Sources of the Self in the Arabic Tradition: Remarks on the Avicennan Turn

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Within the long history of Aristotelian psychological theorization, Avicenna stands out for his tightly argued and conceptually rich understanding of self-awareness. For Avicenna, a primitive and immediate form of self-awareness is explanatory of a range of phenomena, from the unity of our psychic functions to our very existence as cognizing individuals. The extent of Avicenna’s influence is beginning to be recognized in the scholarship: it remains an open question what, if anything, might have influenced him. In this essay I point to Islamic theological discussions regarding immediate self-knowledge as a possible relevant parallel. The Muslim theologians’ interests lay elsewhere, however, and their ontology of the soul diverged sharply from the Aristotelian, being atomist and occasionalist. Through evoking earlier Sufi attempts to flesh out a formal presentation of the soul to match their commitment to character reformation, I suggest that the Avicennan presentation of self-awareness provided an access point for religious writers to begin employing an Aristotelian psychology, given that it responded to existing theoretical concerns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationStudies in the History of Philosophy of Mind
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages24
StatePublished - 2016

Publication series

NameStudies in the History of Philosophy of Mind
ISSN (Print)1573-5834
ISSN (Electronic)2542-9922


  • Late Antiquity
  • Lower Impulse
  • Mass Noun
  • Moral Character
  • Theological Tradition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Philosophy
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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