Arabic-Islamic views of the Latin West : tracing the emergence of medieval Europe

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Philosophy of mind. Philosophy of religion. Avicenna thus confirms that logic has a proper subject matter, and hence becomes a full-fledged part of philosophy, and not only a tool for the philosophical disciplines Sabra , — Avicenna's definition of logic appears already in Dominicus Gundisalvi De divisione philosophiae It was a matter of dispute how first and second intentions differ, what they refer to and what their ontological status is, a dispute bordering on epistemology and the philosophy of mind. This position was criticized both by nominalists and realists: the nominalist William of Ockham objected against the reification of intentions and held that intentions are always natural signs in the mind; second intentions are natural signs which signify other natural signs Summa logicae I.

Logic as the science of second intentions continued to be a philosophical topic well into the sixteenth century, especially among Thomists and Scotist authors. Natural philosophy is the field with the greatest number of Arabic-Latin translations. In this discipline, Arabic philosophers had been particularly active, and Latin philosophers were particularly interested.

Arabic natural philosophy reached the Latin West earlier than the other philosophical disciplines. The medical and astrological translations of the late eleventh and early twelfth century transported much philosophical material of the Graeco-Arabic tradition to the Latin world. Sometimes they did this by openly dividing their presentation into a section according to the church fathers and a section according to the philosophers and natural scientists physici , which integrated material from the Latin and Arabic philosophical traditions e.

The influence of Arabic in natural philosophy in the later Middle Ages, that is, after the translations of Avicenna and Averroes, is particularly strong in psychology section 5 below. But other disciplines, such as physics, cosmology or zoology, are also influenced by Arabic sources, in particular by Averroes' commentaries. Several theses from Averroes' long commentaries on Physics and De caelo influenced the history of medieval Latin physics and cosmology: the explanation of projectile motion e. Thomas Aquinas rejected the idea that prior to the intellective soul there exists a substantial form in matter Summa theol.

The Avicennian concept was adopted by others, such as Henry of Ghent and Duns Scotus, and thus served the theory of the plurality of substantial forms. That prime matter has its own actuality became a principle identifying the Franciscan party in the doctrinal struggles with the Dominicans. The discussion of the concept of forma corporeitatis continued well into the sixteenth century Des Chene , 81— Three prominent topics of natural philosophy are here singled out for closer treatment: the eternity of the world, the persistence of elements in a compound and spontaneous generation. Many arguments of the scholastic discussion were drawn from Arabic authorities, in particular from Averroes' long commentaries on De caelo and Physics and from Avicenna's Metaphysics.

Thomas of York, for instance, takes over Averroes' exposition of the four principal views on the issue Comm. Passages drawn from Arabic texts were not only employed to defend, but also to attack the eternity thesis. Among the arguments cited from Averroes in favour of eternity are that there is always another moment in time before a moment in time; that only motion can be the cause of a change from rest to motion; that if the world had a beginning, a vacuum would precede the world Comm.

Avicenna is cited by Thomas as holding that God's will is unchangeable and never starts anew an argument advanced also by Averroes , and that it is impossible that God precedes the world in duration, because this implies that time existed before the world and before movement Metaphysics IX. These arguments clearly influenced Thomas' conclusion that the eternity thesis is the most probable in philosophical terms.

However, just like creation, eternity escapes full demonstration. From the standpoint of faith, the eternity of the world is false and heretical. In his treatise On the Eternity of the World , Thomas Aquinas, in contrast to most of his contemporaries, defends the possibility of an eternal creation, thus approaching the position of Avicenna and other Neoplatonic thinkers.

Positions on the eternity of the world by some masters of arts were in some cases very provocative. In the eyes of Siger of Brabant, the natural philosopher cannot but conclude that the world is eternally created, whereas the metaphysician concedes that God's will is inscrutable and that hence there is no certainty about eternity or non-eternity De aeternitate mundi; Quaest. For Boethius of Dacia, the natural philosopher has to infer the eternity of movement from the principles of natural philosophy, but the metaphysician, even though he can demonstrate the existence of a first cause, is unable to demonstrate whether the world is coeternal with the first cause or non-eternal, given the inscrutability of God's will De aeternitate mundi.

Both authors share the conviction that the natural philosopher is forced to conclude that the world is eternal, thus provoking theological opposition. The arguments for this conclusion were largely furnished by Arabic sources. In the Latin West, Avicenna and Averroes were known as the principal adversaries on a much-discussed question of element theory, especially in the fourteenth century.

Given that all physical substances apart from the elements themselves are mixtures of elements, how do the elements exist in them? Avicenna's answer is that the substantial forms of the elements remain unaltered when a compound is formed; only the qualities of the elements are altered and unite to a mean quality qualitas media , or complexion complexio. The complexion disposes the matter to receive the substantial form of the compound from the active intellect, the giver of forms dator formarum The Healing: Physics I. The problem with this position, as many scholastics saw, is that several bodies are combined in one, which do not form a true mixture.

Averroes rejects Avicenna's theory and argues that the substantial forms of the elements are diminished in the compound Comm. In order not to violate Aristotle's principle that substantial forms cannot be diminished or augmented a man is not more man than another , Averroes argued that elementary forms are not substantial forms in the full sense.

A third influential alternative was proposed by Thomas Aquinas. Thomas argued that the substantial forms of the elements are destroyed and that only the qualities contribute to the mixture. Thomas shares Avicenna's conviction that every form presupposes a certain material disposition, which is the mean quality characteristic of the compound. But he deviates from Avicenna in that the forms of the elements are not preserved; they are only virtually present in the compound, in that their powers survive De mixtione elementorum , cf.

Summa theol. Thomas' position found many adherents. Its problem is that physical bodies cannot truly be called mixtures of elements. Avicenna's theory of the permanence of substantial forms was often mentioned, but rarely accepted in the Latin West. Many authors accept Averroes' position with modifications, especially by reinterpreting the thesis of the intension and remission of elementary forms. Henry Bate and Dietrich of Freiberg argue that the diminished forms assume the character of potential forms and thus join the matter of the compound; the form of the compound is a form added to these diminished forms.

Influence of Arabic and Islamic Philosophy on the Latin West

For Averroes, in contrast, the combination of the diminished forms was identical with the new form of the compound. In the Renaissance, the issue continued to be discussed.

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  8. There was disagreement even among the followers of Averroes. Some, as Marcantonio Zimara, held that the form of the compound was added to the other forms, others, as Jacopo Zabarella, argued against such addition Maier , 46— Spontaneous generation, that is, the generation of life without their being any parents, as when worms grow in decay, is a much discussed issue of medieval physics and metaphysics. The conflicting explanations of the phenomenon by Avicenna and Averroes much determined the Latin discussion until the sixteenth century.

    While Avicenna holds that spontaneous generation depends upon ever more refined mixtures of elementary qualities which trigger the emanation of forms from the active intellect, the giver of forms The Healing: Meteorology II. Avicenna and Averroes also disagree about the special case of the spontaneous generation of human beings, which Avicenna finds possible, whereas Averroes does not.

    For Averroes, all spontaneously created animals are not true, but abnormal, monstrous animals Comm. In the Latin West, Averroes' explanation dominated the discussion for several centuries. Thomas Aquinas argues that there is no need to assume the existence of an Avicennian giver of forms to explain spontaneous generation, since the celestial power suffices for producing ordinary animals from matter. More complex beings, however, such as horses and human beings, cannot be produced by the celestial power alone without the formative power of the semen Quaest.

    Thomas' position was called the media via by later authors, that is, the middle way between Avicenna and Averroes, since Thomas rejected Avicenna's theory, but also modified Averroes' position in treating spontaneous generation as a natural, and not a miraculous phenomenon. Averroes' theory of celestial influence and Thomas Aquinas' media via became mainstream in the Latin middle ages. A few authors, however, followed Avicenna in allowing for the spontaneous generation of human beings, among them Albertus Magnus, Blasius of Parma, and, in the Renaissance, Pietro Pomponazzi, Paolo Ricci and Tiberio Russiliano Hasse a; Hasse c, Pomponazzi makes the spontaneous generation of human beings dependent upon the conjunction of the superior planets Jupiter and Saturn, and thus introduces another Arabic theory into the discussion: Albumasar's astrological theory of the great conjunctions Nardi A modified version of Avicenna's theory of the giver of forms appears in John Buridan, who deviates from the dominant position that the form of human beings comes from without, i.

    In contrast, Buridan holds that all forms are given by a separate incorporeal substance, which he calls God. The phenomenon of spontaneous generation supports this view, since it cannot be explained with the influence of the stars, which is too weak and imperfect to generate animals In Metaphysicen Aristotelis lib. In Latin psychology, the influence of Arabic works is particularly strong and lasted well into the sixteenth century. Avicenna and Averroes, the most influential philosophers, presented the West with a faculty psychology in the tradition of Aristotle and enriched by Graeco-Arabic medical doctrines, such as about the cavities of the brain, the nerves, and the spirits which transport information in the body.

    From about onwards, the full range of Avicennian faculties vegetative, external and internal senses, the motive faculties, practical and theoretical intellect appears in Latin treatises by masters of arts and theologians. This system of faculties remains, by and large, standard for a long time in philosophical handbooks, from the anonymous Philosophy of the Simple Philosophia pauperum and Vincent of Beauvais' Mirror of Nature Speculum naturale in the thirteenth century up to the Philosophic Pearl Margarita philosophica of the s. Averroes disagreed with Avicenna on a number of topics concerning faculty psychology, for example: on the organ and medium of touch Hasse , 98— , on the material or immaterial transmission of odors, and on whether human beings have an estimative faculty or not.

    These controversies were continued in the Latin tradition. The most influential pieces of psychological doctrine imported from the Arabs probably were Avicenna's theory of estimation wahm , his theory of potential, acquired and active intellects, and Averroes' thesis that there is one intellect for all human beings.

    The basic ingredients of this theory were adopted by many scholastic writers. There was disagreement, however, over several issues: Firstly, Averroes and Thomas Aquinas in contrast to Avicenna, Albertus Magnus and others argued that estimation existed in animals only, but not in human beings. To explain instinctive reactions in human beings, it is not necessary, they argue, to assume the existence of a faculty besides the cogitative faculty, or ratio particularis , as Thomas calls it Summa theologiae Ia Secondly, scholastic writers were divided over whether the intentions are perceived in the object, as Avicenna and Thomas Aquinas say cf.

    Nominalists such as Adam Wodeham argue that judgements always involve the formation of a complex sentence, which presupposes linguistic capabilities; animals, therefore, never truly judge Perler Typical for Arabic intellect theory is the distinction between several degrees or levels of intellect, from an entirely potential intellect up to a perpetually active intellect, and the assumption, taken over from later Greek philosophers, that the active intellect is an entity separate from the human being.

    The great majority of scholastic writers teach that potential and active intellect are parts of the soul, but there also existed a current adopting the Arabic idea of a separate active intellect e. Dominicus Gundisalvi and Petrus Hispanus. Among the earliest exponents of the doctrine is Jean de la Rochelle, whose psychological works were written in the s. This doctrine reappears in the s in the Summa fratris Alexandri , and in Vincent of Beauvais. But other scholastics disagree. Adam of Buckfield, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas criticize unnamed theologians for identifying the active intellect with God.

    As philological evidence shows, they refer to the above-mentioned current which begins with Jean de la Rochelle Hasse , — Thomas rejects the thesis because he interprets it in illuminationist terms and finds it incompatible with his own epistemology of abstraction Summa contra gentiles II. McGinnis and Black, forthcoming. This theory exerted a profound influence on scholastic intellect theory, especially in the period from Dominicus Gundisalvi to Albertus Magnus. The scholastics inherited from Avicenna the principal idea that the activity of the human intellect can be differentiated into different phases of gradual development and into different acts of syllogistic reasoning Hasse and , — An important step in the reception of the doctrine is the anonymous treatise De anima et de potentiis eius by a Parisian master of arts of ca.

    This author adopts from Avicenna the first three levels of intellect, the first being pure potentiality, the second knowing first propositions, the third conclusions, and combines it with teachings from Aristotle's Posterior Analytics I. In the writings of Albertus Magnus, the influence of Avicenna is combined with that of Averroes, who distinguishes two intellects apart from the separate active intellect: the material intellect, which is pure potentiality and unique, see section 5. Averroes and Avicenna both teach that the human and active intellect conjoin in the moment of intellection.

    Averroes, in particular, claims that a perfect conjunction with the active intellect results in God-like knowledge and that such a conjunction is possible in this life Comm. Albertus Magnus, in his early De homine qu. In this stage, the intellect is able to grasp all intellectual knowledge, and does not need to have recourse to the senses again. In virtue of this intellect, a human being becomes God-like De anima 3. Thomas Aquinas sharply disagrees. The intellect can never dispense with the senses, since it needs the phantasms for conceiving an intellectual form.

    This is why perfect intellectual knowledge is not possible in this life Summa theol. Averroes' best known philosophical doctrine holds that there is only one intellect for all human beings. Averroes' theory has an epistemological and an ontological purpose. On the one hand, Averroes wants to explain how universal intelligibles can be known, on the other hand, he wants to account for Aristotle's claim that the intellect is pure potentiality and unmixed with the body Comm.

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    Many scholastic readers were troubled by the problem of whether the material or potential intellect, if it is one, can be the form of the body. This problem was not directly addressed by Averroes himself, but by many of his Latin partisans. But that much is clear: there existed at least four groups of authors who explicitly adopted the unicity thesis in one of their writings: Siger of Brabant and possibly other masters of arts in later thirteenth-century Paris; a second Parisian group in the early fourteenth century around Thomas Wilton, John of Jandun and John Baconthorpe; several Italian masters of arts at Bologna university in the fourteenth century; and a larger group of authors in Renaissance Italy and especially in Padua.

    When the medievals used the Latin term averroista , they referred to authors belonging to these groups. The term averroista came into use in the later thirteenth century, but on rare occasions. The first appearance, as we can see today, is in Thomas Aquinas' treatise On the Unicity of the Intellect De unitate intellectus.

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    The additional title phrase contra averroistas appears only in the later manuscript tradition and is unlikely to be authentic. It was in the decades around that the term was used most frequently. Averroistae were associated mainly with the unicity thesis, but also with theories about the eternity of the world, God's knowledge of the world, prime matter and happiness Kuksewicz , 93—96; Hasse b, —; Calma In the Renaissance, averroista was also used, with a positive connotation, to refer to experts on Averroes Martin ; Martin The first sense has a longer tradition in the Middle Ages and in modern scholarship and is therefore to be preferred generally.

    This usage, however, ignores the historical roots of the meaning of the term. Siger of Brabant d. Siger, in his first and most explicitly Averroistic work on the soul, argues that the separate and eternal intellect is united to the body only in an operational union and that the true form of the body is the sensitive soul Quaest. Under the influence of Thomas Aquinas and others, Siger later revised his position. For John of Jandun, the intellective soul, which in itself is one and separate, operates within the body.

    It is united to the body only through the assistance of the phantasmata Brenet The Renaissance Averroists Agostino Nifo and Luca Prassicio argued that Siger and John of Jandun professed conflicting views: they interpreted Siger as holding that the unique intellect can be united to the body as form and John of Jandun that it cannot. Another influential Averroist was John Baconthorpe d. The ontological conjunction presupposes a union of unique intellect and human being in a way that the intellect becomes a human faculty Etzwiler , — Among the most explicit and outspoken Averroists of the Renaissance were Nicoletto Vernia d.

    The unicity thesis was successful among Latin authors not only because Averroes as the commentator had become an exceptional authority of university education, but also because it was attractive philosophically: it explained the possibility of the knowledge of universals and it ensured that the intellective soul, as demanded by Aristotle De anima III. The unicity thesis was included among the doctrines condemned in and in Paris art. From a theological vantage point, its main drawback was its conflict with the doctrine of individual immortality.

    The principal philosophical counter-argument, first presented by Averroes himself Comm. The standard reply by Averroes and his followers was that the intelligible form is joined to the individual human being through the actualized imaginative form, which is particular. This way, individual knowledge of universal forms is possible.

    This is indicated by several pieces of evidence: the frequent usage of the term averroista ; the significant number of authors who adopt the unicity thesis in one of their works; the composition of super-commentaries on Averroes' commentaries; and, finally, the fact that the correct interpretation of Averroes' philosophical position became a matter of dispute among his partisans e. The unicity thesis lost its appeal as late as in the middle of the sixteenth century, with the advent of new trends of Aristotelianism that gave alternative explanations of universal intellection e.

    The philosophical interpretation of prophecy and miracles is a typical feature of Arabic philosophy. The general line of Avicenna's naturalistic theory of prophecy, which describes prophecy as resulting from extraordinary faculties of the soul, was criticized by Thomas Aquinas. Among the specifics of prophecy theory, the working of miracles received most attention in the Latin West. An alternative to this extramission theory is formulated by Avicenna, who claims that persons who have perfected their body and soul are able to affect directly the external matter of the world and may produce rain, fertile seasons, and the like — by sheer power of the will.

    Avicenna arrives at this conclusion by generalizing the principle that there are psychic causes for material effects De anima IV. Albertus Magnus rejects Avicenna's long-distance theory because it breaks with the Aristotelian rule that there is no efficient causation without material contact De sensu et sensato 1.

    Thomas Aquinas follows a third alternative: that psychic powers can move the intervening medium, and so indirectly act on external objects, which explains the damage caused by an evil eye. Thomas borrows from a passage in Aristotle's On Dreams , in which air is moved and affected by the eyes of menstruating women b23—60a True miracles, however, are always produced by God Summa theol.

    The high time for Arabic theories of miracles came in the Renaissance Hasse c, — True miracles, however, cannot be achieved without God's assistence. Andrea Cattani d. Such reservations do not appear in adoption of the theory by Pietro Bairo d. Pietro Pomponazzi d. Avicenna's treatise presented metaphysics as a fully systematic discipline and combined Aristotelian and Neoplatonic traditions. Averroes' commentary proved an indispensible tool for understanding Aristotle's text and offered an alternative to Avicenna's position on several important issues.

    The anonymous Arabic author of the treatise rearranged passages from Proclus' Elements of Theology from a monotheistic, creationist and Plotinian perspective, and combined them with doctrines from Plotinian and Aristotelian sources. In , the Latin text became part of the required curriculum of study in the Faculty of Arts in Paris, together with the works of Aristotle, with the effect that the text received many commentaries and enjoyed an extraordinary transmission in more than manuscripts Taylor The Liber de causis was long considered to be an authentic text by Aristotle.

    The Liber de causis remained popular, however. It was well known among the scholastics that Avicenna and Averroes disagreed about the subject matter of metaphysics. In the two opening chapters of his Metaphysics , Avicenna argues that no science can demonstrate the existence of its proper subject, and that hence God, whose existence is proven in metaphysics, cannot be its proper subject. Averroes countered that the existence of the first principle cannot be demonstrated in metaphysics, since such a proof can only begin with God's effects and with movement in particular.

    This is why the proof of God belongs to physics. The subject matter of metaphysics is separable beings, among which counts God, as Averroes argues in the Long Commentary on the Physics ch. Albertus Magnus defends Avicenna against Averroes' criticism.

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    Being as being is the subject of metaphysics, whereas the divisions and accidents passiones of being are what is sought after, among them God and the separate divine beings Metaph. Thomas Aquinas' position is again much influenced by Avicenna: The subject of metaphysics is being as being or ens commune , whereas God is that which is aimed at in this science, insofar as he is the cause of all being In Metaph.

    But, other than Avicenna, Thomas argues that God is the proper subject of a different science, the principles of which are given in revelation: theology Summa theol. There were three principal positions on the issue in the Latin West Zimmermann : Albertus and Thomas make God a subject of metaphysics only as cause of the subject; a second group, among them Roger Bacon and Giles of Rome, holds that God is one of several subjects of metaphysics; a third group argues that God is part of the subject of metaphysics.

    Scotus develops his own standpoint against the authorities of Avicenna, Averroes and Henry of Ghent. He agrees with Avicenna that being as being is the subject, but he interprets the notion of being as including all being, be it material or immaterial, thus including God. The notion of being hence assumes a generality that allows for God being included in the subject of metaphysics Zimmermann , — In chapter I.

    It was due to Avicenna that the primum cognitum , the first object of knowledge became a central topic of medieval Latin metaphysics. The question of the primum cognitum was variously answered. There cannot be an infinite regress, neither in the order of demonstration, nor in the order of definition, Thomas argues. It is what is first grasped by the mind, and it is unrestrictedly universal. It is specific for Thomas, however, that the order of definition and of demonstration are not on the same level.

    Avicenna's theory of primary concepts was an important source for the theory of transcendental concepts, which scholastic philosophers developed in the thirteenth century, taking their cue from Aristotle, Avicenna and the Dionysian tradition Aertsen ; Aertsen ; Pini The essence-existence distinction was used by Avicenna in several metaphysical contexts, i.

    The following presentation focuses on the context of universals. Avicenna's core idea was to differentiate between two components of universals: essence and universality. In some of his writings, Avicenna emphasizes that there is universality only if the essence is found in several objects in the external world Marmura , Essence can be considered either in itself or with respect to its existence in the soul or in the particular things. Universality and particularity are accidents of essence, which in itself is neither universal nor particular. The universal, according to Thomas, is a natura communis , which has existence only in the intellect.

    Individuals are essences individuated by matter with quantitative dimensions, but only at the time of their origin; later individuation is due to the form. In later writings, Thomas develops his concept of essence and existence so that existence is that which actualizes essence Summa theol. An influential defender of the real distinction between essence and existence was Giles of Rome. This argument was voiced against the real distinction by Siger of Brabant and Godfrey of Fontaines Wippel , but it originally comes from Averroes, who flatly rejects Avicenna's distinction in his Long Commentary on the Metaphysics IV.

    While some authors take the extreme position that there is only a mental distinction between essence and existence, Henry of Ghent develops a modified version of Avicenna's theory. He distinguishes between essence in itself and as existing, that is, existing in the mind or in the external world. The esse existentiae , in contrast, is the essence's actual existence. Henry thus develops a theory of how essences exist prior to their actual existence in the mind or in the world, enlarging on a brief and tentative reference in Avicenna's Metaphysics I.

    Duns Scotus is also inspired by the Avicennian idea that the common nature natura communis , as Scotus calls it, is neither truly universal nor truly particular in itself and that it is universal only as an object of the intellect. The influence of Arabic metaphysics is much more extensive than these brief references to a few well-known thinkers suggest. The entire universe proceeds from the first cause. The principles first created, however, are not the intelligences, as in Avicenna's metaphysics, but the material and formal principles of the things Jolivet , — The anonymous author of The Book of First and Second Causes Liber de causis primis et secundis , which dates from the turn of the thirteenth century, does not adopt the distinction between necessary and possible beings, but describes the process of emanation in strongly Avicennian terms: From the first cause issues a first created being, an intellect.

    From this intellect, in turn, emanates a series of intelligences, the lowest of which is the active intellect. admin