Averroës (Ibn Rushd)

views updated


Muslim philosopher whose writings influenced medieval Christian thinkers; b. Córdoba, Spain, 1126; d. Morocco, 1198. Averroës came from a distinguished family of judges. He studied law, medicine, theology, and philosophy and served in high positions under two Almohad rulers: Yaqūb Yusūf and his successor, Yusūf Yaqūb al-Manur. When the latter persecuted the philosophers (119697), Averroës was banished from Córdoba, but he was later restored to favor.

Averroës wrote a general work on medicine, Kullīyāt known to the Latins as Colliget and used as a textbook in medieval universities. His main philosophical works include Sermo de substantia orbis; Fal al-maqāl (On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy); Tahāfut al-Tahāfut (or, in the Latin version, Destructio destructionis philosophiae Algazelis ); commentaries on many works of Aristotle including the Metaphysics, Physics, De generatione et corruptione, Nicomachean Ethics, De anima, De caelo et mundo, Posterior Analytics; and a paraphrase of Plato's Republic.

Teaching. The Aristotelian commentaries, written at the request of Yaqūb Yusūf, were of three types. The great commentary reproduced in the order of the original text each paragraph of Aristotle's work and explained it in a detailed way. The middle commentary cited only the first words of each of Aristotle's paragraphs before proceeding to some exposition. The paraphrase was a summary that followed the order that seemed most suitable to Averroës; this was not necessarily the order of the book he was explaining. The commentaries reflected Averroës's great admiration for aristotle. Although he was influenced also by plato, Aristotle, for him, was the master, the "exemplar that Nature found to show forth the highest human perfection" [Comm. mag. in Arist. de anim. lib. 3.14 (Mediaeval Academy ed. 433)].

Notion of Intellect. In his commentary on the De anima Averroës discussed a problem that had arisen from a text in book 3: Does each man have his own intellect or is there one intellect for all men? Some of the Arabs, among them Avicenna (9801037), had thought that although each man has his own possible intellect, the active, or agent, intellect is a separated substance and one for all men. Averroës held that the possible, or "material," intellect, as well as the agent intellect, was a separated substance and one for all men. In his view the individual man has no spiritual intellect; but because man's imagination, memory, and cogitative power supply and prepare sensory data for the use of the separated intellect, he thought man shared in the latter's knowledge. For Averroës, the separated agent intellect actuates the intelligible species potentially present in man's phantasms and thus enables the separated possible intellect to become the subject in which knowledge exists (Comm. mag. 3.4, 383385; 3.5, 388389, 412; 3.18, 439440; 3.19, 441; 3.33, 476). St. thomas aquinas was to point out that to say man provides the objects of knowledge for a separated intellect is not to explain how the individual man knows; and to deny to the individual man a spiritual power of knowing is to destroy the philosophical basis for the personal immortality of the soul (De unit. intell. proem.; 3). Averroës himself was not content with his own explanation, but tried to keep the intellect separate from matter to ensure its function of knowing universals (Comm. mag. 3.4, 383384; 3.5, 388389; 3.19, 441; 3.36, 502). He had no awareness of a spiritual intellective soul that could be the form of the body without being immersed in matter.

Concept of Being. In metaphysics Averroës found the clue to the meaning of being in the book of his Master. Aristotle had seemed to identify being with substance and substance with "what" a thing is (Meta. 1028a 1314). Averroës taught that being is eminently substance and that substance is eminently form [In 7 meta.

1 (Venice 1574)]. He criticized Avicenna for teaching that existence is an accident of essence. "Avicenna sinned much," he said, "in this that he thought that 'one' and 'being' signify dispositions added to the essence of a thing" (In 4 meta. 2, fol. 67rv). For Averroës "to be" is in no way an addition to essence: "This name ens that is imposed from the 'to be' of a thing, signifies the same reality as the name that is imposed from its essence" (In 4 meta. 2, fol. 67r). Being means nothing else than "that which is." To him it seemed that Avicenna had mixed up theological teachings with metaphysics.

Averroës also rejected Avicenna's version of emanation, which provided a cosmological framework for showing that existence is something that "happens" to a possible essence [Tahāfut al-Tahāfut 3 (tr. S. van den Bergh 118119)]. It is wrong, Averroës thought, to insist that from the one, only one can proceed. In Averroës's cosmology this principle applies more evidently to the lower worldmade up of beings composed of matter and formthan it does to the realm of Intelligences. Rather, the first effect possesses plurality, a plurality that depends on unity (ibid. 3.107109, 148149, 154).

God and the World. Averroës agreed with Avicenna that there are many Intelligences and that their number and their rank are determined by the number and physical rank (i.e., the size and speed) of the celestial bodies they move, but this hierarchy of rank is not a sequence of production. Although some are subordinate to others in rank, the whole hierarchy of Intelligences is related to God as its formal and final cause. God is the First Principle, "the principle of all these principles" (ibid. 3.111115; 138).

In Averroës's context the heavens, motion, time, and primary matter are all eternal. The world must be eternal, he thought; to deny its eternity would be to imply that something could prevent God's act from being eternally connected with His existence. But such a constraint upon His activity would point to an inadmissible lack of power and perfection in God (ibid. 1.56). The assumption that an eternal effect must necessarily result from God's eternal action was later opposed by St. Thomas Aquinas (C. gent. 2.35; Summa theologiae 1a, 46.1 ad 10).

Averroës's God was the productive cause of the things of the sublunary world. As such, He made sensible things to be by bringing into actual existence forms that existed potentially in eternal matter. Although this God might seem to a Christian to be only a First Mover and not a Creator, Averroës called Him a cause of existence, since to his way of thinking, "the bestower of the conjunction of matter and form is the bestower of existence" (Tahāfut 3.108).

Religion. This and other conclusions of Averroës seemed incompatible with traditional teachings of the religion of Islam, which he also accepted. Did he then teach a doctrine of double truth, as some later interpreters claimed? The answer is negative. In his Fal al-maqāl (On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy ) he tried to show that religion points through symbolic representations to the same truths that philosophical knowledge attains. For most people, he held, the religious approach is best (Fal al-maqāl, ch. 2, 3; Tahāfut [About the Natural Sciences] 1, 4). But by implying that only the philosopher, and not the believer, sees truth as it is, Averroës seemed to accept the speculative primacy of reason.

Influence. The thought of Averroës did not have much influence in his own Muslim world, but many of his works were preserved in Hebrew and Latin translations. As "The Commentator," he was used by Christians as an aid in reading Aristotle and became the source of a new movement of thought that opposed, on some points, the teachings of faith. This Latin Averroism of 13th-century Paris was succeeded by a second Averroism in 14th-, 15th-, and 16th-century Italy, especially at Padua. Petrarch declared that for some thinkers, Aristotle held the place of Christ, and Averroës that of St. Peter [quoted by J. R. Charbonnel, La Pensée italienne au XIV e siècle (Paris 1919) 178].

See Also: averroism, latin; double truth, theory of; intellec, unity of; arabian philosophy; scholasticism.

Bibliography: Works. Commentarium magnum in Aristotelis De anima libros, ed. f. s. crawford (Cambridge, Mass. 1953), and other Mediaeval Academy eds. of his commentaries; Commentarium in Aristotelis Metaphysicorum libros, in aristotle, Opera cum Averrois commentariis, 9 v. in 11 and 3 suppl. (Venice 156274; repr. Frankfurt A. M. 1962); Commentary on Plato's Republic, ed. and tr. e. i. j. rosenthal (Cambridge, Eng. 1956); On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy, tr. g. f. hourani (London 1961); Tahāfut al-Tahāfut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence ), tr. s. van den bergh, 2 v. (London 1954); Destructio destructionum philosophiae Algazelis in the Latin Version of Calo Calonymos, ed. b. h. zedler (Milwaukee 1961). Literature. m. allard, Le Rationalisme d'Averroës d'après une étude sur la création (Paris 1955). l. gauthier, Ibn Rochd (Averroës ) (Paris 1948). É. h. gilson, Being and Some Philosophers (2d ed. Toronto 1952); History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (New York 1955). e. renan, Oeuvres philosophiques: Averroës et I'averroïsme , v. 3 of Oeuvres complètes (Paris 1949). h. a. wolfson, "Revised Plan for the Publication of a Corpus commentariorum Averrois in Aristotelem," Speculum 38 (1963) 8898.

[b. h. zedler]