Avicenna’s Philosophy of Existence and OntologyJune 27, 2021
According to Ibn Sînâ, who uses “philosophy” and “wisdom” as synonymous terms, philosophy in the most general sense is “the perfection of man by being aware of the truth of things or all existing things”.
Existing beings are divided into two parts: (1) beings whose existence is not dependent on human will and action, such as God, mind/angel, and natural objects. (2) They are things that come into existence with human will and action. The knowledge about the beings in the first part is called theoretical (theoretical) philosophy, and the knowledge about the things in the second group is called practical (practical) philosophy. While the aim of theoretical philosophy is to enable people to become competent by knowing, practical philosophy aims to reach moral competence by doing and applying what they know (İbn Sînâ, 2006: 5; 2008: 2). Therefore, according to Ibn Sînâ, philosophy is the name of a discipline and effort that provides competence with correct knowledge and correct behavior. The philosopher emphasizes that this discipline must include metaphysics and theology (ilahiyyat) in order to speak of philosophy (wisdom) in the real sense. Because, according to him, a person who is a Necessary Being, that is, God, and does not have knowledge about Him, cannot be considered wise. However, since man cannot fully know the truth of beings and God, his wisdom should not be understood literally, but only metaphorically. In the meantime, it should be noted that as Ibn Sînâ reduced philosophy to metaphysics and theology, the inference would not be correct, and he saw metaphysics and theology as indispensable elements of philosophy (Alper, 2008: 49-50).
Although Avicenna has benefited considerably from previous philosophers in grounding his thoughts on metaphysics, Ibn Sînâ says that he adopted a critical and selective attitude while processing the material he inherited in the context of his own system. The first sign of this attitude is that he made a fundamental distinction between the “subjects” (mawzû’) that metaphysics studies and the “problems” (matlab) it investigates. According to him, God, who is the principle or ultimate cause of all beings, is not a “subject” that metaphysics examines, but the most fundamental “problem” it investigates. Because in order for something to be the subject of any discipline, that is, to investigate its nature and qualities, it must be found as a data or pre-correct (müsellem, axiom) beforehand. However, apart from metaphysics, there is no discipline that will reveal the existence of God as a given and a preliminary truth. Therefore, since it falls to metaphysics to prove the existence of God, the existence of God is not its subject but its problem. (Ibn Sînâ, 2004: 3-5) According to Ibn Sînâ, the first subject of metaphysics is “existing in terms of being”, which is a common feature/state (emr) among all beings and modes of being (Ibn Sînâ, 2004: 11).
Like Fârâbî, Ibn Sînâ says that the concept of existence is the most general and clear concept that the human mind can reach, and therefore cannot be defined. Every attempt to define existence and any information that will be put forward has no meaning beyond warning the mind about existence. According to Ibn Sînâ, knowledge about existence and metaphysics in general is not knowledge based on logical proofs and indirect knowledge, but knowledge directly grasped through reason (explicit wisdom). In addition, knowledge and concepts related to existence and metaphysics are not only formal, but concepts that have content and actual reality. However, it is clear that there will be doubts about everything conceived in the mind necessarily exists/will exist outside the mind. According to Avicenna, this doubt is related to the fact that the “what” and “existence” of the thing envisioned in the mind are separate things (Durusoy, 1999: 326).
It should be noted that the philosopher brought up the distinction between being and being not in the context of “necessary existence” (al-vâcibü’l-vücûd), but only in terms of entities that fall under the category of “necessary existence” (elmümkünü’lğvücûd). He asserts that all beings other than God have a conceptual reality called “essence” as well as their “existence” which expresses their presence in the external world; that is, the distinction between being and being includes not only the things that change, but all beings other than God (Kaya, 2008: 188).
Avicenna, while emphasizing the distinction between the necessary and the contingent being for the first time, determines the main difference or distinguishing feature between them as whether there is a reason or not. According to Avicenna, the fact that a necessary existence does not have a cause in essence stems from the idea that if it has a cause, it will have to take its existence from that reason, and this will make it from being a necessary existence in its essence. The absence of a cause of a necessary existence means that its existence is not equivalent, relative and variable to another existence; is that it does not contain plurality and nothing is a partner in His truth in any way (Ibn Sînâ, 2004: 87-88). According to Ibn Sînâ, both existence and non-existence depend on a reason. Because the contingent “non-necessary and there is no impossibility when it is assumed to exist or not exist” exists both when it does not exist