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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


AVERROES

(1126 — 1198)

 

ISLAMIC ARISTOTELIANISM

Averroes (Ibn Rushd) was born in Cordoba, Spain, the son of a judge, and in addition to philosophy studied law, theology, medicine and mathematics. He became a judge himself in Seville and then practised medicine in Spain and later in Morocco. He wrote on astronomy, medicine and law but is notable primarily as an eminent and influential commentator on Aristotle; and indeed in the later medieval period was known as 'The Commentator'.

 

RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY/ METAPHYSICS

[1] [See Harmony between Philosophy and Religion and The Incoherence of the Incoherence.] In dealing with the problem of the relationship of reason to faith Averroes regarded philosophy and theology as operating at different levels or in different ways. While the philosopher seeks certainty as far as possible through reason, the theologian's presentation may be only probable. A truth might be formulated 'scientifically', that is, in philosophy, when it is regarded as knowledge; while in theology it is understood allegorically. According to Averroes, conflicts over Muslim orthodoxy arose because disputants failed to recognise the fundamental irreconcilability of some religious doctrines with what is philosophically demonstrable. The non-philosopher accepts faith on authority: but Averroes rejected the primacy of faith over reason [a].

[2] [See Commentaries on Aristotle — especially Physics and Metaphysics.] In his metaphysics Averroes emphasized the individual existent thing and argued that existence can not be separated from either essence or accidents and is the primary notion [a]. To be an essential substance is to exist. Indeed, everything that has being exists, especially God. 'Being' thus seems to have been used as a univocal term, that is, one which has the same meaning whether referring to the categories of substance or accidents — though the meaning might be said also to be analogous by virtue of the common 'possession' of existence [b]. Averroes distinguished between necessity and possibility (or potentiality). For him necessity belongs to being as such and does not refer to any necessary connection between 'contingent' beings and their causes. Rather beings are potential to the extent that they are not fully actualized and are dependent on some other being for their existence [c]. God as pure Act is pure Form, the unmoved mover, identical with the First Intelligence, and both final uncaused cause and efficient creative cause [d]the 'world force' (natura naturans) [d]. He produces the world out of necessity because He knows it — and this can be proved philosophically [e]. At the other extreme is pure potentiality — prime matter, uncreated and coeternal with God [f]. Between the two is Nature as a unified, single structure (natura naturata) [g], containing bodies in a hierarchical process from potentiality (matter) to actuality (form) — which makes each individual what it is [g]. This does not emanate from God: rather He creates, actualizes the celestial spheres and the other Intelligences (which are pure act) in the hierarchy as intermediate causes [g]. Through these God passes down His power to the last Intelligence, the Active Intellect, which converts potential being (matter) into actual being rather than bringing forms into the created world [h].

 

KNOWLEDGE/ PSYCHOLOGY

[3] [Commentaries on Aristotle — especially De Anima.] Knowledge is essentially a knowledge of Being at its various levels — as studied by natural science, natural philosophy, metaphysics — which is concerned with being as such, and culminating in a mystical knowledge of ultimate reality [a]. Averroes distinguishes between the universal active intellect and a corporeal passive intellect or understanding [b]. This is, however, distinct from the soul and is a capacity to receive forms [b]. He utilizes this distinction in his account of how knowledge is gained. When 'illuminated' by the active intellect the passive intellect becomes the non-corporeal material intellect and a property of the active intellect itself — the two together constituting the 'acquired' intellect and initiating the thinking and knowing process which involves the 'abstracting' of the intelligible forms from material things [c]. The individual soul as such is not a so-called 'possible' soul but 'sensitive', the form of the body (corporeal form), and perishes with it [d]. The acquired intellect, however, is separable from matter. Survival after death is therefore possible. But this is not a personal immortality, as the separated forms or substances do not exist as individuals but rather subsist as aspects in the common active human intellect of the human species within the universal hierarchy of being. He thus espoused the doctrine of monopsychism [e].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Although influenced by some Neoplatonic methods and metaphysics, Averroes was essentially Aristotelian — but not uncritically so; and he is important for this greater emphasis on Aristotle as against the Neoplatonic bias of earlier Islamic thought. He also sought to make philosophy more independent of religious presuppositions while denying any incompatibility between them. The inseparability of essence and existence; necessity and possibility as an intrinsic feature of beings; God as creative unmoved mover and first cause; and restoration of the form-act, matter-potential distinction — these are all significant claims in his thought. His writings were condemned by the Christian Church, but they were avidly studied by major philosophers before the ban was lifted in the mid-thirteenth century, and were influential on the 'Latin Averroests' (as their opponents called them). Nevertheless, aspects of his philosophy, such as his affirmation of one universal active intellect and his rejection of personal immortality were later criticized by Christian thinkers.

 

READING

Averroes: The Fasl and its Appendix, the Manāhij (both concerned with the "harmony between religion and philosophy"), trans. G. F. Hourani; Tahāfut at-tahāfut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence), trans. S. van den Bergh; Commentaries on Plato; Commentaries on Aristotle (most of these are now available in English translation — see the Bibliography.). See also O. Leaman, An Introduction to Classical Islamic Philosophy.

Studies

O. Leaman, Averroes and his Philosophy.

R. C. Taylor, 'Averroes', in J. J. E. Garcia (ed.), A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages.

D. Urvoy, Ibn Rushd (London: Routledge, 1991).

Collection of essays

P. Adamson and R. C. Taylor (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy. 2004

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Averroes

 

[1a] Faith and reason; allegory; faith can be rejected — primacy of reason

   Philo

   Avicenna

Maimonides

Wm of Auvergne

Aquinas

   Duns Scotus

Bruno

[1a]

[5d]

[1a]

[1a]

[1a]

[1a]

[1a]

 

[2a; cf. 2c] Existence and essence/ accidents inseparable; primacy of existence

   Aristotle

   Avicenna

Maimonides

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

[13a]

[1c 1d 3c]

[2e]

[1d e]

[1a b]

[2b]

 

[2b] Meaning of 'being'; predication — univocity/ analogy?

   Aristotle

   Avicenna

Maimonides

Wm of Auvergne

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

[4b]

[1e]

[2b]

[1j]

[3c]

[1g]

[2b]

 

[2c] Necessary actuality and contingent possibility

   Aristotle

   Avicenna

Aquinas

[5b 9b 14b 16c]

[1d 2a]

[1e]

 

[2d] God: pure act, unmoved mover, First Intelligence, final and efficient cause

   Aristotle

   Plotinus

   Avicenna

Maimonides

[12e]

[1e]

[1d 3b]

[2a]

 

[2d g] Natura naturans and naturata Bruno [1h]

 

[2e g] Creation necessitated because God knows it; not emanative

   Aristotle

   Plotinus

   Avicenna

Maimonides

   Bonaventura

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

[12e]

[1c]

[3a 3a]

[2d]

[2b]

[3f 3f]

[1f 1f]

[3e]

 

[2f] Matter: eternal and pure potentiality

   Aristotle

   Plotinus

   Avicenna

Maimonides

Henry of Ghent

[14a b 12c]

[1m]

[2a]

[2d]

[1c]

 

[2g] Nature: Intelligences as hierarchy of intermediate causes; hylomorphism of corporeal bodies; form actualizes the individual

   Plotinus

   Avicenna

Maimonides

   Bonaventura

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

[1d]

[3a 3b 3d e]

[2f]

[2b 3c]

[1e 2a 3b]

[1h]

 

[2h] Active (final) Intelligence (converts potential to actual being)

   Aristotle

   Avicenna

Maimonides

Henry of Ghent

[15d]

[3e]

[2g]

[1c]

 

[3a] Knowledge of levels of being; mystical knowledge

   Aristotle

   Plotinus

   Avicenna

Maimonides

[13a 16a]

[3b]

[1a 5a b 5e]

[4e]

 

[3b c] Passive intellect (not soul as such) illuminated by active intellect → material intellect (+ active = 'acquired'); abstraction of intelligible forms to give knowledge

   Aristotle

   Avicenna

Maimonides

Wm of Auvergne

Albert

Bonaventura

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

[15d 16c-e]

[3f 4c 5a]

[4a 4a c]

[2c]

[2c 3a]

[5d]

[5a b 5f 6d]

[2a b]

[4b]

 

[3b d e] Soul: 'sensitive' and form of body; 'acquired' intellect's non-personal survival; monopsychism

   Aristotle

   Avicenna

Maimonides

Wm of Auvergne

Albert

Bonaventura

Aquinas

Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

Leibniz

[16b d e]

[4a b d]

[4c]

[2a 2d]

[2b c]

[5b d e]

[5a e 5e f]

[1h]

[4a b e]

[2f]