IBN RUSHD: THE GREATEST ARISTOTELIAN OF ISLAMBy Yoyo Hambali and Max Sahuleka Paper on History of Islamic PhilosophyLecturer: Dr. Haidar Bagir, M.A. ISLAMIC COLLEGE FOR ADVANCED STUDIES (ICAS) JAKARTA1424 H./2003 M
ABSTRACTIbn Rushd is the greatest Aristotelian of Islam, known in the West as Averroes. He is a Commentator of Aristotle and The Second Master. According Ibn Rushd, the world is eternal, God does not know particulars and there is no providence, there is no free will, the potential intellect is numerically one, as it the active intellect. Philosophy and theology are contradictory, and the supernatural ought to be rejected. Ibn Rushd proceeded to rebut al-Ghazali’s arguments against the philosophers. Ibn Rushd has great contributions in philosophy, theology, medicine, and jurisprudence in the West and in the East.
A. PrologueBy the beginning of the eleventh century Ibn Sina had become the symbol of Greek philosophy in the eastern part of the Muslim world. Al-Gazali’s attack on Neo-Platonist, had radically jeopardized the whole cause of philosophy, but post-Avicennian developments in philosophy and theology revealed the durability of that intellectual spirit which had given a new dimension to the Islamic view of life. Aristotle, in whose name the whole issue had been joined, suffered most. As has been reiterated so often, he was confused with Plotinus, reconciled with Plato, declared to be a disciple of Hermes, and even hailed as a venerable monotheistic sage. It is known until the latter part of the twelfth century, which witnessed the appearance on the philosophical scene of the first and the last great Aristotelian in Islam, Ibn Rushd of Cordoba, known to the Latin authors of the late Middle Ages as Averroes.
B. His Life Schacht said that Ibn Rushd is the great Cordovan philosopher.According to Esposito, Ibn Rushd is the greatest Aristotelian of Islam, known in the West as Averroes. Born in Cordoba in 1126, he studied medicine under the doctors of Al Zuhr, especially Marwan; and he studied philosophy, religion, law, and jurisprudence for some time under patronage of the Muwahhidin caliph in Marrakish who had a liking for philosophical investigations. He was introduced at the age of forty to the caliph Abu Yusuf Yakub by Ibn Tufayl, the caliph’s court physician and minister. As a result of this introduction, the caliph ordered Ibn Rushd to expound for him the works of Aristotle, which the caliph had found "intractable'. In addition to this commission, Ibn Rushd was appointed qadi religious judge) of Seville in 1169 and two years later as chief judge of Cordoba. In 1182 he was appointed physician royal at the Almohad court in Marrakesh. In 1195, probably in response to public pressure incited by religious conservatives and critics, the caliph Abu Yusuf ordered Ibn Rushd to be exiled to Lucena to the southeast of Cordova, his books to be burned in public, and the teaching of philosophy and the “ancient sciences’ with the exception of astronomy and medicine, to be proscribed Ibn Rushd disgrace did not last long, however, because two years later he was restored to favor. He died shortly there after in 1198.
C. His Work sIbn Rushd wrote Al Kulliyat, a compendium of medical knowledge, surpassing that of Ibn Sina in clarity, wealth, and organization of materials; Bidayat al Mujtahid wa Nihayat al Muqtasid in Law and jurisprudence; Fasl al Maqal fi ma bayna al hikmah wal Shari’ah Min al ittisal, as a further attempt to reconcile religion and philosophy; and tahafut al tahafut in philosophy in which he sought to refute al Ghazali’s charges against the philosophers. He also wrote what became the standard commentary on Aristotetle’s works and standard style in subsequent literature in all fields of knowledge: Al sharh al Asghar (The Lesser Explanation), a systematic and brief presentation of Aristotle’s thought; Al Sharh al wasat (The Middle Explanation), in which Aristotle’s writing was quoted according to subject matter and commented upon; and Al Sharh al Kabir (The Great Explanation), in which Aristotle’s writing was quoted verbatim, paragraph by paragraph, discussed, and commented upon.Ibn Rushd also wrote commentaries on all the works of Aristotle, the Republic of Plato, and the Isagoge of Porphyry. Ibn Rushd wrote commentaries of Physics, the Metaphysics, de Anima, de Caelo, and Analytica posteriora.
In addition to these commentaries Ibn Rushd wrote a series of original works intended to show far al-Farabi and Ibn Sina had departed from the genuine teaching to Aristotle. One dealt with The Divergence of al-Farabi’s Approach to Logic…from that of Aristotle, another with Al-Farabi’s Departure from Aristotle in the Arrangement, Canon of proof, and Definition in Analytica Posteriora. Another group of Peripatetic treatise was aimed at Ibn Sina. A general Inquiry into Problems Discussed in Ibn Sina’s Metaphysics of al-Shifa appears to have dealt with his general metaphysical strictures against Ibn Sina, the tenor of which may be gathered from his extant works. Another treatise dealt specifically with Ibn Sina’s Distinction between the Absolutely Possible, the Possible in Itself, the Necessary trough another and the Necessary in Itself. To these last works must be added the copious references to al-Farabi and Ibn sina in the commentaries, in the Tahafut, and the two important theological tracts, Fasl al-Maqal and Al-Kashf ‘an manahij al-Adilah. Michael the Scot translated into Latin ibn Rushd’s commentaries on De Caelo et Mundo, De Anima, De generatio et Corruptione, physica, Metaphysica, Meteorologica, as well as the paraphrase of Parva Naturaliaa, and De Substantia Orbis. Hermann the German, on the other hand, translated the epitomes of Poetica and Ethica Nicomachea between 1240 and 1256.
His ToughtGod and the world. Although Ibn Rushd did discuss theological topics in his commentaries on occasion, he usually reserved them for his more polemical works, where he has a more contemporary philosopher in mind. His Tahafut al-tahafut(Incoherence of the Incoherence) is a response to an earlier attack upon philosophy, the Tahafut al falasifa(Incoherence of the Philosophers) written by AL-GHAZALI, who had argued in this work that there are two major problems with Islamic philosophy. The first problem is that it misapplies the very philosophical techniques which it advocates; that is, its arguments fall foul of the criteria for validity which philosophy itself advocates. The other problem is that the conclusions of philosophy go against the principles of Islam, which the philosophers pretend they are supporting. Al-Ghazali produced accurate descriptions of philosophical arguments and then set about demolishing them, using the same philosophical principles which his opponents try to employ. He argued that although the philosophers purport to prove that philosophy is merely a more sophisticated analysis of the nature of reality than that available to ordinary Muslims, the philosophers are in fact involved in dismantling the religious notion of God, the afterlife and creation in the guise of merely analysing these ideas. Although the object of his attack is primarily the work of AL-FARABI and IBN SINA, Ibn Rushd perceived that the whole peripatetic approach to philosophy was being challenged by al-Ghazali, and he rushed to its defence.
The nub of al-Ghazali’s attack on philosophy is what he regards as its misguided interpretation of the relationship between God and the world. The Qur’an is full of references to the creation of the world and to its eventual destruction should the deity feel it appropriate, yet Islamic philosophy tends to argue that the world is eternal. If God really is an agent, al-Ghazali asks, why cannot he just create the world ex nihilo and then later destroy it? Ibn Rushd replies that temporal and eternal agents act very differently. We can decide to do something, we can wait for a certain time before acting, we can wonder about our future actions; but such possibilities cannot arise for God. In his case there is no gap between desire and action, nothing stands in the way of his activity; and yet we are told by al-Ghazali that God suddenly created the world. What differentiates one time from another for God? What could motivate him to create the world at one particular time as opposed to another? For us, different times are different because they have different qualitative aspects, yet before the creation of the world, when there was nothing around to characterize one time as distinct from another, there is nothing to characterize one time over another as the time for creation to take place
Al-Ghazali argues that such a response is evidence of mental laziness. Even we can choose between two alternatives which appear to be identical in every respect except position. He gives the example of a hungry man being confronted by only two dates, where he is able to take just one. Since they are to all intents and purposes identical, it would seem to follow that if the philosophers are right he must just stand there and starve since there is no difference between them. Ibn Rushd criticizes this analogy, since it is not really about a choice as to which date to eat but about a choice between eating and not eating. What al-Ghazali is trying to do is establish some scope for divine action and decision-making which represents God as a real agent and not just as a cipher for natural events which would take place anyway. Ibn Rushd comments that the difficulty lies in distinguishing between the divine will and knowledge. Since an omniscient God knows exactly how the universe should be organized to produce the optimal arrangement, Ibn Rushd insists that there is no point in thinking of a gap in time existing between that conception and its instantiation. An omnipotent God does not need to wait for the appropriate moment to create the universe since nothing exists which could oblige him to wait, and he does not require time to bring about the creation. Ibn Rushd argues that given God’s nature, we cannot think of his acting in any different way from that represented by the organization of the world. This does not imply a lack of freedom or ability to choose, but is merely a reflection of God’s perfect nature
One might expect Ibn Rushd to share Ibn Sina’s view that God’s knowledge is limited to universal judgments, but he does not adopt this line, arguing rather that God’s knowledge is neither universal nor individual, although it is more like the latter than the former. Our knowledge is the result of what God has brought about, whereas God’s knowledge is produced by that which he himself has brought about, a reality which he has constructed. The organization of the universe is a reflection of God’s thought, and through thinking about his own being he is at the same time thinking about the organization of the world which mirrors that essence. He cannot really be identical with contingent and accidental phenomena, yet his essence is not totally unconnected with such phenomena. They represent contingent aspects of the necessary and essential relationships which he has established. To take an example, God knows which physical laws govern the universe, but he does not need to observe any moving objects to understand the principles of movement. Such observations are only appropriate objects of knowledge of sentient creatures with sensory apparatus and are far beneath the dignity of the creator. Ibn Rushd argues that this is not to diminish God’s knowledge, but rather emphasizes the distinctness of the deity from his creatures and their ways of finding things out
The soul. Another charge which al-Ghazali brought against philosophy was that it fails to allow the physical resurrection of human beings and the provision of physical rewards and punishments appropriate to their behaviour during their lives. He has in mind here the Aristotelian notion of the soul, which makes the idea of an afterlife difficult to grasp. This is because the soul is the form of the living being, an aspect of the being itself, and there is no point in talking about the matter existing without the form when we are considering living creatures. Persons are combinations of soul and body, and in the absence of the latter there are no persons left. Ibn Rushd appears to argue that as we become more involved with immortal and eternal knowledge, and with universal and abstract principles, our mind becomes identical to a degree with those objects of knowledge. So, once we have perfected ourselves intellectually and know everything that there is to know about the formal structure of reality, there is no longer really any `us’ around to do the knowing. Ibn Rushd regards our progress in knowledge as equivalent to a lessening of our ties with our material and individual human characteristics, with the radical result that if anything survives death, it must be the species and not the individual. Temporal and finite creatures are destructible, but as members of a species we are permanent, although only the species itself is entirely free from destruction.
This seems even more incompatible with the traditional religious view of the afterlife than the position which al-Ghazali attacks. Ibn Rushd follows this with a political account of the function of the religious language, describing the afterlife as providing ordinary believers with a motive for virtuous action and dissuading them from immorality. He does not entirely rule out the possibility of the sort of physical afterlife on which al-Ghazali insists, but it is clear from his work that he regards such a possibility as wildly unlikely. The only meaning which can be given to such a notion is political, and there is nothing irreligious about such an interpretation, according to Ibn Rushd. It is difficult for unsophisticated believers to understand that it is worthwhile to act well and avoid evil, or that their actions have a wider reference than the immediate community of acquaintances, so any religion which is able to motivate them must address them in ways that they comprehend and in a language which strikes an emotional chord. Richly descriptive accounts of the afterlife, of God seeing everything which happens and of his creation of the world out of nothing, help adherence by the majority to the principles of religion and are the only sort of language which most members of the community can understand. The arguments which Ibn Rushd presents for hedging in the notion of the immortality of the individual soul would not mean much to the unsophisticated believer, while the more intellectually alert are expected by Ibn Rushd to understand how that notion fits in with the basic principles of Islam.
Moral and political philosophy Ibn Rushd presents a firm critique of the Ash’arite theory of moral language, which interprets rightness and wrongness entirely in conformity with the commands of God. The purpose of that theory is to emphasize the power and authority of the deity over everything, even over the meaning of ethical terms. What we ought to do then is simply equivalent to God’s commands, and we ought to do it because God has commanded it, so that everything we need to know about moral behaviour is encapsulated in Islam. Ibn Rushd argued that on the contrary, a distinction should be drawn between moral notions and divine commands. Here he follows an Aristotelian approach. Since everything has a nature, and this nature defines its end, we as things also have natures and ends at which our behaviour is directed. The purpose of a plant is to grow and the aim of a saw is to cut, but what is the purpose of a human being? One of our ultimate aims is to be happy and to avoid actions which lead to unhappiness. It is not difficult here to align Islamic and Aristotelian principles: moral virtue leads to happiness since, if we do what we should in accordance with our nature, we will be able to achieve happiness. This happiness may be interpreted in a number of ways, either as a mixture of social and religious activities or as an entirely intellectual ideal. However, the latter is possible only for a very few, and neither religion nor philosophy would approve of it as the ultimate aim for the majority of the community. There is an essential social dimension to human happiness which makes the identification of happiness with correct moral and religious behaviour much easier to establish. It is conceivable that someone would try to live completely apart from the community to concentrate upon entirely intellectual pursuits, but this way of living is inferior to a life in which there is a concentration upon intellectual thought combined with integration within the practices of a particular society.
Gazali v.s. Ibn RusdIbn Rushd proceeded in his Tahafut al-Tahafut (Incoherence of the Incoherence) and al-Fasl (Exposition) to rebut al-Ghazali’s arguments against the philosophers. On the first issue of the eternity of the world, he argued that contrary to al-Ghazali contention in his book Tahafut al-Falasifah (Incoherence of Philosophers), the philosophers do not believe the world to be really eternal or really temporal. According to Ibn Rushd, the former thesis entails that like God, the world is uncreated; the latter that is corruptible. The genuine teaching of the philosophers, he explained, is that the world is generated ab aetorno (from eternity). This is so because the claim that the it was generated in time (muhdath) simply derogates from God’s power or perfection, because it would entail that God could not have brought the world into being before the specific time He created it and would raise the question why he chose to create it at that specifi time and no other.
On the Second issue, that the philosophers deny god’s knowledge of particulars, Ibn Rushd reported that what the philosophers in fact deny is that God’s knowledge is analogous to that of humans and thus divisible into particular and universal. The two are radically different: human knowledge is an effect of the thing known, whereas God’s knowledge is the cause of the things known and accordingly is neither universal nor particular but is of its own kind. Moreover, its mode is unknown to us, because, like God’s will, it is part of the mystery of God’s creative power. On their issue of resurrection, Ibn Rushd explained, the philosopher and religious creeds of his day are in accord regarding the fact of resurrection, but they differ on its mode. The philosophers, he held, subscribe to spiritual resurrection or immortality (maad) regard the Quranic reference to corporeal resurrection and pleasures and pains of heaven and hell as so many pictorial or sensuous representations of spiritual truths, intended to sway or deter the masses, who are unable to understand the subtle, spiritual language of revelation.
Ibn Rushd further impugned al-Ghazali’s sincerity in denying the necessary correlation between cause and effect, on the ground that this denial is a sophistical gambit in which “one denies verbally what is in his heart,” that is without serious conviction or simply out of malice. He then proceeded to ridicule al-Ghazali’s notion that the alleged correlation between cause and effect is a matter of habit, born of humankind’s observation of the recurrence of cause-effect sequences. By habit, al-Ghazali could only mean habit, which the Qur’an (35:45) denies on the ground that God’s ways are immutable; that of inanimate objects, which is absurd; or finally, humankind’s own habit of judging the correlation of events in the world. This is synonymous with the activity of reason, which is nothing other than the knowledge of the cause underlying any given effect or series of effects. Thus, “he who repudiates causality,” Ibn Rushd wrote, “actually repudiates reason.” This Repudiation logically entails the repudiation that divine wisdom tat presides over creation and has ordered it according to a fixed causal pattern from which the mind is able to rise to the discovery of its maker or First Cause
For Averroes there are three sorts of minds, corresponding to the three types of argument established by Aristotle. Firstly, demonstrative minds able to follow a rigorous argument and to reach necessary and evident conclusions. The concatenation of theses demonstrations is what constitutes philosophy, but this is accessible only to a minority of minds sufficiently gifted to devote themselves to it. Secondly, logical minds satisfied by probable arguments. Thirdly, minds given to exhortation or oratorical argument unsuited to follow formals reasoning. These belong to all ordinary men, the great mass of humanity responsible only to imagination and passion. But, as Averroes states, one of the miraculous features of the Koran is that it is accessible to all three categories, each discerning in it the truth adapted to intellectual capacity. For the verses which are clear and unmistakable there is no problem; they are apprehended and understood by all in the same obvious sense. Other texts are ambiguous they make use of symbols and metaphors. They bear a literal and also a deeper, hidden meaning, and only the philosophers, the chosen spirits, are able to comprehend the strict sequence of reasoning and to understand the deeper meaning. A for the common people, they understand the texts in their literal sense and one must beware of letting them catch a glimpse of the deeper hidden meaning which these texts conceal as they would not understand them and would be troubled in their faith.
But what disorder and sows trouble is the intemperate work of the ‘Theologian’, the mutakallimun, who, unable to appreciate an apodictic demonstration, have recourse to dialectic reasoning which prove nothing. Averroes does not stint is sarcasm against these trouble-makers, and he would willingly appeal to the secular arm to prevent them pursuing their misdeeds. This quality of wisdom which Muslim philosophy strives to adopt is none the less, at least in intention, religious. This is its fourth characteristic. It contains the religious elements taken from the Koran, but instead of borrowing them as religious elements, it sincerely seeks to ‘reconcile’ religion and reason with the intention of giving the former a scientific ‘status’. It applies religious principles the structure of Greek philosophy thereby bestows on the latter a religious resonance which it did not have with the Greek masters. It was thus able to get a hearing from religious minds or at least those desirous to harmonize their faith with reason and ‘science’
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