17.01.01, Bakker, Averroes' Natural Philosophy and its Reception in the Latin West

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Pilar Herráiz Oliva

The Medieval Review 17.01.01

Bakker, Paul J.J.M., ed. Averroes' Natural Philosophy and its Reception in the Latin West. Ancient and Medieval Philosophy. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2015. pp. xiv, 249. ISBN: 978-94-6270-046-8 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Pilar Herráiz Oliva
University of Murcia (Spain) / The Scholasticum (Rome, Italy)
piliherraiz@gmail.com

This volume contains seven articles presented at a workshop held in 2011 at the "Center for the History of Philosophy and Science" of Radboud University (Nijmegen). All of the articles deal with the reception of Averroes' philosophy in the Latin West, and they focus on three main topics: psychology (1), cosmology (1), and physics (5). In this review, I will put the articles together according to their topics, rather than following the order of the chapters. In this way I aim to provide a better overview on how these topics are related to each other.

The second article in the volume, Jean-Baptiste Brenet's "Alexandre d'Afrodise ou le Matérialiste Malgré Lui. La question de l'engendrement de l'intellect revue et corrigée par Averroes," focuses on psychology. This article covers one of the most problematic issues within Averroes' philosophy, that is, the origin of the material intellect as well as its ontological status. Furthermore, Brenet also touches on how, according to Averroes, this intellect is acquired by individuals. Throughout this article, the author revisits the initial positions held by Averroes, clearly under the influence of Ibn Bâjja (Avempace), as well as his last position--in the Long Commentary on the De anima--where the Cordovan philosopher argues against Alexander of Aphrodisias regarding what the material intellect is and how it comes into being. As for the discussion between Alexander of Aphrodisias and Averroes, Jean-Baptiste Brenet shows how the Arabic rendition of Alexander's commentary on the De anima--De intellectu--did not specify that Alexander of Aphrodisias was in fact reporting someone else's position, rather than his own. Thanks to Brenet's unpacking of this discussion, we arrive at a better and novel understanding of the discussions between the most celebrated of the Greek commentators of Aristotle and the Commentator par excellence concerning the nature of the material intellect.

The third chapter of the volume, Dag Nikolaus Hasse's "Averroes' Critique of Ptolemy and Its Reception by John of Jandun and Agostino Nifo," focuses on cosmology. Hasse presents the tensions between Aristotelian physics and Ptolemaic astronomy. The article's most remarkable novelty relies on the fact that, in order to show the discussion, the author focuses on the commentaries of Aristotle's Metaphysics, rather than Physics. Averroes argues, against Ptolemy's astronomy, that Ptolemy's model might be useful for calculation but not for natural philosophy. Hasse also points out that Averroes misunderstood Aristotle's notion concerning "unrolling" spheres since the translation into Arabic misled Averroes into understanding the Aristotelian idea as "spiral motion." Another remarkable point in this article is that Hasse also covers the influence of Averroes' arguments in the subsequent Latin commentaries on Metaphysics Lambda (XII). Moreover, even though the author focuses on John of Jandun and Agostino Nifo, Albert the Great and Aquinas are also a part of this study. In this way, the reader arrives at a better understanding of the medieval controversy between epicyclic spheres rotating on eccentric circles, on the one hand, and the Aristotelian concentrical spheres on the other, which makes of it a great reference in order to understand one of the most important debates within medieval cosmology.

The topic of physics is covered by five articles which deal with different subjects within this topic. One article is concerned with the problem of the eternity of motion (Cristina Cerami); two articles discuss motion in the sublunary realm (Cecilia Trifogli and Edith Dudley Sylla); one investigates the nature of celestial motion (Silvia Donati) and one deals with providence and the attacks on Averroes in the seventeenth century (Craig Martin).

The article by Cristina Cerami, "L'éternel par soi. Averroès contre Al-Fārābī sur les enjeux épistémologiques de Physique VIII.1," the first article in the book, explains how Averroes comes to reject the position of Al-Fārābī concerning the eternity of motion. According to Averroes, says Cerami, Aristotle's intention in Physics VIII was not to demonstrate the eternity of motion, but rather the eternity of the motion of the last celestial sphere. It is very interesting here to see how Cristina Cerami argues against R. Glasner's theory concerning Averroes' abandonment of his initial position as a matter of determinism--while he was still following Al-Fārābī's interpretation. Cerami argues from within the Aristotelian theory of movement and explains how, in the eyes of Averroes, it would be impossible to prove scientifically the eternity of movement and the existence of a prime mover since Al-Fārābī's demonstration is insufficient given that it is not universal. The author of the article also provides a detailed description of John Philoponus' arguments against the Aristotelian theory of movement and the ways in which different authors deal with them, including Al-Fārābī himself and Alexander of Aphrodisias.

Cecilia Trifogli's article, "The Reception of Averroes' View on Motion in the Latin West. The Case of Walter Burley," the fifth in this volume, examines the two main views on motion at play in the medieval Latin debate, that is, the realist view (motion as a real entity) and the reductionist view (motion as a property of the substance subject to motion), and its reception by the fourteenth-century philosopher Walter Burley. Trifogli explains how Averroes is the source of inspiration of the two aforementioned views on motion as two different ontologies of motion, and she also explains to which extent they are problematic. The article helpfully places Walter Burley into the discussion, since his main concern with this subject was to try to reconcile both aspects of motion--motion as a via ad formam (realist view) and motion as a forma diminuta (reductionist view)--while making a realist defense of Averroes' views on motion.

The article by Edith Dudley Sylla, "Averroes and Fourteenth-Century Theories of Alteration. Minima Naturalia and the Distinction between Mathematics and Physics," the sixth article in this volume, expounds the reception of Averroes' long commentary on Aristotle's Physics in the fourteenth century. Sylla focuses on how Averroes' explanation of alteration was interpreted by three authors: Walter Burley, William of Ockham and Gregory of Rimini. This article also provides us with a detailed account of the reception of 'Aristotelian atomism,' introducing the notion of minima naturalia (which the author does not explain), and the most relevant discussions that took place both in the thirteenth and in the fourteenth century regarding the nature of the relationship between mathematics and physics. In this latter part, the author also explains to which extent the aforementioned authors follow Averroes when strictly separating mathematics from natural science.

"Is Celestial Motion a Natural Motion? Averroes' Position and Its Reception in the Thirteenth- and Early Fourteenth-Century Commentary Tradition of the Physics," by Silvia Donati, is the fourth article. Donati first describes the problematic issues within the Aristotelian corpus concerning celestial motion, since it can be found in De caelo, Physics and Metaphysics and Aristotle's position differs slightly among the three of them. In order to provide an answer to the proposed question, that is, "is celestial motion a natural motion," the author explains the notion of nature in the first place, and then proceeds to explain how Averroes rejects the cosmological model of Avicenna in order to hold that celestial motion is a natural motion. The subsequent sections of the article are dedicated to the Latin commentary tradition in the thirteenth and the early fourteenth century. These sections deal with Thomas Aquinas, Siger of Brabant and Roger Bacon among others. Here Donati shows how there are two accounts of celestial motion in conflict, one, found in the Physics and the Metaphysics; another, mechanical, found in the De caelo. While Averroes found a way to reconcile these two, this is not the case for all of the authors facing these two opposed views on celestial motion. The article therefore also covers how the different authors solve this tension, be it by means of syncretism, be it by means of adhering to one of the two.

Craig Martin's "Providence and Seventeenth-Century Attacks on Averroes," is the final article of the volume. This article presents the role of Averroes in seventeenth-century natural philosophy by showing the different attacks to which his philosophy was subjected. The main problem within Averroes' natural philosophy was that there was no room for providence within his philosophy, while the role of providence in natural philosophy was increasingly important from the sixteenth century onwards. Thus, the author shows how, despite the fact that Averroes was no longer an authority in the philosophical milieu of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the revival of atomism within philosophy entailed an element of providence which was not to be found in Averroes' philosophy. This exposed the Cordovan philosopher to attacks from different fronts through the late Renaissance until the seventeenth century, where the discussion also concerns the nature of the impiety of Aristotle himself--even though Aristotle did not lose his status as an authority in philosophy. The most remarkable achievement of this article relies on how the author shows in which ways Averroes' philosophy was one of the instruments putting the 'Aristotelian era' to an end.

Considered as a whole, the articles in this volume provide us with a better and deeper understanding of the reception of Averroes' natural philosophy in the Latin West by means of examining topics which are usually not common in current academic discussion, either by choosing a new focal point or by the selection of authors commenting on Averroes. If anything is missing, then it would be an article explaining what is natural philosophy, since this tends to be identified with physics. However, by including psychology the reader can get the idea of the wide range of topics covered under the label "natural philosophy" in the Middle Ages.

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