Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna (Ibn Sina)

Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna (Ibn Sina): With a Translation of the Book of the Prophet Muhammad's Ascent to Heaven

Peter Heath
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna (Ibn Sina)
    Book Description:

    Islamic allegory is the product of a cohesive literary tradition to which few contributed as significantly as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), the eleventh-century Muslim philosopher. Peter Heath here offers a detailed examination of Avicenna's contribution, paying special attention to Avicenna's psychology and poetics and to the ways in which they influenced strains of theological, mystical, and literary thought in subsequent Islamic-and Western-intellectual and religious history. Heath begins by showing how Avicenna's writings fit into the context and general history of Islamic allegory and explores the interaction among allegory, allegoresis, and philosophy in Avicenna's thought. He then provides a brief introduction to Avicenna as an historical figure. From there, he examines the ways in which Avicenna's cosmological, psychological, and epistemological theories find parallel, if diverse, expression in the disparate formats of philosophical and allegorical narration. Included in this book is an illustration of Avicenna's allegorical practice. This takes the form of a translation of the Mi'raj Nama (The Book of the Prophet Muhammad's Ascent to Heaven), a short treatise in Persian generally attributed to Avicenna. The text concludes with an investigation of the literary dimension Avicenna's allegorical theory and practice by examining his use of description metaphor. Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna is an original and important work that breaks new ground by applying the techniques of modern literary criticism to the study of Medieval Islamic philosophy. It will be of interest to scholars and students of medieval Islamic and Western literature and philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0222-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Note on Transliteration and Dates
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Part One: Introduction
    • 1 Avicenna and Islamic Allegory
      (pp. 3-17)

      Islamic allegory represents a vast body of literature. It encompasses diverse genres—romance, “visionary recital,” exegesis, debate (munâẓara), and fable. And its encoded “messages” stem from such varied disciplines as philosophy, mysticism, theology, political theory, and social and political satire. Despite this diversity in form and content, Islamic allegory is the product of a cohesive literary tradition. Writers of allegories belonged to a cosmopolitan class of Muslim elites who shared a common, often multilingual, educational background in the religious, intellectual, and literary sciences. One has only to note the frequency and ease with which individual scholars or writers moved throughout...

    • Map: Iran in the time of Avicenna
      (pp. 18-18)
    • 2. Avicenna: Courtier, Physician, Philosopher
      (pp. 19-32)

      Avicenna lived in a world rich in opportunity. After enjoying a brief era of strong central authority and cultural florescence in the first part of the 3rd/9th century, the ‘Abbâsid empire had begun to experience political decentralization. Given the enormous expanse of the empire, central control from Baghdad was unwieldy at best, and it was not long before it became politically unfeasible as well. The governing families of provinces far from the capital (Aghlabids in Ifrîqiya, Ṭûlûnids in Egypt, Ṭâhirids in Khurâsân) naturally wished to achieve the greatest possible freedom of action, and they strove toward a state in which...

  7. Part Two: Allegory and Philosophy
    • 3. The Structure and Representation of the Cosmos
      (pp. 35-52)

      Avicenna possessed an extraordinarily systematic vision of the structure of the cosmos—and of how it should be studied. Appreciating this fact is crucial if we are to understand his intellectual accomplishments; but it must also be kept in perspective. His passion for cohesiveness and completion led to the preoccupation with detail and demonstration that characterizes his logos writings: everything must fit, everything must hang together logically.¹ This being the case, it is not surprising that many later students of Avicenna, attracted by these very attributes of system, detail, and logical coherence, tend to view his philosophy through the prism...

    • 4. Avicenna’s Theory of the Soul
      (pp. 53-79)

      Psychology, the study of the soul, held a particular fascination for Avicenna. That the subject clearly lies near the heart of his concern for philosophy is indicated by the fact that he devoted numerous major and minor tracts to the subject and returned repeatedly to its elaboration throughout his life.¹ Avicenna’s psychological doctrines are stable in their general parameters, but his individual presentations of them differ according to considerations of philosophical intent, generic format, and audience of address.² Like any psychology aspiring to comprehensiveness, Avicenna’s theory addresses four considerations:

      1. The nature of the soul

      2. The faculties of the soul

      3. The...

    • 5. Avicenna’s Theory of Knowledge
      (pp. 80-106)

      Avicenna’s epistemology is based on his conception of what one can know (i.e., the sensible and intelligible realms surveyed in Chapter Three) and how one can know (i.e., the range of perceptual faculties discussed in Chapter Four). In this chapter we will investigate the dynamic psychological processes by which humans attain knowledge. As we shall see, Avicenna describes these processes in two versions: the logos and the muthos.

      For the most part, Avicenna’s psychology is structured according to levels of epistemological apprehension. The vegetable and animal souls manage natural, nonperceptual activities: nutrition, growth, and reproduction in the case of the...

  8. Part Three: The Mi‘râj Nâma
    • 6. Translation of the Mi‘râj Nâma
      (pp. 109-144)

      The Mi‘râj Nâma is a short treatise in Persian traditionally attributed to Avicenna.¹ My reason for including a translation of it here requires a brief introductory note. When I first contemplated studying Islamic allegory, I planned to analyze a series of allegories or allegoreses dealing with the single theme of the mi‘râj, heavenly ascent or journey. The most prominent example of this theme in Islamic literature is the prophet Muḥammad’s own mi‘râj, with the accompanying tradition of his Night Journey (isrâ) from the sacred Mosque (in Mecca) to the Further Mosque (in Jerusalem).² This story exists primarily in the form...

  9. Part Four: Interpretation and Allegory
    • 7. The Interpretation and Function of Allegory
      (pp. 147-169)

      Avicenna’s theory of allegory is straightforward, easily summarized, and, obviously, highly pertinent to an understanding of the rhetorical dimension of his allegories and philosophical writings. As with any theory of literary creation or interpretation, however, Avicenna’s hermeneutics must be taken with a grain of salt. Authorial theories of composition and reading are indeed relevant, but they should not be accepted so literally that they overly determine our understanding of the workings of the texts themselves. Writers often valorize rules of composition or endorse methods of interpretation that they themselves do not completely follow in practice.¹ Avicenna’s theory of interpretation is...

    • 8. Allegory and Allegoresis
      (pp. 170-190)

      Until now we have examined Avicenna’s allegories mainly in terms of their relationship to his philosophical writings, muthos in conjunction with logos. But his formulation of allegory itself deserves attention since it constitutes only one of the many possible expressions that the genre encompasses, whether in terms of general theoretical potentiality or in regard to specific historical manifestations appearing in premodern Islamic literatures. In this chapter we will situate Avicenna’s allegories and allegoreses more precisely within the realm of the praxis of allegory per se by investigating in greater detail their modes of description and metaphoric structure.

      We have seen...

  10. Appendices
    • Appendix A: On Allegory
      (pp. 193-200)
    • Appendix B: On the Attribution of the Mi‘râj Nâma
      (pp. 201-207)
    • Appendix C: The Manuscripts
      (pp. 208-210)
    • Appendix D: The Text of Avicenna’s Version of the Mi‘râj (without his attendant commentary)
      (pp. 211-214)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-236)
  12. Index
    (pp. 237-246)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-251)