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Definition: Averroës from Philip's Encyclopedia

(Abu al-Walid ibn Rushd) (1126-98) Leading Islamic philosopher in Spain. He became physician to the caliph of Marrakesh in 1182, but was banished to Spain in 1195 for advocating reason over religion. His major work, Incoherence of the Incoherence, defends Neoplatonism and Aristotle. He exercised a powerful influence on Christian thought that persisted into the Renaissance. See also Aquinas, Saint Thomas; scholasticism


Summary Article: Averroës (Ibn Rushd) (1126-1198) from Encyclopedia of Philosophers on Religion

Averroës was born into a learned Cordoban family of judges only a few years after the death of al-Ghazalt, the Iranian exphilosopher who wrote The Incoherence of the Philosophers in which philosophers are severely criticized for contradicting not only themselves, but more seriously, the obvious teaching of the Qur’an. In addition to receiving an education in medicine, science and poetic literature as a young man, Averroës also studied Islamic law, philosophy and theology, and would no doubt have gained familiarity early on with al-Ghazalt’s writings. If he did, it did not deter him from pursuing further his interest in philosophy. A friend, the philosopher and court physician Ibn Tufayl, encouraged him to write a commentary on Aristotle so that Abü Ya’qüb Yüsuf, the "Prince of the Believers" ruling the Almohad dynasty then in control of Northwest Africa and Muslim Spain, might find his reading of the Greek philosopher less confusing. Averroës responded by writing a summary of the Aristotelian corpus, and was rewarded by eventually being appointed to several judgeships and named the ruler’s personal physician.

Except for a brief period of exile toward the end of his life, he stayed on at the court to write the many more commentaries on Aristotle and other philosophical treatises that would have such an influence on Christian thinking in medieval Europe. Especially significant of his own independent thought were the two works On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy and The Incoherence of the Incoherence, which he wrote to defend philosophy against the attacks launched by al-Ghazalt and other conservative theologians. While admitting that philosophy should not be taught to the masses, he insisted that it pointed to the same truth preached in symbolic form by religion, and that, being no more a post-Qur’Inic innovation than Islamic law, philosophy is no less than the latter a permissible expression of Muslim faith.

A conservative majority of theologians succeeded in convincing the ruling caliph (al-Mansur) to declare Averroës something of a heretic in his latter years and to order all his books banned and burned. Within a couple of years, however, the caliph relented and allowed Averroës to return to the court in Morocco. Notwithstanding the abuse he took from Islamic theologians, there is little doubt that he went to his grave a devout and committed Muslim.

AverroËs on Religion. The Islamic religion is divine and true. It consists of two parts: external and interpreted. Its external core is found in the text of the Qur’an, whose miraculous nature is indicated by the fact that both its literary excellence and its theoretical and practical prescriptions (far superior to those of Jewish and Christian scriptures) are beyond the human ingenuity of an illiterate Prophet. As with religion in general, the Qur’an is primarily concerned with the majority, and addresses them in accordance with their own temperament and nature. To that extent, its doctrines are couched in rhetorical arguments and corporeal symbolization. It is incumbent upon the masses to accept their apparent meaning at face value. But there is also an interpretive dimension to religion, for the Qur’an did not neglect trying to arouse the assent of the philosophers, who, in obedience to religious law itself, use demonstration as the highest form of logical deduction to investigate existing entities for evidence of their divine Maker.

The truth they discover (e.g., the identity of existence and essence, the hierarchy of Intelligences, the eternity of the world, etc.) does not conflict with the truth revealed by religion. It is incumbent upon these learned elite to interpret ambiguous passages of the Qur’an and to identify those doctrines around which rational consensus can be achieved (e.g., existence of a provident and inventive God). But the allegorical hidden meaning they discern should not be divulged to the masses. In trying to do so, the dialectical theologians corrupt both faith and philosophy, destroy the belief of the masses, and spawn heretical sects. While, therefore, it is permissible to interpret, for example, the doctrine of immortality common to all religions (including Islam, whose Precious Book identifies death with sleep) spiritually to mean reabsorption of the human material intellect into the Agent Intellect, it would not be right to impose such talk upon the masses, for whom corporeal symbolization is a much stronger stimulus to pursue a life beyond.

Sources
  • Averroës. Faith and Reason in Islam: Averroës’ Exposition of Religious Arguments. Translated by Ibrahim Y. Najjar. Oxford: One World Press, 2001.
  • Averroës. The Incoherence of the Incoherence. Translated by Simon van den Bergh. 2 vols. London: Luzac, 1969.
  • Averroës. On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy. Translated by George F. Hourani. London: Luzac and Co., 1976.
  • Davidson, Herbert A. Proofs for Eternity, Creation and the Existence of God in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Philosophy. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.
  • Fakhry, Majid. "Introduction" to Averroës, Faith and Reason in Islam. 1-15.
  • Gilson, Etienne. History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages. New York: Random House, 1954. 216-25.
  • Glassé, Cyril. "Ibn Rushd." The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 1989. 174-75.
  • Hourani, George F. "Introduction" to Averroës, On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy. 1-43.
  • Ivry, Alfred. "Averroës." In Medieval Philosophy, edited by Marenbon, John. London: Routledge, 1998. 49-64.
  • Urvoy, Dominique. Ibn Rushd (Averroës). Translated by Olivia Stewart. London and New York: Routledge. 1991.
  • Vaux, Carra de. "Ibn Rushd." First Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. 3. Edited by Houtsma, M. Th. et al. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1987. 410-13.
  • Zedler, B.H. "Averroës (Ibn Rushd)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Edited by McDonald, W.J.. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967. 1125-27.
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