Islamic Studies Ibn Rushd (Averroës)
by
Oliver Leaman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 December 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0039

Introduction

Ibn Rushd is considered by many to be the greatest of the Islamic philosophers within the Peripatetic tradition, and has come to represent the role of reason in the Islamic world in popular culture. He energetically defended philosophy at a time when it was under significant threat. His commentaries went on to have great influence in the Jewish and Christian worlds, where his status as the chief interpreter of Aristotle persisted for a long time. A particular development of his thought in Christian Europe went on to have a radical effect on subsequent culture, and it is no exaggeration to suggest that Ibn Rushd played an important role in what became the European Renaissance and eventually the Enlightenment. He came to play a role eventually in the Nahda, the Arab Renaissance, in the 19th century as a Muslim who combined a commitment to religion with an enthusiasm for reason.

Life

Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd (520–595/1126–1198), known in the Latin West as Averroës, had a tempestuous life. As Fakhry 2002 explains, he came from a distinguished family whose father and grandfather had been close to the previous regime in al-Andalus, Islamic Iberia, the Almoravids. Ibn Rushd himself had to coexist with their successors and usurpers, the Almohads. Urvoy 1991, Urvoy 1996, and Urvoy 1998 explain how he went in and out of political favor on a number of different occasions. He is said to have come into contact with the older Andalusi thinkers Ibn Bajja and Ibn Tufayl, and the latter is supposed to have introduced him to the Caliph Abu Ya‘qub Yusuf, although how true this is we do not know. Genequand 1996 suggests that his links with Ibn Sina are stronger than we often appreciate. MacLintock 2006 outlines his distinguished career as a lawyer in Cordoba, and as an author of many works on medicine, law, theology, and especially philosophy. Leaman 1998a and Leaman 1998b describe how he suffered periods of disgrace, being banished to Lucena, a largely Jewish town in al-Andalus, and also to North Africa, and after his death he almost disappeared from the Arab cultural world. His reputation was resuscitated in the 19th century by the Nahda movement, which regarded him as the symbol of an Islam compatible with science and rationality. More recently, many of the authors in Wahba and Abousenna 1996 argue that he has come to represent a more secular attitude to religion in the Islamic world.

  • Fakhry, Majid. Averroes (Ibn Rushd): His Life, Works and Influence. Oxford: Oneworld, 2002.

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    A nontechnical and clear approach to Ibn Rushd’s thought and its context.

  • Genequand, Charles. “Metaphysics.” In History of Islamic Philosophy, Part II. Edited by Seyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman, 783–801. Routledge History of World Philosophies 1. New York: Routledge, 1996.

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    Clear account of Ibn Rushd on metaphysics.

  • Leaman, Oliver. Averroes and His Philosophy. Rev. ed. Richmond, UK: Curzon, 1998a.

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    Analysis of some of the main arguments of Ibn Rushd and the controversies in which he played a leading role. New edition; first published in 1988.

  • Leaman, Oliver. “Ibn Rushd.” In Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. 4. Edited by Edward Craig, 638–646. London: Routledge, 1998b.

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    Basic account of Ibn Rushd’s views and philosophical significance.

  • MacLintock, Stuart, with addendum by Oliver Leaman. “Averroes.” In Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Donald M. Borchert, 421–425. New York: Macmillan, 2006.

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    Clear, basic account of Ibn Rushd’s role in philosophy.

  • Urvoy, Dominique. Ibn Rushd (Averroes). Translated by Olivias Stewart. London: Routledge, 1991.

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    Strong on the theological and cultural Spanish background.

  • Urvoy, Dominique. “Ibn Rushd.” In History of Islamic Philosophy, Part II. Edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman, 330–345. Routledge History of World Philosophies 1. New York: Routledge, 1996.

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    Accurate description of Ibn Rushd’s main philosophical views.

  • Urvoy, Dominique. Averroes: Les ambitions d’un intellectuel musulman. Paris: Flammarion-Pere Castor, 1998.

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    Excellent account of Ibn Rushd’s social and political context.

  • Wahba, Murad, and Mona Abousenna, eds. Averroes and the Enlightenment. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1996.

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    A lively collection of articles largely suggesting that Ibn Rushd is an important Enlightenment figure and radical thinker.

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