[3.3.1] Ibn Sina’s Metaphysics

Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980-1037 AD) presents his metaphysical framework in the treatise Ilāhiyyāt of Kitāb al-Šifā’ (known in English as the Metaphysics of the Book of the Healing or the Book of the Cure), in which:

  • existence is a necessity, separated from being (a thing); and can be mental or external
  • quiddity (essence) is combined in a contingent way with mental or external existence, giving birth to universal, or particular things,

as presented in the OntoUML diagram below:

Ibn Sina’s (Avicenna) methaphysics
“the Necessary Existent has no essence or no quiddity that differs from existence (anniyya) and is therefore beyond essence. The first attribute of the Principle is ‘that It is and that It is existent’ (inn wa-mawǧūd): existence is not what It ‘has’: It simply is… is absolutely necessary and simply coincides with, or more exactly, is Its own existence… The Necessary Existent has no cause. It has relations in so far as it is existent “
Necessary Existent is also referred as First Principle.
associated to Existence
ExistenceExistence (al-mawǧūd) can be: mental or external. Existence and being (a thing) are separate entities.
“Avicenna posits a distinction between the being of the thing and its existence. Clearly, then, the fundamental and primary character of being does not imply simplicity: to exist means to be a given entity in the world or—as Avicenna also uses it—a ‘thing’. The existence of something must thus be distinguished from its being what it is.”
associated to Necessity; is part of the Thing; can be MentalExistence and ExternalExistence
“everything that is conceived of or simply mentally represented exists and hence has at least a mental existence (which means either intellectual or imaginary or estimative). Indeed, the existent as such is immaterial and only non-existence in the absolute sense does (obviously) not exist, since it cannot be either conceived or discussed”it can be part of the Univeral (0.. *)
External existence (fī l-ʿayān) is existence in concrete particulars. it can be part of the Particular (0.. *)
QuiddityQuiddity (māhiyya), essence or thingness is independent of existence, and necessarily accompanies the thing, be it particular or universal.
E.g. “horseness” (which is common in the concept of the horse, and in Tucker, the horse).

“the quiddity or essence of a thing is not in its turn a thing” with its own mental existence so that, once added to (real) existence, it could become a real thing… What Avicenna states by distinguishing quiddity and existence is that quiddity does not coincide with its existence: neither with its mental existence, which is related but does not correspond to universality, nor with its concrete existence (fī l-ʿayān), which implies individuality… The indifference of quiddity to any kind of existence and determination truly establishes the correspondence between reality and knowledge: it is exactly because quiddity is in itself neither real nor mental that it can be present both in reality and in the mind, accompanied by the determinations of either individuality or universality: in concrete reality there is x in its particular existence, while in the mind there is x with its possible multiple predication. In this respect, the consideration of quiddity in itself—which corresponds to the thing in itself as expressed by its definition—transcends both levels of existence (external and mental) and in one passage is equated to the “divine existence” (wuǧūd ilāhī) of something that depends on God’s providence.”
is part of the Thing, assuch part of the Universal and the Particular
Thing“In every thing the distinction between what the thing is and the fact that it is is inevitable. Existence can consequently be said to be external to essence, so that an existing thing, whose essence or quiddity is possible, can be said to be composed of essence and existenceThing can be Universal or Particular
UniversalUniversal is the concept in the mind: “the one concept is related by the mind to many, and in this way it is universal”.
E.g: “horse”
MentalExistence and Quiddity are parts of it
ParticularParticulars are concrete, external instances.
E.g. horses like: Lilly, Tucker, Spirit
ExternalExistence and Quiddity are parts of it
ModalityModality “explains the relation that what exists has to its own existence: an existent can be either necessary in itself (ḍarūrī; wāǧib: it is then also necessarily one) or possible (mumkin, contingency) in itself” – this is the case of every existent with the exception of the Necessary Existent. is Necessity or Contingency
NecessityNecessity associated to Existence
ContingencyContingency or Possibilityassociated to Thing


  • All citations from: Lizzini, Olga, “Ibn Sina’s Metaphysics”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Raja Bahlul, “Avicenna and the Problem of Universals”, Philosophy & Theology 21  

First published: 01/08/2019

2 thoughts on “[3.3.1] Ibn Sina’s Metaphysics

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