Now let us turn our attention to this article from Humanities on Averroes.

There is some good work here, but finally the author misses the point both on the history and the philosophy.  Historically, the reason that the last Islamic philosopher of any weight was probably Averroes isn't the pressures Islam placed on his teachings; it's that Christian Spain conquered his city within fifty years of his death, and much of the rest of the peninsula.  Meanwhile, in the famous schools of Baghdad mentioned by the articles, the Mongol horde arrived.  The result was that Islamic scholarship was decimated at both ends; there was no one left to teach, and no one in the Islamic world with time to learn.

That is the historic reason that Averroes' torch passed to Christian thinkers.  Any civilization is in danger of destruction in every generation, if it fails to pass its lessons to its children.  To lose all of one's schools in a generation is a tragedy, and a blow, from which few if any civilizations have recovered.  Islam has a chance to recover cuttings of its old traditions from us, and restore them.  If it does, it may yet flourish anew.

Philosophically, the author misreads Averroes' contention about what philosophy is for.  Averroes does indeed say that "anyone who declares these interpretations to those not adept in them is himself an unbeliever because of his calling people to unbelief."  So does the Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who holds strongly that a particular interpretation of a crucial passage in the Torah should not be expounded philosophically 'in the presence of two' -- and Jewish philosophy has, and Jewish philosophers have, continued to be at the forefront of the field.

No, rather, Averroes held that philosophy was the highest way of pursuing the questions of the divine, and that metaphysics -- he followed Aristotle's definition of metaphysics as the study of 'being qua being' -- was "either obligatory or recommended by religious law."  Since he was a qadi, a sha'riah judge, this opinion should carry some weight even today.

Those of  you interested in the subject may find Richard C. Taylor's article on the subject more interesting; sadly, it is not available online without a subscription of some sort.  However, even your public library can almost certainly obtain it for you, if you only know to ask for it.


Eric said...

Not enough history. That's always the problem with articles of this sort.

That, and an overwhelming conceit of attributing to Islam some sort of special place in preserving Greek thought, which of course, wouldn't have been necessary in the first place if the all the places in the middle east where Roman/Hellenistic civilization were originally hadn't been overrun by the Arabs, and really isn't the case since the real renaissance in relearning Greek dates from the middle of the 15th century, with the virtual export of Greek writings (and Greek teachers) from Constantinople prior to the Ottoman taking of the city.

That, combined with the printing press, instead of copying manuscripts, ensured the propagation of all sorts of classical texts, almost all of which were got out of medieval European monestaries.

And they're still finding stuff in those monestaries, like that collection of Archimedes' writings that came to light recently.

Joseph W. said...

Hadn't heard of that - but I did long ago read about the Archimedes Palimpsest - the only known copy of "The Method" (an important insight into the way he got his geometrical theorems) had been scraped off the parchment by monks so they could write devotional works over it.

Sometimes, nobody was working that hard to preserve ancient learning.