Abu Ibni Sina – II

Persian physician, philosopher, astronomer, chemist, geologist, logician, paleontologist, mathematician, physicist, poet, psychologist, scientist, and teacher.


The corpus of Ibn Sina’s works that has come down to us is considerable, but incomplete. To the many questions that were put to him he replied hastily, without always taking care to keep his texts. Al-Juzajani has preserved several of these; others have been transmitted with different titles, others lost. The manuscript of the Insaf disappeared at the sack of Isfahan, in his own lifetime. The fundamental bibliography is that which al-Juzajani included in his biography, but it is not exhaustive. G.C. Anawati lists a total of 276 works, including texts noted as doubtful and some apocryphal works, in his bibliography of 1950. Mahdavi, in 1954, lists 131 authentic, and 110 doubtful works. Ibn Sina was known primarily as a philosopher and physician, but he contributed also to the advancement of all the sciences that were accessible in his day: natural history, physics, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics, music. Economics and politics benefited from his experience as a statesman. Moral and religious questions (not necessarily pertaining to mysticism), Quranic exegesis, statements on ‘ufi doctrine and behaviour produced minor writings. He wrote poetry for instructional purposes, for he versified epitomes of logic and medicine, but he had also the abilities of a true poet, clothing his philosophical doctrine in images, both in verse (as in his poem on the soul) and in prose, in symbolic narratives whose meaning has given rise to controversy.

Medicine is the subject of separate works; but natural history and mathematics are thought of as parts of philosophy. Thus, his principal treatise on these sciences is included in the great Kitabl al-Shifa, ‘Book of Healing [of the Soul]‘, in the same way as that on Metaphysics, while the famous Qunum fi’l-tibb, ‘Canon of Medicine’, is a separate work.

The Qanun appears to have formed a more consciously coherent whole than the philosophical works. Because it constituted a monumental unity, which maintained its authority until modern times when experimental science began, and because it still remained more accessible than Hippocrates and Galen, it served as a basis for seven centuries of medical teaching and practice. Even today it is still possible to derive useful information from it, for Dr. ‘Abd Allah Ahmadieh, a clinician of Tehran, has studied the therapeutics of Avicenna and is said to use them with good results, particularly in treating rheumatism.

The Qanun is the clear and ordered ‘Summa’ of all the medical knowledge of Ibn Sina’s time, augmented from his own observations. It is divided into five books. The first contains generalities concerning the human body, sickness, health and general treatment and therapeutics (French translation of the treatise on Anatomy by P. De Koning, 1905, adaptation giving an incomplete resume of the first book, in English, by Cameron Gruner, 1930). The second contains the Material Medica and the Pharmacology of herbs, the page on experimentation in medicine (115, of the Rome 1593 edition) quoted in the introduction to the French translation of the Isharat, 58, is to be found there. This passage sets out the three methods-agreement, difference and concomitant variations- that are usually regarded as characteristics of modern science. The third book deals with special pathology, studied by organs, or rather by system (German translation of the treatise on diseases of the eyes, by Hirschberg and Lippert 1902). The Fourth book opens with the famous treaties on fevers, then follows the treatise on signs, symptoms, diagnostics and prognostics, minor surgery, tumours, wounds, fractures and bites, and that on poison. The fifth book contains the pharmacopoeia.

Several treatises take up in isolation a number of the date in the Qanun and deal with particular points. Some are very well known: their smaller size assured them of a wide circulation. Among the most widely diffused are treatises on the pulse, the medical pharmacopoeia, advice for the conservation of health and the study of diarrhea; in addition, monographs on various remedies, chicory, oxymel, balsam, bleeding. The virtues of wien are not neglected.

Physicians were offered a mnemonic in the form of a poem which established the essentials of Avicenna’s theory and practice: principles, observations, advice on therapeutics and dietetics, simple surgical techniques. This is the famous Urjuza fi’l-tibb, which was translated into Latin several times from the 13th to the 17th century, under the title Cantica Avicennae (ed. With French trans. By H. Jahier and A. Noureddine, Paris 1956, Poeme de la Medecine, together with Armengaud de Blaise’s Latin translation).


Ibn Sina’s philosophical works have come down to us in a multilated condition. The important Kitab al-Shiaf’ is complete (critical text in process of publicatioin, Cairo 1952). Extracts chosen by the author himself as being the most characteristic make up the Kitab al-Najat, ‘The Book of Salvation (from Error)’, which is not an independent redaction, as was thought until 1937 (table of concordances established by A.M. Goichon in La distinction de l’essence et de le’existence d’apres Ibn Sina, 499-503). The Kitab al-Isharat wa ‘l-tanbihal, ‘Book of directives and remarks’, is complete (trans. into Persian and French), as is the Danishnama-i’Ala’i, ‘The book of Knowledge for ‘Ala’ and rdquo; a resume of his doctrine written at the request of the prince ‘Ala’ al-Dawla. We have only fragments of the Kitab al-Insaf, ‘Book of Impartial Judgment between the Easterners and the Westerners’, which have been published by A. Badawi, and a small part of the Mantiq al-mashriqiyyin, ‘Logic of the Easterners’, which is the logic of his ‘Eastern Philosophy’, the rests of it being lost. A fairly large number of minor writings are preserved, they illuminate points of detail which are often important, but are far from completing the lacunas.
Ibn Sina’s was too penetrating a mind, and one too concerned with the absolute, not to venture outside the individual sciences. He looked for the principle and the guarantee of these, and this led him to set above them, on the one hand, the science of being, Metaphysics, and on the other, the universal tool of truth, Logic, or ‘the instrumental sciences’, as the falasifa termed it.

As far as one can tell in the absence of several of his fundamental works, he seems to have been an innovator particularly in logic, correcting the excess of abstraction which does not permit Aristotle to take sufficient account of change, which is present everywhere and at all times in the terrestrial world; and thus, of the differences between strict (mutlaq) meaning and concrete meaning, specified by the particular conditions in which a things is actualized. As a physician, he enters into logic when he admits a sign as the middle term of a syllogism. He gives it the force of a proof, as the latter is recognized in a symptom in medical diagnosis.

Leave a Reply