1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Averroes

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AVERROES [Abūl-Walīd Muḥammad ibn-Aḥmad Ibn-Muḥammad ibn-Rushd] (1126-1198), Arabian philosopher, was born at Cordova. His early life was occupied in mastering the curriculum of theology, jurisprudence, mathematics, medicine and philosophy, under the approved teachers of the time. The years of his prime fell during the last period of Mahommedan rule in Spain under the Almohades (q.v.). It was Ibn-Tufail (Abubacer), the philosophic vizier of Yusef, who introduced Averroes to that prince, and Avenzoar (Ibn-Zuhr), the greatest of Moslem physicians, was his friend. Averroes, who was versed in the Malekite system of law, was made cadi of Seville (1169), and in similar appointments the next twenty-five years of his life were passed. We find him at different periods in Seville, Cordova and Morocco, probably as physician to Yusef al-Mansur, who took pleasure in engaging him in discussions on the theories of philosophy and their bearings on the faith of Islam. But science and free thought then, as now, in Islam, depended almost solely on the tastes of the wealthy and the favour of the monarch. The ignorant fanaticism of the multitude viewed speculative studies with deep dislike and distrust, and deemed any one a Zendik (infidel) who did not rest content with the natural science of the Koran. These smouldering hatreds burst into open flame about the year 1195. Averroes was accused of heretical opinions and pursuits, stripped of his honours, and banished to a place near Cordova, where his actions were closely watched. At the same time efforts were made to stamp out all liberal culture in Andalusia, so far as it went beyond the little medicine, arithmetic and astronomy required for practical life. But the storm soon passed. Averroes was recalled to Morocco when the transient passion of the people had been satisfied, and for a brief period survived his restoration to honour. He died in the year before his patron, al-Mansur, with whom (in 1199) the political power of the Moslems came to an end, as did the culture of liberal science with Averroes. The philosopher left several sons, some of whom became jurists like his own grandfather. One of them has left an essay, expounding his father's theory of the intellect. The personal character of Averroes is known to us only in a general way, and as we can gather it from his writings. His clear, exhaustive and dignified style of treatment evidences the rectitude and nobility of the man. In the histories of his own nation he has little place; the renown which spread in his lifetime to the East ceased with his death, and he left no school. Yet, from a note in a manuscript, we know that he had intelligent readers in Spain more than a century afterwards. His historic fame came from the Christian Schoolmen, whom he almost initiated into the system of Aristotle, and who, but vaguely discerning the expositors who preceded, admired in his commentaries the accumulated results of two centuries of labours.

The literary works of Averroes include treatises on jurisprudence, grammar, astronomy, medicine and philosophy. In 1859 a work of Averroes was for the first time published in Arabic by the Bavarian Academy, and a German translation appeared in 1873 by the editor, J. Müller. It is a treatise entitled Philosophy and Theology, and, with the exception of a German version of the essay on the conjunction of the intellect with man, is the first translation which enables the non-Semitic scholar to form any adequate idea of Averroes. The Latin translations of most of his works are barbarous and obscure. A great part of his writings, particularly on jurisprudence and astronomy, as well as essays on special logical subjects, prolegomena to philosophy, criticisms on Avicenna and Alfarabius (Fārābī), remain in manuscript in the Escorial and other libraries. The Latin editions of his medical works include the Colliget (i.e. Kulliyyat, or summary), a résumé of medical science, and a commentary on Avicenna's poem on medicine; but Averroes, in medical renown, always stood far below Avicenna. The Latin editions of his philosophical works comprise the Commentaries on Aristotle, the Destructio Destructionis (against Ghazāli), the De Substantia Orbis and a double treatise De Animae Beatitudine. The Commentaries of Averroes fall under three heads:—the larger commentaries, in which a paragraph is quoted at large, and its clauses expounded one by one; the medium commentaries, which cite only the first words of a section; and the paraphrases or analyses, treatises on the subjects of the Aristotelian books. The larger commentary was an innovation of Averroes; for Avicenna, copied by Albertus Magnus, gave under the rubrics furnished by Aristotle works in which, though the materials were borrowed, the grouping was his own. The great commentaries exist only for the Posterior Analytics, Physics, De Caelo, De Anima and Metaphysics. On the History of Animals no commentary at all exists, and Plato's Republic is substituted for the then inaccessible Politics. The Latin editions of these works between 1480 and 1580 number about 100. The first appeared at Padua (1472); about fifty were published at Venice, the best-known being that by the Juntas (1552-1553) in ten volumes folio.

See[edit]

  • E. Renan, Averroès et l'Averroïsme (2nd ed., Paris, 1861).
  • S. Munk, Mélanges, 418-458.
  • G. Stöckl, Phil. d. Mittelalters, ii. 67-124.
  • Averroes (Vater und Sohn), Drei Abhandl. über d. Conjunction d. separaten Intellects mit d. Menschen, trans. into German from the Arabic version of Sam. Ben-Tibbon, by Dr J. Hercz (Berlin, 1869).
  • T. J. de Boer, History of Philosophy in Islam (London, 1903), ch. vi..
  • A. F. M. Mehren in Muséon, vii. 613-627; viii. 1-20.
  • Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur (Weimar, 1898), vol. i. pp. 461 f.

See also Arabian Philosophy.

(W. W.; G. W. T.)