IBN RUSHD (ah 520–595/1126–1198 ce), better known in Western sources as Averroës, was the last outstanding Arab philosopher and commentator of Aristotle. Ibn Rushd was born in Córdoba, the capital of Muslim Spain (al-Andalus ) in 1126, into a family of prominent (Mālikī) religious scholars. His full name in Arabic is given as Abū al-Walīd Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Rushd, and he is reported to have studied jurisprudence (fiqh ), Arabic letters (adab ), theology (kalām ), philosophy, and medicine with a number of eminent teachers, some of whose names are given in the biographical sources. None of his philosophy teachers are mentioned by name, but he is reported to have had the highest regard for Ibn Bājjah (Avempace, d. 1139), who was responsible for introducing Aristotle into al-Andalus and was the first Arab philosopher in that part of the Islamic world. In addition, Ibn Rushd was a friend of Ibn Tufayl (d. 1185), author of a well-known philosophical novel, Ḥayy Ibn Yaqzān, which has been compared to Robinson Crusoe. Ibn Tufayl, who was the royal physician of the caliph, Abū Yaʿqūb Yūsuf, introduced Ibn Rushd in 1169 to that prince, who was apparently genuinely interested in philosophy, but complained of the "abstruse idiom of Aristotle or his (Arabic) interpreters." Thereupon, Ibn Rushd was commissioned to comment on Aristotle's works for the use of the caliph and was appointed Mālikī judge (qāḍin ; qāḍī ) of Seville and later chief judge of Córdoba. In 1182, he was appointed royal physician at the court of Marakesh, where he died in 1198 at the age of seventy-two; he was buried in his birthplace of Córdoba.
When Abū Yūsuf, surnamed al-Manṣūr, succeeded his father in 1184, Ibn Rushd continued to enjoy royal patronage, but in 1195, probably in response to public pressure instigated by the Mālikī jurists, who were averse to the study of philosophy and the "ancient sciences," Ibn Rushd's fortune took an adverse turn; he was exiled to Lucena, to the southeast of Córdoba; his books were burned; and the study of philosophy and the sciences, with the exception of astronomy, medicine, and arithmetic, was prohibited. Ibn Rushd's disgrace, however, did not last long and he was soon restored to favor, but died shortly after.
Ibn Rushd's writings fall into five distinct categories: philosophical, theological, juridical, medical, and linguistic.
His philosophical writings consist of a series of commentaries—long, intermediate, and short (i.e., summaries or paraphrases)—of the whole Aristotelian corpus with the exception of the Politics, totaling thirty-eight titles, which have survived in Arabic, as well as Hebrew and Latin translations. In addition, he wrote paraphrases of Plato's Republic and the Isagoge of Porphyry; commentaries on De intellectu of Alexander of Aphrodisias, the Metaphysics of Nicolaus of Damascus, and the al-Magest of Ptolemy; and a series of original tracts titled On the Intellect, On the Syllogism, On the Conjunction with the Active Intellect, and On the Heavenly Sphere. To these tracts should be added a number of polemical tracts, aimed at al-Fārābī (d. 950) and Ibn Sīnā (d. 1037).
The theological treatises include the Decisive Treatise (Faṣl al-Maqāl) and the Exposition of the Methods of Proof (al-Kashf), to which his rebuttal of Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī's Incoherence of the Philosophers, discussed below, might be added. Ibn Rushd's juridical writings include two treatises on jurisprudence, of which the Primer of the Discretionary Scholar (Bidāyat al-Mujtahid) has survived. His medical writings consist of al-Kulliyāt, translated into Latin as Colliget, as well as the short tracts On Fever, On the Humors, and On Theriac. There are also a number of paraphrases or summaries of Galen's medical treatises and finally a commentary on Ibn Sīnā's medical proem, known as al-Urjūzah. Ibn Rushd also wrote a solitary treatise on Arabic grammar.
Defense of Philosophical Discourse
Philosophy, which found its way into the Arab Muslim world in the eighth century, was not always well received in intellectual Islamic quarters, but came into collision with Islamic theology (kalām ) towards the middle of the ninth century. The philosophical-theological confrontation reached its climax in the last quarter of the tenth century, when al-Ghazālī, generally regarded as the greatest theologian of Islam, launched his onslaught against the philosophers in a classic work of antiphilosophical polemic entitled Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahāfut al-Falāsifah ), published in 1085. Almost a century later, Ibn Rushd took up the cudgels against al-Ghazālī in a book entitled The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahāfut al-Tahāfut, 1180). Shortly before, Ibn Rushd wrote the already-mentioned Decisive Treatise (1178) and Exposition of the Methods of Proof (1179) to defend the thesis of the harmony of the religious law (sharīʿah ) and philosophy (ḥikmah ) and to define the subject matter of theological enquiry respectively.
In the first of these two treatises, Ibn Rushd sets out to prove that religious law has indeed "commanded" the study of philosophy, which he defines as "the investigation of existing entities and their consideration insofar as they reveal their Maker." He supports this claim by reference to a series of Qurʾanic verses that call upon humankind to "investigate the kingdom of the heavens and the earth" (7:184), "to reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth" (3:191), and "to consider, you people of understanding" (59:2).
This investigation, reflection, or consideration, Ibn Rushd goes on to argue, is only possible by means of rational deduction (qiyās ), which he contrasts with legal deduction, or analogy, which had been sanctioned from the earliest times by legal scholars. If the latter is religiously admissible, he says, the former ought to be as well. To do this, the seeker of religious truth must first acquire a thorough knowledge of the various forms of deduction, the demonstrative (burhānī, apodeictic ), the dialectical, the rhetorical, and the sophistical, corresponding to the four types of syllogism given in Aristotle's Organon. The highest of these forms of deduction, according to Ibn Rushd, is the demonstrative, which is the prerogative of the philosophers, followed by dialectic, the prerogative of the theologians (Mutakallimūn ), and the rhetorical, the prerogative of the masses at large. The sophistical form is naturally excluded as invalid.
To illustrate the methodology he proposes in the Decisive Treatise, Ibn Rushd proceeds in the Exposition to list and discuss the major propositions that constitute the subject matter of what was known in the Middle Ages as Scholastic theology, discussed for instance in the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274). The list opens with the existence of God, his attributes, and his creation of the world, followed by questions concerning the commissioning of prophets, divine decree and predestination, and resurrection.
In connection with the proofs of the existence of God, Ibn Rushd is critical of the Ashʿarite proof, which rests on the two premises of the creation of the world in time and its composition of indivisible particles or atoms, neither of which, according to him, is demonstrable or certain. His own proof, which he believes to be embodied in the Qurʾān, is the teleological, or as he calls it, the proof from divine providence (ʿināyah ) or invention (ikhtirāʿ ).
Rebuttal of al-GhazĀlĪ's Incoherence of the Philosophers
A pivotal aspect of Ibn Rushd's philosophical output is the rehabilitation of philosophy, which had come under constant assault almost from the start. The most devastating such assault was launched by the great Ashʿarite theologian and mystic al-Ghazālī in his Incoherence of the Philosophers, by whom he meant al-Fārābī and Ibn Sīnā, the chief Islamic interpreters of Aristotle, according to him. Those philosophers, al-Ghazālī argues, should be charged with irreligion (kufr ) on three questions and heresy or innovation (bidʿah ) on seventeen. The former questions or propositions are the pre-eternity of the world, God's knowledge of universals but not of particulars, and the denial of bodily resurrection. The remaining seventeen include the post-eternity of the world; the inability of the philosophers to prove conclusively the existence of God, his unity, or his simplicity; and their assertion of a necessary causal "correlation" between natural occurrences that neither observation nor reason warrants.
In his rebuttal, Ibn Rushd counters the first charge by arguing that the philosophers distinguish between "continuous" and "discontinuous" creation and hold that the former, known in the Middle Ages as creatio ab aeterno, is more appropriately predicated of God. Ibn Rushd counters the second charge by arguing that God's knowledge is generically different from human knowledge insofar as it is the cause of the object known, whereas human knowledge is the effect of that object, on the one hand, and its modality is unknown to us on the other. Finally, he counters the third charge by asserting that bodily resurrection is a matter in which all the religious scriptures, including the Qurʾān, the Gospels, and the Jewish scriptures, concur. Belief in bodily resurrection and the similar religious dogmas should not be questioned insofar as they are preconditions of happiness and virtue in this life, and, although not philosophically demonstrable, they should be adhered to on moral, social, and pragmatic grounds.
On the question of necessary causation, Ibn Rushd argues along Aristotelian lines that the repudiation of causality is tantamount to the repudiation of scientific knowledge altogether, since such knowledge is grounded in the knowledge of the specific properties of existing entities and the way in which they impinge on each other as causes and effects.
Ethics and Politics
Ibn Rushd's contribution to ethics is embodied in his summary of Aristotelian ethics and a middle commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics, which has survived only in Latin translations. More interesting in this context is his Paraphrase of Plato's Republic, which has survived in Hebrew and Latin translations and in which he discusses at some length the interrelation of the two "practical" sciences of ethics and politics. He states in the preface that he has elected to paraphrase Plato's famous political treatise because Artistotle's Politics "has not fallen into our hands." He does not appear to be aware of the fact that the Aristotelian treatise was never translated into Arabic in his day and was only translated from Greek in 1957 by Augustin Barbara.
In his paraphrase (jawāmiʿ ), Ibn Rushd distinguishes the two practical sciences of ethics and politics, whose object is action, from the theoretical, whose object is scientific knowledge. Ethics, he then argues, has a certain analogy with medicine insofar as it has, like medicine, two subdivisions: hygienic and therapeutic. The former is concerned with the way in which habits and voluntary modes of behavior or traits become ingrained in the soul; the latter with the way in which those habits or modes of behavior are restored once they are gone. All the practical virtues, however, are subservient to the theoretical, which consist of the rational, deliberative, moral, and technical, corresponding to Artistotle's table in the Nicomachean Ethics VI, or reason (nous ), practical wisdom (phronesis ), and practical art (techne ).
Politics, by contrast, is concerned with those modes of association in which the human is a political animal (zoon politcon ) and is forced to choose, by dint of the need for security and survival, as Plato held in the Republic, Book I. Ibn Rushd agrees with Plato that the state, like the individual soul, has three parts—the rational, the spirited (thymos ), and the appetitive—with which the perfection of each is bound up. Thus, a person is described as wise to the extent the rational part of his or her soul rules the spirited and the appetitive. A person is courageous to the extent his or her spirited part is subservient to the rational, and temperate to the extent his or her appetitive part is subservient to the rational as well. The same is true of the state and its parts. When all the parts of the soul or state are rationally ordered, the supreme virtue of justice arises. This virtue is defined at the individual level as "the way in which everyone of the (soul's) parts (i.e., the rational, the spirited, and the appetitive) does only what it has to do in the appropriate manner and at the appropriate time." At the collective or the political level, justice is stated to be "nothing more than that every man in the state does the work that is his by nature in the best way he possibly can." This is achieved once the class that possesses the virtues of knowledge and wisdom (i.e., the philosopher-king and the guardians) are allowed to rule the two subordinate classes of auxiliaries (the military) and laborers.
Latin Averroism: Ibn Rushd in the West
Less than three decades after his death, the commentaries of Ibn Rushd found their way into Western Europe in Hebrew and Latin translations. The interest of the Jews in his writings stemmed from the high regard in which he was held by his countryman, the great Jewish Aristotelian, Moses Maimonides (d. 1204). By 1230, Michael the Scot, Herman the German, and William of Luna rendered into Latin the greater part of Ibn Rushd's commentaries. No sooner had these translations found their way into learned circles in France and Italy than they caused a major intellectual stir. First, they led to the rediscovery of Aristotle, whose philosophy was almost completely forgotten since the time of Boethius (d. c. 525), the Roman consul and author of the Consolations of Philosophy, who had translated the whole logical corpus of Aristotle, known as the Organon, and commented on parts of it. Secondly, they contributed to the rise of Latin Scholasticism, one of the glories of late Medieval philosophy, as Étienne Gilson has put it, which prior to that rediscovery was inconceivable. Thirdly, they contributed to the rise of European rationalism, which Gilson has attributed in his Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages (1938) to the influence of that "Arabian philosopher (meaning Averroës)…who bequeathed to his successors the ideal of a purely rational philosophy, an ideal whose influence was to be such that, by it, even the evolution of Christian philosophy was to be deeply modified" (p. 38).
By the middle of the thirteenth century, as a consequence of Ibn Rushd's influence, Latin philosophers and theologians split into rival groups, the pro-Averroists, represented by Siger of Brabant (d. 1281), Boethius of Dacia (d. 1284), John of Jandun (d. 1328), and others; and the anti-Averroists, represented by Thomas Aquinas, his teacher Albertus Magnus (d. 1280), and others. The controversy between the two groups reached such a pitch that the bishop of Paris, Etienne Tempier, was forced to issue in 1270 the first condemnation of fifteen heretical propositions, thirteen of which were of Averroist inspiration. This was followed in 1277 by a second condemnation of 219 propositions of Averroist and Aristotelian inspiration.
In the next century, Dante Alighieri (d. 1321) advanced in his De Monarchia an antipapalist and secularist thesis based on Averroës's theory of the "possible intellect," which was met with staunch opposition from ecclesiastical quarters. In 1327, Dante was condemned as an Averroist and his De Monarchia was burned in the public square of Bologna by order of Pope John XXII.
The anti-Averroist group, led by Thomas Aquinas, challenged the Averroists on three major counts: the unity of the intellect, the eternity of the world, and the scope of divine providence. In his famous tract, De unitate intellectus, contra Averroistas, Thomas Aquinas challenges Averroës's interpretation of Aristotle's view of the intellect as both universal and transcendent, and accordingly susceptible of immortality in both its possible and active capacities.
On the question of the eternity of the world, Thomas Aquinas contends, following the lead of Maimonides in his Dux Perplexorum, that Aristotle did not actually assert the eternity of the world in a conclusive way, but had in two of his works, Topica and De Coelo, regarded it as simply probable. As regards the scope of divine providence, Averroës explicitly, and Aristotle by implication, were accused of a rigid determinism that left no scope for divine intervention in the form of miracles.
Latin Averroism continued to gain ground in Padua, Bologna, and elsewhere in Italy well into the sixteenth century. The chief Averroists of the period were John of Jandun (d. 1328), Marsilius of Padua (d. 1343), Urban of Bologna, Paul of Venice, and others.
Pietro Pomponazzi (d. 1525), who tended to follow Alexander of Aphrodisias in his interpretation of Aristotle, was nevertheless in agreement with Averroës that religion has a purely pragmatic, social, and ethical function insofar as it contributes to private and public morality. The chief Averroists of the sixteenth century included Niphus and Zimara, the two most accomplished commentators on the works of Aristotle and Averroës during that period.
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Averroës. Averroës on the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy. Translated by George Hourani. London, 1961.
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Averroës. The Incoherence of the Incoherence. Translated by Simon van den Bergh. London, 1969.
Averroës. Averroës on Plato's Republic. Translated by Ralph Lerner. Ithaca, N.Y., and London, 1974.
Averroës. Middle Commentaries on Aristotle's Categories and De Interpretations. Translated by Charles Butterworth. Princeton, N.J., 1983.
Averroës. Faith and Reason in Islam : Averroes' Exposition of Religious Arguments. Translated by Ibrahim Najjar. Oxford, 2001.
Majid Fakhry (2005)
He is known particularly for his commentary on Aristotle, and for other works dealing with many aspects of philosophy and theology. One concerns ‘the convergence which exists between the religious law (sharīʿa) and philosophy (ḥikma)’. Another work considers the problem of predestination. One of his most famous writings, Tahāfut al-tahāfut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence), criticizes al-Gha(z)zālī's work, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, and upholds the value of philosophy as a wisdom applied to God's creation.
Among Ibn Rushd's doctrines, Neoplatonist in origin, were the eternity and potentiality of matter (the world is eternal but caused, the natura naturata of God who is eternal and uncaused, natura naturans), and the unity of the human intellect, i.e. the doctrine that only one intellect exists in which every individual participates, to the exclusion of an isolated personal immortality. When his theories became known in N. Europe c.1230, the contradiction with Christian doctrine was not at first clear, and there emerged a party of ‘Averroists’ at the University of Paris led by Siger of Brabant (c.1240–c.1284). A treatise of Thomas Aquinas was directed against them in 1270, and they were later accused of saying that ‘things are true according to philosophy but not according to the Catholic faith, as though there were two contradictory truths’, i.e. the theory of ‘double truth’. Ibn Rushd's own understanding of ‘double truth’ was one of reconciliation. It rested on taʾwīl, understood as producing, not two contradictory interpretations or truths, but rather the same single truth under two different styles of presentation.