A New Interpretive Model for Thinking about Avicenna’s Hypothetical Syllogistic

Dr Kamran Karimullah
Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Avicenna’s (d. 1037 CE) categorical syllogistic has been the focus of intense and sustained scrutiny. Scholars have devised interpretive models that seek to lay bare the logical assumptions behind Avicenna’s understanding of terms, truth-conditions, modality, and syllogistic validity. These studies have revealed the way Avicenna’s categorial syllogistic with its theory of modality relates to Aristotle’s assertoric and modal syllogistic. Avicenna’s hypothetical syllogistic, on the other hand, is another matter. While there have been a number of studies devoted entirely or in considerable part to Avicenna’s hypothetical syllogistic, we lack adequate interpretive models that afford a deeper understanding of the logical intuitions that lie behind Avicenna’s thinking. Karimullah focuses on Avicenna’s comments about conditionals. He shows that the current model for understanding conditionals, a temporal model originally proposed by Nicholas Rescher, is inadequate for a number of reasons. He also lays out the principles of a new model for interpreting Avicenna’s conditionals, which draws inspiration from work on Aristotle’s modal syllogistic and Robert Stalnaker’s (1968) work on the semantics of conditionals. He suggests that combining these bodies of research may help us find models of Avicenna’s conditional propositions and inferences that are faithful to Avicenna’s text and his views on deduction, modality and metaphysics.

Kamran Karimullah joined the University of Manchester as a lecturer in Islamic philosophy and medicine in 2016. He has published in the fields of Islamic philosophical ethics, philosophy of logic and Islamic medicine. At the moment, he is writing a monograph-length genealogy of Avicenna’s (d. 1037) logical theory of ifs. In it he hopes to show how Avicenna’s pioneering logical doctrines relating to conditional propositions draw on Greek, Arabic and even Syriac debates about and classifications of logical inference. In medical translation studies, he is interested in tracing how pre-modern Arabic medical texts influenced the reception, conceptualisation and translation of European medical texts in early modern medical schools and institutions of learning in the Middle East.

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