Averroës

The Islamic Scholar Who Gave Us Modern Philosophy

Robert Pasnau

According to Immanuel Kant, the urge to philosophize is universal: “In all men, as soon as their reason has become ripe for speculation, there has always existed and will always continue to exist some kind of metaphysics.” The truth of this is apparent in children at any early age, whose questions exhaust even the most profound and patient of parents. But it does not follow that there must inevitably be a place for philosophy in our educational systems. It is rare in the United States, for instance, to encounter philosophy before college, and rare outside Catholic universities for philosophy to be required in college. (It was a pleasant feature of a recent year spent living in Morocco to find that almost everyone there, from pharmacists to cab drivers, had a basic grasp of what philosophy is, acquired from their high school days. In this country, in contrast, even well-educated people often have little idea of what philosophy actually consists.) At the university, we think of philosophy as an essential offering in the humanities. But there is nothing inevitable even about this, as reflection on the history of the subject reveals.

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Image: Although Thomas Aquinas and later philosophers owed Averroës a major intellectual debt, they also fiercely criticized his writings. The depiction of the Islamic philosopher is a detail from the <em>Triumph of St. Thomas</em> Aquinas in Santa Maria Novella, Florence. In the fourteenth-century fresco, Andrea di Bonaiuto placed Averroës with the heretics Sabellius and Arius in the space beneath the saint’s throne.

Although Thomas Aquinas and later philosophers owed Averroës a major intellectual debt, they also fiercely criticized his writings. The depiction of the Islamic philosopher is a detail from the Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas in Santa Maria Novella, Florence. In the fourteenth-century fresco, Andrea di Bonaiuto placed Averroës with the heretics Sabellius and Arius in the space beneath the saint’s throne.
The Bridgeman Art Library International

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