Statue of Averroes in Córdoba, Spain
April 14, 1126|
Córdoba, Al-Andalus, Almoravid Caliphate (present-day Spain)
|Died||December 10, 1198
Marrakesh, Morocco, Almohad Caliphate
|Era||Medieval philosophy (Islamic Golden Age)|
|Religion||Sunni Islam (Maliki madhab)|
|Main interests||Islamic theology, Philosophy, Mathematics, Medicine, Physics, Astronomy|
|Notable ideas||Reconciliation of Aristotelianism with Islam|
ʾAbū l-Walīd Muḥammad bin ʾAḥmad bin Rušd (Arabic: أبو الوليد محمد بن احمد بن رشد), commonly known as Ibn Rushd (Arabic: ابن رشد) or by his Latinized name Averroës (pron.: //; April 14, 1126 – December 10, 1198), was a Spanish Andalusian Muslim polymath, a master of Aristotelian philosophy, Islamic philosophy, Islamic theology, Maliki law and jurisprudence, logic, psychology, politics and Arabic music theory, and the sciences of medicine, astronomy, geography, mathematics, physics and celestial mechanics. Averroes was born in Córdoba, Al Andalus, present-day Spain, and died in Marrakesh, present-day Morocco. He was interred in his family tomb at Córdoba. The 13th-century philosophical movement based on Averroes' work is called Averroism.
Averroes was a defender of Aristotelian philosophy against Ash'ari theologians led by Al-Ghazali. Averroes' philosophy was considered controversial in Muslim circles. Averroes had a greater impact on Western European circles and he has been described as the "founding father of secular thought in Western Europe". The detailed commentaries on Aristotle earned Averroes the title "The Commentator" in Europe. Latin translations of Averroes' work led the way to the popularization of Aristotle and were responsible for the development of scholasticism in medieval Europe.
According to Ernest Renan, Averroes was also known as Ibin-Ros-din, Filius Rosadis, Ibn-Rusid, Ben-Raxid, Ibn-Ruschod, Den-Resched, Aben-Rassad, Aben-Rois, Aben-Rasd, Aben-Rust, Avenrosdy Avenryz, Adveroys, Benroist, Avenroyth and Averroysta.
Averroes was born in Córdoba to a family with a long and well-respected tradition of legal and public service. His grandfather Abu Al-Walid Muhammad (d. 1126) was chief judge of Córdoba under the Almoravids. His father, Abu Al-Qasim Ahmad, held the same position until the Almoravids were replaced by the Almohads in 1146.
Averroes' education followed a traditional path, beginning with studies in Hadith, linguistics, jurisprudence and scholastic theology. Throughout his life he wrote extensively on Philosophy and Religion, attributes of God, origin of the universe, Metaphysics and Psychology. It is generally believed that he was perhaps once tutored by Ibn Bajjah (Avempace). His medical education was directed under Abu Jafar ibn Harun of Trujillo in Seville. Averroes began his career with the help of Ibn Tufail ("Aben Tofail" to the West), the author of Hayy ibn Yaqdhan and philosophic vizier of Almohad king Abu Yaqub Yusuf who was an amateur of philosophy and science. It was Ibn Tufail who introduced him to the court and to Ibn Zuhr ("Avenzoar" to the West), the great Muslim physician, who became Averroes's teacher and friend. Averroes's aptitude for medicine was noted by his contemporaries and can be seen in his major enduring work Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb (Generalities) the work was influenced by the Kitab al-Taisir fi al-Mudawat wa al-Tadbir (Particularities) of Ibn Zuhr. Averroes later reported how it was also Ibn Tufail that inspired him to write his famous commentaries on Aristotle:
Abu Bakr ibn Tufayl summoned me one day and told me that he had heard the Commander of the Faithful complaining about the disjointedness of Aristotle's mode of expression — or that of the translators — and the resultant obscurity of his intentions. He said that if someone took on these books who could summarize them and clarify their aims after first thoroughly understanding them himself, people would have an easier time comprehending them. "If you have the energy, " Ibn Tufayl told me, "you do it. I'm confident you can, because I know what a good mind and devoted character you have, and how dedicated you are to the art. You understand that only my great age, the cares of my office — and my commitment to another task that I think even more vital — keep me from doing it myself. "—
However, while the thought of his mentors Ibn Tufail and Ibn Bajjah were mystic to an extent, the thought of Averroes was purely rationalist. Together, the three men are considered the greatest Andalusian philosophers. Averroes devoted the next 30 years to his philosophical writings.
In 1160, Averroes was made Qadi (judge) of Seville and he served in many court appointments in Seville, Cordoba, and Morocco during his career. Sometimes during the reign of Yaqub al-Mansur, Averroes' political career was abruptly ended and he faced severe criticism from the Fuqaha (Islamic jurists) of the time.
And in his days [Yaqub al-Mansur], Abu al-Walid Ibn Rushd faced his severe ordeal and there were two causes for this; one is known and the other is secret. The secret cause, which was the major reason, is that Abu al-Walid [Averroes] —may God have mercy on his soul— when summarizing, commenting and expending upon Aristotle's book "History of Animals" wrote: "And I saw the Giraffe at the garden of the king of the Berbers".
And that is the same way he would mention another king of some other people or land, as it is frequently done by writers, but he omitted that those working for the service of the king should glorify him and observe the usual protocol. This was why they held a grudge against him [Averroes] but initially, they did not show it and in reality, Abu al-Walid wrote that inadvertently...Then a number of his enemies in Cordoba, who were jealous of him and were competing with him both in knowledge and nobility, went to Yaqub al-Mansur with excerpts of Abu Walid's work on some old philosophers which were in his own handwriting. They took one phrase out of context that said: "and it was shown that Venus is one of the Gods" and presented it to the king who then summoned the chiefs and noblemen of Córdoba and said to Abu al-Walid in front of them "Is this your handwriting?". Abu al-Walid then denied and the king said "May God curse the one who wrote this" and ordered that Abu al-Walid be exiled and all the philosophy books to be gathered and burned...And I saw, when I was in Fes, these books being carried on horses in great quantities and burned—Abdelwahid al-Marrakushi, "The Pleasant Book in Summarizing the History of the Maghreb", (1224)
Averroes's strictly rationalist views collided with the more orthodox views of Abu Yusuf Ya'qub al-Mansur, who therefore eventually banished Averroes, though he had previously appointed him as his personal physician. Averroes was not reinstated until shortly before his death in the year 1198 AD.
Averroes's works were spread over 20,000 pages covering a variety of different subjects, including early Islamic philosophy, logic in Islamic philosophy, Arabic medicine, Arabic mathematics, Arabic astronomy, Arabic grammar, Islamic theology, Sharia (Islamic law), and Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). In particular, his most important works dealt with Islamic philosophy, medicine and Fiqh. He wrote at least 67 original works, which included 28 works on philosophy, 20 on medicine, 8 on law, 5 on theology, and 4 on grammar, in addition to his commentaries on most of Aristotle's works and his commentary on Plato's The Republic.
Averroes commentaries on Aristotle were the foundation for the Aristotle revival in the 12th and 13th centuries. Averroes wrote short commentaries on Aristotle’s work in logic, physics, and psychology. Averroes long commentaries provided an in depth line by line analysis of Aristotle’s “Posterior Analytics,” “De Anima,” “Physics,” “De Caelo,” and the “Metaphysics.”
His most important original philosophical work was The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-tahafut), in which he defended Aristotelian philosophy against al-Ghazali's claims in The Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahafut al-falasifa). Al-Ghazali argued that Aristotelianism, especially as presented in the writings of Avicenna, was self-contradictory and an affront to the teachings of Islam. Averroes' rebuttal was two-pronged: he contended both that al-Ghazali's arguments were mistaken and that, in any case, the system of Avicenna was a distortion of genuine Aristotelianism so that al-Ghazali was aiming at the wrong target. Other works were the Fasl al-Maqal, which argued for the legality of philosophical investigation under Islamic law, and the Kitab al-Kashf, which argued against the proofs of Islam advanced by the Ash'arite school and discussed what proofs, on the popular level, should be used instead.
Averroes is also a highly regarded legal scholar of the Maliki school. Perhaps his best-known work in this field is Bidāyat al-Mujtahid wa Nihāyat al-Muqtaṣid ( بداية المجتهد و نهاية المقتصد), a textbook of Maliki doctrine in a comparative framework.
Jacob Anatoli translated several of the works of Averroes from Arabic into Hebrew in the 13th century. Many of them were later translated from Hebrew into Latin by Jacob Mantino and Abraham de Balmes. Other works were translated directly from Arabic into Latin by Michael Scot. Many of his works in logic and metaphysics have been permanently lost, while others, including some of the longer Aristotelian commentaries, have only survived in Latin or Hebrew translation, not in the original Arabic. The fullest version of his works is in Latin, and forms part of the multi-volume Juntine edition of Aristotle published in Venice 1562-1574.
Averroes wrote a medical encyclopedia called Kulliyat ("Generalities", i. e. general medicine), known in its Latin translation as Colliget. He also made a compilation of the works of Galen, and wrote a commentary on the Canon of Medicine (Qanun fi 't-tibb) of Avicenna (Ibn Sina) (980-1037).
Averroes also authored three books on physics namely: Short Commentary on the Physics, Middle Commentary on the Physics and Long Commentary on the Physics. Averroes defined and measured force as "the rate at which work is done in changing the kinetic condition of a material body" and correctly argued "that the effect and measure of force is change in the kinetic condition of a materially resistant mass". He took a particular and keen interest in the understanding of "motor force".
Averroes also developed the notion that bodies have a (non-gravitational) inherent resistance to motion into physics. This idea in particular was adopted by Thomas Aquinas and subsequently by Johannes Kepler, who referred to this fact as "Inertia".
Regarding his studies in astronomy, Averroes argued for a strictly concentric model of the universe, and explained sunspots and scientific reasoning regarding the occasional opaque colors of the moon. He also worked on the description of the spheres, and movement of the spheres.
The Tradition of Islamic Philosophy
Averroes furthered the tradition of Greek philosophy in the Islamic world (falsafa). His commentaries removed the neo-Platonic bias of his predecessors. Criticizing al-Farabi's attempt to merge Plato and Aristotle's ideas, Averroes argued that Aristotle's philosophy diverged in significant ways from Plato's. Averroes rejected Avicenna's Neoplatonism which was partly based on the works of neo-Platonic philosophers, Plotinus and Proclus, that were mistakenly attributed to Aristotle.
In metaphysics, or more exactly ontology, Averroes rejects the view advanced by Avicenna that existence is merely accidental. Avicenna holds that "essence is ontologically prior to existence". The accidental, i. e. attributes that are not essential, are additional contingent characteristics. Averroes, following Aristotle, holds that individual existing substances are primary. One may separate them mentally; however, ontologically speaking, existence and essence are one. According to Fakhry, this represents a change from Plato's theory of Ideas, where ideas precede particulars, to Aristotle's theory where particulars come first and the essence is "arrived at by a process of abstraction. "
Commentaries on Aristotle and Plato
Averroes wrote commentaries on most of the surviving works of Aristotle working from Arabic translations. He wrote three types of commentaries. The short commentary (jami) is generally an epitome; the middle commentary (talkhis) is a paraphrase; the long commentary (tafsir) includes the whole text with a detailed analysis of each line.
Averroes, not having access to Aristotle's Politics, substituted Plato's Republic. Averroes, following Plato's paternalistic model, advances an authoritarian ideal. Absolute monarchy, led by a philosopher-king, creates a justly ordered society. This requires extensive use of coercion. Although, persuasion is preferred and is possible if the young are properly raised. Rhetoric, not logic, is the appropriate road to truth for the common man. Demonstrative knowledge via philosophy and logic requires special study. Rhetoric aids religion in reaching the masses.
Averroes, following Plato, accepts the principle of women's equality. They should be educated and allowed to serve in the military; the best among them might be tomorrow's philosophers or rulers. He also accepts Plato's illiberal measures such as the censorship of literature. He uses examples from Arab history to illustrate just and degenerate political orders.
Independent philosophical works
His most important original philosophical work was The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-tahafut), in which he defended Aristotelian philosophy against al-Ghazali's claims in The Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahafut al-falasifa). Al-Ghazali argued that Aristotelianism, especially as presented in the writings of Avicenna, was self-contradictory and an affront to the teachings of Islam. Averroes' rebuttal was two-pronged: he contended both that al-Ghazali's arguments were mistaken and that, in any case, the system of Avicenna was a distortion of genuine Aristotelianism so that al-Ghazali was aiming at the wrong target.
Other works were the Fasl al-Maqal, which argued for the legality of philosophical investigation under Islamic law, and the Kitab al-Kashf.
Jacob Anatoli translated his works from Arabic to Hebrew in the 13th century. Many of them were later translated from Hebrew to Latin by Jacob Mantino and others. Other works were translated directly from Arabic to Latin by Michael Scot. Many of his works in logic and metaphysics have been permanently lost, while others, including some of the longer Aristotelian commentaries, have only survived in Latin or Hebrew translation, not in the original Arabic. The fullest version of his works is in Latin, and forms part of the multi-volume Juntine edition of Aristotle published in Venice 1562-1574.
System of philosophy
Averroes tried to reconcile Aristotle's system of thought with Islam. According to him, there is no conflict between religion and philosophy, rather that they are different ways of reaching the same truth. He believed in the eternity of the universe. He also held that the soul is divided into two parts, one individual and one divine; while the individual soul is not eternal, all humans at the basic level share one and the same divine soul. Averroes has two kinds of Knowledge of Truth. The first being his knowledge of truth of religion being based in faith and thus could not be tested, nor did it require training to understand. The second knowledge of truth is philosophy, which was reserved for an elite few who had the intellectual capacity to undertake its study.
Averroes is most famous for his commentaries of Aristotle's works, which had been mostly forgotten in the West. Before 1150, only a few of Aristotle's works existed in translation in Latin Europe (i. e. excluding Greek Byzantium). It was in large part through the Latin translations of Averroes's work beginning in the 12th century that the legacy of Aristotle was recovered in the Latin West.
Averroes's work on Aristotle spans almost three decades, and he wrote commentaries on almost all of Aristotle's work except for Aristotle's Politics, to which he did not have access. Hebrew translations of his work also had a lasting impact on Jewish philosophy. Moses Maimonides, Samuel Ben Tibbon, Juda Ben Solomon Choen, and Shem Tob Ben Joseph Falaquera were Jewish philosophers influenced by Averroes. His ideas were assimilated by Siger of Brabant and Thomas Aquinas and others (especially in the University of Paris) within the Christian scholastic tradition which valued Aristotelian logic. Famous scholastics such as Aquinas believed him to be so important they did not refer to him by name, simply calling him "The Commentator" and calling Aristotle "The Philosopher. " Averroes had no discernible influence on Islamic philosophic thought until modern times. His death coincides with a change in the culture of Al-Andalus. In his work Fasl al-Maqāl (translated a. o. as The Decisive Treatise), he stresses the importance of analytical thinking as a prerequisite to interpret the Qur'an.
Jurisprudence and law
Averroes is also a highly regarded legal scholar of the Maliki school. Perhaps his best-known work in this field is "Bidāyat al-Mujtahid wa Nihāyat al-Muqtaṣid, " a textbook of Maliki doctrine in a comparative framework, which is renderd in English as The Distinguished Jurist's Primer—. He is also the author of "al-Bayān wa'l-Taḥṣīl, wa'l-Sharḥ wa'l-Tawjīh wa'l-Ta`līl fi Masā'il al-Mustakhraja, " a long and detailed commentary based on the "Mustakhraja" of Muḥammad al-`Utbī al-Qurtubī.
- Reflecting the deference that some medieval European scholars paid to him, Averroes is named by Dante in The Divine Comedy along with the thinkers and creative minds of ancient Greece and Rome whose spirits dwell in "the place that favor owes to fame" in Limbo.
- Averroes appears in a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, entitled "Averroes's Search", in which he is portrayed trying to find the meanings of the words tragedy and comedy. He is briefly mentioned in the novel Ulysses by James Joyce alongside Maimonides. He appears to be waiting outside the walls of the ancient city of Cordoba in Alamgir Hashmi's poem In Cordoba. He is also the main character in Destiny, a Youssef Chahine film.
- The claim that Averroes deserves equal respect with Maimonides got the fictional Balthazar Abrabanel banished from Amsterdam by the Amsterdam rabbinate in Eric Flint's novel 1634.
- Averroes is also the title of a play called "The Gladius and The Rose", written by Tunisian writer Mohamed Ghozzi, and which had the first price in the theater festival in Charjah in 1999.
- The asteroid 8318 Averroes was named in his honor. Plant genus Averrhoa was named after him.
- The Muslim pop musician Kareem Salama composed and performed a song in 2007 titled Aristotle and Averroes.
- Averroes is the subject of the film Al Massir by Youssef Chahine.
- Liz Sonneborn: Averroes (Ibn Rushd): Muslim scholar, philosopher, and physician of the twelfth century, The Rosen Publishing Group, 2005 (ISBN 1404205144, ISBN 978-1-4042-0514-7) p.31 
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- Nyazee, The Distinguished Jurist's Primer, 2 vols. (Reading: Garnet Publishing 1994 & 1996)
- Averroes, Translated by Ralph Lerner (2005), Averroes On Plato's Republic, Cornell University Press, ISBN 0-8014-8975-X
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- Sorabji, Richard Matter, Space and Motion Duckworth 1988
- Wilhelm Schmidt-Biggemann, Sketch of a Cosmic Theory of the Soul from Aristotle to Averroes, in: Variantology 4. On Deep Time Relations of Arts, Sciences and Technologies In the Arabic-Islamic World and Beyond, ed. by Siegfried Zielinski and Eckhard Fürlus in cooperation with Daniel Irrgang and Franziska Latell (Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2010), pp. 19–42.
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- Works of Averroes
- DARE, the Digital Averroes Research Environment, an ongoing effort to collect digital images of all Averroes manuscripts and full texts of all three language traditions.
- Averroes, Islamic Philosophy Online (links to works by and about Averroes in several languages)
- php%3Ftitle=77&Itemid=28 The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes: Tractata translated from the Arabic, trans. Mohammad Jamil-ur-Rehman, 1921
- The Incoherence of the Incoherence translation by Simon van den Bergh. [N. B. : This also contains a translation of most of the tahafut as the refutations are mostly commentary of al-Ghazali statements that were quoted verbatim.]
- SIEPM Virtual Library, including scanned copies (PDF) of the Editio Juntina of Averroes' works in Latin (Venice 1550-1562)
- Information about Averroes
- Forcada, Miquel (2007). "Ibn Rushd: Abū al‐Walīd Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Rushd al‐Ḥafīd". In Thomas Hockey et al. The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers. New York: Springer. pp. 564–5. ISBN 978-0-387-31022-0. (PDF version)
- Iskandar, Albert Z. (2008) [1970-80]. "Ibn Rushd, Abū’L-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Muḥammad". Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Encyclopedia.com.
- Fouad Ben Ahmed. "Ibn Rušd: Knowledge, pleasures and analogy", in: Philosophia: E-Journal of Philosophy and Culture, 4/2013. ISSN: 1314-5606
- Averroes on In Our Time at the BBC. (listen now)
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Averroes". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- "Averroes". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- DARE Bibliography, a comprehensive overview of the extant bibliography
- Averroes Database, including full bibliography of his works
- "Averroes", BBC Radio 4 discussion, 5 October 2006, "In Our Time" programme.
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