A penetrating question in the history of ideas: Space, dimensionality and interpenetration in the thought of avicenna

Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 16 (1):47-69 (2006)
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Avicenna's discussion of space is found in his comments on Aristotle's account of place. Aristotle identified four candidates for place: a body's matter, form, the occupied space, or the limits of the containing body, and opted for the last. Neoplatonic commentators argued contra Aristotle that a thing's place is the space it occupied. Space for these Neoplatonists is something possessing dimensions and distinct from any body that occupies it, even if never devoid of body. Avicenna argues that this Neoplatonic notion of space is untenable on the basis of three arguments. In general he maintains that bodies' impenetrability is explained by reference to dimensionality. Consequently, if it is dimensionality that explains impenetrability, and yet as the Neoplatonists hold space inherently possesses dimensions, material bodies could never interpenetrate space and so occupy it and thus bodies could never have a place. The conclusion is patently false. In additions Avicenna argues that the method used to arrive at the possibility of space is illicit, and so Neoplatonist cannot show that space is even possible. Thus, concludes Avicenna, Aristotle's initial account must be correct. The paper outlines the historical context of this debate and then treats Avicenna's arguments against space in detail.



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Jon McGinnis
University of Missouri, St. Louis

Citations of this work

Future contingency and God’s knowledge of particulars in Avicenna.Jari Kaukua - 2022 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy:1-21.
Fakhr al-dīn al-rāzī on place.Peter Adamson - 2017 - Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 27 (2):205-236.
Avicenna on Mathematical Infinity.Mohammad Saleh Zarepour - 2020 - Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 102 (3):379-425.

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References found in this work

Aristotle on Mathematical Objects.Edward Hussey - 1991 - Apeiron 24 (4):105 - 133.

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