from the hoti to the dioti, is described in Meta. I,l:981bl0-14.
113in APo. U3:78a22 and 78b32-4, andI,27:87a31-3; cp. I,14:79a21-24.
114This difference is perhaps a little more obvious in the Persian, where these two demonstrations
are called chertPl (why; i.e. causal) and hastt (is; Le. existential): DaniS-nama [Mantiq],
pp. 149-50; cp. Avicenna's al-Tacliqat eala hawaSI K. al-nafs li-ArisfU (Notes on the
Margins o f Aristotle's De Anima) in CA. Badawl, Arisfa cindal-eArab (Cairo: 1947),
p.102. [henceforth: Notes on the De Anima]
1HBurban, p.79; cp. DaniS-nama [Mantiq], pp. 152-53. For the translation of burban in as
"conditional" demonstration, cf. A.-M. Goichon, trans., Livre des Directives et Remarques
(Paris:1951), p.231, n.2; for a comparable list of lima demonstration examples, cf. iSarat,
pp.80-1,
11 ISarat, p.84.1have translated al-limaHya here as "causality," given the common translation of
burhan lima as "causal demonstration." The literal translation would be "whyness." cp.
Goichon's translation in Directives, pp.231-2.

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only logical entailment, while answers to "why?" questions presuppose both logical and
ontological entailment What Avicenna is doing here, I believe, is preparing the ground for
giving ultimate epistemic priority to essential causes (the formal and final) rather than
existential causes (the material and efficient); we shall examine this topic fully in Section
4.1.

In some respects, however, Avicenna follows Aristotle rather closely here. In Metaphysics
VI, 1, Aristotle says that:
"It falls to the same thinking to indicate both what a thing is and whether it is. m
In other words, Aristotle also gives epistemic priority to essential causes rather than
existential causes because the former presuppose and therefore encompass the latter: asking
"what is that wooden thing? presupposes that a wooden thing X already exists. As we shall
see later in this section, Avicenna could use the reading we have proposed to understand
Aristotle as maintaining that induction alone (in this context, answering repeated "is?"
questions) cannot give a complete account of substance; substance is known both through
"what it is" (to Avicenna, the quiddity qua perfecting cause; to Aristotle, the essence qua
formal cause) and through "whether it is" (to Avicenna, the efficient existentiating cause).
We shall discuss these causal roles later in this chapter and throughout the dissertation.

Avicenna hesitates to assign outright priority to die essential causes contained in the
answers to "why?" questions when he says that the knowledge deriving from the
demonstrative answers to "is?" questions (along with some exceptive syllogisms 1^ ) is in
some senses more certain than that deriving from the demonstrative answers to "why?"
questions. This is because in "is?" demonstrations the major term exists in the minor due to
ll7 Mcta. VI,l:1025bl7-18/C. Kirwan, trans. and comm., Aristotle's Metaphysics: Books
Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon (Oxford: 1971), p.66. [cp. A.Po. I,l:71al 1-17 and II,7:92b4-ll]
H&al-istitnal; Burhan, p.90; for more on exceptive syllogisms, cf. N. Shehaby, The
Propositional Logic o f Avicenna: A Translation from al-Shifa3: al-Qiyas with
Introduction, Commentary and Glossary (Dordrecht: 1973), pp.283-4.

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32
its essence, not due to an extrinsic cause; thus they use as premises the thing's formal
definition, a formal definition which presupposes a series of "why?" demonstrations.
"Why?" demonstrations, on the other hand, utilize possibly accidental causes as middle
terms in their inductive sifting of the essential from the accidental. H 9 \ "why?"
demonstration is existentially posterior but logically prior to an "is?" demonstration; 120 the
"why?" demonstration gives the interposition of earth between sun and moon as the cause
of the eclipse, while the "is?" demonstration gives the eclipse as cause of the
in te rp o s itio n .

121 The former is logically more certain, though in terms of the world of

existence, it tells us less. As Aristotle puts it in Metaphysics VII, 17:


"Now to ask why a thing is itself is no question; because when we ask the reason of a
thing the fact must first be evident; e.g. that the moon suffers eclipse: 'because it is
itself' is the one explanation and reason which applies to all questions such as 'why is
man man?"' 122
However these two types of explanation-one providing knowledge through "why?"
demonstration and the other providing understanding through "is?" demonstration-do
come together, according to Avicenna's reading of Aristotle, in their shared use of the
middle term, the nexus between logic and existence.123

Avicenna's distinction points, I believe, to his awareness of a profound tension between


more and less restricted notions of die scope of Aristotle's episteme: 124 should it be
119Burhan, p.86-7. For Avicennas notion that induction is itself a kind of syllogistic process, cf.
Burhan, p.79.
120Barat, p.86
121Burhan, p.321; Barat, p.85. cp. A.Po. H,2:90a6-33 and H,8:93a29-93b8. But it is important to
note how Avicenna once again emphasizes here the concept of formal perfection, in this case
the perfection of the earth's interposition (al-tawassuf al-tamm...tamam al-tawassuf:
Burhan, p.321; in the Barat passage, it is simply the "manifestation" ( bayan) of the earth:
Barat, p.85. cp. *ilia kamila; Burban, p.82), the earth whose roundness is perfected only by
being brought into relation with the sun at a given position (fa-la yatimmu dalika ilia:
Burhan, p.322). cp. R. Sorabji, Necessity, Cause, and Blame: Perspectives on Aristotle's
Theory (London: 1980), 211-17.
I22Meta. VII,17:1041all-18/Treddenick, Metaphysics I-IX, p.395.
123Moreover, they provide a common approach to each science: DaniS-nama [Manfiq],
pp. 136,144.
124More specifically, the difference between epistasthai, eidenai, and gignoskein. For an
analysis of the different senses, cf. Bumyeat, Understanding, pp.97,103-4,106-8.

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33
understood as a foundationalist's body of knowledge, a collection of universal intelligibles?
Or does epistdme refer to the state of secure understanding which a wise man attains when
he has formalized (through deduction) the knowledge he has already garnered (through
in d u c tio n )?

125 Avicenna appears to favor the latter interpretation in the last chapter of the

Manfiq of the DaniS-nama, where he gives ten pieces of advice to "secure" oneself against
fallacies. 126

The problem, as Avicenna implies, is that from the point of view of scientific discovery
about the natural world, giving a "why? demonstration in which the second, universal type
of dioti is used provides us with no new knowledge; rather, it simply marshals our
definitions in a kind of syllogistic drill. As stated above, whereas standing on the moon and
watching the earth cross the sun's path will enable us to know why darkness fell over the
moon at that moment, understanding why an eclipse is what it is necessarily presupposes
repeated observations of similar events, so that the mechanical ground may be prepared, as
it were, for the definition. Thus our wise man's knowledge, conceived of as a body of
generalized particulars, is acquired inductively, i.e. through repeated observation that given
certain material and efficient causes, an identical phenomenon will necessarily result; his
understanding, on the other hand, is secured deductively, through arraying those universals

*25cf. Meta. I,l:982a2-3 and I,2:982a6ff. cp. R.G. Bury, ed. and trans., Sextus Empiricus I:
Outlines o f Pyrrhonism (Cambridge, Mass.:1955), pp.236-43 (Bk.II, 134-43); cited in
Bumyeat, Understanding, p. 135. In Pyrrhonean Outlines 280-81 (pp.511-13), Sextus
describes the Sceptic wise man employing appropriate strength arguments (which have
been made impregnable through syllogistic deduction) against the Dogmatists, depending on
the severity of their incorrectness. Following this lead, Bumyeat maintains that epistasthai
consists of securing understanding [Bumyeat, pp. 115-120, 130-91; Barnes that it has
pedagogical connotations, i.e. that it consists of presenting and imparting knowledge [J.
Barnes, Aristotles theory of Demonstration, in J. Barnes, M. Schofield, and R. Sorabji,
eds., Articles on Aristotle I: Science (London: 1975), pp.77-82]; Irwin (in a souped-up
version of the traditional reading) that it describes the method of scientific discovery [T.
Irwin, Aristotle's First Principles (Oxford: 1988), pp. 130-1,530-1].
*26DaniS-nama [Manfiq], pp. 156-65. Farabi also appears to favor the secure understanding
interpretation; cf. wa-ka-ma sahib al-cilm al-na^ari la yakon faylasofan bil-na^ar walfafy, dona an tab$ula lahu al-gaya allad li-ajliha al-nazar wal-fahf, wa-hiya iqama a1barahln: R. al-*Ajam, ed., al-Manfiq eindal-Farabl III: Kitab al-Jadal (Beirut: 1986),
p. 70; cited and translated in M. Galston, Politics and Excellence (Princeton: 1990), p.90.

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34
by definition, in other words by formal and final causes. 127 We shall return to this topic
throughout the dissertation, where we shall show that Avicenna saw cilm in both ways,
both in terms of an intrinsic perfection a rational man may attain through contact with the
Agent Intellect, and in terms of an extrinsic end, the Agent Intellect qua thesauros of
universals, toward which this process of intellectual conjunction is directed 128

127For more on Avicenna on induction and experimentation, cf. S. Pines, La Conception de la


conscience de soi chez Avicenne et chez Abul-Barakat al-Baghdadi, in Archives dHistoire
Doctrinale et Littdraire du Moyen Age 29/1955, pp.95-7, and A.C. Crombie, Avicennas
influence on the medieval scientific tradition, in G. Wickens, ed., Avicenna: Scientist and
Philosopher (London: 1952), pp.88-84.
128For Avicenna on the different ends of speculative and practical philosophy, cf. wal-falsafa alnazariya innamal-gaya flha takmll al-nafs bi-an tacluma faqaf, wal-falsafa aleamallya innamal-gaya flha takmll al-nafs la bi-an taeluma faqaf, bal bi-an taeluma
ma yuemalu bihi fa-taemalu: Madhal, p. 12; translated in M. Marmura, Avicenna on die
division of the sciences in the Isagoge of his Shif a in Journal for the History o f Arabic
Science IV/2 (1980), p.241. cp. al-nazaiiya hiya allati naflubu flha istikmal al-qawa alnazarlya min al-nafs bi-bu$al al-eaql bil-fi'l: Uahiyat, p.3; cited in Marmura, Division,
p.242. cp. wa-saeasatuhu bi-takmll jawbarihi.,.wa-amma tazklyatuhu bi-eilm Allah fataJ}$ll malaka lahu, bi-ha yatahayyau li-il}<far al-macqalat matta Saa min gayr iftiqar
ila iktisab, fa-takon al-maeqalat kulluha ha$i/a lahu bil-ficl: in Avicenna's Risala fl '1kalam eala '1-nafs al-nafiqa, in AF. al-Ahward, ed., Afrwal al-nafs (Cairo: 1952), p. 196;
translated by Gutas in Aristotelian Tradition, p. 74. cp. Avicenna's K. al-Mubafjatat, in
Badawl, Arista, pp.234(484) and 209-210(378-79) [henceforth: Mubabatat]; DaniSnama [Jab1*lyat], p. 101; Samac fabM pp.47-48; Ilahlyat, pp.425-26; and his Sarb barf
lam (.Commentary on Metaphysics Lambda), in Badawl, Arista, p.95. [henceforth:
Commentary on Meta. Lambda] As Bumyeat puts it with regard to Aristotle: Aristotles
thought is concentrated on the telos, the achieved state of understanding which is the end and
completion of the epistemological process: Bumyeat, Understanding, p. 133.

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35

CAUSAL RECIPROCITY AND COMPLEMENTARITY 1 .3

Now that we have discussed the various types of questions addressed in demonstrative
syllogisms, we must turn our attention to die causal behavior of the terms and premises
used in those syllogisms. The subject of the present section is Avicenna's conviction that
this causal behavior is best described as a tension (and, ultimately, a logical symbiosis)
between efficient, final, and formal causes.

As stated above, Aristode's main concern in presenting his list of questions and the causes
relating to them was to introduce the notion of the middle term as cause. Avicenna states
flatly that he also views the middle term this w

a y ;

129 however, as was also stated above,

what really seems to interest Avicenna is the notion that die middle term both behaves as a
cause within the syllogism but also causes the thing in the real world, so that the middle
term thereby serves as a link between language and reality. 120

Although in reality die middle term can sometimes be the effect of the major term, it is not
the effect of the majors existence in the minor. For in spite of the middle term's being an
effect of the major in reality, it is a cause of the existence of the cause in the effect 121 This
somewhat confusing formula becomes clearer if we take a hint from the JlaMyat, where
129Burhan, pp.71,263; Barat, p.84.
^ka tlra n ma yattafiqu an yakon al-ljadd al-awsaf fl'l-qiyas-wa-buwa eilla al-qiyaseilla
aydan li'l-amr tt nafsihi fa-yakon qad ijtama'a al-majtlaban fl bayan waljid: Burban,
p.71.
131 Burban, p. 82; for Aflfl's summary, cf. Burban, p. 22. For a medical example whose terms are
"feverish" (mabndman), "the chills" (al-quacr1ra~i.c. shivering and trembling), and "tertian
fever" (bumma al-gibb), cf. Barat, p.85,

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Avicenna states that each cause possesses both an existence and a "reity" (Say*iya). In its
reity, the final cause is a cause of the rest of the causes actually existing as causes. In its
existence, however, the final cause is an effect of the other causes being causes in a c t . 132
According to Avicenna, therefore, the syllogistic function of the middle term is most
analogous to that of efficient and final causes (as opposed to material and formal causes);
although an effect in existential terms of the efficient cause, the final cause is a cause of the
"reity" of the agent's being an agent We shall explore this distinction at length in Section
4.1.

Further evidence for this may be gleaned from Avicenna's explicit disagreement with the
Peripatetics over presenting the material cause as primitive in causal demonstration,
inasmuch as it serves as a logical ground for the major term. This cannot be so, according
to Avicenna, because given that the conclusion is the effect of the demonstration, the
conclusion cannot already exist in the demonstration, whereas everything which has a
material cause must already exist in its matter. Implicitly criticizing Aristotle for stretching
the meaning o f material cause to apply to the middle term, Avicenna says that this error
occurs because of the ambiguity of the word "ground." *33

Instead, the way a causal demonstration operates is most closely analogous to the
interdependence of final and efficient causes. It is analogous to final causation because
given that the nature of the genus is multiplied for the sake of the species in a process by
which the species are themselves existentially perfected, species are perfections of
genera; 134 hence in a demonstrative syllogism the final cause can be analogous to the
major premise. Alternatively, the causal function can be efficient, because an agent is

132ZfaMyat,p.292.
133logical ground: mawtfac (i.e. subject): Burhan, p.304. cp. Avicennas explicit criticism
(mentioned above) in Sams' fab1% p.52.
134kamalst..yastakmilu: Burhan, p.304.

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defined as that which leaves an impression on something and necessitates that the thing be
contained in a subject from which the agent is essentially distinct; hence in a demonstrative
syllogism the efficient cause may be made analogous to the conclusion. However, the
conclusion and the principle of such demonstrations may be causally inverted, 135 just as
efficient and final causes exhibit an ontological causal reciprocity. 136

In order to illustrate this reciprocity, Avicenna analyzes two Aristotelian definitions,


thunder and anger, by splitting each into two further component syllogisms in which the
principles and conclusions switch roles. In this way the perfection of a definition can be
shown to be the final cause of the act of defining as well as the definition's effect, 137 i.e. as
itself existing for the sake of the definiendum. Hence in demonstrative terms the definition
of thunder ("thunder is a noise occurring in cloud due to the squelching of fire") can be
analyzed this way: cloud is a moisture in which fire is squelched; in every kind of moisture
in which fire is squelched, noise occurs. Therefore noise occurs in clouds. Further, every
noise which occurs in clouds is thunder; therefore thunder occurs in clouds. In this way the
three terms have become elements of two demonstrations, the minor term of both of which,
cloud, is die subject of the three premises. 138

The principle and the conclusion of the demonstration have thus been inverted, and the
definiendum, thunder, which is predicated of the last subject, now becomes die subject of
135 "The conclusion is a final, perfecting cause of the syllogism that concerns some question and
some definiendumBahiyat, p.291.
136Bahiyat, pp.292-3 and iSarat, pp.139-40; cp. Meta. VII,9:1034a3I-33.
137c Burhan, p.290, n.4.
138Let us put this syllogistically:
Syllogism 1:
Minor premise: Cloud is a moisture in which fire is squelched
Maior premise: Every moisture in which fire is squelched contains the occurrence of noise
Conclusion: [Therefore] cloud contains die occurrence of noise
Syllogism 2:
Minor premise: Cloud contains the occurrence of noise
Major premise: Every occurrence of noise contained in cloud is thunder
Conclusion: [Therefore] cloud contains thunder

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the definition's

p re m is e .

139 ]q 0ther words, the perfection of the first demonstrative

syllogism serves first as the conclusion of that syllogism, and then as the principle of the
second syllogism, all within a single definition. 140

Avicenna's other examplethe definition of a

n g e r ^ l

js also taken from Aristotle, this

time from the De Anima; 142 it is defined as a boiling of the heart's blood due to the desire
for revenge. Its perfection in the conclusion is the boiling of the heart's blood; but once one
has so defined anger, one must start with the boiling of the heart's blood and follow it with
the cause, namely the desire for revenge. So the demonstration is constructed thus: "Fulan
(So-and-so) desires revenge, and in everyone who desires revenge the heart's blood boils."
In this way one begins with the desire for revenge and ends with the boiling of the heart's
blood. 143

Thus the conclusion of the first syllogism becomes the minor premise, or principle, of the
second. Hence in both examples the inversion, or reciprocity, of the principle and
conclusion of the demonstrations involved in definition, is analogous to the causal
inversion that takes place between efficient and final causes, depending upon whether one
views the process as ontological (taking existence as its ground) or logical (taking reity as
its ground). In some ways, then, epistemology serves once again as the model for ontology:

m Burhaa, p.290.
140cp. DaaiS-nama [Maofiq], pp.83-84,147.
141a/-gadab: Burhan, p.291.
i42DA. I,l:403a26-b3.
143 Let us put this syllogistically as well:
Syllogism 1:
Minor premise: Fulan is one who desires revenge
Maior premise: Whoever desires revenge is possessed of boiling heart-blood
Conclusion: [Therefore] Fulan is possessed of boiling heart-blood
Syllogism 2:
Minor premise: Fulan is possessed of boiling heart-blood
Maior premise: Fverv boiling of heart-blood is anger
Conclusion: [Therefore] Fulan is possessed of anger

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39
"The effect becomes a cause of the existence of the cause because the premises
dispose the soul to receive the conclusion." I 4 4
Aristotle implies this kind of parallelism in Metaphysics VU,9, when he says:
"Therefore as essence is the starting-point (arkbe) of everything in syllogisms
(because syllogisms start with the 'what' of the thing), so too generation proceeds
from i t "145
In a separate discussion of causal reciprocity in the K. al-Jadal, Avicenna brings up the
concept of ma'lya, so often mistranslated as mere simultaneity, but really implying a wider
"coexistence." 146 Again Avicenna uses anger as an example, but this time proposes a
different definition: one can say that anger, is, by definition, anxiety coexisting with
suspicion of teasing. I4? Suspicion of teasing, although not an intrinsic part of anger, is the
state at which anxiety is transformed into anger; thus suspicion of teasing causes both the
anger (as an extrinsic end) and the anxiety (as an intrinsic perfection). 14&Avicennas point
is that causal elements such as principles and ends (which are not, properly speaking, parts
of the thing itself) also interact reciprocally in definitions. We shall examine causal
reciprocity further in Sections 1.4 and 4.1.

Additionally, many principles can share a common end, and many ends can share a
common principle; but the fact that many differently-termed things can possess a single
name does not come about merely through the commonality of the middle term^4^ but
144Mubabatat, p.l50(139).
145Meta. VII,9:1034a31-33/Treddenick, Metaphysics I-IX, p.351.
14<>It is "clear that this ma'lya cm apply to any given thing according to location and time, and
hence by analogy to anything else:" Jadal, p.288; cp. Mubaftatat, pp.l50(139), 175(276).
The notion of malya will be explored fully in Section 4.1.
147gamm...tawahhum al-istihfaf. Jadal, p.28S.
148Similarly (Avicenna also says) archery is, by definition, shooting an arrow coexisting with
hitting a target; hitting the target is not a part of archery, however, but rather an end extrinsic
to it
14^al-iStirak. ju d a l, p. 116. i.e. the fact that the middle term, sometimes called al-badd almuStarak, is shared by both the major and minor terms; cp. wa-hada '1-ljadd al-muStarak
yusamma '1-ljadd al-awsat: al-Hiwarizml, Mafadlf al-eulam, p. 171/Rescher, "Logic chapter," p.70. cf. L Madkour, L'Organon d'Aristote dans ie monde arabc (Paris: 1934),
p.196, n.6; p.297. But for a caveat about Madkour's understanding of Avicenna's logic, cf.
N. Rescher, "Avicenna on the logic of 'conditional' prepositions," in his Studies in the
History ofArabic Logic (Pittsburgh: 1963), p.76, ml.

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40
rather by way of a kind of ambiguity. 150 This is because each one of the terms which has a
common end has in common with die other terms die fact that each possesses an individual
relation to the single end; alternatively, terms which are themselves ends possess individual
relations to a single given thing. An example is the fact that medicine is defined as the
knowledge of preserving and restituting healthy things; healthy things have in common the
use of the word "healthy," and share, moreover, the sense that they are all related to the
single end, namely health.

Another illustration of causal reciprocity in logic, and a more precise parallel to the relation
of the efficient and final causes, is Avicenna's idea that the apprehension and assent
involved in logical intellection somehow cause each other. 151 Avicenna defines
apprehension as the process by which one specifies a single thing from amongst various
essential characteristics, so that one either comprehends the perfection of the reality of its
e x iste n c e

1^2 (to the extent that when none of its essential meanings are separate from i t ,

there is an intelligible form in the mind absolutely parallel to its actually existing form), or
one receives only a portion of its reality without its perfection. In other words,
apprehension is the principle of assent, and assent the perfection of apprehension. Indeed,
Avicenna's division between "why" and "is" questions, on the one hand, and "what" and
"which" questions on the other, corresponds to his division between assent and
apprehension (which in turn corresponds to the division between extrinsic and intrinsic
causes). 153 The middle term, as stated in the previous section, can serve both as a cause in

150ai-taSklk: Jadal, p. 116.


151 apprehension-aZ-ta^awwur; assent- al-tadiq. DaniS-nama [Mantiq], p. 140; Burhan, p.52;
and Madhal, p. 17. For more on these two terms, cf. A. Sabra, "Avicenna on the subject
matter of logic," in Journal o f Philosophy LXXVD/11 (1980), pp.757-62, and J. al-Yasln,
al-Manfiq al-Slnawl (Beirut: 1983), pp.7,23,82.
152bunal haqlqa wujadihi: Burhan, p.52; cp. kamal haqlqatiha: M. al-HaJlb andcA. al-Qatlan,
eds., Manfiq al-mairiqlyln (Cairo: 1910), p. 16; kamal fraqlqatihi: Commentary on Meta,
lambda, p.27; and al-kamalat al-haqlqlya: Mubafratat, p.l97(352).
153cf. DaniS-nama [Manfiq], pp.5-10,59,136,144,156, and Taeliqat, p.20.

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the syllogism and as a cause of the thing in itself; the partaking of both logical and
ontological perfection by the assented thing therefore connects the two aspects as w

e ll.

154

Causes may also serve in a logically complementary way. This is important because of the
confusion that arises when one takes the final cause, as Aristotle suggests, to be not only an
object of motion but somehow involved with die actualization of the form. 155 \y e must
turn therefore to distinguishing form from end, and examine how they complement each
other causally.

In order to avoid falling into the trap of regarding the final cause as being nothing more
than a mode of the formal cause, 156 Avicenna, while admitting that the actualized form can
be seen as an end in itself, carefully distinguishes two types of ends: one is an end which is
identical in species to form (and hence agent) in natural things; the other an end which is
not form in natural things and thus extrinsic to a particular natural act or process. An
example of the former is the way that a man's efficient cause is a given human (namely his
father) and his formal cause is his humanity; this essential form of humanity is the final
cause of the efficient cause. An example of the latter is the end contained in the function of
molars to grind food: it is both an end deriving from a higher natural principle, namely
divine design or Providence, as well as a particular end attained through the actual use of a
particular set of molars.

Thus to Avicenna natural ends can be either an end qua formal actualization, that is to say a
terminus of a motion and the perfection of a natural mover, like the actual use of the molars;
or an end above and beyond formation and actualization, where the specific form is not the
154Burhan, p.52; cp- A.Po. I,13:78a23-b31 andn,8:93al-b20.
155c Meta. Vm,3:1044a36-bl.
156As many have accused Aristotle of doing: e.g. J. Owens, "Teleology of Nature in Aristotle," in
J.R. Catan, ed., Aristotle: The Collected Papers o f Joseph Owens (Albany: 1981); pp.136141.

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42
primary intention of the particular generating motion, but is instead like grinding perse,
which is an end of an agent higher than nature. 157 Jq ontological terms, the effect's
existence is a consequence of both the form and die end; while Ihe form is co-temporal with
the effect and the end is sometimes temporally posterior to it, both are causally prior
(aqdam bi'l-eilliya) to i t In natural phenomena, form is a necessary consequent o f matter;
hence the effect and the end come to exist through the form's existence only indirectly. 158

In other words, the form cannot properly be an end in itself, because form is tied
necessarily to matter; the final cause, however, when split into perfection and end, can serve
as both intrinsic actualization and extrinsic goal without being necessitated by matter. The
model Avicenna uses most clearly in this regard is the process of intellection, which
involves the perfection of an immaterial substance: the final cause of intellection is both an
extrinsic end, namely the agent intellect qua thesaurus of intelligible universals, and an
intrinsic perfection, namely the actual intellection of those intelligibles, Hence in Avicenna
formal actualization is not the sum of but merely a type of finality. We shall return to this
subject throughout the dissertation.

Avicenna also seems to be drawing a further parallel: just as there is a necessary implication
between form and matter, so there is a necessary implication between agent and end; that is
to say, the existence of an agent even in a chance event necessarily implies the existence of
an end, even if it is an unfulfilled or accidental end. Put another way, an agent necessarily
implies existence: where there is existence, there are varying degrees of existential
perfection, and although that existence may never be perfectly fulfilled, the perfection qua
formal actualization still serves as a cause, however hampered or unsuccessful. How

157Burhan, p. 182; in addition, whereas form and matter may not be far removed from artifice, end
and agent may be: Burhan, p. 183.
158Burhan, p.297.

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43
Avicenna derived this implication between the efficient causes necessity and the final
causes apparent contingency, is the subject of the next section.

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44

PERFECTION AND NECESSITY

1.4

In Section 1.2 we saw how Avicenna came to distinguish between the material and efficient
causes used in induction, and the formal and final causes used in deduction. Through this
distinction Avicenna was able to makes sense of Aristotle's division of explanations in his
scientific works (and especially in his biology), between those involving necessity and
those involving finality. Thus in Aristotle's causal scheme the question "why is this thing
A?" may be answered by stating both that; 1) "given material and efficient causes XYZ, it
is necessary that it be A;" (material/efficient necessitation) and 2) "it is A in order that it
perfect itself by fulfilling the formal requirements of being an A" (final/formal
actualization).

In Section 1.3 we saw how Avicenna maintained that the causal interplay between the terms
and premises of definitions and demonstrative syllogisms reflected the ontological
reciprocity between efficient and final causes (and complementarity between formal and
final causes) that obtains in the real world. That a philosopher should not only take into
account both necessitating and actualizing

e x p la n a tio n s ^

(served respectively by the

efficient and final causes), but view the two as at least complementary (if not reflexive), is a
cornerstone of Avicennas theory of final causality. However Avicenna's notion of
necessity differs from Aristotle's in several crucial respects. The aim of the present section
is 1) to trace the intellectual provenance of Avicennas notions of perfection and necessity,
As Aristotle implies: tis ova ho pbusikos toatOa? poteion ho peri tea hulen, too de logon
agaooa, e ho peri ton logon monon? e mallon ho ex amphoin...: DA. 1,1:403b7-9. cp. P.A.
I,l:640a24-b4.

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45
and 2) to describe how the logical scheme he created from perfection, accidental ends, and
hypothetical necessity, served as a kind of mechanistic teleology.

Where did Avicennas concept of logical perfection come from? One possibility is that
perfection as a type of end derives from Avicennas reading of Aristotle's Prior Analytics,
and especially the section on perfect and imperfect

s y llo g is m s ;

160 Avicenna's perfect

syllogism, the qiyas kamil, certainly seems to follow Aristotle's lead. Avicenna gives
examples of the four types of perfect s y l l o g i s m

s,

161 a n d then discusses "the most perfect

among the combinations." 162 He says about one example that "the reasoning in this case is
evident and the syllogism is

p e r f e c t , "163

and about another that "this is not a perfect

syllogism;" Avicenna also remarks that "there is no need to remind you again, after the long
discussion we had before, that if the connective premise expresses chance connection, then
the conclusion of the above mood will not necessarily follow;" the implication is that if
chance is a part of a syllogism, the syllogism may be accidentally, but not essentially
p e rfe c t.

164 Avicenna also discusses perfect and imperfect connection, as well as

disjunction. 165
160a.Pt. I,4:25b32-26b33; cf. I. Lukasiewicz, Aristotle's Syllogistic (Oxford: 1951), pp.44-5.
161 from Qiyas, pp.295-6; cf. Sbehaby's translation in Propositional Logic, pp.91-2 [die following
translations from the Qiyas are Shehaby's unless noted]. The four types of perfect syllogisms
are those moods of die first figure later labeled Barbara, Celarent, Darii, and Ferro; cf.
Lukasiewicz, p.45, n.l, referring to delon de kai hoti pantes hoi en auto sullogismoi
teleioi eisi: A.Pr. I,4:26b29.
162 wa-hiya af<Jal qiyasat hada 1-babf. Qiyas, p.344/Shehaby, p. 146.
163 wa-dalika 'l-3amr bayyin wa'l-qiyas fihi kamil: Qiyas, p.391/Shehaby p. 185.
164 Qjyas, p.395/Shehaby, p. 188. cp. Avicenna's statement that the premises must be essential if
the conclusion is to follow necessarily: DaniS-nama [ManfiqJ, p. 147. Shehaby later says
"For the perfect 'teleios' syllogism, as Aristode calls it, to which imperfect ones are reduced,
the word Avicenna uses is kamil. This word also occurs in the context of his discussion of
conjunctive conditional syllogisms as well as in his discussion of the exceptive syllogism;"
Shehaby, p.276, n.8. cp. Lukasiewicz, Syllogistic, pp.43*7.
165al-itti$al minhu tamm, wa-minhu gayr tamm, wa-ka-dalika al-cinad minhu tamm, waminhu gayr tamm: Qiyas, pp.232-3/Shehaby, p.36. Farabi, on the other hand, regarded
"perfection" in a more limited logical role: an induction, for example, may be called perfect if
the empirical data involved have been drawn from every possible source; if the data are drawn
from most rather than all sources, then it must be called imperfect cf. tamm...gayr tamm in
Farabi's K. al-qiyas al-saglr: M. TUrker, "FarabTnin bazi mantik eserleri," in Ankara
Universitesi Dil ve Tarih-Cografya XW3-4 (1958), p.265; translated by N. Rescher in his
Al-Farabl's Short Commentary on Aristotle's Prior Analytics (Pittsburgh: 1963), p.90. (In

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46

In these passages we can see the first traces of Avicennas extension of the scope of logical
perfection: previously, perfection referred primarily to a syllogisms being complete and
hence sound and verifiable, whereas in the Qiyas and more acutely in the Burhan Avicenna
begins to describe a syllogism in which that perfection is taken ontologically, as a final
cause of the existence of the demonstration itself. In other words, just as a syllogism is
perfect when it is complete and wholly valid, so the elements defined in the syllogism are
perfect when they are wholly real. In this way Avicenna is making another attempt to
bridge logical truth and ontological reality, as was first mentioned above. 166 We shall
explore this bridge further in Section 1.5.

Another possible source of Avicennas notion of perfection is his attempt to discover the
complete cause of a p h e n o m

e n o n .

*67 it seems that Avicenna believed that much of the

confusion surrounding the connection between Aristotles logic-causes and his naturecauses derived from Aristotles hesitation about applying all four causes to a single
phenomenon; indeed, in the entire Aristotelian corpus, only one proper example is given of
the four causes cooperating

in d iv id u a lly .

168 Also, as stated in Section 1.1, Avicenna

differentiated, like Aristotle, between the causation involved in natural science and that
this context, Avicenna uses the terms "certain" and "necessary" to describe an induction from
every possible particular: DaniS-nama [Manfiq], pp.92-93.) For Farabis similar use of
perfection concerning disjunctive statements, cf. imma tamm alcinad wa-imma naqi$ altinad: Tflrker, p.259/Rescher, p.78 and tamm...gayr tamm: Tflrker, p.260/Rescher, p.80;
for his belief that an induction cannot give perfect certainty about the universal which
provides the basis for deductive, demonstrative reasoning, cf. al-yaqln al-tamm: Ttlrker,
p.282/Rescher, p. 123.
166cf, Qiyas, pp.233-4/Shehaby, p.37, where Avicenna discusses necessary implication (lvzom) in
existence and in thought; and Qiyas, p.237/Shehaby, pp.39-40, where he states that the "real
nature of the protasis and the apodosis makes it necessary that the posited antecedent must
imply die consequent in existence."
167cf. Bahiyat, pp.298-99. The interdependence of efficient and final causes is also brought out in
one of the senses of tamam, namely "he thing by the addition of which is effected the
completion or perfection of a thing:" Lane, p.316. In other words, the final cause completes
die causal account of a thing; that his is a secondary meaning in Avicenna's philosophy will
become clear as we proceed, however.
^68i.e. the definitions of sleep in Meta. VlH,3:1044a32-b20, and De Somno IIL458a26-33; in
Meta. m,2:996b6-8, Aristotle lists all four causes of a house, but without discussing their
interrelations.

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involved in subjects to which motion does not apply, such as mathematics. One reason why
Avicenna split final causes into ends and perfections is, I believe, just so he could give a
complete causal account of the subjects of all sciences, including those of mathematics;
according to the most common reading of Aristotle, mathematical subjects have no moving
or final causes, but to Avicenna they

d o .

169 Avicenna believed that at a certain level

mathematical entities were inseparable from matter; 170 and where there is matter and form,
there is an agent propelling the form to inhere in that matter and hence a perfection qua
formal actualization towards which the matter is impelled.

Indeed, in the section of the Hablyat devoted to perfection, Avicenna says that the primitive
sense of the term applied to mathematical objects: first numbers, then quantities, then
measurements, then qualities and potencies. Finally, Avicenna says, philosophers extended

169Aristotle states in A.Po. 1,13:79a6-10/Apostle, Posterior Analytics, p.21: The objects [of
such mathematical sciences], though different in substance, use forms. For mathematics is
concerned with forms, and these are not [predicable] in underlying subjects; for even if
geometrical objects are [predicable] of [other] subjects, still they are not investigated qua
being [predicable] of those subjects.
1^0Avicenna disagrees explicitly with Aristotle: For despite what has been said, not every agent is
a principle of motion: the existence of mathematical phenomena in their natures necessarily
[comes about] through something else. Their natures are inseparable from
matter...Dimensions, after all, are virtual matters approximating quantifiable shapes, and so
likewise are unities for number, and number for the properties of number. There exist in these
[pairings both] an active principle and a receptive principle, and wherever these two exist, so
there [also] exists a perfection: the perfection [in mathematics] is symmetry, definition, and
order, by means of which [mathematics] possesses the properties it does. [In other words] it
is simply for the sake of being what it is that [mathematics] exists: Bahiyat, p.299; cp.
DaniS-nama [Tab1ciyat], pp. 1-2 and Madhal, pp. 12-13/Marmura, Division, pp.243-4.
However Aristotle does imply 1) that mathematical objects cannot exist separately from
matter (Meta. Xm,2:1077bl3-14); 2) the notion of degrees of perfection, in a discussion
about the superiority of universality to particularity: the former to a higher degree achieves its
end and limit (telos gar kai peras); and 3) that properties in mathematics serve as final causes
(A.Po. I,24:85b27-86a3). In Meta. DI,2:996a22-bl, however, Aristotle appears to disallow
any final causation of mathematical entities; but in Meta. XHI,3, Aristotle implies that while
motion does not apply to mathematical objects, the beautiful, as opposed to the good, can be
said to be their final cause (because the good presupposes action and hence motion): "The
main forms of the beautiful are order, symmetry and definiteness...since these (I mean order
and definiteness, for instance) evidently are causes of a lot of things, clearly they are in a
sense speaking about this sort of cause toonamely the beautiful as cause:" Meta.
Xffl,3:1078a31-b5/J. Annas, trans. and comm., Aristotle's Metaphysics: Books Mu and
Nu (Oxford: 1976), p.96. Annas (Metaphysics, pp. 151-52) thinks that Aristotle has the idea
of "elegance" in mind here; Aristotle promises to expand on this topic elsewhere but never
does.

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the term's applicability to existence itself. 171 in the larger scheme of things, Avicenna
could make this extension because unlike Aristotle's his philosophy in general (and his
notion of causation in particular) placed greater emphasis on existence than on motion; thus
the final cause had two modes: one intrinsic and existential (i.e. the perfection), the other
extrinsic and motive (i.e. the e n d ) . 172 An ambiguous translation does provide Avicenna
with some Aristotelian background for this division: in De Anima 11,4, Aristotle says that
"that for the sake of which" may be split into that fo which (to hou-genitive) and that bv
which (to bo-dative). 173 These two terms were translated into Arabic as, respectively, labu
and Rbi, and Avicenna could conceivably, although incorrectly, have understood the
translated prepositional phrases as implying that Aristotle divided final causes into intrinsic
and extrinsic modes; Aristotle, however, uses the dative only to describe the beneficiary of
a teleological process. 174

This ontological as opposed to physical slant in Avicenna's philosophy can also be detected
in his notion of necessity. Unlike Aristotle's causal scheme, Avicenna's is not centered on a
physical distinction between material/efficient (or absolute) necessitation and formal/final
actualization, but on two ontological distinctions: a narrower division of finality into
hypothetical necessitation and perfection, and a broader division of necessity into essential
and accidental modes. Only God's existence is necessary by itself, and hence essential and
absolute; all other existence is both contingent by itself and necessary by another, and hence
ultimately accidental
171 Hablyat, pp. 186-88.
172One other possible source for Avicennas division of finality into perfections and ends is the
occasional Arabic translation of telos in Aristotles biological works as tamam wa-gaya,
rather than as just one or the other. But probably this formulaic division at most served
Avicenna as an Aristotelian green light for the formers doctrinal division. Avicenna himself
sometimes uses die two formulaically; cf. 11-tamam wa-gaya: Burhan, p.297. We will return
to Avicennas extension of final causation to cover ontological as well as physical objects in
Chapter 4, where the subject of metaphysics (Le. being qua being), the motionless science par
excellence, will be discussed.
173d a . U,4'A15b2-3/Fl nafs, p.37; cp. Pbys. II,2:194a35~36 and Meta. XH7:1072b3-4.
174For a similar division of heneka-objects into genitive and dative, cf. tinos and tini: Meta.
XD,7:1072b3-4.

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But what makes the necessity obtaining in sublunary causation hypothetical rather than
absolute? For even if we accept that our being necessitated is existential (i.e. our existence
is necessary because our existence is caused) rather than material (i.e. our formation is
necessary because our matter is disposed to receive a certain form), it is still absolute: if
causes X,Y,Z exist, effect A necessarily comes to exist The solution to this objection lies
in Avicenna's identification of his notion of existential contingency with Aristotle's notion
of potentiality, and the implied connection therefore between existential necessity and
actuality. 175 On a grand scale this is fairly clear; God's existence is necessary and hence
fully actual. But the existence of sublunary entities is also necessary once they have been
caused, regardless of whether that necessity is essential or accidental; and once actuality is
identified with necessity, necessity itself becomes a perfecting cause. Thus Avicenna can
view causal necessitation as both hypothetical (in order to exist necessarily, as an actualized
A, efficient causes X,Y,Z must necessarily also exist) and absolute (given die existence of
efficient causes X,Y,Z, the actualized effect A must also exist). And just as effects are
linked necessarily to causes, so final causes and efficient causes are linked necessarily; this
is because they are both cause and effect of each other, depending upon whether one views
the causation in terms of things (in which case reity is taken as the ground, and the final
cause causes the efficient cause) or in terms of existence (in which case existence is taken
as the ground, and the efficient cause causes the final cause). We shall explore this topic in
Section 4.1.

Avicennas notion of reciprocal necessitation derives, in part, from Posterior Analytics


11,11, in which Aristotle discusses the connection between efficient and final causes.
Aristotle says:
175cf. J.L. Teicher's discussion of this identification in his "Avicenna's place in Arabic
Philosophy," inG.M. Wickens, ed., Avicenna: Scientist and Philosopher (London: 1952),
pp.36,41.

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50
"In these examples the order of events is the reverse of what it is in the case of
efficient causes. There it is the middle term that must come first; but here it is the
minor term C, and the end or purpose comes last The same effect may obtain both for
a purpose and as a necessary consequence." 176
Barnes attacks Aristotles reasoning here by stating that
"Aristotle may have thought that efficient and final explanations were
complementary to one another in the sense that F efficiently explains G if and only
if G finally explains F. But it is evident that there may be efficient explanations
where no final explanations are appropriate; and it does not seem to be die case that
if a is F in order to be G, then his being F must bring about his being G.*77
By Avicennas reckoning, this is the wrong tack: first of all, what is being discussed here is
cause, not explanation; the two are related, but not

id e n tic a l.! 7 8

h a t

|s evident to

Avicenna is that efficient causes cannot exist without the coexistence of final causes. As
stated above, once causes and effects are linked necessarily, so efficient and final causes are
linked necessarily: efficient causes only exist (as efficient causes, that is) once an act
occurs; and once any act occurs, there is always, necessarily, an intrinsic perfection. It is in
this perfected state that a thing, event, or process is said to exist as such, regardless of
whether the perfection in question is essential or accidental to the act as a whole. Second of
all, in Avicenna's philosophical system (where causation is concerned primarily with
existence rather than motion and hence the relation between the causes is essential, not
temporal) efficient and final causes are always linked essentially and always coexist, i.e.
appear simultaneously, in explanations of phenomena. Thus efficient cause X is not
temporally prior to final cause qua effect A, nor is final cause A temporally prior to
efficient cause qua effect X; both necessarily occur simultaneously, and any priority or
posteriority assigned to either of diem thus depends upon which ground is taken. Barnes's

176A.Po.n,Il:94b23-27.

! 77 Barnes, Posterior Analytics, pp.220-1.


!7Balme (whom Barnes cites here as authoritative) elsewhere takes Nussbaum to task for just
such an identification: Again, aitia does not mean reason or explanation (both of which
are closer to logos), but cause. The weaker modem expressions lend themselves to the
notion that Aristotles four causes are alternative descriptions of the same factors; but that is
not so: D. Balme, review of M. Nussbaum, ed., trans., and comm., Aristotles De Motu
Animalium (Princeton: 1978), in Journal o f the History o f Philosophy X X /1 (1982),
pp.93,95.

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SI

criticism of Aristotle's adoption of hypothetical necessity to solve the dilemma of


complementarity does not apply to Avicenna:
In Phys. and P.A. Aristotle looked more closely at the problem of conjoint
teleological and necessitating explanation; and he answered the sort of difficulty we
have just outlined by introducing the notion of hypothetical necessity. This is a
major retreat; for a condition is hypothetically necessary if it is a necessary
condition, not if it is a necessitating condition; and reconciling hypothetical
necessity with teleology does not reconcile necessitation and teleology.! '9
It is exactly this reconciliation of necessitation and teleology that Avicenna has achieved;
his is a mechanistic teleology based on existential rather than material causation.

What is the relevance of all this metaphysics to logic? Avicenna's independence from
Aristotle concerning necessity applies to logic as well: Aristotle's attempt to give logical
entities some kind of ontological status rested on his identification of the terms and
premises of a syllogism with the material cause; hence the necessity involved in the causal
relations between these terms and premises was material:
"a syllogism is an argument in which, certain things being laid down, something else
follows of necessity from the things laid down, because of the things laid down." 1&0
But Avicenna, as we discussed in Section 1.3, thought that logical entities had their own
ontological status as final and efficient causes. Thus the necessity obtaining between them
is both absolute (given the existence of terms and premises X,Y,Z, conclusion A will
necessarily exist) and hypothetical (in order for conclusion A to exist, terms and premises
X,Y,Z must necessarily also exist).

Avicenna has therefore invented an explanatory scheme whereby finality, absolute


necessity and hypothetical necessity can all be seen to operate together, and with the same

! 79Barnes, Posterior Analytics, pp.221-2; cp. Irwin, First Principles, pp. 109-12.
180 Top. I,l:100a25-7; translated in Barnes, Posterior Analytics, pp.221-2; cp. Aristotle's
statement in Meta. V,5: "Again, demonstration is among the things that are necessary,
because it is not possible for a thing to be otherwise if it has not been demonstrated baldly;
the cause of this is the initial [premises]; if the things from which the reasoning proceeds are
incapable of being otherwise:" Meta. V,5:1015b6-9/Kirwan, Metaphysics, p.35.

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52
relations obtaining in a syllogism as in a natural phenomenon. In order to apply this
invention to natural phenomena, Avicenna introduces the notion of perfecting material
dispositions; he illustrates this using the example of molars: when the matter from which
molars are made broad is produced through the perfection of its disposition, the form is
necessarily implied. And, as stated above, their being created broad can be said to be due
both to this perfection and to an extrinsic, functional end, namely grinding food, just as the
creation of the canines' sharpness can also be said to be due both to a perfection and to an
extrinsic, functional end, namely cutting food. 181

Although the example given here may be traced to Aristotle's biological, as opposed to
logical, works (about which we shall comment further in Chapter 3), once again Avicenna
extends Aristotle's teleology by splitting the final cause into a perfection and an end. As
mentioned briefly above, the most striking exposition of the difference between these two
types of final cause can be found in the theory of intellection expounded in Avicennas
Kitab al-nafs and the concomitant notion of actual intellect; that is, an intellect which is
fully disposed to receive intelligibles from the active intellect qua thesaurus of universals is
perfect in its disposition; but only when it is actually engaged in contemplating those
universals (the activity which is the intellect's ultimate end) can the intellect itself, as
opposed to the intellect's disposition, be said to be perfected. 182 in other words, perfection
is the actual achievement of the essential end. Avicenna puts it this way in Kitab al-jadah
"That whose existence comes under the heading of generation (takawwun) has an
end in its mere existence, whereas for that whose existence is already established, the
end only occurs once it is perfected as well as [its existence] established." 183
In the example mentioned above, therefore, the molars attain formal perfection when the
disposition of their matter to grow to broadness is fulfilled; their existential perfection

181 cf. Ii-tamam wa gayac Burhan, p.297.


182This topic will be explored in Section 2.3.
183Jadal, p.273.

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occurs when they are engaged in the activity which is the end of their existence, namely
grinding down food.

However, a disposition is not a cause per ser. its occurrence in a specific matter does not
necessitate die perfection of that disposition. This is because the perfection of a matter's
disposition comes about only through the modon of a moving, or efficient cause. Given that
a moving cause is necessarily bound with time, it causes the form to inhere in the matter
only at a particular moment; if the timing is off, says Avicenna, the form will not inhere
properly and the matter will not be perfected. This is the case with artifacts, for the
inherence of form in them is not due in any necessary way to the disposition of die artifacts
matter, but is rather due to a distinct, extrinsic efficient cause driving the matter towards the
form. But when an agent is natural, as opposed to artificial, and exists within the thing's
substance as a nature and acts functionally and essentially, then it is impossible for its act
not to issue from it once the moment arrives for its disposition to be perfected. 184

In other words, as far as natural phenomena are concerned, once the matter's disposition is
perfected through its nature causing the form to inhere in it, the act must occur; this is one
illustration of how material necessity is compatible with final causation. Avicenna's
conception of causal necessity therefore takes into account not just the efficient causes (as
Kogan implies in his "plenitude/overflow" model of Avicennian emanation th e o ry ^ ) but
also the final causes of the process by which the neoplatonisfs existential cup runneth over.

Indeed, Avicenna makes clear that there are two types of principle-of-motion causes: one is
the sort whose appearance, along with the appearance of a suitable receptor, necessitates the
appearance of the effect, while the other does not. When a collection of natural forces meets

184Burhan, p.298.
185b. Kogan, Averrocs and the Metaphysics o f Causation (Albany: 1985), pp.55-8.

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54
together in some passive object, an act necessarily follows; a union of artificial, voluntary,
and desiderative forces with a passive potency, however, does not necessarily entail an
action or passion. 186 This echoes Aristotle's statement in Metaphysics IX,5:
"Since some things can set up processes rationally and have rational potencies, while
others are irrational and have irrational potencies; and since the former class can only
belong to a living thing, whereas the latter can belong both to living and to inanimate
things: it follows that as for potencies of the latter kind, when the agent and the patient
meet in accordance with the potency in question, the one must act and the other be
acted upon; but in the former kind of potency this is not necessary." 18?
These differing notions of necessity and finality are important in that they give subtlety to
Avicenna's conception of the necessary connection between cause and effect, a conception
which too often has been approached from the wrong direction, i.e., from Averroes's and
al-Gazali's often misrepresenting critiques. 188 fo r what bothers al-Gazali is the idea of a
necessary effect; no non-causal existence can be anything but contingent, according to the
AS'ari system of kasb, or causal a c q u i s i t i o n . 189 in Avicenna's system the effect can really
be viewed as a cause as well as an effect: to expand on al-Gazali's example, just as the fire
causes the cotton to blacken in an absolutely necessary sense, the cotton's blackening
causes the fire to be perfected in a hypothetically necessary sense; in other words, in order
for the fire to fulfill one of the essential or accidental aspects of what it is to be fire (namely
to bum), the cotton's blackening must necessarily also exist. Thus the final cause, although
essentially anterior to its effect (as well as to the other causes), is temporally coincident with
it (if indeed it ever appears, for an act may be undertaken without the agents attaining the
end for whose sake the act originated). That is to say, the end, with regard to it being a

Burhan, p.298; cp. the requirements of action with regard to causes in the human body: 1.) a
certain active potency; 2.) a certain predispositional potency; 3.) sufficient time of contact
between the two: Qantm, p.l 12.
187Meta. IX,S:1048a3-8/Treddenick, Metaphysics I-1X, p.443.
188 "Most of the modem scholarly efforts to pick apart Ibn Slna's synthesis are merely echoes of
GhazaH's spirited polemic against it They are no less infected with GhazaH's bias, even when
they do not share his animus:" L. Goodman, Avicenna (London: 1992), p.88. For al-Gazali's
famous attack on necessary connection in Section 17 of his Tahafut, cf. M. Bouyges, ed.,
Tahafut al-falasifa (Beirut: 1927), pp.276-296; cp. Burhan, p.85.
189For a defense of al-GazaH against charges of occasionalism, cf. L. Goodman, "Did al-Ghazall
deny causality?," Stadia Islanuca 47 (1978), pp.83-120 passim.

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55
concrete existent, sometimes exists potentially, not actually; an example of this is the fact
that "lying down on a bed" is necessarily coexistent with "the bed." 190

In terms of scientific knowledge, however, a causal account involving just absolute


necessity will not suffice for a demonstrative syllogism. Avicenna says that if a cause is not
essential, but becomes a cause only given certain conditions, or is distant as opposed to
proximate, its explanatory value in the answer to the question "why does the thing exist?"
will not be properly causal. What Avicenna is trying to do here is to flip Aristotelian
necessity on its head: absolute necessity is now accidental, and hypothetical necessity now
essential). In our discussion in Section 1.2, we determined that the absolutely necessary
cause alone need not provide more than an accidental explanation of a given phenomenon:
the meteor flying overhead at the time of the eclipse has absolute, material necessity, but
this absolute necessity is accidental to the thing, event, or process in question, namely
eclipse. Avicenna's point seems to be that if we rely solely upon absolutely necessary
material causes to explain things, we will drown in a sea of necessary but inessential trivia
The answer to a "why?" question is grounded, rather, by mentioning the material and
efficient causes needed to achieve an essential end, i.e. hypothetically necessary causes; it is
through its very essentiality that the end becomes a cause. 191

Therefore, simply possessing an efficient causal essence is not sufficient to exist as a cause;
the would-be cause must first be a potential cause before it becomes, through its causal
reciprocity with the final cause, an actual efficient cause. An example culled from
Avicenna's medical practice is the cooling power of opium; 192 this potential does not
remain effective for an unlimited time, and only becomes actual when it is itself acted upon

190Burhan, p.298.
191Burhan, p.299.
192in the Canon opium and pepper are also given as examples of essential causes; cf. ka'1-filfil
yusahhin wa'I-afyon yubanid. Qanon, p. 112.

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by a human's innate heat In much the same way, a demonstrative syllogism is perfect only
when it supplies a specific, proximate, essential, and actual cause. 193

Before going to our last section, however, we must briefly treat the issue of chance, a topic
we shall discuss in depth in Section 2.5. This is a thorny problem for proponents of final
causality, for a chance event would seem by definition to be purposeless and hence not
subject to final causation. But Avicenna says that whenever there is an efficient principle, a
subject, and a form (whether they be in natural, artificial, or intellectual things), an end must
also exist for whose sake the existent or event occurs. However, an end need not always
coincide with an agent in the same way that form coincides with matter; due to its causal
nature, end, unlike form, does not necessarily continue existentiating for the duration of the
effect's existence. 194 The end may in fact still exist, but it is not an end in the same sense as
it was when the act itself was taking place. When, therefore, the efficient and material
causes are coincidental (as in a chance e v e n t ) , 195 there is no requirement that there also
exist any essential end for whose sake the coincidence occurred; only an accidental end is
necessitated. As Aristotle states in Topics m ,l, just as the essential cause of good is
preferable to the accidental cause of good, so the essential cause of evil is more to be
avoided than the accidental cause of evil; an example of an accidental cause of evil is
c h a n c e .

196 Thus even if the act appears in fact to be led towards a given end, the relevant

principles still apply to that end only accidentally, and hence the principles possess only
accidental as opposed to essential ends. 197

193 tamman: Burhan, p.299.


194c Burhan, p.302, n.7.
19$ittifaqlyan: Burhan, p.302.
196 jop ni,l:116bl-8. For a similar claim made by Avicenna, cf. Bahiyat, p.289.
197qp, al-Farabl's discussion of accidental and essential causes vis-a-vis chance and coincidence in
his Sarh al-eibara: F. Zimmermann, trans., Al-Farabi's Commentary and Short Treatise on
Aristotle's De Interpretation (London: 19? 1), 86,11.23ff.

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In the example mentioned in Section 1.1, a man goes for a walk looking for his debtor and
stumbles across some treasure. The walking in this case is only an accidental efficient cause
of stumbling across the treasure, just as stumbling across treasure is only an accidental end
of the walking. The essential cause, Avicenna says (using Aristotle's formula), is only
something always or for the most part; as stated in Section 1.2, one ought to try to steer
clear of those principles and ends which are accidental or coincidental, for they cannot be
used in a description, a demonstration, or a d e f i n i t i o n . 1^8

198^alimahu; Burhan, p.302. cp. Avicenna's statement in the K. al-Hifaba that "luck is amongst
die false causes upon which one cannot rely...either concerning natural things...or voluntary
things;" from al-Sifa/Mantiq (8): al-Hifaba, M.S. Salim, ed. (Cairo: 1954), pp.69-71
[henceforth: Hitaba].

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58

THE FINAL CAUSE OF DEFINITION

1.5

By defining definition not simply as a "succinct statement, distinguishing the matter at


hands essence," but as a "statement indicating a thing's quiddity," Avicenna both follows
Aristotle explicitly and attacks the central problem of our chapter, the relation between logic
and o n t o l o g y . 1^9 What is the difference between a quiddity and an essence? In one sense
the quiddity is, literally, the what-ness as opposed to is-ness (ianlya) and why-ness
(limzrtya) abstracted from the demonstrative questions discussed in Section 1.2. Quiddity
corresponds to logical essence insofar as essence is identified with form, as is the case in
Posterior Analytics II, 11.200 Viewed in its formal sense, therefore, Avicenna can say that
the perfection of a thing's reality comes about through the quiddity because the thing is
what it is through the quiddity; thus it is through the quiddity that the occurrence or
existential production of the thing's essence is perfected.201 Elsewhere the quiddity is

199For other, almost identical definitions of definition, cf. Burhan, p.52; Jadal, pp.57,318-9;
iSarat, p. 17, and Kitab al-hudnd, in A.-M. Goichon, ed. and trans., Avicenne: Livre des
Definitions (Cairo: 1963), p. 10. [henceforth: Hudad] These repeat verbatim one of Aristotles
definitions of definition: esti dhoros men logos bo to ti tn einai semainon: Top.
I,5:101b38-102al/Badawi, Tnpika, p.494; cp. A.Po. II,10:93b29-30, where one of the four
types of definitions listed there is translated simply as qawl ma huwa: Badawl, Tahtilat
tandya, p.449. For Lukasiewiczs discussion of the mistake of confusing the two senses of
"horos" (definition and term), cf. Syllogistic, p.3, n.6. There is an analogous problem with
badd, which can mean both definition and term, but which has the same basic meaning as
horos, namely limit or extremity.
200cp. wa-minha [i.e. min ummahat al-matalibJ "ma huwa '1-Say3?," wa-qad yuflabu bihi
mahlya dat al-Say3 wa-qad yuflabu bihi mahlya mafbam al-ism al-mustaemal: ISarat,
p .8 5 .

201 Burhan, p.52. For another account of quiddity in the context of "the perfection of their (i.e.
animals') common reality," cf. kamal baqiqatiha al-muStarika: Manfiq al-maSriqlyln,
pp. 16-7.

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59
simply identified as "the perfection of [the definiendum's] essential

e x is te n c e .2 0 2

The

teleological roles of definition and quiddity will be the main focus of this section.

Avicenna's application of quiddity to definition follows the Arabic translations of the


Posterior Analytics and the Topics which tie the two concepts together.203 As a result of
Aba BiSrs translation of die Greek and his use of the new term mahlya, 2 0 4 Avicenna was
able to distinguish between essence and quiddity in a way that was left opaque by Aristotle.
On the one hand Aristotle believed that one knew something most of all when one knew its
quiddity (in the Arabic version, *alimna ma h u w

a );2 0 5

on the other, Aristotle wanted to

be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the Platonists and assign causation to Forms which
are not intrinsic to their o b j e c t s . 206 Definition and quiddity are useful to Aristotle precisely
because they are forms, not Forms, i.e. they exist in rather than outside their objects. Where
Avicenna differs from Aristode is that for Avicenna, the intrinsic essence was the thing's
perfection, not its form; we shall discuss this further in Sections 4 . 1 and 4 . 2 .

Avicenna thought there were three types of quiddity: 1) a logical quiddity qua universal,
which is contingent upon intellectual existence but not necessarily contrasted with any
22 Hudad, p. 10.
203Thus to ti en einai (and its variants) is translated as mahlya only four times, in the context of
distinguishing definition (al-hadd) from property (al-ha$$a): the former is a statement
"indicating the thing's quiddity" ( al-dall eala mahlya al-Say3), the latter one that does not;
cf. Top. I,5:101b38-102al/Badawi, Toplka, p.494; I,5:102a21/p.495; I,8:103bl0-ll/p.501;
and VII,5:154a30/p.721. Mostly to ti en einai (and its variants) is translated simply as ma
huwa, i.e. as the category "essence": cf. A.Po. t22:83a21/Badawl, Tahlllat tanlya, p.395;
I,22:83b5/p.396; I,22:84a26/p.400; II,13:97a25/p.468; II,13:97b2/p.469; and Top.
I,4:101b21/p.493; I,5:102a32-33/p.496; I,9:103b21,30,34/p.502; IV,l:120b21/p.575;
IV,2:122a5-6,12-19,21,32,36-38/pp.580-82; IV,6:128al4,19/pp.604-5; and VI,9:148a2/
p.679. It is also translated as ma huwa '1-Say3: A.Po. I,14:79a25,27,29/p.374; and Top.
I,4:10Ib22/p.493. And as ma 1-Say3: A.Po. I,22:82b37/p.393; and Top. I,9:103b246/p.502; VI,9:148al/p.679.
204According to Badawl ( Toplka, p.494, n.3), in the ms. above the translation of mahlya in the
Arabic Top. 101b38-102al, is written in red: fl'l-suryanl: fl nafs jawharihi. This would
seem to indicate that Abu BiSrs use of the new term mahlya was not preceded by Ishaq's use
of a similar Syriac word; the latter translated ho to ti en into Syriac simply as fl nafs
jawharihi ("in its very substance").
205Meta. VII,l:1028a36-37/Bouyges, Ma ba<d al-TabVa JT,p.753.
206cf. Meta. XHI,5:1079bl5-23 and 1079b36-1080al.

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60
particularity; 2) a metaphysical quiddity qua essence, of which concrete existence in the real
world is necessarily predicated; and 3) a quiddity qua quiddity, separate and isolated from
either type of existence, and hence neither contingent upon nor predicated of anything but
itself. 207

Avicenna states that while efficient causes are causes of existence, they cannot be causes of
quiddity. The causes of quiddity are material; namely the parts of the definition, be they
genera, differentiae, or parts of differentiae. Because of this the existential causes, that is to
say agents and ends, do not enter into definitions per se, but rather into manifestations
which subsist in concrete reality as loci for the definitions; were this not the case, and
agents and ends were to enter into definitions, then we would know the precise origination
and originator of every originated being, solely from its d e f i n i t i o n . 2 0 8 instead, the causes
of quiddity themselves enter into the definition only materially, i.e. only insofar as they are
the constituent parts of the thing's essence; certainty in scientific explanation comes about
only through knowledge of them, so they are applicable in d e m

o n s tr a tio n .2 0 9

^M adhal, p. 15; cp. DaniS-nama [Tabl'iyat], pp. 102,114; Samae tabll, p.34; Bahiyat,
pp.236,245; Ta'tiqat, pp.26-27,70,185; Mubahajat, pp.l30-35(43-58),222(425); Notes
on the De Anima, pp. 108-111. cf. Marmura's discussions of the Madhal passage in
"Division," pp.247-9; "Quiddity and universality in Avicenna," in P. Morewedge, ed.,
Neoplatonism and Islamic Thought (Albany: 1992), pp.84-6; and "Avicenna's chapter on
universals in the Isagoge of the Shifa3," in A. Welch and P. Cachia, eds., Islam: Past
Influence and Present Challenge (Edinburgh: 1979), p.36. It is also discussed by Sabra in
Subject matter, pp.751-2. Neither Marmura (who speaks of the "interchangeability" in
Avicenna of the terms essence, nature, and quiddity: "Quiddity and universality," pp.77,86)
nor Sabra (who makes no distinction between essence and quiddity, and admits to not being
concerned with the transmission of Greek terms into Arabic: "Subject matter," pp.750-1),
make die proper terminological distinctions here. However Marmura seems to appreciate die
ramifications when (citing Madhal, p.22, and Maqalat, pp. 143-4) he states: "But, Avicenna
argues, just as a quiddity that may exist in conception or in reality belongs to neither mode of
existence when considered in itself, the same is the case with logic. Thus, although logical
concepts exist in the mind, logic as such is not concerned with their existence in the mind. It
is concerned with them in themselves and with the relationships that obtain between them:"
"Avicenna's chapter," p.36.
208 Buihan, p.265.
209cf li-annaha muqawwima li-dat al-Say3: Burhan, p.267; cp. A.Po. 1,14:79a20-25.

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61
However, a definition may be perfected insofar as perfection is taken to describe the
definition's connection to the effect when the definiendum actually occurs. Thus a perfect
definition is one in which three things combine: 1) the definiendum; 2) the definition
which gives the definiendum's cause; and 3) the perfection of the act of defining, which
arises from giving the definiendum's cause, i.e. from mentioning the definiendum qua
effect Whereas the definiendum and the definition are equivalent in a way, the perfection
of the definition can only be an effect of the definition from which it derives its existence,
and which exists for the sake of the definiendum; hence the perfection is equivalent to the
definition and the definiendum. Thus definition is such that the causal relation of the
elements in a definition is basically reflexive; in other words, form, end, and agent
complement each other causally not only in the definition itself (as was discussed in Section
1.3), but in the very act of defining. Furthermore, all three things together form a kind of
material ground because a demonstration whose conclusion is the perfection of the
definition may be derived from them. 210

The importance of all this for demonstrative explanation goes even deeper, for Avicenna
has clarified the role of final causation in definition and quiddity, a subject left quite opaque
by Aristotle. The perfect definition is that from which there necessarily follow those causes
contained in whatever possesses causes of quiddity; the perfect definition makes these
causes attain their perfection by not excluding anything essential.211 The goal of definition
is therefore not simply the differentiation of one set of essentials (the sum of which makes
up the definiendum) from another set contained in the definiendum's contrary; rather, it is
a differentiation of the first set of essentials only in the sense that the definiendum
possesses no essential meaning apart from what the definition and all it implies
c o m p re h e n d

.2 12 Without this in mind, one cannot hope to indicate a definiendum 's

210Burhan, pp.289-90; cf. Burhan, p.290, n.4.


2 H jS u r J ia n f p .2 9 9 .

212cp. Meia. VII,10:1035b3-25.

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62
quiddity because the quiddity is not just one of its constituent elements or one of its
essentials, but rather the union of all of its essential meanings; hence someone who knows
some of them but not the others does not know the definiendum's essence

p e r f e c U y .2 1 3

Therefore die end of the act of definition is for a form parallel to the object's quiddity to be
produced in the mind by means of the quiddity's perfection, i.e. by means of a perfect
exemplar of the object Only through the perfection of the quiddity can one avoid assigning
two definitions to a single object, just as a single thing cannot possess two essences.^ ^

As mentioned above, existential causes do not enter into definitions per se; only those
causes of quiddity which are constituent parts of the definiendum 's essence can be
included in the definition. With the distinction between a thing's quiddity, or essential
whatness, and its conditionality, or existential i s - n e s s , 2 1 5 in mind, Avicenna may answer
the charge that by speaking of the definition as being known through the substance and
essence of the thing, he has made redundant causes that should be intrinsic to the definition.
Avicenna's response is that one does in fact take the thing's causes to be contained in its
definition because the thing's substance is dependent upon them (whether they are intrinsic
or extrinsic), and its relation to them is essential in terms of its substance; and even if one
happened to find among these definitional causes one that appeared to be extrinsic to the
thing's essence and substance, one cannot be certain it really is extrinsic because one cannot
always know every particular mode of the thing's substance.

Avicenna's main point, however, brings to mind a causal complementarity mentioned in


Section 1.1, one which combines an intrinsic, formal/material "what-ness" and an extrinsic,
213 cp. "When one has omitted any one of these differentiae one has not characterized the quiddity
of the thing. ..the true method (al-madhab al-ftaqq) [is the one which emphasizes the fact that]
the quiddity of the thing is perfected only through the perfection of the characteristics of the
thing's essence (mahlyat al-Say* innama tatimmu bi-kamal fifat datibi): Jadal, p.274:
214 Burhan, p.299.
21$inn1ya: Burhan, p.300. cp. Jadal, p.258: the inniya is the thing's reality, not its ipseity
(huwlya).

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63
efficient/final "is-ness." He says that a thing's definition, in terms of its quiddity, is
perfected through the thing's constituent parts and through whatever is not extrinsic to it; in
terms of its conditionality, a things definition is perfected through the remaining extrinsic
causes, such that its quiddity is apprehended as if it were an existent Through this process
one can verify whatever is existentially anterior to the quiddity; through that the thing's
existence is perfected. Then, by dividing finality into intrinsic perfection and extrinsic end,
Avicenna can see the thing's actual occurrence as arising because of its quiddity. Thus if
one wants to examine a quiddity while not taking into account its existential consequents
(even though a type of consequent existence is necessarily implied by quiddity, namely
intellectual, as opposed to concrete, existence^ 1&), then just the elements comprising the
definition qua quiddity will be sufficient^ 17

By assigning ontological value to logical entities, and by understanding quiddity as


functioning causally in much the same way that final causes do in the world of concrete
reality, Avicenna has found his nexus between language and existence. For just as the final
cause is existentially posterior but essentially anterior to the rest of the causes,218 so the
existence of the separate causes is anterior to the quiddity, while their essence is posterior to
it

Avicenna himself is aware of some problems that this emphasis on the perfection of
quiddity could bring about One objection he mentions is that analyzing quiddity only
etymologically, as the "what it is, is different from analyzing it philosophically, as "that by
which something is what it is, for the former gives no indication of the quiddity's
perfection; strictly speaking, therefore, quiddity, unlike essence, need not presuppose

216c Burhan, p.301, n.3.


217Burhan, pp.300-1.
2l*Ilah1yat, p.293.

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64
existential perfection.219 Avicenna says, however, that any use of genus alone (i.e. without
differentiae) to describe that by which something is what it is, is meaningless; the
distinction between the two statements is misleading, and the whole discussion a red
herring.220 Genus on its own does not indicate the quiddity of any single isolated
speciesS^l

In addition, end must always be distinguished from perfection when using the final cause to
define something, in other words when one defines a thing as an already perfected entity
rather than as an entity the attainment of whose end gives it a certain perfection. One
commits this error when, for example, one defines "orator" as one who possesses an
aptitude for persuasion in every subject, without any deficiency in one area, and when one
defines "doctor" as one who possesses an aptitude for curing diseases, without any
weakness in any branch of m

e d ic in e .2 2 2

indeed, in the world of generation and corruption

the end is usually unattained, but by bringing what they can to bear in each of their
respective fields, and thus fulfilling to greater and lesser degrees their definitional ends, the
orator and the doctor can be said to be perfecting their essential definitions.223

Unlike form and matter, what Avicenna calls the first efficient cause and the ultimate end of
natural phenomena is separate from natural existents; the efficient cause is so by essence
alone, while the ultimate end these existents possess is so in one sense by essence and in
another by d e f i n i t i o n . 2 2 4 Thus we see Avicenna once again attempting to outline a theory
whereby the final cause has both logical and ontological status; the sciences whose domain

2cf. S.H. Nasr, "Existence ( wujad) and quiddity (mahiyyah) in Islamic philosophy," in
International Philosophical Quarterly, XXSX/4 (1989), pp.415-16.
220Jadal, p.57.
221 Jadal, p.274; cp. TaeUqat, p.31.
222in Meta. V,16:1021bl4-17, Aristotle says the perfect (teleion) doctor possesses no deficiency
in his art
223Jadal, p.282.
224 cf. al-gaya al-qu$wa: Burhan, p. 182.

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65
is the act of logic, as it were, namely psychology and epistemology, will thereby focus on
the final cause qua object of intellection (specifically the quiddity and definition of the
thing), and consequently on how far the thing fulfills its quiddity and definition and thereby
perfects itself. But Avicenna recognizes that this alone will not suffice as an adequate
teleology, for ultimately all definitions are artificial constructs and have a problematic
ontological status. Therefore the essence of the thing must also serve as its final cause in the
world of existence: just as God's final cause is Himself (He desires Himself, and His
essence serves as His object of intellection), so we sublunary entities have essences which
serve as our existential ends. In other words, through existing not potentially but in act we
attempt to fulfill our essential ends, and thus perfect ourselves to greater and lesser degrees,
depending on our dispositions.

To take the case of man, specifically, the efficient cause, which applies mainly to natural
science, and which is thus concerned with motion and rest, is either another man, or a
sperm, or a potency and form contained in a sperm; his material cause is either the elements,
or humors, or organs; his formal cause is the soul, or the "he qua he" which is both a form
and a perfection; and his final, perfecting cause is that which assigns him an existence
which perfects his substance, his substance whose occurrence derives from principles
which themselves come about through the union of soul and body. Furthermore, the soul
remains in the body for the sake of happiness, a concomitant end inhering in a natural
b o d y .2 2 5

The perfections and ends of natural things will be the subject of the next two

chapters.

225 cf. kamak Burhan, p. 182.

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66

P h y s ic s 2

In this chapter we shall discuss the final cause's role in natural phenomena and processes.
Our main sources are the first four books of Avicenna's Tahiciyat ("Natural Things"): alSamac al-fabM (Physics), al-Sama3 wa'l-calam (Heaven and Earth), al-Kawn wa'lfa sa d (Generation and Corruption), and al-A P al w a'l-inficalat (A ctions and
Passions),226 and the Tabi'tyat of the DaniS-nama-yi Ala*1.

This chapter is divided into five sections. Section 2.1, "The definition of final cause: natures
and forms," like Section 1.1, its logical counterpart, introduces our topic by comparing
Avicenna's definitions and examples of the final cause in his theoretical work on nature, the
SamacfabPi. In Section 2.2, "Nature: immanent or transcendent?,' " we shall try to decide
whether Avicenna considered the subjects of natural philosophy to be governed by an
intrinsic cause, by an extrinsic cause, or by both. In Section 2.3, "Material disposition and
formation," we discuss how matter comes to be perfected through the fulfillment of its
potential to receive certain forms. Section 2.4, "Motion and inclination," focuses on the
final causes of celestial and sublunary motions, and on how these motions are pointed in
natural directions. Section 2.5, "Chance, finality, and natural necessity," concludes the

226\|. Qasim, ed., al-Sifa/Tabi^yat (4): al-APal wal-inficalat; (Cairo: 1983). [henceforth:
APal wa-iaficalat].

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67
chapter by analyzing Avicenna's theory of coincidental causes and showing how it
buttresses his mechanistic teleology.

In Meteorology 1,1 Aristotle lists the subjects of natural philosophy as 1) first causes of
nature; 2) natural motion; 3) celestial motion; 4) the elements; 5) generation and corruption;
6) meteorological

p h e n o m e n a ;2 2 7

7) animals; and 8) p l a n t s . 2 2 8 Avicenna treats all the

subjects on this list in his Jabl'lyat, with the exception that soul is also considered a
proper subject of natural philosophy, and placed before animals. In addition, Avicenna
considers both minerals (which are placed between meteorological phenomena and animals
in the Arabic version of this Meteorology passage) and plants (which are not included at
all) proper subjects of natural p h i l o s o p h y . 2 2 9 strictly speaking, the scope of the present
chapter ends with celestial motion; but this chapter and Chapter 3, on final causation in
biology, both refer to the elements, generation and corruption, and even meteorological
phenomena.

Turning to Parts o f Animals I, Aristotle appears to base his methodology of natural


science upon the notion of balance between mechanism ("of necessity" causation) and
finalism ("for the sake o f1 c a u s a t i o n ) . 2 3 0 fa other words, Aristotle's natural philosopher
must be aware that the subjects listed above are caused both by material/efficient causes
and fo formal/final causes. Aristotle believed that on the one hand, previous scientists
such as Democritus paid too little attention to the final and formal

c a u se s ;2 3 1

by

concentrating solely on material and efficient causation, these mechanists and atomists,
although concerned (rightly) with facts, came up with a causal account of reality in which
the infinite number of accidental links in the causal chain of a given phenomenon could not
227 tc. irregular, sublunary natural motions, such as comets, wind, earthquakes, thunder.
228Meteor. I,l:338a20-339a9.
229 cf. Petraitis, Flatar, pp. 11-12.
230cf. p a . I,3-12:639bl2-642b4 passim.
231 cp. GA V,l:778b8-ll.

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68

be separated from the phenomenon's essential

c a u s e s .2 3 2

Aristotle felt that in Socratic

circles, on the other hand, decreasing interest in the facts of nature and greater concern with
practical philosophy resulted in a philosophical system which posited ideal forms
maintaining a ghostly reign over the existence and behavior of earthly phenomena. Socrates
himself criticized his predecessors for ignoring teleological

e x p la n a tio n s ;3 3 3

Aristotle thought these causes operated most obviously in natural p h e n o m

e n a ,3 3 4

b u t

while

Socrates

concentrated on human intentional action, i.e. on ethics and politics. Aristotle thus saw
himself fusing the pre-Socratic concern with nature and facts with a Socratic interest in
purposes and teleological explanation.

In some ways Avicenna occupied a position in the history of Islamic philosophy analogous
to Aristotle's in Greek philosophy. By the time Avicenna s predecessor Farabi was writing,
Muctazilite theologians had developed a quite intricate atomistic physics, one that
emphasized (at least in its most orthodox form) the natural, sublunary world's radical
contingency: God continually destroyed and recreated the world with the passing of every
tim e - a to m .2 3 5 W ith

God as the only real efficient cause all effects were equal, as it were,

and hence no essential causal account (i.e. no scientific account in the Aristotelian sense) of
a given phenomenon could be possible. Farabi, on the other hand, like those in Socrates's
circle, was primarily concerned with the human good and hence with practical
p h ilo s o p h y ;2 3 6

more specifically, Farabi was interested in the idea that studying man and

society (i.e. ethics and politics) centered and grounded the study of the microcosm of
individual souls (psychology) and the macrocosm o f the celestial spheres

332Although Aristotle is willing to grant that Empedocles was on the right track with his notion
that "bone exists by virtue of its ratio (to logo):" Meta. 1,10:993al7-19.
333cf. Phacdo 96A-102A passim, esp. 98C-D.99B; in Apology 19B-D Socrates denies (under
duress) ever discussing natural science.
334p a . I,3:639bl9-21.
335 cf. Avicenna's criticism of this view in Mubal&tat, p. 142(87).
336For a discussion of Farabi's notion of perfection deriving from the practice of both theoretical
and practical philosophy, cf. Galston, Excellence, pp.62-76.

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69
(metaphysics). 237 Avicenna's natural teleology was, like Aristotle's, an attempt to reconcile
these two approaches: perfect knowledge of reality must include knowledge of specific
matters as well as of specific f o r m

s .

238

We saw in Chapter 1 how Avicenna created a logical framework in which teleology and
mechanism could be presented as neither exclusive nor even competing causal accounts;
rather, the necessity represented by the efficient and material causes and the finality
represented by the formal and final causes are causally reciprocal, indeed "symbiotic." This
is due not only to the necessary implication of matter and form, but also to the fact that
efficient and final causes necessarily implicate each other as well; in Avicenna's system,
each is both cause and effect of the other, and hence their necessary implication derives
ultimately from that existing between causes and effects.

The aim of the present chapter is to see how Avicenna applies his logical framework of
final causation to the subjects of natural philosophy. Our primary questions, therefore, are
the following: 1) Does the causal symbiosis (ma'lya) between necessity and finality
operate in the natural things described by Avicenna in his Tabi'iyaf! 2) If so, how does
the necessary causal interaction of natural phenomena differ from that of logical entities? 3)
Does an accidental result or outcome of a natural process count as a final cause, or must an
end be essential to qualify as such? The importance of searching through the subjects of
physical science to provide philosophically coherent answers to questions such as these lies
in the fact that for both Aristotle and Avicenna the natural world is at once the inspiration
for and the testing-ground of the final cause.
237 cf. M. Mahdi, "Al-Farabi and the foundation of Islamic philosophy," in P. Morewedge, Islamic
Philosophy and Mysticism (Delmar, New York:1981), pp. 16-18, and R.M. Frank, "Reason
and revealed law: a sample of parallels and divergences in kalam and falsafa," in Rcchcrcbes
dlslamologic: Recueil d'Articles Offert a G. Anawati et L. Gardet par leurs Collcgues et
Amis (Louvain: 1977), p.131.
238cf. Sams* fabl1, p.47. cp. Philoponus's similar statement (in a discussion of Phys.
II,2:194al2): in Phys., CAG XVI, pp.228-33.

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70

THE DEFINITION OF FINAL CAUSE: NATURES AND FORMS

2.1

Avicenna first defines the final cause as end rather than perfection in Chapter 10 of his
theoretical work on natural science, the Samac fabM. He says that it is the thing (here
macna, not Say3) for whose sake form inheres in m

a tte r .2 3 9

n therefore differs from the

second definition given in the Burhan; there he calls this type of final cause the perfection,
al-tamam?40

Avicenna does discuss perfection in Chapter 11, however, where he describes the causal
reciprocity between agent and end; the agent causes the end in the sense that it makes the
end occur as an existent But the end also causes the agent in the sense that the agent only
acts for the sake of the end; thus the end impels die agent toward being an agent Avicenna
makes an important distinction between the two: the agent is, in a sense, cause of the end
(al-fa'il min jihatin sababun li 1-gaya), while the end is, in a sense, lh cause of the
agent ( wa '1-gaya min jihatin sababu l-faeil).241 Although the end cannot exist in
concrete reality without the act of the agent, it can nevertheless exist (however unfulfilled in
the extramental world) in the mind as an end; the agent, on the other hand, only exists qua
agent once it is paired with an end. This symbiosis calls to mind our discussion in Section
1.4, but the implication here of the end's causal primacy is specific to Avicenna's natural
philosophy.
239 Wa-amma '1-gaya fa-biya l-maena alladl li-ajlibi tabfilu al-fUra ft 1-madda: Samac
fab1% p. 52.
240 wa 'l-rabie al-Say3 alladl li-ajlibi yajmacu bayna maddati 'l-ka3in wa-$uratibi: Burhan,
p.294.
241 Samae fabl% p.53.

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71

Thus according to Avicenna the end is the cause of the agent's essential quiddity, the cause
of the agent's being an agent; the agent, however, is not a cause of the end's quiddity per
se> 2 4 2

but rather of the end's quiddity existing in concrete reality. In other words, the agent

is the cause of the end's being an existent, but not of the end's being an

e n d .2 4 3

The

efficient cause is a cause of concrete existence, the final cause a cause of modal existence
(and hence of causality). The relation of end and agent to matter and form will be discussed
later in die chapter, and in Section 4.1.

One possible source for Avicenna's notion of reciprocity between end and agent lies in
Physics H,3, the locus classicus of Aristotle's four-cause theory. Here Aristotle says:
"And sometimes two things are causes of each other; thus labour is a cause of
strength, and strength of labour; not, however, in the same way, but one is a cause as
the end, and the other as source of change." 244
This passage provides some Aristotelian background for causal symbiosis, but it is
certainly not explicit; nor does Aristode imply anything close to the analogy Avicenna was
to make between the necessity operating in cause/effect relationships to that operating
between efficient and final causes.

In Chapter 12 of the Sama* tabll Avicenna dissects the four causes into their various
modes, and gives examples of several distinctions mentioned but left unclear in the
BurMn.245 w e shall not list all the divisions for each cause, but rather only for agent and
end; as mentioned above, matter and form will be discussed in Section 2.3. The distinctions
242 i.e. qua quiddity.
243Samae tabl% p.53.
244Phys. II,3:195a8-ll/W. Charlton, trans. and comm., Aristotle: Physics Books I and U
(Oxford: 1992), p.29. Philoponus ignores this statement, so he can be ruled out as a source of
Avicenna's symbiotic interpretation: in Phys., CAG XVI, p.246. Simplicius does discuss this
reciprocity very briefly: in Phys., CAG IX, p.319. Unfortunately Simplicius was known in
the medieval Arab world primarily as a mathematician and logician, and translations of this
work, unlike those of Philoponus's, do not figure in any list of Physics commentaries
contained in the Arabic bibliographies.
245Burhan, p.297.

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72
Avicenna draws are the following: essential and accidental, proximate and distant, specific
and general, particular and universal, simple and complex, and actual and p o t e n t i a l . 246
of these distinctions are also found (though in somewhat jumbled form) at the end of
Physics H,3.

An essential efficient cause is the principle of die act in question's essence; it is like a doctor
when he is treating a patient and a fire when it is heating something up. What, then, is the
difference between an essential and an actual doctor? An accidental doctor may also be
actual: a doctor building a house still exists actually as a doctor, but is only a doctor per
accidens with regard to the act of building. An example of an accidental efficient cause is
when an excess of yellow bile causes scammony to cool d o w

n ;2 4 7

it is not essential to the

yellow bile's act of flowing excessively that the scammony cooled down.

As for essential and accidental final causes, an example of the former is health for drugs;
health is the essential final cause of drugs. Avicenna then divides accidental ends into three
categories. The first covers those events when an intentional end occurring during an act is
not the act's essential end; the example he gives is when a pharmacist grinds a drug. Here
the grinding per se is an intentional end, but is not the pharmacist's essential end; the
essential end is making a drug ingestible for a patient The second category of accidental
ends covers those events when something occurs as a concomitant of an essential end;
defecation, for example, is not the essential end of eating, but rather only a necessary
accident

Finally, the third type of accidental end is one we shall discuss at length in Section 2.5,
because it underpins Avicenna's thesis that the existence of chance events does not negate
246S a n a a ' pp.55-57,58-59.
247 al-saqmoniya. Scammony is also used as an example of this in M. M u^, ed., Ilahiyat-i
DaniS-nama-yi eAla*l (Tehran: 1952), p.56. [henceforth: DaniS-nama [Dahlyat]] Li the
Canon, it is given as an example of an indirect cause: Qanon, p. 112.

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73
the applicability of final causation to all phenomena; this accidental end is that toward which
motion is incidentally directed, and which becomes the terminus of that motion. Examples
are a man shooting an arrow at a bird but hitting a man instead; die man was an accidental
terminus of its essential motion toward the bird. Likewise a rock breaking into many pieces
on a ledge is an accidental terminus of die downwards motion essential to its earthiness.

Several passages from Physics 11,2-3 provide some Aristotelian background for
Avicenna's theory of accidental causation; the consistent application of accidental ends to
chance events is Avicenna's own contribution, however. The most obvious forerunner is
Aristotle's explicit distinction between essential (kath' auto) and accidental (kata
sumbebekos) causes in his list of causal distinctions at the end of Physics 11,3.248

Avicenna departs from Aristotle when the latter discusses essential ends in Physics, 11,3.
An essential end is like health to taking one's constitutional; but, Aristode adds, one should
also take into account those things that come about during a process of change for some
other end, like slimness and drugs are intermediate causes on the road to health. While
Avicenna would say that slimness and drugs serve as concomitant ends attained during the
process of attaining the essential end, Aristotle understood a means to an end to be an
accidental cause simpliciter, i.e. not subject to differentiation into efficient, material, formal,
or final m

o d e s .2 4 9

According to Avicenna, one does not take drugs for the sake of taking

drugs (or at least Avicenna does not think so), but for the sake of health; taking drugs is an
accidental end which one must fulfill during the course of attaining the essential end. The

24%Phys. II,3:195a33-195b4. However, we must be aware that "essential" and "accidental" are not
exact translations for kath 'auto and kata sumbebekos, for the English terms are exclusive
modes of predication: in Aristotle's famous example, the doctor qua patient (Le. being treated
by himself) is not an accidental description of a doctor, nor is the doctor qua agent (i.e.
treating himself) really an essential description. I am grateful to Pierre Pellegrin for pointing
this out to me.
249Phys. II,3:194b32-195a3; cp. Meta. V,2:1013a32-b2.

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confusion arises from Aristotle's notion that the good is the defining factor in final
causation, not die necessary result

However, Aristode does speak in Physics


serving ipso facto as its
g o o d ,2 5 1

e n d .2 5 0

1 1 ,2

of the terminus of a process of change

jjut ^ orcjer to save his notion that the end is the

Aristotle probably means here that while every terminus does serve in a way as

an end, the terminus must also be a good result to qualify as a proper that-for-the-sake-ofwhich; this is because there are so many manifestly bad outcomes, both natural (e.g.
d e a th 2 5 2 ) a n d

voluntary. On this topic Avicenna appears to have been led by Philoponus,

who makes the distinction between the that-for-the-sake-of-which and the end; the that-forthe-sake-of-which is always an end, but not every end is a that-for-the-sake-of-which. Only
ends whose existence is better than their non-existence can properly be called that-for-thesake-of-which. What Philoponus has implied is that a connection exists between the
essential end and the good, as well as one between the accidental end and the bad. The
example Philoponus gives is taken from the lines of Euripides Aristotle cites in Physics
n,2: death is not that-for-the-sake-of-which man exists, or is bom, but only serves as the
end of these natural a c t s . 2 5 3

But for Avicenna this would not do, for death is essential not only to the species "man" but
to the genus "animal," as, indeed, it is to all living things. We therefore need a much stricter,
less anthropocentric, more neutral sense of the good: to Avicenna, everything in the
universe fulfilling its essential end and thus m aintaining the existential order is what defines
the good. We shall return to this topic in Sections 2.5 and 4.3.

250phys. n,2:194a29-30. This passage is also discussed briefly by Charlton, Physics, p. 101.
251 Phys. 11,3:195a25-26.
252 c Phys. II,2:194a30-33.
253Phys. II,2:194a31-32; cf. Philoponus, in Phys., CAG XVI, pp.235-38.

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75
In another important distinction which will reemerge in Avicenna's discussion of chance in
the Ilahiyat, Avicenna also divides proximate and distant

c a u s e s .2 5 4

jh e proximate

efficient cause is the cause between which and the patient no intermediary exists; the
example Avicenna gives is sinew for the limbs' motion. The distant efficient cause is the
cause between which and the patient an intermediary does exist; die example here is the
soul for the limbs' motion. Proximate and distant final causes are illustrated by the example
of health, for taking drugs (proximate); and happiness, for taking drugs (distant, because
health makes you happy).

The specific agent is that efficient cause which acts upon only one effect; the example
Avicenna gives is the drug which this man, Zaid, takes. The general agent is that efficient
cause, like die weather, which has many effects; here there is still no intermediary between
it and its

e f if e c ts .2 5 5

Conversely, a specific end is like Zaid's meeting such-and-such a

friend, and a general end is like the flow of yellow bile when one ingests Persian manna;
getting these juices flowing is also the end of drinking v i o l e t 256

Particular and universal causes are distinguished from specific and general causes in that
the only limitation on the first is that they be on the same level in the hierarchy of
classification; thus a particular efficient cause can be either this individual doctor for this
individual patient, or the species "doctor" for the species

" p a tie n t" 2 5 7

As for universal

efficient causes, the requirement is that their nature be of a higher rank in this hierarchy; the
example Avicenna gives is the species "doctor" for this individual patient As for particular
and universal final causes, a particular end is like Zaid receiving money from such-and-

254 cp. porroteron kai cnguteron: Phys. H,3:195b2.


255 cp. Phys. n,3:195b6-9.

256persian manna; al-turanjibln (cf. Lane, p.306); violet: al-banafsaj(Lane, p.259).


257qx hoion hod' ho iatreuoo tode to hugiazomeno: Phys. n,3:195bl8-19.

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76
such a debtor, when that was the intention of his journey. The universal end is like
demanding justice from a sinner, i.e. in an absolute sense.

The act of a simple efficient cause issues from a single efficient potentiality; examples are
the faculties of attraction and repulsion in the body. The act of a complex efficient cause
issues from a number of potentialities or

fa c u ltie s , 2 5

b e

they identical in species (for

example oarsmen rowing a boat) or different (for example hunger issuing from the
combined action of the sensory and attractive faculties). A simple end is like satiation is to
eating; complex ends are like beauty and killing lice to wearing s i l k . 2 5 9

Finally, actual efficient causes are like fire in relation to what it is burning; potential efficient
causes are like fire to what it has not burnt but which is b u m

a b le .2 6 0

for final causes,

Avicenna says that actual ends and potential ends are like actual and potential forms; but for
these latter Avicenna is oblique. He says that "The actual form is [already] known;" this
leads us to think that he had not, at this point, completely settled on how to differentiate
between actualization, formation, and perfection.

In any case, we can see that Avicenna expanded upon and listed systematically most of the
categories Aristotle describes so haphazardly at the end of Physics 11,3. This could be
because Avicenna felt that the examples Aristotle gave there of causes in general, and of
final causes in particular, were open to so many interpretations that more exact examples
and more canonical descriptions were needed. Finding a proper causal explanation for some
event or process or phenomenon would be easier with these distinctions in mind; they
throw die causal (particularly the teleological) net wider, and also help Avicenna toward
258 cp. kai tas men dunameis ton dunaton: Phys. H,3:I95b27-28.
259"Sufferers from itch, however, may use silk garments, and die Prophet allowed their use to
eAbd al-Raljman b. *Awf and al-Zubayr b. al-'Awwam, who complained of lice...The
Malikis forbid the use of silk garments even to sufferers from itch, lice, etc.: "Harir," EI2
(vol.np. p.209.
260cp. panta de e encrgounta e kata dunamin: Phys. II,3:195bl6.

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fulfilling his claim that the final cause can be seen operating in every science, as was
discussed briefly in the previous chapter.

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78

2.2

NATURE: IMMANENT OR TRANSCENDENT?

How did Avicenna understand Aristotle's concept of nature, or, more specifically,
Aristotle's use of the term phusis? We must start by trying to understand what exactly
Aristotle himself meant, but on this there is no consensus amongst Aristotelian
commentators. What does seem clear is that for Aristotle phusis could serve in any of the
four causal roles, but that its role as eflicient cause was primitive; for Avicenna, however,
the role of fablca as perfection was primitive.

Aristotle discusses phusis most explicitly in M etaphysics V,4 . 2 6 1

a n d

in

P hysics

II, 1 . 2 6 2 M etaphysics V is generally taken to be a philosophical lexicon of specifically


Aristotelian technical terms, but advocates of this interpretation are unable to explain the
absence of expressions such as to hou heneka ("that for the sake of which"), apodeixis
("demonstration"), hule ("matter"), and eidos ("form/species), all crucial to Aristotle's
philosophy. We must instead read this glossary as listing the first definition first not
because it was the most obvious definition to Aristotle, but rather because it is the most
common (or the original) sense of the t e r m
of phusis in Metaphysics V

,4 ,

.2 6 3

Jq particular, with reference to the definition

the last definition, namely the sense that Aristotle wants to

261Mete. V,4:1014bl6-1015al9.
262Phys. H,l:192b9-193b22.
263Thus Aristotle derives phusis in the first definition from phuetai, "to grow;" the sense is not
(as Ross suggests) die genesis" (or "coming to be") of growing things, but simply the
"growth" of growing Ihings; cf. Ross, Metaphysics I pp. 295-96. Thus for Aristotle it is not
as simple as saying that it is the nature of fire to go up (Phys. n,l:193al-2): for properties to
belong by nature to a thing existing by nature is for them to belong essentially, not
accidentally, to that thing. Rather, going up is a natural property of fire because fire is a
natural thing: thus every natural process in the world is natural by virtue of it belonging to a
natural substance.

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79
attach to the term, is not "composed of' (die traditional reading of die ek in line 1015al3)
bits and pieces of the previous senses, but rather "inferable from" the previous senses,
assuming that the previous senses bear some relevance to the explanandum.264 fo r the
term phusis, this final sense is "the substance of those things whose principle of motion is
contained in themselves qua t h e m

s e lv e s .

"265

It is in Physics II, 1 - 2 that Avicenna was better able to appreciate the teleological and causal
aspects of phusis, aspects only implicit in the Metaphysics passage discussed a b o v e . 2 6 6
In the first lines of Physics II, 1 Aristotle makes clear that nature is a type of cause when he
says that some entities exist "by nature," while others exist "on account of other
c a u s e s ." 2 6 7

What kind of cause is phusis, then? Is it an extrinsic, transcendent Nature,

creating and destroying, acting, and doing nothing in v a i n ? 2 6 8 Qr is phusis an intrinsic,


immanent nature, impelling rather than propelling entities toward their fulfillment as natural
things?

Aristotle says that one connotation of phusis is of nature qua efficient cause, as the
principle of motion and

re s t;2 6 9

elsewhere Aristotle equates it with the material cause,

saying phusis is the substrate of those things (i.e. everything which exists by nature) which
contain a principle of motion and r e s t ; 2 7 0 nght after that he says that nature is "the shape
and form analogous to the d e f i n i t i o n ; " 2 7 1 finally he states that nature is an end and a that264j am grateful to Pierre Pellegrin for pointing me in this direction.
2 6 5 V,4:10I5al4-15. The Arabic version has, for beauta ("in themselves oua themselves").
'ala kunhiha (in themselves to die utmost degree"): cf. Bouvges. Ma baed at-tabieat II,
p.S 14. In this form eala kunhiha is synonymous with the elative sense of gaya, as in fl gaya
al-rufaba: "moist to the utmost degree," or "die epitome of moistness."
266cp, "Nature, however, avoids what is infinite, because the infinite lacks completion and finality,
and this is what nature always seeks:" GA. I,l:715bl5-16.
267 ton onton ta men esti phusei, ta de diallas aitias: Phys. n,l:192b8-9.
268 Or, as Pellegrin says, a "good housekeeper," utilizing whatever is materially necessary in the
optimum way; cf., for example, GA. IV, 1:766b 18-19.
26*Phys. n,l:192b20-22; this is echoed in Vm,3:253b8-9.
270Phys. II,l:192bl3, 193a29-30.
271p6yS. n,l:193a30-31.

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80

fo r-th e -s a k e -o f-w h ic h .

272 These four senses of phusis do seem to support the notion that

the final definition in M etaphysics V,4 is indeed inferred (rather than jumbled together)
from the preceding list, or at least that Aristotle was reluctant to commit himself to an
exclusive definition of nature; rather, the final definition was philosophically primary, but
the others contained enough elements of truth to warrant describing phusis as each of the
four causes.

In his commentary, Ross claims that it is incongruous that at the beginning of Physics U, 1
Aristotle says that some things exist by nature, others by other causes, when the first sense
Aristotle gives is a principle o f motion and rest, not of e x i s t e n c e . 2 7 3 But Book I of the
Physics established three archai, principles: matter, form, and non-being. While matter and
form are a natural thing's principles, ie. its starting points, end and agent are the analogous
causes subsumed in the conception of phusis. More specifically, the former pair (form and
matter) are necessarily intrinsic to die thing, while the latter pair have both intrinsic and
extrinsic modes: in their intrinsic modes (i.e. qua the two aspects of nature) end and agent
are analogous to form and matter, while in their extrinsic modes, they are n o t This is the
sense to be made of Aristotle's statement that phusis contains two elements, form and
m a tte r ,2 7 4

a sense also brought out when he states that both aspects must be studied by the

natural scientist: not just matter exclusively (as was the case with the old mechanists), nor
form exclusively (as was the case with the

P la to n is ts ) .2 7 5

This is the sense Avicenna

derived when he distinguished extrinsic causes of natural things (i.e. agent and end) from
intrinsic causes (i.e. form and m

a tte r ).2 7 6

212Phys. II,2:194a27-30.
273 Ross, Physics, p.499.
22^ Phys. II,2:194al2.
275Phys. II,2:194al8-33.
27&Samae tabll. pp.53-54.

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81

How, then, did Avicenna understand the Arabic terms used to translate phusitf In general
phusis and its variants were translated into one of several derivations o f the root f b r. 2 7 7
In the Arabic translations of the Generation o f Animals and Parts o f Animals, both
attributed (problematically) to Yaljya b. al-Bijriq, phusis and its variants are translated
generally as tibacand its v a r i a n t s . 2 7 8 fa the translation of the Meteorology, also attributed
to Yaljya, and in the Physics, translated by Ishaq b. Hunayn, phusis is translated as
fablea;279 in Ishaq's translation of the M etaphysics, phusis is translated variously as
lib a t, fa be and

/ a M fa . 2 8 0

A problem for Arabic Aristotelian commentators was die extent to which nature was seen
as an eflicient cause; if one went too far, nature could become confused with s o u l . 2 8 1 Aba
BiSr Matta b. Yanus, in his comments on Book II of the Physics, derives the notion of
nature qua efficient cause from Alexander of Aphrodisias's own commentary on the
Physics (available only through Simplicius's quotations in his commentary). Alexander's
commentary was translated into Arabic and influential amongst the Christian Perpatetics of
10th- and 11th-century

B a g h d a d .2 8 2

Abu BiSr divides lablca into the original

Aristotelian definition (i.e. "internal principle of motion") and what he calls an "Agent
Nature," al-fablca al-faeeala.
277 An exception is the occasional use of kiyan in the Meteorology: Petraitis, Ft ajar, pp.32-33
[Meteor. I,4:342al6 and 342a26].
278cf. Brugmann and Drossaart Lulofs, FI kawn: phusis: 715bl4, 716a9, 724al8, 724b24, 725a3,
734a31; pephuke: 718b24, 725a23, 740bl4, 772a9; phusikos and phusiologos: 724b8,
74lb 10, 742al6, 769a7. cf. Kruk, Ft ac<Ja3: phusiologos: 647all.
279cfMin Petraitis, Ft ajar, phusis: 349al9, 342al6; phusikos: 338a21.
280cf., in Bouyges, Ma baed al-fablea: 1) pcphuke/fab': pp. 1114,1125; 2) phusis/fabc:
pp.50,567,569,837,1236,1364,145,1467,1480,1565,1678; 3) phusis/fiba': pp.336,517,875,
878; 4) phusis/tablca: pp.58,63,297,394,860,1419,1467,1608; 5) phusis/fabn: pp.104,
506,1083; 6) phusikos/Jabn: pp.49,49,160,368,698,757,865,929,1023,1074,1074.
281 Indeed, Avicenna makes the difference between soul and nature canonical: things without will
but with motion are by nature, while things with will and motion together are by soul: DaniSnama [Tabt'tyat], pp.6-7; cp. Sama3 wa-calam, p.ll. cf. H.V.B. Brown, "Avicenna and
the Christian Philosophers in Baghdad," in S. Stem, A. Hourani, and H. Brown, eds.,
Islamic Philosophy and the Classical Tradition: essays Presented to R. Walzer
(Columbia, S. Carolina: 1973), pp.40-1.
282cf. Brown, "Christian Peripatetics," pp.40-45.

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82

For Avicenna this was going too far, partly because faal was the term used to describe
the Agent I n t e l l e c t . 2 8 3 g ut Avicenna did accept Abu BiSr's division of nature into two
aspects; as Brown puts it, "Nature is present in things which come into being but it is also
the thing which brings them into being." But whereas by Abu BiSr's reckoning, nature qua
source of motion and nature qua source of being operated in parallel s y s t e m s , 2 8 4 Avicenna
reserved being as the source of God's primacy and the ground on which creation takes
p la c e .2 8 5

In his K. al-frudad, or Book o f Definitions, Avicenna defines both fabi'a and /abf.286
It might be useful to give our own translation here as well:
"nature" (al-tabica) is the essential first principle of motion and rest of that in which
{motion and rest} are contained essentially. In a larger sense {nature} is [the essential
first principle] of every essential change and fixity. Some people add to this definition
by saying that [nature] is a potential in effect in bodies, a principle of such-and-such;
they are mistaken because by definition, the potential used in this context is the
principle of change only vis-a-vis the changed thing. It is as if they were to say that
nature is the principle of a change which is the principle of a change, and this is
tautological. Sometimes, nature is used to describe the essential matter and form, and,
by extension, the motion that derives from the nature. Doctors apply the term "nature"
to the humoral mixture (ie. temperament), to the innate heat, to the dispositions of the
body parts, to motions, and to the vegetative soul; each one of these will be defined
[in its place].
'Nature" (al-tabc) refers to each disposition (be it active or passive) through which a
given species is perfected. Thus it is more general than nature. Something can derive
from [an individual] nature without it deriving from Nature in general, like an extra
finger, for example, which seems to be "by nature" [only] by reference to [its]
specific nature; but it is not "by Nature" by reference to universal N a t u r e . 2 8 7
Here we see that Avicenna was very aware of the different roles played by phusis in the
Aristotelian universe, each corresponding to one of the four causes. But in Avicenna's
283Avicenna at one point says nature is "efficient" (al-fh'ila), however Kawn wa-fasad, p.181.
284cf. Brown, "Christian Philosophers," p.44.
285cp. Averroes's discussion of this in his epitome of the Physics: J. Puig, ed., Ibo RuSd: K. alsamac al-fabi*! (Madrid: 1983), pp.21,26. [henceforth: Averroes, Epitome]
286 cf. Hudad, pp.21-2(12,13). Goichon translates them (correctly, I think) as, respectively, "la
nature individuelle" and "la nature en g6nral:" Definitions, pp.31-3.
287 cp. Samae fabi% p.63, and DaniS-nama [Tabl'lyat], p.7. In the DaniS-nama, Avicenna
seems to use the two terms interchangeably: cf. DaniS-nama [fabl'tyat], p.20.

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83
system, nature's causal roles are split into two unexpected categories: where one expected a
transcendent, creative, extrinsic, efficient Nature, one finds a species-like, definitional,
formational, final Nature; where one expected a final, functional, dispositional, intrinsic
nature, one finds an efficient principle. This arises partly from the ambiguity surrounding
the meaning of "source of motion or change," for it can be seen as either an efficient or a
final cause. But it also points to another ambiguity that Avicenna sees between efficient and
final causes themselves; both can be seen as serving in each other's ontological roles
because the efficient cause is die efficient cause of the final cause's existence, while die final
cause is the efficient cause of the efficient cause's efficiency and causality:
"The agent is not a cause of the end's becoming an end, nor of the end's quiddity in
itself; but it is a cause of the existence of the end's quiddity in concrete reality. You
already know the difference between quiddity and existence. The end is a cause of the
agent's being an agent, for {the end} is the cause of {the agent's} being a cause, while
die agent is not a cause of the end's being a c a u s e . " 2 8 8
Speaking in strictly causal (i.e. as opposed to existential) terms, therefore, Avicenna
follows Philoponus in regarding the formal aspect of nature, i.e. nature qua perfection, as
primitive in natural p h i l o s o p h y . 2 8 9

Avicenna also discusses the two aspects of nature in his Samae tabl'i, when he makes
the distinction, like Aristotle (in Physics 1,1), between what is more knowable to us and
what is more knowable in nature. Just as effects are often more knowable to us than causes,
causes are more knowable in nature, i.e. existentially p r i o r . 2 9 0 Thus final causes are more
knowable to us (something makes sense to us when we know why it is what it is) than
efficient causes, although efficient causes are more knowable in nature, i.e. existentially
prior; as we discussed in Section 1.2, an epistemological/ontological reciprocity exists
between the two.

28Samaf tabi% p.53-54; cp. Uahiyat, pp.291-94, and Forget, Barat, pp.139-40.
289c DaniS-nama [Jabi'iyat], pp.54-55; cp. Philoponus, in Phys., CAC XVI, pp. 194-95.
290Samae fab1% pp.8-12.

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84
Simplicius points us in the direction of this causal dualism when he, like the modem
debaters on mechanism versus teleology, addresses the issue of reducibility to simple
bodies (i.e. the elements: earth, air, firs,

w a te r);2 9

1 what is the highest common

denominator of things which exist by nature? It is the fact that they exist by nature; but,
typically, Aristotle says that animals are more natural than the elements. Thus, according to
Aristotle, the elements do not provide things existing by nature with their nature; in natural
things, you can explain the simple by the complex, but not the complex by the s i m

p le .2 9 2

This is the crux of the modem debate on Aristotle's teleology and mechanism: one side
(once epitomized by N

u ss b a u m 2 9 3 )

claims that every natural process or entity described

teleologically can likewise be described mechanistically (i.e. through the elements which
serve as the thing's material constituents), but that the opposite is not true. The other side
(once epitomized by Balme) maintains that there are some things which cannot be explained
by a mechanistic account alone, such as the fact that the elements, left to themselves, will
not constitute t i . s s u e . 2 9 4

291 Simplicius, in Pbys., CAGIX, pp.261 -64.


2921 am grateful to Pierre Pellegrin for pointing this out to me.
293 cf , in particular, her Interpretive. Essay# 1: "Aristotle on teleological explanation," in M.C.
Nussbaum, ed., trans., and comm., Aristotle's De Motu Animalium (Princeton: 1978).
pp.59-106, passim. More recently, however, Nussbaum has softened her position and is now
a non-reductive materialist
294cf. Aristotle's discussion of embryology in GA. 11,1: "An axe or any other instrument is not
made by fire alone:" G A. II,l:734b28-36; and his statement at the end of the Meteorology
that while material constituents are sufficient to produce homoiomerous parts, they are not
sufficient to produce the non-homoiomerous parts, just as "cold and heat and their motion
will account for the production of bronze or silver, but not for the production of a saw or a
cup or a box:" Meteor. IV,12:390bl2-14/H.D.P. Lee, ed. and trans., Aristotle:
Meteorologica (Cambridge, Mass: 1952), pp.373-75.

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85

MATERIAL DISPOSITION AND FORMATION

2.3

We shall try to answer two main questions in this section: 1) How is matter informed, or,
more specifically, how is matter disposed to receive a form appropriate to it? 2) Does the
form alone serve as the final cause of the matter, or is the process of actualization or
formation as a whole the final cause?

Avicenna uses three terms for matter: hayala, madda, and mawtfa*. All three are defined
by reference to perfection. The first term, hayala, transliterating the Greek hule, signifies
matter which becomes actual only through the fulfillment of its potential to receive forms,
not through its containing a form already. In other words, hayala refers to the receptor
whose perfection comes from something extrinsic rather than intrinsic; it is a kind of
primary matter, defined by reference to form qua p e r f e c t i o n . 295

The second term, madda, is often used synonymously with hayala. The main distinction
between the two terms is that madda mostly refers to a matter which is perfected jointly
with another matter. The example Avicenna gives in his K. al-hudad is the madda of a
man's sperm and the madda of a woman's menses combining together before they can
receive the form of humanity; it is thus a kind of secondary m

a tte r .2 9 6

The third term,

mawtfa' (which, as we remember from Chapter 1, proved so problematic to Avicenna in


its logical as opposed to physical mode), is, unlike hayala, defined by reference to
295 cf. Ifudad, pp.l7-18(6). Primary matter and secondary matter are Goichons translations of
hayala and madda, respectively.
296cf. Hudad, pp.l8-19(8).

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86
perfection alone; furthermore, this perfection is intrinsic to the maw<jae, with no reference
to an extrinsic form; thus it is the most general term, usable in logic as well as physics, and
is best translated as subject, or substrate.297 jt corresponds to the Greek hupokeimenon.

From these definitions we can begin to see that Avicenna distinguished between the strict
senses of formation and perfection; the former is specific to extramental entities, more
particularly to the matter of natural and artificial things. The latter, however, gives the more
general ontological sense of actualization, and can be applied to logical and metaphysical
objects as well as physical objects. However, form is often used in a metaphorical sense
when one is discussing non-physical entities; but one must be aware that the strictly correct
sense of form applies to natural and artificial things only qua natural and artificial things,
not qua e x i s t e n t s . 2 9 8

X h js

^ made clearer by Avicenna's definition of form, since the first

two senses Avicenna gives are parallel to the logical and ontological senses of quiddity
discussed in Section 1.5: the first is the species, the second the perfection.299 We shall
return to this topic at the end of the section.

The process of formation is explained by a further tripartite division of elements, the


material constituents of the thing. Avicenna differentiates between the three terms, cun$ur,
usfuqus, and rukn, in a way which corresponds roughly to the distinctions he drew
between the three terms for matter discussed above.300 Thus eun$ur is the element qua
constituent of a material thing, i.e. with reference to the whole, while usfuqus is the element
qua joint element, Le. with reference to the elements of different species which, together
with it, make up the composite. Finally, rukn is the element in its most general sense, and

297 cf. Hudod, p.l8(7).


29c Samac fabl% p. 14.
299cf. Hudad, pp.l6-17(5).
300coichon's transliteration of rukn as rakn seems to me unnecessary and overcomplicated; the
former supplies all die meaning Avicenna intended.

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87
refers to the basic constituent of the sublunary world as a whole (i.e. air, fire, earth, and
water);301 as an ultimate material principle, it is analogous to the bodys h u m

o r s .3 0 2

How are these materials disposed to receive their forms and thus become perfected? The
term disposition (isti'dad) is used throughout the Avicennian philosophical corpus, and
usually accompanied by the descriptions "perfect" (tamm) and "deficient" (nagif);303
hence its sense of directed p o t e n t i a l i t y . 3 0 4 Avicenna does not give us an official definition
of istiedad in his K. al-}fudad, but he does describe the term thus in the Af*al wain fi'a la t:
"As for what we are on about concerning 'disposition,' we must know that disposition
is something which in reality pertains [only] to matter: matter is 'disposed,' as it were,
for everything, [given that] [matter] contains the potential to receive e v e r y t h i n g . " 3 0 3
In general, die term is used elsewhere in two senses, one referring to the disposition of
matter to receive form,306 the other referring to the disposition of mind to receive
intelligibles.307 Disposition thus serves as a common point of reference for the twin roles

301" usfiiqus is the most simple (absaf) part of a composite:" Samae fa bl% p. 15.
302Samae fab1% p.57; cp. Philoponus, in Pbys., CAGXV1, p.232.
303e.g. Samac fabici, p.63; Sama* wa-ealam, p.32; APal wa-infjcalat, pp.253,256; Bahlyat,
pp.264,273-74,411; Sarb Utulajiya, p.71; Ta'tlqat, pp.46,113; Najat, p.148; M. Abduh,
ed., K. al-Hidaya li-ibn Slna (Cairo: 1974), pp.162,192 [henceforth: Hidaya]; Notes on the
Dc Anima, pp.91-93; Mubabatat, P.146(lll),199(359),202(364),204-205(366),
210(379); DaniS-nama [Bahlyat], p. 161. On a few occasions Avicenna places tamm to the
side and opposes naqif with muktaft Babiyat, p. 189 and DaniS-nama [Bahlyat], p. 117.
304a similar use of tamm and naqif to describe directed potentialities occurs in the Arabic version
of Proclus's Institutio Tbeologica; cf. kullu qowa imma an takona tamma, wa-imma an
takonanaqifa, and wai-naqifa takona mutahayypa li'l-fi'l: (respectively) Prop. 78, 1.1,
and Prop. 79, 11.5-6, in G. Endress, ed., trans., and comm., Proclus Arabus: Zwanzig
Abscbnittc aus der Institutio Theoloeica in Arabiscber Ubersetzung (Beirut:1973) pp.2930 (Arabic).
305APal wa-infiealat, p.259. cp. Proclus's and Simplicius's use of cpitcdciotes as motive
disposition, cited and translated in S. Menn, "Descartes and some predecesors on the divine
conservation of motion," Syntbese 83 (1990), p.223.
306 e.g. Samae fabi^, p.47.
307 e.g. Notes on the De Anima, pp. 100-101.

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88
of the Agent Intellect, both physical (qua bestower of forms to sublunaiy m
psychological (qua bestower of universals to human i n

a tte rs ^ O S ) a n d

te lle c ts ^ ) .

As we discussed in the logic section, the clearest illustration of perfected disposition is the
training of one's mind to receive intelligibles from the Agent Intellect; the example
Avicenna uses in that context is of a writer. Taking disposition, as we said, to be a kind of
directed potential to receive some form, the first disposition, that of what Avicenna calls the
"material intellect," describes a baby's potential to write.310 The second disposition, that of
the "intellect in babitu," describes the potential to write of a child who has learned the
alphabet The third disposition, that of the "actual intellect" describes die potential to write
of the scribe who is not in the act of writing. The fourth stage, that of the "acquired
intellect" describes the fulfilled disposition of the scribe in die act of writing.^ ^

How does this model help us understand the final causation of a material subject that,
unlike writers or thinkers, possesses no choice or intention to act? More specifically, is
disposition somehow analogous to nature, as an internal source of motion, or is disposition
purely passive? Certainly in its psychological mode disposition signifies a passive
potentiality, so this should give us some reason to think that the same holds true for matter.
However, I can make myself more disposed to receive intelligibles by studying philosophy;
how can unformed matter make itself more disposed to receive anything? Indeed, Avicenna

308e.g. al-tahayyu3 al-tamm...istiedadan tamman: Kawo wa-fasad, pp.190-91; cp. UaMyat,


pp.271-2. Astral matter is also perfected by astral form: Sama? wa-'alam, pp.30-31.
305 cf. Nafs, pp.235,241,248. cp. wa-buwa l-'alim al-awwal al-tamm al-kamil wa-buwa eilla
kullcilm: Prop. 167A, 11.17-18, in Endress, Proclus Arabus, p.38 (Arabic).
310-j^e basis on which intellect (an incorporeal substance) can be called "material" is the fact that
both it and matter can be disposed to receive forms.
3^cf. kamal al-isticdad: Nafs, pp.48-50; cp. DaniS-nama [Tabl'lyat], pp.108-109,123,126-27.
Davidson refers to these stages as 1) "unqualified potentiality;" 2) "possible potentiality;" 3)
"perfect potentiality;" and 4) "unqualified actuality:" HA. Davidson, "Alfarabi and Avicenna
on the Active Intellect," Viator 3 (1972), pp. 159-61,165; reprinted, with some revisions, in
his Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes, on Intellect (Oxford: 1992), pp.83-88.

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89
says that to talk of matter's "desire" (Sawq, iStiyaq) for formal substantiation is to indulge
in mystical, rather than philosophical, d i s c u s s i o n .3 12

The only way Avicenna says he can understand the formation of matter is through motion,
because with motion the metaphor of desire is somehow less

a r r e s tin g .3

13 Matter is

informed through a motion whose extrinsic end is the formation; 314 by analogy, then, the
matter possesses an intrinsic perfection identical to the extrinsic end of the mover, and thus
perfection and end in material formation are identical. Avicenna says that the matter is set in
motion essentially toward the acquisition of form (i/a iktisab al-$ara), "just as the stone
acquires a location."3!^ in other words, just as the stone falls because the motion essential
to the earthy matter of stones is toward the center (i.e. down), so the essential motion of
matter is toward formation. Of course in strictly causal terms, Avicenna has no problem
understanding the relation of matter to form. First of all, matter and form are the effect's
most proximate principles; the agent causes something only through the mediation of its
matter-form composite, and the end is a cause of matter and form only through the
mediation of an agent which sets the matter in motion toward the form.316

In physics, the non-Aristotelian background for Avicenna's scheme of material disposition,


actualization, and perfection, is the Muctazilite theory of latency, specifically that of the
Muctazilite physicist Ibrahim al-Na??am (d.ca.840). Despite the apparent dualism of
substance and accident in traditional Muctazilite cosmology, in which "thing" (Say3) is
divided into "existent" (mawjad) and "non-existent" (ma'dam), existent is divided into
"created" (mulfdat) and "sempiternal" (qadim), and created is split into "substance"

312bada 'l-kalam alladi buwa aSbabu bi-kalam al-fuflya minhu bi-kalam al-falasifa: Sam ae
fabl% p.21.
313 Mubafrajat, p . l 6 3 ( 1 9 7 - 9 8 ) .
3*4Sama<fabffl, p.21.
3^Sam ac fab1% p.20; cp. Kawn wa-fasad, pp. 128-132,136-138.
3^5am ac .tabl% pp.53-54.
c

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(jawhar) and "accident" (eara$, Na^jam believed, unlike his fellow Muctazili Pirar b.
cAmr, that substance and accident were simply two aspects of the same thing. According to
Na??am's theory, known as mudahala, the accidents "interpenetrate" the substance rather
than comprise it (as in Pirar's theory, whereby a substance is simply a bundle of
accidents^ 17). An adjunct to this theory of interpenetration is that things contain a kumun,
an essential, latent characteristic which comes into existence all at once, given the right
conditions.318

Na??am claimed that Pirar's attack on this theory (that you cannot perceive the fire in the
wood and therefore it does not exist in it^ 19) was specious because one cannot deny the
existence of blood in the body even though one cannot perceive it. Avicenna's theory of the
perfection of material disposition through motion was, I believe, partly an attempt to
provide an Aristotelian alternative to Na??am's theory of Aumon. 320 Avicenna's attack on
the Latentists (a$bab al-kuman) focuses on what he considered their unjustified extension
of this very primitive notion of alteration to cover all processes of c h a n g e . 3 2 1

Jn

other

words, Avicenna wanted to retain the Aristotelian notion that change consists of an agent's
fully actual property being passed on to a purely passive p o t e n t i a l i t y ; 322 Na??am, however,
attributed too much agency to the recipient of change, and thus limited the scope of change
to simple alteration.
317cf, R. Sorabji, Matter, Space, and Motion: Theories in Antiquity and their Sequel
(London: 1988), p.57.
318 for al-AS'ari on Na??am on mudahala and kumun, cf. H. Ritter, ed., Maqalat al-islandyin waihtilaf al-mufalliyin II (Istanbul: 1929), pp.327-8. Similarly, according to Na??am, the soul
interpenetrates the human body; cf. p.331.
319as in Berkeley's "esse estpercipi."
320 cf. afftab al-kumon: Kawn wa-fasad, pp.86,101; the Cairo edition substitutes kawn for
kumun, but I am following the Latin (which itself follows the Tehran lithograph) because
kumun is paired with tadahul, a verbal noun derived from the same root as mudahala
("interpenetration"): S. van Riet, ed., Avicenna Latinus: Liber tertius naturalium: De
generatione et corruptione (Leiden: 1987), p.l9(n.5), and Verbeke's discussion of kumun in
his doctrinal introduction to that volume (pp.35*-44*).
321 Kawn wa-fasad, pp. 102-3.
322cf. entelecheia: Phys. IQ,3:202b24-29; discussed in S. Waterlow [Broadie], Nature, Change,
and Agency in Aristotle's Physics (Oxford: 1982), pp.159-203 passim (esp. pp.179-186).

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91

Avicenna's other concern was with defending his own notions of actualization and
perfection, and he thus posited disposition as a directed, but nonetheless passive, material
p o te n tia lity .3 2 3

\y e shall discuss the difference between actualization and perfection in

Section 4 . 2 ; for now, we should bear in mind that unlike Aristotle, who used both terms
interchangeably in his description of m

o tio n ,

324 Avicenna did not: actualization is never

used where perfection is appropriate, i.e. in contexts which require an existentiating, as


opposed to motive, cause.

323 cf. Kawn wa-fasad, pp. 106-7.


324p/iy5. m,l:201aI0-b5;III,2:201b29-31 and 202a6-ll. cp. Simplicius's discussion of the
difference between the two terms: in Pbys., CAG IX,pp.413-15; and H. Wolfson, Crescas'
Critique o f Aristotle: Problems o f Aristotle's Phvsics in Jewish and Arabic Philosophy
(Cambridge, Mass.:1929), p.526.

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92

MOTION AND INCLINATION

2.4

Now that we have understood the various complementary senses of nature, and the way in
which matter is disposed and formally perfected, we must focus on what Avicenna meant
by motion or change. What kind of final cause is the object of natural motion? Does the
terminus of a natural process of change serve necessarily as its final cause?

In Metaphysics XII Aristotle lists four types of kinesis;325 j) generation and corruption,
2 )

alteration,

3 )

growth and diminution, and 4) l o c o m

o tio n . 3 2

6 Avicenna does follow the

lead of the Metaphysics, but not this passage, when he defines motion in terms of its
outcome, i.e. by reference to its perfection. Avicenna says that motion is the first perfection
of the potential thing qua potential t h i n g . 3 2 7 it is a kind of "exit" (hurnj) of the thing from
potentiality to a c t u a l i t y . 3 2 8

Avicenna also follows Aristotle's lead in the Arabic version of Physics Vm,4:
"But we must ask why the light [body] comes to be in its proper place, as [does] the
heavy [body]. The cause of this (al-sabab fl dalika) is the fact that it is in their very
nature to exist in some particular location. The perseity of the light [body] and the

32$ kinesis is translated into English variously as "motion," "change," or "process;" for our
purposes motion" must be used as the translation for kinesis because the medieval Arabic
translators rendered it almost invariably as Ifaraka, which contains no ambiguity: it means
motion. The Arabic for "change," tagayyur, was the most common translation of metabole.
Meta. XII,l:1069b9-14; cf. Ross, Metaphysics H, p.348. cp. Aristotle contra Democritus on
this subject in DA. 1,3:406b16ff.
327cf. liudod, p.29(28); cp. Hidaya, p.138. The Aristotelian reference is Meta. XI,9:1065bl516; cp. Phys. m,l:201all; both are cited by Goichon, Definitions, pp.41-42(n.4).
328 Samae fabl% p.48.

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93
heavy [body] is this; I mean the tendency (inljiyaz) of the former upwards, and the
latter downwards." 329
In De Caelo IV,3, Aristotle makes a similar claim, implying that natural place serves as an
extrinsic final cause of the moved t h i n g . 3 3 0 Avicenna could therefore read Aristotle as
seeing ends as not just explanatorily primary but also causally primary; as Sorabji puts it,
discussing these passages,
"it is most likely, although {Aristotle} never says so explicitly, that he would think of
natural place as explaining motion as a final cause or goal. It would not be like the
inner nature, generator, or obstacle-remover, an efficient cause;" 331
Avicenna's use of definition as an extrinsic final cause in the world of logical entities
described in the previous chapter therefore extends to the natural world as well; the
connection lies in their common use of the term fedd, meaning both limit of natural motion
(here synonymous with w hays?^) and d e f i n i t i o n . 3 3 3

The problem with Aristotle's natural-place theory of elemental motion (at least according to
Philoponus) was the following: if we admit that die source of motion of an inanimate object
is an extrinsic final cause (namely its "natural

p la c e " ) ,3 3 4

how then do we explain the

upward motion of a thrown s t o n e ? 3 3 5 Aristotle's "obstacle-remover" efficient cause can


only explain why a held stone rests in an unnatural place, but by Aristotle's reckoning a
stone leaving its obstacle (i.e. the hand) should immediately move in the direction of its
^29phys. VIII,4:255bl3-17/Badawi, TabVa H, p.840. cf. Sorabji, MSM, p.221.
330D.C IV,3:311a9-12; cp. Pbys. IV,l:208bll; cf. Sorabji, MSM, p.222.
331 Sorabji, MSM, p.222.
333For Aristotle's view that a limit (peras/nihaya) can serve as a perfection ( telos/tamam), cf.
Meta. V,17:1022a4-8/Ma baed al-fablea n, p.628. Alexander also identified limit with
perfection in the Arabic version of his Quaestio 2.3; cf. "because of these movements [of
simple bodies to their natural places], every one of them comes to its completion and
perfection:" MS Carullah 1279, fols. 64al3-64b21/S. Fazzo and H. Wiesner, "Alexander of
Aphrodisias in the Kindl-circle and in al-Kindi's cosmology," in Arabic Sciences and
Philosophy, 3/1 (1993), p.149.
333cf. Sama3 wa-ealam, pp.4,8,18,20,60,64; Kawn wa-fasad, pp.177-78,181; APal wainfiealat, pp.218; Hidaya, pp. 161,188; DaniS-nama [Tabl'lyat], pp. 13,15,24,32,52-53;
Mabda3 wa-macad, p.35; Mubabatat, p. 161.
334something which Philoponus in fact rejected; cf. R. Sorabji, "John Philoponus," in Sorabji,
Philoponus, p. 16.
335cf. Zimmermann, "Philoponus," p. 121.

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94
natural place (i.e. down), regardless of whether it is thrown up or dropped. The debate over
this question gave rise to Philoponus's rejection of Aristotelian dynamics and thence to his
own theory of impetus.

Although Avicenna chided Aristotle (and, more heatedly, Aristotle's followers in 10th- and
1lth-century Baghdad) for his focus on motion, especially as a source of argument for
G o d ,

336 Avicenna did play a part in several important debates on dynamics, in particular

over Philoponus's impetus

th e o r y .3 3 7

Qne reason for Avicenna's disparagement is his

criticism (echoing Philoponus's) of die notion of natural place as the sole (or at least
primary) explanation (i.e. qua extrinsic final cause) of the motion of the inanimate elements,
fire, earth, air, and w

a te r.3 3 8

As we discussed in the previous section, Avicenna realized

that one must argue for definition not only as an intrinsic final cause of motion (i.e. as a
formal actualization of matter), but also, more broadly, as an intrinsic final cause of
existence (Le. as an ontological perfection).

In this way Avicenna's notion of the reciprocity of agent and end comes into play here in
natural science; indeed, the dual role played by "nature" was, I think, one of the main
inspirations for this reciprocal necessitation. Avicenna implies at one point that a purely
mechanistic account of non-natural motion (whose end one would normally assign to an
object of desire), one which claims that non-natural motion is due simply to a preceding
series of natural motions of other bodies, had not been proven demonstratively to h i m . 339

qabtb an yu$ara ila l-fraqq al-awwal min fartq al-Jfaraka: Commentary on Meta.
Lambda, p.23; cp. Barat, pp. 146-7, and Taetlqat, p.62. The first passage is discussed in
Brown, "Christian Philosophers," pp.35,47; cp. S. Pines, "La 'Philosophic Orientale'
d'Avicenne et sa polmique contre les Bagdadiens," in Archives d'Histoire Doctrinale et
Litt&rairc du Moyen Age 27 (1952), pp.35-37.
337discussed in Zimmermann, "Philoponus," passim, and Menn, "Descartes," pp.224-26.
338cf. Sama1 wa-ealam, pp.7-8,13,15,18,20,24,27,42,55-57,73-76; Kawn wa-fasad, p.l 19;
DaniS-nama [TabMyat], pp. 11-12,32.
339 Sama3 wa-ealam, p. 13.
3 3 6 c f.

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For while Aristotle wanted the cause of an inanimate body's motion to be an extrinsic final
cause (namely natural place), and Philoponus wanted the inanimate body to contain within
itself an intrinsic efficient cause as principle of motion (namely impetus), Avicenna's
dynamics maintained that the two conceptions were not mutually exclusive, but rather
complementary. 340 The way he did this was to apply the notion of mayl (inclination) to
motion, just as he had used isti'dad (disposition) to explain the inherence of form in its
appropriate matter.

Where does mayl come from? The Arabic term corresponds to the Aristotelian rhope, but
Aristotle can be ruled out as Avicenna's source because the Aristotelian translators tended
not to use mayl for rhope;341 instead, the correspondence comes later, probably from
P h ilo p o n u s .

342 The concept of inclination toward a natural place or limit is analogous to

340c Sama3 wa-'alam, pp.4-5.


341c zina for rhopen in Phys. IV,8:2I6al3/Badawi, Jabl'a I, p.376; according to Badawi (n.1),
someone has written in the margin on that line: yurfd bi'l-zina huoa "al-mitl;" obviously the
scribe was referring to al-mayl. The one occasion where rhope is translated directly into mayl
is Meta. X,l:1052b29/Bouyges, Ma ba'd al-fabi'a III, p.1284 (cited by Zimmermann,
"Philoponus," p. 127). In the translations of the De Caelo, rhope is rendered by a derivative
of mayl only once: cf. yamllu for rhopes in D.C. II,l:284a25/Badawi, FI sama3, p.226.
Elsewhere rhope is translated as Jaql and taql fabl'l (D.C. 111,2:30Ia22,24/Badawl, Ft
sama3, p.320); rhopen as Sa3niha ( D.C njl4:297a28/Badawl, FI sama3, p.299); rhopen
as wazn and al-wazn [not alwan, as Badawi has it: cf. Zimmermann, "Philoponus,"
p.l28(n.26)] (D.C. m,6:305a25 and IV, 1:307b33/Badawl, Ft sama3, pp.341 and 357). cf.
Sorabji, MSM, p.222.
342philoponus uses the term rhope to describe "impetus" in his commentary on the Physics; cf. in
Phys., CAG XVI, pp.92 (referring obliquely to Aristotle's D.C use of rhope); 195; 239,
where rhopon seems to be more analogous to the isti'dad of elemental matter to be informed
a certain way than to their inclination to move: Philoponus says (referring to Phys.
II,2:194b6-7) that the changes that the carpenter knows are appropriate to making a rudder
out of wood correspond to the materials' natural dispositions and potentials (to de ek poion
kineseon anti tou ek poion phvsikon rhopon kai dunameOn); 329, where he discusses the
famous distinction between simple and hypothetical necessity (Phys. II,8:199b34), and refers
to the upward motion of a hot body; 499, where he discusses Aristotle's theory of natural
place (Phys. IV,l:208a27) and identifies rhopon with natural potentials, mentioning die
borismenon definition of natural place (cf. Avicenna's use, mentioned above, of the terms
hadd and nibaya); finally, p.570, in his third "Corollary on Place," where Philoponus
mentions the natural downward inclination of water in a discussion of the apparently
paradoxical action of water traveling up a tube during siphoning (this last passage is
translated in D. Furley, trans., Philoponus: Corollaries on Place and Void (London:1991),
p.32. Avicenna discusses the problem of siphoning in DaniS-nama [Tabt'lyat], p.23.
Alexander may have used rhope before Philoponus; in a manuscript of his R. flI-'illa (also
described as R. ft baraka al-kull), Alexander denies that the motion of the stars is due to
"natural inclination" (bi'l-mayl al-fablet); rather, it is due to a desire (Sawq) for the First
Cause; cf. Princeton: Ms. Arabic (Yehuda) 308, fol.l77a.

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96
the isti'dad by which a matter is disposed to be informed, although nowhere does
Avicenna describe mayl as being perfected, nor, as far as I can tell, does he ever explicitly
compare the two c o n c e p t s . 343 However, they are related in the sense that both prepare the
effect for its being caused by the final cause; through them the potential effect is pointed in
the right direction, like a train engine on a turntable with different tracks pointing out like
spokes: only one of the tracks leads to the engine shed, and the disposition or inclination is
what makes the turntable stop at the right track and point the engine at that final cause.

The problem with assigning too much causality to these preparing dispositions becomes, as
was the case with nature, distinguishing them from soul. This is because desire applies only
to non-natural

e n d s,3 4 4

objection Avicenna makes to the Bagdadl Peripatetics Abu'l-

Faraj b. al-Tayyib and Abu BiSr Matta b.

Y u n u s .

345

particular, Avicenna objects to

being forced into the position of maintaining that if one uses desire as a common reference
point to describe any motion caused by final causes, we end up talking about steam
ris in g 3 4 6

because it wants to go up, with its natural place, up, serving as its desideratum.

But unlike his denial of nature as a willing, choosing cause of celestial

m o tio n ,3 4

Avicenna has no recourse to soul with inanimate objects; this is the distinction between
mayl and isti'dad The former is defined in terms of soul:

343 For a rare use of mayl in the context of form inhering in matter, cf. Avicenna's discussion of
heat in Kawn wa-fasad, p. 177; cp. tafitf 'anha 3ayn al-jism qawa mumayyila: Sama3
wa-'alam, p.3; Hidaya, pp. 183-86.
344 Sama1 wa-'alam, p. 11.
345cf. fa-hada '1-taSnl': Sama3 wa-'alam, pp.33-34; in other contexts Avicenna refers to the
Bagdadl Christians as "pop-philosophers" (cf. mutafalsifa: Kawn wa-fasad, p.81; al-falsafa
al-'amiya: Sama3 wa-'alam, p.44). Simplicius raises the same objection against
Philoponus; cf. Simplicius, in de Caelo, CAG VII, pp.78-79: "he (Philoponus) says that it is
not impossible for the same movement to be caused by a soul and by nature at the same time.
'For example, if one imagined' he says, 'one of the birds making a straight flight towards the
centre: the impulse of the soul thus coincides with the natural inclination of the body.' He
thinks that Aristotle does not allow this in the passage concerned" [i.e. D.C. H,l:284a27-35]:
C. Wildberg, trans., Philoponus: Against Aristotle, on the Eternity o f the World
(London: 1987), pp.66-7.
346Cf. Sorabji, MSM, p.223.
347cf Bahlyat, pp.381-82; Brown, "Christian philosophers," pp.46-47.

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97
"Every potential [i.e. of a heavenly body to move] is set in motion only through the
mediation of inclination; inclination is the tiling [al-ma'na] which is sensed in the
moved body. Even if {the body} is in a state of rest due to compulsion, it still senses
that inclination it contains." 348
Sublunary matter, however, cannot "sense" its disposition, let alone desire it; this is where
Avicenna applies his notion of perfection. In Chapters 10 and 11 of his Samae fabl'i,
Avicenna says that the principle of motion of natural things is either a preparer (mubayyi3)
or a perfecter (mutammim): the preparer disposes the matter for formation, and the
perfecter bestows the form. 349 indeed, the word muhayyi3 reminds us that the Arabic
term for astronomy is 'ilm al-haya, "the science of [astral] disposition;" mutammim is a
principle cf motion because it makes the thing leave its state of potentiality and enter a state
of actuality.350

Latinists have made much of Avicenna's statement about preparers and perfecters. Let us
translate the sentence directly from the Arabic:
"The perfecter is what bestows the form; and it seems that what bestows the form
([i.e. the form] which constitutes natural species) is outside of natural things."
This passage is cited (in its Latin version, which omits the "seems") by Gilson, in a
discussion of Avicenna's metaphysics;^^ 1 Gilson's quotation of the Latin version is cited
in turn by Lee, who claims
"Now sublunary beings do not cause, says Avicenna, but they only prepare for the
cause which is itself outside natural beings,1"352
34* Bahlyat, p.383; cp. ISarat, p. 109. The natural mayl of heavenly bodies is circular, of sublunary
bodies, straight: ISarat, pp.l11-12; cp. Mubabatat, p. 147( 119-121) and DaniS-nama
[Tabl'lyat], p.33.
349Sama' fabl'i, pp.49,53; cp. Ta'ltqat, p.45.
3 ^ Sama' fabl'i, p.49.
331E. Gilson, "Pourquoi Saint Thomas a critique Saint Augustin," in Archives d'Histoire
Doctrinalc et Litt6raire du Moyen Age I (1926-7), p.40(n.l).
332 p. Lee, "St. Thomas and Avicenna on the agent intellect," in ThomistAS/l (1981), p.46(n.ll).
cp. J. Weisheipl, "Aristotle's concept of nature: Avicenna and Aquinas," in L.D. Roberts, ed.,
Approaches to Nature in the Middle Ages (Binghamton, New York:1982), p.150.
Weisheipl's analysis is similarly infected with hostility for Avicenna: "it was Avicenna who
completely failed to appreciate the Aristotelian conception, and ended by defending a real
Platonism which was influential throughout the Middle Ages...[Avicenna's] was a preCartesian Cartesianism, which has continued to plague Aristotelianism throughout its long

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98
in a discussion of the agent intellect (in its metaphysical, as opposed to epistemological role,
i.e. as mu'.ti al-$uwar/Dator formanun). Brand, citing Lee, says:
"Causality in Neo-Platonism is not, as it is in Aristotelianism, to educe act from
potency; rather, it is to imprint, impress, or give an act to another. In book one,
chapter ten of the Sufficientia, Avicenna says that sublunary entities do not strictly
speaking cause; they only prepare for the causes." 353
All three scholars have taken Avicenna's statement out of context, and follow a long
tradition among Latinists in general, and Thomists in particular (following B

re n ta n o 3 5 4 )>

Gf

viewing Avicenna's thought as a neoplatonic mangling of Aristotle. The passage is not


about metaphysics, psychology, or the Liber de causis;35$ it is about efficient causation in
nature.

Unlike Proclus, Avicenna is not concerned here with the divine function in every soul "to
prepare Nature by the power that is in it from the first cause;" 356 indeed, as was mentioned
below, he took Aba BiSr to task for just such a confusion of nature and soul. Furthermore,
if one looks just five lines previously, Avicenna states explicitly that
"The agent in natural things can be said to be the principle of motion in something
other than it qua something other than it; we mean by motion here every exit from
potentiality to actuality in a matter." 357
In other words, Avicenna is simply referring to one of the two aspects of the Aristotelian
term pbusis/fabVa discussed in Section 2.1: both aspects have a certain efficient causality,
but one is intrinsic to the natural thing, and the other is extrinsic. In other words, the Agent
Intellect gives existence to the form/matter compound, but the matter is set in motion

history...Moslem fatalism played too strong a role in [Avicenna's] whole philosophy to allow
for true freedom of the human spirit*" pp.138,148,152.
353 d j . Brand, trans., Book o f Causes (Liber de Causis) (Milwaukee: 1984), p.46(n.7).
354 e.g. F. Brentano, The Psychology o f Aristotle: la Particular His Doctrine o f the Active
Intellect (Berkeley: 1977), pp.7-8.
355 Indeed, one scholar has recently claimed that Avicenna probably never saw the Liber de causis
(the Arabic version was called K al-ldah ti 1-hair al-mahd)'- R-C. Taylor, "The Liber de
Causis in Islam," in J. Kraye, W.F. Ryan, and C.B. Schmitt, eds., Pseudo-Aristotle in the
Middle Ages (London: 1986), pp.40,46(n.34).
356 grand's translation of Liber de causis m,27-28.
357 Samae fabl'i, p.48.

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99
toward the form by its natural principle of motion, i.e. the perfecter. It is thus through the
mediation of die perfecter in nature (i.e. the form itself) that the Agent Intellect causes the
existence of the c o m

p o u n d .3 5 8

With this in mind a more likely source for Avicenna's use of the terms m uhayyi3 and
mutammim than the neoplatonist Proclus is the Aristotelian Alexander of Aphrodisias, in
whose Fi '1-hiss (De sensu) the term mutammim, "perfecter," is used several times to
describe the transition from potentiality to actuality; this transition is called a "perfecting,
completing transformation."359 The transition to perfection is one type of passion; the
other refers to transformation, generation, and

c o r r u p tio n .3 6 0

Jq this context Alexander

also uses the passive term mutahayyi3, "disposed:" "the agent in act seems to have been
disposed toward its reception of actuality." 361

358 Ta'tiqat, p. 173.


359 wa-hiya l-istifrala al-mutammima al-mukmila; H.-J. Ruland, ed., Die arabischc
Ubersetzung der Scbrift des Alexander von Aphrodisias uber die Sinneswahmehmung
(Maqaia Aliskandar al-Afrudtsi fi 1-hiss) (Gottingen:1977), p. 176.
360 cf, wa-dahabihi ila tamamihi wa-kamalihi: Alexander, Ifiss, p. 190. cp. Alexander's
translator's use the term humj (Hiss, pp. 172,176) mentioned earlier in this section as one of
Avicenna's motion-metaphors for the transition from potentiality to actuality.
361 cf. fa-inna 'l-facil bi'l-ficl yuSbihu al-mutahayyi3 li-qubalihi bi'l-fiel: Alexander, IJiss,
p. 192; cp. pp.178,180,186,190. However, the Arabic translator of Alexander's Refutation o f
Galen (a treatise preserved only in Arabic) uses the term mayl in a context where (at least by
Avicenna's reckoning) we should have expected the term isticdad; cf. M. Marmura, N.
Rescher, eds. and trans., The Refutation by Alexander o f Aphrodisias o f Galen's Treatise
on the Theory o f Motion (Islamabad: 1965), p.78; discussed in Sorabji, MSM, p.224.

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100

C h a n ce , fin a lity , a n d n a t u r a l n e c e s s ity

2.5

As we discussed in Chapter 1, Aristotle primarily introduces the notion of cause in terms of


explanation, and specifically scientific explanation. Insofar as scientific explanation is
bound together with his theory of demonstration, Aristotle's effects must follow from their
causes as necessarily as conclusions follow from demonstrative premises. Physics II is
Aristotle's treatise on causes; the importance he attaches to the twin issues of chance and
necessity (which most commentators have taken the causes other than nature" as referring
tQ362)) ^

to their relation to teleological explanation, is reflected in the fact that nearly

three quarters of Book II is devoted to examining them. In addition, some passages dealing
with finality and natural necessity, particularly his famous discussion of Summer rain in
Chapter 8 , are among the most problematic in Aristotle.

Avicenna also attacked the problem of chance and natural necessity in TabFiyat 1:13-14.
Our aim in this section is to determine how Avicenna's notion of chance differed from
Aristotle's, and to show how these differences shaped Avicenna's approach to the more
fundamental issue of necessity and finality first discussed in Section 1.4. In so doing, we
must try to answer the following questions: What is a chance event or phenomenon? How
does chance differ from other terms used to describe unusual phenomena? Is chance a
cause, and if it is, what kind of cause is it? Does chance qua existential cause complement

362 e.g., in the Arabic tradition, Aba*All b. al-Samb; cf. Badawi, TabVa I, p.81. For Avicenna's
view of him, cf. S.M. Stem, "Ibn al-Samb," Journal o f the Royal Asiatic Society (1956),
pp.32-3; reprinted in F.W. Zimmermann, ed., S.M. Stem: Medieval Arabic and Hebrew
Thought (London: 1983), #XVI, pp.32-3.

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101

efficient and final causes, or does it negate them? Are chance events themselves necessary
or final in any way?

It seems best once again to begin with an examination of Aristotle's technical vocabulary,
its transmission into Arabic, and Avicenna's own terminology. Aristotle uses three terms to
describe unusual events: tukhe and automaton,3 6 3 and m

a te n .3 6 4

These three terms were

translated into Arabic as, respectively, al-baht, tilqaa '1-nafs, and bafil.365 Although
Avicenna does use all three of these terms, he concentrates on al-baht and on a new term,
al-ittifaq.366

Like Aristotle, who said that automaton is more general than tukhe, so Avicenna says that
ittifaq is more general than

b a h t.3 6 7

The term ittifaq, although occurring (as what looks

like a translator's gloss) in the Arabic version of Physics 11,4-6,368 does not actually
translate any specific Greek word; die verb ittafaqa, however, is used in this context to
translate various phrases, such as hopos an tukhe, apo tukhe genesthai, and etukhen.369

Avicenna also follows Aristotle in viewing luck and chance as accidental c a u s e s , 3 70 but
disagrees with Aristotle's implicit belief that they are not "definable" in the sense that the

363pbys. n,4:195bl0; these two terms are translated by Ross as "chance" and "spontaneity" (Ross,
Physics, p.353), and by Charlton as "luck" and "the automatic" (Charlton, Physics, p.31; cf.
p.105). In Meta. XII,3:1070a4-8, Aristotle says that chance applies to art, while spontaneity
applies to natural processes.
364Phys. II,6:197b22; this term is translated by both Charlton (Physics, p.36) and Ross (Physics,
p.355) as "in vain."
365 Badawi, Jabi'a I pp.l 11,130. For another example of maten/bafil, cf. D.A. m,9:432b21/Ff
oafs, p.81. In his descriptions of generation in Meta. VII,7:1032al3 and 1032b23,
Aristode's uses of apo tou automatou were translated not as tilqaa nafs but rather as alladt
bi 1-dat: Bouyges, Ma bacd al-fabPa II, pp.837,843.
366Samac fabl'i, p.60; cp. "its end is the accidental end which is called 'futile' (al-batif):'' APal
wa-infi'alat, p.227.
367Phys. n,6:197a36fif.; Sama' fabl'i, p.66. cp. Hidaya, p. 141.
368cf. ya'nl al-ittifaq and wa-huwa 1-ittifaq: Badawi, Jableal, pp.l 15,125.
369cf. respectively, Phys. II,4:196a22,24,31/Badawi, Jabfal, pp.l 14-5.
370Samac fabl'i, p.65.

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102

other causes discussed in Physics n ,3 a r e . 371 Rather, Avicenna uses the definition of luck
and chance qua accidental causes to extend the domain of chance causation to cover final as
well as efficient c a u s e s . 3 7 2 These accidental causes can be epistemically indefinite in the
sense that in any analysis of a chance event or phenomenon, the causal elements may need
to be broken down to such a minute level (in order to find an essential end perfected during
the event or in die phenomenon) that we may not be able to observe t h e m

.3 7 3

Avicenna's intention here, and one of his contributions to the debate over teleology and
necessity, was to separate and clarify the issues of necessity and chance; taking a hint from
A ris to tle ,

3 74 Avicenna implies that chance must not be contrasted with necessity, but rather

with habit Chance is simply what does not happen by nature, i.e. not "always or for the
most p

a rt

"375 Indeed, Avicenna claims to be adhering to Aristotle's "true" doctrine when

he criticizes "recent Peripatetics" (al-maSa3iyln...al-muta3ahhirfn) for adding an extra


condition to the definition of chance: instead of just being noj "always or for the most part,"
these recent Peripatetics require a positive condition as well: chance events must be "for the
least p a r t "376 The rationale behind their extra condition, according to Avicenna, is that one
can thus avoid being forced to define as chance phenomena those things (such as eating or
not eating, or walking or not walking) that can happen equally one way or another. Thus an
act of human will, like deciding to sit down for one's supper, cannot be called "by chance,"

371 horismcnon/mul)af$al: Phys. II,4:196a2/Badawl, Tabl'a I, p.111. cf. L. Judson, "Chance


and 'always or for the most part' in Aristotle," in L. Judson, ed., Aristotle's Phvsics: A
Collection o f Essays (Oxford: 1991), p.77.
372Samac fabll, pp.65-6.
373 cf. Avicenna's implication that just as effects are often better known than their causes, so the
final cause qua result is more knowable than the microscopic material causes leading up to it:
Mubahatat, p,164(203).
374cf. Phys. n,8:198b34-199a5. However in Meta. V,30:1025al4ff. and XI,8:1064b33-1065a2,
Aristotle clearly opposes chance with necessity.
375cf. inna 'l-'umar minha ma hiya daHma, wa-minha ma hiya fl aktar al-3amr: Samae
,tabl% p.62; cf. Judson, "Chance," pp.82-85.
376Samae fabi% p.63-4.

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103
even though it does not happen with enough frequency (i.e. for die most part) to deserve to
be called "by nature."

Avicenna regards this as an unnecessary addition; we can find enough evidence in


Aristotle, he says, to apply a kind of analogous necessity to things that happen for the most
part or equally one way or another, without having to add this extra condition. But despite
the fact that the domains of necessity and nature overlap, in a strict sense they are not
synonymous: although what happens always is both necessary and natural, what happens
for die most part is, strictly speaking, not necessary, but is n a t u r a l ; 3 7 7

o n ]y

what cannot

happen (or have happened) otherwise is necessary. Avicenna's point is that the necessity
associated with nature must be stretched to cover things that happen equally one way or the
other or even for the least part, i.e. things that are by definition chance events, but are
possibly natural.

A possible source for Avicenna's notion that phenomena or events can be natural yet
occasional (and hence, stricdy speaking, unnecessary) is Meteorology 1,1. Here Aristode
defines the subjects of this science as those things which happen by nature (kata phusin),
but with less order and regularity (ataktoteron) than the elemental processes constituting
th e m ;3 7 8

the Arabic version makes explicit that the subjects of meteorology are accidental

phenomena (al-3umar al-'arifa) whose causes are

n a tu r a l.3 7 9

In other words, the

domain of nature extends even to those phenomena which, taken as a whole event or
process, happen for the least part, but which, broken down into their constituent elemental
processes, manifest material and efficient necessity.

377 cp. Averrocs, Epitome, p.21.


378Meteor: I,l:338b20-22.
379petraitis, Fi atar, p. 11 (Arabic).

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104
By Avicenna's reckoning the unexpected Summer rain falling on the threshing floor and
rotting the harvested crops is not, taken as a whole process, for the sake of something, but
nor is ittaken as a wholeof

n e c e s s ity .

380 por while Avicenna accepts Aristotle's

statement that*
"chance is an accidental cause of normally purposeful teleological events,"381
what bothers Avicenna is the notion that because the causation of these events is accidental
as opposed to essential, they are non-necessary. The fact that Aristotle makes this
connection and Avicenna does not tells us much about their respective theories of causality.
For us it seems absurd to speak of chance events as causeless; the Summer frost of
Metaphysics XI,8 is caused necessarily by exactly the same material and efficient causes
as the Winter frost.382 The former is simply unusual.

Aristotle's problem, as Avicenna sees it, is his insistence on tying nature to necessity: that
something's essential nature will cause it always and necessarily, and that causation,
properly speaking, consists of this kind of essential necessitation. Avicenna, unlike
Aristotle, does not mind being labeled a determinist; accidental causes necessitate their
effects' existence in the same way essential causes do. Where Avicenna would agree with
Aristotle is that the causes of chance events taken as a whole are:
"indeterminate, and hence chance is inscrutable to human calculation, and is a cause
only accidentally." 383
But even here Aristotle's reasoning is slightly tautologous: chance events have no essential
cause; we need to know an essential cause to understand something; therefore we cannot
understand chance events. Avicenna would call this self-fulfilling: if you are calling

38OSamaf fabl'i, p.69; cp. "Plagaes and ills...are natural only insofar as they follow necessarily
upon necessities, and upon the weakness of matter in receiving the perfect order" Ta'liqat,
p.62. cp. Phys. n,8:198bl6-24 and 199al-8.
38ljVfefa. XI,8:1065a30-32/H. Treddenick, ed. and trans., Aristotle: Metaphysics Books X-XTV
(Cambridge, Mass.: 1947), p.93.
382Meta. XI,8:1064b37-38.
383Afeta. XI,8:1065a33-35./Treddenick, Metaphysics X-XZV, pp.93-95.

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105
something a chance event, you already assume there is no essential cause and thus you will
never understand i t Avicenna simply objects to setting artificial boundaries around a
process, calling it a chance event, and then throwing up one's hands; it is the boundaries
that are the problem, not the elements in the process. In other words, we cannot let our own
epistemic suppositions bound an event and then insist on nature doing the same, hi terms of
final causation, what Aristotle does is imply that the series of final causes in the middle of a
causal process are perfections, but not perfect perfections; die latter qualification is reserved
for the essential end of the process, not the concomitant e n d s . 3 8 4

The problem with the Aristotelian account in Physics 11,8 is brought out in Avicenna's
implicit criticism that Aristode has confused "by nature" and "of necessity. For despite his
claim to have struck a balance between mechanical and ideal causes, Aristode asks more of
the formal and final causes than he does from the material and efficient causes; taking a
process as a whole is the province of finality, like when we take Winter rain, as a whole, as
being for the sake of Summer crops. But this level of wholeness is never expected of
mechanical causes; their being of necessity is at the same level regardless of whether the
process is taken as a whole or not, for the necessity of mechanical causes is always at the
level of the constituent material and efficient elements. Thus Summer rain is of necessity at
the same level of observation as Winter rain, namely at the level of minute chemical
processes; the regularity of Winter rain taken as a whole does not make it of necessity, but
only more natural than summer rain.

Avicenna gives the following example: a child is bom with an extra finger; at a lower (i.e.
more minute) level of observation, the process of forming that extra finger was of necessity
and by nature, in the sense that the extra finger represents the perfection of that particular
child's embryonic material disposition to form an extra finger. Only taken at a higher level,
384A

fe ta .

V,2:1013a35ff.; cp. N.E. I,7:1097a25-28 and CA. V,l:778bl7-19.

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106

with regard to the species rather than die individual, can the extra finger be taken as existing
contrary to Nature; seeing Nature in its role as extrinsic final cause, as order or Providence,
makes us view the extra finger as n o n - n a t u r a l . 385

Aristode does seem to admit as much when he says in Generation o f Animals IV,4, that:
"A monstrosity, of course, belongs to the class o f 'things contrary to Nature,'
although it is contrary not to Nature in its entirety but only to Nature in die generality
of cases. So far as concerns the Nature which is always and by necessity, nothing
occurs contrary to that; no; unnatural occurrences are found only among those things
which occur as they do in the generality of cases, but which may occur
otherwise...even that which is contrary to Nature is, in a way, in accordance with
n a tu r e ." 3 8 6

But Aristode ultimately resorts to explaining such aberrations as the result of the formal
element losing control over the material element, and that monstrosities are not necessary as
far as the final cause is c o n c e m

e d .3 8 7

According to Avicenna it is only Aristode's extension of finality upwards, as it were, that


gets him into trouble. Avicenna's point is that Aristode should follow his own program in
Meteorology IV, 12:
"But while the material of all the homoiomerous bodies is the elements we have
mentioned, their essential reality is comprised in their formal definition. This is
always clearer in the higher products of nature and, generally speaking, in things
which are instrumental and serve a particular end...the distinction is less clear in the
case of flesh and bone, and less clear again in the case of fire and water. For the final
cause is least obvious where matter predominates. For just as, to take two extremes,
matter is simply matter, essential reality is simply formal definition, so things
intermediate are related to these two extremes according to their proximity to each; for
each of them has a final cause, and is not just water or fire, not just flesh and
intestines...It is equally true of plants and inorganic bodies like bronze and silver, for
they are all what they are because of their ability to perform some active or passive
function, like flesh and sinew, but their precise formal definitions are less apparent,
and so it is difficult to perceive when they are operative and when they are n o t " 3 8 8

Sama' fabl'i, p.63; cp. Mubaljatat, p.l57(185).


386 G.A. IV,4:770b9-17/A.L. Peck, ed andtrans., Aristotle: Generation o f Animals (Cambridge,
Mass.: 1953), pp.425-27.
387CA. IV,3:767M3-15.
y^M cteor. IV,12:389b28-390a9/Petraitis, Fi atar, pp. 128-30. The translation is Lee's:
Meteorologica, pp.371-73.

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107
When we speak of the chemical processes involved in irregular natural events, the
mechanical causes are only more obvious than the ideal ones; but that is not the same as
saying that the former are of necessity while the latter are not According to Avicenna, it is
the causal reciprocity between ideal and mechanical causes that gives each its equal share of
necessity.

By Avicenna's reckoning, the Summer rain falling on the threshing floor and spoiling the
harvested crops is only accidentally for the sake of that spoiling; at a more minute level of
observation, however, the rain's spoiling of the crops represents the fulfillment of its
component elements' essential properties to moisten and rot whatever organic matter they
come into contact with. At this lower level each of these fulfillments or perfections is of
necessity.

Furthermore, Avicenna's distinction between necessity and nature enabled him, unlike
Aristotle, to show dial it was the final cause qua intrinsic perfection (i.e. nature), rather than
the final cause qua extrinsic end (i.e. Nature), that should be equated with the good. For
Avicenna, perfection as the good is a neutral, ontological, valueless term; for Aristotle, the
end as good is anthropocentric and value-laden.3^89 Whatever Aristotle's views may
actually have been (he is obscure on this topic), it is certainly plausible that Avicenna could
have interpreted him as implying that the good is what is most beneficial for the hierarchy
of substances; at the top of that hierarchy sits the most substantial substance, the living
organism; at the top of that hierarchy of living substances sits man; therefore Aristotle's
good is (in Avicenna's view) ultimately anthropocentric.390 For Avicenna, the good is not
bound to a natural hierarchy, but simply represents the existentiation of any thing, event, or
process. By Avicenna's reckoning, his mechanistic teleology must answer the question
389i.c. what one recent commentator calls the "human interest" aspect: Cynthia Freeland,
"Accidental causes and real explanations," in Judson, Physics, p.69.
390cf. Judson, "Chance," pp.73-74.

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108
"what is the essential end of process (or phenomenon) X?," not "for the sake of what good
is process (or phenomenon) X

? "3 9 1

We shall discuss the good further in Section 4 . 3 .

Avicenna's discussion of chance and accidental ends is important not only because it is
quite original, but it also helps us understand whence he derived his notion of natural
perfection: Aristode's statement that the formal aspect of phusis is more entitled to be called
"nature" than the material aspect, because form represents actuality while matter represents
p o te n tia lity .3 9 2

Avicennas mechanistic teleology also finds support in Aristode's statement

that the end and the result of a process are the same; but whereas Aristode qualifies his
statement by maintaining that it is not really an end unless it is also the best o u t c o m

e ,

39 3

Avicenna implies in his discussion of accidental ends that a result is always an end
regardless of whether the result is beneficial or not, but can be called an essential end only
if it is for the b e s t . 3 9 4

By maintaining that chance is opposed not to nature or necessity but only to habit,
Avicenna has severely restricted its domain in natural philosophy, and given it a subjective,
epistemological role rather than an objective, physical o n e . 3 9 5 jn this way Avicenna can
avoid worrying that necessity negates or even obstructs his mechanistic teleology; indeed,
necessity plays an integral part in final causation, through (as discussed above) the
reciprocal necessitation of efficient and final causes qua each other's cause and effect What
Avicenna has done is to understand that just as form and matter imply each other
necessarily (i.e. the separate existence of one without the other is impossible, at least in the

391 cf. D. Charles, "Teleological causation in the Physics," in Judson, Physics, p.105.
phys. n,l:193b3-7; Samae fabl'i, p.34. cp. Phys. II,8:198bl0, where nature qua final/formal
cause is opposed to the necessitating causes.
393Phys. n,2:l 94a27-33.
394samac
pp.58,64-67.
395jn Meta. V,30:1025al4, Aristode contrasts accidentality with essentiality and necessity, but in
VI,2:1026b24fF., he says accidentally is simply non-regular.
392

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109
natural

w o rld 3

96), and thus are in a sense each other's causes and effects, so the same

holds true at the existential level for end and agent

By dividing natural finality into two existentiating modes (one, an extrinsic end for whose
sake the form inheres in die matter, the other the formal end itself397) which correspond to
the differing causal roles of nature, Avicenna has clarified what he viewed as Aristotle's
confusion of natural existence and natural motion. The ends and perfections of living
things, the substances which sit at the top of the natural hierarchy, are the subject of the
next chapter.

396 Sama1 wa-fa/am, p.33.


397 c Barat, pp.99.101.

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110

BIOLOGY

In this chapter we shall discuss the biological role of the final cause. Our main sources are
Avicennas Kitab al-Ifayawan (Book o f Animals) and al-Qanan fi l-Jibb (Canon o f
Medicine).

This chapter is divided into three sections. Section 3.1, "Humors, parts, and functions," will
focus on the parts of animals and the explicative role the final cause plays in defining them
in terms of biological function. In Section 3.2, "Reproduction and growth," we shall
concentrate on the process of generation and maturation, and on how, by positing an end
extrinsic to the individual animal, Avicenna sees die function of the reproductive organs as
transcending simple utility. Finally, in Section 3.3 we shall try to summarize the importance
of teleological explanation in biology to Avicennas general theory of teleology.

It is thanks mainly to the work of David Balme that the biological works of Aristotle, so
long neglected by historians of philosophy, have, in the last twenty years or so, been given
a proper critical examination. ^

Indeed, it may now be claimed that any understanding of

398cf. the recent edition of his 1972 translation and commentary: D.M. Balme, trans., De Partibus
Animalium I and De Ceneratione Animalium I (with passages from II. 1-3)
(Oxford: 1992); also cf. A Gotthelfs "Report on recent work" on pp.168-177 of the 1992
edition, [henceforth: Balme (1992)]

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I ll

Aristotle's conception of final causality is incomplete without substantial reference to the


Parts o f Animals and Generation o f Animals. These two works (along with the H istory
o f Animals)399 were among those translated into Arabic and collated under the title K. alHayawan, or K. Jaba3ie al-HayawanA00

Although not an avid animal researcher like Aristotle, Avicenna nonetheless had a good
deal of clinical experience treating, amongst others, the various princes he served;401 and
we can detect throughout Avicenna's own Kitab al-Hayawan his greater interest in the
organs and reproduction of animals (and particularly humans) over a more general
zoological survey like the Kitab al-Hayawan of a l - J a f c i z . 4 0 2 indeed, in the very first
sentence of the Hayawan, Avicenna states that

^Arabic translations of the De Motu Animalium and the De Incessu Animalium are not known
to have existed, although the former work is mentioned by Ibn Abl U$aybia and Ibn RuSd;
cf. Kruk, FI ac<Ja3, p. 13.
400 For more on this translation and the uncertainty surrounding the identity of the translator, cf.
Brugmann and Drossaart Lulofs, FI kawn, pp. 1-70 passim; Kruk, FI ac<fa3, pp. 13-23
passim; and J.N. Mattock, ed., and trans., Maqala Tashtamil ala Fu$nl min Kitab alHayawan li-ArisfO (Tract comprising Excerpts from Aristotle's Book o f Animals)
(Cambridge, England: 1966), pjdii. I have not seen J.N. Mattock's 1967-8 Cambridge Ph.D.
dissertation, entitled "A Critical Edition of the Arabic Version of Aristotle's De Animalibus
Historia. with introduction, notes and glossaries," but because H.A. contains fewer purely
philosophical passages it is not as important for our study as PA. and G A
401 cf. Goldman, life, pp.26,34,50-2,56,72-4,94.
402 something which (by Kruks reckoning) presumably makes Avicenna exceptional amongst
Orientals: It is not surprising that among the Arabs, with their predilection for the
anecdotal, the Historia Animalium was the most popular of Aristotle's zoological works: Ft
a'4a3, p. 11. The implication is that by contrast die medieval Latins showed greater interest
in the more scientific (and hence more rational) PA. and G A. The fact is, of course, that
die HA. was the least technical and thus the most accessible of Aristotles zoological works;
it should not be surprising that it would have the widest readership in any society. Kruk
appears to have learnt this approach from her teachers, Professors Drossaart Lulofs and
Brugmann, who refer (in classic Orientalist fashion) to the problems Michael Scot had in
translating into Latin the proverbial verbosity of the Arabic and the luxuriant redundancy
of the Arabic: Ft kawn, p.58. Again, the fact is that sometimes the Arabic version is longer
and other times more concise than the Greek original, depending on whether an appropriate
technical term or idiom was available to the translator. Kruk does observe that Avicenna
devoted approximately equal time to topics originally covered in P A. and H A., whereas
H A is at least twice as long as either PA. or G A: Ft ae4a3, p.37; cp. pp. 11-12 of Ibrahim
Madkour's French introduction to Hayawan.

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112

"we shall now discuss animals, following the example of the First
throughout the hook, except in [our] examination of human o r g a n s . " 4 0 4

L e s s o n 4 0 3

I believe Avicenna's biological theories are of equivalent importance to his philosophy in


general and to his theory of final causation in particular as those of Aristotle were to his;
that the multi-layered, subtle teleology of living things presented in the Hayawan and the
Qanon served as a model upon which Avicenna was to base his teleology of existence will,
I hope, become clear as we proceed to Chapter 4, on metaphysics.

403 al-ta'ttm al-awwal, i.e. the works of Aristotle, the First Teacher (al-mucallim aJ-awwal):
Hayawan, p.l.
Hayawan, p.l.

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113

HUMORS, PARTS, AND FUNCTIONS

3.1

Nowhere in Avicenna's biological works is there a teleological manifesto equivalent to the


famous defenses of fmalism against Democritean mechanism found in Aristotle's Parts o f
Anim als 1,1 or Generation o f Animals V,8 . Nevertheless, as will be shown, Avicenna's
Hayawan is suffused with the language of final causation, and in this respect follows the
lead of the translations into Arabic of those two Aristotelian works.

In particular, Aristotle's division of teleological explanations in Parts o f Animals 1,1 into


those that involve hypothetical necessity and those that involve finality, can be seen as the
forerunner of Avicenna's division of teleological explanations in biology into those which
concern a necessity and those which concern a

b e n e fit.4 ^

However, in most of the

biological examples Aristotle cites it is material, or absolute necessity, rather than


hypothetical necessity, that figures.4^ Indeed, natural phenomena are explained as arising
405PAI,l:639bl4-31 and 642al-2; similar passages are GA. m,4:755a22-26; IV,8:776al5-b3;
V,l:776b33-34 and 778a31-bl9; APo. II,ll:94b27-31; Phys. n,8:198bl0-14 (echoed in
Hayawan, p. 188); and D A. II,4:415b2-3.
40^The problem of the compatibility of necessary and final causes, and Aristotle's apparent use of
absolute or simple (haplos) necessity in some biological passages, have together generated a
number of different interpretations, cf., in particular, the articles by A. Gotthelf, "Aristotle's
conception of final causality" (pp.204-242), J.M. Cooper, "Hypothetical necessity and natural
teleology" (pp.243-274), and D. Balme, "Teleology and necessity" (pp.275-285), in A.
Gotthelf and J.G. Lennox, eds., Philosophical Issues in Aristotle's Biology
(Cambridge: 1987). cf. also R. Friedman's two articles: "Necessitarianism and teleology in
Aristotle's biology," in Biology and Philosophy 1/3 (1986), pp.355-365, and "Simple
necessity in Aristotle's biology," in International Studies in Philosophy XIX/1 (1987),
pp. 1-9; M. Boylan, "Mechanism and teleology in Aristotle's biology," in Apeiron XV/2
(1981), pp.96-102; M. Bradie and F.D. Miller, Jr., "Teleology and natural necessity in
Aristotle," in History o f Philosophy Quarterly 1/2 (1984), pp.133-146; J.G. Lennox,
"Teleology, chance, and Aristotle's theory of spontaneous generation," in loumal o f the
History o f Philosophy XX/3 (1982), pp.219-238, and the response by A. Gotthelf,
"Teleology and spontaneous generation in Aristotle: a discussion," in Apeiron XXH/4
(1989), pp.181-193;

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114
both from material necessity and for the sake of a hypothetical benefit (to use Avicenna's
terms); an example is the shedding of deer horns in Parts o f Animals 1 1 1 , 2 : deer are said to
shed their horns at a given point because given the heaviness of their matter they
necessarily break off (material necessity) and also so that their heads will be lighter
(hypothetical benefit). In Parts o f Animals 1 , 1 we see that breathing is similarly explicable:
taken as a whole process, respiration is for the sake of some end, while taken step by step,
the process proceeds necessarily.

Avicenna takes up die notion of causal complementarity between material necessity and
finality in his examination of the four humors. Although his attention to H

ip p o c ra tic 4 0 7

and Galenic408 humoral theory is one obvious respect in which the stuff of Avicenna's
biological theories differs from that of Aristotle's,4 0 9 the structure of Avicenna's
explanations is similar. For while Aristode did not create an intricate humoral pathology,
his emphasis on material necessity can be seen in the elaborate schematization of bodily
passions and diseases which Avicenna related to humoral, i.e. material, necessitation. By
407cf. J.N. Mattock and M.C. Lyons, eds. and trans., Kitab Buqrat ff fabl'a al-insao
(Hippocrates: On the Nature o f Maa) (Cambridge: 1968), pp.2-13. We also know that
Hippocrates' Peri cbumon was translated into Arabic by Hunayn b. Ishaq zsK .fl '1-ahlat, as
was Galen's commentary on that book; cf. M. Ullmann, Die Medizin im Islam
(Leiden: 1970), pp.30[9],62[110], Hippocrates works were available in Arabic primarily
through a Galenic filter, however; cf. M.W. Dols, Medieval Islamic Medicine
(Berkeley: 1984), pp.9-10.
408cf. M.S. Salim, ed., K. Jallnas fl '1-usfuqusat eala ra3y Abuqrat (Cairo:1987), passim, but
see in particular pp.51,66,120,127; M.S. Salim, ed., K. Jallnas ila Iglawqun fl 'l-ta>attl liSifa3 al-amrad (Cairo: 1982), p.50; M.S. Salim, ed., Jallnas: al-finaea al-$aglta
(Cairo:1988), pp.75-6,125-6; G. Strohmaier, ed. and trans., Galen: Uber die
Verscbiedenbeit der Homoiomeren Kdrportcilc (K. Jallnas fl 'btilaf al-ac<Ja3 almutaSabiba al-ajza3) (Berlin: 1970), p.70. cf. also A.J. Brock, ed. and trans., Galen: On die
Natural Faculties (Peri pbusikon dunameon) (Cambridge, Mass:1963), pp. 183-5,189-95,
201-17. [henceforth: Denat lac.] This last book was translated by Hunayn into Arabic as K
al-quwa l-fab1clya; cf. Ullmann, Medizin, p.40[ll]. Ullmann also mentions the existence
in mss. of the Arabic translations of Galen's Peri kraseon (translated variously as K. almizaj, K. al-amzija, and K. al-mizajat)\ cf. Ullmann, Medizin, p.39[5]. Also cf. 6,7 on
the same page for other Galenic works on temperament
409Hunayn himself also wrote about humors and temperament; cf. M.A Abo Rayan, M.M. Arab,
and J.M. Mosa, eds., Al-masa3il fl 1-fibb li "l-muta'allimln (Cairo: 1978), pp.2-8,1958,273-7,283-5,332-3. A commentary Avicenna wrote on this book is listed in his
autobiography: Gohlmann, Life, pp.l06,140(n.l5),150. Unfortunately this commentary is
still unpublished; cf. G. Anawati, Mu3allafat ibn Slna (Cairo:1950), pp.215-6, 144, and Y.
Mahdavl, Fibrist-i nasbaba-yi mu$annafat-i ibn Slna (Tehran: 1954), p.219, 110.

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115
Avicenna's reckoning, organs and bodies are generated from a mixture of humors, just as
the humors are themselves bodies generated from a mixture of elements.410 Aristotle,
while following Hippocrates and Plato in his conception of a perfect mixture, or
temperament, of the hot, cold, moist, and dry elements that correspond to each of the four
humors,411 maintained that the elements were the material constituents of what he termed
the homoiomerous parts (e.g. blood and flesh), the homoiomerous parts the material
constituents of the non-homoiomerous parts (e.g. the liver and the stomach), and the nonhomoiomerous parts the material constituents of the whole animal.412 Avicenna sometimes
puts it still another way: the organs of the body are its proximate matter, die elements its
distant matter.413

Bypassing the content of Aristotles explanation, Avicenna extends and refines Aristotles
explanatory scheme, examining the four humors following the Aristotelian method. This is

Hayawan, pp.2,10; Qanan, p.37. Thus material causes are presented in the Canon as being 1)
al-aqrab (proximate), namely the organ or spirit; 2 ) al-abcad (distant), namely the humors;
3) aJ-abead minbu (ultimate), namely the elements: Qanan, p. 14. For Avicenna on die
elements, their qualities, and their mixtures, cf. Qanan, pp. 18-27; for Avicenna on the
humors, cf. Qanan, pp.29-36. Avicenna also maintains that the perfect mixture is a final cause
qua limit of the humors' elements' natural motion: DaniS-nama [JabFiyat], p.57.
411 for the elements and the qualities in general, cf. G.C. H, I:328b26-338bl9 and II,3:330a33-b6;
D.C. m,3:302al 1-20 and IV,3:311al5-bl4; for the balance of elements, cf. HA.
Vm,2:590al6-17; Pbys. VII,3:246b4-10; and Top. m,l:116bl9-21, VI,2:139b21-22, and
VI,6:145b8-l 1. cf. also the discussion of the terms krasis and summctria in A.L. Peck, ed.,
Aristotle: Historia Animalium, vol. 1 (Cambridge, Mass: 1965); pp.lxxv-lxxvii. For
examples of the term halt (humor), mainly as a translation of mixis, in the Arabic Aristotle,
cf. Fl ae4a3642a22; and Fl kawn 724bl7, 747b4, 769a35. Several pseudepigraphic works
in the Arabic Aristotelian corpus also contained sections on humors and temperament; cf.
Maqala2 (Fl fral al-malik wa-hayatihi) of the Sirr al-asrar, published in A. Badawi, ed.,
Al-u$al al-yxmanlya li Tnazariyat al-siyaslya fl 1-islam (Cairo: 1954), pp.86-95,98, and
Books I (on medicine) and XIV (on temperament) of the Problemata, in W.S. Hett, ed. and
trans., Aristotle: Problems I (Cambridge, Mass:1961), pp.3,11,15,39,316-25. This latter
work is mentioned by Ibn Abi Uaybica as Al-masa3il al-fablelya-, cf. F.E. Peters 1961
Princeton Ph.D. dissertation Aristoteles Arabus: The Oriental Translations and
Commentaries on the Aristotelian Corpus, p. 170.
412p j\. n,l:646al2-24; C.A. I.l:715a9-ll. cf. Balme (1992), pp.21,127: Balme thinks this latter
passage may be post-Aristotelian, but nevertheless includes it in the text of G A. It is also
included in A. Platt's translation in J.A Smith and W.D. Ross, eds., The Works o f Aristotle
(Oxford: 1912) [no page numbers given].
413The humors are also, in a way, the bodys complex matter Sama'fabi't, p.57. cp. Avicennas
division of parts into simple and complex: Qanan, p.37. cp. Philoponus, in Pbys., CAG XVI,
p.232.

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116
important because I believe that Avicenna's reduction of all causation to necessitation stems
in part from his experience as a doctor, where the material necessitation by humors of
apparently separate (i.e. immaterial) psychic states414 was a kind of pre-modem chemical
reductionism. Although in many places Avicenna says that the material account is not
sufficient by itself/415 his main point is that each of these humoral processes has a specific
essential end, however minor or irregular that process might be.

Avicenna can thus hold that while blood-an Aristotelian homoiomerous part-m ay be
understood straightforwardly through the four causes (its efficient cause is temperate heat,
its material cause a balanced diet, its formal cause a maturity appropriate to its age, and its
perfecting cause the nourishment of the body), phlegm, bile, and saw da^lb must each be
seen to possess a perfecting cause which comprises a necessity and a benefit (discussed
e l s e w h e r e ) . 417

Each of the four humors may be typical or atypical; only the former

category is discussed teleologically. The necessity of typical phlegm has two subdivisions:
the first is its role as a kind of reserve nutrient should the normal system of digestion fail,
the other is as a nutrient for phlegmatic p a r t s . 4 18 The benefit accrued from typical phlegm
is its lubricative action in joints.

Typical bile that is transported in the blood necessarily provides nutrition to parts that need
it,419 and acts beneficially as an anti-coagulant; the excess bile that is transported to the gall
bladder necessarily nourishes that organ, and is beneficially both prevented from poisoning
414c.g. Majd al-Dawla's melancholia: Goldman, Life, pp.48-51.
4I5e.g. Mubabatat, p.l38(67-69).
41&I accept Shah's reasons for not translating sawda* as "black bile:" M.H. Shah, The General
Principles o f Avicenna's Canon o f Medicine (Karachi: 1966), p.37, n.4. But in general die
translations in this book are too loose to be used as anything but a general guide to the Canon.
417 wa-sababuha al-tamaml dartlra wa-manfaca satudkuratan: Hayawan, p.207; wa-sababuba
al-tamaml al-tfarara wa'l-manfaea al-madknratan: Qanan, p.35. Elsewhere, but rarely,
teleological explanation (of the upper arm, for example) is divided into b&ja (need) and
3aman (security): Qanan, p.53.
^Siike the brain, for example: Hayawan, p.211; Qanan, p.30.
419]ike the lung, for example: Hayawan, p.213; Qanan, pp.31-2.

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117
the body through overexposure to it, and used to cleanse the digestive tract and to activate
the bowels. Typical sawda3likewise possesses a necessity and a benefit: the sawda3that
is transported in the blood necessarily nourishes parts that need

it,4 2 0

beneficially

intensifies and fortifies the blood; the excess sawda1transported to the spleen, like die bile
transported to the gall bladder, necessarily purifies the body and nourishes the spleen, and
beneficially intensifies and fortifies the mouth of the stomach, and stimulates^ 1 hunger
pangs.

This division of teleological explanations into those that refer to necessity and those that
refer to benefit has other, non-Aristotelian roots. According to Avicenna, Galen divided
body parts into those that possess an activity

those that possess a benefit

(manfa'a), and those that possess both simultaneously; the Galenic example of the first is
the heart, the second the lung, and the third the

liv e r .4 2 2

Avicenna understands this

division in terms of the essential and accidental perfections we discussed in Sections

2 .1

and 2 . 5 : 4 2 3 when Galen uses "activity" here he is referring (according to Avicenna) to that
particular action which is uniquely perfected by something intrinsic either to the life of a
particular individual orthrough that individuals survivalto the survival of the individual's
species. Avicenna's understanding of Galen's example is that it refers to the heart's
production of vital s p i r i t . 4 2 4 Galen's "benefit" is understood by Avicenna to be that which
is disposed to receive the activity of another organ, and in which the activity becomes
perfect, or complete, in benefiting the life of the individual or the survival of the species. In
420like the bones, for example: Hayawan, p.216; Qanan, pp.32-3.
421 tudagdig: Qanan, p.33.
422Hayawan, p. 15-16; Qanan, p.40.1 cannot find the Galenic passage to which Avicenna refers.
Galen does speak of aPal and manafiein the same context as the heart, lung, and liver in
Strohmaier, K. Jallnas fl 'htilaf, pp.52,54,62,64, but there is no explicit statement equivalent
to Avicenna's.
423The different senses of essential, necessary activities, and accidental, derivatively necesary
activities (corresponding to first and second perfections) is brought out in a discussion of
God's will in the Tael1qat; the end is sometimes the very activity, and sometimes a benefit
following necessarily as a concomitant of the activity: TaUqat, p. 17.
424al-rafri Hayawan, p.15-16.

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118
this sense the lungs are disposed to receive air through die activities of the diaphragm and
trachea. Finally, die action of the liver may be said to possess both a function and a benefit
in die sense that the processing of the blood, which is its necessary function, also serves
beneficially to nourish i t 425

Avicenna appears here to be extending, through the use of final causation, the Galenic
division of organs to include reproductive organs; this would seem to be the motivation
behind adding the survival of the species, an extrinsic end we shall discuss in Section 3 . 2 ,
to the intrinsic functional end peculiar to each organ. It also hints at the importance to
Avicenna of the conception of a causal chain proceeding equally toward final causes and
from efficient causes. Hence Avicenna's statement in the K. al-Nabatihat plants are for the
sake of animals, and animals for the sake of m

an,

426 may be seen as teleologically parallel

to his statement in the Hayawan that the matter and form of the mixture of elements,
humors, and assimilative or nutritive organs are all for the sake of the instrumental organs
(from which issue the actions, such as sensation and motion, that the animal qua animal
p o s s e s s e s ).4 2 7

425 c yatimmu...tamman: Hayawan, p. 15-16; Qanan, p.40.


426<a. Muntair, S. Zayid, <A. Isms'll, eds., al-SifaVal-Tabl'lyat (7): al-Nabat (Cairo:1965);
p.6 . [henceforth: Nabat] cp. Aristotles nearly identical statement in Politics I,8:1256bl5-7.
In the past the Politics was generally reckoned not to have been part of the Arabic
Aristotelian corpus (its place in the philosophical Weltanschauung of the medieval Muslim
[being] taken by Platos Resnublica. as Peters clegantly--but incorrectlyputs it: Peters,
Aristoteles Ambus, p. 137). However, some of the echoes of Aristotles work (particularly
from the first two books) are strikingly clear, and a more recent study by Pines has shown
that at least part of the Politics (or an epitome thereof) must have been available in Arabic to
die falasifa: S. Pines, Aristotles Politics in Arabic Philosophy, Israel Oriental Studies V
(1975), pp.150-60; reprinted in his The Collected Works o f Sblomo Pines, Volume II:
Studies in Arabic Versions o f Creek Texts and in Medieval Science (Jerusalem: 1986),
pp. 146-56. cf. Galstons useful summary of the question in Excellence, p. 151, n.16.
Regardless of this philological issue, however, one must be careful (as Pierre Pellegrin has
pointed out to me in a discussion) not to extrapolate from Aristotles statement an
anthropocentric teleological world-view; after all, the statement was made in a very
anthropocentric context, political science, and not in die context of natural science.
427Hayawan, p. 189.

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119
All the various parts of animals may be explained in teleological terms. Nerves, for
example, are created so that by them die organs of sense and motion may be p e r f e c t e d ; 4 2 8
muscles and tissue are laid out around the organs in order to prop them up and to receive
neural force in the process of perfecting voluntary m o t i o n . 4 2 9 Elsewhere, die bones of the
skull are described in terms of benefits perfected by the cranial s u t u r e s . 4 3 0 The function of
the eyelid, namely blinking and staring, is perfected by the motion of the top part alone,
since the bottom eyelid does not m o v e . 4 3 1 Canine teeth, whose function is to tear meat, can
still be explained teleologically in non-carnivores because here they are not for die sake of
eating but rather for f i g h t i n g . 4 3 2 The larynx is an instrument for the perfection of soundlike the reed on a mizmar (an oboe-like instrument)and for the regulation o f b r e a t h i n g ; 4 3 3
die act of breathing itself is perfected by the trachea and the venous artery t o g e t h e r . 4 3 4

Like breathing, digestion is described both as a whole process perfected by the


disintegration of food435 and 35 a series of individually perfected actions: die expulsion of
food is perfected in the act of squeezing out the contents of one chamber into another;436
the choicest elements of the food passing through the intestines are absorbed, an absorption
which is the perfection of digestion;437 the next piece of intestine is where die
transformation of food into waste is perfected;438 and finally when the waste itself has

428 huliqat li-yatimma biha: Hayawan, p. 11; Qanan, p.75.


429Hayawan, p. 13; al-haraka al-iradiya innama tatimmu...: Qanan, p.59.
430 tatimmu bi'l-Suan: Hayawan, p.251; Qanan, p.43.
431 jatnmnu bi-haraka [al-jufn] al-acla; fa-yakmilu bihi al-tagm1<f wa'1-tahdiq: Hayawan,
p.259; Qanan, p.60.
432 & li-ajti l-faem, bal li-ajli 'l-sUaJy. Hayawan, p.272; Qanan, p.46.
433al-hanjara...fa-innaha ala li-tamam al-?awt..wa li-bibs al-nafas...al-mizmar...yatimmu bihi
al-fawt: Hayawan, p.278; Qanan, p.64.
434 al-qaaba al-hawa*lya...al-$iryan al-waridl...ya$tarikani ft tamam ficl al-nafas: Hayawan,
p.281; Qanan, p.81.
435 cf. yastakimilu bi-tafdq: Qanan, p.93.
436yatimmu...bi-<ar li-jumla al-wica: Hayawan, p.293.
437 tamam al-ha<fm: Hayawan, p.304.
^Zyatimmu: Hayawan, p.304.

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120

been perfected in the rectum, it is e x c r e t e d . 4 3 9 The liver, as mentioned above, both cleans
itself perfectly of whatever nutrition is left in it,440 and perfects the generation of
blood.4 41

Skeletal features such as the elbow and upper and lower arm-bones are perfected through
their constituent parts' being joined together,44^ and die spine is described in terms of its
four benefits.44^ Following Aristode and Galen, who said that everything with a lung must
possess a neck,4 4 4 just as everything with a head must possess a brain, Avicenna says that
the neck, which is like an extension of the backbone, is created for the sake of the
windpipe.44^

439j(ja tamma tuflan: Hayawan, p.304. cf. also istiedad li-tamam al-infical wa'linhidam...yatimmu: Hayawan, p.305. Elsewhere defecation (al-tagawwuf) is used by
Avicenna as an example of a concomitant (as opposed to essential) end of digestion: Samae
fabi% p.58.
440 bi'l-tamam: Hayawan, p.305.
441 jutamnuniu takwin al-dam: Hayawan, p.308; istatammat al-istihala ila '1-dam: Qanan,
p.131.
442 wa-biha yatimmu...fa-yatimmu biha...: Hayawan, pp.331-4; Qanan, pp.53-4.
443jotou/u bi-tamamiha: Hayawan, p.339; Qanan, p.47.
444Hayawan, p.371. cp. P.A. HI,3:664a20-l; cp. also M.T. May, trans., Galen: On the
Usefulness o f the Parts o f the Body: I (Peri chreias ton en anthropou somati morion)
(Ithaca: 1968), p.384. [henceforth: De usu] This book was translated into Arabic by Qunayn
as K. fl manafp al-a'fa* cf. Ullmann, Medizin, p.41[15].
445 fa-hiya mahlaqa li-ajli qaaba al-rPa: Hayawan, p.340; Qanan, p.48.

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R e p ro d u c tio n a n d g r o w t h

3 .2

Although professing loyalty to Aristotle rather than the Physicians on the question of the
seat of the faculties, Avicenna nevertheless follows Galenic tradition in dividing the bodys
faculties and functions into three categories: animal (bayawaniya), mental (nafsanfya), and
natural (jab1clya). The vital faculty, corresponding to the heart, activates the psychic
facultys sensory and motive subfaculties which arise from the brain. The natural facultys
subfaculties arise from both the liver (whose function is the nourishment of the body and
hence the growth and survival of the individual) and the testes (whose function is the
production of semen and hence the survival of the s p e c i e s ) . 4 4 6

Put another way, just as he did with the four humors, Avicenna explains the bodys four
major organs in teleological terms. Like the heart, the brain, and the liver, so the testes are
from hypothetical necessity and for the sake of a

b e n e fit.4 4 7

The necessity is the

production of semen in order to maintain a line of offspring, and the benefit is the
perfection of physiognomy and the mixture of masculinity and femininity, which, although
not intrinsic to the animal itself, are concomitant necessary accidents of the species
" a n im a l," 4 4 8

because animals need males and females to procreate. Thus, while the

engendering and formative parts of the reproductive faculty are themselves formally

446naw<gayatihi b iff al-Sahf wa-tadbirihi...nawe gayatihi b iff al-nawe: Qanan, pp.91-3. cp.
Bahiyat, pp.289-90, and Kawn wa-fasad, p. 199.
447qp. Hunayn, Masail, pp.254-5.
448U-ajli tawlid...li-ajli tamam: Hayawan, pp. 14-5; Qanan, p.39.

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122

perfected only in the testes^ 9 (through which and in which the generation of the semen is
p e r f e c te d ,4 ^ 0

and only in those of an animal whose formation has already been perfected,

namely in those of one who is sexually m ature^ 1), the activity of these two subfaculties is
perfected in the womb. The engendering subfaculty both generates the male semen and
sorts the potencies contained in the semen for each specific part The formative subfaculty
is that from which the delineation and shape of each part issue, with the activities of each
organ dependent upon the limits (nihayat) of its d i m

e n s io n s .4 5 2

With regard to the organs of reproduction Avicenna parts company with Aristotle, who in
Generation o f Animals 1 , 4 described the final cause of the testes as being merely a benefit,
rather than a necessity,4 5 3 namely to steady and weigh down the

" d u c ts" 4 5 4

h i

which

semen is produced and held; were the ducts not stretched out and doubled over by the
weight of the testes, they would retract into the groin and the semen would course through
them too

q u ic k ly .4 5 5

Galen, whom Avicenna follows on this question, contradicts

Aristotle and maintains that semen is in fact produced in the

te s te s ,4 5

6 nnd Avicenna

implies that what Aristotle is referring to is the necessity of the muscles of the testes, not
die necessity of the testes t h e m

s e lv e s .4 5 7

449 Jakinna 'Jf-qnwa al-mu$awwira al-muwallida innama tatimmu fl l-3untayayn\ Hayawan,


p. 163. For dunamis...diaplastiken, cf. De nat fac. pp. 19-27,127-9,135. cp. Hunayn,
Masail, pp.255-7.
450 tawallud...yatimmu: Hayawan, p.388.
451 takmll ta$wlriha: Hayawan, p.44.
452
pp.92-3.
453 j ^ taking Aristotle's division, in GA. I,4:717al6-17, of the final cause of a thing as being
either 1.) dia to anankaion ("on account of necessity") or 2.) dia to beltion (on account of
[it] being better [thus]) as equivalent to Galen's "activity and benefit" and Avicenna's
"necessity and benefit" In Fl kawn the first are translated as 1.) li 'Uadi huwa lazim bi
d.tirar and 2.) li lladl buwa amtal wa ajwad: Fl kawn, p. 7.
454poioi; GA. I,4:716bl7. Poroi was translated into Arabic as sabllan: Fl kawn 716bl7.
455 GA I,4:717a29-32.
456cf. Galen's Peri sperm atos in C.G. Ktthn, ed., Medicorum Graecorum Opera IV
(Iipsiae:1822), pp.563-4,574-5. The Peri spermatos was translated into Arabic by Hunayn
as K. al-mina\ cf. Ullmann, Medizin, p.41[20], For semen mutawallida in and flowing
from the untayayn, cf. Strohmaier, K. Jallnas fl "btilaf, pp.70,72. cp. Qanan, p.39.
457ja<a/af li-talffifa...: Qanan, p.71.

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123

Typically, Avicenna tries to tread a middle road between Aristotles and Galens
embryologies: he explicitly disagrees with Galen, and implicitly disagrees with Aristotle.
Aristotle maintained that the formation of the embryo was a process analogous to the
formation of cheese; the females menses filled the role of receptor or material cause
(analogous to the milk), while the sperm filled the role of catalyst or efficient cause
(analogous to the r e n n e t ) . 4 5 8 Galen, on the other hand, maintained (according to Avicenna,
at least) that the formative potency was present in both the males and females seminal
fluids. Avicenna disagrees with Galen only in the sense that the former follows Aristotelian
tradition in assigning more agency to the sperm than to the menses: part of the females
seminal fluid somehow becomes like the males and is thus a s s i m

ila b le .4 5 9

Thus while admitting that the semen can stand in the place o f agent,460 Avicenna
understands the semens priority in teleological terms, as arising from the fact that the cause
of semen is opposite to the cause of menses since menses is generated from a deficiency of
maturity while sperm is generated from a perfection of m

a tu rity ;4 6 1

hence the female's

product of fertilization, namely that part of the menstrual fluid which is transformed into
something substantially similar to semen,462 js the matter, while the male's product of
fertilization, namely the semen, is the principle of motion.463 in terms of its being perfected
in the womb, the semen (which can sometimes come from an adolescent before he has the

458G.A. 1,2:716a4-8; I,20:729a9-14; E,l:732a2-7. cp. M eta. Vm,4:1044a34-36 and


IX,6:1049al3-16
459 Qanan, p.40; cp. Nabat, p.4, and Sama' fabl<f, pp. 19-20, where he seems to disagree with a
simple equation of male-agent and female-patient
460 Qanan, p. 195.
4^1 kamal al-natff. Hayawan, p.396.
462 Qanan, p.40.
463Hayawan, p.399. cp. De oat fac., p. 135.

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124
capacity for and attains the perfection of puberty4**4) is simply that in whose nature there
exists an attraction toward fixing itself in the menses or egg.465

Females possess an expandable womb in which the benefit of the semen is perfected.4****
Avicenna puts it plainly: the animal that gives birth in another is the male, and the animal
that gives birth from another in itself until the perfection of generation is the female.4**7
There are those animals that give birth in a perfect birth and those who do it imperfectly,
namely those who give birth to larvae and eggs. Those who give birth to eggs may be
further divided into those that give birth to perfect eggs, like a bird, and Ihose who give
birth to imperfect eggs, like a fish; in the latter case their eggs develop and grow after
laying.4**Moreover, some egg-bearing animals hatch eggs internally which are then bom
internally, others hatch eggs internally which are perfected internally and which are then
bom externally, and others, like fish, hatch eggs internally which are perfected and bom
extemally.4**^ Finally, there are those animals whose eggs are numerous and those whose
eggs are few: the many-egged have two reciprocal causes, in this case material and final; the
material cause is the animal's abundance due to the egg being many-mattered, and the final
cause is the animal's having many offspring in order to be abundant.47**Here again we see
a split between intrinsic and extrinsic finality: in the case of eggs, die intrinsic perfection is
implied in both fertilized and fully formed; die extrinsic end is implied in being manyegged so as to preserve the species.47*

464fcama/ al-idrak: Hayawan, p.398.


465Hayawan, p.388.
460tatimmu: Hayawan, p. 15; tatimmu tlhi manfa'a 1-mina: Qanan, p.40.
467Hayawan, p.384; cp. GA. I,2:716al4-5.
46&yajjdu wilada tamma...gayr tamma...baydan tamman: Hayawan, pp.384-385; tamman...gayr
tanunan, Hayawan, p.391. For more on teleology of birds' reproduction, cf. Hayawan,
p.400, and fa-yastakmilu al-kamal al-hayalanl: Hayawan, p.407.
469yatimmiE Hayawan, p.391. For more on teleology of fish eggs, cf. tamma: Hayawan, p.399;
istifrala gayr tamma...gayr tamm: Hayawan, p.417.
470jahu sababan, maddl wa-ga*t: Hayawan, p.413.
471 cp. GA. I,8:718b7-28 and m,7:757a28-36.

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125
This discussion of perfect and imperfect birth is important to Avicenna's teleology because
it brings out a very primitive sense of the verb t m m which reflects a similar primitive
sense in Aristotle's telos and its derivatives: the idea of being brought to term. Like
Avicenna, in whose Hayawan the roots t m m and k m 1 are used more often than in any
other, so Aristotle uses teleios more often to describe fully-formed embryos in Generation
o f Animals I and II than he does in any other sense in any other book. The point, or limit,
at which a substance (e.g. man and horse, which living things are most entided to be called
s u b s ta n c e s 4 7 2 )

becomes itself, is the point at which it may be called perfect

(teleios/tamm)A 73

Just as the terms of pregnancy and hatching are seen as perfecting limits, so growth to
maturity is also defined teleologically by Avicenna. Although growth may be partly
explained in a material and efficient sense as an excess of nourishment, an excess of
nourishment alone cannot give a complete, or perfect, causal account of growth; put in more
modern terms, the material and efficient causes provide necessary but not sufficient
conditions for growth. Rather, growth can only be explained fully with reference to the
natural dimensions of a mature organ, at which dimensions the material constituents could
be said to have attained a kind of p e r f e c t i o n . ^ 4 As mentioned in Section

2 .4 ,

Avicenna

splits all end-directed motion (i.e. all motion) into that pertaining to place and that pertaining
to extent The former is associated with the natural-place theory of the motion of inanimate
objects; the latter with the growth of organs and

p a r ts .4 7 5

Maturity is thus defined

teleologically, as a transformation of a moist bodys heat in accordance with the intended


end; in the case of a species, fruit is given as an example of the intended end of maturity,

472c GA IV,3:767b31-36.
473 The original sense of t m m is "to become whole and free of deficiency;" but the derived verbal
noun tamam has a primitive biological sense, namely "the completion of gestation:" Lane,
p.316.
474li-yabluga tamam al-naS...li-yabluga bihi tamam al-naS3: Qanan, p.92.
475cf. gaya miqdariya: Mubabatat, p. 161( 192).

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126
since it is the stage at which the individual natural thing's role in the preservation of its
species has been perfected or fulfilled/* 76

Reproduction, growth, and maturity are all served by the subfaculty of nourishment, and
Avicenna defines nourishment teleologically as well: it is that faculty whose activity is
perfected through three particular sub-activities: 1) in which the bodily substances, namely
blood and humors, are made potentially similar to the organs by placing them close to the
act of nourishment which will ensue; 2) in which this blood and humor is made into
perfectly actual (b fl-frl al-tamm) nourishment; 3) in which the perfectly actual blood and
humor is assimilated into the organ, becoming an inseparable part of its c o n s t i t u t i o n . ^ 7 7
Nourishment is also described teleologically as being that whose benefit is perfected in the
adhesion and assimilation of food in the b o d y / *

78

In terms of reproduction, nourishment can also be seen as the principle of generation in the
egg, in the sense that by it a matter is generated in which a further generation may then take
place, namely toward whatever perfection the matter possesses. However, nourishment is
not limited merely to disposing the matter, but also to perfecting the matter through the
form, as is the case with the matter of every perfected entity; this is the formational part of
the mothers nourishing faculty. Avicenna does not deny that it is possible in female
humans and mammals that there be a faculty which generates and perfects the sperm qua
matter; however, it perfects to a second perfection," and the formational part of the
feminine nutritive faculty mentioned above is also that which disposes die matter for its

476gajpa maq$ada...yatimmu\ APal wa-infi'alat, p. 223; cp. Notes on theDc Anima, p.l 15.
477 Qanan, p.92.
47&Kawn wa-fasad, pp. 144-5; cp. gaya...ifada: APal wa-inficalat, p.223, and DaniS-nama
[TabWyat], pp.78-80.

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127
encounter with die sperm. Hence there is no need for a second, separate perfection in the
w o m b .4 7 9

Avicennas division of activities (al-afait) into simple and complex should make this
clearer: the former are perfected through the use of a single faculty, and the latter through
the use of two. Examples of simple activities are d i g e s t i o n , 480 attraction, and r e p u l s i o n ; 4 8 1
complex activities are those like hunger, which is perfected through the use of the faculty of
physical attraction and the sensory faculty at the mouth of the s t o m a c h . 4 8 2 Reproduction
thus qualifies as an eminently complex activity, as it involves both the males engendering
faculty and the females nutritive faculty in the formation of the embryo.

Once the semen and menses combine, the embryo's matter undergoes a series of
transformations, each of which is directed toward being
transformations occur on the surface area of the w

o m b ,4 8 4

p e rfe c te d .

483

F jrs t

the

and then the embryo's organs

are gradually p e r f e c t e d . 4 8 5 Perfect maturity in the fetus is reached when all the tissue is
p e r f e c te d .4 8 6

through

The perfection of transformation into other stages of maturity is achieved

n o u r is h m e n t^ 7

(each organ possessing the instinct to perfect itself through

479 //a ta$wlr ma huwa kamal li l-madda...bal ila takmlliba bi '1-fOra allati yatimmu biha
istiedaduha madda kull al-tamam...quwwa muwallida wa-mukmila...lakinnaba takmilu
eala 'l-tamam...wa-la yuhtaju an yakmila kamalan tanlyan fl l-raftim: Hayawan, p.406.
For more on teleology of the womb, cf. wa-in balaga al-gaya: Hayawan, p. 151; al-iStimal
al-tamm...yatimmu: Hayawan, p. 165.
480 Qanan, p.97.
Sanaa* fabl'i, p.56. In Avicennas autobiography a Maqala fl '1-quwa 'l-lableiya (Essay on
The Natural Faculties) is listed; it is described as a refutation of a treatise by a
contemporary of his, Abai-Faraj b. al-Jayyib (and not, as one might first have expected, of
Galens treatise of the same title): Gohlmann, Life, pp.98,139(n.6),148. Natural faculties are
listed in the incipit of Avicennas (as yet unpublished) Essay* as attraction, repulsion,
digestion, and absorption; cf Anawati, Mu3allafat, p.213, 141, and Mahdavl, Fihrist,
p.117, 76.
482 Qanan, p.97. cp. al-afaeil al-tamma al-kamila...al-fiel al-mustakmil: Hunayn, Masa3il,
p.65. Diseases are also divided into simple and complex: Qanan, pp. 102,105.
483 fa au yatimma: Hayawan, p.175.
484/a-hjya kamalat li'l-sutah: Hayawan, p. 175.
48Sqad farat a*da3uhu tammatan: Hayawan, p .m .
486al-nadj al-tamm: Hayawan, p.221; al-sabab al-tamaml: Hayawan, p.256.
487 tamam al-istihala: Hayawan, p.256.

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128
nourishment4^ ) to the stage where puberty itself is perfected, so that another act of
reproduction can take place.49 Indeed, the perfect animal may be said to be that whose
same gender is bom from it in qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, terms, because it is
not large enough to carry one equal in size to it.49^ in other words, the most perfect
animals are those that produce their offspring in the most perfect (i.e. fully-formed)
state.491

488 al-gariza...yatimmu: Hayawan, p. 13.


489yatimmu...al-idrakx Hayawan, p.386. Attaining the perfection of puberty does not mean that
the innate heat is perfected: lam yastakmil: Hayawan, p.422; cp. istikmaluna...yatimmu:
Qanan, p. 196.
490 al-Hayawan al-tamm: Hayawan, p.400; al-insan al-tamm: Hayawan, p.420.
491cp. GA II,l:733b2-17.

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129

PERFECTION AND LIFE

3.3

We can see from the examples cited in both sections above that Avicenna adhered to the
quintessentially Aristotelian idea of biological purpose. In addition, passages from
Aristotles biological treatises provide one of the ontological bases on which Avicenna was
later to distinguish between essential and temporal priority and p o s t e r i o r i t y . 4 9 2 Aristotle
states that just as the bricks may be temporally prior to the house but the house prior by
nature to the bricks, so too the developed organ is prior by nature though temporally
posterior to the elements constituting i t This distinction between time and nature is echoed
in Avicennas thesis in Hahlyat VI,5 that final causes, while temporally posterior to the
efficient causes that serve them, are nonetheless essentially prior. In addition, just as cause
and effect may often be temporally simultaneous, there is nonetheless an essential priority
of cause to effect These subjects will be discussed in depth in Chapter 4.

With regard to parts in general, Avicenna states that God's providence is dedicated to the
reduction of intermediary instruments, in other words to making actions follow close on
their principles and to the directing of causes toward their ends in the most harmonious and
appropriate way p o s s i b l e . 4 9 3

|n

this respect Avicenna again follows the lead not only of

Aristotle but particularly of Galen, whose belief in a strict, even radical, natural teleology is
most clearly expressed in his De usu partium and his De naturalibus facultatibus.
492PJi. n,l:646a25-b!0. cp. Politics 1,2:1253al8-26, where Aristotle argues that just as the
whole is prior by nature to the part and hence the body prior by nature to die hand, so also the
polis is prior by nature to the family and to the individual.
493 'inaya Allah...cinaya al-$anic: IJayawan, p.259; einaya Allah: Qanan, p.60. cp. Tallqat,
pp. 18,21, and DaniS-nama [Tablclyat],p.6l.

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130
Indeed, in the latter work, really a polemic against Erasistratos and his school, Galen's
implied view is that to be a true Aristotelian one had to be a radical teleologist; he accuses
the Erasistrateans of on the one hand claiming to be part of the Aristotelian tradition, while
on the other hand denying that nature had a purpose in creating organs such as the
s p le e n .4 9 4

For Galen, the two claims were mutually exclusive: to maintain that one is a

Peripatetic necessarily involves being prepared to explain all natural phenomena and
processes-without exceptionin terms of final c a u s a t i o n . 4 9 5

Avicenna appears to accept Galens outlook when he describes the tensile strength of long
nerves, for example, as evidence of a mighty p r o v i d e n c e . 4 9 6 And where there appear to
be strange or redundant biological features, such as the existence of eyelashes in the upper
eyelid (a phenomenon claimed to be peculiar to h u m

a n s ) ,4 9 7 it

is due not to any mistake or

negligence on the part of God, but rather to a kind of Providential h y p e r a c t i v i t y . 4 9 8

The discomfort with which Avicenna seems to be explaining away these apparently
purposeless biological features suggests that he was aware of the ultimate weakness of
Galens brand of radical t e l e o l o g y . 4 9 9 For Aristotle does not in fact claim that final causes

494in Galens system of humoral pathology, the spleen serves to cleanse the body of excess black
bile. cf. DcaaL fac., pp. 143,205,277; De usu, p.232.
495c Denat fac., pp.25-7,57,141-5,155-7,203; Deusu, pp.145,183,278,457,506.
496Although he is also careful to distance himself from the statement by crediting Galen: wa-qad
dalla Jallnas cala cinaya 'a^lma: Qanan, p. 75; cp. bi-bikmatibi; Qanan, p.59.
497cp. r a . n,14:658al5-6 and H, 15:658b 14-18.
498 wa-bada li-farf al~einaya: IJayawan, p.260; cp. aktar al-cinaya: Qanan, p. 197. For another
use of fr.t meaning exaggerated, cf. Qanan, p. 158, where Avicenna describes exaggerated
motions as indicative of a functional disease.
499calen, De usu, pp.484-489, defending the motion of the eyelids against "Sophists" who would
deny its voluntary nature, admits that Nature's motivation may be slightly baffling here, but
says that sometimes "Nature's skill reaches such heights of wisdom that it has never been
entirely found out even though sought after for a long time by such great men" (Mays
translation): De usu, p.489. Avicenna is not completely innocent of this himself, however; in
the Sama1 wa-ealam he says "You must know that the existence of every sphere and
star...is what it must be in the order of the universe, and cannot possibly be otherwise. It is
only the fact that human faculties are too limited to perceive all this, and perceive from
amongst the ends and virtues of this die easy things, like impetus, apogee and perigee, and he
phases of the moon...:" Sama3 wa-ealam, p.49.

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131
operate in all natural phenomena; he states explicitly in Generation o f Animals V ,l, that
only phenomena that consistently appear in animals are for the sake of something. The
spleen, which is absent in some animals and minuscule in others, is given in Parts o f
Animals m,7 as an example of just such a natural inconsistency, and thus can be described
as arising not for a purpose, but from a kind of accidental necessity. Likewise, Avicenna
nowhere describes the spleen explicitly as having a purpose, perfecting some process, or
being a benefit.500 What Avicenna could have said, consistent with the rest of his
biological teleology, is that the spleen, like every other part, possesses an intrinsic formal
goal in its growth to defined dimensions. But this is a more teleologically limited claim than
stating that the spleen exists for the purpose of X.

Like the spleen, the organs of reproduction possess an intrinsic formal goal, namely growth
to sexual maturity. But the activity of the sexual organs, unlike that of other organs, serves
a broader extrinsic end, namely the survival of die species rather than the survival of the
individual. 501 We can thus detect here a reverberation of Avicennas attempt, discussed in

Chapter 1, to solve the problem o f equating forms with ends by dividing teleological
explanations into those that concern intrinsic actualizations and those that concern extrinsic
g o a ls .5 0 2

50At one point Avicenna hints at the humoral explanation: IJayawan, pp.34-6; at another he
follows Aristotle explicitly: Hayawan, p.321.
501 Even this doctrine, an axiom of Peripatetic teleology, is qualified by Avicenna in his
Meteorology. He states that the phenomenon of spontaneous generation (such as that of
scorpions from chaff, mice from clay, and frogs from rain) must be included in any account
of the doctrine of permanence because the continued existence of a given species cannot be
explained necessarily (and hence completely) just by referring to normal reproduction. This is
because intercourse is a voluntary, as opposed to necessary, act cf. al-ijayawanat walnabatat..takmll al-nawt...li-anna 4l-ijmac alladl buwa mabda3 al-tawalud iradl la
darori: A. Muntajir, S. Zayid, CA. Isms'll, eds., al~SifaVal-Tablciyat (5): al-Maeadin
wal-atar al-cuiwiya (Cairo:1965), pp.76-9. [henceforth: Maeadin wa-atar] Pines
discusses this passage in his What was Original in Arabic Science?, in A.C. Crombie, ed.,
Scientific Change: Symposium on the History o f Science at Oxford University,
(London: 1963), p.189; reprinted in Pines, Collected Works, vol. II, p.337. cp. Meta.
Vn,9:1034b4-7. cp. R. Kruk, "A frothy bubble: spontaneous generation in the medieval
Islamic tradition," Journal o f Semitic Studies 3S/2 (1990), pp.266,271,273-74.
502This division is put in similar terms in one recent interpretation of Aristotle's teleology which,
focusing on two passages (Metaphysics V,7:1017b2-9 and Metaphysics IX,6:1048a30-b9),
splits the potentiality/actuality distinction into "capacity and exercise" and "process and end:"

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132

Avicenna touches on this problem in a brief passage in the Canon, where he identifies die
formal cause in medicine with the temperaments (mizajat) and faculties, and the final cause
with the activities or functions (al-aPat). Contained in the knowledge of the functions is
knowledge of the faculties, he says; put another way, contained in knowledge of an organ's
actuality is knowledge of its potentiality. Therefore, at least in epistemological terms, the
final cause presupposes the formal cause. To cite an (anachronistic) example, one could say
that the heart, by fulfilling its functional end (to pump blood through the body so as to
ensure the survival of the individual), necessarily fulfills its formal end (to actualize the
potential of its constituent materials so as to form a heart). In other words, the formal object
of a heartbeing a heartcan be epistemologically encompassed by its functional endpumping blood to die b o d y . 5 0 3

Galen introduces a further formal/final distinction in De naturalibus facultatibus, where


he claims that:
"growth belongs to that which has already been completed in respect to its form,
whereas the process by which that which is still becoming attains its form is termed
not growth but g e n e s i s . " ^ 0 4
Applying this distinction to Avicenna's discussion of the organs of reproduction would
thus make man qua animal (as opposed to man qua rational animal) fully perfected when
engaged in the activity of generation, an activity which is itself the extrinsic end of the
process of growth and maturation.

C. Witt, "Hylomorphism in Aristotle," Apeiron XXH/4 (1989), pp.146-51. cf. M. Matthen,


"The four causes in Aristotle's embryology," Apeiron XXII/4 (1989), pp. 172-9, and A.
Code, Soul as efficient cause in Aristotle's embryology," Philosophical Topics XV/2
(1987), pp.56-7.
^03 Charles uses the example of the heart as well: Charles, "Teleological causation," pp.107-108.
^ D e n a t fac., p. 139 (Brock's translation); cp. pp. 11-13, and Brock's attempt in the introduction
ataschematizadon of hylomorphism in Galen: 1.) dunamis (work to be done) 2.) energeia
(work being done) 3.) ergon (work done): p.xxx. cp. Strohmaier, KJallnas fl 'htilaf, p.54,
for the perfection of benefits, and pp.60,62 for the perfection of activities.

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133
In Avicennas scheme of final causation, therefore, an organ such as the heart in man qua
animal can be said to involve six layers of teleological explanation, the Hist three intrinsic
perfections, die last three extrinsic ends:
1) Genesis and formation, whereby the constituent elements of an embryo
form an infant heart;
2) Limit and growth, whereby the perfectly formed-but miniature-heart
grows to be a mature heart;
3) Actualization, whereby the perfectly formed heart is in the act of pumping
blood;
4) Survival of individual, whereby the act of pumping blood is necessary
for the survival of the individual;
5) Survival of species, whereby the survival of the individual is necessary
for the survival of the species;
6) Etemalitv. whereby the continued survival of the species is necessary to
fulfill its individuals' desire to imitate the eternal motion of
the heavens. ^05
With the organs of reproduction, unlike the other organs, the scope of explanation 2 would
be extended to include sexual maturity, for unlike the heart, which functions as soon as it is
formed, the sexual organs may not function until their limit of growth has been achieved. In
addition, explanation 4 would not apply, so that explanation 3, the actual use of the
reproductive organs, may be said to be directed immediately at explanation 5. In other
words, the absence of reproductive organs would not be an impediment to attaining the
intrinsic limited goal of the individual's survival, but would make the survival of the species

505c Kawn wa-fasad, p. 199; Sama' fab1% p.8; Sama3 wa-'alam, pp. 10-11; Ta'Hqat, p.21;
Mubafratat, p.l42(88); Notes on the De Anima, p.94. cp. G A. II,l:731b31-732a3 and
D A. II,4:415a27-b8. It could be argued that Aristotle would collapse Explanations 5 and 6,
and thus avoid assigning a kind of ideal agency to the species. However I am not sure
whether Explanation 5 is evidence of Avicenna's Platonizing streak, or Aristotle's own. The
notion of the sublunary imitating the celestial will be explored further in Section 4.4.

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i m p o s s i b l e . 506

Avicenna's extension of this teleological scheme to cover existence in

general is the subject of the next chapter.

506IJayawan, p. 15.

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135

M e t a p h y s ic s 4

In this chapter we shall examine the final cause of being qua being. Our main sources are
the Dahiyat {Metaphysics) of the S i fa3 (in particular Book 6, "On the causes and their
states"), the K. al-tacliqat (Notes), the K. al-mubaJjatat (D iscussions), Avicenna's
commentaries on both Metaphysics XII and the pseudo-Aristotelian Theology o f
A risto tle,507 two sections from the K. al-iSarat wa-'l-tanbihat "Fi '1-wujud waeilalihi" ("On existence and its causes") and "Fi '1-gayat wa-mabadiha wa-fl 1-tartib"
("On ends and their beginnings, and on o r d e r " ) , 508 a n d the Hahlyat of the DaniS-nama-yi
cA la 3t.

This chapter is divided into six sections. Section 4.1, "The definition of final cause: beings
and things," examines Avicenna's differentiation of existence, quiddity, and reity, and his
transfer of focus from essence as form to essence as perfection. Section 4.2, "Actualization,
actuality, and perfection," shows how Aristotle provided the background for Avicenna's
switch from a motion-based formation to a purely existential perfection. In Section 4.3,
"Good, evil, and generosity" we concentrate on Avicenna's theory of the existential good,
and on how God's existential generosity has no ulterior motive. Section 4.4, "Celestial
motion, perpetuity, and providence," treats Avicenna's view of the role of ends and
507$ar])
utalajiya (al-mansab li-Arisfu), in Badawl, Arista, pp.35-74. [henceforth: Sarfr
utalujiya]
508 contained, respectively, in Barat, pp.138-147 and pp.158-175.

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136
perfections in God's existentiation, rather than impulsion, of the universe. In Section 4.5,
"God knows," we explain how in God the processes of intellection and existentiation are
identical, how He knows particulars through their perfections, and how divine intellection
differs from ours. Finally, in Section 4.6, "For God's sake, we discuss how Avicenna's
God was an efficient cause and an end in Himself.

In Avicenna's metaphysics, which he calls the science of "divine things" (ilahiyat, as


opposed to fabMyat, "natural t h i n g s " ) , 5 0 9 the final cause operates at both its minutest and
its grandest levels. At a minute level, the final cause existentiates every phenomenon and
process, natural or otherwise, through the agency it shares in tandem with the efficient
cause; at a higher level, the order of final/efficient existentiation itself becomes a final cause
and is called the good. At the grandest level of all, God is seen as an agent whose causality
is both efficient and final, because He is completely transcendent, not immanent; were
God's agency material and formal, Avicenna's metaphysics would be pantheistic.

With regard to the metaphysics of final causation, Aristotle's legacy to Avicenna was
muddled by two seemingly contradictory goals he set for himself in Books I and m of the
Metaphysics. In Metaphysics 1,2, Aristotle states that:
"That science is supreme, and superior to the subsidiary, which knows for what end
each action is done; i.e. the good in each particular case, and in general the highest
good in the whole of nature. Thus as a result of all the above considerations the term
which we are investigating falls under the same science, which must speculate about
first principles and causes; for the good, i.e. the end, is one of these causes."^ ^
In Section 1.2 we determined that for Aristotle wisdom (sophia) consisted of the secure
understanding (episteme) of a phenomenon's causes; the highest wisdom must derive,
therefore, from knowledge of the most overarching, architectonic cause, the final cause.511
509c Meta. I,2:983a7-10.
510Meta. I,2:982b5-11/Treddenick, Metaphysics I-IX, p.13.
At least this is how Alexander understood the above passage: "The most authoritative science is
that which is capable of knowing causes that are such in the most proper sense, and these are
the things for the sake of which the other things exist:" GAG I, pp. 14-15, translated in W.E.

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137

What confuses this picture is Aristotle's implication in the first aporia ("Is there a single
science that studies all the causes?") of Metaphysics HI,2, that while final causes might
seem to be the most architectonic, they do not apply to the subjects of mathematics or to
motionless things;^ - in the rest of the Metaphysics Aristotle searches for an answer to
these doubts about the final cause, but never really responds canonically, preferring in
many instances to say that the final cause is ultimately reducible to the f o r m

a l.^ 1 3

Thus

essence qua form, not qua end, should be seen as die most ontologically overarching cause.

Avicenna takes a clearer stand. At the end of Ilahiyat VI, 5 Avicenna states that the final
cause plays a role in perfecting the existence of motionless things and the subjects of
mathematics, so that:
these [final] causes have likewise become overarching. The student of this science
[of metaphysics] must analyze these [overarching final causes], although he must
analyze not just the overarching part, but also whatever is peculiar to each science
([which, while being] a principle for that science, is [also] an accident of the
overarching [part]). For that science may analyze the accidents specific to the
particulars [of that science] when [the accidents} pertain primarily to (those
particulars}, and when they are not led afterwards into being essential accidents of the
subjects of the particular sciences. If these [sets of accidents are taken as] isolated
sciences, then the most excellent of them would be teleology:^ 14 and that would have
been philosophy [itself]. As it is, however, itI mean the science studying the final
causes of things-is the most excellent part of this science [of metaphysics]." ^15
The science of causality, of which teleology is supreme, is reflected in the many facets of
metaphysics, rather than occupies a discrete niche. The main theme of this final chapter is
Dooley, trans., Alexander o f Aphrodisias: On Aristotle Metaphysics I (London: 1989),
pp.34-35. In his commentary on Metaphysics m, Alexander states: "For inasmuch as
wisdom is the most authoritative and architectonic science, it must be knowledge of the end,
for this is the good, and the other things are for its sake...Therefore, die most authoritative and
most perfect and best knowledge is knowledge of the best of causes, the sort of cause for the
sake of which the other things [are or are done]. In this respect, then, wisdom will be thought
to be knowledge of the end:" CAG L p.l84/Dooley, Alexander, p.28, n.51. cp. Meta.
L9:992a29-33, where Aristotle criticizes Plato's theory of Ideas because it does not take into
account the filial cause "through which all mind and all nature works."
512Meta. m,2:996a!8-b25.
513e.g. Meta. Vffl,4:1044a32-bl2.
5M {ilm al-gaya.
515 Hahlyat, pp.299-300; cp. Taeliqat, p.169.

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138
the way in which Avicenna justifies this claim by shifting his focus from Aristotle's formal
cause toward his own perfecting cause, making the perfection the essence, definition, and
ultimate "reason why."516

516c Meta. I,3:983a28-30. In G.C 11,9, Aristotle calls the final cause "the shape or form, and the
definition and essence of each thing:" G.C II,9:335b3-7.

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THE DEFINITION OF FINAL CAUSE: BEINGS AND THINGS

4.1

In this section we shall examine how Avicenna defined ends and perfections in die locus
classicus of Avicennian causality, Bahiyat VI ("On causes and their states") and then
compare these definitions with the others we have discussed in Sections 1.1 and 2.1, and
with Aristotle's in M etaphysics VH:17 and VUL3-4. In so doing, we hope to explain
Avicenna's notions of causal symbiosis and past necessity, and his distinctions between
existence, quiddity, and reity.

Avicenna defines the four causes at the beginning of Bahiyat VI thus: the formal cause is
that part of a thing's constitution by which the thing exists actually; the material, or
elemental, cause, is that part of a thing's constitution by which the thing exists potentially,
and in which this potential existence subsists (tastaqimi); the efficient cause is that which
conveys an existence separate and distinct from itself; and the final cause is that for die sake
of which the existence of a thing separate and distinct from it is produced. 5 17

With these definitions Avicenna has prepared the ground in the Bahiyat for an extension of
his division in the Samae Jabl^ between the intrinsic and extrinsic causes of natural
things:^ ^ in metaphysics, agency consists of direct existentiation, while in physics
existentiation occurs through die mediation of form and matter, and hence through motion.
Efficient and final causes are thus the most important in metaphysics, for it is in this science
Bahiyat, p.257; cp. "that for the sake of which the thing's existence is, is the final perfecting
cause:" L Halal ed., al-Risala al-carSlya fl fraqaiq al-tawlfld wa-itbat al-nubawa
(Cairo: 1980), p. 18. [henceforth: Risala eatSlya]
$WBahiyat, p.258; Samae fabl% pp.53-54.

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140
that one studies the existent qua existent, as opposed to the existent qua matter/form
composite, or the existent qua body in motion or at rest

Avicenna also explains the separateness of the efficient and final causes in these terms:
"By efficient cause [we mean] the cause which bestows an existence distinct from its
essence. In other words its essence is not in any primary sense a locus for that which
receives from {the efficient cause} die [type of] existence of a thing which is formed
by {an efficient cause}, with the result that {the efficient cause's} essence can contain
the potential for {the effect's} existence only accidentally, hi addition, that [effect's]
existence must not be for {die effect's} sake in any sense that [die effect thereby
becomes] an agent; {that for-the-sake-of existentiation} must instead be considered as
a different [type of causation]. This is because Metaphysical Philosophers do not
mean by agent simply 'the principle of motion' (as the Natural Philosophers
understand it) but also 'the principle and conveyor of existence,' as in the Creator of
the world." 519
Avicenna hints here at the ambiguity surrounding the agency of the efficient cause and the
agency of the final cause, for the "different type of causation" Avicenna mentions clearly
refers to the final, perfecting cause qua essence, form, or substance. We shall see this dual
agency operating at its highest level in Section 4.5, where we show how God's agency is
both efficient and final.

Not only does Avicenna make the division between extrinsic and intrinsic causes
e x p lic it,

520 but he also implies that their respective causalities are parallel: when

something's existence derives from a cause, the cause is either intrinsic to the thing (in
which case it is the receptor or form) or extrinsic to the thing (in which case it is the agent
or end). 521

In Section 2.1 we briefly discussed Avicenna's differentiation in the Samae JabM of the
grounds on which final and efficient causes exercise their agency: while the final cause
519 Bahiyat, p.257.
520cp. "And since not only things which are inherent in an object are its causes, but also certain
external things (e.g. die moving cause), clearly 'principle' and 'element' are not the same; but
both are causes:" Meta. Xn,4:1070b22-24.
521 For form's causal priority over matter, cf. Bahiyat, pp.80-87, and Barat, pp.99-102.

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141
causes the efficient cause's quiddity (in other words, it causes the efficient cause to exist as
an efficient cause), the efficient cause does not cause the final cause's quiddity, but only
causes the final cause to exist in concrete r e a l i t y . 522 Thus the efficient cause is the cause of
the final cause's existence as an existent, but not of its existence as a final cause; the final
cause is the cause of the efficient cause's existence as an efficient cause, but not of its
existence as an existent.523

In a letter to one of his disciples, Abu Manor b. Z a y l a , 5 2 4 Avicenna points to a way to tell
quiddity and existence apart: man is different from horse in terms of species not for the
sake o f his existence, but for the sake of his

q u id d ity .5 2 5

The quiddity is what

differentiates, not what existentiates; we do not exist in an absolute sense for the sake of
our differences, but we exist as such for the sake of our differences. The connection
between quiddity and reity is that together they make up a things reality; we shall address
reality later in the section.

The distinction between existence and reity is discussed elsewhere in the Bahiyat, in the
context of the necessary connection between cause and effect. Avicenna points out that
while the effect receives existence from the efficient cause essentially and necessarily, the
efficient cause is not responsible for the necessity involved in the effect's existence coming
after a previous non-existence; this is impossible otherwise, and has no c a u s e . 526 What is
brought out in this discussion is Avicenna's notion that causes must coexist and be causally
symbiotic. There is no room in his ontology for temporally prior causes of coming-into-

322c Samac fabt% p.53; Pbys. n,3:195a8-l 1. Elsewhere, Avicenna says that individualization
and quiddity are die cause of concrete reality: Mubabatat p,126(21)
523cf. Mubabatat, p.l52(156): "every cause becomes a cause only when its individuality has
been perfected (/da tammat Sah$1yatuba);" cp. Risala carSiya, p.23.
524cf. Gohlman, Life, p.140, n.10.
525Rasail ha$$a, in Badawl, Arisfa cinda 'l-earab, p.241.
S26nah1yat~,w.260,262; cp. Meta. V,5:1015a33ff.

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142
existence (ljudat); instead, causes must continue to exist symbiotically with their
effects. 527

One possible motivation for Avicenna's binding together of cause and effect (and hence of
final and efficient causes) is to criticize the Muctazilites for discussing causation only in
terms of particular instances of coming into existence, not of existence per se; while the
cause of existence p e rse has a symbiotic relationship (ma^ya) with the effect, the cause
of coming into existence does n

o t 5 2 8

Thus in many ways the cause is an effect as well as a

cause, and the cause and the effect may be i n t e r c h a n g e a b l e . 5 2 9 Furthermore, Avicenna says
at one point that when discussing a natural process, the discreteness of the efficient cause
and the discreteness of the final cause are only mental distinctions, but ones which make the
natural process i n t e l l i g i b l e . 5 3 0

There is also some Aristotelian background for the notion of causal symbiosis. At the end
of Metaphysics V,2, Aristotle implies that a relation of simultaneity can exist between a
cause and its effect (here the Greek adverb hama in lines 1014a21 and 24 is rendered in
Arabic as maean).531 In M etaphysics XII,3 Aristotle says that moving causes exist
before their effects, while formal causes (ho logos) are simultaneous (hama) with their
effects.532 Another possible source is Aristotle's use of the term sunaition in

527Bahiyat, pp.260-61; cp. ma'lya: Mub&batat, p. 150( 139) and 152( 158); and Ta'Uqat,
p. 75. Proof that the primary sense of causal maciya is symbiosis, reciprocity, and
coexistence (instead of temporal simultaneity), is found throughout Avicenna's philosophical
corpus: e.g. Taettqat, p. 143: '"maean is either two things together in existence or in time or
in a third thing which unites the two...cause and effect are not 'matan' in existence or in time
but in relation (al-ta<jayif); that is to say a ma'tya of necessary implicance (luzom), not of
existence."
528 TaeUqat, pp.131-32.
529 Ta'llqat, pp. 132,134-35.
530 Taeltqat, pp. 173-74.
53lBouyges, Ma bacd al-fabtca U, p.489. In Kirwan's opinion "Aristotle's point about
simultaneity seems to be: A is doctoring B just so long as B is being healed by A, but it is not
true that A is a doctor just so long as Bis a patient:" Kirwan, Metaphysics, p. 128
532jVfete. XH,3:1070a21-22.

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143
M etaphysics

V ,5 ;3 3 3

this was translated into Arabic simply as fi//a, not, as one might

have expected, eilla muStarika (or something s i m

ila r ) .3 3 4

a joint cause, as Kirwan points

out, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a thing's e x i s t e n c e ; 3 3 5 ^ this passage of
the Arabic Aristotle die criterion that hypothetically necessary conditions are incomplete
without reference to die end for which they are hypothetically necessary, was built into the
notion of cause. Thus the "sun-" of sunaition, although hidden in the Arabic, provides
some more background for Avicenna's notion of causal symbiosis.33**

With simultaneity extended to cover reciprocity, complementarity, implicance, and


symbiosis, Avicenna can make a clear distinction between end and perfection: the extrinsic
end, the final cause per se, may cease to exist while its effect continues to exist But the
intrinsic perfection, an essence possessing proximate agency over the effect (i.e. the thing),
must continue to coexist with it; otherwise they would both cease to exist Therefore the
final cause's necessitation derives from its effect's quiddity ("that of which necessary
existence is accidental rather than essential"), since the final cause is the cause of
quiddity.33? The effect's quiddity is absolutely necessitated in the sense that the effect's
coming into existence necessarily occurred after a preceding non-existence; moreover, as a
past event this coming into existence after non-existence is impossible otherwise, and hence
necessary. The cause itself becomes perfect, as opposed to perfecting, once the effect's
existence has been necessitated in this w a y . 33 8 (indeed, Avicenna says in the Mubafratat
533Meta. V,5:1015a20.
334j3ouyges, Ma ba'd al-.tabica B, p.515.
333 cf. Kirwan, Metaphysics, pp. 131-32.
336Another possible source is Cat 13:14b24-15al2, in which Aristotle divides simultaneity into
temporal and by nature; the former just concerns those things which come into being at the
same time, the latter those things which reciprocate as to implication of existence, cf. J.L.
Ackrill, Aristotle's Categories and De Interpretation (Oxford: 1963), p.40. These
divisions of simultaneity (macan) were translated into Arabic as, respectively, bi'l-iflaq and
bi'l-fabe: Badawl, Maqnlat, p.72. A final possible source is C.A. H,6:742a21-37; here
Aristotle distinguishes between that for the sake of which a thing is and that which is for its
sake: the latter is prior "in point of formation," while the former is prior in point of being or
reality."
$37 Bahiyat, p.261.
338 Bahiyat, p.260.

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144
that the relation of necessity to contingency is identical to the relation of perfection to
d e fic ie n c y .5 3 9 )

Aristotle provides some background for the notion of past necessity. In Generation and
Corruption 11,11,540 Aristotle operates under the assumption that the absolute necessity of
past events derives from a previous hypothesis, namely the positing of an event that at the
time was in the future and hence contingent; Aristotle's example is that a father's existence
only becomes absolutely necessary once the child exists; but before the child's existence,
the father's necessity in making a son was only hypothetical. Thus there seems to be a
connection of past events (specifically, those spoken of in the perfect tense) with absolute
necessity. This interpretation is also supported by a passage in Metaphysics 11,2:
"Now we say that a man 'comes from' a child in the sense that that which has become
something comes from that which is becoming: i.e. the perfect {to telesmenon) from
the imperfect (ek tou epiteloumenou)...hence the former class of process is not
reversible (e.g. a child cannot come from a man, for the result of the process of
becoming is not the thing which is becoming, but that which exists after the process is
complete...) "541
Elsewhere, Aristotle speaks of perfection as arising from its temporal l i m

ite d n e s s .5 4 2

Aristotle thus provides one method by which Avicenna can see perfection as not only
compatible with but, in a way, identical to absolute necessity. The difference between the
two thinkers is that Avicenna views cause and effect as simultaneous and coexistent, while
in Metaphysics V

I ,3

,543 Aristotle assumes that causes are temporally prior to their effects.

Aristotle sees the greater necessity that causes have as arising from their being more in the
past than their effects and hence more "impossible otherwise." For Avicenna, however, it is
no good speaking about a father whose son has not yet been born (or conceived, perhaps);
Si9Mubabmt, pp. 126(26), 182(290).
540G.C II,ll:337b26-338bll.
541 Meta. II,2:994a25-b2/Treddemck, Metaphysics I-DC, pp.89-91.
542jifcta. V,16:1021bl2-14; cf. al-tamm: Bouyges, Ma ba'd al-tablca II, p.621.
543Meta. VI,3:1027b5-14; cf. Kirwan's analysis of his difficult passage: Kirwan, Metaphysics,
pp. 195-98.

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one would then be talking of a cause without an effect, and such hypothetical situations
have no connection to reality. A father only exists as a father once the child exists, and thus
the necessitation is reciprocal: the father needs a child to exist as a father (i.e. in die sense
that his existence is differentiated), while the child needs a father to exist in an absolute
sense.

Furthermore, for Avicenna the cause is more necessary than die effect only inasmuch as the
cause's necessity derives from its essence qua cause in the particular cause/effect
relationship of which it is the cause; in the preceding cause/effect relationship of which it
was the effect, its necessity was less than its own cause's n e c e s s i t y . 544 This brings up the
problem that if all causes are effects of other causes, and all cause/effect relationships are
reciprocally necessitating, why then does everything not happen all at once? Responding to
this question was a main reason, I believe, why Avicenna wanted to divorce simultaneity
(i.e. specifically temporal coexistence) from causality. In contrast with Avicenna, Aristotle
at least appears to have worried about the determinism that would result if, by delving
deeply enough into a process of generation and corruption and finding some non-accidental
cause for whatever micro-process we had come to, we then equated essentiality with
n e c e s s ity .5 4 5

And in a very obscure passage (slightly further on in Metaphysics VI,3 )

Aristode says:
"But what kind of origin and what kind of cause such a reduction leads to, whether to
matter or to what a thing is for or to what effects a change, needs to be investigated
f u lly ." 5 4 6

As Kirwan notes, Aristode does not take the formal cause into account h e r e ; 547 that these
non-accidental cause/effect relationships each have an essential perfection, where Aristotle

544cf. Bahiyat, pp.38-39.


545Meta. VI,3:1027a29-32.
546Meta. VI,3:1027bl4-16. The translation is Kirwan's: Kirwan, Metaphysics, p.72; cf. p.198.
547Kirwan, Metaphysics, p. 198.

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146
would see a form, is Avicenna's

d e p a rtu r e .5 4 8

By Avicenna's reckoning the perfecting

cause necessarily coexists with the efficient cause in the same way that form necessarily
implies matter: they need each other, but form and perfection are more necessary. But the
question Aristotle probably has in mind here concerns which of die four causes we would
arrive at, not whether they were ultimately essential or accidental.

To Avicenna, however, each causal stage in the process of becoming has a specific
necessity; furthermore it is ridiculous even to talk of "becoming" because everything except
God is in an eternal process of becoming. Assigning a specific chunk of the continuum the
title "process of becoming" has the same ultimate arbitrariness as assigning it a high-level
final cause; we have discussed this in Section 2.5. For Avicenna, coming-to-be is
instantaneous and immediately necessary; to make a proper causal analysis, we must freezeframe it, as it were, and isolate the particular cause/effect relationship in the frame at that
moment from a mentally-constructed "process" as a whole. As stated in Section 2.5, in
every particular cause/effect relationship, there is an essential reciprocal necessitation,
whose essentialness is particular to die particular relationship, though accidental, or perhaps
intermediate, to whatever whole process one might be examining.

We must also be careful not to assume that Avicenna understood the efficient cause as ipso
facto possessing greater agency than die other causes. For in addition to his emphasis on
the agency of nature qua formal perfecter, Avicenna says that in psychology, perfection is
contained in the soul as a form, and is an agent, not a patient. 549 This means that a cause
that is apparently lesser in existence (e.g. an unfulfilled end) can still be a cause of

548Indeed, the word Aristotle uses for reduction is anagoge, "leading up," which contains less of a
sense of limit or finality than die Arabic translation, yantaha: cf. Bouyges, Ma ba'd alfabl'a II, p.736.
teVMubatetat, p.!26(27).

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something greater in existence (an active efficient c a u s e ) . 5 5 0 Furthermore, in his argument
for the etemality of souls, Avicenna says that:
"souls are abstracted from matter, and need matter and body not for the existence of
their essences but rather for the perfection of their e s s e n c e s . " ^ 1
Nor does Aristotle seem to make an automatic assumption of die efficient cause's greater
agency; this assumption is modem and hence anachronistic. In M etaphysics VII, 17
Aristotle states that:
"Clearly then we are enquiring for the cause (i.e. to speak abstractly, the essence);
which is in the case of some things, e.g. a house or a bed, the end, and in others the
prime mover-for this also is a cause. We look for the latter kind of cause in the case
of generation and destruction, but for the former also in the case of existence...Thus
what we are seeking is die cause (i.e. the form) in virtue of which matter is a definite
thing; and this is the substance." 552
Aristotle's description provides some background for Avicenna's notion of the perfecting
cause, which, instead of form, is the essence of the composite concrete existent
(sunholon).553

Following Aristode's claims rather than his practice, Avicenna maintained the primacy of
the final cause, although like Aristode he felt that a balanced use of final and efficient
causes gave the most accurate descriptions of reality. But unlike Aristode, whose various
inconsistencies and opaque examples gave rise to the debate still going on today about
whether his science depended more on "of necessity" than on "for-the-sake-of' causation,
Avicenna tied bonds of necessity around the efficient and final causes both in logic (i.e.
hizum ) and in ontology (i.e. mac1ya): the two types of cause implicate each other in
syllogisms, and exist symbiotically in the real world.554

SS0Mubabatat, p.l27(40).
55lMubabatat, p.l75(273).
$52Meta. VII,17:1041a27-b9/Treddenick, Metaphysics I-DC, p.397.
553jq the Arabic version of his Qmestio 2.19, Alexander also implies that form is distinct from
essence in sublunary bodies: MS Carullah 1279, fols 63b21-64al3; translated in Fazzo and
Wiesner, "Alexander," p.153.
354for a passage in which Aristode seems to hint at this reciprocity, cf. Meta. DC,4:1047b23-31.

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One might object that the final and perfecting cause's causality is nothing but backward
efficient causation. For Avicenna, however, cause and effect were simultaneous, so the
extension of temporal backwardness and forwardness to causal backwardness and
forwardness was not applicable; priority and posteriority in causal relations depended
primarily on essence, not on time. Because of Avicenna's emphasis on essence rather than
on time (and thence motion), the final cause's agency was primary, and the objection should
rather rest on the notion that the causality of the efficient cause is nothing but reverse final
causation. Now Aristotle maintains that of the three kinds of substrate (matter, form, and
their compound) that can be substance, form is p r i m

a ry ;5 5 5

th u s

for Aristotle the formal

substrate qua substance is most substantial, and is what Avicenna refers to by formal
cause. What Avicenna means by perfecting cause, however, is essence qua s u b s t a n c e . 5 5 6
For Aristotle the former is primary, for Avicenna the latter is distinct and primary.

As stated above, to Avicenna the form exerted greater causation over the matter than the
matter over the form, even though the two come into existence simultaneously and are tied
together necessarily both in logic and in ontology; Avicenna simply extended this essential
priority and posteriority to form and matter's extrinsic parallels, the efficient and final
causes. Aristotle does at one point seem to imply that what we need in causation is a non
temporal notion like "limit" (peras): an aikhe is always a limit, but not every limit is an
a r k h e .5 5 7

Thus Aristotle hints at Avicenna's solution, namely the idea that what bounds an

event, process, or phenomenon is not only temporally directionless but what frames its
essence; in this way it is the final cause (i.e. qua limit), not the matter-bound form, that is
prior to the efficient cause.

555Afete. VII,3:1029a5-34.
*56cp. Meta. Vn,3:1028b33-34, and "The definition is the formula of the essence, and...the
essence belongs either only to substances, or especially and primarily:" Meta.
VII,5:1031al2-14/Bouyges, Ma ba'd al-fabi'a JJ, p.818.
557Meta. V,17:1022al0-13; Aristotle elsewhere says that each cause is an arkhe: M eta.
V,l:1013al6-17/Bouyges, Ma baed al-tabVa H p.474.

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149
Avicenna's intention is not to dismiss the efficient cause, however, but to show that the
final and efficient causes are each prior in agency depending upon which ground is taken,
reality (al-fcaqiqa) or existence ( a / - w

u /a d );5 5 8

agency in its strictest sense is reserved for

extrinsic causes alone, so ends but not perfections can be counted as having agency:
"The difference between passion (al-infi'aft and perfection (al-istikm&l) is that
passion is considered to be the going-out-of-existence of one thing and die cominginto-existence of another thing, whereas perfection is considered to be the cominginto-existence of one thing in another thing which does not contain its contrary; {the
first thing} ceases to exist from {the latter thing} and comes into existence in {the
latter thing}, [this process of perfection] being rather like when something is written
on a s l a t e . "559
Strictly speaking, therefore, patients, as opposed to effects, are not perfected; it is only
when the perfecting cause is natural and causes the form to inhere in the matter through
motion that perfection has a kind of agency. Representations in the imaginative faculty are
one instance where the principle of motion and the moving end are the same; the agents of
both propulsion and impulsion are ultimately e q u i v a l e n t 560

Avicenna further distinguishes the agency of ends from the causality of perfections in
another passage:
"By its essence, the cause is the necessitator of the effect, and thus [were it not to
necessitate the effect] {the cause's} causality would not be perfected; {the cause}
needs that by which it is p e r f e c t e d . . . " 5 6 1
The end is a cause distinct from the effect of an efficient cause and thus the end has agency;
the perfection, on the other hand, is not separate from the effect of an efficient cause, and
thus its agency is derivative. Therefore, the end and the agent have reciprocal relations just
as the principle and the perfection, and die cause and the effect, do.

558 For baqlqa, which Avicenna seems to identify with concrete mabiya, cf. Hablyat, p. 31.
559 Ta'ttqat, p. 77.
560 Ta'Ilqat, p. 106.
561 Ta'ttqat, p.118

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What Avicenna wants is a wider domain of applicability for the efficient cause, but a
domain in which the final cause has an equal share. In other words, just as Avicenna has
expanded the notion of efficient cause to cover existence as well as motion (i.e. as principle
of existence as well as motion),562 so he also expanded the notion of end to cover
existence; thus the final cause is no longer merely the terminus or objective of motion, but
of existence as well:
"Not every end is an end of motion in the same way that not every agent is a principle
of motion."563
For Avicenna, an efficient cause only exists as an agent during the

a c t;^ 6 4

other

philosophers, according to Avicenna, maintain that the efficient cause always exists as an
agent, first potentially, and then something happens (it wills itself or is forced) that makes it
an agent in act This is overextending the term "efficient cause," according to Avicenna,
because it makes the agent a patient even before the act has b e g u n . 5 6 5 The effect, due to its
quiddity, needs its existentiating agent for as long as the effect exists: that this primitive,
continually existentiating agent must therefore be intrinsic, i.e. a perfection, rather than an
extrinsic efficient cause, is proved by the fact that the son continues to exist after the father,
his apparent efficient cause.366

By this extension of efficiency to cover existence as well as motion, Avicenna has


paradoxically restricted the role of the efficient cause to purely mechanistic processes: the
562cf. E. Gilson's two articles,"Avicenne et la notion de cause efliciente," Atti del XU Congrcsso
Intemazionalc di Filosofia (Florence: 1960), pp.121-130, and "Notes pour l'histoire de la
cause efliciente," in Archives d'Histoirc Doctrinalc et Litt6raire du Moyen Age XXIX
(1962), pp.7-31; and M. Marmura's two articles, "The metaphysics of efficient causality in
Avicenna," in M. Marmura, ed., Islamic Theology and Philosophy (Albany: 1984), pp. 172187, and Avicenna on causal priority," in Morewedge, Islamic Philosophy, pp.65-83 (esp.
pp.65-72).
563 Ta'Iiqat, p. 129.
364 "the end makes an agent an agent after [the agent] had not been an agent:" TacUqat, p. 158.
565Bahiyat, p.263; cp. Meta. XI,12:1068al4-17, where Aristotle implies that the relationship of
agent to patient is ontological rather than physical, because the change, motion, or action in
question is already implicit in the names "agent" and "patient," and "mover" and "movable;"
rather, motion does not apply to action and passion per se, but only to quality, quantity, and
place: Meta. XI,12:1068bl7-18.
566Ilahlyat, p.264.

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actions involved in building a house, the actions of muscles on joints. But the material
necessity that pertains to these processes is of a different order to the larger existential
necessity obtaining between causes and effects; hence his ungluing of the notion of "agent"
from the more restricted notion of "efficient cause." For Avicenna, only God possesses
truly absolute necessity; all other causes and effects share equally in an ultimately derivative
necessity. In some ways, of course, the cause has some essential priority over the effect,
and hence some existential and necessitative p r i o r i t y ; 5 6 7 but these differences are ultimately
reciprocal, depending upon the direction from which one is looking at the causal process:
ie. from the perfecting cause as origin, or from the efficient cause as origin.568

In the iSarat, Avicenna goes a step further and says that while the efficient cause is the
cause of existence, the final cause is the cause of quiddity and reality.569 Reality is
identified by Avicenna as the real being's essence; here he is discussing how a real being is
existentiated, and thus we have an example of his famous distinction between existence and
essence: domain over the former belongs to the efficient cause, domain over the latter
belongs to the final cause. The final cause is the efficient cause of the efficient cause's
existence as an efficient cause, and hence the final cause is the efficient cause of the efficient
cause of its own existence; essence, therefore, is causally prior to e x i s t e n c e . ^

7 0

Avicenna

puts it slightly differently in the Ilahiyat an end may be taken as a thing (Say3) and may
be taken as an existent; although a thing cannot be anything other than an existent, the
difference between the two is analogous to that obtaining between a phenomenon and its
concomitant Take the case of man: man has a reality which comprises his definition and his

567 Bahiyat, pp.277-78.


568 -you already know that a single thing can be form and end and efficient principle from different
angles:" Bahiyat, p.282; "It is sometimes the case that the quiddity of the agent form and end
coincide in a single quiddity:" Samajabl't, p.54.
569 al-Say3 qad yakon maelalan bi-ietibar mabtyatihi wa-ljaqlqatihi wa-qad yakon maclalan
ff wujadihi: ISarat, p. 139.
570isarat, pp. 139-140; cp. "the end for whose sake it exists, when the instrument and the idea
(mital) together perfect the agent as an actual agent:" Hidaya, pp. 141.

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quiddity; this reality is extra-existential, i.e. it is not made conditional upon any type of
existence. ^ ^ 1

Furthermore, each of the four causes has a reality and a thing-ness, or r e i t y . 5 7 2 What is
reity? The term Sayiya was mistranslated into Latin as causalitas, probably because the
translator from the vernacular Spanish intermediary into Latin assumed that the first
translator's rendering of &ay*lya (from Arabic into vernacular Spanish, probably as
cosM) was mistaken and should be corrected and put into proper philosophical Latin as
causalitas; cosa ("thing") and causa ("cause") were thus

c o n fu se d .5 7 3

Strictly speaking,

reity is the ground where the priority of the final cause is absolute: while in its existence the
final cause (qua existent) is caused by the rest of the causes' existing as causes, in its reity
the final cause (qua thing) is a cause of the other causes' existing as c a u s e s . 574 Thus, as
mentioned above, the final cause's reity is ultimately the cause of the final cause's existence,
and the final cause is primarily a cause qua thing, not qua e x i s t e n t . 5 7 5

The notion of reity is original to Avicenna, I believe, but it does echo a long discussion of
contrariety in Metaphysics X. Aristotle here takes the idea of limits as ends in a purely

571Ilahiyat, p.292.
572 "The cn<j ^ prior in its reity to the other causes and posterior in its existence deriving from
them:" Tachqat, p. 128; cf. J. Jolivet, "Aux origines de l'ontologie d'Ibn Slna," in J. Jolivet
and R. Rashed, eds, Etudes surAviceme (Paris: 1984), pp. 13-17.
573c omnis autem causa, inquantum est ipsa causa, habet certitudine et causalitatem (where
causalitatem should read as something like reitatem): S. van Riet, ed., Avicenna Latinus:
Liber de philosophia prima sive scientia divina V-X (Leiden: 1980), pp.336-37. Anawati
renders Say3tya as cbos6it6: G. Anawati, trans., La Mitapbysique du Shifa' n
(Paris: 1985), p.42; Horten as dingheit: M. Horten, trans., Die Metapbysik Avicennas
(Halle: 1907), p.429,n.l.
574Dahlyat, p.292; Tacliqat, p. 128. In the DaniS-nama, the final cause is the cause of the other
causes (wa-bami-yi eillatba-ra gayat-i cillat kand), but he does not appear to use $ay*iya
here; the essence of die end is that it tips something's balance toward existence rather than
non-existence: DaniS-nama [Ilahiyat], pp.54-55. cp. "Now the end is a cause of the efficient
cause, being last in generation (genesis) but first in nature and reason:" Alexander, in Meta.
1, CAG J, p.22/Dooley, Alexander, p.44.
S7SIlah1yat, p.293.

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153
metaphysical sense, saying that contraries consist of those members of a genus at extreme
ends (eskhaton) from each other:
"But in every class the greatest thing is perfect (teleion). For (a) that is greatest which
cannot be exceeded, and (b) that is perfect outside which nothing proper to it can be
found. For perfect difference implies an end, just as all other things are railed perfect
because they imply an end. And there is nothing beyond the end; for in everything the
end is the last thing, and forms the boundary (eskhaton). Thus there is nothing
beyond die end, and that which is perfect lacks n o t h i n g . " 5 7 6
Further on in Book X Aristode says that:
"Contraries are not compounded with one another, and are therefore first
principles." 577
Aristotle then maintains that this contrariety consists of otherness and d i f f e r e n c e ; 5 7 8 when
the limits of these differences are extreme, they become c o n t r a r i e s . 579 T h e perfection of
this contrariety is what, therefore, differentiates one thing from another; and thus perfection
is a cause of thingness not in the sense that it causes a thing's existence, but rather that it
causes a thing's otherness from other things through differentiae which are at completely
opposite ends, or limits, of a genus:
"For the difference of things which differ in species must be a contrariety; and this
only belongs to things which are in the same genus...contrarieties in the definition
produce difference in species, but contrarieties in the concrete whole do not..matter
does not produce d i f f e r e n c e . " 5 8 0
In Metaphysics Vm,2, Aristode makes explicit the causal importance of contrariety:
"From this it is evident that if substance is the cause of the existence of each thing, we
must look among these 'differences' for the cause of the being of each thing."^!
Finally, while on the one hand denying the final cause any proper agency in Generation
and Corruption 1,7, Aristode does provide some more background for Avicenna's division
of the domains of finality and efficiency:

576jVfcta. X,4:1055al0*17/Treddenick, Metaphysics X-XIV, p.23.


577Meta. X,7:1057b22-23/Treddenick, Metaphysics X-XIV, p.41.
m Mcta. X,8:1058al0-12.
579 cp. gayata '1-hilaf. Ilahiyat, pp.308-309.
580Mete. X,8:1058a27*X,9:1058b6/Treddenick, Metaphysics X-XIV, p.45.
58lMete. Vm,2:1043a2-4/Treddenick, Metaphysics I-IX, p.407; cp.Meta. VII,17:1041b25-28.

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"The thing which is active is a cause in the sense of being that from which movement
begins. The final cause is not active (so health is not active, except metaphorically).
For when the agent is present the patient comes to be something, but when
dispositions are present it is no longer a case of coming to be, but of already being,
and form and end are dispositions of this s o r t . " 582
Avicenna can therefore find several Aristotelian knives to divide the respective domains of
efficient and final causes, namely absolute and modal existence: the cause of difference is
not the efficient cause of the existent's existence but the final cause of the concrete whole's
r e ity .5 8 3

Avicenna has this causal reciprocity in mind when he says that childness is the cause of
parentness as parentness is the cause of childness; it is quiddities that apply h e r e , 584 i.e.
things which differentiate concrete wholes: these work teleologically. The cause of the
child's existence is an efficient cause, namely the parent; but the cause of the efficient
cause's efficiency is a final cause, namely the intrinsic essence that perfects the child's
childness, and the extrinsic end of eternity through reproduction.

Another example of something that is an effect in terms of reity is duality: in its reity,
duality is an effect of unity, because unity is a necessary part of the definition of duality.
Similarly, by Avicenna's reckoning, the final cause is a necessary part of the efficient
cause's definition, essence, or quiddity; in other words, of its reality. Thus the efficient
cause is an effect, in its reity, of the final cause, but its existence, concrete or otherwise, is
the cause of the existence of the final cause qua existent Once again Avicenna's distinction
between essence and existence is apparent: existence, a concomitant of essence, is the

582q c . I,7:324bl3-18/C.J.F. Williams, Aristotle's De Gcnerationc et Corruptioae


(Oxford: 1982), p.26.
583As Williams puts it, discussing this last passage: "The final cause does not tell us why
something comes to be something but why it is thus and so:" Williams, De Geaeratioae et
Corruptione, p. 123.
584 Ta'liqat, p.96.

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domain of the efficient cause; essence, on the other hand, is the domain of the final,
perfecting cause.

A possible source for Avicenna's connection between essence and reity is Aristotle's
statement in Metaphysics VII, 6 that a thing, or rather a particular thing, is the same as an
essence, because we say we know a thing when we know its e s s e n c e . 5 8 5 We recall from
Section

1 .5

that the Arabic translations, and hence Avicenna, took the essence to be the

quiddity, i.e. the definition plus the essential differentiae. Thus through quiddity essence is
connected to reity because the quiddity differentiates individual things.

We see that for Avicenna the necessity obtaining in causal relations does not derive from
one type of cause, namely Aristotle's absolutely necessary material and efficient causes, but
rather from the necessity inherent in cause and effect relations. Depending on whether
existence or reity is taken as ground, the final is the necessary effect of the efficient and the
efficient the necessary effect of the final. One might attempt to reconcile Avicenna with
Aristotle by saying that the different grounds involve different types of necessity: the
necessity arising from the efficient cause's causation is absolute, while that arising from the
final cause's causation is hypothetical. This is not the case, however, because, as mentioned
above, Avicenna saw no essential backwardness in the final cause's causality; if anything
die stronger necessity is that arising from essence and hence from finality, because it is not
existentially contingent on a preceding chain of causes beginning ultimately with God,
whose essence is existence. God's existence is necessary because his essence is existence,
not vice versa. We shall explore this further in Section 4.5.

5*5Meta. VII,6:103 lb 18-22; at the end of the chapter (1032al-2) Aristotle says that the definition
of a thing is the definition of its essence.

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156

ACTUALIZATION, a c t u a l i t y , a n d p e r f e c t i o n

4 .2

By restricting the causal ground of form to matter (and thence to motion), Avicenna frees
the final cause to serve as an existential, rather than merely physical, cause; in so doing
Avicenna provides a broader ontological basis for his teleology than Aristotle did for his.
In the Ilahiyat Avicenna says th?* actualization (al-fiel) is better than potency because the
former involves perfection (kamal) while the latter involves deficiency (naq$an).5&6 The
aim of this section is to uncover the Aristotelian background for Avicenna's notion that
perfection is broader than mere formation.

As we saw in Chapters 2 and 3, Aristotle faced relatively few problems in his works of
natural philosophy such as the Parts o f Animals in differentiating, say, an organ's form
from its function; but in the Metaphysics there is no clear explanation of the function of
being qua being. To Avicenna there was: actuality is the function of any potential existent;
actuality must be separated from form because actuality as a state may be abstracted from
the matter/form composite, while form cannot be so extruded. This causal aspect of
actuality is what Avicenna has in mind when he speaks of the perfecting cause.

Although in Aristotle the processes of formation and actualization are parallel (and often
treated as identical, in the sense that the process of actualization is described as "moving"
the potential toward actuality^ 7), for Avicenna there is a clear distinction between the

5*6Ilahiyat, pp.184-85.
^87 c.g. Meta. Vm,6:1045a30-34.

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motion-based process of material formation and the existence-based process of ontological
perfection. Before continuing our discussion, let us examine and compare the terms used by
the two authors.

Our first task must be to decide what difference (if any) there is between Aristotle's uses of
the terms energeia and entelecheia; then we should determine how exactly Avicenna s
notion of perfection (kamal, tamam) corresponds to entelecheia.^^

An indication that the two Greek terms are interchangeable can be found in the last line of
the definition of phusis in Metaphysics V,4:
"The principle of motion of things existing by nature is this, somehow contained [in
them], either potentially or actually (e dunamei entelecheia)."^
Although there is some question of the soundness of Ross's r e a d i n g , ^90 this is not the only
passage where entelecheia is paired with dunamis.591 Moreover, the Arabic version of
the Metaphysics (in contrast with most other translations, which use variants of t m m or k
m 1 for entelecheia) almost invariably renders both energeia and entelecheia as bi'l-ficl\
our M etaphysics V definition of phusis can therefore also be ruled out on philological
grounds as a source of Avicenna's differentiation of actualization from perfection.

In the past scholars have tried to differentiate between the two Greek terms by translating
energeia as "activity" or "actualization" and entelecheia as "actuality;" the former refers to
588 for an interesting analysis of the difference between the two terms, cf. CJL Chen, "The relation
between the terms energeia and entelecheia in the philosophy of Aristotle," in Classical
Quarterly (New Series) VII/1 (1958), pp.12-17. Chen maintains that the quasi-modal (or
'static') meaning (i.e. implying actuality or perfection) is the original sense of entelecheia and
a derived sense in energeia, while the non-modal (or 'kinetic') meaning (i.e. implying
actualization) is the original sense of energeia and a derived sense in entelecheia: pp. 14-16.
589Mete. V,4:1015al7-19.
590urmson maintains that entelecheia should be replaced by energeia here: J.O. Urmson, The
Creek Philosophical Vocabulary (London: 1990), p.55; Peters bases his differentiation of the
two terms on Ross's reading of this passage, which he does not question: F.E. Peters, Greek
Philosophical Terms (New York:1967), p.57.
591e.g.GAII,l:734b36.

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a potentiality's function (ergon) or process (kinesis), the latter to its state of perfection or
fulfillment after die activity or actualization has been completed. I think that in general this
differentiation holds true for Aristotle, although his application of the terms is really less
consistent than the differentiation would seem to indicate; but Avicenna's consistently
separate uses of fiel (as in bi'l-fil), and tamam and kamal, make the distinction more
obvious.

As we discussed in Section 2.3, Avicenna believed that the only way to understand the
formal actualization of matter was through motion, since form is tied necessarily to matter;
otherwise one was engaging in mystical talk of forms as ghostly agents. Perfection,
however, is not tied necessarily to matter or motion but rather to existence and quiddity, and
therefore, as stated above, refers to a purely ontological actualization. The difference
between the two concepts corresponds to that between the two aspects of nature discussed
in Section 2.2, which in turn corresponds to Avicenna's division of causes into extrinsic
(agent and end) and intrinsic (matter and form). Matter and form are, strictly speaking,
physical causes requiring motion, and thus applicable as such only to natural philosophy;
agent and end are ontological causes, and thus perfection extends not only to the formal
actualization of natural things but also to logical entities and being qua being.

In other words, just as Avicenna sees perfection as more general than formation, he wants
to see actuality purely in terms of an existential entelecheia rather than a motive energeia;
entelecheia is more widely applicable because, unlike energeia (and form), it is not tied
necessarily to a preceding potentiality (and
A r is to tle ,5 9 3

m a tte r).

5 92 For Avicenna, unlike for

the terms had distinct senses; moreover, the actuality had to be essential in

order to avoid Aristotle's dilemma in Metaphysics VHI,5, of being forced to see wine as

592 Meta. Vm,6:1045a30-34.


593 e.g. Meta, IX,l:1045b33-34, where Aristotle sets entelecheia next to ergon.

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159
being fully actual only when it becomes vinegar, and a man fully actual only when he is
dead. Avicenna could do this because his sense of causation was atemporal and hence nondirectional; whereas Aristotle felt puzzled by the fact that vinegar is a necessary, temporally
posterior result of wine, Avicenna could see the processes of generation and destruction by
which grape becomes wine and wine becomes vinegar as separable from time. In other
words, Avicenna could respond better than Aristotle to Kirwan's criticism of Aristotle's
statement (taken from his definitions of telos in M etaphysics V,16) that it is only "by
transference" (houto de metepberontes) we can say that bad things may be perfect
(teleios):
"Aristotle is wrong to treat the expression 'completely destroyed' as a case of
transference: the thing destroyed is 'completed' in a degenerate sense, but its
destruction is completed in the full sense. A task is no less completed when its
fulfillment is u n d e s i r a b l e . " 394
We shall discuss in detail how Avicenna's notion of the good differed from Aristotle's in
the next section; for now, however, let us simply bear in mind that unlike Aristotle's,
Avicenna's notion of finality had very little to do with the human good.

Avicenna can therefore see vinegar and death as necessary accidents, as the concomitant
final cause of each process taken as a whole, just as defecation is a concomitant final cause
of digestion; in other words, taken solely as separate degenerative processes, Avicenna has
no problem seeing defecation as the essential end of the action of the rectum, vinegar as the
essential end of the aeration of wine, and death as the essential end of the desiccation of the
body.595 But defecation, vinegar, and death are not the essential ends of digestion, wine
making, and life, but only concomitant, accidentally necessary ends. It is the notion of
accidental final causes, and specifically non-beneficial results of a natural process, that
^94 Kirwan, Metaphysics, p. 167; Averroes takes this transference (intiqal) to mean simply
"metaphorically speaking:" Bouyges, Ma bacd al-fablea H, pp.624-25. For Avicenna there
was nothing metaphorical about it; the adulterer committing adultery and the thief thieving are
perfecting themselves (although their punishment is also necessary according to the existential
order of the good): Ta'llqat, p.47.
5 95 c Ta'ttqat, pp.47,62,152.

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160

Aristotle ultimately could not accept; this was due, I believe, to his starting with die good as
a primary concept and deriving finality from it, rather than vice versa. We shall discuss this
further in the next section.

The Arabic terms tamam and kamal also enable Avicenna to see perfection (as we can in
English, but not in Greek) both as a process and as a state. Avicenna can thus extend
actualization beyond motion to existence: just as building is the actualization of the
buildable qua buildable, and moving is the actualization of the movable qua movable,
existing is die actualization of the potential existent qua potential existent Furthermore,
once one has made this extension to existence, there is no distinguishing actuality from
actualization, at least in terms of their being final causes; this is because existentiation is not
properly speaking, a process. For at every point in a process of change an existent qua
existent is fully actual; it is only qua movable (i.e. taken in a process of generation and
destruction) that the existent is being actualized.

Thus Avicenna's perfection is both process and product both existentiation and existence;
more specifically, Avicenna's notion that perfection's causality arises from its being both
actualization and actuality corresponds to his notion of the good's causality, which itself
arises from its being both the existential order and the ultimate Good. What background
does Aristode provide for Avicenna's crucial extension? Aristotle hints at something along
these lines (although he backs away from it), when he says in Metaphysics IX, 3, that:
"The term 'actualization' (energeia), with its implication of 'complete reality'
(entelecheia), has been extended from motions, to which it properly belongs, to
other things; for it is agreed that actualization (energeia) is properly m o t i o n . " 59o

596Meta. IX,3:1047a30-33 (the translation is mainly Treddenicks, Metaphysics I-DC, p.439,


although I have translated energeia as "actualization" rather than "actuality"); cp. Meta.
IX,7:1049aI3-15.

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Aristotle also seems to be considering an extension to existence when he speaks in
M etaphysics XI,9, of motion's being (in Avicenna's terms at least) a concomitant final
cause (i.e. a necessary accident) of existentiation:
"Motion results when the complete reality (entelecbeia) itself exists, and neither
sooner nor later. The complete reality, then, of that which exists potentially, when it is
completely real and actual, not qua itself but qua movable, is m o t i o n . " ^97
The implication is that when a thing is taken qua itself as opposed to qua movable,
perfection consists of existentiation. Aristotle seems to follow this lead when he says that:
"Motion is considered to be a kind of actualization (energeia), but incomplete
(ateles)."59&
Again, the implication is that existentiation is complete actualization; complete actualization
is perfection, and hence perfection is existentiation when taken as a process, and existence
when taken as an end-state: both process and state are final causes, although in a way the
former is intrinsic and the latter e x t r i n s i c . 5 9 9

In addition, Aristotle hints that while actuality is prior to potentiality qua principle of
motion or rest, actuality can also be temporally posterior to potentiality;*^ the only way to
justify this is seeing actuality as a final, rather than formal, cause, and prior to potentiality
not temporally but in terms of "substantiality." 601 Finally, using an epistemological
analogy like Avicenna's (which we have referred to throughout the dissertation), Aristotle
repeats this theme of motion being incomplete in Metaphysics IX,6 :
"No action which has a limit (peras) is an end, but only a means to an end...Every
motion is incomplete (ateles)...but the same thing at the same time is seeing and has
seen, is thinking and has thought The latter kind of process is what I mean by
actualization (energeia), the former what I mean by motion (kinesia). "602

^ Meta. XI,9:1065b22-23/Treddenick, Metaphysics X-XFV, p.97.


^^M eta. XI,9:1066a20-21/Treddenick, Metaphysics X-XIV, pp.99-101.
599 c Meta. XI,9:1066a6-7 andXI,ll:1067bl2-13.
600Meta. IX,8:1049b5-28.
601 c Meta. K,8:1050a3-10.
*>02jMeta. IX,6:1048bl8-35/Treddenick, Metaphysics J-DC, p.449.

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162
Motion is incomplete in the sense that it is a process bounded by limits which serve as
ends; but the "process" of intellection, like existentiation, is instantaneous and without
beginnings, middles, and ends, and hence not really a process at all. As stated above,
change and becoming can only be seen as processes when the subject is taken qua
movable, not qua existent

In Metaphysics IX,8 , however, Aristotle seems to equate all three terms:


"For the activity (ergon) is the end, and the actualization (energeia) is the activity
(ergon); hence the term 'actualization' (energeia) is derived from 'activity' (ergon), and
tends to have the meaning of (sunteinei pros) 'complete reality' (entelecheian)."*>03
Aristotle also commonly equates form with actuality and matter with potentiality;604
Therefore, although (as stated above) Aristotle mostly uses the terms i n t e r c h a n g e a b l y , 605
Avicenna s distinction between actualization and actuality and their extension from motion
to existence do echo some concerns Aristotle was having about these issues.

Avicenna could make this extension from motion to existence in good faith, as it were,
because no less than Alexander seemed to confirm it, specifically in his tract entitled "On
Aristotle's view that actualization is more general than m o t i o n " 606 Alexander's tract on
actualization provides us with a prime source for Avicenna's notion of perfection and
deficiency: Alexander says that every act is either deficient or perfect; the former Aristotle
associated with motion, in the sense that motion belongs to the deficient thing transferring

^Q^Meta. IX,8:1050a22-23 (the translation is mainly Treddenick's, Metaphysics I-IX, p.459, but I
have again translated energeia as "actualization"); because of the potential tautology,
entelecheian is translated into Arabic (unusually, for the Ma bacd al-fabl'a) not as 6/7fiel but as al-tamam: Bouyges, Ma baed al-fablea n, p. 1191. For Ross's version of
Diels's etymology of entelecheia, cf. Ross, Metaphysics II, p.246.
604e.g. Meta. Vm,2:1043al5; VIII,3:1043bl-2; Vm,8:1033b5-20; IX,8:1050b2-3.
605c.g. Meta. IX,3:1047al9-20 andX,l:1046a2-4.
606Maqala Aliskandar ft annahu l-ficl acamm min al-lfaraka eala ray Arista, in Badawi,
Arista, pp.293-94.

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163
from potentiality to a c t u

a lity .^ ?

Perfection, according to Alexanders reading of Aristotle,

is analogous to everything's being disposed (mutahayyp) to receive light

By contrast, the Plotinus of the Utalojiya discusses perfection only once, in a discussion
about whether or not die soul is a substance:
"The best philosophers agree that soul is the perfection (taxnam) of the body, and that
perfection is not a substance; therefore soul is not a substance because something's
substance only comes from its substance..."608
We are thus confronted with a rather surprising situation: Plotinus only seems to discuss
tamam in the context of soul, in other words in the most restricted, orthodox Aristotelian
sense of en telecheia^W while Alexander invents a new sense for perfection by
emphasizing Aristotle's hints at existential actualization.^ 10 But the evidence indicates that
in the end Alexander declines to take the leap, and sees perfection still in terms of the
actualization of motion and generation, not existence; although he separates perfection from
Aristotle's overextended form, Alexander's peripateticism is still ultimately physical rather
than metaphysical. In Avicenna's ontology, on the other hand, the final cause must have the
existential, perfecting role that it does; unlike Alexander, he understands perfection as the
motion of existentiation only in a metaphorical, rather than literal, sense. But Alexander's
notion of the final cause as a perfecting actuality nevertheless serves as a turning point in
die road between Aristotelian and Avicennian teleology.

607Maqala Aliskandar fi '1 -Cfl, p.293.


6 0 8 < a . Badawl, ed., Aflotin <
inda'l-eAiab (Cairo:1966), p.54; F. Dieterici, ed., Tbeologie des
Aristoteles (Amsterdam: 1965), pp.42-43.
609 Even in Avicenna's commentary on the Utalojiya, die influence of Alexander can be detected.
Avicenna states that actualization (a l-fiel) is what, in corporeal substances, perfects
something's potential and brings it to its end, and extends the implied role of the Agent
Intellect in De Anima HI,5 from conveyor of intelligibles to perfecter ( mutammim) of
existence: Sarfr utalojiya, p.72. Elsewhere in the passage from the Utalojiya there is an
explicit use of fuia tamamiya; Plotinus here, once again, follows the strictest reading of
Adstode, subsuming the final cause into the formal.
610lt also brings up the intriguing possibility, which we shall discuss in Section 4.4, that the
passage of Alexander's texts through al-Kindi and his circle of translators resulted in the first
real emphasis on perfection as a causal account

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164

GOOD, EVIL, AND GENEROSITY

4.3

Having discussed actualization, actuality, and perfection, we must now turn to how, for
Avicenna, perfection represents the good in an existential, rather than motive, way.
Discussing the proper subject-matter of metaphysics in Metaphysics XI, 1, Aristotle says:
"Nor must we suppose that the science which we are seeking is concerned with the
causes described in the Physics."611
In most respects Avicenna would agree with Aristotle here; but in Avicenna's discussion of
the good we are also presented with more canonical evidence for the division between
extrinsic ends and intrinsic perfections that we have discussed throughout the dissertation.
As mentioned in Section 2.5, Avicenna's notion of the good is purely e x i s t e n t i a l , * * ^ with
little of the anthropocentrism that muddled Aristotle's identification of the final cause with
the good. Avicenna attacks Aristotle's conception by saying that:
"Things of benefit to us which we might call 'goods' are not really goods. Real order
and pure good is the essence of the Creator; the order of the world and its good [both]
issue from His essence, and everything that issues from His essence, since it is an
order and a good, exists with [a place in that] order appropriate to it, since the end of
creation is His essence."*>*3
That neither the order of the good nor creation serves as God's end will be the subject of
Section 4.6.

**HAfeta. XI,l:1059a34-38/Treddenick, Metaphysics X-XIV, p.55; cp. m,l:996a21-bl. Ross


calls the former passage unusually non-aporetic, possibly indicating that die notes on which it
was based had not been "properly sorted out:" Ross, Metaphysics U, p.308.
612 "The real good is the perfection of existence (which is, in reality, the Necessary Existent),
whereas evil is the non-existence of that perfection:" Taeliqat, p. 72.
613 Ta'Ilqat, p.72.

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165
This section is important because two of Aristotle's main concerns with teleology were 1)
creating a cause that he could identify with the good (because it was the good, rather than
the final cause, that was primary for Aristotle); and 2) reconciling his notions of
metaphysical and human good. In other words, Aristotle started from the basis that the
good was self-evident, and that the end fit the causal requirements of the good most closely;
furthermore he had to reconcile die twin ends of human existence, namely contemplating
the divine and acting justly, and thus settle which-politics or metaphysicswas the
universal science.614

Mirroring his discussions of actualization and actuality, Aristotle makes some tentative
attempts at seeing the good in a non-anthropocentric, purely existential light.615 in
Metaphysics V,2, Aristotle seems to identify the good with perfection:
"And some things [are causes] as fulfillments of the others, i.e. as their good; for
what other things are for is wont to be best, and to be their fulfillment." 616
Earlier in the Metaphysics, Aristotle criticizes both the Platonists for making the good an
accidental rather than essential quality of the formal cause of being, and Anaxagoras for
making it a concomitant of the efficient cause of being; instead, the good must be seen as a
cause in its own right, namely the final cause of existence and generation.61 "7 Finally, in
M etaphysics XII, 10, Aristotle seems to be discussing the good in existential terms
(because it consists of both actualization and actuality) when he says:
"We must consider also in which of two ways the nature of the universe contains the
good and the highest good, whether as something separate and by itself, or as the
order of the parts. Probably in both ways, as an army does, for its good is found both

614xhere is a remote possibility that Aristotle's notion of loving one thing for the sake of another
(from the Nicbomachcan Ethics) may have provided some background to Avicenna's
metaphysical notion of divine generosity, but it is beyond the scope of the dissertation.
615qx Meta. XII,7:1072b31-1073a3.
Meta. V,2:1013b26ffyKirwan, Metaphysics, p.29.
617Meta. I,7:988b7-16. In Meta. XIV,4:1091a30-1092b20, however, Aristotle criticizes the
Pythagoreans and die Platonist Speusippus for their non-anthropocentric view of the good.

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166
in its order and in its leader, and more in the latter; for he does not depend on the
order but the order depends on h i m . " 6 1 8
Later in the chapter Aristotle criticizes Anaxagoras for identifying the good solely with the
efficient cause; if it is only an efficient cause, Aristotle objects, then its purpose must be its
final cause and hence another good.619 Instead, Aristotle says that we must think of the
good as both an efficient and a final cause; and because form is both an efficient and a final
cause (at least according to Ross, citing Metaphysics VII,9, and XII,3 ^2 0 )^ the good must
be a form. Avicenna, as we shall see, regarded the good as a perfection, since its causal
domain is existentiation r a t h e r than f o r m a t i o n . ^ 2 1

For the most part, however, Aristotle sticks pretty closely to an anthropocentric good. For
example, in Metaphysics V, 16, Aristotle seems to imply that something may attain a telos
without being teleios; this is the case when the telos is not spoudaion (useful or
b e n e fic ia l).6 2 2 I q

Metaphysics IX,9 , Aristotle speaks of good actualities being better than

good p o t e n t i a l i t i e s ; * ^ the implication that there is such a thing as a bad actuality would
make no sense to Avicenna, for whom all actuality is good (and thus better than all
potentiality).^^ Evil, being associated with non-existence, has more to do with potentiality
than actuality, since potentiality is closer to non-existence than actuality.
bl&Meta. XII,10:1075al2-17/Treddenick, Metaphysics X-XIV, p.167. We shall return to the
subject of God's independence from creation in Section 4.6.
b^Mcta. Xn,10:1075b8-ll.
620rOSSj Metaphysics n, pp.402-403, citing Meta. Vn,9:1034a24fT. and XII,3:1070al4fT.: "The
form of health, as existing in the doctor's mind, is the efficient cause of his action; and as
something to be realized in the body of another, it is the final cause."
621 Interestingly, Averroes follows Avicenna's lead in taking the medical analogy as referring to the
perfecting, rather than formal, cause. I believe this is because Averroes felt efficient and final
(in the sense of end rather than perfection) causes were too connected to motion to call form a
final, motive cause in a case where existentiation rather than impulsion was at issue. Thus
Averroes says that unlike Anaxagoras, who is forced to posit a further final cause, Aristotle
saw the Prime Mover's causality "in terms of perfection and completion (eala jihad j-kamal
wa'l-tamam); but Averroes's strict peripateticism only seems to allow him to regard
perfection as actualizing the existence of the potential movable, rather than as actualizing the
existence of the potential existent* Bouyges, Ma baed al-fabVa HI, pp. 1723-24.
622Meta. V,16:1021b23-24.
tolM cta. IX,9:1051a4-19.
624Uahlyat, p.185.

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167

In short, Avicennas good consists primarily of existential realization and hence perfection.
Elsewhere Avicenna says that the good is what everything desires by definition, the
definition being that by which each thing's existence is

p e r fe c te d .6 2 5

receives the good does so in accordance with what is in its

Everything which

d e f in itio n .6 2 6

Avicenna

elsewhere seems to equate existence, perfection, and goodness: existence is goodness, and
the perfection of existence is the goodness of e x i s t e n c e . 6 2 7

Evil, on the other hand, arises from non-existence and d e f i c i e n c y , 6 2 8 and thus consists of
the lack of opportunity for p e r f e c t i o n ; 6 2 9 something which is not activated, as i t were, is
not p e r f e c t 630 The good is existence and activity, and evil, being potential, is that which is
associated with non-existence.631 But the non-existent end still can exist in the mind even
if unfulfilled, so it cannot be evil in that s e n s e . 6 3 2 Avicenna associates futility (al-buflan),
which we discussed as an accidental end in Sections 2 . 1 and 2 . 5 , with evil: just as essential
perfection, i.e. completion and fulfillment of the act of existentiation, is the end of the good,
so futility, the lack of completeness or essential perfection, is, in a way, the end of e v i l . 6 3 3
Evil, Avicenna maintains, is not what Aristotle says, namely the absence of good (just as
black is the absence of white); rather, evil is the absence of p e r f e c t i o n . 634

625jnaJWya4 p.355; TaeHqat, p.77.


626 Ta'tlqat, p. 124.
627Uahiyat, pp.355-56.
62*Ilah1yat, p.420.
629Habiyat, pp.295-96.
630 Ta'tlqat, p.51.
631 Ta'ttqat, p. 129.
632 Ta'tlqat, p. 128.
633 cf. (a)l-buflan wa-huwa gayatu 1-Sarr. Sari} utalojiya, p.46; butlan can also mean simple non
existence, but here it carries the sense of unfulfilled perfection.
634 Commentary on Meta. Lambda, p. 106; Avicenna could also be referring to Meta.
X,4:1055b20-21.

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168

In another context Avicenna explains evil by defining what he means by absolute perfection
(al-kamal al-muflaq); this latter consists of 1) existence without any contingency; 2 )
existence without any non-existence; 3) activity without potentiality; and 4) reality without
nullity. Given these criteria, only God is absolutely perfect Every subsequent existent
becomes less and less perfect in the existential order: the active intellects are nobler (in the
sense of essentially prior) than the heavenly bodies, and die heavenly bodies are nobler than
the sublunary world. So when Avicenna claims that these various levels of existential
contingency are the cause of evil, he means that the lower down one perches on the
existential totem pole, the closer one is to the evil that consists (in its strictest sense) of non
existence. In other words, where there is more contingency, there is more e v i l . 635

How does Avicenna arrive at his equation of evil with non-existence? He divides final
causes into those that inhere in die patient and those that inhere in the agent; if the end were
contained in neither, it would be non-existent Thus all final causes are ultimately intrinsic
to either patient or agent; if it is extrinsic to one, it is intrinsic to the other. An example of an
end intrinsic to the patient is the form of humanity in man; an example of the second is
habitation in a house. The former inheres necessarily in the patient (i.e. in man), while the
latter does not inhere in the patient (i.e. in the house) but rather in the agent (i.e. the builder.
Even if the end qua form of house exists in the house-building materials, the identification
of that end with the agent's end is ultimately accidental. In the case of the man who builds
himself a house, his end qua potential inhabitant is only accidentally the same as his end
q u a b u ild e r .6 3 6

Avicenna's theory of the good qua existential perfection requires a subtle differentiation
between the various types of finality. In Hahiyat VI,5, Avicenna divides final causes into

Ta'liqat, p.21.
^^Dahlyat, p.294; cp. mustakion: Mubafrajat, p.236(484).
635

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169
ends, termini, goods, and forms, noting that final causes are related to things which are
existentially prior to them. The final cause is related to die efficient cause, to motion, to the
potential receptor, and to the actual receptor. In its relation to the efficient cause, the final
cause is an end igaya), and in its relation to motion it is a terminus (nihaya); the difference
between die two is that the efficient cause may continue to exist (i.e. qua existent, not qua
efficient cause) even after the end has been attained, whereas motion necessarily ceases to
exist once its terminus has been reached. In its relation to the potential receptor, the final
cause is a good (hayt), because evil consists of the non-existence of the receptor's
perfection; in its relation to the actual receptor, the final cause is a form. The first two are
what we have been calling "extrinsic" ends, the last two are what we have been calling
"intrinsic" perfections.

To make things slighdy more complicated, however, the final cause that is related to the
efficient cause may be called a good as well. For when an agent is potential, it exists, in a
sense, for the non-existence associated with evil; when the agent is actual, however, it
represents the good opposed to that evil. Thus the final cause can be seen as causing the
efficient cause qua principle of motion and the efficient cause qua receptor of reity; in the
former case the final cause is an end, in the latter case it is a good. This latter type of final
cause is a good whether or not the efficient cause's passage from potentiality to actuality is
such that the passage benefits existence or the continuation of existence, and whether or not
the final cause is a natural or a voluntary good; and when it is voluntary good, the final
cause can be either real or s u p p o s e d . 63 7

To support his notion of the good as existential perfection Avicenna distinguishes first
from second perfections; die former is what is necessary for an individual's existence, the

637 Uahiyat, pp.295-96.

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170
latter is not n e c e s s a r y . 6 3 8 In Avicenna's scheme Gcd gives us both our first perfections
(i.e. what we need to exist and survive as a species) as well as the potential to perfect
ourselves secondarily (e.g. the intellectual capacity to discover astronomy). In other words,
something's essence is its first perfection, and its qualities are its second perfections; while
qualities intensify and weaken, essence does not.639

Avicenna's divorcing of human benefit from the existential good was, I believe, an attempt
to marry metaphysics with theodicy; more specifically, it was a manifestation of his desire
to make God create purposelessly yet still be good. If a good act is done for someone or
something other than that act, that other someone or something becomes the final cause of
the good act Wanting a God who is a Necessary Existent yet the epitome of goodness,
Avicenna changed his definition of goodness, not of God; the good becomes existential
perfection, and God, the most existentially perfect, 640 becomes pure good (al-hayr almabtf).

In addition to a canonical differentiation of the various types of finality, Avicenna's


transformed good requires a different notion of generosity: generosity describes the nature
of God's existential connection with creation, and helps Avicenna side-step a potential
attack based on the created world's final causation of God's act of creation. In other words,
Avicenna had to pre-empt the possible charge that if God created, His creation must either
be a final cause or an accident. In the former case, God is an effect of our finality, which is
unacceptable; in the latter case God is no longer good, which is also unacceptable.

638 Ta'ttqat, p.21; cp. DaniS-nama [Dakiyat], p. 100.


639 Ta'ttqat, p.33.
640cod is the utmost in existential perfection; thus existential perfections issue from Him: Risala
fariiya, pp. 19,21.

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171
Therefore Avicenna defines generosity as "the giving of a good without any purpose" (i.e.
ulterior motive), and calls God's generosity, like His goodness, "unadulterated"

(m a fo /). 6 4 1

Seeing the good as existential perfection makes generosity the bestowal of that perfection to
someone or something else for no purpose other than the generosity
motiveless giving is described elsewhere as "perfect good" (itlka-yi

its e lf .6 4 2

a m a m );6 4 3

T h is

God

bestows things for no recompense (ciwa<f), and thus His act consists of unadulterated
generosity (jad-i majf(f).644 Jq Avicenna's scheme of reciprocal causation, then, the good
applies to the receptor perfected by the good act, and generosity applies to the efficient
cause from which the good act issues; both describe the same relation, except the former
starts with the final cause and the latter with the efficient cause. But generosity defines the
relationship of the receptor to the efficient cause only when the efficient cause is in no way
made a patient by the relationship; Avicenna thus avoids making God an e f f e c t 6 4 5

In other words, generosity must be uncaused, or at least not due to an extrinsic cause. In
Uahlyat IX.,3, Avicenna warns us against thinking that the effect (i.e. qua effect) perfects
the cause which has perfected its

e x is te n c e .6 4 6

o f course if one takes the effect, as

mentioned in Section 4.1, to be a cause of reity rather than existence, it does cause the cause
(qua effect in terms of reity). As Avicenna puts it,
"every efficient cause which acts for some purpose, [an act] which leads to anything
even resembling compensation, [that efficient cause] is not generous. And every
person who gives a form or accident to a receptor, but who has another end which
comes about through the good he did to [the receptor], he is not generous either."647
Thus generosity may be defined as giving another a perfection without any compensation
for it; Avicenna calls it:
64* Ta'liqat, p.22; elsewhere God is described as "unadulterated good:" CA. Noranl, ed., alMabda3 wal-macad (Tehran: 1984), pp. 10-11. [henceforth: Mabda3 wa-maesd ]
642 Ta'tlqat, p. 106; cp. Risala ear$1ya, pp.32-33.
643DaniS-nama [Uahlyat]: p. 140.
644DaniS-nama [Uahlyat]:, p.101.
645Bahiyat, pp.296-97.
Mb Uahlyat, pp.396-7.
647Uahlyat, p.297.

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172

"the communication of a perfection by one who has no need of that act of generosity.
This thing is a good in relation to the receptor, and a generosity in relation to the
agent Every communication of perfection is a good in relation to the receptor,
regardless of whether it is for remuneration or not; but it is not generosity in relation
to the agent except when it is free of compensation." 648
In the ISarat wa-tanblhat Avicenna defines generosity as the bestowal of what is
appropriate or necessary {ma yanbagi), i.e. a perfecting cause appropriate to our essence,
with no thought for compensation.649 Again, this is important insofar as God's existential
generosity toward His creation must be seen as having no ulterior motive, for that motive
would then be a final cause of His a c t . 650 We shall discuss this further in Section 4.6.

The good and generosity have traveled from Aristotle's anthropocentric ethics to Avicenna's
existential metaphysics. The good, the actuality resulting from the actualization of potential
existence, is the province of the existentially deficient, while generosity, die communicating
of a perfection by one who has no need or reason to do so, is the province of the
existentially perfect 651 The subject of the next section is how this divine generosity issues
goods to the universe according to the existential order.

648Uahlyat, p.298.
649ISarat, p.159; cp. Alexander's comment on Meta. I,3:983a31, referring to N.E. I,l:1094al-2:
"If all things desire their appropriate end as a good, that which is the sovereign end and which
all things in motion desire would be the good and the most excellent of all the things that
exist: in Meta. I, CAG I, p.22/Dooley, Alexander, p.45. Again Alexander resists
Avicenna's extension of goodness to cover pure existentiation: although the sovereign end is
what all movable things desire, it is the most excellent of all things that impel, not all things
that exist
650c Ta'liqat, p. 19.
Uahlyat, p.297; ISarat, p. 158.

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173

CELESTIAL MOTION, PERPETUITY, AND PROVIDENCE

4.4

Avicenna's notion of essential perfection distinguishes his cosmology from Aristotle's, for
while the etemality of Aristotle's spheres was what Avicenna would call a concomitant final
cause (i.e. a necessary accident) of their essential, Prime-Mover-inspired motion,652
Avicenna's spheres' perpetuity is itself the perfecting cause of their existence. In other
words, Avicenna, unlike Aristotle, sees the motion of the spheres as an accidental final
cause of their souls' essential desire to perpetuate and hence perfect their own existence
(just as human intellects strive to perfect themselves in order to attain perpetual
contemplation of the divine).

Like ours, die astral souls need bodies in which to perfect t h e m

s e lv e s .6 5 3

Avicenna states

as well that die souls of the separate substances are disposed to receive perfection just like
o u rs ;6 5 4

unlike ours, however, the astral faculty of imagination is perfect, and it is this

perfection that serves as a final cause for our own imaginations and a c t i o n s . 655 This

{5

important because Avicenna wants to claim that just as the astral souls do not move on
account of what is beneath them (ie. creation), so our souls do not move on account of
what is beneath them, namely the mixtures of humors and elements in our bodies. Thus a
solely material account of the causation of motion is i n c o m

p l e t e . 6 5 6 in

this way souls, both

652cf. Meta. XII,7:1072al9-8:1073b3.


653 Ta'Ilqat, pp.97-102.
654 Ta'liqat, p. 110.
655 Ta'llqat, pp. 166-67.
656The soul is caused only accidentally by the elements' achievement of a certain perfect balance in
the body, with each of the equilibriacorresponding to plant (ntkatar,\ p.78), animal
(mu'tadiltar. p. 80), and human (mu'tadiltar. p. 101) soulsascending by degrees in the

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174
celestial and terrestrial, are both the final cause of die bodies in which they inhere, and final
effects of their own intrinsic perfection (being the best they can b e ) 6 5 7 and extrinsic end
(perpetuity according to God's existential o r d e r ) . 6 5 8

Avicenna says in the Mubabatat that:


"The voluntary heavenly motion's will is not due to die motion itself, but rather due to
an end; the Mover, given that He is a desideratum (muStaban), does not desire
motion...and that there is no other mover because He moves due to His being the
Perfection of m o t i o n . " 6 5 9
Thus the motion of the heavens is not the product of God's will, because then it would be a
desideratum and hence a final cause and this in turn would make God an effect; we shall
discuss this problem in Sections 4.5 and 4.6. But at the next stage down, as it were, the
physical causation of a sublunary object by an incorporeal substance, namely the agent
intellect, involves both efficient and final agency:
"The separate substance moves things both like a desirer and a desideratum...ihe fact
is that the principle of change comes from one thing to another, the principle
occurring as both efficient and final (al-mabda3 yaqi'u eala 'l-faciH wa-'ala I"660
Avicenna also points out that the astral motion is itself the star's perfection, not that by
which the star attains its perfection; were the latter true the motion would terminate upon the
star's attainment of its perfection, and this cannot be because the star's motion is eternal.661
To be more precise, it is the perpetuity inherent in circular motion that is the final cause of
the heavens' existence; the final cause of the motion's circularity (al-istidara) is not the

order of perfection: DaniS-nama [Tabl'lyat]: pp.78-101. cp. "It is not correct that these
things [i.e. the mixture and arrangement of parts and shapes and characters] are [themselves]
ends, but are rather consequents of ends; the end is...the search, in the soul, for perfection:
Ta'ttqat, pp.63.
657 fa'ttqat, pp.63-64.
658 Ta'ttqat, p.46.
6 5 9 Mubabatat, p . l 9 5 ( 3 4 3 - 4 4 ) .
660Mubabajat, p.l49(132).
661 Ta'ttqat, pp. 107-108; cp. Avicenna's statement that it is absurd to posit an eternal thing whose
search for perfection comes to an end: Mubabatat, p,175(274). Aristotle says only that
"there is something which is eternally moved with an unceasing motion, and that [is] circular
motion:" Meta. XII,7:1072a21-22; cp. Meteor. I,2:339a25-26/i7f atar, pp. 13-14.

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175
circularity perse, but rather the properties (specifically etemality) that form the quiddity
and hence serve as the perfecting causeof c i r c u l a r i t y . 662 As an example of this Avicenna
says elsewhere:
"Thus the sculptor sets matter in motion in order that {the matter} might be round,
while [his] final cause is not the roundness itself but rather some property or
concomitant {the roundness} has; it is on account of these {properties and
concomitants of roundness} that the sphere is desired." 663
Thus the objective of astral motion is not the motion qua this particular motion, but rather
the preservation of the nature of the motion; this preservation is not possible through a
particular motion, and thus the nature survives through the species just as humanity does,
i.e. through particular motions taken as a w

h o le .6 6 4

Avicenna states that:

"The purpose applicable to potentially infinite individuals is only that the nature of
their species exist; however the survival of this particular species must necessarily
come about through infinite individuals, and this "necessary" is necessary in a
primary sense...a single individual may be correctly called a final cause of a particular
nature, whereas an infinity may not be correctly called a final cause of a particular
nature. Therefore infinity can be correctly called a final cause of an efficient cause in
the sense that we discussed, namely through an infinite [number] of individuals."665
According to Avicenna, therefore, the species as a whole exercises a kind of collective
causation on the individual; as mentioned at the very end of Chapter 3, it is unclear whether
Aristotle thought that the etemality of species was a final cause abstracted, as it were, from
the species as a whole, or a final cause pertaining to each individual. Indeed, Avicenna says
in Uahlyat VI,5 that the eternal circular motion of the heavens is unitary, i.e. collective,
through its continuity; this unity or collectivity through continuity is the same as that

662 Ta'ttqat, p.41. Indeed, Avicenna at one point seems to make this identification of circularity
and perfection more explicit: Hidaya, p.187; cp. Hidaya, pp. 174-75. Elsewhere he discusses
the fact that circular motion applies to stars and straight motion to inanimate entities because
the former have a will and the latter merely a nature: DaniS-nama [Uahlyat], pp.139-57.
Discussing circular motion in his Quaestio 1.25, Alexander says "Moreover the perfection
which each of the things which become similar to it is able to receive is also itself in general a
becoming similar to what is perfect, and the perfection of die body that moves in a circle is
rotation of this sort:" R.W. Sharpies, Alexander o f Aphrodisias: Quaestiones 1.1-2. IS
(London: 1992), p.84.
663 Uahlyat, pp.299-300.
6M Tattqat, pp. 107-108.
665 Taehqat, pp. 108-109.

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176
expressed by the individuals of a species subject to generation and corruption seeking
perpetuity through reproduction.666

Avicenna's statement brings to mind several of Aristotle's. In a discussion of unity in


Metaphysics X ,l, Aristotle says:
"Of this kind [of continuity] in a still higher degree is that which is a whole and has a
definite shape or form, particularly that which is such by nature and not by constraint
(like things which are joined together by glue or nails or by being tied together), but
which contains in itself the cause of its continuity. A thing is of this kind if its motion
is one and indivisible in respect of place and time; so then clearly if a thing has as its
principle of motion the primary kind of motion (i.e. locomotion) in its primary form
(Le. circular locomotion), it is in a primary sense one spatial magnitude." 667
Aristotle goes on to say that those things that exhibit natural continuity (sunekhes phusei)
are one and indivisible like any individual; that the genus could exhibit this kind of
continuity is part of its definition in Metaphysics V,28:
"These, then, are all the ways in which a genus is so called: in respect of the
continuous coming-to-be of the same form." 66
Moreover, in Generation and Corruption 11,10, Aristotle implies that die wholeness each
individual of a species desires is a final cause of their collective imitation:
"As we have said, generation and corruption will always be continuous and, owing to
the cause we have mentioned, will never fail. This happens with good reason; for we
say that nature in all cases desires what is better, and that being is better than not
being...and this cannot exist in all things since some are too far removed from the
principle. Accordingly God has filled up the whole in the only way that remained by
making generation perpetual This was the way to connect being together as much as
possible, since coming to be continually and generation are the nearest things there are
to being. The cause of this, as has frequently been said, is circular locomotion, since
this alone is continuous. This is why even the other things which change into each
other in respect of their affections and capacities, as do the simple bodies, are
imitating circular motion...So even locomotion in a straight line is continuous only by
imitating circular m o t i o n . "669

666Uahlyat, pp.290-91; cf. Samae jtabl*1, pp.15-16,18. For Averroes on Avicenna on circular
motion, cf. Averroes, Epitome,, p.56.
667Meta. X,l:1052a22-29/Treddenick, Metaphysics X-XIV, p.3.
66%Meta. V,28:1024b6-7/Kirwan, Metaphysics, p.63; "continuous coming-to-be" is rendered in
the Arabic translation as takwinan muttafilan: Bouyges, Ma bacd al-fab1ca U, p.679.
669 g.G II,10:336b24-337a8/Williams, De Gcncrationc et Corruptione, pp.55-56. cp. Aristotle's
criticism of Pythagorean and Platonic notions of existential mimesis: Meta. 1,6:987b11-15

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177
Aristotle therefore does speak of things having a common desire or preference for existence
over non-existence, which is expressed through the continuity of a species's generation;
existence thus serves as collective desideratum, and hence final cause, of a species of
things. Although in his commentary Williams criticizes the assigning of collective
consciousness to a species in this clear example of Aristotelian ontological
perfectionism,670 the criticism would not really apply to Avicenna, who (unlike Aristotle,
whose anthropocentrism bound him to an identification of the good and the desirable671)
saw perfection as an instantaneous, necessary--and hence will-less- existentiation.

The term providence

( a / - ri n a y a ) 6 7 2

carries one of the two senses of the Arabic ro o tr n

y. One sense is that of concern; hence <inaya, Providence, namely God's concern for His
Creation. The other sense is that of intent; hence maena, meaning, but in many cases used
by Avicenna simply as "thing" (as in "something on one's mind;" "a given thing"), hi the
Mubabatat Avicenna says that fate (al-qadar), analogous to Providence, consists of the
existence of the causes and their harmonious order and arrangement such that the existence
of these causes terminates at their effects, namely the necessitation of f u l f i l l m

e n t.6 7 3

jn a

discussion of the Necessary Existent, Avicenna says that cinaya consists of each thing's
existing for the sake c f attaining that part of the universal order which it can a t t a i n . 6

7 4

Elsewhere, Avicenna says that the order of the good necessitates the division of existents
into genera, species, individuals, and their m

o d e s ;6 7 5

taken to represent the system of the good in the

^ another passage, Providence is

u n iv e r s e .6 7 6

Jq

the Uahlyat, Avicenna

670Williams, De Generarione et Conuptione, pp. 192-93.


671 Meta. XH,7:1072a35-bl.
672Avicenna's use of this term instead of al-tadblr indicates that he may have used Abu BiSr
Matta's translation of Alexander's Peri proaoias (which was more faithful to the Greek
original) instead of the Kindl-circle translation; cf. Fazzo and Wiesner, "Alexander," p.129,
n.29.
673Mubabatat, p.233(470).
674 Ta'ttqat, p. 16.
675 Ta'ttqat, p.46.
676j{/sa/a <arSlya, pp.28-29; cp. Mabda3 wa maead, p.84.

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178
says that Providence is the expression o f God's knowledge of everything's essential
p e rfe c tio n .

divine

6 ^7 Divine providence is the order in which God's pure generosity perfects non

e x is te n c e ;6 7 8

by means of Providence God preserves the order of the universe

through the intrinsic ends in each existent, and the good consists of the actualization of
these existential ends. 679 Providence in its concrete manifestation (bi-cayniha) consists of
God's intellectualization and hence existentiation of die u n i v e r s e . 6 8 0

From these definitions we can see that Avicenna thought of Providence as a more
comprehensive counterpart to Nature, in the sense that both serve as God's housekeeper;
while the domain of Nature is motion (i.e. every element moving, or striving to move, to its
natural place), the domain of Providence is existence (i.e. every being existing, or striving
to exist, at its proper perfection).^ 1 Avicenna states that:
"Providence consists of the Necessary Existent's knowing how man's parts must be~
and how the heavens' motion must be--for them both to be excellent and for the order
of the good to be existent in t h e m . " 6 8 2
Providence, like Nature, ensures that everything makes best use of what it has at its
disposal.

The influence of neoplatonic thought, in particular the Plotinian theory of emanation


contained in the pseudo-Aristotelian Theology o f Aristotle ( U

ta lo jiy a ) ,

is also evident

677 Uahlyat, p.415.


678c <inaya Allah...al-einaya al-ilahlya allati hiya jod mahdyatimmu: Sarh utalojiya, p.45
679c Ta'ttqat, p.47.
680 TacUqat, p. 18. Avicenna describes this existentiation as the "perfecting overflow" (al-fayd almutammim), bestowing a perfection (kamalan) through its action: Sarfr utalojiya, p.48.
681 cf. tartib-i wajihr. DaniS-nama [Tabl'iyat], p.25.
682 Taeliqat, p. 18.
683On the provenance of the Uahljiya, cf. F.W. Zimmermann, "The origins of the so-called
Theology o f Aristotle," in Kraye, Ryan, and Schmitt, Pseudo-Aristotle, pp. 110-240
passim, and E. Rowson's review of Zimmermann in "The Theology o f Aristotle and some
other pseudo-Aristotelian texts reconsidered," Journal o f the American Oriental Society
112/3 (1992), pp.481-83. There is some uncertainty, based on a sentence (eala ma fi
Utalojiya min al-mafan: Badawl, Arisfa, p. 121) in a letter to one of his disciples, Klya,
about whether Avicenna thought the Utalojiya was wrongly attributed to Aristotle. Gutas
(Tradition, pp.63-64), following Kraus (P. Kraus, "Plotin chez les Arabes," Bulletin de
l'Insdtut d'Egypte 23 (1942), pp.272-73, n.3), translates the sentence as despite the fact (hat

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179
in Avicenna's notion of Providence; however, as was the case in natural philosophy, the
notion of Providence as perfecting cause appears to have been based mainly on Alexander's
writings, rather than

P l o t i n u s 's .

684 \y e shall treat the subject of God's relation to

Providence in the next section.

the Theologia is somewhat suspect," thus giving Avicenna credit for sensing its false
provenance. Zimmermann ("Theology," p.184) translates the sentence "for all one may find to
object to in the Uthalttjiya," maintaining that (he sentence only refers to what he calls the
"chaotic scattiness" of the work, not its hazy provenance. I am inclined to agree with
Zimmermann's reading of this sentence, not only because his translation makes more
syntactical sense, but also because it is more contextual: it is hard to accept that Avicenna
would make the effort to write a commentary on the Ualajiya (as he did with all Aristotle's
works in his lost K. al-in$af, including the extant and edited commentary on Metaphysics
XII) if he thought it was not really Aristotle's. But it does seem clear that Avicenna was
uncomfortable philosophically, if notphilologically, with the Utalojiya.
^Avicenna's use of mutammim in its purely metaphysical sense provides the basis for the
Latinists' mistaken reading we discussed in Section 2.3. And just as we discovered that
Alexander, not Plotinus, was the primary source of the idea of natural perfection, so likewise
die notion of existential perfection derives from Alexander. In their recent article, Fazzo and
Wiesner discuss the process by which Alexander's thought on this subject was filtered
through Kindi's circle of translators and philosophers. One passage they cite and translate
could have served as a model for Avicenna's division of God's causality into both final and
efficient modes (which we shall discuss at length in Section 4.6): in the Arabic version of his
Quaestio 2.19, Alexander says that God is not only the originator of the universe, but is its
perfecter and perpetuator; in the sublunary world this perfection is accomplished through the
mediation of nature, whom Alexander describes as God's "caretaker" MS Carullah 1279,
fols 63b21-64al3, translated in Fazzo and Wiesner, "Alexander," p. 133.

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180

GOD KNOWS

4 .5

In one of his many definitions of Providence Avicenna states that it consists of:
"the fact that the First is a good who contemplates His essence, desires His essence,
and is a principle of things other than Him, for His essence is sought; for everything
issuing from Him the sought thing in Him is the good which is His
essence...Providence is the issuance of good from Him on account of His essence,
not on account of any purpose extrinsic to His essence." 685
The subject of this section is how God's intellection causes the existence of everything
beneath Him. Once again the Agent Intellect helps us, for just as it serves as a nexus
between the ontological and epistemological quiddities that are joined together by the
common notion of disposition, so the Agent Intellect is also the nexus between the eternal
and the corruptible.^6 in his description of the relation between the Agent Intellect and
these quiddities, Avicenna is careful to describe the latter as un-Platonic:
"The quiddities are not comprehended by the Principles in the sense that they are
detached quiddities, like die Platonic forms; rather, the second quiddity is
comprehended only on account of the fact that it is existentiated and follows as a
concomitant from the first quiddity." 687
The processes of existentiation and intellection are one and the same among these
principles, namely the celestial souls and intellects; intellection is not simply analogous to
existentiation, it is identical to it Providence thus serves as that by which everything in
creation tends toward (nazi'atan) Gou, either through choice ( bi j-ihtiyar), will (bi 1irada), a kind of instinct (bi-tjarb min al-ilham), or in accordance with die inclination of
their nature toward love of perpetuity (bi-ljasab mayl al-fibar ila frubb al-baqa3) .^ ^
685 Ta'ltqat, p. 157.
686Sarfr utalojiya, pp.50,52-53,55-56,58,67,72.
687 Sarb utalojiya, p.50.
688 Sarjf utalojiya, p.73.

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181

The problem facing Avicenna was to avoid presenting his God as a final effect; that it is
somehow easier to accept an object of intellection as less of a final cause that an object of
desire is what probably prompted Avicenna to identify God's intellection with His will. The
result was a rather anemic First Cause, emanating existence with no will in our s e n s e ; 6 8 9
Avicenna thus made an easy target for later theologians like Gazali who confused agent
with cause.

Avicenna tries to pre-empt this criticism by saying that the Necessary Existent is both
perfect and above p e r f e c t i o n . 6 9 0 The reason for calling God "above" perfection is to avoid
implying that He was at one point perfectible; only contingent beings are essentially
deficient and hence perfectible, so in a strict sense God is above perfection. All existentially
derivative things, i.e. all creation, are only desired by God for the sake of His essence (Uajli datihi), not for die sake of an extrinsic p u r p o s e . 6 9 1 This is because these existentially
derivative things are somehow necessitated by His essence as concomitant, necessary
accidents.

Thus the most that can be said about God is that we are only accidental final causes of His
act of creation, or more specifically, of the creation which itself is a concomitant accident of
His act of essential intellection. For to call it an act of creation implies an agency which, like
our own, presupposes choice and will. But Avicenna's sense of agency is not like ours; this
is because he sees the act as primary, not the efficient cause, since die act stands in between
the efficient and final causes, which both exercise agency. Thus Avicenna's God is an agent

689 c Mubabatat, p.233(472-73); cp. Ta'llqat, p.16


89cf. tamm bat fawq al-tamam; Tactlqat, p. 16. cp. fawq al-tamam: Uahlyat, pp. 188,355 and
DaniS-nama [Uahlyat], p. 117.
691 Tacttqat, p.16.

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182
in Avicenna's sense, not in die sense that Gazali was later to have, Le. one that postulated
choice and will as essential attributes.

Nor is God's will like ours, for His desideratum can only be His e s s e n c e . 6 9 2 The issuance
of existentially derivative things from Him consists solely of His essence being His
desideratum, and creation is thus a kind of spin-off of God's primal meditation. The idea
of creation being an accident was another motivating factor, I believe, in Avicenna's careful
division of accidental ends into the subdivisions we discussed in Section

2 .1 .

Avicenna

wanted one accidental end to cover chance and another to cover the necessary concomitant
accidental end (i.e. the final cause that describes creation's causation of God), and thereby
avoid having to say that the act of creation was an accident in the sense of a chance event,
but rather in the sense of a necessary but not essential end. This in turn perhaps motivated
him to see all ends as ultimately necessary.

God's good will toward these existentially derivative things is only for the sake of His
essence, the end of His act being His

e s s e n c e .6 9 3

Avicenna says that God's accidental

desire for creation is like when one loves a thing not for the sake of the thing itself, but
rather for another person. In other words, when you desire your son's health, the object of
desire and love is not "health" abstracted from its subject; the subject, your son, is in reality
the object of love.

In the same way God is aware of creation in the sense that He knows the effect His act of
self-meditation will have; but His end is not creation perse, but rather His essence which
he contemplates. Thus God's will is intellectual ('ilndya);694 it is the concrete form of His

692Ta'llqat, pp.17,72; cp. "God is both Lover and Beloved:" Mabda wa-ma'ad, p.l7.cp.
DaniS-nama [Uahlyat], pp. 145-46.
693 c f . al-gaya fl fi'lihi datuhu: Ta'llqat, p. 17.
694 Ta'llqat, pp.16-17;

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183
knowledge. Aristotle hints at this in his discussion of the Prime Mover in M etaphysics
XII,7: the Prime Mover moves things just as objects of thought or desire move things, i.e.
without being moved themselves; further, the primary objects of thought and desire are die
same.695 Aristotle goes on in the same chapter to reiterate that when fully actual, the
thinker and the object of thought (in God's case, His essence) are identical; thus God, being
pure actuality, is both thinker and object of t h o u g h t . 696 Finally, in Metaphysics XII,9,
Aristotle shows he wants to avoid the same problem that vexed Avicenna: how to present
God as an efficient cause without making creation His final cause. Aristotle says that in
order to avoid being forced to posit a further, more sublime object of thought for die divine
intelligence, we must maintain that God's intelligence must be directed at itself (hauton ara
n oei); thus His thinking is a thinking of thinking (kai estin he noesis noeseos
noesis).&97

Avicenna (for whom, as we have seen, perfectly actual meant completely and necessarily
existent) thus found ample Aristotelian support for his notion of God's self-intellection;
further, he could dispense with desire because God already knows everything. In other
words, it is the veiy intelligibility of things to God that is their ultimate

c a u s e ;6 9 8

s in c e

God knows everything already, he does not need to seek to know them, and thus desire
plays no part in His i n t e l l e c t i o n . 6 9 9

The Muctazilites discussed God's knowledge and other attributes at great length. Avicenna
states that like His desire, God's capability (qudra) is also reducible to His know ledge,
as are all His other attributes: the entire Mu'tazilite debate over God's attributes (which can

695Meta. Xn,7:1072a26ff.
696Meta. XII,7:1072b20-24.
697 Meta. XII,9:1074b29-35; for God's intellectualization of the good, cp. Ta'llqat, pp. 121-125.
698 Ta'llqat, p. 149.
699 Ta'llqat, pp. 18-19.
700 Ta'llqat, pp. 19-20.

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184
all be reduced to His intellection) is a red herring, according to Avicenna, because these are
human states (knowing, choosing, etc.) which are deficiencies, not perfections. The
Muctazilites, unaware of real perfection (al-kamal al-ljaqlqi), saw attributes as human
modes at varying levels of deficiency701 According to Avicenna, these Muctazilites
commit anthropomorphism in their zeal to protect God from refutation; philosophers, on the
other hand, make God the motivator (both efficiently and finally) of our acts, so that He
need not involve Himself with generation, corruption, and

m u ltip lic ity . 7 0 2

Also, if one

accepted the Muctazilite notion of God having choice, and choice being defined by the
Muctazilites as arising from a motivation or a cause (li-da'in aw-sababin), then one must
posit God as being in some respect motivated and hence caused; this is what Avicenna's
system

a v o id s .7 0 3

d e fic ie n t,

Thus by Avicenna's reckoning God is perfect and everything else

^04 just as He is necessary and we contingent; hence the implied identification of

necessity and perfection as two aspects of the same thing.

Another important aspect of God's knowledge is the causal role perfection plays in His
knowledge of particulars. There has been much discussion of this subject ever since Gazali
attacked Avicenna on this subject in the T a h a fu tJ^ Avicenna's theory, as it has been
presented (by

M a rm u ra 7 0 6 )

is that God knows particulars in a universal way "as a

consequence of His causality." 707 Marmura is basically correct, I believe, but his account
is incomplete because it focuses almost entirely on God's efficient rather than final
causation and gives God's knowledge a human slant, i.e. it treats God's knowledge
epistemologically. But Avicenna's God knows things ontologically rather than
701 Ta'llqat, p.52.
702According to Avicenna, the AS'ari doctrine of kasb basically makes us into puppets: Ta'llqat,
pp.52.
703 Ta'llqat, pp.53.
704 Ta'llqat, pp.61-62.
705cf. Bouyges, Tahafut, pp.223-38.
706m. Marmura, "Some aspects of Avicenna's theory of God's knowledge of particulars," Journal
o f the American Oriental Society 89/3 (1962), pp.299-312 passim.
707Marmura, "Particulars," p.303.

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185
epistemologically: God's act of knowing has a vastly different effect than our act of
knowing in that God's act of knowing creates the universe while ours obviously does
not 708 God knows every particular through its essential cause; He knows the particular's
place in the existential hierarchy, or order of the good, of which He is the first essential
cause. Therefore no extraneous accidental causes are known by God because they would
act as further accidental final causes of His knowledge; what God knows he knows
through His essence alone, i.e. through His essence being the first essential cause of the
chain of essential beings.

The Necessary Existent's knowledge of particulars is thus through the particular's


perfection; it is through the essence, form, quiddity, or reality which the particular tries to
fulfill existentially that God is aware of it What God knows is the essential, intrinsic thing
about every p a r t i c u l a r ; 709 talk about universals is bound up with our human process of
induction and deduction, whereas God's intellection, like his existentiation, is immediate:
there is no process o f divine intellection just as there is no process of divine
existentiation.710

God's knowledge is also perfect in the sense that is not divided into complementary stages
of apprehension and assent; Le. in the sense that one apprehends through knowledge of
something's definition (and by extension through the essence, form, and perfection),
whereas one assents through knowledge of something's causes (i.e. its existentiating

708Avicenna again relies on die model of the Agent Intellect activating our minds; here entities do
not perfect their existence just by themselves, but dispose themselves to receive existence
from divine providence: Sarfr utalojiya, pp.60,63-66,69-71.
709c -The N.E. knows everything just as it is through its causes, since He knows everything
comes from His essence which is the cause of everything that does not come extrinsically,"
i.e. accidentally, non-essentially: Ta'llqat, p.21.
710God knows the essence of eclipse, not particular instances of eclipse, because His immobility
and etemality make differentiation on the basis of motion and time impossible; in this sense
knowledge of final causes qua perfecting essences is divine knowledge both in the sense that
it is the highest subject of metaphysics and in die sense that this kind of knowledge is God's
par excellence: Ilahlyat, pp.361-62. cp. Marmura, "Particulars,'' pp.301,311.

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186
causes) .? H Just as God's essence is existence, so God's knowledge is essentially
existentiating; thus apprehension through definition, perfection, and essentialization, and
assent through causation and existentiation, are one and the same in God's intellection. In
this way God's knowledge of particulars is the same as his causation of particulars, namely
through the creation of an ontological hierarchy of essential perfections and existential
goods of which He is the first cause. As stated earlier, the number of real causes is finite,
but the number of disposing causes can be infinite;? 12 it is these latter that God is not
bothered with. Thus Avicenna can fairly say that individuals are all distinct {mutamayyizH)
in God's knowledge.? 13

Aristotle also considered divine knowledge knowledge of univeisals:


"A science is divine if it is peculiarly the possession of God, or if it is concerned with
divine matters. And this science [i.e. metaphysics] alone fulfills both these conditions;
for a) all believe that God is one of the causes and a kind of principle, and b) God is
the sole or chief possessor of this sort of knowledge (episteme)."?14
At the beginning of the chapter Aristotle says that episteme is the possession of a wise
man who understands everything in a universal

w a y ;?

15 thus for Aristotle God is both

subject and object of this understanding.

For Avicenna God understands particulars in a universal way in the sense that He knows
their place in the existential order, i.e. as perfections, or, more specifically, as perfected
essences. God knows every particular all at once and through its causes, as if it were fully
actual (i.e. as if perfect), not bit by bit (Sayan fa-Sayari) (i.e. not at each stage of its
progression toward perfection).? 16 In contrast human intellects do know things bit by bit,
not eternally; when we intellectualize all the existents, we think first of their order, and thus
?Hc daniS-i tamam: DaniS-oama [Hahlyat]: pp.99-100.
7i2Ta<liqat, p.45.
?13 Taetiqat, p.67.
7^ Meta. I,2:983a7-10/Treddenick, Metaphysics J-DC, p. 15.
7^ Meta. I,2:982a7-10.
716 Taetlqat, p.28.

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order and perfection are the same agent in die sense that they necessitate the issuance of the
existents. Order is the form that Providence takes, Providence is the expression of God's
will, and God's will is His intellection.^^ With respect to God's intellection, therefore,
insofar as it consists ultimately both of existential order and essential perfection, Avicenna
makes die efficient and final causes i d e n t i c a l . 7 1 8

m Ta'ttqat, p. 18.
c wa 1-sabab fl dalika anna 'l-fa'il wa 1-gaya Say3 waifid: Ta'ttqat, p. 18.

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188

FOR GOD S SAKE 4 . 6

Avicenna's Necessary Existent has generally been understood as a Plotinian emanator, an


efficient cause that emits being just as the sun emits light This efficiency tends to be
contrasted with the finality of Aristotle's Prime Mover. The aim of this final section is to
show how Avicenna's God was not only an efficient cause but also a final cause, and how
in fact His agency rested more on His essence (and hence His final causality) than on His
existence (and hence His efficient causality). This is because for a God whose existence is
already necessary, the ground on which he can become an effect of our efficiency (and
hence His finality) is ruled out to begin with, hi other words, given the correspondence of
essence to finality and existence to efficiency, a picture in which God's causation rested
more on His finality is more philosophically coherent than one in which He served only as
an efficient cause (assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that Avicenna's overriding concern here
was to avoid presenting God as in any conceivable way an effect). 7 19

First of all, let us see if Aristotle provides any background to the notion of God as
Necessary Existent Aristotle says in Metaphysics XU, 7:
"But since there is something-X-which moves while being itself unmoved, existing
actually, X cannot be otherwise in any respect For the primary kind of change is
locomotion, and of locomotion circular locomotion; and this is the motion X induces.
Thus X is necessarily existent (ex anankes aia estin on); and qua necessary it is
good and is in this sense a first p r i n c i p l e . " 7 2 0

719c Uahlyst, pp.37-38.


720Meta. Xn,7:1072b7-13/Treddenick, Metaphysics X-XTV, p. 149.

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189
Although striking in its similarity to Avicenna's conception, there is a major difference:
Avicenna argued for God's existential necessity through the causation of existence, not of
motion. This is Avicenna's complaint when he says:
"Physicists arrive at the establishment of the Prime mover's existence through their
proof of the necessity of an incorporeal, infinite force which impels the sphere,
arguing up to Him from nature. Metaphysicians follow another route, arriving at the
establishment of His existence from existential necessity, and from die fact that He
must be one and not many. {Metaphysicians} prove that the existents issue from Him
[in die sense] that they derive from die concomitants of His essence, and that astral
motion is impelled by a desire for Him and a striving to imitate him in perfection; [this
is so, given that] it is impossible for His perfection not to be specific to Him, and for
there to be any perfection above His perfection. Were that possible, then that higher
perfection would be prior to that [perfection] which he possessed." 72 1
Thus Avicenna has combined the cosmological argument and the ontological argument,
using his symbiosis of efficient and final causes, of mechanism and teleology. God ceases
to be seen as a Prime mover, and is now a Prime Existentiator as well as an Ultimate
Perfecter. There is some Aristotelian background to this as well, despite the fact that later in
Metaphysics XU, 7, Aristotle implies that God's being an object of motion is the primary
sense of His finality:
"For the final cause is not only the 'good for something' but also the 'good which is
the end of some action.' In die latter sense it applies to immovable objects, although in
the former it does not" 722
Aristotle nevertheless seems to have extended God's finality to existence in Metaphysics
XH,5:
"That which is first in perfection (ente/echeia) is the cause of all things." 72^
However, as said above, with God as final cause we cannot be His efficient cause because
He is already existentially necessary, not contingent (as every effect is by essence); with
God only as efficient cause, we still serve as His final cause, either as desideratum, object
of intellection, or motivator. But if we accept what I have been trying to prove in this thesis,
namely that Avicenna held the final and efficient causes to be bound together in a relation of
721 Ta'ttqat, p.62.
722 Meta. XII,7:1072b3-5/Treddenick, Metaphysics X-XIV, p.147.
72 ^Afeta. XII,5:1071a36-37/Treddenick, Metaphysics X-XTV, p.139.

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190
reciprocal necessitation identical to that existing between cause and effect, then we have no
choice but to see Avicenna's God as both final and efficient; by positing only His efficiency
(even if He simply emanates existence like the sun emanates light), we cannot avoid seeing
creation as somehow serving necessarily as a final cause, specifically the final cause qua
efficient cause of His efficiency.

Avicenna saw the potential for causal reflexivity in Aristotle's efficient and formal/final
causes; the notion of perfecting causes is partly a result, I believe, of Avicenna's desire to
solve the dilemma of God's effect-ness. To prove this I will put down a possibly
controversial interpretation of a short statement in the ISarat, and contradict Tail's
interpretation, one that is common to most discussion of Avicenna's view of God's
causality since then.

Avicenna's statement is the following:


If there is a first cause, then it is [both] the cause of all existence, and the cause of the
reality of every existence in existence (in kanat cilla 3ula fa-hiya cilla li-kulli
wujudin wa-eilla li-ljaqiqa kulli wujadin fl l-wujad)724
This reading makes better sense Avicenna's preceding statement (discussed in Section 4.1)
that a thing is caused both in its existence and in its reality, the thing's reality comprising its
quiddity and essence. Existence, as has been stated, is the province of the efficient cause,
essence of the final cause. God, through the identity of His essence and His existence, is at
once an efficient and a final cause. What Tosl has done is to assume that Avicenna assigned
agency exclusively to the efficient cause; once one does that, one must exclude the
possibility of God being a formal, material, or final cause, because each is in some respect
prior (either essentially, temporally, or causally) to the efficient cause.725

724placing the second li- before the baqlqa, not the eilla: ISarat, p. 140.
725Cf. s . Dunya, ed., al-Barat wa'l-tanbibat li-Abl eati ibo Slna, maea SarJ/ Na$ir al-Dln alT osiin(Cairo: 1960), p. 18, n.l.

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191
Several statements in the Ta'ttqat support my interpretation:
1) "If die Necessary Existent by essence is the efficient cause, then He is also the final
cause and the purpose" (fa-in kana wajib al-wujad bi-datibi buwa '1-fa'il,
fa-buwa aydan al-gaya wa Tgaia<J);H6
2)" Since the final cause and efficient cause do not differ in Him, die issuance of these
things is not due to a final cause extrinsic to His essence (fa-lamma yubtalif
fib i al-gaya wa'l-fa'il, wa-kana sudor badibl '1-aSya3 'anbu la li-gaya
barija 'an d a tib il'P ^
3)"He is the first and die last because He is the efficient cause and the final cause;
thus His end is His essence, due to [its] being the source of everything [that
derives] from Him and [the source of] {everything's} return to Him" (buwa 1awwal wal-abir li-annabu buwa '1-fa'il wa-buwa 1-gaya, fa-gayatubu
datubu wa-li-anna ma$dar kulli Sayin 'anbu wa-majji'ubu ilaybi);728
4)" [God's essence] qua good is a final cause and qua principle is an efficient cause,
the two being one thing except for the fact that they differ in [certain] relations
and considerations. One must thus understand that He is the Necessary Existent,
a principle, a good, a final cause, an efficient cause, and a power, and that He is
such in a single sense" (wa-buwa min baytu buwa hayr: gaya, wa-min baytu
buwa mabda3: fa'il, wa-buma Say3 walfid, ilia annabu yuhtalifa bi'litfafat wa-bi'l-i'tibarat, fa-yajibu an ya'qila annabu wajiba 1-wujod, waannabu mabda3, wa-annabu hayr, wa-annabu gaya, wa-annabu fa'il, waannabu qadir, wa-annabu kada ya'nl annabu ma'na wal}id){H9
5)" The final cause and the efficient cause in die Necessary Existent are one; thus He
is [both] efficient and final cause" (al-gaya wa'l-fa'il fi wajibi '1-wujod buma
walfid, fa-buwa '1-fa'il wa 1 - g a y a )
In these examples from the Ta'ttqat, his penultimate work, Avicenna states explicitly what
he had only hinted at in the Uabiyats of the Silk3and the DaniS-nama, written during his
middle period: that God must not only be the first efficient principle but also the cause of
that p r i n c i p l e . 731 These statements should likewise be seen in the context of the various
senses (discussed in Section 4.3) in which Avicenna takes God to be the end of order: both
in the sense that His reality is perfect but also in the sense that he is the terminus of the
finite order of essential final c a u s e s . 732
726 Ta'ttqat, p. 18.
727 Ta'ttqat, pp.Sl-52.
728 Ta'ttqat, p.80.
729 Ta'ttqat, p. 160.
730 Ta'ttqat, p. 178.
731 c Babiyat, p.342.
732 Ta'ttqat, p. 18. Avicenna's notion of God as both beginning and end is preceded not only by
Alexander (whom we have discussed earlier) but also by al-Kindl, who in his On First
Philosophy described God as:"The originator and perfecter (al-mutammim) of the universe;
[He] is the cause of causes and originator of every agent:" Fazzo and Wiesner, "Alexander,"
p. 142.

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192

It also brings to mind the difference between first and second perfections that Avicenna
derived from the primary and secondary necessity: an agent's primary necessity is
perfection of his essence, i.e. as an agent; his secondary necessity is the existentiation of the
effect produced by his agency; it is necessary and necessitated, but not in the same way as
the first Thus God's first perfection is the fulfillment of His essence; given that His essence
is existence, and that a first perfection is what an individual needs to fulfill if he is to exist
as that individual, God's first perfection is to exist necessarily. His second perfection is the
necessitation of the effect produced from this first necessitation, namely His existentiation
of all subsequent b e i n g s . 7 3 3 Aristotle provides some background to Avicenna's description
of God's first and second perfections: in Metaphysics XII,6, Aristotle describes the Prime
Mover in terms of actualization:
"Therefore there must be a principle of this kind whose essence is actualization
(energeia)." 734
In Metaphysics XII, 8, however, God's essence is described as actuality (entelecheia).735
Aristotle also equates actualization with necessity and identifies both with eternal things;
further; these eternal, actual, necessary things are existentially primary, because we
sublunary entities derive our existence from them.736

Given that a perfection is a final cause, God's existentiation consists of everything below
Him trying to imitate His simple, eternal existence; the good is attained through this
imitation. Again, Aristotle's discussion of practical ends provides the basis for Avicenna's
differentiation of first and second intentions: a first intention is intrinsic, a good contained

733Avicenna says the perfection of God's existence and His existence are one thing, and His
essence is the cause of order and the good: Ta'iiqat, pp. 158-160.
734Meta. X13,6:1071b20-21(The translation is mostly Treddenick's, Metaphysics X-XIV, p.141,
but again I have translated energeia as actualization").
s Meta. XII,8:1074a36-37.
736Meta. IX,8:1050b6-8.

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193
in our essences; a secondary intention is extrinsic, a good in accordance with another. 7^7
These intentions correspond to first and second perfections, and to first and derived
necessities: the first of each pair concerns essential causation, the latter concerns existential
causation.

With his agency shared between the efficient and final causes, God can be seen as an agent
without any patiency, as both a beginning and an end; because of the finite number of both
efficient principles and final perfections,738 God must be the end of creation just as He is
the beginning of it; were He not the end of existence, something else would be, and that
something else would cause Him finally. God is only an effect in the limited sense that He
terminates (yantaha) at Himself.739

In other words, God's causality is essentially self-contained, for He has no need, and is
independent of creation.^ 0 Creation is an accident in the sense of necessary concomitant,
not in the sense of unintended mistake; but in no respect is creation God's desideratum or
object of thought, because this would mean we serve in a way as God's final cause. As
Avicenna puts it in the Mubaijatat, "The Creator does not exist for the sake of His act" 7* 1
What God definitely is not is immanent, and to preserve God's transcendence Avicenna
avoids a pantheistic assigning of God's causality to formal and material modes. Thus a
transcendent God must be causally independent from His creation.742

737 Ta'iiqat, p. 72.


738cf Ihuiyat, pp.327-31,340-43.
739nahiyat, p.342.
7 ISarat, pp.l58ff. For more of Avicenna on independence (istigna), cf. "Anteriority of
Necessary Existent over His effect is an anteriority of independence over need; hence
causation and effectuation in the two are independence and need:" Ta'iiqat, p.163. cp. God
"is independent (yastagna) everything:" Risala 'arSiya, p.5;. On existential wealth (gina),
cf. Risala 'arSiya, pp.23,32-33.
7^al-bari laysa li-ajli fl'lihi: Mubaijatat, p,164(204).
742cf. al-awwal...munazzib al-dat: Ta'iiqat, p.33.; tp. God is munazzih 'an al-'ilal: Risala
'arSiya, p.S (the Risala includes a section devoted to tanzih Allah: p.7).

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194
Avicenna explores this subject in the section on ends and their beginnings in the Ratat watanbihat Just as Avicenna also regards the final causation of the celestial objects as onedirectional, i.e. from on high, so he regards the God's causation to be unaffected by
creation:
"How repugnant for it to be said of the celestial objects that they attempt to do
something on account of what is beneath them...and [for it to be said] that the First
Reality does anything for the sake of anything [else], and that there is any 'why-ness'
to His action...The sublime does not seek [to do] anything for the sake of the base,
such that there would exist something analogous to a goal acting upon it..Therefore
the Generous, the Sovereign Reality, has no p u r p o s e . " 743
This is echoed in the Mubaljatat
"There is no 'why-ness' to the act of the Creator, because His act is on account of His
essence, not due to a motive which stirs him to t h a t "744
But it should not be thought that the relation between higher and lower things is completely
one-sided. Avicenna is enough of an Aristotelian to say that a species-soul is perfected
once it is united with matter; 745 Avicenna has little of the Platonic distaste for matter, but
rather an Aristotelian interest in the primacy of the individual, concrete substance.

Aristotelian teleology forced Avicenna to part with the mutakallimon because of the notion
of God doing something for a reason; the reason (us, creation) then becomes extrinsic to
God and a final cause of his action, i.e. we are the final cause of His efficient causality; and
this cannot be. Avicenna strips the argument to its barest elements in the Ta'ttqat if we
want a God who is Necessarily Existent by His essence, who is necessary in every respect
and contingent in no respect, then we must disallow the possibility of His having a purpose
outside of Himself; this extrinsic purpose necessarily creates a passion in God, and this
passion in turn destroys His essential existential necessity, for He has become an effect and

743isarat, pp. 158-60.


144Mubabatat, p.233(471).
745Mubabatat, p.!84(304).

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thus essentially contingent (although necessary in a derived way, from creation's causing
Him).746

Therefore Avicenna's combination of the cosmological and ontological arguments for God's
existence rests upon the notion that God's agency was shared between His efficiency and
His

fin a lity ;7 4 7

that His finality was unique rested in turn on the fact that God is the only

entity in which end and perfection are identical.

746 Ta'ttqat, p. 16.


747 Ta'ttqat, p.62.

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196

T h e C u r e /M e t a p h y s ic s

on

e s t a b l is h in g

t h e e n d s

e x is t e n c e , a n d

VI:5

t h e s o l u t io n t o

OBJECTIONS RAISED TO DENY IT.?4* THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE END


AND THE NECESSARY. PRESENTATION OF THE WAYS IN WHICH THE END
IS BOTH PRIOR AND POSTERIOR TO THE REST OF THE CAUSES.

{283,14749}We say: it became clear from what has already been said that every effect has
a principle, and that everything that comes into being has a matter and a form. But it has not
yet been made clear that every setting-in-motion7^ has some end, for there are things
which are purposeless, there are things which are coincidental, and there are things like the
motion of the sphere, none of which appears at first glance to possess an end. Nor, upon
first considering diem, do generation and corruption seem to possess an end. Someone
might say as well:
"It could be possible that every end has an end, just as every beginning has a
beginning; hence there is no end or perfection7^ 1 in reality, because in reality the end
74^/l ibtalihi; for this sense of abjtala, cf. A.-M. Goichon, Lexique dc la Languc Pbilosopbique
d'lbn Slna (Aviceoae) (Paris:1938), p.23(52).
749 Page and line references are to M.Y. Musa, S. Dunya, and S. Zayid, eds., a1-Sifa3: al-Hahiyat
(2) (Cairo: 1960). Square brackets--[ ]indicate where I have inserted my own interpositions;
pointed brackets! }indicate where Avicenna has used a pronominal suffix and I have
replaced it with the word the pronoun refers to.
750tahrfk.
7^1 tamam.

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197
is that at which a [final] state of rest is achieved. Furthermore, we can find things that
are [themselves] ends and yet possess other ends ad infinitum, for there are things
one believes to be themselves ends which at the same time continue endlessly, like
conclusions which endlessly pile one on top of the other from syllogisms."
Someone else might [also] say:
"Let us concede that the end exists for every act; why is it posited as a prior cause,
while in reality it is an effect of all the [other] causes?"
It is proper that after we lay this [last] specious argument to rest we should discuss whether
the end and the g o o d ? ^ 2 are one thing or differ, and also what the difference is between
g e n e ro s ity ? 5 3

and the good.

{284,7}We say: as for the first objection, relating to coincidence and purposelessness, we
shall solve it by saying [that] as for the situation with regard to coincidence and its being a
kind of end, it has been resolved definitively in the Physics. A s for an explanation of
p u rp o s e le s s n e s s ,

?^4 we must bear in mind that every voluntary motion possesses a

proximate principle, a distant principle, and an ultimate principle. The proximate principle is
the motive power contained in the muscles of the limb, the principle that f o l l o w
c o n s e n t?

s?

55 js the

56 0f the desiring power,?^? and the ultimate [principle] is imagination or

reflection. ?^8

When some form imprints itself in the imagination or in rational thought and

the desiring power moves itself toward consenting [to its execution], then the motive power
contained in the limbs will serve i t Sometimes the form impressed in the im ag ination or in
[rational] thought is the same end at which the motion terminates; other times it is

?52 al-hair.
753aj-jad.
7S4al-eabat; i.e. something that happens for no serious purpose, as a joke. "Whimsy" or "caprice"
come closer to the sense of cabat than "futility," which implies an attempt to reach a serious
purpose that is of no avail.
?^i.e. the distant
756ai-ijmac.
?^7 al-quwa al-Sawqlya.
75&al-tahayyul aw al-tafakkur.

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198
something else, except that it can be attained only through the motion toward the place
where the motion terminates, or [the "track"] on which die motion c o n t i n u e s . ?59

{284,17} An example of the first [case]: some man might at one time become unhappy with
staying in a certain place, so he calls up in his mind a form^O Df another place, and has a
desire to stay there. He moves himself toward it, and his motion terminates at i t His object
of desire was the same thing as that at which the motion imparted to the muscles by the
motive powers terminated.

An example of the second [case]: some man might call up in his mind a form of himself
encountering a friend of his, and desiring this he sets himself in motion toward the place
where he might come across him. His motion terminates at that place; however where his
motion had come to an end is not the original object of desire that he had inclined toward,
but is instead something different However the object of desire (namely die encounter with
the friend) follows it and occurs after it

{285,5} You have now learnt these two divisions, and it became clear to you through the
slightest attention? 61 [paid to this] that the end at which motion terminates (in every
situation where it is an end of motion) is a primary, real end for the active motive power
contained in the limbs: the motive power contained in the limbs has no other end apart from
it Sometimes, however, the power which precedes [the active motive power} has another
end, and so it is not always necessary that that thing [which is the primary end of the limbs
motive power] also be a primary end of the desiring power, whether imaginative or
reflective. Nor is it always necessary that it not be [the end of the desiring power] either;
rather it sometimes is, and sometimes is not, as became clear to you in the two examples. In
759 tadamu, "is perpetual," presumably refers to the perpetual circular motion of the spheres.
7 6 0 j c qq image.
?61 ad!aa taammul.

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199
the first of the two [cases], the end of both of them was one [single end], whereas in the
second it was d i f f e r e n t 762

The motive power contained in the limbs is without question a principle of motion; the
desiring power is a first principle of that motion too, for it is completely impossible for a
motion of the soul not to derive from a desire. This is because the thing? 63 toward which
the power is not [at first] directed, and then is d i r e c t e d ? 6 4 with an impulse that comes from
the soul, doubtless exists [as such] through a desire of the soul which came into existence
after not having existed. Therefore the most proximate principle of every motion of the soul
is a motive power contained in the muscles of the limbs, while its principle which comes
next? 6 5 is a desire. Desire (as has been learnt in [my] On the Soul) is invariably
subsequent to imagination or reflection. Thus the ultimate principle is an image that has
been formed or an idea.

[285,18}There are, therefore, principles for motions of the soul: some of [these principles}
are necessary in their concrete reality, while others are not necessary in their concrete
reality. Those that are necessary are the motive powers contained in the limbs, and the
desiring power. The non-necessary are imagination and reflection, for it is certainly not
necessary that there be imagination and not reflection, or reflection and not imagination.
Every principle of motion has, without exception, an end. The principle that is inevitable in
voluntary motion must likewise inevitably possess an end; [as for] the end of the principle
that is not i n e v i t a b l e , 7 6 6 motion may sometimes come to exist without it If it happens that
the most proximate principle (namely the motive force [in the limbs]) coincides with the
two principles that lie beyond it (I mean desire combined with imagination or desire
762i.e. the ends in the first example were fulfilled simultaneously, those in the second successively.
763i-C. the end.
764 inba'ata.
7 6 5 i . e . its distant principle.
766i.e. in natural motion.

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200

combined with reflection) then the terminus of motion is the end of all the principles. This
is certainly not purposelessness. [But] if it happens that {the principles} differ (I mean [if it
happens] that that which is the essential end of the motive force is not an essential end of
the desiring force), it would follow necessarily that the desiring force will possess another
end beyond the end pertaining to the motive force that belongs to the limbs. This is so
because we have just made clear that voluntary motion cannot exist without a desire, and
everything which is a "desire" is a desire Xqi something; if [the desire] is not for the
termination of motion, then it is without question for something else. When that [object of
desire] is something for whose sake motion is needed, then it must lie beyond the
terminating of that motion.

Thus?**? it is clear that every terminus at which motion comes to an end (or which comes to
exist after the termination of the motion) and upon which im aginative and reflective desires
are coincident, is a voluntary end and not in any sense at all a [kind of] purposelessness.
And every terminus at which motion comes to an end, and which is itself an end
imaginatively desired but not reflectively desired, is what is called purposelessness.

[286,18} [Given that] every end which is not a terminus of motion [has as] its principle a
desire which comes from the imagination and not thought, then the principle of the motion
of the desire must be one of the following: 1) the imagination alone; 2) the imagination
combined with a natural state or temperament [of the body], like respiration, or the motion
of the ill p e r s o n ; 768 or 3) the imagination combined with a disposition and a habit of the
soul inducing [one] to that act without [any] deliberation.

767reading fokullu, not wa-kullu, with ms 5.


768These are medical terms referring to motions due to bodily states or impulses that are natural;
the third alternative refers to what has become "second nature" to someone, i.e. "habit"

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201

If the imagination alone is die principle of the desire, that act is called randomness, and not
called purposelessness J6 9 And if it is an imagination combined with a nature, such as
respiration, that act is called a necessary or natural design. ??0 And if it is an imagination
combined with a disposition and a trait of the soul, that act is called habit, because the
disposition becomes fixed only through the [continuous] operation of the acts, so what
comes after disposition is most certainly habit

And when the end belonging to the motive force (namely the terminus of motion) exists,
while die other end that lies beyond it and toward which the desiring is directed??! (namely
the end of the desire) does not exist, then this act would be called futile.??^ Such is [the
case when] someone comes to a place where he supposed he would encounter his friend,
but does not [in fact] meet him there: his act is called futile [only] with reference to the
desiring force, not to the motive force, and with reference to the first end, not to the second
end.

[287,11 }Now that these preliminary matters have been setded, we say that the statement of
one who says that purposelessness is an act without any end whatsoever, is wrong.
Likewise the statement of one who says that purposelessness is an act without any end
whatsoever which is a good or at least a supposed good, is wrong [too].

As for the former [statement], an act can come about without an end when it does not
possess an end with reference to what is the principle of [die act's) motion only, not with
reference to what is not the principle of its motion, or to anything coincidentaL As for the
example [often] given in the objection [above] (i.e. playing with [one's] beard), its

l^juzafaa, not eabataa.


77qa$d.
??! reading, with most mss., yanf/oha.
??2ie. bafilaa, not eabatan.

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202

proximate principle of motion is Ihe power contained in the muscles, while [the principle]
that precedes {the distant principle) is a desire coming from the imagination without any
reflective thought; its principle not being in any way a reflection, it contains no reflective
end, although the end of the desire coming from the imagination and of the motive force has
already been achieved in {the act). It thus became clear that this act, as far as its motive
principle is concerned, terminates at an end, and that {this act) is not set in motion toward
an end only when something other than its motive principle is involved.

{288,4}One must not think that this [act] issues from no desire of the imagination, for
every act of the soul exists after not having existed; hence there is certainly some kind of
desire and a seeking by the soul, and that [seeking] is accompanied by some kind of formed
image. However, this image may not always be firmly established but instead quick to
disappear, or it may be established but one may not be aware of i t For not everyone who
has imagined a thing is at the same time aware [of it] or determines that he has in fact
imagined [anything at all]. This is because imagining is different from being aware that one
has in fact imagined. This is clear; for were every [act of] imagination followed by an
awareness of [that] imagination, the whole business would go on ad infinitum.

{288,9} As for the latter [ s t a t e m

e n t],

773 [this is false] because the origination of this desire

certainly possesses some kind of cause: either habit, or dissatisfaction and desire to move to
another situation, or die u r g e ? 74 of the motive and sensory faculties to have a renewed act
of motion and sensation. Habit is a pleasurable thing, and moving away from something
tiresome is a pleasurable thing, and the urge to do something new is a pleasurable thingI
mean in accordance with [our] animal and imaginative faculties. Pleasure is the real good of
the senses, imagination, and animal [faculties], while it is a supposed good with respect to

773i.e. that purposelessness is an act without an end which is a good or a supposed good.
774^

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the human good. If the principle [of an act] is an animal imagination, in which case its good
will certainly be an animally-imagined good, then this act is not without good on its own
terms, even if it is not a real good, that is, in terms of die intellect Above and beyond this,
there are partial causes (which cannot be determined precisely) that render a motion
particular??^

one situation??** as opposed to another.

{288,18}As for the subsequent objection,??? it is wiped away by our knowing the
difference between the essential end and the necessary (which is one of the accidental
ends). The difference between the two is that the essential end is the end that is sought on
its own account, while the necessary is one of three things: 1) either it is something whose
existence is indispensable for the end to exist, as a cause of the end in one [particular]
respect (an example being the rigidity of [a piece of] iron so that, by means of it, a cut might
be carried through); 2) or it is something whose existence is indispensable for the end to
exist, not as a cause of the end but rather being a concomitant of the cause (an example
being the fact that an iron-colored body is indispensable so that a cut might be carried
through by means of it: an iron-colored body is indispensable not for its blackness, but
only because it is a concomitant of the iron which is indispensable); 3) or it is something
whose existence is indispensable as a concomitant of the final cause itself (an example
being the fact that the final cause of getting married is reproduction: this reproduction is
followed by a concomitant love for the child because getting married was for {the
childs ??8} sake). All of these are ends by necessary accident, not by coincidental accident
You have already learnt of accidental, coincidental ends in another place.

??5 tah$ty, i.e. the particularization given to something, or the act of selection by which someone
chooses one specific action over another, as opposed to taha$$u, the particularization
received by something: Goichon, Lexique, pp.l06-7(213-4).
??**hay,a.
???ie. concerning the infinity of ends.
??^i.e. the child qua concomitant of reproduction.

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204
{289,10}(Know that the existence of the principles of evil in nature falls into the second of
these categories. For example, since it is necessary according to divine Providence779
namely generositythat every contingent being receive its good existence, and given that: 1)
the existence that belongs to composite [beings] derives from the elements; 2) it is
impossible for composite [beings to come into being] except from the elements; 3) the
elements for those [composite beings] cannot be anything other than earth, water, fire, and
air; and 4) it is impossible for fire to exist in the way that leads to its intended end, namely
the g o o d , 780 except by being burning and disintegrating, then a necessary concomitant of
[all these factors] is that {fire^B 1} be such that it harms the righteous and corrupts many
composite beings.)

{ 2 8 9 ,

16}It seems that we have digressed from our purpose, so let us return to it and

respond to the objection raised. We say that individual

n o n -fin ite 7 8 2

entities are not

themselves essential ends in nature. Rather, essential ends are, for example, that the
substance that is man (or horse or palm-tree) should exist, and that this existence should be
a continuous and well-established existence. This [perpetuity] is impossible in [the case of]
the aforementioned single individual, because a necessary concomitant of every entity (I
mean entities [derived] from corporeal matter) is corruption. And as this [perpetuity] is
impossible in terms of the individual, it is maintained through die species.

A primary purpose is the maintenance of human nature, for example, or of something other
than {human nature], or of an indeterminate e x

te n d e d ^

3 individual This [purpose] is the

perfecting cause of the act of universal nature; it is unitary, though its coming-into779reading (with mss. , f, and m) eiaaya rather than gaya. For more on divine generosity and
Providence, cf. Sections 4.3 and 4.4; for Avicenna's belief that God can have no gaya outside
Himself, cf. Sections 4.5 and 4.6.
780 fa/a I-jihati l-muaddtya ila 1-gayati '1-hayrtyati 'l-maq$ada biha.
781 reading takana.
782i.e. in number.
783muntaSar. Indeterminate is gayr mueayyan, Le. non-particularized.

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being784 ^ a perpetual unitary [thing] cannot dispense with there being [many] individuals
after [many] individuals ad infinitum. Hence the infinite number of individuals is a
purpose not in and of i t s e l f , 785 but rather in the necessary sense of the first category. [This
is so] because were man able to subsist eternally just as the sun and moon subsist, there
would be no need for generation and propagation [of the species] through reproduction.

[290,10}Even if we were to concede that the purpose is the infinite number of individuals,
then die infinity of individuals would mean [something] different from each individual; it
would proceed [in a series] ad infinitum only individual after individual, not infinity after
infinity. Therefore the end really does exist here, and is, namely, the existence of an
extended individual, or an infinity of individuals. Then the individual that leads on to
another individual [and thence] to a third [and thence] to a fourth is not, in its individual
concrete e x i s t e n c e , 786 ^ end of universal nature but rather of particular nature. And since
[this succession of individuals} is the end of particular nature, then this particular nature
possesses no other purpose or end beyond the one it [already] has. (I mean by particular
nature the power specially [devoted to] regulating a single individual. I mean by universal
nature the power of the celestial substances that controls?*^ a single thing as if it were the
d ire c to r^ of everything that comes into being. You will learn of all this later on.)

{291,4}As for motion [that goes on] ad infinitum, it is [still] unitary through its
continuity, as you have learnt in the Physics. Moreover, the purpose of this motion is not
the very motion (insofar as i t is this [particular] motion), but rather p e r p e t u i t y , 7 8 9 which

784/1 bu$alihi.
785reading garadun bi-nafsihi, not taradun bi-nafsihi; i.e. it is not an essential end.
786cay n: Goichon, Lcxiquc, pp.257-8(474).
787al-qabida.
al-mudabbira; cp. al-mudabbir alladi kana yudabbiru badani qad 'ajaza ean al-tadblr
wa'l-ana fa-la tanfacu al-muealaja: Gohlman, Life, p.88.
789 dawam.

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206
we shall describe later. This perpetuity is a single thing790 but its existence depends upon
things we reckon to be infinite in number.

As for the discussion of premises and die conclusion, one must know that the intention of
our statement that the final cause is finite and stops,791 is that the final cause that applies to
a single agent and a single act is finite; it is not admissible for either a natural or a voluntary
agent to do an act in which it works toward one end after another without [eventually]
stopping at some terminus. But if one act after another issues from the single principle and
[if] {the single principle} becomes, relative to each act, a different agent from the one
responsible for the other act (even if it is no longer essential and the subject is something
d iffe re n t7 9 2 )>

then {the single principle's} [own] ends may be many in number, and i t may

possess a different end for each occasion in which it is an agent. And if {the single
principle} could be considered as an agent over and over again ad infinitum, then its ends
would also have to be infinite [in number].

{291,15} Likewise, the conclusion is a final, perfecting cause of the syllogism that comes
about in view of some defined question. Every composition of a syllogism is an act with
which something begins, while the soul possesses relative to each syllogism an act that is
re s u m e d ,

793 by which {the soul} is entided to be called an agent over and over again. In

each one of the instances where it is an agent, there is an end which is in itself definite and
which cannot go on (in its concrete existence) ad infinitum, since for every single
syllogism there is inevitably one single conclusion.

790here maeaa; i.e. something thing one has in mind; a given thing (hence the common Latin
translation intentio).
791 ic. is at die end of a finite causal chain.
792i.e. even if in fact the single principle stays die same.
793 ficj musta3naf.

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As for the subsequent objection,794 ft will be solved by knowing that die end may be taken
to be a thing as well as taken to be an existent The difference's between the thing and the
existent, even though the thing cannot be other than an existent, is just like the difference
between some phenomenon^ 96 and its concomitant You have already come to know and
to verify this. Consider, once again, the case of man: man has a reality, comprising his
definition and his quiddity, which is not made conditional upon [his] existencebe it
particular or general [existence], concrete?^ or fti the soul, or potential or actual.

{292,6} Each cause, inasmuch as it is that [particular] cause, possesses a reality and a
"reity." 798 In its reity the final cause is a cause of the rest of the causes actually existing as
causes. And in its existence the final cause is an e f f e c t 7 9 9 Qf the rest of the causes actually
[existing as] causes. It is as if the reity of the final cause were the cause of the cause of its
[own] existence; conversely it is as if its existence were the effect of the effect of its [own]
reity. However its reity does not become a cause unless it occurs as an imagined
representation^^ in the mind, or as something analogous to that There is no cause of the
final cause in its reity, except another cause which is different from the cause toward which
one thing sets another in motion, or toward which something sets itself in m o tio n al

Know that something can be an effect in its reity, and an effect in its existence. That which
is an effect in its reity is like duality, for it is in the definition of its being that a duality is an
effect of unity. That which is an effect in its existence is clear, not unknown.

794j.e. concerning the priority of the final cause over the other causes.
795reading wa'1-farq.
79(>ai->amr.

797/J 'l-acyan.
798^ayj/ya; cf. Goichon, Lexique, pp,172-3(353): "l'idde de la chose," or l'fttre intentionnel."
799musabbaba.
800mutafawwara.
801 i.e. an end different from a motion-related final cause.

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Likewise, one thing might possess something which occurs as an existent in its reity, like
numerality for duality; or else one thing might be additional to something added on to its
reity, like rectilinearity in [pieces of] wood and stone. The natural bodies are causes of the
reity of many forms and accidents (I mean of those [forms and accidents] which can only
recur in them), and are causes of the existence of some of [the forms and accidents}
without [being a cause of] {the forms' and accidents'} reity, as is sometimes thought to be
the case in mathematics.

{293,4}It has thus been easy for you to understand that the final cause, with regard to its
reity, is prior to the efficient and receptive causes, and similarly, prior to form inasmuch as
form is a formal cause leading toward {the final cause}. Likewise, die final cause is prior to
the other causes in its existence in the s o u l . 802

[A s

for the final cause's being prior to the

other causes] in the agent's soul, this is because it comes to exist first and then there are
represented there agency, the seeking out of the receptor, and the q u a l i t y 8 0 3 cf the form.
[As far as the final cause's being prior to the rest of die causes] in non-agents' souls, there
is no necessary order for some [causes] as opposed to others. Therefore, in terms of reity
and in terms of existence in the intellect, there is no cause prior to the final [cause]; instead,
it is a cause of the rest of the causes' becoming c a u s e s . 804 However the actual existence of
the other causes as causes is [itself] a cause of {the final cause's} existence; the final cause
is a cause not qua existent, but qua thing. In the sense that it is a cause, it is the cause of the
causes, while in the other sense it is the effect of the causes.

{293,12}This is [so] when the final cause comes about in [the world of]

g e n e ra tio n ;8 0 5

when, however, the final cause does not exist in [the world of] generation, but instead its

802i.c. prior to the act itself.


03 j.e. modality.

804 bg] hiya eilla li-fayrtlrati sair al-'ilal *ilalan.


805 (i l-kawn.

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existence is more sublime than [that of the world of] generation (as will be explained in its
place), then none of die other causes is a cause of {the final cause}, nor [could they be] in
the case of the One who is Himself occurrence and existence. Therefore the final cause [in
this mode] is uncaused by the rest of the causes not because it is a final cause but rather
because it [already] possesses being.'806 [But] even if it did not possess being it would still
not be an effect in any way at all If you consider {the final cause's} being a final cause,
you will find it to be a cause of the rest of the causes being causes (being, for example, an
efficient cause and a receptive cause and a formal cause), but not [a cause of] {the rest of
the causes} being entities and existents in themselves. Therefore, that which belongs
essentially to the final cause qua final cause is being a cause of the rest of the causes, while
what is accidental to it (insofar as {the final cause} is understood to be [actually] occurring
in the world of generation) is being an effect vis-a-vis the world of generation. It has thus
been made clear to you how a thing may be [both] cause and effect, on the basis of the fact
that it is [both] an agent and end, this being one of the Physicists' principles.

{294,6}As for the investigation that follows this,807 it will begin to unfold through what
we say: the end that occurs in the agent's act is divided into two categories: 1) an end which
is a form or accident in a patient receiving the act, and 2) an end which is not in any way a
form or accident in a receiving patient and thus inevitably contained in the agent. This is
because if {the end} were contained neither in the agent nor in the patient (it being
impossible that that which subsists by itself should be a substance that comes into existence
neither from nor in a matter), then {the end} would possess no existence whatsoever.

0^dat lawn.
807i.Ct concerning the difference between the end and the good.

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{294,12}An example of the first [category] is the form of humanity in human matter: {the
form of humanity} is an end of die active potential for formation in the matter of man. It is
toward {this end} that its act and its setting-in-motion are directed.

An example of the second [category] is seeking shelter,808 for it is an end of the person
seeking to build the house which is thus the principle of motion of {the end's} being, but it
is not in any way a form contained in the house. It appears that the end of the proximate
agent (the one who is in closest contact with the setting-in-motion of the matter) is a form
contained in the matter, and that that whose end is not a form in the matter is [conversely]
not a proximate principle of the setting-in-motion as such. So if it happens that that whose
end is a form contained in the utilized matter, and that whose end is something other than a
form in this matter, were one thing, then its oneness would be accidental. [Say] for
example, that a man is building a house therein to take shelter: inasmuch as he is a seeker of
shelter, he is a m

o tiv a to rS 9

and a first cause of the [act of] building. [But] inasmuch as he

is a builder, 810 he is an effect of the seeker of shelter. Hence the end of the seeker of
shelter is different from the end of the builder. This being so, then in the case of the one
man who is both a seeker of shelter and a builder, his end qua seeker of shelter will be
different from his end qua builder.

{295,5}Now that this has been settled, we say: as for the first category,8 H the end has a
re la tio n s h ip ^ ^

to many things which are prior to i t in terms of actual [temporal] occurrence

as well as in terms of existence. [This is so] because {the end} has: 1) a relationship to the
agent; 2) a relationship to the receptor when {the r e c e p t o r } S13 ^ potentially [a receptor]; 3)

808 aJ-istiknan.
da cin.
SIreading bannaun rather than binaun, because of the sense of the sentence.
11Le. ends intrinsic to the patient
S12nisba.
Spreading buwa, not hiya, with mss. b and J, because of sense of lines 10-12.

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211
a relationship to the receptor when {the receptor) is actually a receptor; and 4) a
relationship to the motion. With reference to the agent, {the end) is an end, and with
reference to the motion it is a terminus and not an end. This is because die end [is that] for
whose sake the thing is, and toward which the thing is led; the thing does not cease to exist
upon {the ends) existence, but is rather perfected by {the end}. 814 The motion, however,
disappears upon termination.** 15 With reference to the potentially-perfected receptor, {the
end) is a good which sets {the receptor) off on the right track.816 [This is] because evil is
the non-existence of {the receptors) perfection, while good, in contrast to {evil), is [the
receptors] actual existence and occurrence. And with reference to the actualized receptor,
{the end) is a form.

{295,13}As for die end which fits into the second category,**1? it is obvious that it is not a
form possessed by the patient matter, nor is it the terminus of motion itself. It has been
made clear that in the agent, {the end) is a form or accident by means of which the agent
will inevitably have passed from being potential to being actual. That [agent] which is
potential is [so] on account of the non-existence that is associated with evil. That [agent]
which is actual, however, is [so on account of] the good that opposes {the evil). This [type
of] end, therefore, is a good with reference to the essence of the agent, not to the essence of
the receptor. With reference to the agent inasmuch as it is a principle of modon and [hence]
an agent, {the end) is an end; [but] with reference to {the agent) inasmuch as it passes, by
means of {the end), from being potential to being actual and is [thereby] perfected, then
{the end) is a good if this passing from potentiality to actuality is such that it is
beneficial^ 18 to existence or to the continuation of existence, and die motion is natural or

voluntary (and hence coming from the intellect). When {the motion) is imaginary, it is not
814 bal yastakmilu biha.
815Avicenna does not speak of the termination (nihaya) of ends, but only of motion.
816taking it to be yu$libuhu; it could, however, be read as yu$allibuhu, meaning improve."
l^i.e. ends extrinsic to the patient but intrinsic to the agent
818/j ma'nan nafi'in.

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212
necessary that {the end}19 be a real good, but may instead be a supposed good.
Therefore, each end is on the one hand an end, and on the other hand a good, either
supposed or real. And this is the situation concerning the good and the perfecting cause.^20

{296,6} As for the situation concerning generosity and the good, it should be known that a
single thing may have one relationship to the receptor that is perfected by it, and another
relationship to the agent from which it issues. When {the single thing's} relationship to the
agent from which it issues is such that the agent is not necessarily made a patient by it, or
by something consequent upon it, then {the single things} relationship to the agent is
"generosity," while to the patient it is "good." The primary meaning of the word
"generosity" (and its equivalents in the dictionaries) is "giving a benefit to someone without
taking any remuneration for it." If [someone] were to take remuneration for it, he would be
called a salesman or a contract-trader, and generally a businessman. And because thanks
and appreciation and prestige and the rest of the commendable states are not counted by
people in general as being remuneration (but instead are substances or accidents which they
assign to [different] cases), one comes to think that someone who gives a benefit to
someone else by means of which he gains thanks, is generous, and [is] not a salesman nor
a contract-trader. But in fact he is a contract-trader, because he gave and derived benefit
regardless of whether he derived monetary compensation, either in kind, or in another way,
or thanks, or an appreciation which makes him happy, or derived a benefit by becoming
worthy and honored through doing that which is prior [in honor] and worthier, and
[through doing] things which had he not done them, would have reflected badly on him.

{296,17}However, people in general do not include these senses in "compensations." They


do not hesitate to describe someone who does someone else a good turn (on account

819 or thc good.


820ai-f///a al-tamamiya.

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213
0fS210ne of these supposed or real goods which allow him to gamer commendation for
himself) as "generous." But had they understood the fact of the matter they would not call
him generous. For if one of them did another a good turn for [some kind of] compensation
(even if {the compensation} were something other than money), and the other person
realized that, the other person would make light o f 2 2 the favor or deny that the one who
did him the good turn was generous, since (the donor's} act was due to a

c a u s e . 2 3

sQ

when the concept of generosity is analyzed and summed up, it is die giving to someone else
a perfection (in his substance or in [one of] its

m o d e s 2 4 )

without any type of

compensation whatsoever awaiting him. For every agent who does an act for some purpose
and which leads to anything remotely resembling compensation, [that person] is not
generous. Nor is anyone who gives a form or accident to a receptor, but who has another
[ulterior] end which comes about through the good that he did to {the receptor}, generous
[either].

[297,7}Rather, we say that the puipose and aim in what is intended [here] only apply to
something deficient in essence. This is because the purpose is either related to the same
[person] in himself, or related to his own affairs, or related to something else [found] in
himself or in his affairs. It is known that if {his purpose} were related to himself or to his
own affairs or to something else [found] in his affairs (in short, related to something which
would somehow revert to himself) then his essence would be deficient in its existence or in
its

p e r f e c tio n s . 2 5

And

if

{his puipose} were related to something

e ls e , 2 6

then the

issuing of this matter from {him} and [its] going to another would be such that his doing it
for that person or not doing it are on the same level; the result is that were this good (which
821 reading li-Say3, not bi-Say3, with mss. b, & d, and m.
22taking it to be istabaffa.
23i.e. (hie to an ulterior motive.
824or, "in his substance or in his modes."
825 kamatetiha.
826 Le. with another thing within himself, not his affairs.

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214
is a good related to someone else) not to issue from him, then his situation, from every
aspect, would be just as if {the good} had issued. This [act] would not, therefore, have
[made] him a better or more virtuous or more commendable person or any of the other
purposes peculiar to himself; nor [conversely] would its opposite have made him nonvirtuous or non-commendable or any of the other p r e f e r a b l e ^ 7 or advantageous purposes,
such that were he not to have done it, he would [still] not have refrained from doing what
was, to him, most important and best He would thus have no motive to [do] this [act], nor
any impulse for that good issuing from him to another to provide any return. If such [an act
of generosity] as this does not issue naturally or voluntarily, nor by way of reacting to
some motivation, but instead [does so] in another sense which [you] will be apprised of
[later], then it is not a source of any particular thing which [derives] from any particular
cause; rather, what is most suitable for the agent who aspires to the above-mentioned
endeavor must be that a good be issued upon someone else only because this is more
suitable for him, while its opposite is not more suitable for him. At the end it would be
traceable to a purpose which is connected with {the agent} himself, which returns to
himself, and which leads to himself. At that moment, the existence and non-existence of
this purpose are not on the same level with regard to his essence and die perfections of his
essence and his affairs, but {the purposes} coming from {the agent} himself is [the same
as] the existence of the purposes that are peculiar to himself.

Thus it is reducible to his essence gaining through this a perfection and a specific lot. So
one would not stop asking "Why?" until one reached a point which can be reduced to the
essence. For example, if it were asked of the agent, "Why have you done such-and-such?"
and he says "In order for so-and-so to attain a purpose," it would then be asked of him
"Why did you seek that so-and-so attain a purpose?" and he would say "Because
performing good deeds is good." But die questioning does not stop [there], for it would
al-matara.

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215
then be asked "Why do you seek what is good?;" if he were now to respond [that] it is so
that a good may come back to him or that an evil may be removed from him, then the
questioning would stop, for the occurrence of good to (and the disappearance of evil from)
anything is an absolute desideratum perse.

{ 2 9 8 ,1 3 }

As for compassion and mercy and sympathy for someone else and the happiness

of doing good to another, and the distress at what goes wrong [for him], etc.: they are
purposes peculiar to the agent, and motives possessed by an agent who might be blamed or
whose level of perfection might sink [as a result of] them. Hence generosity is the
communication of a perfection by one who has no need whatsoever of that act of
g e n e ro s ity .8 2 8

This thing is a good in relation to the receptor, and a generosity in relation to

the agent. Every communication of a perfection is a good in relation to the receptor,


regardless of whether it is for remuneration or not; but it is not generosity in relation to the
agent except when it is free of compensation. This is the explanation of die reality of the
good and generosity.

{ 2 9 8 ,1 9 }

We have discussed the causes and their states, and it remains for us to complete

our discussion. Now even though these four causes are often thought to operate together in
many things found in the sciences, motionless things and mathematics are nevertheless not
thought to have an agent (i.e. a principle of motion) or an end (since the end is [similarly]
considered applicable [only] to motion) or matter; instead, only their form is investigated.
Because of this some made light of {the four causes}, saying that these sciences do not
indicate the existence of any perfecting cause [for example]. Notwithstanding their
[incorrect ideas], we say that investigation of {the four causes} still belongs [only] in this
science [of metaphysics]. [But this is] not because a single science can treat [each and every

828 i.c. one who does not need anything from anybody.

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216
instance of] {the four causes}, as [is the case] with [their] opposing

c o n c e p t:8 2 9

{the

sciences} are not [really] opposed to each other [in this way]. Rather, this is because a
single science (in the sense that this science [of metaphysics] is [considered to be] one unit)
can [truly] explain them.

{299,6}For even if we were to grant that these causes do not all operate together in every
science (such that they could be counted amongst the universal matters found in various
subjects o f the sciences), {the four causes} would still be found separately in different
sciences. Furthermore, even if they could be contained in a single science, they would
[still] not be the sole possession of the practitioner of that single science (as, for example,
[it is the sole possession of] the physicist in whose profession all these principles [can be
found] to expound upon them on the basis that they are principles belonging to the science
of Physics, and discuss what is ancillary to them); the matter is not like t h i s . 8 3 0

{299,10}For in spite of what has been said, not every agent is a principle of motion: the
existence [for example] of mathematical phenomena in their natures necessarily [comes
about] only through something e l s e . 8 3 1 Their natures are inseparable from matter; even if
they are abstracted from matter in the estimative faculty, they must nevertheless [first] exist
in the estimative faculty (deriving as they do from partition and configuration^ 3 2) ^
something which comes about through matter. Dimensions, after all, are virtual matters
approximating quantifiable shapes, and so likewise are unities for number, and number for
the properties of number. There exist in these [pairings both] an active principle and a
receptive principle, and wherever [those] two exist, so there [also] exists a perfection: the
perfection [in mathematics] is symmetry, definition, and order, by means of which

829 i.e. as is the case with universal sciences.


820i.e. the causes do in fact exist in every science.
831 i.e. something other than motion.
832 taSakkul.

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217
{mathematics} possesses the properties it does. [In other words] it is simply for the sake of
being what it is (qua order, symmetry, and definition) that {mathematics} easts. Even if it
were impossible for {one of these properties} to be a perfection (i.e. an end of motion), it
would still not be impossible for it to be a good, or for it to be a cause because it is a good.
In that case it is a cause only because it is a good; then {the property} will exist
coincidentally in that good as a perfection of a motion, since the route toward {the
property} is by way of motion. Were the properties and concomitants pertaining to these
[sciences] not in fact ends toward which their dispositions were led, then the student would
not have sought them in matters possessed by those ends. Thus the sculptor sets matter in
motion in order that {the matter} might be round, while [at the same time his] end is not
roundness itself, but rather some property or concomitant {the roundness} has; it is on
account of these [properties and concomitants] that the sphere is sought

So these [final] causes have likewise become overarching. The student of this science [of
metaphysics] must analyze these [overarching final causes], although he must analyze not
just the overarching part, but also whatever is peculiar to each science ([which, while being]
a principle for that science, is [also] an accident of the overarching [part]). For that science
may analyze the accidents specific to the particulars [of that science] when {the accidents}
pertain primarily to {those particulars}, and when they are not led afterwards into being
essential accidents of the subjects of die particular sciences. If these [sets of accidents are
taken as] isolated sciences, then the most excellent of them would be t e l e o l o g y ; 8 3 3 and that
would have been philosophy [itself]. As it is, however, itI mean the science studying the
final causes of things-is the most excellent part of this science [of metaphysics].

833 <um al-gaya.

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218

C o n c l u sio n

What has Avicenna done to Aristotle's final cause? On the one hand, by dividing the final
cause into intrinsic perfections and extrinsic ends, Avicenna appears to have assigned
causality to unsensed causes which are separate from the effect This is something Aristotle
tried to avoid, because it was one of his main criticisms of the Platonists: Aristotle's form
acts as a final cause but it is in the entity, whereas Plato's separate, ghostly Forms rob
sublunary entities of their internal sources of change.

But it would be simplistic to charge Avicenna with a Platonization of Aristotelian teleology.


As a philosopher of causation, Avicenna was concerned primarily with actualization, a very
Aristotelian concept; the difference between the two philosophers lies in their respective
routes to actuality. While Aristotle used motion to describe a process of material formation
in which form and matter were necessarily linked, Avicenna used existence to describe a
process of essential perfection in which cause and effect, and hence agent and end, were
necessarily linked. While Aristode saw the final cause as simply another way of looking at
the form, Avicenna saw the final cause as setting the limits of a thing, event, or process.
Avicenna called these limits the perfecting cause.

Both philosophers were alike, however, in viewing finality as the ultimate governor of all
causal processes; at the same time they both tried to steer a methodological middle course

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219
between extreme mechanism and extreme idealism. But Avicenna extended the range of
causation from setting-in-motion to existentiation, and thereby discarded time as the main
criterion of causal directionality.

With the efficient cause possessing no essential "beforeness" and the final cause possessing
no essential "aftemess," the efficient and final causes implicate each other necessarily in
metaphysics just as the material and formal causes implicate each other necessarily in
physics. Through this reciprocal necessitation Avicenna could view the necessity of the
final cause as arising both derivatively (as an effect of the efficient) and absolutely (as a
cause of the efficient). Finally, this discarding of time made it easier for Avicenna to
understand all four causes as different modes of the same proto-cause, and thus to give a
complete causal account of a given thing, event, or process.

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220

B ib l io g r a p h y

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