Manual Avicennas Psychology

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In this manner, both philosophically and theologically, Avicenna goes beyond his Aristotelian and Muslim predecessors. He does this by combining Aristotelian and Neoplatonic motifs in his epistemology. The deviation from the hylomorphic ontology of Aristotle is apparent in the famous thought experiment that Avicenna devises, conceiving of a person suspended in air in total isolation from any physical or sensory experience.

For Avicenna this proves that the soul is an independent intelligent substance, both prior to involvement with the world, and afterwards, when the corporeal organs that service the soul perish. Avicenna's depiction of the five external faculties of the soul follows Aristotle's De anima , the senses receiving the impressions of their designated sensible objects by intromission. In his discussion of the internal senses, however, Avicenna significantly modifies the Aristotelian tradition that he received. The more he considered the matter, the more he deviated from Aristotle, in a Platonic direction.

Avicenna located the internal senses in three ventricles of the brain, placing two in each ventricle, with receptive and retentive capacities respectively.

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The common sense coordinates the impressions received by the individual senses, in order to produce a unified picture of a sensible object. This indicates a certain capacity to make judgments present already in the common sense. The middle ventricle is the location of the next pair of internal senses, as Avicenna first conceived them. It functions both imaginatively in animals and humans , and rationally in humans alone.

Intentions are thus the extra-sensible properties that an object presents to an animal or person at the moment of perception. These intentions affect the perceiver powerfully, such as the negative feelings a sheep senses in perceiving a wolf, or the positive feelings sensed in perceiving a friend or child. Avicenna does not limit wahm to animals, as Averroes later assumed, [ 32 ] but rather conceived it broadly, affecting logical as well as physical subjects. He believed estimation grasps the core characteristic of every discrete physical object, the intention that distinguishes it from every other object.

In addition to the faculty of estimation, and akin to it in being innate and spontaneous, Avicenna recognized, with Aristotle, a faculty of intuition hads that is the key step in obtaining certain knowledge.


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This is the ability a person has to discern suddenly the middle term of a putative syllogism, the proposition that anchors a particular argument. While not part of his normative epistemology, Avicenna attempts to accommodate this phenomenon scientifically, seeing it not as an innate power of an internal sense, but as an expression, however rare, of the emanative powers of the Agent Intellect.

Avicenna believes that the intentions that the estimative faculty obtains are received in the third and rear ventricle of the brain, in memory, hafizah. Memory shares the third ventricle with a faculty of recollection dhikr , which retains the estimative intentions ready for recall.

They do this by combining the impressions received by the common sense and estimation, and separating out what is not relevant to the object. The cogitative faculty is primarily concerned with practical issues rooted in material being, forming judgments based on empirical data with the help of innate powers of abstraction and logical acumen.

Avicenna (Ibn Sina) (c. 980—1037)

For Avicenna, animals have this developed imaginative faculty only. It allows them to represent to themselves that which they remember, and also affords them the ability, like human beings, to dream. The cogitative faculty in human beings, on the other hand, allows them to go beyond instinctive remembering, and introduces an element of rational deliberation that is limited primarily to purely individual, discrete objects and actions.

Avicenna considers estimation to be involved with the cogitative faculty in reconstructing a specific, physically based concept. As such, it can influence that faculty, and when excessive, be responsible for the fantasies and fictions in our dreams and thoughts Black , — Similarly, the estimative faculty can over-reach itself in logical matters by using the syllogisms that it helped create to pass judgments on immaterial beings, thus leading to false judgments in metaphysics.

As described, many of the internal senses, particularly the extended activities of estimation and the cogitative faculty, perform in ways that encroach upon the preserve of the rational faculty and threaten to compromise its objectivity and separate, immaterial nature, damaging the soul in its quest for immortal bliss. Consequently, in his later writings Avicenna distanced intuition from any physical base within estimation and the brain, locating it amorphously in the soul as a divine emanation; and he limited the internal faculty of cogitation to thinking of particular conceptual concepts only.

This attempt to separate the rational faculty from the internal senses is echoed in Avicenna's treatment of the stages in the development of the intellect. He views the entire cognitive process in which the internal senses were preoccupied as a necessary for most people but insufficient condition for possessing true knowledge. The efforts of the internal senses are seen in some of his major compositions as having but a propadeutic effect on the soul, preparing it to receive the universal intelligible notions that are its ultimate goal and, ultimately, its sole concern.

Ultimately, this conjunction is with the Agent Intellect, the source of all forms on earth. At this stage, the intellect's acquired intelligibles are not being used, and are therefore potential. This intellect does not therefore store the acquired intelligibles, but merely serves to facilitate their reacquisition from the Agent Intellect. The Agent intellect is, then, the source of intelligible forms on earth, and the source of our being able to conceive of them.

It functions much as does the sun, illuminating both subject and object of intellection, and is present at every stage of the individual person's intellectual development Davidson , 86, 87, While most people require preliminary training of the senses to prepare their souls for intellectual cognition, which the Agent Intellect automatically grants, [ 41 ] some few individuals with prodigious intuitions can, as we saw, grasp intelligible concepts and propositions immediately. Prophecy is thus a natural, if exceptional, occurrence for Avicenna, who equivocates on the issue of personal providence.

However much God is the final cause of intellection, He is not directly involved in the entire process, a sanctified Agent Intellect being His intermediary to man. Here as elsewhere, we see Avicenna attempt to accommodate his philosophy to traditional religious conceptions. Avicenna has severed the natural link between imagination and intellection, in order to preserve the immaterial and immortal nature of the soul.

It is dependent on the Agent Intellect entirely, with only the soul's independent substantiality separating it from being totally absorbed in it. Ahmad ben Rushd, —98 hews closer to the Peripatetic tradition than his predecessors, and it is as The Commentator on Aristotle that he was known in Europe.

He commented on De anima three times, and wrote an epitome of the Parva Naturalia. His Short Commentary on De anima is also, and more correctly, an epitome, being a summary of Aristotle's work rather than a precise and more literal commentary, as are his Middle and Long, or Grand, commentaries. These mainly concern the hylomorphic composition of all bodies; the nature of the four elements; and the generative role in an organism caused by the heavenly bodies and by the innate heat, or pneuma , of a body.

Averroes stresses the hierarchical structure of the soul, beginning with the nutritive faculty. This disposition is the first perfection or actuality of the sensory faculty, rendering that faculty's potentiality an actual, if still unrealized, state of being. The higher faculty is thus present, albeit potentially, in the lower. These intentions are present in the form presented to the senses, but must wait upon an intellect to appreciate them, being represented first as sensible and then imaginative intentions to the senses and imagination, respectively.

Averroes' contribution to the philosophy of mind lies primarily in his attempt to refine and redefine the activities of the internal senses, and to determine the nature of the hylic, or material, intellect. He discusses the role of the internal senses primarily in his De anima commentaries as well as in his epitomes on the senses and memory.

For Averroes, imagination and memory can do the work of Avicenna's estimative faculty. Aristotle had begun his treatise On Memory by distinguishing between the acts of remembering and recollecting. He saw both as related to, though distinct from, the internal senses common sense and imagination and the rational faculty.


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  6. It brings the purification process to a close, memory dhikr receiving an essentialized notion or intention of a particular percept. Memory stores these dismembered essentialized images and is able to remember them at will, that is, with an act of will. Recollection tadhakkur rejoins them in the cogitative faculty with full images that flesh out the corporeal features of the sought object. As described, there is a parallel between the activity of memory and that of the intellect in habitu as developed by Alexander of Aphrodisias, for both retain the essential notions that form respectively the previously apprehended contents of a given particular percept the role of memory or of a universal concept the intellect in habitu.


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    5. While generally restricting the memorative faculty to the intentions of a given imagined form, Averroes acknowledges that it also relates to universals. Averroes thus understands recollection as a three-fold operation: the cogitative faculty employs the intentions of an imagined form retained in memory, and combines them with the original sensory image to elicit a full recollection of the percept desired.

      Averroes recognizes with Avicenna that animals have an acute intentional sense, and are able to identify non-sensible qualities in the nature of others immediately, thereby enhancing their survival. The best disposition, manifest mostly in youth, is of a middle kind, enabling both quickness of understanding the positive benefit of moisture and a long memory.

      While the internal senses, as of course the external senses, have physical locations in the organs of the body, the rational faculty has not. That does not prevent Averroes from conceiving it as being structured in the hylomorphic pattern that is characteristic of Aristotle's physics. As expressed in the Epitome to De anima , it is the cogitative faculty, there called simply the practical intellect, which first processes sensory and imaginative intentions, exercising choice and deliberation along rational lines both inductive and deductive.

      This practical intellect then serves as matter or substrate for its theoretical counterpart, which abstracts the universal idea or proposition from the particular subject formerly addressed. The ultimate knowledge sought is of the Agent Intellect itself. While this statement is not repeated in his other two commentaries on De anima, Averroes' belief in the attainment of personal perfection through knowledge of the Agent Intellect remained constant.

      Every cognition of an intelligible is an act of identification of subject and object, no material barrier existing between them. The species of all forms on earth are found unified in it in a way that renders it a single intelligible being. Averroes held to the view of the Agent Intellect as a form of earthly forms throughout his life, though his understanding of the relationship between it and the forms on earth underwent change.

      For Averroes, as for his predecessors, the intellectual potentiality of a person, represented by the hylic or material intellect, is brought into actuality by the Agent Intellect. Averroes, however, has a third position on the nature of the material intellect. Certainly, Avicenna stands in the history of psychology as the scholar who first used an approach recognizable to modern clinical psychologists. However, the methodology was still shackled to the idea of a soul and higher human consciousness. In addition to his volumes of work in other areas, Rhazes made some interesting observations about the human mind.

      In his book, Teb al-Fonoon, he made some postulations concerning human emotional conditions and made suggestions for their treatment. In addition, he contributed to the history of psychology with astute observations concerning medical ethics and the use of conditional therapy, centuries before the behavioral psychologists of the Twentieth Century.

      The pragmatic approach of the Muslim scholars towards mental ailments continued, and they were the prime movers behind setting up hospitals and clinics dedicated to research and healing. The great scholar and Sufi mystic, Al-Ghazali - CE , wrote the book Ihya, which pointed out that children were naturally egocentric.

      AVICENNA vi. Psychology – Encyclopaedia Iranica

      His Islamic psychology proposed that children's desires rarely included the potential consequences to others. Al Ghazali also believed that fear was a learned condition, either taught to children or gained through negative experiences. As a Sufi mystic, Al-Ghazali was a firm believer that introspection and self-analysis were the keys to understanding mental issues and unlocking hidden reasons. Very tentatively, one wonders how the influence of Eastern mysticism affected this particular method of self-assessment, a technique that Al Ghazali used upon himself.

      He also brought into the history of psychology the idea of needs, proposing that the human personality had urges to fulfill certain desires, based upon hunger and anger. Hunger drove such emotions as sexual urges, thirst and hunger, whilst anger drove rage, frustration and revenge. This division is very crude, certainly when compared to relatively modern ideas such as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, but it did provide some guidelines towards categorizing mental constructs.

      Ibn-Khaldun - CE further added to the store of knowledge, by proposing that an individual's surroundings and local environment shaped their personality. This insightful view acted as a precursor for modern ideas, such as cultural relativism and the age-old Nature vs Nurture debate. He followed the lead of Aristotle and Ibn-Sina in believing that the mind was a Tabula Rasa, and that human behavior was shaped solely by experience and education. Najub ud din Muhammed, who lived at the same time as al-Razi, wrote extensively about many mental disorders including depression, paranoia, persecution complex, sexual dysfunction and obsessional neuroses, amongst a host of other mental ailments.

      His observation-based approach certainly influenced many other scholars in the field of Islamic psychology. The insightful views of the Islamic scholars towards mental issues saw a huge improvement upon the treatment of cases. The Islamic rulers set up specialist hospitals in Damascus, Cairo, Baghdad and other major centers across the Islamic world, by as early as the Eighth Century. Whilst this innovation did not mean that every single patient received treatment, and superstition still held sway across large swathes of the Islamic world, it was an improvement on the European ideas of demonic possession and witch's curses.

      Certainly, the Islamic scholars were instrumental in equating mental illness with physical ailments, understanding that mind and body shared a tangible link. This led to many advances in the study of the mind, with the setting up of hospitals and the recognition by Islamic physicians of a range of mental ailments. Whilst there is little doubt that this Islamic psychology was linked to Islamic theology and the religiosity of the soul, the Muslim scholars still removed the ideas of demonic possession or spiritual sickness from the canon of medicine.

      Their meticulous observations certainly created the foundations of the history of psychology and influenced modern thoughts and theories. Theophrastus - - Brill. William R. Paul Vincent Spade - manuscript.

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