Mind the Gap: Avicenna’s New Argument against Actually Infinite Space and Its Reception

Jon McGinnis (UMSL)
January 20, 2016 - 12:00pm
Life Sciences 202

Problems, puzzles and perplexities associated with the notion of infinity, while perhaps not being infinite, certainly are numerous. One important subset of these issues is the relation of the infinite to the physical, that is, to what extent infinity enters into our best science. In this study I consider the history of a set of ancient and medieval arguments intended to show the spatial finitude of the cosmos. I argue that questionable physical and mathematical presuppositions inherent within earlier arguments motivated Avicenna (980–1037) to develop a new proof for the spatial finitude of the world. Avicenna's proof is deceptively simple and dominated discussion of the possibility of a spatial infinity in post-classical Islamic philosophy, which are also briefly canvased in this study. In the end, I hope to convey some taste for the philosophical sophistication and depth of the medieval Arabic discussion associated with infinity.