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Avicenna on the Primary Propositions

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Avicenna introduces the primary propositions (or the primaries, for short) as the most fundamental principles of knowledge. (In this paper, we are not primarily concerned with the primary/first intelligibles as concepts/conceptions.) However, as far as we are aware, Avicenna’s primaries have not yet been independently studied. Nor do Avicenna scholars agree on how to characterize them in the language of contemporary philosophy. It is well-known that the primaries are indemonstrable; nonetheless, it is not clear what the genealogy of the primaries is (§2), how, epistemologically speaking, they can be distinguished from other principles (§3), what their phenomenology is (§4), what the cause of the assent to them is (§5), how to explain the relationship between the ‘innate [nature] of the intellect’ and the primaries (§6) and, finally, back to their indemonstrability, in what sense they are ‘indemonstrable’ (§7). We will try to fill this gap. As a corollary, we will explain why Gutas’s view [Gutas, Dimitri. 2012. ‘The empiricism of Avicenna’, Oriens, 40, 391–436], among others, according to which the primaries are analytic (in the Kantian sense) is not true in general (§8). More particularly, we will argue that some primary propositions can be categorized under Kantian synthetic a priori, consistent with Black’s and Ardeshir’s conjecture [Black, Deborah L. 2013. ‘Certitude, justification, and the principles of knowledge in Avicenna’s epistemology’, in Peter Adamson, Interpreting Avicenna: Critical Essays, New York: Cambridge University Press; Ardeshir, Mohammad. 2008. ‘Ibn Sīnā’s philosophy of mathematics’, in S. Rahman, T. Street, and H. Tahiri, The Unity of Science in the Arabic Tradition, New York: Springer]. We hope that this work opens up some space to study Avicenna’s philosophy of mathematics and logic in connection with his epistemology, philosophy of mind and metaphysics.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Gothenburg, Sweden 2: Sharif University of Technology, Iran

Publication date: July 3, 2018

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