Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Avicebron

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AVICEBRON. The writer referred to by the Scholas tics of the 13th century under this name was sup posed by them to be an Arabian philosopher, and was accordingly classed along with Avempace, Abubacer, and others. Recent researches have shown that this is an error, and that this author, about whom so little was known, is identical with Salomon ben Gebirol, a Jewish writer, several of whose religious poems are still celebrated among the Jews. Few details are known regarding the life of Gebirol. He was born at Malaga, and received his education at Saragossa, where, in 1045, he wrote a small treatise on morals, which has been several times reprinted. His death is said to have taken place in 1070 at Valencia. Among the Jews he is known only through his poems, and, with a few unimportant exceptions, no Jewish writer refers to his philosophical speculations. The Christian Schoolmen, about the middle of the 12th century, became acquainted with Gundisalvi s Latin translation of a work called Fons Vitce or Sapientice, which exercised a powerful influence on their metaphysical discussions. The author was called by them Avicebron, or Avicembron, or Avence- brol, and nothing was known regarding him till M. Munk discovered a Hebrew abridgment, by Ibn Falaque ra, of Rabbi S. ben Gebirol s treatise on the source of life. He readily identified this with the work of the unknown Avicebron, and the discovery of two Latin MSS. of the Fons has placed the identification beyond doubt. The extracts of Falaque ra give a fair idea of the work, and enable us to understand the peculiar influence it exercised. The objects of metaphysics according to it are three in number, the knowledge of matter and form, of the divine will or creative word, and of the supreme unity of God. God, as infinite, cannot be known by intelligence which is finite, for all knowledge involves comprehension, or requires that the known be contained in the knowing. God works through the divine will, which is intermediate between the supreme unity and the world. All things in the world possess both matter and form ; all the various species of matter are but variations of one universal matter ; and similarly all forms are contained in one universal form. This unity of matter applies to the soul and mind as well as to material things, and it is against this proposition that the orthodox Schoolmen, as Albertus and Thomas, princi pally argue. The matter and form in the universe is dis posed in successive stages, and rising above the lowest grade or corporal matter there are certain intermediate substances uniting it with the divine will, without which there is no motion. These intermediate substances, taken in order, are the universal intellect, the rational soul, the vital soul, the vegetative soul, and nature, or the principle of motion in material things. Activity is transmitted from the divine will through these stages, each of which causes the one next below itself to pass from potentiality into actuality. The materials of Avicebron s philosophy are due mainly to the Alexandrian speculations concealed in the pseudo- Aristote lian Theology. The position of the divine will, somewhat enigmatical in a philosophical point of view, is probably a concession to Jewish orthodoxy. For a full account of ail that is known regarding Avicebron s life and philosophy, with translation of Falaque"ra s extracts, see Munk s Melanges de Phil. Juive et Arabe, pp. 1-306; for his poems see Sachs s Die Religiose Poesie der Juden in Spanien, and Geiger s S. ben Gabirol und seine Dichtungen.