The origin and power of music according to the 11th-century islamic philosopher Ibn Sīnā

Roni Granot, Nabil Shair

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The question of the origin of music and its powers has always fascinated philosophers and scientists. Here we present a close reading of the view offered by the Persian Muslim philosopher and scientist Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna (980-1037). We draw a parallel between Ibn Sina' s account of the senses and mental capacities and his hierarchical, quasi-evolutionary view of the perception of sound in its various communicative roles. We show how Ibn Sina positions music at the top of the organisation of sound while drawing a connecting line between the sensory and cognitive, the natural and conventional, and the biological and aesthetic. Although mostly drawing on ideas previously expounded by Aristotle and al-Farabi, he goes way beyond his predecessors in positioning music within the systems of communication and highlights music's special ability to create a flux of joy and sadness, tension and relaxation, based on the ephemeral character of sound that serves as a connecting thread through all levels of its communicative roles.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)585-598
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the Royal Asiatic Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Royal Asiatic Society 2019.


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