Averroes (1126 - 1198)

An Arab physician and philosopher who attempted to make Aristotelian philosophy compatible with the Muslim religion; his interpretations of Aristotle were later severely attacked by Christian philosophers.

When the Romans began to raid the Greek Empire, many scholars fled to parts of the Arab world, taking with them classic works of arts and philosophy. Later, with the fall of Rome to the Goths in 410 and the death of Augustine in 430, the Western world entered the Dark Ages that lasted for six centuries. Supernatural explanations and anti-intellectualism prevailed, and the church and its dogma was all powerful. At the same time, Islam was expanding rapidly, eventually encompassing an area even greater than the Roman Empire at its peak. This expansion brought the Arabs into contact with ancient works lost to the Western world, of special interest to them because of their practical value. Arab philosophers translated and studied these works, especially Aristotle (384-322 B.C).

Averroes (Arabic name: Ibn Rushd) was born at Cordova, Spain. During his lifetime he was both a judge and physician. While he is known in the West as being the grand commentator on Aristotle's philosophy, he is said to have written 78 books on variety of subjects. Philosophically, his writings are mostly in agreement with another Arab philosopher, Avicenna (980-1037). One major difference concerns the human ability to have contact with God: for Avicenna, this is only possible at the highest level of human intelligence; for Averroes, God's influence is reflected in all human experiences. He shared with Aristotle the belief that nothing personal survives death, only an active intellect shared by all, a view later strongly criticized by Christian philosophers. His interpretations of Aristotle later came to be known in the West as Averroism, although he may have been innocent of many of the views attributed to him. His work was to influence St. Thomas Aquinus (1225-1274), especially his arguments that knowledge is better based on reason rather than on faith.

Further Reading:

Kemerling, G. (2001). Ibn Rushd [On-line] Available: http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/i.htm#ibnr

Leaman, O. (1988). Averroes and his philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Related Terms:
Aristotle (384 - 322 B.C.)

Avicenna (980 - 1037)

Maimonides (1135 - 1204)

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274)

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