EŠĀRĀT WA’L-TANBĪHĀT, AL-, a late work of Avicenna (q.v.; Ebn Sīnā, d. 428/1037), written sometime between 421/1030 and 425/1034, which sums up his thought in a language that is often deeply personal and expressive. A relatively short book, it is a philosophical and literary classic that exerted immense influence on subsequent Islamic thought.

To a large extent, Avicenna in this work condenses and recasts both the logic and a body of core philosophical ideas which he had treated exhaustively in his voluminous Šefāʾ, bearing, however, some modification and variation. In the Ešārāt, for example, the classification of the premises used in different types of arguments (borhānī “demonstrative,” jadalī “dialectical,” ḵeṭābī “rhetorical”) is not identical with their classification in the Borhān (Demonstration)of the Šefāʿ. Again, the Ešārāt’s version of the hypothetical example of our being created all at once, mature but floating in space, differs (in what it intends to show) from its two other versions in the Šefāʾ. There are other differences. The Ešārāt omits some important ideas discussed in the Šefāʾ, for example, the discussion of primary concepts (the existent, the thing, the necessary) that are immediately known in the way self-evident propositional truths are known. More significant than this, it includes elements totally absent in the Šefāʾ. Thus in the last sections of the Ešārāt, devoted to eschatology, mysticism, and prophetic powers, particularly in describing the mystic’s journey to God, we encounter statements found neither in the Šefāʾ nor explicitly in Avicenna’s other known works.

Avicenna divides his book into two main sections. The first, consisting of ten anhāj (sg. najh “way,” “method”), is entirely devoted to logic. The second, consisting of ten anmāṭ (sg. namaṭ “mode,” “pattern”), divides naturally into discussions of physics, which includes psychology (anmāṭ 1-3), metaphysics (anmāṭ 4-7), and religious matters, including mysticism (anmāṭ 8-10). While none of these three discussions is given a heading, each namaṭ within them has an individual title. The thought in both the anhāj and the anmāṭ is presented through individual paragraphs varying in length, each introduced normally, but not always, either by the term ešāra (sg. of ešārāt) or tanbīh (sg. of tanbīhāt), hence the title al-Ešārāt wa’l tanbīhāt.

The book’s title, however, poses difficulties for the translator. This is because each of the terms ešāra (indication, directive, hint, sign, signal) and tanbīh (alerting, awakening, drawing attention to a specific point, admonishing, reminding) have varying nuances of meaning and are used in the Ešārāt (as elsewhere in Avicenna’s writings) in related but different senses. Often, an ešāra introduces a main philosophical point and the tanbīh sometimes constitutes an amplification of it. At times, a tanbīh may draw attention to something that is known immediately, such as self-knowledge, at other times to something known inferentially, providing the argument for it. The term wahm (delusion), sometimes precedes the term ešāra, more often the term tanbīh. In such instances an error is pointed out and its corrective given. The proof from contingency for God’s existence given in the fourth namaṭ begins with a tanbīh, followed by an ešāra, another tanbīh, a šarḥ (explication) and then three other ešārāt. The distinction between an ešāra and a tanbīh in the proof is difficult to ascertain. The terms taḏkīr (reminder), taḏnīb (addendum), takmela (completion), nokta (a point of interest), are also used.

The last three namaṭs of the Ešārāt constitute a distinctive feature of this work. The eighth namaṭ introduces the ʿāref (the knower, the gnostic). In the ninth namaṭ, devoted to the stations of the ʿāref (maqāmāt al-ʿārefīn), we note a recapitulation of the argument in the “Metaphysics” of the Šefāʾ for society’s need for a lawgiving prophet. The prophet is thus included among the “knowers.” One also notes that Avicenna refers us to the story of Salāmān and Absāl that conveys in a symbolic way the course followed by the ʿāref. Avicenna tells us that the first stage of the ʿāref’s journey is that of will. This is when the individual who attains certainty either through demonstration or, significantly, through religious belief, becomes overcome with a yearning for the unbreakable bonding of faith with God. Music and goodly sermons aid the ʿāref’s pursuit of gracious thought (al-fekr al-laṭīf) and chaste love (al-ʿešq al-ʿafīf) leading towards his objective. In his journey the ʿāref may become diverted from his objective through preoccupation with his own psychological state. It is when he forgets this, concentrating on the object of knowledge (al-maʿrūf) that he plunges into the sea of arrival (lojjat al-woṣūl) beyond which, however, there are further stages. But the experience now is ineffable; any discourse reveals only what is in the imagination (al-ḵayāl).

Avicenna uses Sufiterms and there is no good reason to hold that he does not intend them as such. The purely intellectual and the Sufipaths to God seem to blend, but the relation between them in these last anmāṭ is not made entirely clear and remains amenable to different interpretations.

A Persian translation was made in the 7th/13th century by ʿAbd-al-Salām b. Maḥmūd b. Aḥmad Fārsī (ed. E. Yār-e Šāṭer, Tehran, 1332 Š./1973).




Editions and printed versions: ed. J. Forget, Leiden 1892; ed. S. Donyā, with the commentary of Naṣīr-al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, 3 vols., Cairo, 1958; ed. M. Šehābī, with the Lobāb al-Ešārāt of Faḵr-al-Dīn Rāzī, Tehran, 1339 Š./1960.

A printed versions: (under the title Šarḥ al-Ešārāt) of the anmāṭ, but not the logical anhāj, with the commentaries of Naṣīr-al-Dīn Ṭūsī and Faḵr-al-Dīn Rāzī, Cairo, 1325/1907.

A fully printed text with the commentaries of Naṣīr-al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī and Qoṭb-al-Dīn Rāzī Taḥtānī, 3 vols., Tehran, 1338 Š./1959.

Translations: A. M. Goichon, Le livre des directives et remarques, Paris, 1948.

S. Inati, Ibn Sīnā, Remarks and Admonitions (Part One: Logic), Toronto, 1984.

(Pers.) tr. H. Malekšāhī with commentary, Tehran, 1363 Š./1984.

For bibliographical information about the commentaries, see Goinchon’s introduction; G. C. Anawati, Moʾallafāt Ebn Sīnā, Cairo, 1950.

Y. Mahdawī, Fehrest-e nosḵāhā-ye moṣannafāt-e Ebn-e Sīnā, Tehran, 1333 Š./1954.

Studies: for the dating of the Ešārāt, see D. Gutas, Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition, Leiden, 1988.

For a discussion of the title, see Goichon’s introduction. For the use of the terms ešāra and tanbīh, in the Psychology of the Šefāʾ, see M. E. Marmura, “Avicenna’s ’Flying Man’ in Context,” The Monist 69/3, 1986, pp. 383-95.

For a brief but pertinent statement of the problem of the relation of Avicenna’s mysticism, as expounded in the Ešārāt, to his philosophy, see ʿA. Badawi, Histoire de la Philosophie en Islam, 2 vols., Paris, 1972, II, pp. 262-64.

(M. E. Marmura)

Originally Published: December 15, 1998

Last Updated: January 19, 2012

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