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Middle Eastern Philosophers
Medieval Philosophy
Name: Averroes
Birth: 1126 (Cordoba, Spain)
Death: December 10, 1198 (Marrakech, Morocco)
School/tradition: Averroism
Main interests
Islamic theology, Islamic law, Mathematics, Medicine
Notable ideas
Reconciliation of Aristotelianism with Islam
Influences Influenced
Aristotle, Muhammad Siger de Brabant, Boetius of Dacia, Thomas Aquinas

Averroes (Ibn Rushd) (1126 – December 10, 1198) was an Andalusian-Arab philosopher and physician, a master of philosophy and Islamic law, mathematics, and medicine. He was born in Cordoba, Spain, and died in Marrakesh, Morocco. Averroes is most famous for his commentaries on Aristotle's works, which had been mostly forgotten in the West. The few existing Latin translations of Aristotle’s works had been largely ignored by European scholars, and it was through the Latin translations of Averroes' work, beginning in the twelfth century, that the legacy of Aristotle was recovered in the West. Averroes attempted to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy with Islamic theology and to demonstrate that philosophy and theology were two different paths to understanding the same truth.

Averroes’ work on medicine, Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb (Generalities), or “Colliget” was used as a textbook throughout Europe until the advent of investigative science. He also wrote works on law and justice, and commentaries on Plato’s Republic, Alexander’s De Intellectu, the Metaphysics of Nicolaus of Damascus, the Isagoge of Porphyry and the Almagest of Ptolemy. Averroes’ ideas and his style of commentary 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. A group of Christian philosophers at the University of Paris, later known as “Averroists,” initiated a controversy within the Roman Catholic Church over the role of philosophy in interpreting church doctrine. (The views of the Averroists differed considerably from the writings of Averroes himself.) Averroes’ works were also translated into Hebrew in the 1200s and had a lasting impact on Jewish philosophy.



The name Averroes is also seen as Averroès, Averroës or Averrhoës, indicating that the o and the e form separate syllables. In Arabic (the language in which he wrote), his name is Abu Al-Walid Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Rushd أبو الوليد محمد بن احمد بن محمد بن احمد بن احمد بن رشد or just Ibn Rushd. In modern Tamazight (the language of the Almohad kings) it would be Muḥemmed mmis n Ḥmed mmis n Muḥemmed mmis n Ḥmed mmis n Rucd.

Averroes came from a family of Maliki legal scholars; his grandfather Abu Al-Walid Muhammad (d. 1126) was chief judge of Cordoba under the Almoravids. His father, Abu Al-Qasim Ahmad, held the same position until the coming of the Almohad dynasty in 1146. Ibn Rushd studied hadith, linguistics, jurisprudence and scholastic theology. It is thought that he may have studied under Ibn Bajjah (Avempace), whose influence is evident in Averroes’ works. He also studied medicine with Abu Jafar ibn Harun of Trujillo.

At the age of 27, Ibn Rushd was invited to the Movahid Court at Marrakesh to help in establishing Islamic educational institutions under the patronage of the caliph 'Abd al-Mu'min. In 1160, at the age of 44, Averroes was made Qaadi of Seville, and two years later he was appointed a judge in Cordova, where he remained for ten years. He then returned to Marrakesh and became physician to the Caliph, later returning to Cordova as Chief Judge. In Marrakesh, Ibn Rushd befriended Ibn Tufayl (Abubacer), a philosopher and the official physician and counselor to Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf, son of 'Abd al-Mu'min. Ibn Tufayl introduced Ibn Rushd to the Caliph, who commissioned Ibn Rushd in 1169 to translate and write a series of commentaries on the works of Aristotle.

In 1195, Almohavid conservative reformists issued a formal rejection of all philosophers and their works. Averroes was exiled to Lucena, a largely Jewish village outside of Cordova, and many of his writings were burned. The edict was lifted two years later and Averroes returned to Cordova, where he died December 10, 1198.

Thought and Works

Eighty-seven of Averroes’ books remain in existence. Due to the destruction of his original works in Cordova in 1195, many of them exist only as Latin or Hebrew translations. 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), himself arguing against the earlier Aristotelian, Avicenna, that it was self-contradictory and an affront to the teachings of Islam. In addition to his commentaries on Aristotle, Averroes also wrote commentaries on Plato's Republic, Galen's treatise on fevers, al-Farabi's logic, Alexander’s De Intellectu, the Metaphysics of Nicolaus of Damascus, the Isagoge of Porphyry and the Almagest of Ptolemy. His original philosophical works include: "Tehafot al Tchafot," or "Destructio Destructiones" (a refutation of Algazel's Destructio Philosophorum), two treatises on the union of the Active and Passive intellects, logical treatises on the different parts of the "Organon,” treatises based on Aristotle's "Physics," a treatise in refutation of Avicenna, and another on the agreement between philosophy and theology. Averroes also wrote a major work on the Maliki School of law, 'Bidayat al-Mujtahid wa-Nihayat-al-Muqtasid.

Averroes' great medical work, Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb or "Culliyyat" (of which the Latin title "Colliget" is a corruption) was written before 1162, and later published as the tenth volume in the Latin edition of Aristotle's works, Venice, 1527. It was used as a major medical textbook for centuries afterwards.

Commentaries on Aristotle

Averroes wrote three versions of his commentaries on Aristotle, known as the Minor, the Middle, and the Major commentaries, intended for three levels of students: those who were just being introduced to a subject; those who already had some knowledge; and advanced students. The Major commentaries were largely original. Averroes’ commentaries do not provide a literal translation of Aristotle’s works; since Averroes did not know Greek, he used an imperfect Arab translation of the Syriac version of the Greek text. The Commentaries do, however, contain detailed philosophical and scientific interpretations of Aristotle’s thought.

Before 1150 only a few translated works of Aristotle existed in Latin Europe, and they did not receive a great deal of attention from monastic scholars. It was through the Latin translations of Averroes's work, beginning in the twelfth century, that the legacy of Aristotle was recovered in the West.

Averroes' 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. Averroes's 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."

Religion and Philosophy

In his work Fasl al-Maqāl (translated a. o. as The Decisive Treatise), Averroes stresses the importance of analytical thinking as a prerequisite to interpret the Qur'an; this is in contrast to orthodox Muslim theology, where the emphasis is less on analytical thinking but on extensive knowledge of sources other than the Qur'an.

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), that philosophers had lost their faith. Averroes contended that the Law commanded the study of philosophy, quoting Qur'anic verses such as “they give thought to the creation of heaven and earth” (3:191). This could best be done by demonstration, drawing inferences from accepted premises as lawyers and philosophers do. Therefore anyone who sought to understand religious truth must undertake the study of philosophy. If someone else has already made similar investigations in the past, a religious believer should be able to benefit from their knowledge, even if they were of a different faith, and to build upon their work. No serious harm could come from philosophical study, Averroes said, unless there was some deficiency in the student or the teacher was bad.

Averroes contended that the Law spoke of three ways for humans to discover truth: the demonstrative, the dialectical and the rhetorical. These corresponded, for Averroes, to three types of people: philosophers, theologians and the common masses. Averroes held that any conflict between scripture (the Qur'an) and demonstrative truth was only apparent, due to an incomplete understanding. If there was a disagreement between scripture and demonstrative truth, an allegorical interpretation of the scripture should be used. Many scriptures had an apparent meaning and a hidden, inner meaning which should only be taught to educated people. Every person could find a way to acquire truth according to his or her natural disposition.

Averroes held that Islam was the best of all religions according to Aristotelian ethics, because it produced the greatest happiness through imparting the most knowledge of God.

The theory of double truth, that some things are true in philosophy but not in Catholic theology, originated from Latin Averroism, which flourished between thirteenth century to Renaissance, and was mistakenly ascribed to Averroes. Christian Averroists such as Boethius claimed the supremacy of philosophy (Aristotelianism) over theology and church doctrines.

Existence and Nature of God

Averroes thought that in Islam there were only two worthy arguments for the existence of God. The first, providence, is based on the observation that everything in the universe serves the purpose of human beings. The second, invention, follows from the observation that everything in the universe appears to have been invented according to a special design, implying the existence of a designer, God. He maintained, like most Islamic theologians of the time, that there are seven divine attributes which correspond to the human attributes of knowledge, life, power, will, hearing, vision and speech. The attribute of knowledge was most important to philosophers. In Decisive Treatise he pointed out that there is an inherent difference in human knowledge and divine knowledge, because human knowledge is the product of effect, while divine knowledge is knowledge of the cause of things, God being the cause of the universe. In answer to the debate as to whether God has previous knowledge of particular events which might or might not occur, he argued that, as the prime mover, God would know about particular events, not as humans do, when the events occur, but because God has always had knowledge of them. The concept of time exists only in the physical universe.

Averroes upheld Aristotle’s contention that the full explanation of any event must include a discussion of the material, formal, efficient and final cause; and that everything in the universe moves according to certain causal principles. Therefore theologians, philosophers and scientists were essentially researching the same cause, or origin: God.

Averroes, a closeup of a fresco by Raphael

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-Muqtasid," a textbook of Maliki doctrine in a comparative framework. He is also the author of "al-Bayān wa’l-Talīl, wa’l-Sharh wa’l-Tawjīh wa’l-Ta`līl fi Masā’il al-Mustakhraja," a long and detailed commentary based on the "Mustakhraja" of Muhammad al-`Utbī al-Qurtubī. He wrote on legal methodology and language, and a wide array of topics such as land taxes, cleanliness, marriage, sacrifices, jihad and the government’s responsibility towards non-Muslims.


Shortly after the death of Averroes, interest in philosophy and theology began to decline in the Islamic world; at the same time interest was beginning to flourish in Latin Christendom. Averroes’ works influenced Western thought from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. His commentaries were used by students of Aristotle during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. St. Thomas Aquinas modeled his work on the style of the Grand Commentary, though he wrote several treatises refuting the philosphical and theological errors of Averroes.

At the University of Paris, a group of Christian philosophers, later known as the “Averroists,” adopted some of the elements of the Aristotelian philosophy expounded by Averroes. They initiated a controversy by using philosophical methods to challenge the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church and developed the idea that there were two kinds of truth, religious and philosophical. Averroes’ works were translated into Hebrew and inspired a new interest among Jewish thinkers in the interpretation of scripture. Philosophers such as Maimonides, Moses Narboni and Abraham ibn Ezra were influenced by his ideas.

Ibn Rushd was one of those who predicted the existence of a new world beyond the Atlantic Ocean. He is also credited with the possible discovery of sunspots.

Averroes in Literature

A statue of Ibn Rushd in Córdoba, Spain.

Reflecting the respect which medieval European scholars paid to him, Averroes is named by Dante in The Divine Comedy with the other great pagan philosophers 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 Cordova in Alamgir Hashmi's poem In Cordoba.

He is also the main character in Destiny, Egyptian filmmaker's Youssef Chahine's 1997 film.

The asteroid 8318 Averroes was named in his honor.


Works in English translations

  • Ibn Rushd, with Commentary by Moses Narboni. The Epistle on the Possibility of Conjunction with the Active Intellect. K. Bland (trans.). New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1982.
  • __________. Decisive Treatise & Epistle Dedicatory. C. Butterworth (trans.) Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 2001
  • __________. Faith and Reason in Islam (al-Kashf). I. Najjar (trans.) Oxford: Oneworld, 2001.
  • __________. Long Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima. A. Hyman (trans.) (Philosophy in the Middle Ages) Cambridge, UK: Hackett, 1973.
  • ___________. Middle Commentary on Aristotle's Categories and De Interpretatione. C. Butterworth (trans.). South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 1998.
  • __________. Ibn Rushd, Tahafut al-Tahafut. S. Van Den Bergh (trans.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1954.
  • __________. Treatise Concerning the Substance of the Celestial Sphere. A. Hyman (trans.), (Philosophy in the Middle Ages) Cambridge, UK: Hackett, 1973.

Secondary Sources

  • Al-Alawi, J. "The Philosophy of Ibn Rushd: the Evolution of the Problem of the Intellect in the works of Ibn Rushd." Jayyusi, Salma Khadra (ed.), The Legacy of Muslim Spain, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994.
  • Arnaldez, R., Ibn Rushd: A Rationalist in Islam Notre Dame. IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998.
  • Benmakhlour, A., Ibn Rushd. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2000.
  • Davidson, H. Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Ibn Rushd, on Intellect: Their Cosmologies, Theories of the Active Intellect and Theories of Human Intellect. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • Hughes, A. The Texture of the Divine: Imagination in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Thought. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.
  • Fakhry, M. A History of Islamic Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983
  • __________. Ibn Rushd Oxford: Oneworld, 2001.
  • __________. Islamic Occasionalism: and its Critique by Ibn Rushd and Aquinas. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1958.
  • Leaman, O. Ibn Rushd and His Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • __________. An Introduction to Classical Islamic Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Mohammed, O. Ibn Rushd's Doctrine of Immortality: a Matter of Controversy. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier Press, 1984.
  • Urvoy, D. Ibn Rushd. (Ibn Rushd). London: Routledge, 1991.

External links

All links retrieved November 30, 2012.

General Philosophy Sources


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