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  • Interpreting Averroes: Critical Essays ed. by Peter Adamson and Matteo Di Giovanni
  • Stephen Ogden
Peter Adamson and Matteo Di Giovanni, editors. Interpreting Averroes: Critical Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Pp. ix + 262. Cloth, $105.00.

For a philosopher whose moniker became "the Commentator" in recognition of his work on Aristotle, it is unfortunate how relatively few book-length commentaries and collections exist on Averroes (Ibn Rushd). This volume is thus a welcome and overall excellent scholarly offering on Averroes's own significant intellectual achievements—from logic to law, and medicine to metaphysics, all expounded by major experts. The editors pursue the laudable goal to furnish "a well-rounded portrait of Averroes's thought" within its proper context of Andalusian Islam, rather than its reception in the Latin West (2). They reasonably organize the volume, beginning with Averroes in his immediate religious settings (chapters 1–4), then moving through (roughly) the Aristotelian curriculum (chapters 5–12). The book is a worthy sequel to Adamson's Interpreting Avicenna (2013) in the same Cambridge series. It contains many new insights for specialists, even as it provides (with a couple of exceptions) a powerful gateway to newcomers. In fact, several of the chapters additionally serve as useful windows into some of the other important scholarship (both existing and forthcoming) from the collection's contributors.

The book certainly succeeds in representing the rich background of Averroes's thought, which encompasses far more than Aristotle, including expansive Arabic adaptations of [End Page 751] Aristotle (see especially Rotraud Hansberger's outstanding chapter on the Arabic Parva Naturalia), the late antique commentary tradition, other Muslim philosophers (such as al-Fārābī, Avicenna, and Ibn Bājja), and pivotal mutakallimūn (rational theologians), namely, Ibn Tūmart and especially al-Ghazālī. It is hardly news that Averroes resists the dominant influence of al-Ghazālī, attempting to subvert the latter with Aristotelian demonstrative science. On the other hand, it is right and instructive that the volume urges understanding all of Averroes's works as likewise inflected by Islam and Ash'arite theology, even outside specifically dogmatic works, like the Incoherence of the Incoherence, overtly aimed at al-Ghazālī.

Yet I worry that, at times, the shadow of al-Ghazālī and Ash'arism may be overstated. For example, Cristina Cerami's enlightening chapter (on how Averroes consolidates physics as a genuine science) sees al-Ghazālī and Ash'arite occasionalism as Averroes's "ultimate target" (e.g. 189 and 197), but the textual evidence is limited (188–89). If Ash'arism lies behind Averroes's far more frequent and explicit critiques of Avicenna—an intriguing thesis—readers will have to consult Cerami's other work for the full argument. Matteo Di Giovanni's opening chapter adeptly sets the theological and historical scene. But I am not convinced that Averroes's notorious doctrine of a single material intellect for all human beings falls out of concerns to secure philosophical speculation on the divine (contra al-Ghazālī), via the doctrine of conjunction with separate intellects (18–22). In Averroes's main and settled arguments on intellect, conjunction is not a primary motivation. Indeed, when he later turns to conjunction, he alters classic models of it precisely because of his new position on intellect (see Deborah Black's "Conjunction and the Identity of Knower and Known in Averroes," American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 73 [1999]: 159–84). But these are smaller challenges that invite further debate.

The topic of intellect, however, is one of two notable lacunae in the book. It is surprising to find no substantive treatment (much less a chapter) devoted to Averroes's arguably most unique and famous doctrine on the unicity of the intellect. Besides Matteo Di Giovanni's brief discussion, David Wirmer only touches on it for background to his chapter (a formidable and engaging investigation on knowing essences of material things). Perhaps the editors felt that a substantial portion of Averroes scholarship already bears on the unicity of intellect, but for that very reason a chapter in such a volume can often benefit all readers (compare, for example, Dag Nikolaus Hasse's chapter in Interpreting Avicenna).

Similarly, although Mokdad Arfa...


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