Averroës (Ab¯u al-Wal¯ıd Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Rushd) (1126–1198) philosopher. Encyclopedia of World Writers, Beginnings To 20th Century

Averroës was the last in a great line of medieval
Arabic philosophers. The author of many books
in all fields of knowledge, he was particularly
known as an interpreter of the Greek philosopher
ARISTOTLE and a defender of philosophy in a religious,
Muslim civilization. His greatest influence
was in Europe, where his works inspired Christian
scholars for hundreds of years.
Averroës was born into a prominent family of
scholars and public servants in Córdoba, the ancient
capital of Muslim Spain.His grandfather and
father served as qadis, or chief judges and administrators;
he himself rose to that position, first in
Seville (1169) and then in Córdoba (1171). He
studied with prominent scholars, and took advantage
of Córdoba’s famed library of some 500,000
Around 1160, Averroës was introduced to the
caliph, Abu Yaqub Yusuf, himself an accomplished
scholar. The ruler was so impressed with his guest
that he asked him to write a commentary on all of
Aristotle, a task that Averroës devoted much of his
life to completing.Despite moral support from the
caliph, the philosopher had to contend with a public
mood that was hostile to Greek philosophy and
to any learning outside the confines of traditional
Muslim theology and law. (Spain and Morocco
were then ruled by the North African Almohad
Dynasty, which had been founded as an austere
Muslim reformist movement.)
Sometime in the 1170s, the caliph brought
Averroës to Marrakesh in Morocco to be court
physician. There, under the caliph’s protection,
Averroës wrote his greatest works in defense of
philosophy.Yaqub’s son, al-Mans¯ur, confirmed the
appointment on his succession to the throne in
1184.However, in 1195, al-Mans¯ur banished Averroës
to a village in Spain and had his philosophical
book burned. Historians claim the caliph had
acted to gain wider support for a jihad, or holy war,
against Christian Spain. Three years later, he forgave
Averroës and invited him back to Marrakesh,
where the philosopher died.
Critical Analysis
When the Arabs conquered the ancient civilizations
of the Middle East in the seventh century,
they discovered Greek philosophy, which dominated
intellectual life at that time. Many of the
works of Aristotle and some of PLATO were translated
from Syriac translations of the Greek into
The new Muslim civilization gave pride of place
to theology and law, but Greek philosophy was also
developed, though not without the criticism of the
leaders of other fields of study. Averroës devoted
much of his life and writings to an attempt to reconcile
Aristotelian philosophy with Muslim law
and theology. Over the course of several decades
(1169–95), he wrote commentaries on most of
Aristotle’s known works and on Plato’s Republic.
Each commentary had three sections: the Jami, a
brief summary or simple paraphrase of the original;
the Talkhis, a more elaborate exposition of the
text; and the long Tafsir, which included extensive
elaborations and many of Averroës’s own contributions,
often relating the material to Islamic
thought and society.
Apart from these commentaries,Averroës wrote
three great works that established his reputation
as a literary scholar and philosopher, especially in
Europe. On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy
(Fasl al-Maqal), Examination of the Methods
of Proof Concerning the Doctrines of Religion (Kashf
al-Manahij), and The Incoherence of The Incoherence
(Tahafat al-Tahafat) were all written in Marrakesh
between 1179 and 1180.
The first two works describe the exalted role of
philosophy. According to Averroës, only philosophers,
armed with the logical techniques provided
by Aristotle, could understand the true inner
meaning of the laws as revealed to the prophet
MUHAMMAD. In addition, theologians could only
reach a certain level of understanding, while the
masses must be content with the stories and
metaphors provided in the Koran and other religious
works. Averroës conceded, however, that
some revealed truths were beyond rational understanding
and must be accepted on faith, even by
philosophers. In the third book in the trilogy,Averroës
refutes al-Ghazali’s condemnation of rational
philosophy, as presented in al-Ghazali’s book The
Incoherence of the Philosophers.
Nearly all of Averroës’s books survive only in
Hebrew and Latin translation (with the Latin usually
translated from Hebrew) or in Arabic written
in Hebrew characters. This may reflect the philosopher’s
greater reputation in the non-Muslim world.
Averroës, in Latin translation, was probably the
most important source of Greek philosophy for
Christian religious and secular scholars of the
Middle Ages. His works helped spark a revolution
in learning throughout Europe, which historians
often say laid the groundwork for modern science.
Freethinkers were often called “Averroists,” but this
was not considered to be a good thing. Some
Christian religious authorities considered Averroës
to be a threat to the church because he advocated
a “double truth” in which theology and philosophy
held different, opposing views.
Averroës was also known for a major medical
treatise (ca. 1162), known in its Latin translation as
the Colliget. European universities continued to
use the book for hundreds of years.
On another issue—the role of women—
Averroës’s position was very unusual for his time
and place. In his view, confining women to the sole
function of childbirth and raising children betrayed
women’s true potential. It also deprived society
of a major economic resource.
As a bridge between the ancient Greeks and
modern European civilization, Averroës had an
enormous impact. His attempts to reconcile Islamic
and secular philosophy made him an ideal
model for many later Christian thinkers.
English Versions of Works by Averroës
Averroës’ De substantia orbis: Critical Edition of the
Hebrew Text. Translated and edited by Arthur
Hyman. Cambridge,Mass.: Medieval Academy of
America, 1986.
Averroës on Plato’s Republic. Translated and edited by
Ralph Lerner. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University
Press, 1974.
Averroës’ Three Short Commentaries on Aristotle’s Topics,
Rhetoric, and Poetics. Translated and edited by
Charles E. Butterworth. Albany: State University
of New York Press, 1977.
The Book of the Decisive Treatise Determining the Connection
Between the Law and Wisdom, and Epistle
Dedicatory. Translated and edited by Charles E.
Butterworth. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University
Press, 2001.
Works about Averroës
Leaman, Oliver. Averroës and His Philosophy. Richmond,
U.K.: Curzon, 1998.
Streight, David. Averroës: A Rationalist in Islam. Notre
Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000.