Up to Philosophers in Disgrace and Demand


Ibn Rushd


Ibn Rushd (christians corrupted his name to "Averroes") lived in the 12th century in Cordoba, Spain, an Arab city at the time.

Rushd in Demand in Cordoba

Rushd was part of an old Arab elite that conquered Spain long ago in its savage times, and now, weakened by good governance, a smooth economy and learning, was defeated by a fresh primitive Arab tribe from Africa, the Almohads, with strong tendencies to moslim fundamentalism. One of Rushd's later famous collaegues, Maimonides, then 13, had the bad luck to be a Jew. His family had to flee (1165). Rushd just managed to save himself. With the help of his family network he managed to get appointed as qadi (islamic sharia judge) under the new caliph Abu Ya'qub Yusuf (he even became the caliph's personal docter). Fundamentalists' intrigues chased him out once, but he got back. In sum: Ibn Rushd had to balance all his life between caliph, the recently arrived fundamentalists which formed a big part of the caliph's power base, and the old elite, that contained a lot of amateurs, in a low profile of course, of reason and tolerance. He managed. He remained a philosopher in demand. Many of his writings though dealing with philosophical principles, are in fact meant to solve political and judicial problems of the day. Since he stayed in grace, we must assumed in fact they did.

Rushd in Disgrace in Thomas Aquina's Europe

A century later, Rushd's thoughts became popular in the cities of christian Europe. That was the place where craft and technical knowledge developed quickly. The way these arts discovered the working of God's creation, and how to control it, seemed to be governed by criteria of truth not found so clearly in the Bible. In the Bible one could not read how best to build an intercontinental sailing vessel, how to harden steel, how to make and operate the latest firearms, etc.. Where did this knowledge come from? Clearly the catholic claim that everything is in the Bible and knowledge comes by reading the Bible and books written by authorities on the Bible was not satisfactoy. But then what is the right anwer? Rushd had it, partly based on many writings of Aristotle that had gotten lost in Europe because they had been bleached by monks to make copies of the Bible.
But if there is knowledge based upon other sources and principles than the Bible, how do the two type of knowledge relate?
Rushd had a very diplomatic answer: scholarly educated people can see which of the Bible stories should be interpreted in an allegorical way and which should be taken literally.
And how to avoid chaos among the common simple people, now handsomely disciplined by the absolute truth of the Bible?
Rushd fences common people off from allegorical interpretation: they are legally - Gods law: sharia -  not allowed to such interpretations and should be punished if they persist.
Since most people are common people it is better to say that Rushd created a fence inside which scientists and artisans could develop their ideas on Gods nature, improve their techniques of observation, sailing, time measurement, warfare etc. without the nervous hot breath of ignorant religious zealots in their necks. Siger de Brabant spoke the Rushdian-Aristotelian voice of the scientists and artisans in Paris. Thomas Aquinas fought him subtly by conceding some essentials, but the later Saint had Siger arrested. Somewhat later he got killed.
But there was no way back. In many different forms and disguises, Rushd's ideas penetrated christian European minds and streamlined the opposition against orthodox catholicism, burdening the European economy with a heavily overcrowded class of unproductive clerics. And so it led to the Reformation, in which the Roman part of Europe, remaining catholic, degenerated to a backward province. Artisans and traders moved, even fled north to the economically and spiritually more efficient Protestant environment. The modern protestant Europe, Amsterdam and London first, hosted everyone suppressed elsewhere to do art and business. It became multicultural but dominantly Germanic in technical respect and with respect to philosophy, nobody dares to recognize it but it is obvious: Islamic.

Picture: The multicultural society of 17th century Amsterdam (anonymous engraving): featuring Scandinavians, Frisians, Muscovites, Tartars, Arabs, Negroes, East Indians, West Indians, Guineans (Black Africans), exotic birds, foreign books and a camel (who would have ordered that one?). The author's thesis: this is a panorama of the Islamic philosophy of Ibn Rushd

Details: Rushd's Fence (in Dutch: Het hek van Rushd)