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  By Movement / School > Medieval > Averroism

Averroism is a Medieval school of philosophy, begun in the late 13th Century, which was based on the works of the 12th Century Arab philosopher AverroŽs (also known as Ibn Rushd) and his interpretations of Aristotle and his reconciliation of Aristotelianism with the Islamic faith. The movement, which can be considered a type of Scholasticism, is sometimes also known as Radical Aristotelianism or Heterodox Aristotelianism. The term "Averroism" itself was coined as late as the 19th Century.

European philosophers (such as the 13th Century Belgian philosopher Siger of Brabant and the 13th Century Swedish/Danish philosopher Boetius of Dacia) in turn applied these ideas to Aristotle's writings and their relation to the Christian faith, a variant sometimes known as Latin Averroism.

The main ideas of the philosophical concept of Averroism include:

  • there is one truth, but there are (at least) two ways to reach it, through philosophy and through religion;
  • the world is eternal;
  • the soul is divided into two parts, one individual, and one divine;
  • the individual soul is not eternal;
  • all humans at the basic level share one and the same divine soul (an idea known as monopsychism);
  • resurrection of the dead is not possible (this was put forth by Boetius)

AverroŽs believed that Scripture sometimes uses metaphorical language, and that those without the philosophical training to appreciate the true meaning of the passages in question are obliged to believe the literal meaning. Siger expanded this to claim that there exists a "double truth": a factual or "hard" truth that is reached through science and philosophy, and a "religious" truth that is reached through religion. Particularly galling to the Church of the time was the Averroist emphasis on the superiority of reason and philosophy over faith and knowledge founded on faith, the independent use of reason, and the idea that the philosophical and religious worlds are separate entities.

Averroism supports the idea that "existence precedes essence" (the philosophic concept based on the idea of existence without essence) in direct opposition to the Essentialism of rival Islamic movements, Avicennism and Illuminationism. Much later, the Transcendent Theosophy of Mulla Sadra (c. 1571 Ė 1640) in the 17th Century and Existentialism in the 20th Century were to develop this radical idea.

The Roman Catholic Church in the ecclesiastical centres of Paris and Oxford condemned 219 of AverroŽs' theses in 1277, although many of their objections were identical to the arguments of Al-Ghazali (1058 - 1111) against philosophers in general in his "Incoherence of the Philosophers" (which AverroŽs had earlier tried to demonstrate to be unjustified). St. Thomas Aquinas opposed Averroism as a dangerous line of thought, and his synthesis of faith and reason (which is at the heart of Thomism) was in specific opposition to Averroism.

Despite the condemnations, many Averroistic theses survived to the 16th Century and can be found in the philosophies of Italian Renaissance thinkers like Pico della Mirandola (1463 - 1494), Giordano Bruno (1548 -1600) and Cesare Cremonini (1550 -1631), who talked about the superiority of philosophers to the common people and the relation between the intellect and human dignity.

The pantheistic beliefs of Baruch Spinoza flowed from Averroistic monopsychism, as did his belief in the higher state of the philosophers and tendencies toward secularism (the idea that certain practices or institutions should exist separately from religion or religious belief). Some scholars consider AverroŽs to be the founding father of secular thought in Western Europe.

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