Avicenna Keeping it Real. Sense Perception in The Healing; al-Nafs II.2
Davlat Dadikhuda (LMU Munich)

part of: Perception, Knowledge, and Assimilation
June 12, 2017, 11:00am - 12:00pm
Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies, University of Helsinki

Auditorium IV in the main building of the University of Helsinki (Päärakennus)
Fabianinkatu 33

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  • European Research Council Project "Rationality in Perception: Transformations of Mind and Cognition 1250-1550" (Helsinki)
  • Research Programme "Representation and Reality. Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Aristotelian Tradition" (Gothenburg)


For Avicenna, in an episode of, say, visual perception, do we attain an ordinary, mind-independent object or not? And if so, is it perceived directly or indirectly? The first question is easy to settle; being no skeptic, ‘the senses’ (al-ḥiss), he thinks, grant us access to the world outside our minds. The second question, though, is more difficult to determine. In the secondary literature, two studies (Sebti 2010; Black 2014) that address it both conclude that Avicenna endorses representative/indirect realism (RR); ordinary external objects, on this interpretation, are for him indirectly perceived insofar as our access to them in mediated by an item internal to the perceiver.

The present paper contributes to that second question, making a case for the opposite view; I argue that sense perception is directly of an object outside the mind for Avicenna. Proponents of the RR view fail to properly take account of three things that, in my view, are essential to getting Avicenna’s account of sense perception right. The first is Avicenna’s distinction between sensation and sense-perception; the second is his insistence on the actual presence of matter being a necessary condition on sense perception and what this means; and the third is a distinction between (1) what sense perception is and (2) what sense perception is of. Once these three points are clarified, it then becomes clear that, on Avicenna’s view, any item internal to the soul that’s involved in an episode of sense perception does not satisfy the criterion for being a cognitive intermediary on a RR account of perceptual experience. Hence, I conclude, Avicenna is (best understood as) a direct realist (DR) about this particular perceptual modality.

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