Avicenna on Equivocity and Modulation: A Reconsideration of the asmāʾ mushakkika (and tashkīk al-wujūd)

In: Oriens
Damien Janos Assistant Professor, Université de Montréal Montreal Canada

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This study investigates Avicenna’s conception of philosophical terminology through an analysis of the relation between equivocity (ishtirāk) and modulation (tashkīk) and by drawing evidence from a broad array of logical, physical, and metaphysical texts. In so doing, it also re-examines the notion of the modulation of existence (tashkīk al-wujūd). Although the intrinsic definitional ambiguity of tashkīk makes it possible to approach it alternatively through the lens of univocity and equivocity, there are strong textual and philosophical reasons to believe that Avicenna preferred to regard tashkīk as a kind of moderate equivocity, as opposed to both univocity and a kind of pure or absolute equivocity. As a corollary, it is preferable to construe tashkīk al-wujūd as a “modulated equivocity of being” rather than as a “modulated univocity of being.” On the one hand, this underscores the continuity with Aristotle’s theory of pros hen predication and its late-antique Greek and early Arabic reception, which Avicenna, as heir to a long commentatorial tradition, reinterprets in his own way. On the other hand, the reading of the asmāʾ mushakkika and tashkīk al-wujūd proposed here may explain some of the origins of the ontological debates on the construal of existence that developed from the post-classical reception of Avicenna’s works.

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