Avicenna and Spinoza on Essence and Existence

In Yitzhak Melamed (ed.), Blackwell Companion to Spinoza (forthcoming)
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Spinoza’s employment of essence and existence is well-known. Though there are precursors to Avicenna for the essence/existence distinction, it is Avicenna who firmly establishes it and many of the surrounding arguments for the rest of the Islamic, Jewish, and Christian traditions. Although there are myriad possible links, it is worth considering how Avicenna himself factors into Spinoza’s views since he is the major source for this tradition. I aim to show even tighter textual and conceptual connections between these philosophers, delineating how Spinoza drew from Avicenna (directly or indirectly) on the definition of essence and the essence/existence distinction. Nevertheless, Spinoza departs from Avicenna, potentially regarding the tendency of essences for existence and especially regarding their universality and particularity.



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Stephen Ogden
University of Notre Dame

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