ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

339. The Teachings of Anti-scholastic Averroïsm. -- The scholastics appealed to reason as judge in their eclecticism (116): to its test they submitted the doctrines of Aristotle no less than those of any other philosopher ("locus ab auctoritate est infirmissimus"). The Western Averroïsts, on the contrary, were veritable slaves of the Stagirite. He was for them the oracle of philosophical truth, and the sacred deposit of his teaching should be preserved pure and intact at any cost. Then, in the next place, since Averroës alone had fully understood this teaching, the commentaries of the great, impeccable commentator should be followed in their every letter. This philosophical infallibility of Aristotle and Averroës became a postulate with Averroïsts, not only in the thirteenth, but again in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Slaves to such a withering prejudice, they abandoned all attempts at original thought. At the same time, moreover, they deviated somewhat from Averroës -- though less than the latter did from Aristotle -- and thus reached a peripateticism which is not the genuine teaching of Aristotle.{1} In the history of medieval thought, Averroïsm derives its main interest from its anti-scholastic character. It solves in an anti-scholastic sense a number of problems which must ever be fundamental in any system of philosophy. Then, also, in interpreting and developing certain positions of Aristotle, Averroës and his followers on the one hand, and the scholastics on the other hand, were so much at variance in their applications and modifications of the original teaching that they arrived at the very opposite poles of philosophic thought. Now, it is the sum-total of those anti-scholastic solutions of certain capital problems in philosophy, that constitutes, to our mind, Latin or anti-scholastic Averroïsm. It will be easily understood that, besides these fundamental divergences, Averroïsts and scholastics also differed on many points of detail: just as on a number of other points they were in entire agreement. This latter is especially true of the more openly and avowedly peripatetic wing of the scholastics: and the reason is evident. Thus it is, for instance, that St. Thomas holds with Siger of Brabant on the Universals question, on the unity of substantial form (which explains the insinuations of Peckham, 312) and on the principle of individuation in corporeal substances.{2} From the official condemnations of Averroïsm and from the Averroïstic literature so far published, we collect the following as its principal antischolastic doctrines: --

Firstly, Unicity of the Human Intellect and Monopsychism.{3} It was this thesis especially that aroused the most determined opposition from the scholastic doctors: witness the deluge of special pamphlets written in refutation of it. And this is intelligible: for the theory was incompatible with the fundamental principles of scholasticism on the origin of ideas; it implied a merely accidental union of soul with body; and it therefore also compromised human personality (300 and 303).

Secondly, the Denial of Personal Immortality is an inevitable corollary of the preceding thesis.{4} Here Averroïsm is in direct opposition to the teaching of scholasticism on the future life with its rewards and punishments (303).

Thirdly, the Necessary Production of the World,{5} by a Series of Intermediary Beings; and the Denial of Divine Providence in Mundane Affairs.{6} God is not the direct efficient cause of the terrestrial universe; He produces separated intelligences and these in turn produce material things. All those productions take place by necessity. Wherefore, God has no concern with a world that is not immediately dependent on Him. Those theories are destructive of the scholastic teaching on Creation, Providence, Conservation and the Concurrence of the First Cause with the action of created causes. They also deny the freedom of the creative act (293).

Fourthly, Psychological Determinism, and the consequent Denial of Moral Responsibility.{7} This would overthrow the Ethical system of scholasticism {8} (304).

Fifthly, the Theory of the Two Truths. The doctrines we have just outlined are in opposition to Catholic dogma; and yet the Averroïsts protested their respect and reverence for the faith and the Church. And to save their orthodoxy they had recourse to the principle{9} that What is true in philosophy can be false in theology, and vice versa.{10}

The theory of the two truths is tantamount to a denial of the Principle of Contradiction, for the Averroïsts admitted the truth of the Christian revelation. The theory was aimed directly at the scholastic teaching on the relations of faith to reason (278). This, however, did not prevent the Averroïsts from appealing to the authority of the Fathers of the Church in support of their teachings.{11}

{1} We do not think it can be said unreservedly, with Père Mandonnet, that " Averroïm is contained implicitly or explicitly in Aristotle" (op. cit., p. clxxii).

{2} This common understanding explains the numerous references and appeals to Averroës in the scholasticism of the thirteenth century.

{3} Here are some formulae from the decree of 1277: "Quod intellectus agens est quaedam substantia separata superior ad intellectum possibilem; et quod secundum substantiam, potentiam et operationem est separatus a corpore, nec est forma corporis (123). Quod intellectus agens non copulatur nostro possibili; et quod intellectus possibilis non unitur nobiscum secundum substantiam. Et si uniretur nobis ut forma, esset inseparabilis" (Chartul., i., p. 550).

{4} Prop. 116: "Quod anima est inseparabilis a corpore, et quod ad corruptionem harmonie corporalis, corrumpitur anima".

{5} The Averroïsts make great dispute about the eternity a parte ante and a parte post of the sensible and suprasensible universe. See e.g., prop. 94. We have seen above that in the view of St. Thomas reason is unable to prove the impossibility of "creatio ab aeterno". But the Averroïst thesis is anti-scholastic, because it means that the very nature of the world itself demands that it be eternal.

{6} Props. 42-44, 58, 61, 63, 70-73, 198, 199, etc.

{7} Props. 168-72.

{8} Was there such a thing as a popular Averroïsm? That is to say, was there a special sect or heresy which applied the principles of Averroïsm and drew practical consequences from them, especially in the domain of morals? William of Tocco speaks indeed of the "heresy of Averroës," that all men have one single, common intellect, an error which palliates the vices of the wicked and underrates the virtue of the just. He tells of a Parisian knight who, when recommended to confess, made this reply: "If the soul of St. Paul is saved, so will mine be also, for if we possess the same intellect we shall have a common destiny". The Directorium Inquisit. of Nicholas Eymerici says of this same doctrine: "from this we can infer that the unhappy soul of Judas is identical with the blessed soul of St. Peter; which is heretical". But the existence of a distinct heresy, distinct especially from, and independent of, the heresy of the Cathari, is not yet sufficiently proved: Averroïsm seems not to have got beyond academic and literary circles (ALPHANDÉRY, Y a-t-il eu un averroïsme populaire aux xiiie et xive siècles? in the Revue de l'histoire des religions, 1901, pp. 395 sqq.).

{9} The Averroïstic origin of the theory of the two truths is contested by MIGUEL ASIN Y PALACIOS, El Averroïsmo teologico de Sto. Tomas a Aquino (Zaragoza, 1904). The author quotes Arabic texts to show that Averroës established relations of agreement between philosophy and Mussulman dogma. The Averroïsts would then have misconceived and misrepresented the real thought of their master on this point. Cf. 219 and 310.

{10} The formula is expressly set down in an explanatory and apologetic exposition of the decree of 1277: "dicunt enim ea esse vera secundum philosophiam, sed non secundum fidem catholicam, quasi sint due contrarie veritates" (Chartul., i., p. 543).

{11} See, for instance, the unedited Quaestio of Alexander of Alexandria, which thus outlines their reasoning: "Numerata substantia, numeratur illud per quod intelligimus, quia se ipsa virtus intellectiva intelligit. Si autem numeratur illud per quod intelligimus, impossibile est, quod diversi unum et idem et eodem modo intelligant; quod est falsum et contra Augustinum." Cf. De humanae cognit. rat. anecdota S. Bonaventurae, etc., p. 220.

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