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AverroësAKA Abu al-Walid Muhammad

Born: 1126
Birthplace: Córdoba, Spain
Died: 1198
Location of death: Marrakech, Morocco
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Muslim
Race or Ethnicity: Middle Eastern
Occupation: Philosopher, Doctor

Executive summary: Islamic commentator on the classics

AverroŽs, or in Arabic, Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Rushd, Arabian philosopher, was born at Cůrdoba. 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 Muslim rule in Spain under the Almohades. It was Ibn-Tufail (Abubacer), the philosophic vizier of Yusef, who introduced AverroŽs to that prince, and Avenzoar (Ibn-Zuhr), the greatest of Muslim physicians, was his friend. AverroŽs, 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, Cůrdoba 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 favor 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. AverroŽs was accused of heretical opinions and pursuits, stripped of his honors, and banished to a place near Cůrdoba, 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. AverroŽs was recalled to Morocco when the transient passion of the people had been satisfied, and for a brief period survived his restoration to honor. He died in the year before his patron, al-Mansur, with whom (in 1199) the political power of the Muslims came to an end, as did the culture of liberal science with AverroŽs. 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 AverroŽs 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 labors.

The literary works of AverroŽs include treatises on jurisprudence, grammar, astronomy, medicine and philosophy. In 1859 a work of AverroŽs was for the first time published in Arabic by the Bavarian Academy, and a German translation appeared in 1875 by the editor, J. MŁller. 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 AverroŽs. 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 (Farabi), 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 resumť of medical science, and a commentary on Avicenna's poem on medicine; but AverroŽs, in medical renown, always stood far below Avicenna. The Latin editions of his philosophical works comprise the Commentaries on Aristotle, the Destructio Destructionis (against Ghazali), the De Substantia Orbis and a double treatise De Animae Beatitudine. The Commentaries of AverroŽs 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 AverroŽs; 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 (1552-53) in ten volumes folio.


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