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Does God Know that the Flower in My Hand Is Red? Avicenna and the Problem of God’s Perceptual Knowledge

Abstract

(i) God is omniscient; therefore, He knows that ‘the flower in my hand is red.’ (ii) If God knows that ‘the flower in my hand is red,’ then He knows it perceptually (i.e., His knowledge is explained by the theory of perception). (iii) God does not know anything perceptually. It is clear that the set of propositions (i)–(iii) form an inconsistent triad. This is one of four problems with which Avicenna was engaged concerning God's knowledge of particulars, which I call the problem of perceptual knowledge (PPK). In order to solve PPK and three other problems, Avicenna has developed a theory concerning God’s knowledge of particulars. Secondary literature around Avicenna’s theory of God’s knowledge of particulars has mostly directed its attention to give an account of Avicenna’s positive theory rather than the problems which that theory was designed to solve. But this paper will not do the same thing as this secondary literature. In contrast, in this paper, I will concentrate on the characterization of one of the problems, i.e., PPK, because of which Avicenna has presented his positive theory of God’s knowledge of particulars. In short, this paper aims to show why Avicenna deems explaining God’s knowledge of, say, the redness of a flower, via his accepted theory of perception as problematic. In this regard, I will extract three versions of PPK based on Avicenna's philosophy and through it will shed some light on Avicenna’s theory of God’s knowledge of particulars.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Indeed, knowing in a universal way is one part of Avicenna’s theory. I however also think his theory consists of other parts. For example, knowing in a causal way is another significant part of the theory. Unfortunately, it has been common that when one talks about Avicenna’s theory of God’s knowledge of particulars, one identifies it as a whole with the theory of knowing in a universal way—cf., (Marmura 1962).

  2. 2.

    I use problems rather than problem because I think there is more than one problem.

  3. 3.

    I should note that I am writing a series of papers concerning Avicenna’s theory of God’s knowledge of particulars. My strategy is as follows. At the first step, in some papers, the present paper being among them, I will deal with the problems which Avicenna was engaged with, and at the second step, I will write a paper about the theory itself with regard to those problems.

  4. 4.

    Keep in mind that, in this paper, I do not deal with Avicenna’s answer to PPK and leave it to another paper.

  5. 5.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 15). Avicenna presents this example from astronomy in order to illustrate how God knows particulars in a universal way.

  6. 6.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 26).

  7. 7.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 13).

  8. 8.

    Avicenna (1993, al-Ishārāt wa al-tanbīhāt: Namaṭ VII. ch. 21, pp. 295–296).

  9. 9.

    Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book VIII. ch. 6, p. 361); a similar passage with a bit of a difference is found in Avicenna (2000, al-Najāt, p.597). The translation is from Marmura (2005, p. 289).

  10. 10.

    Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book VIII. ch. 6, p. 359).

  11. 11.

    Avicenna (1993, al-Ishārāt wa al-tanbīhāt: Namaṭ VII. ch. 17, pp. 281–283).

  12. 12.

    Avicenna (1984a, al-Mabdaʾ wa al-maʿād, p. 32).

  13. 13.

    Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book VIII. ch. 6, p. 359); a similar passage with a bit of a difference is found in Avicenna (2000, al-Najāt, pp. 593–595).

  14. 14.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 116).

  15. 15.

    Note that when I attribute propositional knowledge to God, I do not intend to say God knows propositions understood as abstract sharable entities. Rather, I use propositions just as a means to express the content of what God knows. For example, instead of saying God knows thatthe flower in my hand is red,’ we can say God knows the redness of the flower in my hand.

  16. 16.

    Some theologians, like al-Ghazālī (2003, Tahāfut al-falāsifah, discussion 13, pp. 192–203) and Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (1992, al-Mabāḥīth al-Mashrīqīyyah: book III. p. 475), and some scholars like Marmura (1962), have claimed, erroneously, that Avicenna believes that God does not know all particulars. As I will show, there is textual evidence in which Avicenna explicitly states that God knows all things. And as Acar (2004) points out, even if Avicenna’s theory fails to show that God knows all particulars, this does not imply that Avicenna believed that God does not know all particulars. For a detailed defense of Avicenna against Marmura and al-Ghazālī, see Acar (2004).

  17. 17.

    Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book VIII. ch. 6, p. 359); also Avicenna (2000, al-Najāt, pp. 594–595) and Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 123). Note that in this passage, Avicenna quotes some part of a Quranic verse.

  18. 18.

    We should substitute a suitable proposition for P, depending on what we substitute for X.

  19. 19.

    One might think that since, according to Avicenna, God’s knowledge is identical to God’s essence, the problems of change in knowledge (PCK) and change in essence (PCE) are not distinct problems. For why PCK and PCE are in fact distinct problems, see Amirhossein Zadyousefi ‘Does God know the occurrence of a change among particulars? Avicenna and the problem of God’s knowledge of change’ (Zadyousefi 2019).

  20. 20.

    Note that Razi only talks about PPK1 and PCK.

  21. 21.

    I have used Marmura’s translation of these four categories (Marmura 1962).

  22. 22.

    Rāzī (1992, al-Mabāḥīth al-Mashrīqīyyah: book III. p. 476).

  23. 23.

    Rāzī (1992, al-Mabāḥīth al-Mashrīqīyyah: book III. p. 476).

  24. 24.

    The same things can be said of Rāzī’s reading of PCK as well. Also, Rāzī’s reading of Avicenna has something to do with only the first version of PPK, i.e., PPK1. Indeed, he has recognized only one untoward consequence of attributing perceptual knowledge to God. But I will show that, besides this, there are two more.

  25. 25.

    With regard to the issue of what is the genuine locus of the sensory form, as ‘Ubūdīyat (2012, pp. 170–171) has shown, we face two batches of text in Avicenna’s writings. In some texts, Avicenna says that the locus of the sensory form is the sense faculty, and in some other texts, he says that the locus of the sensory form is the sense organ. For example, in al-Taʿlīqāt and al-Ishārāt, he introduces the sense faculty as the locus of the sensory form. He writes: ‘You know that the awareness (shuʿūr) of the faculty (al-qūwwah) of what it perceives (tudrikuhu) [for example perceiving the redness of a flower] is the impression (irtisām) of [i.e., existence of] its [sensory] form [for example the sensory form of the redness] in it [i.e., in the faculty]’ (Avicenna 1993, al-Ishārāt wa al-tanbīhāt: Namaṭ III. ch. 13, p. 397); ‘The sense faculty (al-ḥāssah) sometimes is affected by (tanfaʿilu ʿan) sensible object (al-maḥsūs)’ (Avicenna 1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 23). In contrast, in al-Shifāʾ and in al-Mubāḥathāt, he introduces the sense organ as the locus of the sensory form. He says: ‘The first object of knowledge is the effect (al-athar) which exists in the sense organ’ (Avicenna 1992, al-Mubāḥathāt. §219, p. 103); ‘The eye [a sense organ] receives a [sensory] form’ (Avicenna 1984d, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Kitāb al-nafs, book III. ch. 7, p. 124). Following this second type of texts, Avicenna’s commentator, Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, also introduces the sense organ as the locus of the sensory form (Avicenna 1993, al-Ishārāt wa al-tanbīhāt: Namaṭ III. ch. 7, p. 360: Ṭūsī’s commentary at bottom of the page). Whether the sense organ or sense faculty is the locus of the sensory form, it does not affect our discussion, for it seems that the relation of ‘being in a locus’ is a transitive relation, such that if x is the locus of y and y is the locus of z, then x is the locus of z as well. Hence, since the sense organ is the locus of the sense faculty, then even if we suppose that the sense faculty is the locus of the sensory form, we can conclude that the sense organ is the locus of the sensory form as well. Therefore, in this paper, I suppose that the locus of the sensory form is the sense organ. The same thing can be said of the common sense faculty, and so I suppose the same thing about it.

  26. 26.

    Avicenna, in the first place, divides faculties of the animal soul, including those of the human soul, into two kinds of faculties: external faculties (external senses) and internal faculties (internal senses). He, in the second place, divides each of these two faculties into other groups. External faculties are the five sense faculties; as for the internal faculties, they include the common sense faculty, the faculty of imagination (khayāl), the estimative faculty (wahm), the memory faculty (ḥāfiẓah), and the compositive imaginative faculty (mutakhayyilah/mutiṣarrifah). For a more detailed discussion of internal and external faculties, see Avicenna (1984d, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Kitāb al-nafs, book I. ch. 5, p. 33); Avicenna (1993, al-Ishārāt wa al-tanbīhāt: Namaṭ III. ch. 9, pp. 373–386); Wolfson (1935), and McGinnis (2010, p. 111).

  27. 27.

    Avicenna (1984d, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Kitāb al-nafs, book I. ch. 5, p. 34).

  28. 28.

    Avicenna (1993, al-Ishārāt wa al-tanbīhāt: Namaṭ III. ch. 9, p. 381; 1984d, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Kitāb al-nafs, book I. ch. 5, pp. 35–36).

  29. 29.

    Who is the genuine knower of the sensory form is not straightforwardly clear in Avicenna’s works. In some texts, Avicenna attributes the act of knowing to the sense faculty. He writes: ‘You know that the awareness (shuʿūr) of the faculty (al-qūwwah) of what it perceives (tudrikuhu) [for example perceiving the redness of a flower] is the impression (irtisām) of [i.e., existence of] its [sensory] form [for example the form of the redness] in it [i.e., in the faculty]’ (Avicenna 1993, al-Ishārāt wa al-tanbīhāt: Namaṭ III. ch. 13, p. 397), and in some other texts, he attributes it to the sense organ itself. He writes: ‘the eye perceives the [sensory] form impressed [i.e., exists] in it [i.e., in the eye]’ (Avicenna 1980, Rasāʾil Ibn sīnā, p. 186). But in some texts, he attributes it to the soul. He writes: ‘The act of knowing is only for the soul (li al-nafs) [i.e., the knower is the soul] and [perceptual knowledge] is nothing more than the sensation of sensible object and affection by it (infiʿāl ʿanhu). For the sense faculty, sometimes, is affected by the sensible object while the soul is unaware [of it], therefore, the sensible object is not perceived and known. Then, the soul knows the sensory forms by means of the sense faculty’ (Avicenna 1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 23). By a simple argument, we can set aside those texts that attribute the act of knowing to the sense organ and to the sense faculty in favor of those texts which attribute it to the soul. The argument is this. Many a time we have failed to see something which has passed in front of us. How does Avicenna explain this? Avicenna says sometimes the sense faculty (strictly speaking, the sense organ) is affected by a sensible object, i.e., there exist a sensory form in it, but at the same time, the soul is unaware of the sensory form existing in the sense faculty (strictly speaking, sense organ), and because of this unawareness of the soul, the act of knowing does not occur. Now, we can say if we attribute the act of knowing to the sense faculty (strictly speaking, sense organ), we are unable to explain such cases. But if we attribute the act of knowing to the soul, then we can explain such cases very well. This is the argument which Avicenna, in al-Taʿlīqāt, presents in order to attribute the act of knowing to the soul. Therefore, we can claim that in Avicenna’s theory of perception, the act of knowing should be attributed to the soul even if there are some textual evidences against it.

  30. 30.

    The reason why the soul is the cause of the five sense faculties and the common sense faculty (and generally all the faculties), as ‘Ubūdīyat (2012, pp. 174–179) has shown, is the following. One might ask Avicenna what does it mean when we say that the five sense faculties and the common sense faculty are faculties of the soul? What kind of relationship is there between the soul and its faculties? In order to know the relationship between the soul and its faculties, Avicenna says that, on the one hand, we know that no two faculties are the same. He writes: ‘it is not possible for two faculties to be the same’ (Avicenna 1984d, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Kitāb al-nafs, book V, ch. 7, p. 223). That is, all the faculties in the human soul, incorporating the perceptive faculties, the motive faculties, the faculty of theoretical intellect, and the faculty of practical intellect, are distinct faculties and their activities are different. On the other hand, we know, certainly, that some faculties of the soul prevent other faculties from acting properly or, in contrast, some faculties activate other faculties. Avicenna writes: ‘we observe that [sometimes] perception affects the appetite [faculty]’ (Avicenna 1984d, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Kitāb al-nafs , book V, ch. 7, p. 223). For example, seeing a fresh strawberry which relates to the perceptive faculty makes the appetitive faculty, which relates to the motive faculty, to be activated, and because of this activation, there would be a desire in us to eat the strawberry (this example is mine). This shows that there is a relationship between faculties. Avicenna says that the relationship between faculties is due to their relationship to a single thing. Let us call this single thing X. Then, Avicenna argues that this single thing, X, to which all faculties are attributed, cannot be the body (al-jism), i.e., human body. He says: ‘It is not possible for this single thing in which all faculties are gathered to be a body’ (Avicenna 1984d, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Kitāb al-nafs, book V, ch. 7, p. 224), and then he mentions three arguments for it. What is important for us here is his second argument. In the second argument, Avicenna says that the relation between X and faculties is a causal relation. Then, he mentions that since some of faculties are not material faculties, like faculties which are specific to the human soul, i.e., the faculty of theoretical intellect and the faculty of practical intellect which are immaterial faculties, then X cannot be the human body. For a material thing, like the human body, cannot cause an immaterial thing. He writes: ‘It is not possible that all these faculties to be emanating from the body [i.e., caused by the body]. Then, the relation between the faculties and the body is not one of emanation [i.e., it is not a causal relation] but rather one of reception’ (Avicenna 1984d, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Kitāb al-nafs, book V, ch. 7, p. 224). Since an immaterial thing can cause both material and immaterial things, then Avicenna concludes that X should be an immaterial thing. Then, he asserts that X is the human soul. He writes: ‘Therefore, gathering (al-majmaʿ) is something other than body and it is the soul’ (Avicenna 1984d, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Kitāb al-nafs, book V, ch. 7, p. 224). Because of this relationship between the human soul and its faculties, we attribute the activities of different faculties to ourselves, i.e., I; Avicenna writes (emphasize mine): ‘Then, it has been explained that two faculties [in question] are [faculties] of a single thing. Then, because of this [single thing] it is true to say when we perceive [something], then we desire (ishtahaynā) or when we see something, then we anger (ghaḍabnā)’ (Avicenna 1984d, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Kitāb al-nafs, book V, ch. 7, pp. 223–224). According to what I said above, we can say that, from Avicenna’s point of view, firstly, the thing to which all faculties are attributed is the human soul and, secondly, this thing is in a causal relation with faculties.

  31. 31.

    Avicenna (1984d, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Kitāb al-nafs, book III. ch. 7, p. 124).

  32. 32.

    Avicenna (2004, Danīshnāmah ʿAlāʾī: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, p. 137).

  33. 33.

    From Avicenna’s point of view, propositions like ‘the flower in my hand is red’ (this example is mine), ‘that fire is hot,’ which are formed on the basis of some sense experience, are called Mushāhadāt or Maḥsūsāt. He says: ‘But the observations (al-mushāhadāt) [a kind of certain propositions (yaqīnīyāt)] then, like perceptual [proposition]s (al-maḥsūsāt) are propositions whose affirmation is acquired from sense [experience]. For example, our affirmation that the sun exists and it is bright and our affirmation that fire is hot’ (Avicenna 1993, al-Ishārāt wa al-tanbīhāt: Nahj VI. ch. 1, pp. 345–346).

  34. 34.

    Avicenna (1984d, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Kitāb al-nafs, book I. ch. 2, p. 20).

  35. 35.

    Avicenna (1984d, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Kitāb al-nafs, book II. ch. 3, p. 60).

  36. 36.

    One might object that from (1), (2) does not follow. The reason is because, according to Avicenna’s epistemology, knowledge of particulars is impossible not only for God but also for humans. For according to Avicenna, knowledge in this strict sense just deals with stable, unchanging, intelligible objects, as opposed to changeable, sensible, particulars. For such an interpretation of Avicenna, see Adamson (2005). And since the proposition ‘the flower in my hand is red’ is a proposition about a particular, its truth value may change, and so knowing this proposition is impossible. I suggest a way to handle this objection. Regardless of whether the aforementioned interpretation of Avicenna is true or not, by a bit modification of (2), we can sidestep the objection. Let us call the account of knowledge that interpretation involves the strict sense of knowledge, knowledge1. So modified, the initial objection would then claim that knowledge1 of particulars is impossible. But let us call a sense of knowledge other than the strict sense, which involves cognition of changing particulars, knowledge2. So modified, we can from (1) easily infer that (2) God knows2 that the flower in my hand is red. So by this slight modification, the objection no longer stands. Note that if one objects that even the second sense of knowledge, i.e., knowledge2, cannot be applied to God, I would say that this claim is a claim about the knowledge that belongs to God qua knower, not about knowledge absolutely, i.e., apart from its knower. In other words, this is a claim concerning Avicenna’s theory of God’s knowledge, not a claim concerning Avicenna’s epistemology, which is neutral about the knower. This is why, in this paper, I have supposed that we know everything about Avicenna’s philosophy except his theory of God’s knowledge. Again, I make this assumption because in this paper we are investigating one of the problems Avicenna’s theory is meant to address, and it is clear that a problem is prior to a theory which aims to solve that problem.

  37. 37.

    Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book VIII. ch. 6, p. 359); also Avicenna (2000, al-Najāt, pp. 594–595).

  38. 38.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 123).

  39. 39.

    Avicenna (1992, al-Mubāḥathāt. §213, p. 101); the same passage has been repeated in Avicenna (1992, al-Mubāḥathāt. §850, p. 303).

  40. 40.

    Avicenna (1908, Tisʿ rasāʾil fī al-ḥikmah wa al-ṭabīʿīyyāt, p. 66).

  41. 41.

    For Avicenna’s arguments for God’s simplicity, see Avicenna (1993, al-Ishārāt wa al-tanbīhāt: Namaṭ IV. ch. 21, p. 44; 2000, al-Najāt, pp. 551–553; 1984a, al-Mabdaʾ wa al-maʿād, pp. 4–6). Also, for a discussion about divine simplicity from the point of view of Islamic philosophers, including Avicenna, see Saeedimehr (2007).

  42. 42.

    Avicenna (2000, al-Najāt, p. 551).

  43. 43.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 190).

  44. 44.

    If a multiplicity of sensory forms exists in the divine essence itself, not in a sense organ, the major problem becomes how to safeguard the unity of the divine essence. This is the topic of a problem which I called the problem of plurality (PP) and I will deal with it in another paper.

  45. 45.

    Note that the suggestion of God’s essence being the locus of the sensory form is not an arbitrary suggestion; rather, this suggestion is inspired by Avicenna’s philosophy. In some places, Avicenna assumes (for reductio ad absurdum purposes) that God’s essence is the locus in which something else inheres—cf., text (35).

  46. 46.

    For God’s being a necessary being, see, for example, texts (3), (4), (6), (7), (9), and (21), and for God’s being immaterial, see text (22).

  47. 47.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 118).

  48. 48.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 151).

  49. 49.

    Avicenna (1992, al-Mubāḥathāt. §186, p. 95).

  50. 50.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 77).

  51. 51.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 117).

  52. 52.

    It is important to notice that the first part of the second definition, (i), does not logically entail the second part, (ii). This is because we can simply conceive an effect, m, has existed in an object, O, but there is no time, t, in which O lacks m. That is, it is conceivable that m eternally exists in O. Therefore, one cannot claim that these two definitions are equal even if the first definition lacks the second part of the second definition, (ii), in Avicenna’s texts.

  53. 53.

    See footnote 57.

  54. 54.

    Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book II. ch. 1, p. 57).

  55. 55.

    Avicenna (1984e, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Samāʿ al-ṭabīʿī, book III. ch. 3, p. 186).

  56. 56.

    Generally, the ‘inhering in’ relation is a specific kind of ‘existing in’ relation according to Avicenna. On his account, to say that water exists in the glass is not to say that water inheres in the glass. But, in contrast, to say that an accident inheres in a locus entails that it exists in that locus. Therefore, ‘inhering in’ entails ‘existing in,’ but not vice versa. Avicenna uses the term ‘inhering in’ to characterize the relation that accidents, the corporeal form, and substantial forms bear to their locus. The common feature of accidents, the corporeal form, and substantial forms, is that they cannot exist unless they exist in something else. Therefore, we can conclude that ‘X inheres in Y’ is the case when X cannot exist unless it exists in Y. Texts (28) and (29) which are both about accidents show that Avicenna uses the term ‘inhering in’ (ḥulūl) and the term ‘existing in’ interchangeably in the case of accidents. Following Avicenna, in this paper, I use these two terms interchangeably in the case of accidents.

  57. 57.

    Avicenna (2007, Risālah aḥwāl al-nafs, p. 174).

  58. 58.

    In this text, Avicenna says that the form exists in the body and does not say it exists in the matter. From this, we can conclude that the form in question in this text is a substantial form and not the corporeal form. This is because when we use the body as the locus of the form, it means that the form in question is not the constituent of the body and the body prior to it has been constituted. Yes, if Avicenna had used matter as the locus of the form, then there would be two possibilities for the form according to this text, i.e., substantial forms and the corporeal form.

  59. 59.

    Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book II. ch. 2, pp. 59–60).

  60. 60.

    Note that we should distinguish between two points: first, the locus in which accidents, substantial forms, and the corporeal form exist and, second, the circumstances under which they exist in their locus. According to Avicenna, the locus of the all accidents, substantial forms, and the corporeal form is matter. That is, all of them exist in matter. But an accident exists in a matter after a substantial form and the corporeal form already exist in it. And a substantial form exists in the matter when prior to it the corporeal form had already existed in it. Therefore, there is a priority among accidents, substantial forms, and the corporeal form, in terms of their existence in matter. Therefore, when Avicenna says that accidents exist in the body, he is saying that accidents exist in the matter in which, prior to the existence of those accidents, the corporeal form already exists.

  61. 61.

    Avicenna in his writings has presented two arguments according to which each body consists of two fundamental constituents, i.e., the corporeal form and matter. One of his arguments runs by using the notions of ‘continuity’ (ittiṣāl) and ‘discontinuity’ (infiṣāl) in each body (Avicenna 1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book II. ch. 2, pp. 66–7; 2000, al-Najāt, pp. 498–501). For a detailed discussion of this argument, see Shihadeh (2014) and Mesbāḥ Yazdī (2007) commentary on al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt, vol. 2, pp. 83–93. In his second argument, Avicenna appeals to the notion of ‘potentiality’ and ‘actuality’ in each body (Avicenna 1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book II. ch. 2, p. 67). For a detailed discussion of the second argument, see Mesbāḥ Yazdī (2007) commentary on al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt, vol. 2, pp. 93–99.

  62. 62.

    Avicenna (1992, al-Mubāḥathāt. §170, p. 92).

  63. 63.

    Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book IX. ch. 4, p. 404); the same passage has been repeated in Avicenna (2000, al-Najāt, p. 653).

  64. 64.

    Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book II. ch. 4, p. 83).

  65. 65.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 97).

  66. 66.

    Note that it seems Avicenna, in the second way, presupposes the truth of the principle of Identity of Indiscernibles according to which if x and y are indiscernible, i.e., they have all their properties in common, then x and y are identical. For more discussion of this principle, see Black (1952).

  67. 67.

    Note that Avicenna does not say that everything which is the only member of its species is immaterial. Rather, he says that everything which lacks matter in order to be distinguished by accidents is the only member of its species. Therefore, celestial spheres which are both material and the only member of their species should not be considered a counterexample.

  68. 68.

    Note that the same argument can be advanced for two other candidates, i.e., substantial forms and the corporeal form. I advanced this argument only for existence of accidents in O because of its relevance to the subject of this paper. Indeed, the general form of this argument which incorporates all three candidates is as follows:

    1. (1)

      An object, O, is affected (assumption)

    2. (2)

      If an object, O, is affected, then either an accident, F-ness, or a substantial form, S, or the corporeal form, C, exists in O (definition of affection)

    3. (3)

      Therefore, either an accident, F-ness, or a substantial form, S, or the corporeal form, C, exists in O (modus ponens 1 and 2)

    4. (4)

      If an accident, F-ness, or a substantial form, S, or the corporeal form, C, temporally or eternally, exists in O, then O is a material object (function of matter)

    5. (5)

      Therefore, O is a material object (modus ponens 3 and 4)

      Conclusion: If an object, O, is affected, then O is a material object (conditional reasoning 1–5)

  69. 69.

    Note that this argument is neutral about whether the existence of an accident in the object is temporal or eternal. Therefore, PPK2 can be considered independent of time. Indeed, no matter whether one believes that the sensory form of redness exists temporally or eternally in God’s essence in PPK2, God’s being material follows.

  70. 70.

    One might object that there is a counterexample to proposition [20]: the soul which is immaterial receives (immaterial) intelligible forms. In response, I would say that whether this is a genuine counterexample depends on how we understand the soul’s relation to the intelligible forms. But, the current paper is not concerned with that question. What we can say at most for now is even if it turns out that [20] is not generally true, it is true when O is affected by some material form, which it is in the issue at hand, because sensory forms are material forms.

  71. 71.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 117).

  72. 72.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, pp. 150–151).

  73. 73.

    Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book IX. ch. 1, p. 376).

  74. 74.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 16). Also see Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book I. ch. 6, p. 37; book IX. ch. 1, p. 373; book IX. ch. 4, p. 403).

  75. 75.

    Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book I. ch. 6, p. 37)

  76. 76.

    Avicenna calls the locus of the accident ‘subject’ (mawḍūʿ). From Avicenna’s point of view, all three, i.e., accidents, substantial forms, and the corporeal form, need some locus. But he differentiates between the locus of the accidents (mawḍūʿ) and the locus of the corporeal/substantial form (maḥall) (Avicenna 1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book II. ch. 1, p. 59) such that the latter is more general than the former. The locus of the accident is independent of the accident, but the locus of the corporeal/substantial form, i.e., matter, is itself dependent on the corporeal/substantial form. From Avicenna’s point of view, corporeal/substantial form and matter have mutual dependency. That is, both need each other in their constitution. For a more detailed discussion of the relation between corporeal form and matter, see Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book II. ch. 3, p. 72; book II. ch. 4, p. 80) and Olga Lizzini (2004).

  77. 77.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 65).

  78. 78.

    The same thing can be said of substantial forms; see Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 65).

  79. 79.

    Avicenna (1984c, al-Shifāʾ: Manṭiq, al-Maqūlāt, book I. ch. 4, p. 31).

  80. 80.

    Avicenna (1984c, al-Shifāʾ: Manṭiq, al-Maqūlāt, book I. ch. 4, p. 28).

  81. 81.

    Avicenna (2000, al-Najāt, p. 497).

  82. 82.

    Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 65).

  83. 83.

    Avicenna (1984e, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Samāʿ al-ṭabīʿī, book IV. ch. 11, p. 309).

  84. 84.

    Avicenna (1908, Tisʿ rasāʾil fī al-ḥikmah wa al-ṭabīʿīyyāt, p. 46).

  85. 85.

    Avicenna (1984c, al-Shifāʾ: Manṭiq, al-Maqūlāt, book I. ch. 4, p. 32).

  86. 86.

    Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book VIII. ch. 7, p. 365).

  87. 87.

    Note that supposing that God has a sense organ is not an arbitrary assumption. The idea that God has bodily sense organs has a background in the Islamic tradition. A group of theologians called Mujassamah believed that God has bodily sense organs. One explanation for why this group held such a belief is that certain Quranic verses attribute, at least prima facie, bodily sense organs to God. Therefore, based on these kinds of verses, they believed that God has such bodily features. This explanation at best explains what motivated such thinkers to hold such a view, not why they held it. For such an account, see Ashʿarī (1980, p. 290). We get an explanation as to why they may have held such a view from Rāzī in his al-Maṭālib al-ʿālīyah, where he reports an argument from them which runs as follows. Firstly, they believed that there is no disagreement among Muslims that (i) God knows particulars. Secondly, based on an argument which Rāzī reports, they believed that (ii) if S knows particulars, then S is bodily. Then, Rāzī claims that based on (i) and (ii), they concluded—by a simple modus ponens—that (iii) God is bodily. For such an explanation, see Rāzī (1986, al-Maṭālib al-ʿālīyah, vol. 2, p. 57).

  88. 88.

    Note that on this assumption, God’s sense organ (GSO) is not some part of God; rather, it is a creature of God.

  89. 89.

    Rāzī (2005, Sharḥ al-Ishārāt wa al-tanbīhāt, vol. 2, p. 428).

  90. 90.

    Note that Avicenna is Aristotelian in logic; therefore, there is not any relational predicate. That is, all subject-predicate propositions are formulated as ‘A is B.’

  91. 91.

    Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book IX. ch. 4, p. 403); The translation is from Marmura with slight modification (Marmura 2005, pp. 327–328).

  92. 92.

    Avicenna (1993, al-Ishārāt wa al-tanbīhāt: Namaṭ IV. ch. 12, p. 108).

  93. 93.

    Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book VIII. ch. 7, p. 366). The translation is from Marmura (2005, p. 294).

  94. 94.

    Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book VIII. ch. 7, p. 365). The translation is from Marmura with slight modifications (Marmura 2005, pp. 293–294). Also, Avicenna in al-Taʿlīqāt explicitly asserts that such priorities are impossible. See Avicenna (1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 155).

  95. 95.

    For this principle, see Avicenna (1984b, al-Shifāʾ: Ilāhīyyāt book VIII. ch. 7, p. 363; 1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 116).

  96. 96.

    The gist of what is said can be found in Lāhījī’s commentary on the text (50). See (Lāhījī 2009, Shawāriq al-Ilhām, p. 167)

  97. 97.

    Note that in this paper, I just directed my attention to perceptual knowledge of particulars. But, problems similar to PPK2 and PPK3 can arise with regard to intellectual knowledge (for example, knowledge of ‘2 + 2 = 4,’ or even knowledge of ‘the flower in my hand is a contingent being’). This is so because, according to Avicenna’s general theory of knowledge, knowledge is the existence of a form, F, in some sense, in the knower, S (Avicenna 1984d, al-Shifāʾ: Ṭabīʿīyyāt, Kitāb al-nafs, book II. ch. 2, p. 50; 1984f, al-Taʿlīqāt, p. 82) (For a treatment of Avicenna’s definition of knowledge see Zadyousefi 2019). In this paper, I just discussed a situation in which the knowledge in question is a perceptual knowledge and the form in question is a sensory form. Also, when the knowledge in question is intellectual knowledge and the form in question is an intelligible form, the ‘existing in’ relation, according to the general theory, emerges again, which leads us to similar problems as PPK2 and PPK3. In this paper, however, I did not deal with these similar problems.

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful to the audience members to whom I presented earlier versions of this paper at the Department of Philosophy at Tarbiat Modares University (TMU) and Munich School of Ancient Philosophy (MUSAΦ). My special thanks are due to Peter Adamson and Davlat Dadikhuda for insightful discussions and their written comments on an earlier version of this paper. Also, I thank Mohammad Saeedimehr, Hossein Zamaniha and Seyyedeh Bayyeneh Mousavi for very insightful discussions around Avicenna’s theory of God’s knowledge of particulars. Finally, I would like to thank anonymous reviewers of this journal for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.

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Zadyousefi, A. Does God Know that the Flower in My Hand Is Red? Avicenna and the Problem of God’s Perceptual Knowledge. SOPHIA 59, 657–693 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11841-019-0730-9

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Keywords

  • Avicenna
  • God’s knowledge of particulars
  • God’s perceptual knowledge
  • God’s affection
  • God’s materiality
  • God’s contingency