Fate of the Flying Man: Medieval Reception of Avicenna's Thought Experiment

Juhana Toivanen
University of Jyväskylä
This chapter discusses the reception of Avicenna’s well-known “flying man” thought experiment in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Latin philosophy. The central claim is that the argumentative role of the thought experiment changed radically in the latter half of the thirteenth century. The earlier authors—Dominicus Gundissalinus, William of Auvergne, Peter of Spain, and John of la Rochelle—understood it as an ontological proof for the existence and/or the nature of the soul. By contrast, Matthew of Aquasparta and Vital du Four used the flying man as an argument for the soul’s ability to be directly aware of itself. A detailed analysis of the views of these authors shows interesting philosophical differences between them and reveals how one of the crucial premises of the original thought experiment—namely that the flying man is unaware of his body—loses its importance due to the changes in the argumentative role that is assigned to it. The most radical example of a new way of understanding bodily self-awareness is Peter Olivi’s so-called ‘man before the creation.’
Keywords flying man  thought experiment  soul-body relationship  self-awareness  Avicenna  William of Auvergne  Peter of Spain  John of la Rochelle  Matthew of Aquasparta  Peter Olivi
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Peter of Spain.Joke Spruyt - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Matthew of Aquasparta's Cognition Theory.Helen Marie Beha - 1961 - Franciscan Studies 21 (3-4):383-465.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Avicenna on the Primary Propositions.Seyed N. Mousavian & Mohammad Ardeshir - 2018 - History and Philosophy of Logic 39 (3):201-231.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Avicenna on the Human Self‐Consciousness.Pirooz Fatoorchi - 2008 - In Mehmet Mazak & Nevzat Ozkaya (eds.), International Ibn Sina Symposium Papers (vol.2). FSF Printing House.
The Evidential Significance of Thought Experiment in Science.W. J. - 1996 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 27 (2):233-250.
Avicenna's Opinions on the Soul.J. Khaleqian - unknown - Kheradnameh Sadra Quarterly 16.
Will McCarthy Be Resurrected?Han Song - 1998 - Contemporary Chinese Thought 30 (2):93-95.
Why Thought Experiments Are Not Arguments.Michael A. Bishop - 1999 - Philosophy of Science 66 (4):534-541.
Interpreting Avicenna: Critical Essays.Peter Adamson (ed.) - 2013 - Cambridge University Press.
Peter John Olivi and Peter Auriol on Conceptual Thought.Han Thomas Adriaenssen - 2014 - Oxford Studies in Medieval Philosophy 2:67-97.
Mind and Knowledge.Robert Pasnau (ed.) - 2002 - Cambridge University Press.


Added to PP index

Total views
872 ( #3,874 of 2,289,680 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
190 ( #2,389 of 2,289,680 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes

Sign in to use this feature