Ibn Rushd: Biography, Quotes & Books

Instructor: Mary Ruth Sanders Bracy

Mary Ruth teaches college history and has a PhD.

In this lesson, we will learn about the Muslim philosopher ibn Rushd. He is generally considered to be not only the most important Muslim philosopher, but one of the most important thinkers of world history.

ibn Rushd

Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd: his name alone is a mouthful, which is why he is commonly referred to as ibn Rushd (his Arabic name) or Averroes (his Latin name). He was one of the most important philosophers in world history, mostly known for his work arguing that religion and philosophy were not incompatible. In this lesson, we will learn about ibn Rushd's biography, his most important books, and some of his famous quotations.

A Sculpture of ibn Rushd
ibn Rushd

Biography and Books

ibn Rushd was born in 1126 in Cordova, Spain, at the very edge of the Islamic World. His father and grandfather were both important judges in Cordova, and ibn Rushd was raised to treasure both faith and learning. In school, he was trained in traditional Islamic hadith (religious law), medicine, mathematics, and philosophy. Throughout his life, he served in many different positions. He was an astronomical observer, chief physician to the rulers of Cordova, and chief judge of the same region (the position his grandfather had held before him).

His position as chief physician led to an important break in his philosophical career. The caliph (ruler) of Cordova, Abu Ya'Qub Yusuf, was impressed enough by ibn Rushd to ask him to undertake a very important project: re-translating and offering commentary on the works of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. From 1169-1195, he wrote summaries and commentaries of varying lengths on all of Aristotle's works. These commentaries were translated from Arabic into Hebrew and eventually into Latin, which meant these commentaries would spread from the Muslim to the Jewish and Christian worlds. ibn Rushd is credited with reviving interest in Greek philosophy in the Middle Ages, which would set the stage for the intellectual revival known as the Renaissance several centuries later.

The commentaries on Aristotle were ibn Rushd's major life works, although he also wrote many of his own important books. For the most part, his original works dealt with one major topic: the argument that religion and philosophy were not incompatible but instead worked together. He argued that Islamic law commanded the study of philosophy, and that philosophy could not harm the faithful man who truly followed God. The three most important books in which ibn Rushd laid out these ideas were:

  1. Fasl al-Maqal (The Decisive Treatise)
  2. Kashf al-Manahij (Exposition of the Methods of Proof)
  3. Tahafut al-Tafut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence)

All of these books were written between 1179-1180.

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