Who was Averroes?

March 11th, 2010 by admin

The great Islamic philosopher Averroes, or Ibn Rushd, as he is also known, was born 1126 in Cordoba of the Almoravid Empire in present-day Spain. He came from a long line of people talented in law, with both his grandfather and father serving as chief judges of their city. Though he would one day follow in that occupational line, Averroes’ time as a judge in both Seville and Cordoba was relatively short compared to the breadth of his other work. He began his education on what would generally be considered a fairly conservative path for his time, focusing mainly on holy law, linguistics, and scholastic theology. But from there he would take a fairly divergent path and add both medicine and most importantly, philosophy to his list of specializations.

The wide-ranging nature of his studies pushed him to communicate the places they took him. Throughout his life, Averroes was a consummate writer. He penned some 20,000 pages on a very large array of subjects from medicine to grammar to philosophy. These works include a complete general medicine encyclopedia, some volumes on physics, and several influential writings on Islamic law. His writings point toward some fairly advanced concepts in the scientific world: he penned an early concept of inertia in physics, and his general medicine encyclopedia was widely translated into Latin. He is most widely known in the west for his commentary work on Aristotle. However, in much of the Islamic world he is known for furthering classical Greek philosophy in terms of Islamic philosophy.

Despite the lengthy bibliography of written works, Averroes is much better known for the line of philosophy that he founded and from which it gets its name. Averroism at its root was Averroes’ attempt to reconcile Aristotle’s philosophy of rationalism with the beliefs of Islam. What resulted was the concept that both philosophy and religion could co-exist, and because of this, there are always two different ways for individuals to arrive at truth. It was a popular concept in the 13th century and led to a large backlash from more conservative elements of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. By the time Dante was penning his Divine Comedy epic, Averroes had become one of the most highly criticized and talked about philosophers of the 13th and 14th century in the Christian world. Most noted were commentaries on Aristotle’s works with some of the more progressive thoughts of the time, such as equal rights, for women being discussed.

Ibn Tushd died in 1198 in Marrakesh, Morocco at age 72. While many know him today for his connection to a philosophic tradition that his thought and writings fueled, one can and must see the wide ranging works of Averroes to be those of man truly for all seasons. His reach has extended into the realms of literature, philosophy, religion, and law. He was a man who, above all else, sought knowledge and in that knowledge he believed he could find truth. Perhaps in his legacy, one could find what he found.


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