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The dualistic theory of Avicenna

The dualistic theory of Avicenna

June 15, 2024

Practically from the beginnings of philosophy, dualism, the idea that the body and the soul are two radically different elements It has permeated the way of thinking of many people. It is a belief that fits very easily with our experience, since one thing is our consciousness, linked to what we experience in a subjective way, and another thing is what we intuit that is beyond it, whether we are conscious or not: the environment that it surrounds us, other people, and even our own body, bones and flesh.

But this idea that body and soul are different, that can be reformulated thinking that there is a separation between the organism and the mental life of that organism, is not a truth that is self-evident. It exists because behind it there has been a philosophical tradition that started many centuries ago and has been passed down through the generations. Next we will see one of the first links of this chain: the dualistic theory of Avicenna .


  • Related article: "Dualism in Psychology"

Who was Avicena?

Ibn Sina, also known as Avicena (this last name is the Latinized version) was a philosopher, doctor and scientist born in the year 980 in Bukhara , in those times part of Persia. Already in his first years of life he proved to be a child prodigy, and in his adolescence he became famous for his skills as a doctor. His fame made it possible for him to come to work as a doctor and counselor to several princes.

When he was 21 years old, he began to write a great variety of texts and books, which reached almost three hundred. Versaban on topics as different as medicine, metaphysics,


Although his mother tongue was Persian, his intellectual life was developed in Arabic , and in fact he was one of the main ones in charge to pass to the literature in Arab the ideas of Aristotle.

Finally, Avicenna died around the year 1037, possibly because someone poisoned him one of the medical preparations he used.

  • Related article: "Plato's theory of ideas"

The dualistic theory of Avicenna: his main ideas

These are the foundations of the dualistic theory of Avicenna.

1. The truth can be accessed through reason

Avicenna believed that there are truths that one can access using reason. From this idea, tried to start to build a way of thinking based only on what has logical evidence, ruling out everything that does not stand on its own, something that centuries later also tried the famous French philosopher Rene Descartes.


So that, Avicenna rejected all ideas that could be falsified and he was left with only what he understood to be absolute truths.

2. The theoretical experiment of the floating man

As Avicenna wanted to get to the truth through the use of logic, he used a theoretical experiment to know what the nature of the human being is, given that its result should not depend on details linked to the context in which this exercise is carried out; if something is self-evident, it does not need to be based on things that are materially happening.

Thus, Avicenna imagined a situation in which a person had just been born and, without having any experience about the material but with reasoning ability. From the beginning, in addition, there is a curious situation: that person stays floating in the air, with his legs and arms outstretched and all his senses canceled: he neither sees nor hears nor can he feel the touch of anything, etc.

Given this hypothetical situation, Avicenna points out that this person would not know that he has a body, but he would know that he has a mind.

3. The mind knows that there is

The fundamental difference between the mind and the body is that the first knows that it exists, while the second, whatever happens, can not be attributed this ability. The existence of the mental is self-evident in who is aware of its existence. This makes the spiritual and the material differ radically: bodies are not aware of anything, but we do. Therefore, in what we call "I" there is a component that is not the body itself.

In spite of having been inspired a lot in the thought of Aristotle (which led him even to deny some of the foundations of Islam), he differed from it in the idea that the material and the spiritual are two dimensions of the same. For Avicenna, in the human body the mind and the flesh are two substances that have a totally different nature.

Criticisms of dualism

The Psychology and good part of the Philosophy of the present reject the dualism, by many reasons. The first is that is based solely on speculations , situations that are neither real nor can be.If to demonstrate dualism you have to imagine experiences that are not real or can be real, then they do not tell us anything about what is real.

The second criticism is that many times the defense of dualism starts from errors in the use of language . Confusing "consciousness" with "mind" or "mental life", for example, is to use simple categories to group very abstract ideas, which can lead to using each of these categories changing its meaning from time to time without being aware of it.

Finally, the third great criticism is that to maintain its validity it is necessary to assume that there are many things that belong to a spiritual dimension that can not be accessed, which means that there is no reason to believe in them. In that sense, dualism part of a kind of circular reasoning : to bequeath to the conclusion that the spiritual (as something separate from the material) exists, we must assume that it exists.

Avicenna's experiment, for example, presents us with a situation that can not occur: someone who is not sensory stimulated since birth can not become aware of himself, and probably dies very prematurely.


What is ‘The Self’?: The Floating Man (Avicenna) (June 2024).


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