Might Ibn Sina be interpreted as a conceptualist on the existence of universals?


Firstly I would like to explain what conceptualism is. Basically it is a point of view adopted of the question of Universals. Universals are the general ideas firstly introduced by Plato as the entities existing separately from particular objects. This view is called Realism which declares the universals being real. Plato on existence of Universals and Aristotle on Form have realist views. Nominalism came as a different view on question of existence of Universals in medieval philosophy. According to this there are no real universals but these are actually the names assigned to a group or class of similar particulars. From the “nomin” meaning name the term nominalism is derived and thus the term in itself explains the whole concept.

Conceptualism stands in between of both having the view that universals or the abstract ideas or general forms exist only within a mind. Particular objects in our experience tell us the similarity between them and then mind abstract a general idea based on that similarity.

Universals_and_Ibn SinaNow we have to estimate the position of Ibn Sina on the problem I have explained above.

Ibn Sina was perhaps the most influential Muslim philosopher. He produced a variety of works on logic, metaphysics, medicine and psychology. He expressed a best combination of Aristotelianism , Neoplatonism and Muslim theology.

In dealing with the question of universals he considers that the universal exists only in the human mind. The abstract idea of the class is formed in the mind of the observer when he compares individuals and makes note of their points of similarity, but this abstract idea exists only as a mental concept and has no objective reality. This concept highlights his position on the problem as a conceptualist. The universal precedes the individual only in the way that the general idea existed in the mind of the Creator before the individual was formed, just as the idea of pen exists in the mind of maker before the particular pen came into existence. The general idea is realized in matter but only when accompanied by accidents: apart from these accidents it exists only as a mental abstraction. After the general idea is realized in matter it is possible for the intellect to form a mental abstraction and to use this as a standard of comparison with other particulars. The concept of class or group belongs only to the dominion of thought, and such abstract ideas have no objective existence, although they may be used as real in logic.

Ibn Sina in his psychology, while talking the faculties of Soul or Self mentions four faculties of perception which are as follow.

  1. Al-Musawira,

The formative, by which the soul perceives the object without the aid of the senses as by an act of imagination.

  1. Al-Mufakira,

The cogitative, by which the soul during perceiving a number of qualities linked together abstracts one or more of them from the others with which they are associated, or groups together those which are not seen as connected ; this is the faculty of abstraction which is employed in forming general ideas.

  1.  Al-Wahm (or opinion)

By means of which a general conclusion is drawn from a number of ideas grouped together.

  1. Al-Hafiza,

It is the memory, which preserves and records the judgments formed.

Perception of the particulars objects is because of the senses and the knowledge of Universals is because of the reason. In my opinion the Al-Mufakira or the cogitative is responsible for holding the general ideas or universals.