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Published in The Jahangirnagar Review (Part C), vol.

9th, submitted and published in 2000 (publication dated 1997-98), Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Jahangirnagar University

Avicenna’s Mystical View of the Soul: His Responses to Aristotle and Plotinus Dr Md Golam Dastagir
Abstract Islamic philosophers, such as Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina and Ibn Rush’d attached great importance to the Greek and Hellenistic views of the soul, God, immortality, etc. Ibn Sina, following Platonic and neo-Platonic eschatological theses, holds a spiritualist view of man and the human soul as opposed to the Aristotelian tradition. Both Plotinus and Avicenna suggest that man is the highest being, a view which is reflected in the Qur´ãn and the Bible, and that man has an inclination to return to the Supreme Being, since God is the ultimate Source and the final Goal of all being. The One, which is God in Plotinus’s thought, is that on which all depends and towards which all existences aspire as to their source (I.8.2).1 So as there is a process of descent, so is there a process of ascent. This view is reflected in monotheistic religious traditions and Ibn Sina does not find any problem to endorse it. In this paper, we endeavour to show that although both Plotinus and Ibn Sina wear the mystic cloak and show sympathy towards the mystic way of life and view of the soul as being capable of returning to its origin, they differ on fundamental points. In offering his mystical experience Plotinus speaks of enjoying communion with the One, God, though through an intermediary stage of the nous or the Intellect while Ibn Sina confines himself within the conjunction (ittisaal) with, not communion (ittihaad) with, the Active Intellect, an intermediary heavenly body between God and man, involved in contemplative activity. We shall explore that Avicenna carefully rejects the Plotinian mystical ‘union’, which identifies the soul with God—an expression of radical or unitary mysticism—in order to safeguard the individual identity and personal immortality in his monistic system, and in so doing, Avicenna finds himself as neither a true Aristotelian, nor a true Plotinian.

On the Origin of the Soul
Ibn Sina’s view of the origin of the soul owes much to the Greek neo-Platonist doctrine of emanation, implicitly found in Alexander’s thought. Alexander identified Aristotle’s active intellect with the First Cause of the Universe. But while Aristotle envisages a First Cause only of the universe’s motion (Davidson, 1987, 281-82), Alexander surpasses him in designating the First Cause as both the cause of human thought and the principle of the existence of all other things (Alexander, 1887, 89), which means that it is a cause, not only of the motion of the universe, but also of the existence of beings that stand above the physical universe. Like God, who is the Unmoved Mover for Aristotle, the world is eternal, and therefore, not made. This theory can be called the co-eternal doctrine of matter and God. In Plotinus’s version of emanation theory, the physical world derives from the One, the Ultimate source, through the intermediary stages of the intellect (nous) and the soul (psyche). In the Timaeus (28a-29b), Plato introduces a divine artisan (demiurge) that fashions the world by the forms provided by the Ideas or Forms. According to Plato, Ideas are the Absolute Being from which the existent universe, that is, our world of sense arises. The objects of sense, for Plato, are copies of Ideas; when the image of Ideas is impressed upon matter, then there derive objects of sense. Plotinus’s order of generation resembles that of Plato, which makes no novelty in Plato’s philosophy, since it is an explanation of an earlier account (V.1.8). As he explains Plato’s account, Plotinus says that for Plato there is a creator, an author of the Cause, i.e., of the Intellect. This author is the Good, or God to call It with religious flavour. God, or the One, eternally engenders nous, and nous eternally emanates psyche (soul), which is the creator of the sublunary world of corruption and generation. So in Plotinus’s

Plotinus’s Enneads, mentioning the Ennead number and tractate number, followed by chapter; for example, I.8.2 refers to the First Ennead, eighth tractate and second chapter.


The first intelligence. Avicenna names it the First Intelligence which he confirms by the Prophet’s saying. in the sense that it possesses both necessity and possibility. The One. Ibn Sina postulates that since a Necessary Being’s act ‘is the vestiges of the Perfection of His Essence. But to deal with the problem of how a plural universe can derive from one. The Active Intellect. for example. 169). So from Him.8). and this last heavenly intellect is what we call the Active Intellect. ‘The first thing God created was Intelligence. Avicenna. III. with the emanation of the Active Intellect from which no other heavenly body can emanate? The Ibn Sinan answer is couched on the idea of the finitude of the world. and the latter of the two does not possess the same kind of power as the former. III. 4 . because if It produces multiplicity It breaks the divine simplicity. by an act of pure reflection on Itself. so the first intellect is more powerful than the second one. but it emanates the substratum-matter and forms for the 2 Proclus shares with Plotinus that the soul immediately emanates from the Divine Intellect (Proclus. there emanates only one act.’ The question arises: Why does the process of emanation of the incorporeal intelligences terminate at a certain stage. since it is a form that is not in matter. agrees with Plotinus (also Proclus)2 regarding the universe and all other possible beings as derived from God or the Necessary Existent (wajib al-wujud). of course. at the same time. a body. 214). Ibn Sina develops his view in the neo-Platonic fashion. the Necessary Existent.. Another reason why the process stops at a certain stage can be explained in terms of a hierarchical scheme.e. 405). While from the Necessary Existent only one proceeds. rather a compound. in the succession of emanation.3 the first cause (al-ma’lul al-awwal). the first intellect. the world requires no more intelligence after the emanation of the active intellect. the second intellect is more powerful than the third intellect. the fountain-head of which is. is such that its power cannot emanate any heavenly body. God (V. it follows that His first act is one. in which case He would be an agent of duality and could no longer be One or Unity. which is a pure intelligence. 1960. The Active Intellect.1. which emanates the substratum-matter and governs the sublunary region comprising substance susceptible to generation and corruption in addition to the intellect of the rational soul. it is logically rendered. Avicenna contends that the same process of emanation continues in succession until the ninth heaven and the tenth intellect is generated (Isharat. The first intelligence is one. produces many because it has plurality in its essence. which is conscious of Itself (Isharat.2 philosophy we encounter three Hypostases.’ and that His Essence is one.4 from which our souls emanate (an-Najat. emanates the outermost sphere together with a soul and a body. 1960. he postulates that the Necessary Existent is one and is what we call God. thus. and. for two acts of emanation from Him would mean duality in His Essence. which Avicenna cannot consistently accommodate in his metaphysical scheme. The first is higher than the second. emanates only one entity. which again amounts to two causes or two aspects of one single cause. 256). For Ibn Sina the Necessary Existent is the Ultimate Being. but three phases of the one divine Triad. which are not three separate beings. This argument runs: In the hierarchical manner. for a body is a compound of matter and form. and similarly. multiple. the last incorporeal Intellect in the series of emanations. identified with the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle and the One of Plotinus. as opposed to Aristotle. i. the first act of emanation cannot be anything other than the First Intellect. one intellect comes into existence posterior to another. called the first intelligence (al-’aql al awwal). Furthermore. 1963. put simply. So the first thing emanated from God should be an abstract substance. 3 To maintain the cogency of his argument for the existence of only one God as a Necessary Being. 279). and positing the formula that ‘from one only one can proceed’ (ash-Shifa: Ilahiyyat. reaches a stage in which its power is insufficient to generate any heavenly beings. just as Avicenna modifies it as that the substratum-matter and three forms of souls directly derive from the Active Intellect. and this being so. by contrast.

But not all the forms are the same. for Ibn Sina. 7 This idea obviously reflects the Qur´ãnic view that man is the highest creature in the world. He claims the soul is the form of the 5 This emanation theory is accepted by St. III. the animal and the human souls emanate from the Active Intellect. The more harmonious the mixture the more perfect the result. . since man has never become less by dying. In the Metaphysics (1037a5). earth. The plant. air.’ as a result of which ‘the four forms of fire. animals. 1960. ‘added to it ab extra by way of a nexus by the World Soul’ (Nasr. Aristotle defines man as a conjoint of body and soul. more clearly. he assumes man to be the co-inherence of body and soul. the animal soul falls between the vegetative and the human souls. thus depicting a dualistic account of human being. the prime matter undergoes different movements of the heavenly bodies causing ‘different temperaments and abilities in prime matter. 1964. one body. In this sense. differs from another. water and earth) imprinted on it and the three kinds of the soul. and by this he does not mean that the rational soul can be a separate substance from the body. water and earth are attributed to it’ (Avicenna. then is a soul. Aristotle rejects this view. Only when the mixture is at a certain state to receive the form of life. The Active Intellect emanates the prime matter (hayula) or the substratum-matter with four forms of simple bodies (fire. See his De Pontentia. the vehicle of the soul. and it is not possible for any other soul to emanate from It after the rational soul (Isharat. air. as he considers man to be evolved in the process of evolution through minerals.7 The important point to be remembered is that for Avicenna the mixture.16. 6 Avicenna’s four forms of simple bodies (fire.3 sublunary world5. since the forms which matter receives depend upon the composition of the elements. water not through its matter. no matter how pure or perfect. 3. but through its form (Compendium. And hence we see the variety of the forms received by plant. and thus he (man) can become higher. animal and human bodies. plants. and earth) are analogous to Aristotle’s four fundamental material elements. i. The human soul stands at the highest level of the hierarchical order.. air. its relation to the Active Intellect can be compared with that of the soul of each sphere to the heavenly intellect. for example. cannot produce or originate life or the soul-principle. 38). His hylomorphic view does not allow him to think of the soul as a separate entity. the connection of the body to the soul is necessary to constitute a living being. superhuman in the next step of development. sublunary forms and intelligible thought. 233). He views the soul as an entity incarcerated inside the body. Avicenna holds that these simple bodies which are imprinted on the prime matter (hayula) while they emanate from above are caused by the Active Intellect. 27).6 The Active Intellect emanates sublunary matter. Hence. Before it emanates from the Active Intellect. 1973. On the Nature of the Human Soul According to Plato. Moreover. but they differ from each other with respect to their forms. suitable for that body. But the Sufi poet and philosopher Rumi strays from this view. The soul has a hierarchy of being.e. the materials for all these four simple bodies are common. 143). But unlike Aristotle. the latter stands between the earthly and the heavenly worlds. each of the souls is considered a faculty of the World Soul. Thomas Aquinas. water. for example.

organs. Body.4.5). soul (ψυχη) and spirit (πνευµα). which will be abbreviated as DA hereafter.7. to some extent. in the ash-Shifa : De Anima is. also to Christian thought. 9 . In an idiosyncratic manner in the Enneads (VI. He possesses three species of the soul and a unity. the nature of man can be considered in two different contexts— philosophical and medical. according to him. Plato says ‘Man is soul’—a view which Plotinus develops.5). Ibn Sina’s man is a living. This view Avicenna finds congenial to Islamic thought. Avicenna makes a similar division of man—body or substratum-matter (madda). and as such. Here. 1:26) and ‘by God’s hands’ (38:75).). ‘Man is presented as a living breathing body having organs and fluids. which assigns a high place to man. According to Plotinus. he argues that man is to be defined in terms of logos (reason) which makes him what he is.7. which leads him to hold the position that man is nothing but a soul and that the soul is a spiritual substance. Plotinus and Ibn Sina. although seen as necessary for the soul to be individuated. the highest being in the hierarchical order.2-5 where he defines man as a conjoint (συναµϕοτερον)—a soul in a certain logos. Man possesses both material and immaterial elements—the former is the body. Galen. Aristotle.9 which seems to be convincing that the soul and the body are two aspects of one living thing. ‘Man’. the energeia having no capacity to act without the acting subject. The central point of the definition of man in Plotinus is put at VI. Plotinus proceeds to define man extensively. etc. soul or form (nafs) and intellect (‘aql)—the last being immortal. and powers—all feeble since this is not the Primal Man’ (VI. in this paper. compared with the separate intelligences above him in the hierarchy of being’ (Zedler.5. 1045b16-24). albeit a lowly spirit. from the lower form of man with ‘certain dispositions. He is unique in the realm of living beings. In fairness to Ibn Sina. 1977-78. this description goes back to Hippocrates. The spirit is a faculty of the soul and is treated as immortal. composed of elements. who ‘rises from the more godlike soul. such as ‘man is the viceroy of God’ (Qur´ãn. sentient and rational animal. II:30). The most interesting note on Avicenna’s view of man is expressed in the context of his ‘Flying Man’ argument. in which he begins with the hypothesis that body belongs to the nature of man. 165-77). Aristotle’s Metaphysics is abbreviated as Met. natural tendencies.7. From the philosophical point of view. not separate—a view which Plotinus attributes to Aristotle (DA 413a13-16). The Avicennan account of man as a spiritual substance tends to conflict with the description of man in the Canon of Medicine. subject to sickness and injury and in need of the help that a physician can give’ (ibid. as we have seen. as ‘man is created in His image’ (Genesis. and no doubt. man possesses body (σωµα). and. the latter is the immortal soul—in Plato. Avicenna deliberately diverges 8 This citation is from Aristotle’s De Anima. At VI. possessing a body and a soul. breath. distinguishing a higher form of man. and this logos is ‘indwelling’.4 body (DA 412a20)8 and this relationship is actually a relation of form to matter (Met. temperaments. is not part of the essence of man.7.4). ‘spirit. man is described as having humours. Here. a soul possessed of a nobler humanity and brighter perception’(VI. the logos being a specific activity (energeia).7.

In the Phaedrus. There is also a translation by Arberry (1951. Comparing the journey of the soul as the flight of a bird. but after attaching to the body. he must be body. Against the Platonic view of ‘Man is Soul’. they say ‘man is body’. this is why Ibn Sina says that the soul is reluctant to come down to the body. And reluctantly. will she depart. Also see for full English translation.11 By ‘you’ Avicenna refers to human beings. 11 Translated by Peter Heath (1992. in her affliction. Ibn Sina writes in the “Ode on the Soul”: There descended upon you from that lofty realm. 1992. because it is worse than the heavenly sphere. The body is the cage 10 Plato’s spiritualist view of man is opposed by the Stoics. ‘he is an ensouled rational and mortal body’ (Long. 77-78). speaking metaphorically. untamed. 1974. glorious and inaccessible. On the Relation Between Soul and Body Plato is the first philosopher to depict explicitly the view of psyche as an immortal substance. and not the simple physical soul of animals. 1906. 92). 1982. According to the Stoics.5 from Aristotelianism and evokes the neo-Platonic thesis implicitly found in Plato. for Plato the desideratum is ‘the release of the soul from the chains of the body’ (Phaedo. The bird-cage allegory is touchingly portrayed in Avicenna’s mystical writings. then upon her arrival She grew accustomed to this desolate waste. or mankind. This is the world to which the soul did not like to come down. and ‘she’ he represents the ‘rational soul’ in the feminine gender (samaya). the release of the bird from the cage. 129-130. More generally. She resisted. She forgot. 92) from Kholeif. in the body. he allegorically asserts the relationship of the soul to the body as ‘an oyster to his shell’ (Phaedrus. but the spiritual soul that comes from God and returns to God is the central theme of Plotinus’s and Avicenna’s psychology. 79). the separation is grievous to the soul because it becomes attracted to the material world and loses its original heavenly attributes. Although openly disclosed and unveiled. just as the bird is fettered to the cage. So the soul is compared to a female dove. Like the Platonic concept he compares the soul with a dove. 67). human living bodies. which is.10 Plato’s mystic definition of man as a soul suits Avicenna’s mysticism in the context of the ‘Flying Man’. In the Phaedrus (246d–e). a human being is a composite of body (swma) in the sense that since man exists. . he depicts the journey of the soul as the flight of a bird. promises of sanctuary and abodes from which she had been unwilling to leave. and the “Epistle of the Bird” (Risalat at-Tair) are the two most remarkable mystical poems in which he sketches the pathos of the soul’s descent from above and its transient immersion within matter (Heath. Concealed from the eye of every seeker [arif]. So the return journey is tedious to the soul. I think. The “Ode on the Soul” (al-Qasida al-ainiyya). The idea that ‘man is man’ by possessing a soul rather than merely ‘life’. A dove. This is why he says that the soul is reluctant to depart from the body for the destination from which it came. Browne. 34). or temporarily imprisoned. Reluctantly she came to you. But the soul merely uses the body (Phaedo. entombed. 110-111. 248).

8. cannot be denied. to take pleasure from the material world.1. like Avicenna.13). and has no vision of the Intellect. thus. like Avicenna. The an-Najat states that the soul is merely present to the body. and as such the intellect finds it difficult to release itself from the cage. it forgets God. rather. the intellect. 165).6 which is a hindrance to the soul—the bird. The soul is like a child ‘taken away from its home and brought up far away. but this necessity does not occur in the case of the emanation of the sublunary world and our soul from the Active Intellect. being attached to the material body.8. The soul has lost its wings and is imprisoned in the body (IV.5).5). 166). the prison. fettered and captive in the body (IV. at least in the physical world. from whom it derived its being.4). since it is detached from the totality. the soul is fallen. Plotinus asserts that the soul’s esteem of the material things and scorn of its true self is the cause of its forgetfulness of God (V. the soul is enticed by the earthly bait and entrapped by the material body which prevents it from remembering the sanctuary from where it came unwillingly. To resolve this difficulty Plotinus finds an accord between freedom and necessity. The human body becomes a prison for the rational soul. i.4). Plotinus.8. compared to the heavenly sphere. thus it has drifted away from the universal and become partial and self-centred (IV. that is.4). because of its having an appropriate balance of the material elements. So it has no choice whether or not it will descend. which forgets both its father and itself as it originally was’ (Spencer. and. the soul comes into existence with the body. the soul is reluctant to come to the world. However. The emanation of the first intellect from God proceeds naturally and necessarily in the translunary realm. Comparing the soul’s act with that of the spirit in the heaven. just as a flash of lightning lasts less than a moment. however. it is difficult for Avicenna to reconcile his philosophical account of the soul as descent from above with the mystical view. Plotinus encounters the same dilemma.8. as set forth here. The mystical expression of the dove-cage analogy confirms this. Both Plotinus’s and Avicenna’s mystical themes hint that the soul. We are not automatically fettered through life in the body. shows that the soul separates itself from the loftier realm.e. However.. it is possible to transcend its range—to assert the power and freedom which are inherent in the soul (Spencer. the existence of the worldly body in which the soul stays temporarily is very short. forgets the origin from where it descended. in which it deeply sinks (IV. However. For him. Avicenna’s allegory is almost the same. as it governs our souls and the world of generation and corruption. But Plotinus also accepts the other alternative that the soul derives from above and enters the body by its voluntary and free act for the purpose of adorning the body. and cares for the external things. 1963. 1963. the intellect. . which is lower than the soul (IV. The soul is free and determined to emanate itself from the Intellect (nous).1). Plotinus. this seems to be an inconsistency in his thought. says. once fallen and imprisoned in the body. The return journey for the individual soul to the World-Soul becomes an obstacle. but that the soul exists in the body. The balanced mixture of the human body causes the bird.3.8.4). he concludes that the soul goes forth neither under compulsion nor of free will (IV.8. By the eternal law of nature the soul descends into the body (IV. while he holds in the philosophical account that the soul has a natural yearning for the body.

not in mortal things. Characterised this activity as self-sufficient. This view reflects Plotinus’s concept of the soul.7.7 On the Relation Between Soul and God Aristotle says in the Nicomachean Ethics (X. is contemplative and the object of this contemplation is identified with God in Metaphysics (X. 7) that the highest activity of man is the activity of reason. as claims Plotinus. there is no separation of one from others. thus. In the Republic (596f. Plotinus argues that since the three Hypostases are three phases of one divine Being.9).4). as the soul. of the lower from the higher. rightly claims that ‘the soul’s aim is likeness to God. In other respects. In the Laws. It is believed that God as the creator is Omniscient and All-Just. which contains the universe. becomes united with nous. Of course. Plato’s God has been described as ‘a pagan polytheist’. identifying Him with the Good. whereas in the Timaeus the World-Soul is the creation of the Demiurge (the Craftsman) which is ‘the Good considered in its aspect as Creator (through the Forms) of the material universe’ (Spencer. For him. So. He regards wisdom and true virtues as divine. ‘the most excellent of things’. 133). He lays importance on the purifying of one’s individual self or ego. like that of the divine Intellect (IV. in such a union there is no longer a duality but a two in one in that the soul has now no further awareness of being in the body (VI. is contained in nous. This activity. 16). for there is nothing between the soul and the divine. The nature of the soul is divine and eternal. which is the best thing in man and is thought to be our natural ruler and guide.7. So the soul or psyche.10).8.34). urging them to return to their source. Plotinus owes to Plato for this view. rather absorption of the lower in the higher. which contains all (V. The union of the soul with God. whereas in the Nicomachean Ethics (X.12 from material attachments by abandoning the activities 12 This view is accepted by the Sufi thinkers with alacrity in the context of nafs. 1931. 1074a 15). unweariedness and divine. in which he is concerned with intelligence alone. which enters into union with the One. unlike the concept of God in monotheistic religions. superior in worth. or ‘more than anything else in man’ (N. Plotinus repeatedly speaks of the likeness of the soul with the divine in the state of which all distinction fades. man should make himself like God in the greatest degree possible to man (Walzer. 1178a 8). For Plotinus. man’s highest activity. 1177a 15) it is indicated as ‘things noble and divine’. 46). in the contemplative life. or the higher part of it.E. transpires through the intermediary Hypostasis nous. this human contemplation is sometimes called ‘the most divine element in us’ and the object. opines Aristotle.5. leisureliness. he describes God as the World-Soul. he becomes himself divine’ (Moore. Plato uses the word ‘God’ in a wider sense than we commonly do in religion. 1963. Plotinus. and nous is in turn contained in the One. therefore.) God is described as the creator of the Forms. Let us consider Plotinus’s position here. it is considered to be man. which can only be found in things of divine nature. individual souls exercise their natural inclination toward the divine Intellect. . 1962. He claims that man is capable of acquiring higher knowledge by intellectual activity enabling him to contemplate most of God. but at the same time the soul has an aptitude to administer in the lower sphere (IV.

59). therefore. fusion. the Intellectual realm. the consciousness of self is lost. In this circumstance. as he speaks of vision. and it is plausible to argue that God has no cause while all other beings. having become one with the divine and based in it advancing to that activity. It is thus obvious that everything must return to the one unique cause.9. and a purified man sees himself entered into the Pure.17). ecstasy. This is the fundamental theme of all monotheistic religious traditions. he says: ‘cut away everything’ (V. Plotinus’s most telling passage in this regard is found at IV. And one can awaken . becoming outside all else and within myself. 59). This is a personal experience of Plotinus’s union with the divine intellect.7. possess a spiritual desire or will (iraada) for God for his own good.3. As we can see from the foregoing. Next comes the stage of self-discipline (riyaada) whereby the seeker should cleanse himself by eschewing bodily desire. ‘In ecstasy. for its union (wusuul) with the higher realm necessitates that it long for the return to the higher.86. Ibn Sina. suggests that we can attain likeness to the One and become united with It. absorption. Ibn Sina portrays in the Isharat the rational soul’s deliverance from the sensible realm to the Divine realm. The soul feels a desire to return to the source (Isharat.1-10). 1963. writes Ibn Sina. from intellect down to discursive reasoning. and now. But they cannot return to themselves (chain of causation). As the soul descends into the corporeal world from the loftiest realm. III. Accordingly. being contingent. which is impossible (Metaphysica. in act as the best life. God. subduing his animal faculties. while discussing the nature of the Necessary Existent. the seeker does not depend upon his senses. claims that God is a unity and all other things are contingent (mumkin). believing myself then especially to be part of the higher realm. absorbed in the consciousness of the divine’ (Spencer. because in that case one thing would have to act both as cause and effect. and how my soul has come to be in the body (IV. Avicenna’s position here is less problematic. As he puts it: Many times. grasps everything in the intellectual substance. The true way of life is that which leads the soul to itself in its unity with nous and so to the One. The intellectual seeker (arif) must. and he himself becomes united with the divine Intellect. Summing up his mystical view of purification in the injunction. there is a logical claim that it also ascends towards the Divine—which is a return journey of the soul.1. the Divine. first of all. 1960. union. which Plotinus illustrates as ‘the flight of the alone to the Alone’ (VI. the contingent things either return to themselves.11). In the Plotinian fashion. nor does he see anything of mortality. and so on in the process of soul’s return journey. Plotinus’s mystical position is ambiguous. This is the ascent of the soul to the Supreme (IV.8 of the body. seeing a wonderful and great beauty. then going down from this position in the divine. but rather his outlook.8.10). 78). and it is also expressed in the Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophy. Plotinus. 169). and this desire or will can be attained either by intellectual perfection or by deep faith in God’s Command (Isharat. and awakening the soul’s spiritual insight. IV. identification. As Spencer rightly puts it. must have causes (Metaphysica. I am puzzled how I could ever. awakened to myself away from the body. descend. establishing myself above all other intelligible beings. where he refers to the state of becoming divine intellect. 244). or to the primal cause—God. being eternal. 1960.

270). avoiding deliberately the neoPlatonic and the unitary Sufi view of the identity of the soul with God. is to become united (muttahad) with the intelligible world in which the form of the whole exists (an-Najat. IV. 23]. 93-95). Plutarch and Philoponus (Merlan. 1960. 1960. It is a natural phenomenon that ‘a being loves the thing towards which it moves’. It is through the conjunction with the Active Intellect that we know God. It should be pertinent to mention here that. idea of conjunction of the intellect of the rational soul with the Active Intellect is reiterated. Having attained these two stages. the more contacts he makes with God. this is how Ibn Sina describes a man can have natural knowledge of God through the Active Intellect. a man can experience a slight conjunction (ittisaal) with God. to that extent. 91-102). instead of conjunction (ittisaal). 405). 1917. But in the mystical treatise On Love (Risalah fi’l ‘ishq) he seems to appear to talk about the union (ittihaad).9 his spiritual insight by subtle contemplation (al-fikr al-latif) and virtuous love (al-’ishq al-’afif) [Isharat. which is a clear rejection of the later Peripatetic view that the active intellect is identified with God held Alexander of Aphrodisias. 1992. our . IV. with God. and in portraying this framework. which is though attractive and beautiful in thought and elaboration. which is an aggregate of the separated intellects in the Divine realm. the more it can penetrate in the Universal Intellect. in the Ibn Sinan process of epistemology the pivotal principle is the Active Intellect which acts as an intermediary between man and God. 164). Finally. for ‘God is the cynosure of the Active Intellect’ (Goodman. 1963. Conjunction (ittisaal) with the higher entity is regarded as the source of happiness or spiritual bliss for the disembodied soul in the hereafter. 89-90). IV. But if looked at carefully. The process of cognition is a conjunction (ittisaal) of the rational soul with this Active Intellect. like flashes of lightning (Isharat. 4849). 1960. which is the last heavenly intelligence in the intelligible world. Avicenna holds that every soul has a natural desire for its perfection—a desire which is expressed in ‘love’ (‘ishq) [Avicenna. From what has been said. The more the soul makes contact with the Active Intellect. and in the similar vein. and. Ibn Sina mentions that the soul can reach its highest stage by loving the Necessary Existent. man’s ultimate goal. 85]. but the more he practises the whole procedure. Designating the Necessary Existent as the Absolute Good (al-khair al-awwal). concentrates on the conjunction (ittisaal) of the soul with the Divine realm. as Avicenna hints. he makes no indication of soul’s identity with God. So the Active Intellect is the linking principle between man and God. ‘he is still moving within the intellectual confines of his philosophical system’ (Heath. 1994. This is what Ibn Sina means by the ascent of the soul to the knowledge of God. he receives the Divine illumination (Isharat. when the seeker reaches the state in which he engages in continual contemplation. The more the rational soul makes contact with the Active Intellect. III. but denied by Themistius. 293). It is thus evident that by attainment or union (wusuul) Avicenna means the conjunction (ittisaal) of the human intellect with the Active Intellect. although Ibn Sina uses the Sufi terms in portraying this framework of conjunction (ittisaal) with the Divine realm. In the Isharat (IV. In the Isharat (1960. rather. the more perfection it achieves. dominating the world of generation and corruption. it is clear that Avicenna. in describing the attainment (wusuul) of God’s knowledge.

every entity has to depend upon the Absolute Good for perfection—the latter ‘manifests Itself to all those that love It’. maintains a mystical and dualistic approach to the soul. Ibn Sina holds that the Absolute Good manifests Itself to all those that love It. Avicenna’s idea of the soul’s return to its original source is closely related to the neo- . Fackenheim. 21). the manifestation and the Absolute Good are not identical. But a careful investigation would reveal that Avicenna. that Avicenna maintains a spiritualist view of man and the human soul throughout his philosophical psychology. 1945. by contrast. Cf. 1945. of course. which are endowed with a divine nature. reason and faith cannot be woven together systematically in a single fabric. which closely resemble Christian and Islamic beliefs. and we have seen that this mystic expression can be traced to some extent to Plato’s thought. 170). He asserts that since ‘every being has a natural desire for its perfection and perfection means the acquisition of its goodness’. Now. as we have said before. In ‘The Treatise on Love’ he reiterates that perfection of the soul lies in two things. and this is what the Sufis call union (ittihaad)’ [Avicenna.—and thus the highest degree to which each entity approximates this perfection (kamaal) is ‘the reception of Its manifestation in its full reality. This is. The views of the soul expressed in this paper are mystical and metaphorical. what the radical Sufis know as communion or unification (ittihaad). cannot be denied. by using the term ‘ittihaad’ does not agree with the Plotinian and the radical Sufi view of the soul’s union with God. Plotinus and Avicenna are not only philosophers dealing with the rationalisation of philosophical problems but also mystic thinkers expressing the same problems in mystical ways. Plotinus. So. the first of which is ‘to become assimilated to the essence of the Absolute Good’ (Fackenheim. 225]. 1917. the former is the expression of the latter. The problematic term here is Avicenna’s use of ‘ittihaad’ (communion or unification).10 souls. Unlike the Necessary Existent. from the beginning to the end. as we have seen in this paper. and the highest degree of things’ approximation to the Absolute Good is the reception of Its manifestation as perfectly as possible (Goodman. 224). should love the Absolute Good (Avicenna. but as the things stand in the hierarchical order. in the most perfect way possible. which apparently seems that Avicenna is led astray by his theory of the contemplative activity of the soul in conjunction with the Active Intellect.e. However. Treating the Necessary Existent as the Absolute Good (al-khair al-mutlaq). but was developed by Plotinus and culminated in the expression of extravagant or unitary Sufi thinkers. can Avicenna’s mystic view be related to Greek thought? There is no doubt that the notion of mystical union or communion in Aristotle’s system is misleading and false. 1917. 22. which is the source of the ultimate happiness of man. i. the receptivity of Its manifestation varies in accordance with their capacities. Aristotle’s Prime Mover is not a perfection of the human soul. Ibn Sina intends to show us. to what extent. rather. Though. 1992. Conclusion The views that the soul is imprisoned in the body and returns to its original source are nonAristotelian in Avicenna’s psychology.

1 in the Enneads. 39). then this man is ignorant of the existence of all his limbs. obviously shows a greater 13 According to Proclus. as is found in radical Sufism.13 But does Avicenna. thus. a supposition. on the contrary. Plotinus. nor do they touch each other.9. Every individual man has both a higher and a lower soul. according to Plotinus.14 255). and this fusion cannot safeguard the individual human identity..10). This sounds as if his soul is a ‘Flying Man’ entity in Avicenna’s psychology.7. every effect proceeds from its cause and reverts back to it. But although Ibn Sina uses this term. hereafter. which will be abbreviated as Av. which is Aristotle’s work. At IV.An. Avicenna. The higher soul is one with nous.11 Platonic ‘principle of reversion’. only in separation is there duality’ (VI. but rather absorption in it’ (Spencer.8. 161). God. for on this higher plane things that touch at all are one. he had no intention to show by this argument that he meant union with the divine rather than the immortality of the human soul. Now. is so continuous that ‘seeing and seen become identical’ (VI. whereas for Plotinus it is his personal experience of becoming united with the divine.De. and nous enters into union with the One. rather. and the One in the many. one with it: centre coincides with centre. Avicenna used his argument as a hypothesis.35). and if it also happens that he does not touch them. as he uses the terms interchangeably. opposes this view and carefully chooses the term ‘conjunction’ to explain how and to what extent the soul is related to the Active Intellect—the tenth intellect in the celestial realm and as such ‘ten times removed from God’. make any effort to identify the soul with God? It is obvious that. This view does not equate with what we have noted from Plotinus’s expression of personal experience in which he becomes united with the divine intellect and again fettered to the material body. he just uses it to define what the Sufis mean by it. like Plotinus and the radical Sufis. This process of vision begins in the state of absorbed contemplation and the vision or union. attainment or union (wusuul) and communion (ittihaad)—the last being closer to the Sufi expression. 1963. and he does not hear anything. as ‘the man is merged with the Supreme. Plotinus says that the many are immanent in the One. 14 This citation is from Ibn Sina’s De Anima.An.De. This should not be confused with De Anima. Plotinus expresses his personal experience of how he becomes united with the Divine Intellect. he does not personally commit to the opinion that the soul is identical with God. There is a distant similarity to his argument in neo-Platonic thought. yet he knows his ‘essence’ (anniyyatihi) as one thing (Av. how close can Ibn Sina come to this view? We have observed that there are three important terms used in Avicenna’s expression of his mystical view—conjunction (ittisaal). 1963. Soul is ‘simultaneously one and many’. This view is called the principle of reversion (Proclus. union with the nous is an intermediate stage in the process of Plotinus’s soul’s journey towards the One. This leads him to the mystic view that ‘in the hierarchy of being. sunken into it. and wonders how he was captive in the physical body. According to Avicenna’s hypothetical ‘Flying Man’ argument: We say: if a man is created suddenly with his limbs separated and he does not see them. In the mystic expressions of Plotinus and his mystic followers the soul is identified with the One. there is no separation of the lower from the higher. . In the same way.

Bruns. 2. This progression is not union with.12 mystical tendency than Avicenna. The process of human cognition is a gradual progression or ascent from the lowest condition of potentiality to the highest condition of actuality. Berlin: G. ed. but rather conjunction or contact with the Active Intellect. and in this perspective he maintains the gulf between man and God. In fact. Scripta Minora. However. clearly has God in mind. though he does not escape altogether the influence of Plotinus. he does not oppose the return journey of the soul. in other words. as he believes in the immortality of the soul. whereas Plotinus expresses how he becomes united with the Divine Intellect in order to discover the self. while talking about the mystical ascent of the soul to the knowledge of God. I. or even vision of. BIBLIOGRAPHY OF WORKS CITED Alexander (of Aphrodisias) (1887). This framework of Avicennan mysticism. though not intended to mean this union as soul’s likeness to God. takes issue with Plotinus and feels comfortable on Aristotle’s side. he in fact. So although it seems that Avicenna makes an effort to reconcile the Aristotelian ‘visionary’ or ‘contemplative’ ideal with the Plotinian ‘unitary’ one. a link between man and God. Avicenna proves here the existence of self-consciousness. Reimer. which means a kind of union (wusuul) with God. 1]. the contemplative activity can remotely be related to the Aristotelian tradition. it is difficult to deny that.. Avicenna. De Anima cum Mantissa [Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca. It is to be noted that Avicenna’s mysticism is structured in epistemological apprehension. imparts to the human intellect the intelligible forms which constitute the fundamental stuff of knowledge. of which man stands supreme. philosophical mysticism. In Avicenna’s rational. which convinces us that Avicenna’s mystical view of the soul does not reflect the idea that the soul is identical with God found in neo-Platonism and radical Sufism. which means God is superior to and distinct from His creations. Suppl. The Active Intellect. And he therefore safeguards the individual identity. But the important point to be noted here is that he carefully rejects the term ‘communion’ (ittihaad). we find that he circumscribes himself to the contemplative or intellectual activity in order to acquire perfection in conjunction with the Active Intellect. as we have shown above. However. . as taken in Plotinus’s mystical work. Secondly. not the Active Intellect. set in the Qur´ãn ‘unto whom nothing is like’. as an epistemological principle. which Plotinus and his followers fail to realise. it might be the case that Avicenna found the foundation of his ‘Flying Man’ argument in the expression of Plotinus’s personal experience. He rejects two fundamental views of Greek philosophy—the later Peripatetic view that the active intellect is identified with God and the neo-Platonic view that the soul is identical with God. that is. But within the same framework he moves beyond the boundary of the Active Intellect and turns to the world of Reality in order to attain the mystical knowledge of God (ma’rifat Allah).

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