The Thought Experimental Method: Avicenna’s Flying Man Argument

Fedor Benevich, Peter Adamson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

No argument from the Arabic philosophical tradition has received more scholarly attention than Avicenna's ‘flying man’ thought experiment, in which a human is created out of thin air and is able to grasp his existence without grasping that he has a body. This paper offers a new interpretation of the version of this thought experiment found at the end of the first chapter of Avicenna's treatment of soul in the Healing. We argue that it needs to be understood in light of an epistemological theory set out elsewhere by Avicenna, which allows that all the constitutive properties of an essence will be clear to someone who understands and considers that essence. On our reading, this theory is put to work in the ‘flying man’: because the flying man would grasp that his own essence has existence without grasping that he has a body, connection to body cannot be constitutive of the essence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-164
JournalJournal of the American Philosophical Association
Issue number2
Early online date18 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Avicenna
  • self-awareness
  • dualism
  • essentialism
  • IIslamic philosophy


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