Ibn Sīnā. A Philosophical Mysticism or a Philosophy of Mysticism?

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Jules JANSSENS

Abstract

It is a well-known fact that Ibn Sīnā in the final part of his work al-Ishārāt wa-l-tanbīhāt, Pointers and Reminders, extensively uses a mystical vocabulary. Given this fact some scholars have judged that he in this – in all likelihood rather late – work adheres to a kind of mysticism, either religious or, at least, philosophical. Based on a detailed analysis of some of the most significant passages, the present paper offers evidence that such an interpretation does not pay enough attention to the very way in which Ibn Sīnā interprets the mystical notions that are undeniably present in the last three sections of the Ishārāt. In fact, Ibn Sīnā’s use of them reveals to have nothing, or almost nothing in common with the meaning attributed to them in Sufi-writings, or in (mainly Neoplatonic) ‘mystical’ philosophy. It is concluded that Ibn Sīnā, in the final part of the Ishārāt, offers what may be labelled a ‘philosophical project that rationally interprets mystical terms, expressions, and phenomena’, rather than as ‘a philosophical mysticism’.

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