Ramble. Focus. Ramble.

Ibn Sina’s Forgotten Ontology

It is common to label Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) the first proponent of the Ontological Argument even though Ibn Sina (980-1037) was actually the first one to put down in words a proof of the existence of God within a priori premise. There are obvious reasons for which some people mistake Ibn Sina’s argument as something other than Ontological. The term ‘Ontological Argument’ was coined by Immanuel Kant who took up the task of critiquing all such arguments, hence neither Anselm nor Ibn Sina called their arguments for the existence of God Ontological. If we look at the chain of Ontological Arguments we will know that Ibn Sina’s version of the argument was neglected throughout history, partly because his argument belonged to the East and much of the later work on Ontological Arguments was carried out in the West. In the East, Ibn Sina’s Ontological Argument was ignored and not many philosophers took the job of refuting it though there were many debates on his emanation theory and his distinction between essence and existence, which are closely related to his Ontological Argument. However, in the West, Anselm’s Ontological Argument was critiqued by Guanilo and Aquinas immediately after. Then, Descartes tried to establish a better version of Anselm’s argument that answered Guanilo’s questions, Leibniz improved on it, but the British empiricist strengthened Aquinas’ critique against the Ontological Argument. And then finally, Kant is accredited for the final blow that destroyed the Ontological Argument. The debate did not end, however, Malcolm and Plantinga carried on the repair of the Ontological Argument. Unfortunately, the version of Ibn Sina, the contribution from the Muslim world, was long forgotten and the critics focused on Anselm’s example of the Ontological Argument and Descartes improvements of it.

While the first reason for the neglect of Ibn Sina’s brilliant Ontological Argument is the focus on Western philosophy today, the second reason is the vague and scattered nature of his argument. Ibn Sina discussed his proof of the existence of God in different books, he gives an Ontological Argument but he writes it down as a Cosmological one. Goodman believes Ibn Sina only brushes against an Ontological Argument and never formally writes one down (Goodman 3). Philosophers have faced great difficulty in differentiating his Ontological Argument from his cosmological argument. Philosophers like Goodman believe he did not have an Ontological Argument at all, but a cosmological one (Goodman 76). Others like Davidson are of the view that his Ontological Argument is often confused as a cosmological argument. To be able to understand these differences it is important that we define these two types of arguments and discuss their attributes. Only then will it be possible to categorize his argument into one of the two branches.

Hence, this paper will examine Ibn Sina’s proof of God’s existence and strive to bring back to light his forgotten Ontology. Section I of this paper will discuss Ontology, its characteristics and a few distinguished Ontological Arguments. Furthermore, Section II will argue that Ibn Sina did have an Ontological Argument; it will also distinguish Ibn Sina’s Ontology from his Cosmology. In Section III his Ontology will be proved stronger than the first version of Anselm’s Ontological Argument on the grounds that it effectively escapes Kant’s critique of Ontological Arguments. Finally, Section IV will make a case, on behalf of the Muslim world, to declare Ibn Sina the first proponent of an Ontological Argument and demand the credit a Muslim philosopher deserves in this respect. It is important to note that all debates, general or specific, on Ontological Arguments are beyond the scope of this paper. Hence, many of the proponents of Ontological Arguments mentioned in the introduction will not be dealt with in the body of the paper. The paper, in itself, deals with Anselm, Descartes and Ibn Sina’s Ontologies.

NB: This is only the Introduction of my paper on Ibn Sina’s Forgotten Ontology. You may request the whole paper at hadeelnaeem@gmail.com

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