Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Philosophy, Science and the Sciences

PS Avicenna on the Soul

Menn, Stephen; Muehlethaler, Lukas

Tue. 14-16, HAN 6, 1.03 (First Session: April 10)

An introduction to medieval philosophy, and to discussions of the soul in the broadly Aristotelian and Platonist tradition, via a reading of one of Avicenna’s treatises on the soul, comparing the texts of Aristotle (and sometimes other earlier philosophers) that Avicenna is building on, and also looking at later medieval developments and criticisms of Avicenna’s theories. The theory of the soul can be described as the center of Avicenna’s philosophy, in which his metaphysics, physics and epistemology come together. While his model is Aristotle’s De Anima, Avicenna develops the theory of the soul in new directions: he tries to integrate first-person and third-person approaches to the soul, and to develop accounts of self-knowledge, of the activity of abstracting forms from matter, and of imagination and other “inner senses”. He also develops a variety of arguments for immortality, and discusses the conditions of individuation of souls, with implications for whether souls can remain distinct from each other after separation from the body, and what cognitions and actions they can then have. Avicenna was also a central figure in the history of medicine, and he tries to integrate his theory of the soul with developments notably in physiology and optics since Aristotle's time. Most later medieval discussions of the soul, both Arabic and Latin, are reactions (positive and negative) to Avicenna, and we will try to look at some of these later developments.


This course is a joint venture of the Humboldt-Universität and the Freie Universität. It is designed both for students of philosophy from the HU and FU, and for students of Islamic studies from the FU. No knowledge of Arabic philosophy is presupposed; philosophy students are not expected to have any prior knowledge of anything Arabic or Islamic. Some knowledge of Greek philosophy is desirable but not required. All readings will be in translation (probably mostly English). (FU students of Islamic studies are required also to participate in the Übung, for which we will be reading key passages in Arabic.) The course will be excellent preparation for any students who wish to participate in the HS which the same two instructors intend to offer in WS 2012-2013 on theories of abstraction and the intellect from Alexander of Aphrodisias through Averroes. The course will be conducted bilingually in German and English: students must understand both languages but need speak only one of them.