1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Arabian Philosophy
ARABIAN PHILOSOPHY. What is known as “Arabian” philosophy owed to Arabia little more than its name and its language. It was a system of Greek thought, expressed in a Semitic tongue, and modified by Oriental influences, called into existence amongst the Moslem people by the patronage of their more liberal princes, and kept alive by the intrepidity and zeal of a small band of thinkers, who stood suspected and disliked in the eyes of their nation. Their chief claim to the notice of the historian of speculation comes from their warm reception of Greek philosophy when it had been banished from its original soil, and whilst western Europe was still too rude and ignorant to be its home (9th to 12th century).
In the course of that exile the traces of Semitic or Mahommedan influence gradually faded away, and the last of the line of Saracenic thinkers was a truer exponent of the one philosophy which they all professed to teach than Origin. the first. The whole movement is little else than a chapter in the history of Aristotelianism. That system of thought, after passing through the minds of those who saw it in the hazy light of an orientalized Platonism, and finding many laborious but narrow-purposed cultivators in the monastic schools of heretical Syria, was then brought into contact with the ideas and mental habits of Islam. But those in whom the two currents converged did not belong to the pure Arab race. Of the so-called Arabian philosophers of the East, al-Fārābī, Ibn-Sīnā and al-Ghazālī were natives of Khorasan, Bokhara and the outlying provinces of north-eastern Persia; whilst al-Kindī, the earliest of them, sprang from Basra, on the Persian Gulf, on the debatable ground between the Semite and the Aryan. In Spain, again, where Ibn-Bājja, Ibn-Tufail and Ibn Rushd rivalled or exceeded the fame of the Eastern schools, the Arabians of pure blood were few, and the Moorish ruling class was deeply intersected by Jewish colonies, and even by the natives of Christian Spain. Thus, alike at Bagdad and at Cordova, Arabian philosophy represents the temporary victory of exotic ideas and of subject races over the theological one-sidedness of Islam, and the illiterate simplicity of the early Saracens.
Islam had, it is true, a philosophy of its own among its theologians (see Mahommedan Religion). It was with them that the Moslem theology—the science of the word (Kalām)—first came into existence. Its professors, the Mutākallimūn (known in Hebrew as Medabberim, and as Loquentes in the Latin versions), may be compared with the scholastic doctors of the Catholic Church. Driven in the first instance to speculation in theology by the needs of their natural reason, they came, in after days, when Greek philosophy had been naturalized in the Caliphate, to adapt its methods and doctrines to the support of their views. They employed a quasi-philosophical method, by which, according to Maimonides, they first reflected how things ought to be in order to support, or at least not contradict, their opinions, and then, when their minds were made up with regard to this imaginary system, declared that the world was no otherwise constituted. The dogmas of creation and providence, of divine omnipotence, chiefly exercised them; and they sought to assert for God an immediate action in the making and the keeping of the world. Space they looked upon as pervaded by atoms possessing no quality or extension, and time was similarly divided into innumerable instants. Each change in the constitution of the atoms is a direct act of the Almighty. When the fire burns, or the water moistens, these terms merely express the habitual connexion which our senses perceive between one thing and another. It is not the man that throws a stone who is its real mover: the supreme agent has for the moment created motion. If a living being die, it is because God has created the attribute of death; and the body remains dead, only because that attribute is unceasingly created. Thus, on the one hand, the object called the cause is denied to have any efficient power to produce the so-called effect; and, on the other hand, the regularities or laws of nature are explained to be direct interferences by the Deity. The supposed uniformity and necessity of causation is only an effect of custom, and may be at any moment rescinded. In this way, by a theory which, according to Averroes, involves the negation of science, the Moslem theologians believed that they had exalted God beyond the limits of the metaphysical and scientific conceptions of law, form and matter; whilst they at the same time stood aloof from the vulgar doctrines, attributing a causality to things. Thus they deemed they had left a clear ground for the possibility of miracles.
But at least one point was common to the theological and the philosophical doctrine. Carrying out, it may be, the principles of the Neo-Platonists, they kept the sanctuary of the Deity securely guarded, and interposed between him and his creatures a spiritual order of potent principles, from the Intelligence, which is the first-born image of the great unity, to the Soul and Nature, which come later in the spiritual rank. Of God the philosophers said we could not tell what He is, but only what He is not. The highest point, beyond which strictly philosophical inquirers did not penetrate, was the active intellect,—a sort of soul of the world in Aristotelian garb—the principle which inspires and regulates the development of humanity, and in which lies the goal of perfection for the human spirit. In theological language the active intellect is described as an angel. The inspirations which the prophet receives by angelic messengers are compared with the irradiation of intellectual light, which the philosopher wins by contemplation of truth and increasing purity of life. But while the theologian incessantly postulated the agency of that God whose nature he deemed beyond the pale of science, the philosopher, following a purely human and natural aim, directed his efforts to the gradual elevation of his part of reason from its unformed state, and to its final union with the controlling intellect which moves and draws to itself the spirits of those who prepare themselves for its influences. The philosophers in their way, like the mystics of Persia (the Sufites) in another, tended towards a theory of the communion of man with the spiritual world, which may be considered a protest against the practical and almost prosaic definiteness of the creed of Mahomet.
Arabian philosophy, at the outset of its career in the 9th century, was able without difficulty to take possession of those resources for speculative thought which the Latins had barely achieved at the close of the 12th century by the slow process of rediscovering the Aristotelian logic from the commentaries and verses of Boëtius. What the Latins painfully accomplished, owing to their fragmentary and unintelligent acquaintance with ancient philosophy, was already done for the Arabians by the scholars of Syria. In the early centuries of the Christian era, both within and without the ranks of the church, the Platonic tone and method were paramount throughout the East. Their influence was felt in the creeds which formulated the orthodox dogmas in regard to the Trinity and the Incarnation. But in its later days the Neo-Platonist school came more and more to find in Aristotle the best exponent and interpreter of the philosopher whom they thought divine. It was in this spirit that Porphyry, Themistius and Joannes Philoponus composed their commentaries on the treatises of the Peripatetic system which, modified often unconsciously by the dominant ideas of its expositors, became in the 6th and 7th centuries the philosophy of the Eastern Church. But the instrument which, in the hands of John of Damascus (Damascenus), was made subservient to theological interests, became in the hands of others a dissolvent of the doctrines which had been reduced to shape under the prevalence of the elder Platonism. Peripatetic studies became the source of heresies; and conversely, the heretical sects prosecuted the study of Aristotle with peculiar zeal. The church of the Nestorians, and that of the Monophysites, in their several schools and monasteries, carried on from the 5th to the 8th century the study of the earlier part of the Organon, with almost the same means, purposes and results as were found among the Latin schoolmen of the earlier centuries. Up to the time when the religious zeal of the emperor Zeno put a stop to the Nestorian school at Edessa, this “Athens of Syria” was active in translating and popularizing the Aristotelian logic. Their banishment from Edessa in 489 drove the Nestorian scholars to Persia, where the Sassanid rulers gave them a welcome; and there they continued their labours on the Organon. A new seminary of logic and theology sprang up at Nisībis, not far from the old locality; and at Gandisapora (or Nishapur), in the east of Persia, there arose a medical school, whence Greek medicine, and in its company Greek science and philosophy, ere long spread over the lands of Iran. Meanwhile the Monophysites had followed in the steps of the Nestorians, multiplying Syriac versions of the logical and medical science of the Greeks. Their school at Resaina is known from the name of Sergius, one of the first of these translators, in the days of Justinian; and from their monasteries at Kinnesrīn (Chalcis) issued numerous versions of the introductory treatises of the Aristotelian logic. To the Isagoge of Porphyry, the Categories and the Hermeneutica of Aristotle, the labours of these Syrian schoolmen were confined. These they expounded, translated, epitomized and made the basis of their compilations, and the few who were bold enough to attempt the Analytics seem to have left their task unaccomplished.
The energy of the Monophysites, however, began to sink with the rise of the Moslem empire; and when philosophy revived amongst them in the 13th century, in the person of Gregorius Bar-Hebraeus (Abulfaragius) (1226-1286), the revival was due to the example and influence of the Arabian thinkers. It was otherwise with the Nestorians. Gaining by means of their professional skill as physicians a high rank in the society of the Moslem world, the Nestorian scholars soon made Bagdad familiar with the knowledge of Greek philosophy and science which they possessed. But the narrow limits of the Syrian studies, which added to a scanty knowledge of Aristotle some acquaintance with his Syrian commentators, were soon passed by the curiosity and zeal of the students in the Caliphate. During the 8th and 9th centuries, rough but generally faithful versions of Aristotle’s principal works were made into Syriac, and then from the Syriac into Arabic. The names of some of these translators, such as Johannitius (Hunain ibn-Ishāq), were heard even in the Latin schools. By the labours of Hunain and his family the great body of Greek science, medical, astronomical and mathematical, became accessible to the Arab-speaking races. But for the next three centuries fresh versions, both of the philosopher and of his commentators, continued to succeed each other.
To the Arabians Aristotle represented and summed up Greek philosophy, even as Galen became to them the code of Greek medicine. They adopted the doctrine and system which the progress of human affairs had made the intellectual aliment of their Syrian guides. From first to last Arabian philosophers made no claim to originality; their aim was merely to propagate the truth of Peripateticism as it had been delivered to them. It was with them that the deification of Aristotle began; and from them the belief that in him human intelligence had reached its limit passed to the later schoolmen (see Scholasticism). The progress amongst the Arabians on this side lies in a closer adherence to their text, a nearer approach to the bare exegesis of their author, and an increasing emancipation from control by the tenets of the popular religion.
Secular philosophy found its first entrance amongst the Saracens in the days of the early caliphs of the Abbasid dynasty, whose ways and thoughts had been moulded by their residence in Persia amid the influences of an older Under the Caliphate. creed, and of ideas which had in the last resort sprung from the Greeks. The seat of empire had been transferred to Bagdad, on the highway of Oriental commerce; and the distant Khorasan became the favourite province of the caliph. Then was inaugurated the period of Persian supremacy, during which Islam was laid open to the full current of alien ideas and culture. The incitement came, however, not from the people, but from the prince: it was in the light of court favour that the colleges of Bagdad and Nishapur first came to attract students from every quarter, from the valleys of Andalusia as well as the upland plains of Transoxiana. Mansūr, the second of the Abbasids, encouraged the appropriation of Greek science; but it was al-Ma’mūn, the son of Harūn al-Rashīd, who deserves in the Mahommedan empire the same position of royal founder and benefactor which is held by Charlemagne in the history of the Latin schools. In his reign (813-833) Aristotle was first translated into Arabic. Orthodox Moslems, however, distrusted the course on which their chief had entered, and his philosophical proclivities became one ground for doubting as to his final salvation.
In the eastern provinces the chief names of Arabian philosophy are those known to the Latin schoolmen as Alkindius, Alfarabius, Avicenna and Algazel, or under forms resembling these. The first of these, Alkindius (see Kindi), flourished at the court of Bagdad in the first half of the 9th century. His claims to notice at the present day rest upon a few works on medicine, theology, music and natural science. With him begins that encyclopaedic character—the simultaneous cultivation of the whole field of investigation which is reflected from Aristotle on the Arabian school. In him too is found the union of Platonism and Aristotelianism expressed in Neo-Platonic terms. Towards the close of the 10th century the presentation of an entire scheme of knowledge, beginning with logic and mathematics, and ascending through the various departments of physical inquiry to the region of religious doctrine, was accomplished by a society which had its chief seat at Basra, the native town of al-Kindi. This society—the Brothers of Purity or Sincerity (Ikhwān us Safā’i)—divided into four orders, wrought in the interests of religion no less than of science; and though its attempt to compile an encyclopaedia of existing knowledge may have been premature, it yet contributed to spread abroad a desire for further information. The proposed reconciliation between science and faith was not accomplished, because the compromise could please neither party. The fifty-one treatises of which this encyclopaedia consists are interspersed with apologues in true Oriental style, and the idea of goodness, of moral perfection, is as prominent an end in every discourse as it was in the alleged dream of al-Ma‛mūn. The materials of the work come chiefly from Aristotle, but they are conceived in a Platonizing spirit, which places as the bond of all things a universal soul of the world with its partial or fragmentary souls. Contemporary with this semi-religious and semi-philosophical society lived Alfarabius (see Fārābī), who died in 950. His paraphrases of Aristotle formed the basis on which Avicenna constructed his system, and his logical treatises produced a permanent effect on the logic of the Latin scholars. He gave the tone and direction to nearly all subsequent speculations among the Arabians. His order and enumeration of the principles of being, his doctrine of the double aspect of intellect, and of the perfect beatitude which consists in the aggregation of noble minds when they are delivered from the separating barriers of individual bodies, present at least in germ the characteristic theory of Averroes. But al-Farābī was not always consistent in his views; a certain sobriety checked his speculative flights, and although holding that the true perfection of man is reached in this life by the elevation of the intellectual nature, he came towards the close to think the separate existence of intellect no better than a delusion.
Unquestionably the most illustrious name amongst the Oriental Moslems was Avicenna (980-1037). His rank in the medieval world as a philosopher was far beneath his fame as a physician. Still, the logic of Albertus Avicenna. Magnus and succeeding doctors was largely indebted to him for its formulae. In logic Avicenna starts from distinguishing between the isolated concept and the judgment or assertion; from which two primitive elements of knowledge there is artificially generated a complete and scientific knowledge by the two processes of definition and syllogism. But the chief interest for the history of logic belongs to his doctrine in so far as it bears upon the nature and function of abstract ideas. The question had been suggested alike to East and West by Porphyry, and the Arabians were the first to approach the full statement of the problem. Farābī had pointed out that the universal and individual are not distinguished from each other as understanding from the senses, but that both universal and individual are in one respect intellectual, just as in another connexion they play a part in perception. He had distinguished the universal essence in its abstract nature, from the universal considered in relation to a number of singulars. These suggestions formed the basis of Avicenna’s doctrine. The essences or forms—the intelligibilia which constitute the world of real knowledge—may be looked at in themselves (metaphysically), or as embodied in the things of sense (physically), or as expressing the processes of thought (logically). The first of these three points of view deals with the form or idea as self-contained in the principles of its own being, apart from those connexions and distinctions which it receives in real (sensuous) science, and through the act of intellect. Secondly, the form may be looked at as the similarity evolved by a process of comparison, as the work of mental reflection, and in that way as essentially expressing a relation. When thus considered as the common features derived by examination from singular instances, it becomes a universal or common term strictly so called. It is intellect which first makes the abstract idea a true universal. Intellectus in formis agit universalitatem. In the third place, the form or essence may be looked upon as embodied in outward things (in singularibus propriis), and thus it is the type more or less represented by the members of a natural kind. It is the designation of these outward things which forms the “first intention” of names; and it is only at a later stage, when thought comes to observe its own modes, that names, looked upon as predicables and universals, are taken in their “second intention.” Logic deals with such second intentions. It does not consider the forms ante multiplicitatem, i.e. as eternal ideas—nor in multiplicitate, i.e. as immersed in the matter of the phenomenal world—but post multiplicitatem, i. e. as they exist in and for the intellect which has examined and compared. Logic does not come in contact with things, except as they are subject to modification by intellectual forms. In other words, universality, individuality and speciality are all equally modes of our comprehension or notion; their meaning consists in their setting forth the relations attaching to any object of our conception. In the mind, e.g., one form may be placed in reference to a multitude of things, and as thus related will be universal. The form animal, e.g., is an abstract intelligible or metaphysical idea. When an act of thought employs it as a schema to unify several species, it acquires its logical aspect (respectus) of generality; and the various living beings qualified to have the name animal applied to them constitute the natural class or kind. Avicenna’s view of the universal may be compared with that of Abelard, which calls it “that whose nature it is to be predicated of several,” as if the generality became explicit only in the act of predication, in the sermo or proposition, and not in the abstract, unrelated form or essence. The three modes of the universal before things, in things, and after things, spring from Arabian influence, but depart somewhat from his standpoint.
The place of Avicenna amongst Moslem philosophers is seen in the fact that Shahrastānī takes him as the type of all, and that Ghazālī’s attack against philosophy is in reality almost entirely directed against Avicenna. His system is in the main a codification of Aristotle modified by fundamental views of Neo-Platonist origin, and it tends to be a compromise with theology. In order, for example, to maintain the necessity of creation, he taught that all things except God were admissible or possible in their own nature, but that certain of them were rendered necessary by the act of the creative first agent,—in other words, that the possible could be transformed into the necessary. Avicenna’s theory of the process of knowledge is an interesting part of his doctrine. Man has a rational soul, one face of which is turned towards the body, and, by the help of the higher aspect, acts as practical understanding; the other face lies open to the reception and acquisition of the intelligible forms, and its aim is to become a reasonable world, reproducing the forms of the universe and their intelligible order. In man there is only the susceptibility to reason, which is sustained and helped by the light of the active intellect. Man may prepare himself for this influx by removing the obstacles which prevent the union of the intellect with the human vessel destined for its reception. The stages of this process to the acquisition of mind are generally enumerated by Avicenna as four; in this part he follows not Aristotle, but the Greek commentator. The first stage is that of the hylic or material intellect, a state of mere potentiality, like that of a child for writing, before he has ever put pen to paper. The second stage is called in habitu; it is compared to the case of a child that has learned the elements of writing, when the bare possibility is on the way to be developed, and is seen to be real. In this period of half-trained reason, it appears as happy conjecture, not yet transformed into art or science proper. When the power of writing has been actualized, we have a parallel to the intellectus in actu—the way of science and demonstration is entered. And when writing has been made a permanent accomplishment, or lasting property of the subject, to be taken up at will, it corresponds to the intellectus adeptus—the complete mastery of science. The whole process may be compared to the gradual illumination of a body naturally capable of receiving light. There are, however, grades of susceptibility to the active intellect, i.e. in theological language, to communication with God and his angels. Sometimes the receptivity is so vigorous in its affinity, that without teaching it rises at one step to the vision of truth, by a certain “holy force” above ordinary measure. (In this way philosophy tried to account for the phenomenon of prophecy, one of the ruling ideas of Islam.) But the active intellect is not merely influential on human souls. It is the universal giver of forms in the world.
In several points Avicenna endeavoured to give a rationale of theological dogmas, particularly of prophetic rule, of miracles, divine providence and immortality. The permanence of individual souls he supports by arguments borrowed from those of Plato. The existence of a prophet is shown to be a corollary from a belief in God as a moral governor, and the phenomena of miracles are required to evidence the genuineness of the prophetic mission. Thus Avicenna, like his predecessors, tried to harmonize the abstract forms of philosphy with the religious faith of his nation. But his arguments are generally vitiated by the fallacy of assuming what they profess to prove. His failure is made obvious by the attack of Ghazālī on the tendencies and results of speculation.
To Ghazālī (q.v.) it seemed that the study of secular philosophy had resulted in a general indifference to religion, and that the scepticism which concealed itself under a pretence of piety was destroying the life and purity of the nation. Ghazālī. With these views he carried into the fields of philosophy the aims and spirit of the Moslem theologian. His restless life was the reflex of a mental history disturbed by prolonged agitation. Revolting, in the height of his success, against the current creed, he began to examine the foundations of knowledge. The senses are contradicted by one another, and disproved by reason. Reason, indeed, professes to furnish us with necessary truths; but what assurance have we that the verdicts of reason may not be reversed by some higher authority? Ghazālī then interrogated all the sects in succession to learn their criterion of truth. He first applied to the theological schoolmen, who grounded their religion on reason; but their aim was only to preserve the faith from heresy. He turned to the philosophers, and examined the accepted Aristotelianism in a treatise which has come down to us—The Destruction of the Philosophers. He assails them on twenty points of their mixed physical and metaphysical peripateticism, from the statement of which, in spite of his pretended scepticism, we can deduce some very positive metaphysical opinions of his own. He claims to have shown that the dogmas of the eternity of matter and the permanence of the world are false; that their description of the Deity as the demiurgos is unspiritual; that they fail to prove the existence, the unity, the simplicity, the incorporeality or the knowledge (both of species and accidents) of God; that their ascription of souls to the celestial spheres is unproved; that their theory of causation, which attributes effects to the very natures of the causes, is false, for that all actions and events are to be ascribed to the Deity; and, finally, that they cannot establish the spirituality of the soul, nor prove its mortality. These criticisms disclose nothing like a sceptical state of mind, but rather a reversion from the metaphysical to the theological stage of thought. He denies the intrinsic tendencies, or souls, by which the Aristotelians explained the motion of the spheres, because he ascribes their motion to God. The sceptic would have denied both. G. H. Lewes censures Renan for asserting of Ghazālī’s theory of causation—“Hume n’a rien dit plus.” It is true that Ghazālī maintains that the natural law according to which effects proceed inevitably from their causes is only custom, and that there is no necessary connexion between them. But while Hume absolutely denies the necessity, Ghazālī merely removes it one stage farther back, and plants it in the mind of the Deity. This, of course, is not metaphysics, but theology. Having, as he believed, refuted the opinions of the philosophers, he next investigated the pretensions of the Allegorists, who derived their doctrines from an imam. These Arabian ultramontanes had no word for the doubter. They could not, he says, even understand the problems they sought to resolve by the assumption of infallibility, and he turned again, in his despair, to the instructors of his youth—the Sūfīs. In their mystical intuition of the laws of life, and absorption in the immanent Deity, he at last found peace. This shows the true character of the treatise which, alike in medieval and modern times, has been quoted as containing an exposition of his opinions. The work called The Tendencies of the Philosophers, translated in 1506, with the title Logica et Philosophia Algazelis Arabis, contains neither the logic nor the philosophy of Ghazālī. It is a mere abstract or statement of the Peripatetic systems, and was made preliminary to that Destruction of which we have already spoken.
This indictment against liberal thought from the standpoint of the theological school was afterwards answered in Spain by Averroes; but in Bagdad it heralded the extinction of the light of philosophy. Moderate and compliant with the popular religion as Alfarabius and Avicenna had always been, as compared with their Spanish successor, they had equally failed to conciliate the popular spirit, and were classed in the same category with the heretic or the member of an immoral sect. The 12th century exhibits the decay of liberal intellectual activity in the Caliphate, and the gradual ascendancy of Turkish races animated with all the intolerance of semi-barbarian proselytes to the Mahommedan faith. Philosophy, which had only sprung up when the purely Arabian influences ceased to predominate, came to an end when the sceptre of the Moslem world passed away from the dynasty of Persia. Even in 1150 Bagdad had seen a library of philosophical books burned by command of the caliph Mostanjid; and in 1192 the same place might have witnessed a strange scene, in which the books of a physician were first publicly cursed, and then committed to the flames, while their owner was incarcerated. Thus, while the Latin church showed a marvellous receptivity for ethnic philosophy, and assimilated doctrines which it had at an earlier date declared impious, in Islam the theological system entrenched itself towards the end of the 12th century in the narrow orthodoxy of the Asharites, and reduced the votaries of Greek philosophy to silence.
The same phenomena were repeated in Spain under the Mahommedan rulers of Andalusia and Morocco, with this difference, that the time of philosophical development was shorter, and the heights to which Spanish thinkers In Spain. soared were greater. The reign of al-Hakam the Second (961-976) inaugurated in Andalusia those scientific and philosophical studies which were simultaneously prosecuted by the Society of Basra. From Cairo, Bagdad, Damascus and Alexandria, books both old and new were procured at any price for the library of the prince; twenty-seven free schools were opened in Cordova for the education of the poor; and intelligent knowledge was perhaps more widely diffused in Mahommedan Spain than in any other part of Europe at that day. The mosques of the city were filled with crowds who listened to lectures on science and literature, law and religion. But the future glory thus promised was long postponed. The usurping successor of Hakam found it a politic step to request the most notable doctors of the sacred law to examine the royal library; and every book treating of philosophy, astronomy and other forbidden topics was condemned to the flames. But the spirit of research, fostered by the fusion of races and the social and intellectual competition thus engendered, was not crushed by these proceedings; and for the next century and more the higher minds of Spain found in Damascus and Bagdad the intellectual aliment which they desired. At last, towards the close of the 11th century, the long-pent spiritual energies of Mahommedan Spain burst forth in a brief series of illustrious men. Whilst the native Spaniards were narrowing the limits of the Moorish kingdoms, and whilst the generally fanatical dynasty of the Almohades might have been expected to repress speculation, the century preceding the close of Mahommedan sway saw philosophy cultivated by Avempace, Abubacer and Averroes. Even amongst the Almohades there were princes, such as Yusūf (who began his reign in 1163) and Yaqūb Almansūr (who succeeded in 1184), who welcomed the philosopher at their courts and treated him as an intellectual compeer. But about 1195 the old distrust of philosophy revived; the philosophers were banished in disgrace; works on philosophical topics were ordered to be confiscated and burned; and the son of Almansūr condemned a certain Ibn-Habīb to death for the crime of philosophizing.
Arabian speculation in Spain was heralded by Avicebron or Ibn Gabirol (q.v.), a Jewish philosopher (1021-1058). About a generation later the rank of Moslem thinkers was introduced by Abū-Bakr Muhammad ibn Yahya, Avempace. surnamed Ibn-Bājja, and known to the Latin world as Avempace. He was born at Saragossa, and died comparatively young at Fez in 1138. Besides commenting on various physical treatises of Aristotle’s, he wrote some philosophical essays, notably one on the Republic or Régime of the Solitary, understanding by that the organized system of rules, by obedience to which the individual may rise from the mere life of the senses to the perception of pure intelligible principles and may participate in the divine thought which sustains the world. These rules for the individual are but the image or reflex of the political organization of the perfect or ideal state; and the man who strives to lead this life is called the solitary, not because he withdraws from society, but because, while in it, he guides himself by reference to a higher state, an ideal society. Avempace does not develop at any length this curious Platonic idea of the perfect state. His object is to discover the highest end of human life, and with this view he classifies the various activities of the human soul, rejects such as are material or animal, and then analyses the various spiritual forms to which the activities may be directed. He points out the graduated scale of such forms, through which the soul may rise, and shows that none are final or complete in themselves, except the pure intelligible forms, the ideas of ideas. These the intellect can grasp, and in so doing it becomes what he calls intellectus acquisitus, and is in a measure divine. This self-consciousness of pure reason is the highest object of human activity, and is to be attained by the speculative method. The intellect has in itself power to know ultimate truth and intelligence, and does not require a mystical illumination as Ghazālī taught. Avempace’s principles, it is clear, lead directly to the Averroistic doctrine of the unity of intellect, but the obscurity and incompleteness of the Régime do not permit us to judge how far he anticipated the later thinker. (See Munk, Mélanges de phil. juive et arabe, pp. 383-410.)
The same theme was developed by Ibn-Ṭufail (q.v.) in his philosophical romance, called Hayy ibn-Yakdhān (the Living, Son of the Waking One), best known by Pococke’s Latin version, as the Philosophus Autodidactus. It describes the process by which an isolated truth-seeker detaches himself from his lower passions, and raises himself above the material earth and the orbs of heaven to the forms which are the source of their movement, until he arrives at a union with the supreme intellect. The experiences of the religious mystic are paralleled with the ecstatic vision in which the philosophical hermit sees a world of pure intelligences, where birth and decease are unknown. It was this theory which Averroes (1126-1198), the last and most famous of the thinkers of Moslem Spain, carried out to his doctrine of the unity of intellect.
For Aristotle the reverence of Averroes was unbounded, and to expound him was his chosen task. The uncritical receptivity of his age, the defects of the Arabic versions, the emphatic theism of his creed, and the rationalizing Averroes. mysticism of some Oriental thought, may have sometimes led him astray, and given prominence to the less obvious features of Aristotelianism. But in his conception of the relation between philosophy and religion, Averroes had a light which the Latins were without. The science, falsely so called, of the several theological schools, their groundless distinctions and sophistical demonstrations, he regarded as the great source of heresy and scepticism. The allegorical interpretations and metaphysics which had been imported into religion had taken men’s minds away from the plain sense of the Koran. God had declared a truth meet for all men, which needed no intellectual superiority to understand, in a tongue which each human soul could apprehend. Accordingly, the expositors of religious metaphysics, Ghazālī included, are the enemies of true religion, because they make it a mere matter of syllogism. Averroes maintains that a return must be made to the words and teaching of the prophet; that science must not expend itself in dogmatizing on the metaphysical consequences of fragments of doctrine for popular acceptance, but must proceed to reflect upon and examine the existing things of the world. Averroes, at the same time, condemns the attempts of those who tried to give demonstrative science where the mind was not capable of more than rhetoric: they harm religion by their mere negations, destroying an old sensuous creed, but cannot build up a higher and intellectual faith.
In this spirit Averroes does not allow the fancied needs of theological reasoning to interfere with his study of Aristotle, whom he simply interprets as a truth-seeker. The points by which he told on Europe were all implicit in Aristotle, but Averroes set in relief what the original had left obscure, and emphasized things which the Christian theologian passed by or misconceived. Thus Averroes had a double effect. He was the great interpreter of Aristotle to the later Schoolmen. On the other hand, he came to represent those aspects of Peripateticism most alien to the spirit of Christendom; and the deeply religious Moslem gave his name to the anti-sacerdotal party, to the materialists, sceptics and atheists, who defied or undermined the dominant beliefs of the church.
On three points Averroes, like other Moslem thinkers, came specially into relation, real or supposed, with the religious creed, viz. the creation of the world, the divine knowledge of particular things, and the future of the human soul.
The real grandeur of Averroes is seen in his resolute prosecution of the standpoint of science in matters of this world, and in his recognition that religion is not a branch of knowledge to be reduced to propositions and systems of dogma, but a personal and inward power, an individual truth which stands distinct from, but not contradictory to, the universalities of scientific law. In his science he followed the Greeks, and to the Schoolmen he and his compatriots rightly seemed philosophers of the ancient world. He maintained alike the claim of demonstrative science with its generalities for the few who could live in that ethereal world, and the claim of religion for all—the common life of each soul as an individual and personal consciousness. But theology, or the mixture of the two, he regarded as a source of evil to both—fostering the vain belief in a hostility of philosophers to religion, and meanwhile corrupting religion by a pseudo-science.
The latent nominalism of Aristotle only came gradually to be emphasized through the prominence which Christianity gave to the individual life, and, apart from passing notices as in Abelard, first found clear enunciation in the school of Duns Scotus. The Arabians, on the contrary, emphasized the idealist aspect which had been adopted and promoted by the Neo-Platonist commentators. Hence, to Averroes the eternity of the world finds its true expression in the eternity of God. The ceaseless movement of growth and change, which presents matter in form after form as a continual search after a finality which in time and movement is not and cannot be reached, represents only the aspect the world shows to the physicist and to the senses. In the eye of reason the full fruition of this desired finality is already and always attained; the actualization, invisible to the senses, is achieved now and ever, and is thus beyond the element of time. This transcendent or abstract being is that which the world of nature is always seeking. He is thought or intellect, the actuality, of which movement is but the fragmentary attainment in successive instants of time. Such a mind is not in the theological sense a creator, yet the onward movement is not the same as what some modern thinkers seem to mean by development. For the perfect and absolute, the consummation of movement is not generated at any point in the process; it is an ideal end, which guides the operations of nature, and does not wait upon them for its achievement. God is the unchanging essence of the movement, and therefore its eternal cause.
A special application of this relation between the prior perfect, and the imperfect, which it influences, is found in the doctrine of the connexion of the abstract (transcendent) intellect with man. This transcendent mind is sometimes connected with the moon, according to the theory of Aristotle, who assigned an imperishable matter to the sphere beyond the sublunary, and in general looked upon the celestial orbs as living and intelligent. Such an intellect, named active or productive, as being the author of the development of reason in man, is the permanent, eternal thought, which is the truth of the cosmic and physical movement. It is in man that the physical or sensible passes most evidently into the metaphysical and rational. Humanity is the chosen vessel in which the light of the intellect is revealed; and so long as mankind lasts there must always be some individuals destined to receive this light. What seems from the material point of view to be the acquisition of learning, study and a moral life, is from the higher point of view the manifestation of the transcendent intellect in the individual. The preparation of the heart and faculties gives rise to a series of grades between the original predisposition and the full acquisition of actual intellect. These grades in the main resemble those given by Avicenna. But beyond these, Averroes claims as the highest bliss of the soul a union in this life with the actual intellect. The intellect, therefore, is one and continuous in all individuals, who differ only in the degree which their illumination has attained. Such was the Averroist doctrine of the unity of intellect—the eternal and universal nature of true intellectual life. By his interpreters it was transformed into a theory of one soul common to all mankind, and when thus corrupted conflicted not unreasonably with the doctrines of a future life, common to Islam and Christendom.
Averroes, rejected by his Moslem countrymen, found a hearing among the Jews, to whom Maimonides had shown the free paths of Greek speculation. In the cities of Languedoc and Provence, to which they had been driven by Spanish Opponents of Averroism. fanaticism, the Jews no longer used the learned Arabic, and translations of the works of Averroes became necessary. His writings became the text-book of Levi ben Gerson at Perpignan, and of Moses of Narbonne. Meanwhile, before 1250, Averroes became accessible to the Latin Schoolmen by means of versions, accredited by the names of Michael Scot and others. William of Auvergne is the first Schoolman who criticizes the doctrines of Averroes, not, however, by name. Albertus Magnus and St Thomas devote special treatises to an examination of the Averroist theory of the unity of intellect, which they labour to confute in order to establish the orthodoxy of Aristotle. But as early as Aegidius Romanus (1247-1316). Averroes had been stamped as the patron of indifference to theological dogmas, and credited with the emancipation which was equally due to wider experience and the lessons of the Crusades. There had never been an absence of protest against the hierarchical doctrine. Berengar of Tours (11th century) had struggled in that interest, and with Abelard, in the 12th century, the revolt against authority in belief grew loud. The dialogue between a Christian, a Jew and a philosopher suggested a comparative estimate of religions, and placed the natural religion of the moral law above all positive revelations. Nihilists and naturalists, who deified logic and science at the expense of faith, were not unknown at Paris in the days of John of Salisbury. In such a critical generation the words of Averroism found willing ears, and pupils who outran their teacher. Paris became the centre of a sceptical society, which the decrees of bishops and councils, and the enthusiasm of the orthodox doctors and knights-errant of Catholicism, were powerless to extinguish. At Oxford Averroes told more as the great commentator. In the days of Roger Bacon he had become an authority. Bacon, placing him beside Aristotle and Avicenna, recommends the study of Arabic as the only way of getting the knowledge which bad versions made almost hopeless. In Duns Scotus, Averroes and Aristotle are the unequalled masters of the science of proof; and he pronounces distinctly the separation between Catholic and philosophical truth, which became the watchword of Averroism. By the 14th century Averroism was the common leaven of philosophy; John Baconthorpe is the chief of Averroists, and Walter Burley has similar tendencies.
Meanwhile Averroism had come to be regarded by the great Dominican school as the arch-enemy of the truth. When the emperor Frederick II. consulted a Moslem free-thinker on the mysteries of the faith, when the phrase or legend of the “Three Impostors” presented in its most offensive form the scientific survey of the three laws of Moses, Christ and Mahomet, and when the characteristic doctrines of Averroes were misunderstood, it soon followed that his name became the badge of the scoffer and the sceptic. What had begun with the subtle disputes of the universities of Paris, went on to the materialist teachers in the medical schools and the sceptical men of the world in the cities of northern Italy. The patricians of Venice and the lecturers of Padua made Averroism synonymous with doubt and criticism in theology, and with sarcasm against the hierarchy. Petrarch refuses to believe that any good thing can come out of Arabia, and speaks of Averroes as a mad dog barking against the church. In works of contemporary art Averroes is at one time the comrade of Mahomet and Antichrist; at another he lies with Arius and Sabellius, vanquished by the lance of St Thomas.
It was in the universities of north Italy that Averroism finally settled, and there for three centuries it continued as a stronghold of Scholasticism to resist the efforts of revived antiquity and of advancing science. Padua The school of Padua. became the seat of Averroist Aristotelianism; and, when Padua was conquered by Venice in 1405, the printers of the republic spread abroad the teaching of the professors in the university. As early as 1300, at Padua, Petrus Aponensis, a notable expositor of medical theories, had betrayed a heterodoxy in faith; and John of Jandun, one of the pamphleteers on the side of Louis of Bavaria, was a keen follower of Averroes, whom he styles a “perfect and most glorious physicist.” Urbanus of Bologna, Paul of Venice (d. 1428), and Cajetanus de Thienis (1387-1465), established by their lectures and their discussions the authority of Averroes; and a long list of manuscripts rests in the libraries of Lombardy to witness the diligence of these writers and their successors. Even a lady of Venice, Cassandra Fedele, in 1480, gained her laurels in defence of Averroist theses.
With Pietro Pomponazzi (q.v.) in 1495, a brilliant epoch began for the school of Padua. Questions of permanent and present interest took the place of outworn scholastic problems. The disputants ranged themselves under the rival commentators, Alexander and Averroes; and the immortality of the soul became the battle-ground of the two parties. Pomponazzi defended the Alexandrist doctrine of the utter mortality of the soul, whilst Agostino Nifo (q.v.), the Averroist, was entrusted by Leo X. with the task of defending the Catholic doctrine. The parties seemed to have changed when Averroism thus took the side of the church; but the change was probably due to compulsion. Nifo had edited the works of Averroes (1495–1497); but his expressions gave offence to the dominant theologians, and he had to save himself by distinguishing his personal faith from his editorial capacity. Alessandro Achillini, the persistent philosophical adversary of Pomponazzi, both at Padua and subsequently at Bologna, attempted, along with other moderate but not brilliant Averroists, to accommodate their philosophical theory with the requirements of Catholicism. It was this comparatively mild Averroism, reduced to the merely explanatory activity of a commentator, which continued to be the official dogma at Padua during the 16th century. Its typical representative is Marc-Antonio Zimara (d. 1552), the author of a reconciliation between the tenets of Averroes and those of Aristotle.
Meanwhile, in 1497, Aristotle was for the first time expounded in Greek at Padua. Plato had long been the favourite study at Florence; and Humanists, like Erasmus, Ludovicus Vives and Nizolius, enamoured of the popular philosophy Summary. of Cicero and Quintilian, poured out the vials of their contempt on scholastic barbarism with its “impious and thrice-accursed Averroes.” The editors of Averroes complain that the popular taste had forsaken them for the Greek. Nevertheless, while Fallopius, Vesalius and Galileo were claiming attention to their discoveries, G. Zabarella, Francesco Piccolomini (1520–1604) and Cesare Cremonini (1550–1631) continued the traditions of Averroism, not without changes and additions. Cremonini, the last of them, died in 1631, after lecturing twelve years at Ferrara, and forty at Padua. The great educational value of Arabian philosophy for the later schoolmen consisted in its making them acquainted with an entire Aristotle. At the moment when it seemed as if everything had been made that could be made out of the fragments of Aristotle, and the compilations of Capella, Cassiodorus and others, and when mysticism and scepticism seemed the only resources left for the mind, the horizon of knowledge was suddenly widened by the acquisition of a complete Aristotle. Thus the mistakes inevitable in the isolated study of an imperfect Organon could not henceforth be made. The real bearing of old questions, and the meaninglessness of many disputes, were seen in the new conception of Aristotelianism given by the Metaphysics and other treatises. The former Realism and Nominalism were lifted into a higher phase by the principle of the universalizing action of intellect—Intellectus in formis agit universalitatem. The commentaries of the Arabians in this respect supplied nutriment more readily assimilated by the pupils than the pure text would have been.
Arabian philosophy, whilst it promoted the exegesis of Aristotle and increased his authority, was not less notable as the source of the separation between theology and philosophy. Speculation fell on irreligious paths. In many cases the heretical movement was due less to foreign example than to the indwelling tendencies of the dominant school of realism. But it is not less certain that the very considerable freedom of the Arabians from theological bias prepared the time when philosophy shook off its ecclesiastical vestments. In the hurry of first terror, the church struck Aristotle with the anathema launched against innovations in philosophy. The provincial council of Paris in 1209, which condemned Amalricus and his followers, as well as David of Dinant’s works, forbade the study of Aristotle’s Natural Philosophy and the Commentaries. In 1215 the same prohibition was repeated, specifying the Metaphysics and Physics, and the Commentaries by the Spaniard Mauritius (i.e. probably Averroes). Meanwhile Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, accepting the exegetical services of the Arabians, did their best to controvert the obnoxious doctrine of the Intellect, and to defend the orthodoxy of Aristotle against the unholy glosses of infidels. But it is doubtful whether even they kept as pure from the infection of illegitimate doctrine as they supposed. The tide meanwhile flowed in stronger and stronger. In 1270 Étienne Tempier, bishop of Paris, supported by an assembly of theologians, anathematized thirteen propositions bearing the stamp of Arabian authorship; but in 1277 the same views and others more directly offensive to Christians and theologians had to be censured again. Raymond Lully, in a dialogue with an infidel thinker, broke a lance in support of the orthodox doctrine, and carried on a crusade against the Arabians in every university; and a disciple of Thomas Aquinas drew up a list (De erroribus philosophorum) of the several delusions and errors of each of the thinkers from Kindi to Averroes. Strong in their conviction of the truth of Aristotelianism, the Arabians carried out their logical results in the theological field, and made the distinction of necessary and possible, of form and matter, the basis of conclusions in the most momentous questions. They refused to accept the doctrine of creation because it conflicted with the explanation of forms as the necessary evolution of matter. They denied the particular providence of God, because knowledge in the divine sphere did not descend to singulars. They excluded the Deity from all direct action upon the world, and substituted for a cosmic principle the active intellect,—thus holding a form of Pantheism. But all did not go the same length in their divergence from the popular creed.
The half-legendary accounts which attribute the introduction of Arabian science to Gerbert, afterwards Pope Sylvester II., to Constantinus Africanus and to Adelard of Bath, if they have any value, refer mainly to medical science and mathematics. It was not till about the middle of the 12th century that under the patronage of Raymond, archbishop of Toledo, a society of translators, with the archdeacon Dominicus Gundisalvi at their head, produced Latin versions of the Commentaries of Avicenna, and Ghazālī, of the Fons Vitae of Avicebron, and of several Aristotelian treatises. The working translators were converted Jews, the best-known among them being Joannes Avendeath. With this effort began the chief translating epoch for Arabic works. Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine was first translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona (d. 1187), to whom versions of other medical and astronomical works are due. The movement towards introducing Arabian science and philosophy into Europe, however, culminated under the patronage of the emperor Frederick II. (1212–1250). Partly from superiority to the narrowness of his age, and partly in the interest of his struggle with the Papacy, this Malleus ecclesiae Romanae drew to his court those savants whose pursuits were discouraged by the church, and especially students in the forbidden lore of the Arabians. He is said to have pensioned Jews for purposes of translation. One of the scholars to whom Frederick gave a welcome was Michael Scot, the first translator of Averroes. Scot had sojourned at Toledo about 1217, and had accomplished the versions of several astronomical and physical treatises, mainly, if we believe Roger Bacon, by the labours of a Jew named Andrew. But Bacon is apparently hypercritical in his estimate of the translators from the Arabic. Another protégé of Frederick’s was Hermann the German (Alemannus), who, between the years 1243 and 1256, translated amongst other things a paraphrase of al-Fārābī on the Rhetoric, and of Averroes on the Poetics and Ethics of Aristotle. Jewish scholars held an honourable place in transmitting the Arabian commentators to the schoolmen. It was amongst them, especially in Maimonides, that Aristotelianism found refuge after the light of philosophy was extinguished in Islam; and the Jewish family of the Ben-Tibbon were mainly instrumental in making Averroes known to southern France.