[3.3.8] Ibn Sina on Causal Chain

Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980-1037 AD) in Kitāb al-Išārāt and Remarks and Admonitions or Pointers presents his theory of causation. He analyzes this phenomenon on two levels: on the physical level, causation effects motion, change, while on metaphysical level effects existence.

Ibn Sina accepts the Aristotelian theory of the four causes (see [1.3.4]), according to which causes are of the following types (subkinds): material, formal, efficient, and final types. The “active” cause is the efficient cause, and its relation to the effect follows two principles (Syamsuddin):

  • 1st principle: “everything contingent, if it ever exists, must have a cause and must be caused to exist by something other than itself.”
  • 2nd principle: “everything contingent that is caused to exist is caused necessarily—that is, its existence is necessitated.”

The causes and effects are mostly organized in causal chains:

  • Things can have different roles in a causal chain: they can be efficient causes, such as first cause and intermediaries and effects.
  • The existence of an effect (which is the cause of nothing) cannot be explained without an external efficient cause, which in most of the cases is an intermediary, but can be a First Cause also.
  • The intermediary is caused by another intermediary or by the First Cause.
  • A cause that is cause and effect at the same time and therefore a intermediary would in turn refer to a cause: therefore, no matter how many intermediate terms it includes, the series must always imply an absolutely First Cause: a cause that is a cause for each element of the series and exists together with them.

According to Ibn Sina there can be numerically just one absolute First Cause, and that is God. 

One example of a causal chain is in Ibn Sina’s cosmological model (see [3.3.2]), where:

  • The First Principle (God) is the First Cause.
  • Intelligence and Active Intellect are intermediaries.
  • Sublunary Body is an effect.

Avicenna’s metaphysical chain of causation is presented in the following OntoUML diagram:

Ibn Sina on causational chain
ThingA thing, is an existent. A thing can have the role of efficient cause and as such can give existence to an other thing, with the role of effect. causes Thing
EfficientCauseAvicenna “defines the efficient cause (illah failiyyah) or agent as that which bestows existence to another (Avicenna MH: 194). He distinguishes his metaphysical definition of the efficient cause from that of the natural philosopher as follows:
Metaphysical philosophers do not mean by “agent” only the principle of motion, as the natural philosophers mean, but the principle and giver of existence, as in the case of God with respect to the world.” (Richardson)
causes Effect; role of Thing
FirstCauseThe first casue is a necessary existent.  “In a series, in fact, the first term—the absolute cause—has the property of being the cause of all that is other than itself.”(Richardson)is role of EfficientCause; causes Intermediary
IntermediaryThe existence of the intermediary (al-mutawassiṭ) in contingent, as such is caused by an other intermediary, or by the first cause: “is a cause for one part of the series and an effect for the other, may repeat this relation in a multiplicity if not in an infinity of elements (in an eternal succession of causal relations)”(Richardson)mixes role of EfficientCause and Effect; causes next Intermediary; last Intermediary in chain causes Effect
EffectThe existence of the effect (al-maʿlūl) is contingent, and is caused: “the effect that is simply caused, finally, has the property of being the cause of nothing.”(Richardson)role of Thing
CausationCausation relates efficient cause with effect. According to Ibn Sina “everything contingent that is caused to exist is caused necessarily—that is, its existence is necessitated.” (Syamsuddin)relates EfficientCause with Effect


  • Lizzini, Olga, “Ibn Sina’s Metaphysics“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Richardson, Kara, “Causation in Arabic and Islamic Thought”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Syamsuddin Arif, “Causality in Islamic Philosophy: The Arguments of Ibn Sina”, Islam & Science, Vol. 7 (Summer 2009) No. 1

First published: 5/3/2020
8/5/2021 added Thing
Updated: 28/5/2021

[3.3.7] Ibn Sina on the Prophet as Lawgiver

Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980-1037 AD) writes about political philosophy in the works Healing (Kita¯b al-Shifa¯ ’), Divisions (Fı¯ Aqsa¯m al-‘Ulu¯m al-‘Aqliyya) and Politics Kita¯b al-Siya¯sa). In these writings:

  • He analyzes the subject with a strong emphasis on the role of the Prophet (not directly identified with Muhammad) in the creation of the political community.
  • The Prophet, in his view, is a lawgiver, who delivers divine and traditional law as well to the nation and city.
  • The persons living in a city are organized in three hierarchical classes, the Administrators, Artisans, and Guardians.

The following OntoUML diagram shows Ibn Sina’s on politics:

Avicenna on the Prophet as lawgiver
NationThe prophet, when creates divine law is “no longer concerned with mere cities and communities, his focus is now upon a nation (umma) – one of such a size that people may have to migrate or travel long distances in order to reach the spot designated as his abode. Even the time for which he wishes to preserve his laws and teaching has expanded. (Meta, 444:16–445:1). He now thinks it important for the people to remember these things for more than a century or two (Meta, 445:9–10).”
For the prophet, the nation is necessary for providing security for the pilgrimage (hajj).
has Law
City“Merely to feed and clothe ourselves, we must enter into exchange relationships with other individuals. To perpetuate such relationships and to give them structure, human beings form cities and communities.”is exclusive part of the Nation; has Law
Law“It is then necessary for these larger associations to be regulated and for there to exist a standard on which exchange is based, in other words, for there to be law and justice (Meta, 441:3–12). In all of this, says Avicenna, his goal should be to keep matters as simple as possible so that all citizens agree on the principles and do not enter into disputations about beliefs such as would lead them to neglect their civic duties – the fulfillment of those duties being, after all, the whole purpose of his lawgiving (Meta, 442:8–443:9).”
TraditionalLaw“The kind of law Avicenna mentions […] as needed to regulate relationships of exchange is traditional law (sunna). […] the prophet sets forth a traditional law (sunna) containing precepts about God and the after-life that are needed for a people to come together in communal association.”
However, this kind of law, established by example, was known in pagan communities also. The Greek philosophers used the term nomos for it.
is subkind of Law
DivineLawDivine law (sharı¯‘a) is revealed by God and helps people to prepare their souls for happiness in the after-life.is subkind of Law
Penalty“Because fear of punishment in the life to come does not suffice to restrain all people from wrongful deeds, Avicenna notes that the prophetlawgiver must set down punishments, penalties, and prohibitions to prevent them from disobeying ‘the divine law’ (al-sharı¯‘a; see Meta, 454:2–4)” [and traditional law].characterizes Law
Class“Avicenna begins his enumeration of the prophet lawgiver’s political ordering by noting that his first objective is to provide the city with three classes or orders administrators, artisans, and guardians (Meta, 447:4–5). Reminiscent as such an ordering is of Plato’s Republic, even though administrators here take the place of Socrates’ philosopher-kings, Avicenna does not elaborate on the idea.”Class is exclusive part of the City; is a collection of Persons
AdministratorClass, ArtisanClass, GuardianClassAdministrators, Artisans and Guardians are three classes of the City.subkind of Class
PersonA human person.
Prophet-Lawgiver“The best or most virtuous of human beings is the one who has so perfected his soul that he has become fully rational and acquired the practical moral habits permitting him to manage his own affairs in an excellent manner. And among those who reach this level of accomplishment, the prophet [lawgiver] is the best. Two additional qualities give him this edge of superiority, namely, his ability to hear the speech of God and to see God’s angels (Meta, 435:6–16). […]
Differently stated, the prophet completes the partial lives of the philosopher and the virtuous ruler. The philosopher has a fully developed intellect, but apparently lacks the practical moral habits whose mastery would allow him to manage his own affairs or those of others that is, to rule others – and while the virtuous ruler surely has the latter, he seems to lack the former. Yet this by no means implies that the previously asserted affinity between philosophy and revealed religion is now rejected: on the grounds stated, philosophers can understand the superiority of prophets just as easily or readily as those who embrace the revelation prophets bring.”
is the roles of Philosopher and Ruler; gives Law
RulerThe ruler has “practical moral habits whose mastery would allow him to manage his own affairs or those of others”.Role of Person; Rules City and/or Nation
RuleRule: the act of ruling.Relates ruler to City and Nation
Philosopher“The philosopher has a fully developed intellect, but apparently lacks the practical moral habits whose mastery would allow him to manage his own affairs or those of others that is, to rule others”Role of Person
TheoryA philosophical theory related to the philosopher.Relates to Philosopher


  • All citations from:  Charles E. Butterworth, The Political Teaching of Avicenna, Topoi-an International Review of Philosophy, 2000
  • M. Cüneyt Kaya, In the shadow of “prophetic legistlation”; the venture of practical pilosophy after Avicenna, Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, vol. 24 (2014) pp. 269–296 doi:10.1017/S0957423914000034 © 2014 Cambridge University Press

First published: 27/2/2020
Update: 6/3/2021 added Rule, Theory