Small Portraits (01_2023)

by Rodrigo Ballon Villanueva

Zhenyu Cai

January 2023 – To inaugurate 2023, let’s go to China with Zhenyu Cai! Zhenyu is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Peking University. Zhenyu’s main research interest is Islamic philosophy. He primarily focuses on Avicenna’s philosophy of mind and metaphysics, with a specific interest in the reception and criticisms of Avicenna’s philosophy in the post-Avicennian tradition. 

Last summer, Zhenyu obtained his PhD from the University of Cambridge with a thesis titled “Maʿnā, Shuʿūr and Mental Existence: Avicenna’s Theory of Intentionality”. His dissertation had two distinct but closely related goals. On the one hand, it offered a focal meaning reading of Avicenna’s concept of Maʿnā as a notion that marks out the non-sensible but meaningful field that makes any cognitive state intentional. On the other, it reconstructs Avicenna’s understanding of the nature of intentionality in cognition, which argues for an existential account that cannot be reduced to either the naturalistic approach or the phenomenal consciousness approach. Currently, he is turning such a dissertation into a book on Avicenna’s theory of cognition.

He is also interested in the theory of religion, the philosophical interpretation of Islam, and Han Kitāb. After finishing his current project on Avicenna, Zhenyu will analyze how Han Kitāb absorbs Islamic philosophy and re-interprets/develops it within a Chinese philosophical background. 

Zhenyu is now working on two papers titled “Avicenna on Intentionality: Towards an Existential-Relational Account” and “Avicenna on the Priority of Form over Matter”. Moreover, his paper “Revisiting Avicenna’s Semantic of Genus and Differentia” has been accepted by Studia Graeco-Arabic and will be published in 2023. 

If you are interested in Zhenyu’s work you can check his personal website ( or contact him by email