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

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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.’
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Archival date: 2016-09-02
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