A Small Discovery: Avicenna's Theory of Minima Naturalia

Jon McGinnis, University of Missouri-St. Louis


There has been a long-held misconception among historians of philosophy and science that apart from brief comments in Aristotle and Averroes, the theory of minima naturalia had to await Latin Schoolmen for its full articulation. Recently scholars have shown that far from sporadic comments on minima naturalia, Averroes in fact had a fully developed and well-integrated theory of them. In this study, I complement these scholars’ important work by considering Avicenna’s place in the history and development of the doctrine of the minima naturalia. There is no study to date that mentions Avicenna in connection with this doctrine despite the fact that he dedicated an entire chapter to it in his Physics, yet Avicenna’s account is at least as developed as and even better integrated than Averroes’s presentation. The present study situates Avicenna’s position within the more general history of atomism, and introduces Avicenna’s “new argument” for natural minima. The argument is important not only for its novelty but also because it shows how Avicenna integrated Aristotle’s account of minima naturalia into a theory of mixture as well.