138 - The Self-Made Man: Avicenna's Life and Works

Despite war, the demands of patronage, and intellectual rivalry, Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā) manages to become the most influential of all medieval philosophers.

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Further Reading: 

• P. Adamson (ed.), Interpreting Avicenna: Critical Essays (Cambridge: 2013). [for Avicenna’s life see the article by Reisman]

• W. Gohlman (trans.), The Life of Ibn Sina (Albany: 1974).

• L.E. Goodman, Avicenna (Ithaca: 2006).

• D. Gutas, Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition (Leiden:1988).

• J. Janssens, An Annotated Bibliography on Ibn Sīnā (Leuven: 1991); supplement published 1999.

• J. Janssens and D. De Smet (eds), Avicenna and his Heritage (Leuven: 2002).

• J. McGinnis (ed.), Interpreting Avicenna (Leiden: 2004).

• J. McGinnis, Avicenna (New York: 2010).

• D.C. Reisman (ed.), Before and After Avicenna (Leiden: 2003).

• R. Wisnovsky (ed.), Aspects of Avicenna (Princeton: 2001).

Davlat's picture

i think it's misleading to

i think it's misleading to suggest that Avicenna died because of excessive copulation. J. Lameer i think makes a convincing case (in an article of his in the new edition of Arabic Sciences and Philosophy journal) that that is just another fabrication of later hostile writers attempting (desperately) to slander Avicenna's character and reputation.

Peter Adamson's picture

Excessive copulation

This is not part of the later tradition; it is in the completion of the biography by Avicenna's own student Juzjani. Presumably however he wanted to compliment Avicenna by drawing attention to his virility, rather than to make his master look bad. In general I would agree that the references to sex and wine have been misunderstood or seized upon for polemical reasons by the later tradition, though (as I said in the episode).

Davlat's picture

yes, but as J.Lameer argues,

yes, but as J.Lameer argues, Juzjani's two references to Avicenna's sexual life ought not to be taken as implying that Avicenna's death was due to contracting colic as a result of it. he says that was most probably due to later hostile authors who tampered with the manuscripts of the Autobiography. briefly, this is because, with respect to Juzjani's first reference, there's a manuscript reading - the oldest in fact - which contains a passage that has been excised in other later editions of the autobiography and which sets Juzjani's reference to Avicenna's sexual lifestyle in context. with regard to the second reference, Lameer notes that two of the oldest manuscripts (one of them being the first one above) don't even contain Juzjani's (second) reference which, as Lameer notes for various reasons, makes much more overall sense. anyway, for the details, i think you should consult the article.

Peter Adamson's picture

The biography

Oh, that's interesting. Thanks very much, I haven't read the article but I will definitely do so!

Pete Bataleck's picture



Your remarks about Ḥads/Intuition were intriguing - will you be talking more about it in later episodes ?

You said he coined the term so I'm wondering if he thought he had found a new faculty (?) and whether the idea was influential within Arabic and later European philosophy.



Jay's picture

Arabic vs Latin Names

You mentioned in this episode that although you're going with "Avicenna" for Ibn Sīnā and "Avveroes" for Ibn Rushd, you're going to use an Arabic or Anglicized Arabic name for everyone else. Would you mind explaining your motivation? As a native English speaker with no knowledge of Arabic, I find Arabic names rather difficult to distinguish from one another, making it tough to keep the narrative straight in my head. I would personally prefer if you used Latin names, although you probably have good reasons for doing otherwise.

Peter Adamson's picture

Latin vs Arabic

Well, I don't have much to add to what I say in the episode which is that I prefer the Arabic names but it seems perverse not to use "Avicenna" and "Averroes" since these are used very widely, and the thinkers are much more famous under these names than Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd (at least, in the English-speaking world). I don't think you'd find the Latin versions of other names easier to follow, in fact probably more confusing since they tend to be similar to one another (Algazel, Avicebron, Avempace, etc.). I guess one other consideration is that most of the thinkers I'll be talking about, especially looking ahead to the episodes on the later Eastern tradition, have no Latin name anyway (Fakhr al-Din al-Razi or Mulla Sadra, for instance). So it made sense to me to basically use Arabic names but also to make the exception for Avicenna and Averroes.

Peter Adamson's picture

Avicenna's last days

Regarding this episode see my blog post here for a correction, concering the idea that he killed himself with too much sex. Thanks to Davlat Dadikhuda for bringing this piece to my attention in the comments below.

John Anders's picture

Recommendations on Avicenna Translations

If I wanted to read an English translation of Avicenna's major philosophical works, are there certain volumes you would recommend? Are there series devoted to Avicenna translations?

Peter Adamson's picture

Avicenna translations

If only it were that easy! Maybe he is most accessible in the selections in the Hackett reader on Classical Arabic Philosophy (see the general bibliography for Philosophy in the Islamic world, above). Then there are major translations of the Metaphysics and Physics from his Healing (Shifa') both from BYU Press, and there is Rahman's old translation of the part on soul from the Salvation, which is a good translation. The corresponding parts of his Pointers are just about to appear in English translation. That would be more than enough to get started; but a lot of Avicenna remains untranslated.