Post-Avicennan Physics in the Medical Commentaries of the Mamluk Period

In: Intellectual History of the Islamicate World
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  • 1 DePauw University

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Recent work has shown that Islamicate philosophers engaged meaningfully with Ibn Sīnā’s transformation of Aristotelian physics, particularly his new understanding of motion at an instant and his new category of positional motion. Although Ibn Sīnā considered medicine a derivative science of physics, little work has been done to determine the impact of the new Avicennan physics on medicine. In this paper, I shall examine the discussions on motion contained in the sections on pulse within seven medical commentaries produced between 1200 and 1520 CE. The examination will reveal that Ibn al-Nafīs’s novel, non-Galenic application of the Avicennan category of positional motion to pulse generated an invigorating debate amongst later commentators. Consequently, the paper shows that: a) Ibn al-Nafīs’s transformations of Galenic/Avicennan medical theory were widely discussed in subsequent commentaries; and b) Mamluk-era medical writers continued to engage in philosophical discussions despite Ibn Sīnā’s epistemological arguments against doing so.

  • 2

    Avicenna, Physics, p. xxvi.

  • 3

    Ibid., p. xxvii.

  • 5

    McGinnis, “Pointers, Guides,” p. 438.

  • 7

    Wisnovsky, “Avicenna’s Islamic Reception,” p. 193.

  • 9

    Gutas, “Medical Theory,” pp. 147–150.

  • 11

    Fancy, Science and Religion in Mamluk Egypt, pp. 69–95.

  • 13

    Savage-Smith, “Medicine in Medieval Islam,” pp. 150–151.

  • 24

    Ahmed and McGinnis, “Faḍl-i-Ḥaqq Khayrābādī’s,” pp. 545–546.

  • 25

    Ibrahim, “Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī,” p. 394.

  • 26

    Ibid., p. 397; and al-Rāzī, al-Mabāḥith al-mashriqiyya as quoted in Ahmed and McGinnis, “Faḍl-i-Ḥaqq Khayrābādī’s,” p. 545.

  • 27

    al-Abharī, A Guide to Philosophy, p. 127; and al-Kātibī, Ḥikmat al-ʿayn, p. 63.

  • 38

    al-Kāzarūnī, al-Mughnī, p. 83; and Fancy, “Medical Commentaries.”

  • 39

    al-Kāzarūnī, al-Mughnī, pp. 2–3. Al-Kāzarūnī refers to al-Shīrāzī as his master (mawlānā). We also know that he studied under Burhān al-Dīn al-ʿIbrī (d. 1342/3), who was a student of al-Shīrāzī; see Rahman, Qānūn-i-Ibn-i-Sīnā, pp. 113–116; and Pourjavady and Schmidtke, “Quṭb al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī,” p. 22.

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  • 47

    al-Kirmānī, Kulliyyāt al-Sharḥ, p. 53; and idem, Nafīsī, pp. 283–285 (I would like to thank Asad Ahmed for helping me revise my translation): ‮الحركة كمال اول لما هو بالقوة من حيث هو بالقوة. والكمال هو الامر الحاصل اللائق بما حصل فيه بعد ما لم يكن. لكن ههنا لم يعتبر كونه لائقا اذ لايجب ان تكون الحركة لائقة لصاحبها وانما سمي هذا كمالا لان في القوة نقصان والفعل تمام بالنسبة اليها. وهذه الحركة تؤدي الى حصول كمال آخر وهو الحصول في المنتهى الذي يقصده مثلا. وهذا اذا حصل بالفعل كمال ثان والحركة المؤدية اليه كمال اول بهذا الاعتبار.‬‎

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  • 49

    Al-Kirmānī, Kulliyyāt al-Sharḥ, p. 54; and Avicenna, Physics, II.1, p. 110: “So motion is the first perfection belonging to what is in potency, though not in every respect (lā min kull jiha). [That is because] some other perfection can belong to whatever is in potency—like the perfection of humanity or equinity—where that is not associated with its being in potency insofar as it is in potency.”

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  • 51

    Fancy, Science and Religion, p. 14.

  • 52

    Contrary to Behrens-Abouseif, “The Image of the Physician,” pp. 340–342. Moreover, the fact that the commentaries of al-Aqsarāʾī, al-Kirmānī and Ibn al-Mubārak were amongst the most popular texts suggests that medical students and practitioners remained conversant in philosophy across the post-1300 period.

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  • 56

    al-Abharī, Guide to Philosophy, p. 124.

  • 61

    al-Kāzarūnī, al-Mughnī, p. 85.

  • 80

    Behrens-Abouseif, “The Image of the Physician,” pp. 340–342; and Gutas, “Medical Theory.”

  • 81

    Gutas, “Medical Theory,” pp. 160–161.

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