Averro‘s (Ibn Rushd)


from Moorish Spain, born in Cordoba


Known in the West simply as "the Commentator" on Aristotle. He was a judge and physician as well.  He had more influence on Christian philosophers than Islamic ones.  He knew Ibn Tufail personally.


He is encountered in Limbo by Dante (Inferno Canto 4) along with Euclid, Galen, Hippocrates, Aristotle, Avicenna, PlatoÉetc.


God thinking of himself is His relationship to the world. [Think about this statement.]


Passive Intelligence is immaterial, eternal, and universal and when actualized, it is one for all menÉ thus immortality not particular.  (IÕll discuss this in class.  Several caveats, myths, misunderstandings... or I won't discuss it.  Depends on what we end up discussing.) 


Much like Al-Farabi, an earlier Islamic philosopher (d. 950), he considered philosophy to be superior to theology, which relied on metaphor and picturesque language to describe the workings of Allah/God.  Theology was useful for ordinary, uneducated people, but philosophers were capable of understanding a higher truth.  This idea, of course, does not play well with theologians. 


The first cause is self-evident.  There must be an unmoved moverÉ God.


The main purpose of man is to become like God.  [This idea is also from Al-Farabi, but is particularly poignant for our reading of Ibn Tufail.


13th C. Christian myth of Averro‘s  [This myth tended to give him a negative image amongst Christian theologians, who, none-the-less studied him intently.]                       


Averro‘s actually proposed..            


Averro‘s was well aware that the individual person should have an individual soul/form after death.  He did not want to promote a collective, undifferentiated soul theory, as this would go against scripture. Like in Christianity, you need to have an individuated existence after death or the whole system fall apart.  You cannot just die and become maggot feed like Lucretius claim.  However, you also cannot die and then have an immortal spirit that doesn't remember who it is.  But, according to his reading of Aristotle, it is matter and only matter that gives form/spirit individual existence.  Without matter, forms are universals and cannot exist in plural.  Put another way, identical forms without material existence cannot exist as separate forms, they exist as one universal form.  The problem as Averro‘s saw it, was that the human soul after death was a form without matter and would thus have no individuality, it would just be a universal human form. 

His solution was to claim that individuality was maintained in a very subtle matter, Òthe animal warmth which emanates from the heavenly bodies.Ó*  He suggested that the soul discarded the dead earthly body and in-formed this celestial stuff/matter, thus preserving its material individuality which would otherwise be lost upon death.  In other words, after death, the human soul, the form of our material body, moves into another material, a celestial material.  So the human soul moves into a new house, this time a house that will never decay or die because it is made of super matter.... probably something like aether. 

This is confusing stuff.  I am confused and I have yet to read anybody who explains it very well or very confidently.  But this short description should at least give you the idea that Averro‘s took Aristotle very seriously and that his philosophy is very sophisticated.


*See Averro‘s, Averro‘sÕ Tahafut al-Falasifah, trans. A. Kamali, Lahore 1958, p. 357.  This text was not available in Latin in the 13th c.


Selected works:          



The sources used for this thumbnail sketch of Averro‘s


Hyman, Arthur, and James J. Walsh. Philosophy in the Middle Ages; the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions. New York,: Harper & Row, 1967,  pp. 281-325.


Lindberg, David C. Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.


Lindberg, David C. The Beginnings of Western Science : The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. To A.D. 1450. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.


Lindberg, David C. "Medieval Science and Its Religious Context." Osiris 10, no. Constructing Knowledge in the History of Science (1995): 60-79.


Weinberg, Julius R. A Short History of Medieval Philosophy. Princeton, N.J.,: Princeton University Press, 1974.  See especially pp. 127-139.


Themes that were debated in the Middle Ages and played prominent roles in the Scientific Revolution:

Éoh so many moreÉ




Averro‘s is in the upper left of this detail from Raphael's famous painting, "The School of Athens" (1510).

That is Pythagoras in the foreground writing in the book with the blackboard showing harmonic theory in front of him.