- Long Commentary on theDe Anima of Aristotle
The Andalusian philosopher Ibn Rushd (d. 1198) had two names in the medieval Latin West: 'the Commentator', and 'Averroes'. The first of these underscores his importance as an interpreter of Aristotle ('the Philosopher'). The second was modified at least once by the adjective 'accursed' (in Duns Scotus's Ordinatio, bk. 4, d. 43, q. 2). 'That accursed Averroes' refers to the person who held that there exists only one human intellect. Averroes defends this view—typically called the unicity doctrine—in his Long Commentary on Aristotle'sDe Anima.
Richard C. Taylor's translation of the Long Commentaryis based on Crawford's 1953 edition of the medieval Latin text (the original Arabic text is extant only in fragments). Brief portions of this commentary, which relate directly to the controversial and influential unicity doctrine, have previously been translated into English. Taylor's complete translation makes available in English for the first time the whole account of the soul and its powers, of which the unicity doctrine is a part. The translation will benefit graduate or advanced undergraduate students of the history of philosophy, as well as non-specialist scholars who want to understand what all the fuss was about. Taylor also provides extensive notes, which contain, among other things, Averroes' sources, extant Arabic fragments corresponding to the Latin, and explanations of technical terms and dense argumentation. For these reasons alone, Taylor's work must be considered a significant contribution to scholarship in the history of philosophy. There is also a lengthy introduction that presents the state of research on Averroes' psychology.
Readers of Aristotle are familiar with his distinction, in De Anima3.5, between intellect in its passive role as a receiver of intelligibles and intellect in its active role as a maker of intelligibles. Averroes' unicity doctrine is remarkable as an interpretation of the passiveintellect, which is called the "material intellect" by analogy with prime matter (like prime matter, the material intellect can, in its own way, receive any form). To advocate the unicity of the activeintellect is not so remarkable. The latter view was standard in the Arabic tradition, which inherited it from Greek commentators on Aristotle. Those who affirm the unicity of the active intellect may hold the material intellect to be a power for receiving intelligibles [End Page 398]that is ultimately brain-based. Or they may hold the material intellect to be the supreme cognitive power of incorporeal human souls, which are multiplied in accordance with the number of human bodies. Averroes' defense of the unicity of the material intellect in the Long Commentaryinvolves a principled rejection of each of these alternative views, as well as a novel account of the role of intellect in human cognition. Taylor's introduction treats the development of Averroes' unicity doctrine and adjudicates a dispute about the dating of his Middleand Longcommentaries on the De Anima. Based in part on a comparison of portions of the Long Commentaryidentical to portions of the Middle Commentary, Taylor argues that the Long Commentaryis most likely the later work. These passages are identified in the notes to the translation.
The introduction also provides a brief exegesis of the Long Commentary. This section explains the reasons behind the unicity doctrine, but misses the opportunity to highlight other points of interest in Averroes' psychology. Moreover, it leaves unaddressed certain questions likely to be pressing for newcomers to the text. For example, the unicity doctrine entails the denial that intellect is the seat of individual consciousness; so how would Averroes explain individual consciousness? What role, if any, does consciousness play in his account of cognition?
Finally, Taylor's introduction includes a useful survey of Averroes' sources and a brief account of the influence of the Long Commentary, especially in the Latin West, which puts to rest the...