Averroes was one of the most accomplished polymaths of medieval Europe (A polymath is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas) living in Moorish Spain at a time when a portion of southern Iberia still remained under Moorish control in the 12th century.
Averroes penned down a huge body of works, most of them considered highly authoritative. His works related to a wide variety of subjects ranging from secular, Islamic philosophy to mathematics, astronomy, medicine, music, psychology, political theory and geography among others.
His works were instrumental in bringing the classic works of Aristotle and others to medieval Europe, eventually contributing to the European Renaissance.
Averroes Brief Biography
Averroes was born in Cordoba, Spain in 1126 and attained education in a variety of sciences at an early age, including linguistics, jurisprudence, hadith and theology. Early in his life, he expressed great aptitude for medicine and consequently became a student to Ibn Zuhr, one of the most accomplished physicians of the age.
Ibn Tufail, another noted Muslim scholar in contemporary Spain, mentored Averroes in pursuing his interests in philosophy, eventually encouraging him to study and write commentaries on the works of Aristotle.
From 1160 onwards, Averroes served as judge at Seville and later at many other court positions. His rationalist views put him at odds with increasingly orthodox Moorish rulers and he was banished from Marrakesh in 1195, only to return in 1197 and die the next year.
Averroes Major Works
Averroes penned down an exceptionally large body of works during his lifetime. In all, he wrote down 80 original works many of which were considered highly authoritative in their respective fields. These works dealt with philosophy, medicine, grammar, theology and political theory.
The most notable of his works are about Islamic and western philosophy. In his works, he displayed a rationalist approach to philosophy and attempts to rationalise spiritual subjects such as revelation. Another highly significant part of his philosophical oeuvre were his commentaries on the works of Aristotle and Plato.
These were the first commentaries of their kind on classical philosophers and the eventual Latin translation of these commentaries re-introduced classical Western philosophy to the rest of Europe. Later European theologians and philosopher such as Thomas Aquinas would draw heavily on the translations of Averroes to understand Aristotle.
Magnum Opus of Averroes
The work for which Averroes is best known is “The Incoherence of the incoherence”. He wrote this work in response to famous Muslim philosopher, Al-Ghazali’s “The Incoherence of the Philosophers”. Whereas Ghazali had demonstrated that philosophers didn’t use logic in metaphysical matters, Averroes defended the Aristotelian thought and sought to demonstrate in this work that the work of the philosophers was not at odds with spiritual and divine truths.
Averroes magnum opus became immensely popular in Europe and many theologies and Christian scholars in subsequent centuries had the work translated into many languages. It was largely based on this book that the Western philosophy school of Averroism eventually came into being.
In the Muslim world, on the other hand, the book was seen as a rationalist defense against the more spiritual approach of Al-Ghazali and was consequently denounced and refuted by many subsequent philosophers.