Averroës


Averroës
(Ibn Rushd)
(1126–1198)
   The most important Muslim Aristotelian philosopher and the most renowned scholar of Islamic Spain was Ibn Rushd, known in the West as Averroës the Commentator for his influential commentaries on Aristotle. Averroës was a jurist, a physician, an astronomer, and a prolific writer whose commentaries, through translations into Hebrew and Latin composed by Andalusian Jews, exerted an influence on medieval Jewish philosophy and Latin scholasticism even greater than he had on Muslim philosophy.
   Averroës was born in Córdoba in 1126 to a family of learned jurists. Details of his early education are unknown, but he clearly had excellent training in law, grammar, literature, medicine, and theology in his early years. He is known to have been in Marrakesh in 1153, and seems to have met ‘Abd al-Mu’min, the first Almohad ruler of Spain. He returned to Marrakesh in 1163 and became acquainted with the court vizier and physician Ibn Tufayl, who introduced Averroës to the new Almohad ruler, Abū Ya’qūb Yūsuf, whose interest in philosophy led him to ask Averroës to compose Arabic commentaries on some of Aristotle’s more obscure works. Averroës’s first commentary appeared in 1169, the same year he was appointed to a judgeship in Seville.
   In 1171 Averroës returned to Córdoba, where according to some sources he became chief judge. Then in 1182, upon the retirement of his old sponsor Ibn Tufayl, Averroës became court physician, a position he kept after Abū Ya’qūb Yūsuf was succeeded by his son Abū Yūsuf Ya’qūb in 1184. But in 1195, for reasons that remain obscure, Averroës was disgraced and exiled to Lucenna (near Córdoba). It seems likely that the dismissal from court was prompted by conservative religious authorities’ objections to some of his philosophical arguments, since all of his philosophical and theological texts were burnt in conjunction with his exile. At some point, however, Averroës was pardoned and allowed to return to Marrakesh, where he lived in retirement until his death in 1198.
   Averroës wrote 38 commentaries on Aristotle, of which 28 are extant in Arabic, 36 in Hebrew, and 34 in Latin. He considered it his primary task to correct the erroneous interpretations of Aristotle made by earlier philosophers, in particular the 10th-century eastern Muslim philosopher Avicenna. The commentaries—on such texts as Aristotle’s Physics, Metaphysics, Rhetoric, Poetics, De anima, and others—are of three types: major (which contain the text as well as commentary), middle (an extensive interpretive essay), and epitome (a shorter interpretation). For some Aristotelian texts, he wrote all three types of commentary. In addition Averroës wrote commentaries on Plato’s Republic, Porphyry’s Isagoge, Ptolemy’s Almagest, and other classical Greek texts. In addition, he wrote influential works on Islamic law (Bidāyat al-mujtahid) and on medicine (al-Kulliyyāt).He also wrote works defending the study of philosophy against those who considered it incompatible with strict Islamic law. His best-known work in this vein is the Tahāfut al-Tahāfut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence), a direct response to the Muslim attack on Aristotelianism (The Incoherence of the Philosophers) by the Persian scholar AL-GAZāLI (d. 1111).
   Averroës’s influence on medieval and Renaissance European thought cannot be overstated. Through his commentaries, the texts and interpretations of Aristotle’s works made available in Europe stimulated philosophers in the Latin West and in Judaism. Some of the doctrines with which he became associated in the West were the idea of the eternity of the world, the denial of individual providence, and most important (following from his discussion of divine and human intellect), the denial of individual immortality. All of these doctrines were condemned by orthodox Christian theologians. Latin “Averroists,” however, developed what became known as the doctrine of the double truth, by which they claimed that philosophy and theology could reach truths that are mutually contradictory. Averroës himself never made such a claim—he argued that his views were compatible with Islamic faith—but the doctrine of the doubletruth seems to have become popular at the University of Paris in the 13th century.
   Bibliography
   ■ Averroës. Tahafut al-Tahafut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence). Translated by Simon van den Bergh. 2 vols. London: Luzac, 1954.
   ■ Butterworth, Charles E., ed. and trans. Averroes’Middle Commentaries on Aristotle’s Categories and De interpretatione. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983.
   ■ ———, ed. and trans. Averroës’ Three Short Commentaries on Aristotle’sTopics,” “Rhetoric,” andPoetics.” Albany: State University of New York Press, 1977.
   ■ Davidson,Herbert A. Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes on Intellect: Their Cosmologies, Theories of the Active Intellect, and Theories of Human Intellect. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
   ■ Hyman, Arthur, and James J.Walsh. Philosophy in the Middle Ages: The Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions. 2nd ed. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 1983.
   ■ Leaman, Oliver. Averroes and His Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.
   ■ Rosenthal, E. I. J., ed. and trans. Averroës’ Commentary on Plato’s Republic. Reprint with corrections. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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