The Priority of Natures and The Identity of Indiscernibles: Alexander of Aphrodisias, Yaḥyā b. ʿAdī and Avicenna on Genus as Matter

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Abstract

When one studies the history of universals in late antiquity and in theArabic and Latin Middle Ages, the key notion is ‘nature.’ Natures are notions like‘redness qua redness,’ which are neither universal nor particular in themselves, but are immanent either in universals, which exist only in the mind, or in extramental particulars. All recent studies agree that Alexander of Aphrodisias probably developed the idea of ‘nature.’ Then it travelled either directly or via the Baghdad Peripatetic Yahya b. ‘Adı to Avicenna. From Avicenna, it was transmitted to thinkers of Latin Scholasticism, for instance, Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. In this paper, I will show that this historical reconstruction of the inheritance of the notion of ‘nature’ neglects an important shift in the middle of the historical chain: natures are ontologically prior to their instances in Alexander and Ibn ‘Adı, but posterior in Avicenna. This crucial difference will be shown on the basis of the parallel between (a) natures and universals, and (b) the material and generic aspects of common notions. We will see that Avicenna’s reason for disagreeing with the previous tradition on this parallel was a concern regarding the compatibility of the priority of natures with the principle of the identity of indiscernibles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-233
JournalJournal of the History of Philosophy
Volume57
Issue number2
Early online date30 Apr 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019

Keywords

  • Universals
  • common natures
  • Avicenna
  • Alexander of Aphrodisias
  • Yahy¯a . b. ‘Ad¯ı
  • the identity of indiscernible principle
  • genus as matter

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