AVERROISM—a philosophical direction that accepts the views of Averroes, connected with his interpretation of Aristotle’s works, it began in the thirteenth century in the faculty of arts in the University of Paris and became one of the influential currents of European medieval scholasticism. It continued to the sixteenth century. Scholars make a distinction between the first “Latin” Averroism and the second Averroism. The views of philosophers in the faculty of arts in Paris in the thirteenth century are described by some scholars as “heterodox Aristotelianism” or “radical Aristotelianism” (F. Van Steenberghen et al.).
The beginnings of Latin Averrosim are connected with a lecture between 1228 and 1230 on Averroes’s commentaries on Aristotle’s work by Michael Scot (from the mid thirteenth century, almost all of Averroes’s works were known and used). Michael and Henry the German, who made further translations of Averroes’s works, became the first proclaimers of Averroism.
Bonaventure (1250–1253) was the first to show that some of Averroes’s opinions disagreed with the doctrine of the Church. R. Bacon (before 1247). Albert the Great in De unitate intellectus contra Averroem (1256) and Thomas Aquinas in Summa contra Gentiles (around 1258), also fought the views of Averroes. The teaching of Averroes, like Avicenna’s thought and that of Aristotle himself, began to be more widely studied in Paris around the year 1260. Between 1260 and 1265 the masters of the faculty of arts at the university, Siger de Brabant (around 1240–1284) and Boethius of Dacia, propagated Averroism.
Averroism became a school by the end of the thirteenth century. Among its representatives we may mention Martin of Dacia, Jacob of Douai, Giles of Orleans, and Anthony of Parma. Thomas Aquinas wrote his treatise On the Unity of the Intellect Against the Averroists (1270) against the views of the masters of the faculty of arts, who held that only one passive intellect exists common to all men. In 1270, Bishop Stephen Tempier condemned 13 theses of the Averroists that were being taught at the University of Paris: (1) that the intellect of all men is one and numerically the same; (2) that the proposition that man understands is false or improper; (3) that the will of man wills and chooses in a necessary manner; (4) that everything that happens upon earth is subject to the necessity of heavenly bodies; (5) that the world is eternal; (6) that there never was a first man; (7) that the soul, which is the form of man as man, undergoes destruction when the body perishes; (8) that after death the separated soul cannot suffer from physical fire; (9) that the free will is a passive ability, not an active ability, and it is moved in a necessary manner by a desired object; (10) the God does not know individual beings; (11) the God does not know other beings besides himself; (12) that human acts are not directed by divine providence; (13) that God cannot endow mortal and destructible things with immortality and indestructibility. This condemnation was more a reaction to the entire Averroist current than to the actual Parisian teachers. The decree of Bishop Stephen in 1272 condemned Siger de Brabant, Boethius of Dacia, and Bernier de Nivelles to exile, but Averroism in Paris continued to grow. The activity of the first Averroistic school ended in 1277 with Bishop Stephen Tempier’s condemnation of 219 theses (including not only the statements of the Averroists, but also those of Thomas Aquinas, Avicenna, and twelfth-century dialecticians). There was a similar condemnation at Oxford University.
The characteristic view of Averroism was that philosophy was autonomous in relation to theology, because the certainty obtained by reasoning or evident propositions constitutes the ultimate criterium for “natural” truth. The Averroists taught that there was a division between the natural (philosophical) order and the supernatural, that philosophy was separate from theology, and reason from Revelation. In connection with this, the Averroists were accused of teaching a “theory of two truths”, the theological truth and the philosophical truth, which may contradict each other. Averroism, which arose from a neo-Platonic interpretation of Aristotle’s philosophy, accepted the position that the world was eternal (creation ex nihilo was internally contradictory, but may be recognized on the basis of Revelation as a miracle). They also taught an emanationist and necessity-based vision of the world. According to Averroism, God is not the world’s efficient cause, but its first mover and ruler. The world is hierarchically ordered in four categories of beings: at the apex of the world stands the first cause (God), then the world of pure spirits (intelligences) who move the heavenly bodies, and then the world of natural bodies composed of matter and form. Typical of Averroism was the thesis that there is an intellect common to all men (following Averroes, they taught that both the possible intellect and the agent intellect are one separate substance that influence man’s power of judgment and in this way man’s individualization occurs). The common intellect has always been and will always be. The individual man does not possess in himself an individual element after the destruction of the body and is mortal. Averroism generally taught determinism regarding human acts. Averroists saw man’s happiness, attainable only in this world and with man’s own powers, in intellectual cognition. They identified man’s ultimate end with a certain connection with the separate intellect (after man attains all-encompassing knowledge), and thereby with a knowledge of the first cause—God.
A renaissance of Averroism in Paris occurred between 1283 and 1286. In the thirteenth century, John of Jandun and Marsilius of Padua taught Averroism in Paris. Bologne was also a center of Averroism in the thirteenth and fourteenth century (Paul of Venice, Cajetan of Thienn, Anthony of Parma). From the fifteenth century Padua was a center of Averroism (Alessandro Achillini, Antonio Bernardo della Mirandola, Pietro Trapolino, and others). The so-called second Averroism was characterized by its attempt to reconcile philosophical doctrines with the dogmas of the Christian faith. However, a radical Averroism also appeared that accepted philosophical statements opposed to Christian theology. John of Jandun (d. 1328), a master at the faculty of Arts in Paris, took this position and represented religious scepticism. He repeated the typical theses of Averroism: the eternity of the world, the one agent intellect common to all men, the improbability of individual immortality and resurrection. The best known representative of the second Parisian Averroism was Marsilius of Padua (d. around 1336). Marsilius applied the opposition of philosophy and theology characteristic of Averroism in his philosophy of politics. His treatise, Defensor pacis (Defender of peace) expressed his political and social beliefs. In this work he distinguished man’s two ends. One end can be achieved in earthly life. It is connected with the state, and the state is governed by authorities who rely on philosophical principles. The second end is in eternal life, to which the Church and clergy lead man, as they use Revelation. In the case of Marsilius, the division between philosophy and theology ultimately takes the form of a complete division of state and Church.
Averroism continued to the sixteenth century. Peter Pomponazzi (d. 1515) and Caesar Cremonini (d. 1631) still defended the Averroistic interpretation of Aristotle. Pomponazzi rejected the position that an immortal human soul exists. He based this rejection on Alexander of Aphrodisia’s interpretation of Aristotle’s thought. He led to the division of Paduan philosophers into Averroists and Alexandrists. Both positions were condemned by the Fifth Lateran Council (1513).
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