Abu'al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Rushd (Averroës)

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Abu'al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Rushd (Averroës)


Spanish Physician, Philosopher, Astronomer and Jurist

Ibn Rushd, known to the West as Averroës, is famous for his commentaries on Aristotle (384-322 b.c.), which were widely used as standard texts until the sixteenth century. This body of work earned him the appellation "the Commentator." He is also remembered for his medical treatise Kulliyat and philosophical work Tahafut at-tahafut.

Ibn Rushd was born in 1126 to a family of important jurists in Cordoba, Spain. While in Marrakesh, Morocco, to help with the reform of education (1153), he met the astronomer Abu Bakr ibn Tufayl (1105?-1184). Six years later, at Seville, Ibn Tufayl introduced Ibn Rushd to the Sultan's son, Abu Ya'qub Yusuf. As a result of their meeting, Ibn Rushd accepted the task of providing comprehensive commentaries on Aristotle's works. When Abu Ya'qub became caliph in 1169, Ibn Rushd was appointed qadi (religious judge) of Seville and then of Cordoba (1171). He was summoned to Marrakesh in 1182 to assume Ibn Tufayl's position as physician to Abu Ya'qub. After Abu Ya'qub's death in 1184, Ibn Rushd continued to enjoy privileged status under the new caliph, al-Mansur Ya'qub ibn Yusuf. When war with the Christian powers in the north became imminent in 1195, Ibn Rushd fell into disfavor because his views were thought subversive of Islamic orthodoxy. He was temporarily banished. After the victorious al-Mansur returned to Marrakesh, Ibn Rushd was summoned to his side and all edicts against him were canceled. He died on December 10, 1198, in Marrakesh.

Ibn Rushd is best known for his tripartite commentaries of Aristotle's work. The Jami was a brief summary of a text for beginning students. The Talkhis was a longer, intermediate analysis. The Tafsir was intended for advanced students and provided a comprehensive and original exegetical analysis. Traditional Arabic commentaries were heavily influenced by Neoplatonic accretions and thus distorted Aristotelian ideas. Ibn Rushed achieved a fair measure of success in restoring Aristotle's original meaning. His commentaries exerted a great influence on thirteenth-century Aristotelianism. Their clarity was such that, in the Latin West, they were pedagogically preferred to Aristotle's primary texts.

More than 20 works dealing with medicine are attributed to Ibn Rushd. These represent the denouement of Muslim medical thought, as Ibn Rushd criticized its rigid conformity to authority and tradition, calling for a renewed emphasis on empirical evidence.

His major medical treatise was Kulliyat (General medicine), which incorporated portions of Ibn Sina's (980-1037) Qanun fi at-tibb (Canon of medicine) as supplemented by his own original contributions. Kulliyat covers topics from organ anatomy and hygiene to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases. Ibn Rushd asked his friend Ibn Zuhr to write a companion piece to Kulliyat. The two works were intended to serve as a medical textbook and were often printed together.

In astronomy, Ibn Rushd provided the most significant exposition and defense of Aristotelian cosmology. Aristotle had maintained that each planet was attached to a celestial orb, with the orbs nested within each other. According to Aristotle, these concentric spheres moved with a natural, uniform circular motion about a common center—the Universe's center. Ibn Rushd developed this view further, insisting that the motion had to be about a physical center—the earth. He attacked Ptolemy's use of epicycles and equants because they clearly violated these constraints. Thus, the Ptolemaic system could not be physically real.

Tahafut at-tahafut (The incoherence of the incoherence) is Ibn Rushd's most important philosophical work. It is a response to al-Ghazali's attack on the efficacy of rational inquiry in religious matters. Ibn Rushd rejected this position, arguing that natural reason is adequate for any intellectual investigation. Ibn Rushd also wrote important works on jurisprudence.


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