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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 February 2016

Daniel D. De Haan*
Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge University, West Road Cambridge CB3 9BS, UK


This study examines a number of different answers to the question: where does Avicenna demonstrate the existence of God within the Metaphysics of the Healing? Many interpreters have contended that there is an argument for God's existence in Metaphysics of the Healing I.6–7. In this study I show that such views are incorrect and that the only argument for God's existence in the Metaphysics of the Healing is found in VIII.1–3. My own interpretation relies upon a careful consideration of the scientific order and first principles of the Metaphysics of the Healing, paying attention to Avicenna's own explicit statements concerning the goals and intentions of different books and chapters, and a close analysis of the structure of the different arguments found in the relevant texts of the Metaphysics of the Healing. I conclude that Avicenna's explicit goal in I.6–7 is to establish the properties that belong to necessary existence and possible existence, which consists, not in a demonstration of God's existence, but in a dialectical treatment of the first principles of metaphysics.


Cette étude examine une série de réponses à la question de savoir où Avicenne démontre l'existence de Dieu dans la Métaphysique du Shifāʾ. Bien des interprètes ont prétendu que la Métaphysique du Shifāʾ I,6–7 offre un argument en faveur de l'existence de Dieu; je montre ici que cette vue est erronée et que l'unique argument en faveur de l'existence de Dieu dans cet ouvrage se lit en Métaphysique du Shifāʾ VIII,1–3. Mon interprétation se fonde sur une analyse attentive de l'ordre scientifique et des premiers principes de la Métaphysique du Shifāʾ (une analyse qui tient compte des affirmations explicites de l'auteur concernant l'objectif et le contenu des différents livres et chapitres de l'ouvrage), ainsi que sur un examen détaillé de la structure des divers arguments qu'on trouve dans les textes concernés. J'en conclus que l'objectif explicite d'Avicenne en I,6–7 est d’établir les propriétés appartenant à l'existence nécessaire et l'existence possible – un procédé qui revient non pas à démontrer l'existence de Dieu, mais à traiter les principes premiers de la métaphysique dialectiquement.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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1 Avicenna, The Metaphysics of The Healing: A Parallel English-Arabic Text, ed. and trans. Michael E. Marmura (Provo, Utah, 2005) (henceforth: Ilāhiyyāt). Avicenna, Al-Shifāʾ: Al-Ilāhiyyāt, 2 vols., ed. George Anawati, Mohammad Y. Moussa, Solayman Dunya, Saʿid Zayed (Cairo, 1960). All citations and references will be to Marmura's English translation unless noted otherwise. For the Latin translation of the Arabic, see Avicenna Latinus, Liber de philosophia prima sive Scientia divina, ed. Simone Van Riet, 3 vols. (Leiden and Louvain, 1977–83) (henceforth: Scientia divina). Citations will include book, chapter, and Marmura's paragraph numbers, followed by the corresponding page references to the Cairo edition in square brackets, along with references to the page and line numbers of the Scientia divina in parentheses. For example, Ilāhiyyāt I.5, 9 [31] (Scientia divina, 34: 54–61). I have slightly modified many quotations from Marmura, especially his translation of wājib al-wujūd as “Necessary Existent.” This term has been altered to the more literal, “the necessary of existence” or just “necessary existence.” Marmura's translation unnecessarily saddles the text with a theological interpretation in contexts where Avicenna gives us no indication that “the necessary of existence” must have theological implications. For a careful study of Avicenna's arguments for the identification of the necessary existence in itself with God, see Peter Adamson, “From the necessary existent to God,” in Peter Adamson (ed.), Interpreting Avicenna: Critical Essays (Cambridge, 2013), ch. 9, pp. 170–89.

2 See Thomas Aquinas, De ente et essentia IV (Leonine, 43. 377: 127–146). There are many different interpretations of this passage from Aquinas. Representative positions are found in articles and books by Etienne Gilson, Joseph Owens, Armand Maurer, John Wippel, Lawrence Dewan, Scott MacDonald, Rollen Houser, David Twetten, to mention a few, which range from the position that this text is an argument for God's existence, to this passage provides nothing more than a dialectical conceptual clarification. For a bibliography of the secondary literature as well as a comparison of this text from Aquinas with its Avicennian source, see Rollen E. Houser, “The real distinction and the principles of metaphysics: Avicenna and Aquinas,” in R. E. Houser (ed.), Laudemus viros gloriosos: Essays in Honor of Armand Maurer CSB (Notre Dame, IN, 2007), pp. 75–108. For a similar interpretation of Aquinas, see Armand Maurer, “Dialectic in the De ente et essentia of St. Thomas Aquinas,” in Jaqueline Hamesse (ed.), Roma, magistra mundi. Itineraria culturae medievalis. Mélanges offerts au Père Boyle à l'occasion de son 75e anniversaire (Louvain-la-Neuve, 1998), pp. 573–83.

3 See Thomas Aquinas Summa Contra II. 15 and the third way in Summa theologiae I.2.3. For example, Norman Kretzmann, albeit self-consciously, attempts a similar sort of construction in Norman Kretzmann, The Metaphysics of Theism: Aquinas's Natural Theology in Summa contra gentiles I (Oxford, 1997), pp. 95–112.

4 Ibn Sīnā, Kitāb al-Najāt, ed. Muḥammad T. Dānishpazhūh (Tehran, 1985). For a Latin translation, see Nematallah Carame, Avicennae Metaphysices Compendium (Rome, 1926). For English translations of the relevant passages on possibility and necessity and the demonstration of God's existence, see Hourani, George F., “Ibn Sīnā on necessary and possible existence,” Philosophical Forum, 4 (1972): 7486Google Scholar, (esp. pp. 81–2); Marmura, Michael E., “Avicenna's proof from contingency for God's existence in the metaphysics of the Shifāʾ,” Medieval Studies, 42 (1980): 337–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar, (esp. p. 350), which also contains proofs from the al-Risāla al-ʿArshiyya and the Ishārāt; Classical Arabic Philosophy: An Anthology of Sources, translated with introduction by Jon McGinnis and David C. Reisman (Indianapolis, 2007), pp. 214–15. For an analysis of the argument from the Najāt, see Jon McGinnis, “The Ultimate Why Question: Avicenna on why God is absolutely necessary,” in John Wippel (ed.), The Ultimate Why Question: Why is There Anything at All Rather Than Nothing Whatsoever? (Washington, D.C., 2011), pp. 65–83. A detailed historical analysis of Avicenna's sources and of his various presentations of the distinction between necessary existence and possible existence can be found in Robert Wisnovsky, Avicenna's Metaphysics in Context (Ithaca, NY, 2003), chs. 11–14.

5 For scholars who hold that Ilāhiyyāt I.6–7 contains only a strictly conceptual consideration, semantic analysis, or dialectical investigation into the properties that belong to the notions necessary existence and possible existence and that there is no proof for God's existence from possibility in the Ilāhiyyāt, see Bertolacci, Amos, “Avicenna and Averroes on the proofs of God's existence and the subject matter of metaphysics,” Medioevo: Rivista di Storia della Filosofia Medievale, 32 (2007): 6198Google Scholar, (esp. pp. 78–80); Herbert Davidson, Proofs for Eternity: Creation and the Existence of God in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Philosophy (New York, 1987), pp. 281–310; id., “Avicenna's proof of the existence of God as a necessary existent being,” in Parviz Morewedge (ed.), Islamic Philosophical Theology, (Albany, NY, 1979), pp. 165–87; Houser, “The real distinction;” Lizzini, Olga, “Utility and gratuitousness of metaphysics: Avicenna, Ilāhiyyāt I.3,” Quaestio, 5 (2005): 307–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar (esp. p. 341); Jon McGinnis, Avicenna, Great Medieval Thinkers Series (Oxford and New York, 2010), p. 164. Davidson is certainly correct to point out that “Avicenna has not given an ontological proof, for although his proof depends on an analysis of the concept necessary existent by reason of itself, the analysis alone is not intended to show that anything exists in the external world corresponding to the concept.” “Only the derivation of actual existence from a concept gives an ontological proof …” On the basis of Avicenna's analysis of “the concept necessarily existence by reason of itself; he derives a set of attributes from the concept, but does not pretend to derive actual existence from it.” Davidson, “Avicenna's proof of the existence of God as a necessary existent being,” p. 180. “Avicenna does not regard the analysis of the concept necessary existent by virtue of itself as sufficient to establish the existence of anything in the external world. He does not, in other words, wish to offer an a priori or ontological proof of the existence of God, but rather a new form of the cosmological argument.” Davidson, Proofs for Eternity, p. 298. See also ibid., pp. 214, 391–5, in passim.

6 It is difficult to categorize the positions of different scholars because many tend to generalize the attributions of formal demonstrations to Avicenna by drawing on a wide range of texts and works without distinguishing what is drawn from where. In short, for many of these interpreters of Avicenna I am unable to pinpoint how they understand Avicenna's aims in Ilāhiyyāt I.6–7. For those who hold some variation of the thesis that there is a cosmological formal demonstration of God's existence in Ilāhiyyāt I.6–7 or who do not make precise the difference between the latter passage and the Najāt or other works, see Lenn Goodman, Avicenna (London, 1992), pp. 75–7. It is unclear if George Hourani intends to treat Ilāhiyyāt I. 6 as a demonstration for God's existence by including it within his collation of translations on necessary and possible existence, see Hourani, “Ibn Sīnā on necessary and possible existence,” p. 74. Ömer Mahir Alper, “Avicenna's argument for the existence of God: was he really influenced by the Mutakallimūn?” in Jon McGinnis (ed.), Interpreting Avicenna: Science and Philosophy in Medieval Islam (Leiden, 2004), ch. 7, pp. 129–41. Ömer Alper has to supply the opening existential premise of the Najāt in order to make his presentation consistent, and gives no indication that this premise, among others, is missing in Ilāhiyyāt I.6–7 (ibid., pp. 134–5). He also fails to observe Davidson's and Lizzini's distinctions between the text of the Najāt II.12 and the Ilāhiyyāt I.6 (ibid., p. 134). Next is the influential interpretation of Marmura, see Michael Marmura, “Avicenna's proof from contingency,” pp. 337 ff.; id., “The metaphysics of efficient causality in Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā),” in Michael E. Marmura (ed.), Islamic Theology and Philosophy: Studies in Honor of George F. Hourani (Albany, N.Y., 1984), pp. 172–87; id., “Avicenna on causal priority,” in Parviz Morewedge (ed.), Islamic Philosophy and Mysticism (Delmar, N.Y., 1981), pp. 65–83; id., “Avicenna's metaphysics, Encyclopedia Iranica,” in Michael E. Marmura, Probing in Islamic Philosophy: Studies in the Philosophies of Ibn Sīnā, al-Ghazālī and Other Major Muslim Thinkers (Binghamton, NY, 2005), pp. 17–32. In his article on “Avicenna's proof from contingency,” Michael Marmura contends that I.6 introduces the first of many premises scattered across the Ilāhiyyāt, and offers to “reconstruct” Avicenna's cosmological argument from contingency as it is distributed across Ilāhiyyāt I.6; IV.1; VI.2; and VIII.1–3. Marmura does describe the arguments from I.6–7 as a priori and rationalistic and contends they do not appeal to sensation (Marmura, “Efficient causality in Avicenna,” pp. 179 ff). Though not stated explicitly, Druart seems at least to agree with Marmura's assessment that there is a cosmological argument spread throughout the Ilāhiyyāt, see Thérèse-Anne Druart, “Avicenna's influence on Duns Scotus’ proof for the existence of God in the Lectura,” in Jules Janssens and Daniel De Smet (eds.), Avicenna and His Heritage. Acts of the International Colloquium (Leuven, 2002), pp. 253–66 (esp. p. 254). Jon McGinnis appears to hold a view that is similar to Marmura's contention that the formal demonstration is developed throughout the Ilāhiyyāt, but McGinnis clearly rejects that there is an ontological argument in I.6–7, see McGinnis, Avicenna, p. 164. “Before considering his analysis, I should say that I find nothing like an Anselmian ontological-style argument for the existence of God in Avicenna. Consequently, I think that the question of whether there is anything necessary through itself is for Avicenna genuinely open one. At this point of his inquiry [i.e., at Ilāhiyyāt I.6–7], he is merely considering the various conceptual divisions of existence, and it could turn out that one of those conceptual divisions, such as the necessary through itself, is empty.” (Ibid., p. 272, n. 20.) McGinnis does take Avicenna's doctrine in Najāt II.12 to be a cosmological argument, but does not clarify whether he thinks Ilāhiyyāt might also offer a cosmological argument from possibility and necessity (ibid., pp. 163–8; McGinnis, “The ultimate why question,” pp. 72–5). Marmura also concedes that I.6 is only addressing necessary existence at the level of a conceptual consideration; however, he does hold that this is a step towards developing a formal argument for God's existence (Marmura, “Efficient causality in Avicenna,” pp. 344–5). Stephen Menn also suggests that there is a “proof” for “the existence and unicity of an ‘essentially necessary existent’,” albeit, “briefly in I.6–7 and more fully in Book VIII,” see Stephen Menn, “Avicenna's metaphysics,” in Peter Adamson (ed.), Interpreting Avicenna: Critical Essays (Cambridge, 2013), ch. 10, pp. 143–69; p. 149, n. 14. Robert Wisnovsky's position is not entirely clear (Wisnvosky, Avicenna's Metaphysics in Context, pp. 256–63). He seems to suggest there is an ontological argument for God's existence in I.6 or at least an “ontological argument for the uncausedness of the necessary of existence in itself which appears in Ilāhiyyāt 1.6 …” which he takes to be “merely an adjunct” to the arguments of Ilāhiyyāt 8 (ibid., p. 259). Wisnovsky also appears to be mistaken about Davidson's interpretation. He writes that according to Davidson, “In the Shifāʾ and Dānishnāma, the distinction between necessary and possible existence is a rather redundant supplement to what is a more purely cosmological argument for God's existence. In the Najāt and Ishārāt, however, the distinction between necessary and possible existence is crucial to what amounts to a combined ontological and cosmological argument for God's existence.” (Ibid., p. 260.) But this is not Davidson's position. Davidson distinguishes between two cosmological style arguments, one of which he contends has a superfluous stage concerned with demonstrating the impossibility of an infinite regress (Davidson, Proofs for Eternity, pp. 350–2; 362–3). As for the Najāt and Ishārāt containing a hybrid ontological-cosmological argument, Davidson rejects this contention. “A cosmological argument attempting to establish the existence of God as necessary in the logical sense of the term would compound the dubiousness of the ontological proof. It would not merely reason from a concept to reality. It would reason from reality to the affirmation that there is a concept with the unusual virtue of allowing one to reason back therefrom to reality. Yet we find that, despite its problematic character, a cosmological proof of the type described was proposed by philosophers of the modern period. Neither Avicenna nor the other medieval philosophers … contemplated anything of the kind.” (Ibid., p. 391.)

7 For authors who suggest it is some version of an ontological argument, see Fazlur Rahman, “Ibn Sīnā,” in Mian M. Sharif (ed.), A History of Muslim Philosophy, 2 vols. (Wiesbaden, 1963), pp. 480–506. Rahman seems to suggest it is an ontological argument on 482–3, but he does not provide sufficient references to determine if he is referring to the Najāt, the Shifāʾ, or both. Legenhausen, Hajj Muhammad, “The Proof of the Sincere,” Journal of Islamic Philosophy, 1, 1 (2005): 4461CrossRefGoogle Scholar, regards Avicenna's so-called “Proof of the Sincere” from the Ishārāt as an earlier formulation of the ontological argument. Legenhausen even contrasts it with the ontological arguments of Anselm and Descartes and provides a brief survey of its treatment by various Muslim philosophers. Allan Bäck suggests that there might be an a priori argument in Avicenna, but treats the argument in Ilāhiyyāt I.6 to be a posteriori, see Bäck, Allan, “Avicenna's conception of the modalities,” Vivarium, 30 (1992): 217–55, esp., pp. 241–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Morewedge, Parviz, “Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) and Malcolm and the ontological argument,” The Monist, 54, no. 2 (1970): 234–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar; id., “A third version of the ontological argument in the Ibn Sinian Metaphysics,” in P. Morewedge (ed.), Islamic Philosophical Theology (Albany, NY, 1979), pp. 188–222, esp. pp. 193–4; 202–15. Morewedge, on the basis of Norman Malcom's work, distinguishes between two kinds of ontological arguments: one that takes existence as a perfection, and another that takes necessary existence as a perfection. In the first article he proposes to show how a number of statements of Avicenna's reveal he held the second kind of ontological argument. As far as I can tell, there is no argument provided to show that Avicenna held any kind of ontological argument; rather, Morewedge just assumes it is an ontological argument on the basis of his own interpretation of the Dānishnāma (ibid., pp. 237–9). His second essay briefly summarizes Avicenna's commitment to the second kind of ontological argument and rehearses its problems; it then moves on to develop a third kind of ontological argument on the basis of an intuitive desire to know oneself and God. Morewedge summarizes this approach as follows, “we explored the possibility of constructing an argument which takes account of the phenomena felt to be significant by those taking a religious perspective, but can be aligned, at the same time, with a systematic philosophical perspective. Accordingly, we depicted a third version of the ontological argument and clarified its premises by drawing on the works of well-known philosophers [such as Augustine, Descartes, and Spinoza] who have addressed themselves to the issues in question. We demonstrated, moreover, that ibn Sīnā's metaphysical system contains doctrines of great consequence to the depiction of the premises of the argument under consideration.” (Ibid., pp. 214–5.) Morewedge's articles are not particularly concerned with the works of Avicenna; rather they are more focused on making somewhat tenuous connections between philosophers, mystics, and statements of Avicenna to the end of exploring “the possibility of constructing an argument” that he calls ontological. There are other readers of Avicenna who consider his proofs to be cosmological arguments for God's existence that also have noteworthy implicit ontological argument-like features, see Johnson, Steven A., “A fourth ontological argument in Ibn Sīnā's metaphysics,” Muslim World, 74 (3–4) (1984): 161–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Like Morewedge, Johnson seems to be more concerned with producing his own approach to the existence of God instead of closely examining the arguments of Avicenna. More recently, Toby Mayer has described Avicenna's argument as simultaneously ontological and cosmological, see Mayer, Toby, “Ibn Sīnā's ‘Burhān al-Ṣiddīqīn’,” Journal of Islamic Studies, 12 (2001): 1839CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Towards the end of his detailed study Mayer writes, “The complete argument can now be evaluated. Morewedge and Davidson are both correct in that the proof as a whole is simultaneously ontological and cosmological.” (Ibid., p. 35.) For Mayer's final evaluation and justification of this confluence, see ibid., pp. 35–9. It should be noted that Mayer's analysis is almost entirely dedicated to the Najāt and the Ishārāt, and so the Ilāhiyyāt is rarely discussed. However, he does seem to suggest that there is a proof in Ilāhiyyāt I.6 (ibid., p. 33, n. 52). Mayer's unconventional conceptions of cosmological and ontological arguments (p. 37, n. 46) combined with his application of them to Avicenna seems to distract him from drawing on Avicenna's own distinction between demonstrations that and why, which, for better or for worse, is the common historical point of departure for distinguishing between the contemporary division between cosmological and ontological arguments. With respect to the various ontological argument interpretations of Avicenna, Davidson aptly writes, “One of the proofs associated with the Aristotelian tradition might, if read carelessly, be misinterpreted as an ontological rather than a cosmological argument. Central to Avicenna's proof of the existence of a being necessarily existent by virtue of itself is the analysis of the critical concept, the concept necessarily existent by virtue of itself. And a superficial reading might lead to the misapprehension that the existence of a being corresponding to the concept is derived by Avicenna solely from an analysis of the concept. The error might, moreover, be abetted by the presence in European philosophy of ontological arguments for the existence of God which do consist exclusively in the analysis of a similar concept, that of necessary being. Avicenna's proof, it turns out, does not arrive at the existence of a being necessarily existent by virtue of itself solely through analyzing a concept, and his proof is unambiguously cosmological.” Proofs for Eternity, pp. 214–15 (see pp. 298, 303–4, 403–5). I agree with Davidson's, Druart's, and McGinnis's critical assessment of interpretations that claim to find an ontological argument in Avicenna's Ilāhiyyāt. See Druart, “Avicenna's influence on Duns Scotus’ proof,” p. 254, n. 9.

8 See Rollen E. Houser, “The real distinction;” id., “The place of the first principle of demonstration in Avicennian metaphysics,” in Proceedings of the Patristic, Medieval and Renaissance (PMR) Conference. Vol. 6 (Villanova, 1981), pp. 117–34; id., Let them suffer into the truth: Avicenna's remedy for those denying the axioms of thought,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 73 (1999): 107–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Marmura, Michael E.Avicenna on the division of the sciences in the Isagoge of his Shifāʾ,” Journal for the History of Arabic Science, 4 (1980): 239–51Google Scholar. Amos Bertolacci, The Reception of Aristotle's Metaphysics in Avicenna's Kitâb al-Shifâʾ: A Milestone of Western Metaphysical Thought (Leiden-Boston, 2006); id., “Proofs of God's existence,” in passim.

10 Ilāhiyyāt 1.1.8 [5] (Scientia divina 3: 37–40). See Aristotle, Posterior Analytics 1.2, 72a15–24; 1.10, 76a33–77a4; Avicenna, Al-Shifāʾ, al-Manṭiq, 5. al-Burhān (Healing. Logic. Book of Demonstration), ed. Abū al-ʿAlāʾ ʿAfīfī et al. (Cairo, 1956), II.6 [155]; id., Avicenna's Treatise on Logic: Part One of Danesh-Name Alai, trans. Farhang Zabeeh (The Hague, 1971), pp. 43–4; id., Avicenna's Deliverance: Logic, trans. Asad Q. Ahmed (Karachi, 2011), sect., 119–35; id., Remarks and Admonitions. Part one: Logic, trans. Shams Constantine Inati (Toronto, 1984), m. 9, c. 3–4. See also Marmura “Avicenna on the division of the sciences;” Bertolacci, The Reception; Houser, “The real distinction;” Strobino, Riccardo, “Avicenna on the indemonstrability of definition,” Documenti e Studi sulla tradizione filosofica medievale, 21 (2010): 113–63Google Scholar; id., “Principles of scientific knowledge and the psychology of (their) intellection in Avicenna's Kitāb al-Burhān,” in Joël Biard (ed.), Raison et démonstration. Les commentaires médiévaux sur les Seconds Analytiques (Turnhout, 2015), pp. 31–45.

11 See Ilāhiyyāt I. 1, 11 [5–6] (Scientia divina, 4–5); al-Shifāʾ, al-Ṭabī‘iyyāt (Physics of the Healing) I.2, 8–11 and I.3, in passim. Hence, Ömer Mahir Alper and others are mistaken who take the arguments of Avicenna's Physics of the Shifāʾ to have established the existence of God, and not just a first mover (Alper “Avicenna's argument for the existence of God,” p. 133, n. 15). Davidson, Gutas, Bertolacci, and McGinnis are all especially clear about the distinction between physical and metaphysical proofs, see Davidson, “Avicenna's proof of the existence of God as a necessary existent being,” pp. 180 ff.; Dimitri Gutas, Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition: Introduction to Reading Avicenna's Philosophical Works, 2nd rev. edn (Leiden, 2014), pp. 296–300 [1st edn, 261–5]; Bertolacci, Proofs of God's Existence,” 75–8; McGinnis, “The ultimate why question,” pp. 65–6, in passim.

12 Ilāhiyyāt I.1, 11 [6] (Scientia divina, 4–5). For a detailed study of Avicenna's account of the subject of metaphysics, see Bertolacci, Reception; id., ”Proofs of God's existence.”

13 Ilāhiyyāt I.1, 12 [6–7] (Scientia divina, 5–6).

14 See, Houser, Rollen E.Aristotle and two medieval Aristotelians on the nature of God,” International Philosophical Quarterly, 51, 3 (2011): 355–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Houser compares three themes in Aristotle, Avicenna, and Aquinas. “The themes are: 1) conclusions drawn about the nature of God; 2) the order the author uses in presenting his conclusions; and 3) the influence of the author's demonstrative metaphysical principles on the conclusions drawn about the nature of God” (p. 355).

15 Ilāhiyyāt I.1, 17–18 [9] (Scientia divina, 8–9: 37–55).

16 Ilāhiyyāt I.2, 12–13 [13–14] (Scientia divina, 12–13: 30–46).

17 Ilāhiyyāt I.3 contains a cryptic passage that has been the source of numerous misinterpretations about where and in what way Avicenna demonstrates God's existence. To address adequately this difficult passage and the numerous interpretations it has inspired would require a study of its own. Let me briefly note why this passage presents no difficulties to this study's thesis. In this short passage Avicenna abruptly notes that “later” (baʿd) he will provide a “pointer” (ishāra) for a way to demonstrate – from universal intelligible premises and from causes to effects – God's existence, essence, and the emanation of creatures from God. Strangely enough, Avicenna then immediately remarks that despite such a pointer, humans cannot demonstrate God's existence and essence in this way, namely from causes to effects, due to the weakness of our mode of understanding (see Ilāhiyyāt I.3, 11 [21] (Scientia divina, 23–4: 30–41). For an alternative translation, see Bertolacci, “Proofs of God's existence,” p. 80, text 5). Debates have centered on whether this “later” refers to Ilāhiyyāt I.6–7 or VIII–IX, and the question: does Avicenna intend to provide a kind of ontological argument for God's existence? I agree with Marmura, Lizzini, and Bertolacci who connect the reference in I.3 to I.6–7 (see Marmura, “Proof from contingency,” pp. 339–41; Bertolacci, “Structure,” p. 24, n. 70; id., Reception, p. 171, n. 63; Lizzini, “Utility,” p. 341). More recently, however, Bertolacci has argued that the reference in I.3 is to VIII–IX (see Bertolacci, “Proofs of God's existence,” pp. 78–84), which I think is mistaken. Like Davidson, Houser, Bertolacci, and Lizzini I also hold that there is not an ontological argument for God's existence presented in Ilāhiyyāt I.6–7. In addition to this general consensus, let me note the following points that also support this interpretation. First, the term “pointer” (ishāra) seems to be used in Avicenna's technical sense, which means that “later” on Avicenna does not intend to provide all the premises of a demonstration, but only its principles. This eliminates the fully articulated demonstrations in VIII–IX as a possible reference to the pointer promised in I.3 (For a detailed treatment of Avicenna's distinction between a pointer (ishāra) and a demonstration (burhān), see Gutas, Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition, pp. 346–58 [1st edn, pp. 307–18]; Bertolacci, Reception, pp. 170–2; 221, n. 27). Second, it is also important to recognize that Avicenna explicitly states humans cannot demonstrate God's existence and nature by arguing from causes to effects, which eliminates that the formal demonstrations-that found in VIII–IX from being the reference of I.3, and it also reveals that there is no ontological formal demonstration for God's existence from causes to effects in I.6–7. Third, once all the claims of this cryptic passage from I.3 are disambiguated, it turns out that it just restates in a convoluted way what Avicenna said in Ilāhiyyāt I.1, 11–12 [5–7] (Scientia divina, 4–6), namely, that God's existence is not self-evident and that it can only be demonstrated by arguing from effects to causes. All of these claims are completely consistent with the thesis of this study. See also Ilāhiyyāt III.8, 9 [143–4] (Scientia divina, 161–3: 21–44). Finally, I wish to note that Thomas Aquinas was also interested in this passage from Avicenna and assimilated it into his own account of the science of metaphysics, an account that rejects ontological arguments for God's existence, see John F. Wippel, “Thomas Aquinas and Avicenna on the relationship between first philosophy and other theoretical sciences: a note on Thomas's Commentary on Boethius's De Trinitate, Q. 5, art. 1, ad 9,” in Metaphysical Themes in Thomas Aquinas I (Washington, D.C., 1984), ch. 2, pp. 37–53.

18 Ilāhiyyāt I.4, 1 [25] (Scientia divina, 27–8: 15–22).

19 See Ilāhiyyāt I.4, 1–6 [25–27] (Scientia divina, 27–30: 15–74).

20 Ilāhiyyāt I.4, 7 [27] (Scientia divina, 30: 75–7).

21 Ilāhiyyāt I.1, 8 [5]. “… et quod in ceteris scientiis est aliquid quod est subiectum, et quod aliqua sunt quae inquiruntur in eis, et quod principia aliqua conceduntur in eis ex quibus componitur demonstratio.” (Scientia divina, 3: 37–40).

22 See Aristotle, Posterior Analytics 1.2.72a15–24; 10.76a33–77a4; Avicenna, Al-Shifāʾ, al-Manṭiq, 5. al-Burhān, I.1; I.6; II.6, 8–10; id., Treatise on Logic: Part One of Danesh-Name Alai, 40–44; id., Avicenna's Deliverance: Logic, sect., 102, 111–12, 122, 128–9. Id., Remarks and Admonitions: Part One: Logic, m. 9, c. 3 [476–7], 152–3. See also, Strobino, “Avicenna on the indemonstrability of definition;” id., “Principles of scientific knowledge;” Eichner, Heidrun, “Al-Fârâbî and Ibn Sînâ on ‘universal science’ and the system of sciences: evidence of the Arabic tradition of the Posterior Analytics,” Documenti e Studi sulla Tradizione Filosofica Medievale, 21 (2010): 7195Google Scholar.

23 See Aristotle, Metaphysics Δ (V). 7, 1017a23–35; Ε (VI). 2, 1026a35–b3; Θ (IX). 1, 1045b28–35; Θ (IX). 10, 1051a35–b2ff; Κ (XI). 8, 1065a 21–25; Κ (XI). 9, 1065b5–15; Ν (XIV). 2, 1089a1–31.

24 Ilāhiyyāt 1.4.1 [25] (mod. trans., Marmura). “Oportet nos in hoc magisterio scire dispositionem comparationis rei et entis ad praedicamenta et dispositionem privationis, et dispositionem necessitatis in esse necessario et eius condiciones, et dispositionem possibilitatis et eius certitudinem et quia ipsamet est speculatio de potentia et effectu, et ut consideremus dispositionem eius quod est per essentiam et eius quod est per accidens, et de veritate et falsitate …” Scientia divina 1.4 (27–8: 16–22). Bertolacci notes the parallel between this passage from Ilāhiyyāt I.4 and Aristotle's Metaphysics, but does not examine its significance, so far as I know. See Bertolacci, Amos, “The structure of metaphysical science in the Ilāhiyyāt (Divine Science) of Avicenna's Kitāb al-Šifāʾ (Book of the Cure),” Documenti e Studi sulla Tradizione Filosofica Medievale, 13 (2002): 169Google Scholar, p. 25, n. 77. N.B. In his brief synopsis of this passage from I.4, Bertolacci omits its connection to Aristotle's four senses of being in Reception, p. 162, n. 40.

25 See Aristotle Metaphysics Γ 2, 1003b23–33.

26 Ilāhiyyāt I.5, 1 [29] (mod. trans., Marmura). “Dicemus igitur quod res et ens et necesse talia sunt quod statim imprimuntur in anima prima impressione, quae non acquiritur ex aliis notioribus se, sicut credulitas quae habet prima principia, ex quibus ipsa provenit per se, et est alia ab eis, sed propter ea.” (Scientia divina, 31–2: 2–5).

27 Ilāhiyyāt I.5, 2 [29] “Similiter in imaginationibus sunt multa quae sunt principia imaginandi, quae imaginatur per se …” (Scientia divina, 32: 13–15).

28 Ilāhiyyāt I.5, 5 [30] “Quae promptiora sunt ad imaginandum per seipsa, sunt ea quae communia sunt omnibus rebus, sicut res et ens et unum, et cetera.” (Scientia divina, 33: 25–7). See also Ilāhiyyāt I.2, 18 [15] where we are told that existence and unity are firsts in generality, and Ilāhiyyāt VII.1 where the one is said to be convertible with being. Like Bertolacci, I would argue that there is no great importance to be found in the differences between the notions enumerated within these lists of primary notions that transcend the categories. See Amos Bertolacci, “‘Necessary’ as primary concept in Avicenna's metaphysics,” in Stefano Perfetti (ed.), Conoscenza e contingenza (Pisa, 2008), pp. 31–50, p. 36, n. 18.

29 Ilāhiyyāt I.4, 1 [25] (mod. trans., Marmura) (Scientia divina, 27–8: 16–20).

30 Ilāhiyyāt I.8, 1 [48] (Scientia divina, 55–6: 58–76). See my forthcoming study, Daniel De Haan, “Avicenna's Healing and the metaphysics of truth.”

31 There is a developing body of literature on Avicenna's doctrine of the primary notions. See: Rahman, Fazlur, “Essence and existence in Avicenna,” Mediaeval and Renaissance Studies, 4 (1958): 116Google Scholar. Michael E. Marmura, “Avicenna on primary concepts in the Metaphysics of his al-Shifāʾ,” in Savory Roger and Agius Dionisius (eds.), Logos Islamikos: Studia Islamica in honorem Georgii Michaelis Wickens, (Toronto, 1984): 219–239; Wisnovsky, Robert, “Notes on Avicenna's concept of thingness (šay'iyya),” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, 10 (2000): 181221CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Jan Aertsen, “‘Res’ as transcendental: its introduction and significance,” in G. Federici Vescovini (ed.), Le problème des transcendantaux du XIVe au XVIIe siècle (Paris, 2002), pp. 139–56; Druart, Thérèse-Anne, “‘Shay’ or ‘res’ as concomitant of ‘being’ in Avicenna,” Documenti e Studi sulla Tradizione Filosofica Medievale, 12 (2001): 125–42Google Scholar; Wisnovsky, Avicenna's Metaphysics in Context, chs. 7–14; Lizzini, Olga, “Wugud-mawgud / existence-existent in Avicenna: a key ontological notion in Arabic philosophy,” Quaestio, 3 (2003): 111–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bertolacci, “The necessary;” Houser, “The real distinction;” Jan Aertsen, “Avicenna's Doctrine of the Primary Notions and its Impact on Medieval Philosophy,” in Anna Akasoy and Wim Raven (eds.), Islamic Thought in the Middle Ages: Studies in Text, Transmission and Translation: in Honour of Hans Daiber (Leiden-Boston, 2008), pp. 21–42; Amos Bertolacci, “The distinction of essence and existence in Avicenna's metaphysics: the text and its context,” in Felicitas Opwis and David C. Reisman (eds.), Islamic Philosophy, Science, Culture, and Religion: Studies in Honor of Dimitri Gutas (Leiden, 2011), pp. 257–88; Haan, Daniel De, “A mereological construal of the primary notions being and thing in Avicenna and Aquinas,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 88, 2 (2014): 335–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Menn, “Avicenna's metaphysics.”

32 See Houser, “The real distinction;” Bertolacci, “The distinction of essence and existence in Avicenna's metaphysics;” Druart, “‘Shay’ or ‘res’ as concomitant of ‘being’ in Avicenna;” Marmura, “Avicenna on primary concepts in the Metaphysics of his al-Shifāʾ;” De Haan, “A mereological construal of the primary notions being and thing in Avicenna and Aquinas;” Menn, “Avicenna's metaphysics.”

33 See Allan Bäck, “Avicenna's conception of the modalities;” id., “Avicenna and Averroes: modality and theology,” in Thomas Buchheim et al. (eds.), Potentialität und Possibilität. Modalaussagen in der Geschichte der Metaphysik (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, 2001), pp. 125–45; Wisnovsky, Avicenna's Metaphysics in Context, chs. 11–14, 197–263; Bertolacci, Reception, pp. 328–35; Bertolacci, “The necessary;” McGinnis, Avicenna, pp. 159–68; 183–208.

34 Ilāhiyyāt I.5, 24 [36] (Scientia divina 41: 79–82) On al-Fārābī's influence with respect to this insight in Avicenna, see Black, Deborah, “Knowledge (ʿilm) and certitude (yaqīn) in al-Fārābī's epistemology,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, 16 (2006): 1145CrossRefGoogle Scholar (esp. pp. 25–8).

35 See Ilāhiyyāt I.5, 9–10 [31] (Scientia divina 34: 54–61). The confluence of necessary existence with quiddity constitutes a realized or established being, that is, a being with established existence.

36 Cf. Michael Marmura, “Avicenna and the Kalām,” in Probing in Islamic Philosophy, pp. 97–130 (esp. pp. 114–21).

37 This is further corroborated by a reference to I.6–7 found in Avicenna's division of substance in Ilāhiyyāt II.1, wherein he utilizes his fundamental propositions from I.6–7 as first principles to determine a point about the ontological status of composite substances. This is precisely the way we should expect Avicenna to deploy these primary hypotheses, if they are in fact metaphysical first principles. “You have known from the properties belonging to the necessary of existence that the necessary of existence can only be one and that that which has parts, or that which is equivalent to the existence [of that which has parts], cannot be the necessary of existence. From this it becomes known that this compound and these parts are all, in themselves, possible in existence and that they necessarily have a cause that necessitates their existence.” Ilāhiyyāt II.1, 9 [60], (mod. trans., Marmura) (Scientia divina, 68: 70–5).

38 Ilāhiyyāt I.6, 1 [37] (Scientia divina, 43: 7–13).

39 “For, alongside the affirmative statement stands existence, and alongside the negative statement stands nonexistence.” Ilāhiyyāt III.6, 10 [129] (mod. trans., Marmura) (Scientia divina, 143: 89–90).

40 See Ilāhiyyāt I.6, 2 [37] (Scientia divina, 43: 14–23).

41 For a detailed analysis of Avicenna's arguments in I.6–7, see Houser, “The real distinction.”

42 See De Haan, “Avicenna's Healing and the metaphysics of truth.”

43 See Ilāhiyyāt I.6, 3 [38] (Scientia divina, 44: 24–37).

44 See Ilāhiyyāt I.6, 4–6 [38–9] (Scientia divina, 44–6: 38–71).

45 Ilāhiyyāt I.6, 6 [39] (Scientia divina, 45–6: 65–71).

46 See Ilāhiyyāt I.6, 7–13 [39–42] (Scientia divina, 46–8: 72–38).

47 See Ilāhiyyāt I.7, 13 [47] (mod. trans., Marmura) (Scientia divina, 54: 38–43).

48 See Ilāhiyyāt I.7, 14 [47] (mod. trans., Marmura) (Scientia divina, 54: 44–7).

49 See Ilāhiyyāt I.7, 14 [47] (mod. trans., Marmura) (Scientia divina, 55: 50–5).

50 See Ilāhiyyāt I.5, 1–2 [29] (Scientia divina 31–2: 2–19); I.8, 16 [54] (Scientia divina 64: 14–17).

51 Also relevant is the fact that in Ilāhiyyāt VIII.3 Avicenna not only reviews these properties of the necessary existence from Ilāhiyyāt I.6–7, but also goes on to provide additional arguments in VIII.4–5 that demonstrate that God as first uncaused cause and necessary existence in itself is one, simple, and peerless. This entails that those who interpret I.6–7 as containing formal demonstrations for the existence of God and his attributes, must also hold that Avicenna repeats these arguments from I.6–7 all over again in VIII.1–5. Such an interpretation, however, does not sit well with the text and is very unreasonable. It is better to hold instead that I.6–7 is about the first principles of metaphysics, while VIII.1–5 is concerned with the existence and attributes of God, who turns out to be the necessary existence in itself. For a study of these arguments in the Ilāhiyyāt and other works, see Adamson, “From the necessary existent to God.”

52 Marmura reads this passage from Ilāhiyyāt I.6 as providing one step towards a proof for God's existence. He recognizes the problematic point just made, but attempts to soften it by suggesting it only has the appearance of “glaring circularity.” To mitigate this appearance and avoid circularity he makes a number of qualifications one of which hits precisely upon the true aim of these chapters, but Marmura nevertheless ends up with a conclusion that I think is mistaken and is the source of this apparent “glaring circularity.” “[T]he discussion that follows this division should be understood as having the pattern: ‘If the existents include that which in itself is necessary, then the latter would have such and such characteristics and if the existents include that which is in itself only possible, then the latter would have such and such characteristics,’ Thus understood, there is no categorical assertion that both modes of existence are included among the existents. This understanding of the text absolves the proof for the circularity we have mentioned. Absolved from this circularity, the opening statement whose primary intention is to introduce a discussion of the characteristics of the two possible modes of existing things (not to give a proof of God's existence) can now be interpreted as also constituting an implicit premise for the proof as a whole.” “Avicenna's proof for God's existence,” pp. 344–5. It is this last statement that I think is entirely foreign to the scientific order of Avicenna's metaphysics and it contributes to Marmura's mistaken interpretation of the structure of the Ilāhiyyāt, which then leads to his “endeavor to ‘reconstruct’ the proof from contingency as it occurs in the Metaphysics.” (Ibid., pp. 338–9.) He admits that this proof requires a ‘reconstruction,’ since “… the premises of the proof in the Metaphysics have often to be extracted from different contexts. Hence, in the search for the proof, it is not simply a matter of tracing an argument that is constantly being interrupted. It also means isolating such premises without distorting the original intention of the discussions in which they appear. There is also ambiguity in some of Avicenna's statements. Thus, for example, in chapter 6 of book I, in the discussion of the properties of ‘that which is in itself necessary’, i.e., God, the existence of God seems to be asserted before the proof for this existence is completed. (Whether or not this is the case, however, depends on how we read the text.)” (Ibid., p. 338.) Marmura's effort to piece together a proof for God's existence from contingency to necessity within the Ilāhiyyāt both fails to capture accurately how Avicenna does approach the demonstration of God's existence in the Ilāhiyyāt, and also “distorts” the intention of the passages he takes his syllogistic ingredients from, such as I.6–7, IV.1, VI.2, and VIII.1–3 (See also, Marmura, Causal Priority and Efficient Causality). He presents a creative construction that fails to see that, unlike the Najāt, there is no demonstration from contingency in the Ilāhiyyāt independent from aitiological investigations into the existence of a first cause.

53 Ilāhiyyāt VIII.3, 6 [342] (Scientia divina, 395–6: 17–35).

54 Ilāhiyyāt I.6, 6 [39] (Scientia divina, 45–6: 59–71).

55 Hence, Bäck and others are simply mistaken when they locate an argument against the possibility of an infinite regress in Ilāhiyyāt I.6–7, and they are doubly mistaken when they also reference I.6 as the source of Avicenna's demonstration for the existence of a being that is necessary existence in itself on the basis of the impossibility of an infinite regress of caused possible existences. See, for example, Bäck, “Avicenna's conception of the modalities,” pp. 242 ff. N.B. Davidson, Wisnovsky, Bertolacci, and others have drawn attention to Avicenna's development of Aristotle's arguments against an infinite regress from Metaphysics α (II) 2 and Λ (XII) 7 within his own demonstrations for God's existence. Since many Avicenna scholars consider the denial of an infinite regress to be one of the hallmarks of an Avicennian demonstration for God's existence, Avicenna's explicit acknowledgment of its being as yet unconfirmed here in I.6 is very telling. See Bertolacci, “Proofs of God's existence” p. 79, n. 41.

56 See Houser, “The real distinction.”

57 Ilāhiyyāt VIII.1, 1 [327] (Scientia divina, 376: 4–9).

58 This is finally accomplished in Ilāhiyyāt VIII.3, 5 [342] (Scientia divina, 395: 12–17), see Haan, Daniel De, “Why the Five Ways? Aquinas's Avicennian solution to the problem of unity in the Aristotelian Metaphysics and Sacra Doctrina,” Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association: Philosophy in the Abrahamic Traditions, vol. 86 (2012): 141–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

59 This fact is interesting in itself. Why does Avicenna not have a demonstration from possibility and necessity in the Ilāhiyyāt? Many readers of Avicenna have pointed out that the ordered structure of the arguments found in Ilāhiyyāt I.6 are remarkably similar to the demonstrations for God's existence in al-Risāla al-ʿArshiyya, Najāt II. 12, and in Ishārāt III.9–15. Perhaps Avicenna thinks there is something distinctive about the Aristotelian approach to aitiological and theological questions and this motivates his use of the four ultimate causes rather than his own innovative use of necessity and possibility. The question merits further study.

60 Ilāhiyyāt VIII.1, 2 [327] (Scientia divina, 376: 10–15).

61 Ilāhiyyāt VIII.1, 3 [327] (Scientia divina, 376: 16–17).

62 “Like other cosmological proofs of the Aristotelian type, Avicenna's proof employs the principles of causality and the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes.” Davidson, “Avicenna's proof of the existence of God as a necessary existent being,” pp. 180 ff.

63 As was noted above, while I agree with Bertolacci and Davidson that the only formal demonstration for God's existence is to be found in Ilāhiyyāt VIII.1–3, I think their final assessment of Avicenna's purpose in Ilāhiyyāt I.6–7 is incomplete.

64 Also mistaken is the view held by Marmura and others that there is a gradual piecemeal demonstration for God's existence developed throughout the Ilāhiyyāt from I.6–7, to IV.1, VI.2, and VIII.1–3. It is certainly true that all of these passages provide us with principles and conclusions that will be deployed in Avicenna's properly aitiological treatment of the ultimate four causes and properly theological treatment of God's existence and attributes. The earlier doctrines of the Ilāhiyyāt frequently do have remote trajectories that anticipate later points. But it is a mistake to conclude on the basis of the latter, that Avicenna intended this particular series of punctuated arguments to be ingredients in a formal demonstration for God's existence that is distributed across the Ilāhiyyāt. Just as it would be equally false to say the treatment of truth in I.8 or actuality in IV.2, or universals and quiddity in itself V.1–2 are all in fact major and minor premises for arguments concerning the divine attributes that do not arrive at their conclusions until VIII. This simply is not how Avicenna approaches or orders these various doctrines within the Ilāhiyyāt, and we would understand his own thought better if we observed the very precise order he actually does provide.