The Prince of Physicians and the Metaphysics of Death: The Case of Avicenna's Logical Dissection
Kimbell Kornu, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Health Care Ethics, Saint Louis University
Elucidating a metaphysics of medicine is vital for framing a coherent medical ethics. In this paper, I examine the historical case of Avicenna, the eleventh century physician-philosopher, whom the Christian West has called the “prince of physicians.” However, the focus will not be on his medical writings but rather his work in philosophy. Avicenna radicalizes the dissective power of reason using a logicized Aristotelian metaphysics to clarify concepts at the metaphysical level, which I call his anatomy of being. One of the practical consequences of Avicenna’s metaphysics is a dehumanizing eschatology of death. I outline the main elements of Avicenna’s thought that constitute his anatomy of being. Through an examination of his logic, metaphysics, and psychology, I will show how Avicenna develops a dissective logic. I conclude that one’s epistemology, as a method of knowing, entails a metaphysics, and, in turn, results in an ethical stance to the object of knowledge. In the drive for mental clarity, Avicenna applies a mental dissective logic to humans resulting in dehumanization, thereby destroying the humanistic impulse of medicine. The case of Avicenna exemplifies the harm of logical dissection that reduces humans to metaphysical concepts, rather than whole persons to know in an embodied encounter.