Ibn Rushd’s Metaphysics: Translation with Introduction of Ibn Rushd’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book Lam
IBN RUSHD’S METAPHYSICS – Book Sample
INTRODUCTION – IBN RUSHD’S METAPHYSICS – IBN RUSHD AS A COMMENTATOR
Most studies of lbn Rushd have hitherto concentrated on two aspects of his philosophy: his psychology (and in particular that part of it whose importance was paramount in the eyes of mediaeval thinkers – the theory of the intellect or noetics) and his religious philosophy. This second aspect was privileged for various reasons, among which one can mention the availability and readability of his short treatises such as the Faş/ al-Maqiil and the Maniihij al-Adi/la, and the celebrated debate between al-Ghazziilı and lbn Rushd in the Tahiifuı; this debate, in turn, fits into the wider frame of the faith versus reason controversy in Islam and in the Christian West.
When students of lbn Rushd’s thought want to find out rapidly about his position on any philosophical problem, they tend to refer to the Tahiifut which certainly makes better reading than the long-winded and repetitive commentaries, and has the additional (and considerable) advantage of being extant in Arabic, whereas the “great” commentaries, with the notable exception of the Metaphysics and of some fragments, are only available in their Latin and Hebrew versions. Some of the main problems dealt with in the Tahiifut – creation and emanation versus the eternity of the world, the providence of God and so on – have also retained some interest and relevance until today, which is hardly the case for the more abstruse aspects of Aristotelian physics and cosmology.
The main factor in the comparative neglect of the commentaries, however, is precisely the fact that they are commentaries. Besides the unavoidable monotony and repetitiousness of that type of work, it is easily inferred that they are mere developments and explanations of Aristotle’s own treatises, as they purport to be, and as such do not contain what could be regarded as lbn Rushd’s philosophy as distinct from Aristotle’s. This !ine of argument calls for some observations.
First of ali, since lbn Rushd’s explicit aim was to follow Aristotle’s philosophy, which to him was unsurpassable, merely explaining its obscurities and removing the accretions of later centuries, particularly of Arab Neoplatonists like al-Fiiriibı and lbn Sına, one could argue that it is precisely insofar as lbn Rushd followed Aristotle that he expounded his own ideas, and that the apparent independence and originality which he displayed in the Tahiifut and the other short treatises were deviations imposed upon him by the need to answer accusations and objections which were, strictly speaking, PREFACE
This is a translation of Ibn Rushd’s commentary on book Liim of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. The text is that edited by M. Bouyges, Averroes Tafsfr mii bacd al-Tahra, vol. III, Beirut 1948, pp. 1392-1736, which I have followed even where it has been restored on the hasis of the Hebrew and Latin translations; these are so literal as to permit such a reconstruction. My departures from Bouyges’ text are indicated in the “notes to the translation” which are mostly concerned with textual matters. The main philosophical questions arising from the text are taken up in the introduction.
The textus, i.e. those portions of the commentary which are quotations from Aristotle’s text in its various Arabic guises have been translated into English quite literally : their very clumsiness and obscurity is an important element in lbn Rushd’s understanding of his master and model. For the rest, it will be easy to see what I owe to W.D. Ross’ excellent English rendering of the Greek text (Oxford, 1909). For ali matters pertaining to purely Aristotelian exegesis, with which I anı not concerned here, I refer the reader to this translation and to the same author’s commentary (2 vol. Oxford 1924).
The present book is an extended and revised version of an Oxford D. Phil. thesis submitted in 1977. My first duty is to express my gratitude to the memory of Richard Walzer, formerly lecturer in Arabic philosophy at Oxford, who introduced me, some years ago, to this complex and fascinating fıeld of study. My supervisor was then Father R.J. McCarthy who unfortunately was compelled by illness to tender an early resignation. it was a matter for great regret that I was not able to profıt longer from his lucid counsels. I anı grateful to Dr F. W. Zimmermann for accepting a thesis which had been largely elaborated under the supervision of others and was nearly completed by the time he took over. My friends DrT.-A. Druart and Dr J. McHugo read drafts of this work and their comments spared me many mistakes.
I would also like to express my profound gratitude to Professor O. Reverdin, who taught me Greek at Geneva University and then constantly encouraged me during my years of study abroad, and to the Societe Academique in Geneva and the Fonds National Suisse de la Recherche Scientifıque without whose fınancial support I could not have undertaken the present work.
Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to Professor Hans Daiber for the care which he devoted to reading my typescript and for a number of valuable observations.
outside the scope of Aristotelianism, and consequently of philosophy. As such, it may be sunnised that Ibn Rushd himself would have regarded these works as in no way comparable in importance with his more scholarly commentaries.
Secondly, the long commentaries contain many digressions, some of them fairly extensive, in which Ibn Rushd is no longer content with explaining Aristotle’s meaning literally, sentence by sentence, but elaborates on the main argument or mentions various interpretations and objections of other authors and refutes them.
On one or two occasions, he even consciously goes beyond Aristotle’s words and expounds what he thinks is implicit in his doctrine, or acknowledges that scientifıc discoveries made in the period of time between the philosopher and himself induce one to modify one’s views on certain topics. These digressions have already been exploited, particularly those conceming the theory of the intellect in the third book of the de Anima, the theory of matter in the Physics, and the greater part of book Liim of the Metaphysics where they are particularly rich and illuminating.
But even when lbn Rushd merely paraphrases Aristotle in his customary way, introducing his explanations following a short lemma by yurıdu or ya<n’i, he often evinces tendencies which are at variance with the fundamental tenets of Aristotelianism. Instances of this are again particularly numerous in the Metaphysics, where the poor quality of most translations often compels him to be more imaginative and causes him to wander sometimes very far from the original meaning of the text. in such cases, the subconscious convictions of the author surface again.
The third main objection to be made against a simplistic view of the commentaries’ alleged lack of originality is more complex. it rests on the ambiguity of such expressions as “Aristotelianism in its purity” which, it is supposed, it was Ibn Rushd’s purpose to restore. in a sense, the modem philologist writing about Aristotle also tries to bring out the ideas of the philosopher as they were conceived by him, so to speak.
But the operation does not only require philological skills (primarily a knowledge of Greek and Greek literature) which were well beyond the powers of Ibn Rushd; it also depends on a historicist view of philosophy which was simply inconceivable at that time.
The modem student of Aristotle endeavours, as far as possible, to forget his own convictions and knowledge in order not to bring into his subject alien thoughts and interpretations, because he is conscious of the historical gulf separating him from his subject. As a corollary of this awareness, he believes that considerable progress has been made since Aristotle’s day in all fıelds in knowledge.
lbn Rushd, on the other hand, was persuaded that Truth had been almost entirely discovered by Aristotle in the past and that only minor adjustments and improvements could be made. His attitude is quite comparable to that of the Greek Neoplatonists, whose aim was to unfold the truth contained in the writings of Plato, and to that of Islamic mystics and jurists who were able to fınd support for ali their beliefs and judgements in Quranic verses. If Ibn Rushd wanted to produce a complete interpretation of Aristotle’s treatises, it was not because of any
antiquarian interest of his, but because these treatises were assumed to be te
receptacle of al! truth. His task consisted largely in freeng philosophy, ta ıs to say Aristotelianism, of all the later unjustifı<:d accretıons, and _ın explaınıng
it to his compatriots in their language. it is above al! this change of language in the Mediterranean world, and the unnecessary and false additions made to Aristotle’s system by the Arab philosophers, which made Ibn Rushd’s work necessary. it is only too understandable, in such circumstances, that h should sometimes have been led unwillingly to read what he regarded as true ınto the words of his master rather than to infer Aristotle’s meaning from them.
In addition to the diffıculties resulting from reading Aristotle in translation, and often translations at two removes, the text of the philosopher contains many puzzles about which scholars and philosophers are stil( at vriance. This is particularly true of the metaphysical and cosmologıcal vıews of Aristotle.
Whereas the modem tendency has been, by and latge, to regard the inconsistencies in Aristotle’s text as being due to the evolution of his thought or to the different viewpoints adopted in different treatises, Ibn Rushd, like most ancient commentators, has tried to interpret them away or to reconcile them. The idea that there could have been variations in Aristotle’s thought would have appeared preposterous to Ibn Rushd: there cannot be variations in Truth itself…..
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