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The Source that Nourishes, Averroes's Decisive Determination

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Charles E. Butterworth
University of Maryland, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Department of Government and Politics, College Park, Maryland 20742-8221, U.S.A.


What follows is a detailed study of Averroes's Decisive Treatise based on a new English translation of the text. It seeks to reveal the steps of the exposition, the quality of the reasoning used therein, and the general goal. The study adheres closely to the framework established by Averroes at the outset: namely, that this is an inquiry conducted from the perspective of what is permitted by the divine law of Islam. And it takes seriously the proposition that one can seek for an intelligent and intelligible connection between that law and the results reached through philosophical investigation. Thus, Averroes's ultimate conclusion – that the divine law of Islam and philosophy or wisdom are in basic agreement – is seen to make sense insofar as both seek to provide for the well-being of all members of the community. It makes sense, that is, as an understanding of what governance entails.

Cet article est une étude détaillée, s'appuyant sur une nouvelle traduction anglaise du texte, du Traité décisif d'Averroès. Elle met en lumière les étapes de l'expose, la teneur du raisonnement utilisé et le but général du traité. Elle épouse strictement le cadre établi d'entree de jeu par Averroès: savoir qu'il s'agit, dans cet ouvrage, d'une recherche conduite du point de vue de la loi divine de l'lslam. Cette étude prend au sérieux la proposition selon laquelle on peut rechercher un lien intelligent et intelligible entre cette loi et les résultats atteints à travers l'investigation philosophique. Ainsi, la conclusion ultime d'Averroes – qu'il existe un accord fondamental entre la loi de l'lslam et la philosophie ou sagesse - est-elle considérée comme porteuse de sens dans la mesure oú toutes les deux, la loi et la philosophie, s'efforcent de procurer le bien-être à tous les membres de la communauté. Cette conclusion est porteuse de sens – comme manière de comprendre ce que c'est que gouverner.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995

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1 See Mansfield, Harvey C. Jr, “Strauss's Machiavelli,Political Theory, 3 (1975): 372–84, p. 372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

2 See Mahdi, Muhsin S., “Remarks on Averroes' Decisive Treatise,” in Marmura, Michael E. (ed.), Islamic Theology and Philosophy: Studies in Honor of George F. Hourani (Albany, 1984), pp. 188202 and 305–8;Google Scholar and “Averroës on divine Law and human wisdom,” in Cropsey, Joseph (ed.), Ancients and Moderns: Essays on the Tradition of Political Philosophy in Honor of Leo Strauss (New York, 1964), pp. 114–31.Google Scholar

3 See Gauthier, Léon, La théorie d'Ibn Rochd (Averroés) sur les rapports de la religion et de la philosophie (Paris, 1908);Google ScholarScolastique musulmane et scolastique chrétienne,” Revue d'histoire de la philosophie, 2 (1928): 221–53 and 333–65; Averroés, Traité décisif (Façl al-Maqāl) sur l'accord de la religion et de la philosophie, suivi de l'appendice (Dhamīma) (Alger, 1942);Google Scholar and Rochd, Ibn: (Averroés) (Paris, 1948).Google Scholar See also Hourani, George F., Averroes on the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy, A Translation, with Introduction and Notes, of Ibn Rushd's Kitāb Facl al-Maqāl, with its Appendix (Damīma and an Extract from Kitāb al-Kashf 'an Manāhij al-Adilla (London, 1976);Google Scholar and despite its many problems, Massimo Campanini, Averroé, Il trattato decisivo, sull'accordo della religione con la filosofia, introduzione, traduzione e note di testo arabo a fronte (Milan, 1994). In Averroes on the Harmony, p. 18, n. 6, Hourani gives bibliographical details concerning related studies by Miguel Asín Palacios, Manuel Alonso, and Michel Allard, as well as of Max Horten's translation of the Decisive Treatise and A. Bonucci's review of it. To these should be added the recent article by Langhade, Jacques and Mallet, Dominique, “Droit et philosophie au XIIe siécle dans al-Andalus: Averroés (Ibn Rushd),” Revue de l'Occident musulman et de la Méditerranée (numéro spécial Al-Andalus), 40 (1985): 103–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4 The section references are to my forthcoming English translation of the text, one based on Muhsin Mahdi's revised version of Hourani's edition of the Arabic text, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Kitāb Fasl al-Maqāl (Leiden, 1959);Google Scholarsee Averroes, The Book of the Decisive Treatise, Determining the Connection between the Law and Wisdom, trans. Butterworth, Charles E., in Medieval Political Philosophy, A Sourcebook, ed. Lerner, Ralph and Mahdi, Muhsin, 2nd. edition (New York)Google Scholar. The page references are to Müller's, M. J. original Arabic edition, Philosophie und Theologie von Averroes (Munich, 1859).Google Scholar

5 Mahdi speaks of these sections and sub-sections obliquely, for he is intent upon pointing to particular features of the work's teaching. From what he does say, he seems to have the following schema in mind (letters denote the five sections and lower-case roman numerals the seventeen sub-sections): a. Introduction (§ 1, 1:1–9) plus philosophy and the Law (§2, 1:10–2:8) i. Philosophy and the Law (§2, 1:10–2:8) b. The Law and syllogistic reasoning (§§ 3–4, 2:9–3:12) ii. Obligation to reflect upon existing things (§ 3, 2:9–12) iii. Obligation to learn about logic and its parts (§ 4, 2:13–3:12) c. How to acquire knowledge of syllogistic reasoning (§§ 5–10, 3:13–6: 14) iv. Obligation to study syllogistic reasoning or invent it (§ 5, 3:13–19) v. Obligation to use predecessors, if they exist (§ 6, 3:20–4:2) vi. Obligation to use the books of the Ancients (§ 7, 4:3–6) vii. Obligation to use demonstration to study existing things (§ 8, 4:7–5:7) viii. Obligation to use the books of foreign predecessors (§ 9–10, 5:8–6:14) d.How the community of Muslims assent to the teachings of the Law (§§ 11–28, 6:14–15:21) ix. Three ways to communicate the Law (§ 11, 6: 14–7:6) x. Demonstration does not conflict with the Law (§12, 7:7–9) xi. If conflict, then interpretation (§ 13, 7:10–18) xii. Parallel with jurist (§ § 14–15, 7:19–9: 17) xiii. Limits of consensus (§ 16, 9: 18–10: 16) xiv. Human and divine knowledge (§§ 17–25, 10:17–14: 17) xv. All must assent to the roots of the Law (§§ 26–28, 14:18–15:21) e.Interpretation and the Law (§§ 29–37, 15:21–18:19) xvi. Apparent sense of the Law admits no interpretation (§§ 29–31, 15:21–16:19) xvii. On the next life (§§ 32–37, 16:20–18:19)

6 The Madrid Biblioteca Nacional manuscript has no title; see Hourani, Arabic text, note A.

7 Averroes insists at § 10, 5:13 that the “aim and intention” of the Ancients “in their books is the very intention to which the Law urges us.”

8 Thus, I understand the text to be divided as follows: A. Introduction (§1, 1:1–9) B. Philosophy and logic are obligatory (§§ 2–10, 1:10–6:14) C. Demonstration and the Law accord (§§ 11–36, 6:14–18:14) D. Summary (§ 37, 18:14–19) E. The Law's intent and methods (§§ 38–51, 18:19–23:18) F. On factions within Islam (§§ 52–58, 23:19–25:19) G. Conclusion (§§ 59–60, 25:20–26: 14) Sub-parts B-D correspond to Mahdi's Part One and sub-parts E-G to his Part Two. As wifi appear from the ensuing discussion, sub-parts B and F seem to admit of further division into two smaller segments each and sub-parts C and E into three each. And some of those smaller segments also admit of division, but more of that in its proper place.

9 This is the first objection. Like that at § 15, 8:15–17, concerning whether demonstration can contravene consensus with respect to the interpretation of verses, it is indirect. The other three are all phrased as though meant to challenge Averroes directly: § 16, 9:18–20, asking for a response to the charges brought by Aighazali against Alfarabi and Avicenna; § 32, 16:20–21, inquiring into which of the three ranks of the Law he would place the verses concerning the hereafter; and § 55, 24:14–17, seeking for “the shared methods by which the Lawgiver intended to teach the multitude.”

10 See § 4, 2:20 and Mahdi, “Remarks,” pp. 199–200 and n. 16. As Mahdi notes, this same softening of the conclusion occurs three other times in the immediate sequel:§ 7, 4:5; 8, 4:9–10; and § 9, 5:7–8.

11 See § 4, 3:5–7; similar comparisons occur at § 14, 7:19–20; § 23, 14:2; and § 24, 14: 10–12.

12 But while adducing an additional argument here, Averroes also suppresses one. Insisting that “reflection upon intellectual syllogistic reasoning” must be believed to be as obligatory as “reflection upon juridical syllogistic reasoning and its kinds,” he notes elliptically “and for this there is a reason, but this is not the place to mention it” (3:10).

13 The argument occurs in Alkincli's al-Falsafa al-Ūlā; see Rasā'il al-Kindī alFalsafiyya, ed. Rīda, M.A.Abū, 2nd. edition (Cairo, 1978), Part 1, 33:1113: “We ought not to be ashamed of appreciating the truth and acquiring it from wherever it comes even if it comes from races remote from us and nations distinct [from us], for there is nothing more worthy than the truth for anyone who seeks the truth.” See also 32:13–33:9.Google Scholar

14 See above, n. 10.

15 There axe only two exceptions to the power of the Law to reach all people, individual recalcitrance and inattentiveness. Nothing set forth here by Averroes seeks to deny freedom of choice. All that can be done is to acknowledge that some people refuse to believe and thus that the tools brought - perhaps even used - by the Prophet have limits; see § 26, 15: 3–8.

16 See § 23–24, 13: 17–14:12; §§ 25–26, 14:13–15:8; and § 27, 15:9–16 respectively.

17 Consider the example offered in § 28, 15:19–21 and see also Averroes, , Tahāfut alTahāfut, ed. Bouyges, Maurice S.J., (Beirut, 1930), 580:1–588:6.Google Scholar

18 Alghazali's disarming candor in the last chapter of Mizān al-'Amal about how little importance he attaches to particular doctrines may have prompted part of the criticism Averroes levels against him here; see Mīzān al-'Amal (Cairo, 1963), pp. 124–6.Google Scholar

19 See § 10, 5:13 and § 28, 15:19–21 for earlier instances of intention discussed with respect to the Law; when intention is mentioned at § 14, 8:2–4, it has nothing to do with the Law. Though intention and words derived from it occur only six times in this part of the Decisive Treatise, they occur fifteen times in the next. Fully ten refer to the Law or Lawgiver: see § 38, 18:20; § 39, 19:10 and 15; § 40, 19:20–21; § 48, 22:8 (twice); § 54, 24:13; § 55, 24:15; § 56, 25:1; and § 59, 25:20. The other five do not; see § 41, 20:5, 10, and 14; and § 48, 22:8 and 9.

20 For other instances of Averroes speaking to the addressee in such a direct manner, see § 15, 8:20–21 (on consensus with respect to theoretical matters); § 16, 9:18 (an objection raised by the addressee about the teachings of Alfarabi and Avicenna); § 29, 15:2 1 (summarizing the preceding discussion of what verses can be interpreted); § 48, 22:16–17 (drawing a conclusion from the comparison of the physician and the Lawgiver); and § 51,23:15 (a summary statement about the limits on interpretation).

21 See § 50, 23:7–14.

22 The emphasis in this whole sub-part on the more numerous among the believers - the multitude (al-jumhūr) - and their needs, as distinct from the select few (al-khawāss ) is worth noting. Indeed, the term “multitude” occurs fourteen times here and five times in the next sub-part: § 41, 20:14; § 42, 20:17; § 43, 20:20 and 21:2; § 44, 21:5 and 9; § 45, 21:14; § 46, 21:20; § 47, 22:6 (twice) and 7; § 49, 23:2; § 51, 23:16; § 52, 23:21; § 53, 24:2 and 3; § 55, 24:15 and 20; and § 60, 26:12. On the other hand, the term “select” occurs only about a third as frequently - three times each in this sub-part and the next, and once in the final sub-part: § 40, 19:21; § 41, 20:14; § 42, 20:16; § 53, 24:2 and 3; § 55, 24:19; and § 60, 26:14.

23 The verse was first cited at § 14, 8: 13–14 and then again at § 16, 10:6–10. Its punctuation is not discussed in § 14, and only in § 16 does Averroes urge placing the stop after “and those well-grounded in science.” The goal there is not to identify the particular verses that may be interpreted nor to offer plausible interpretations, but merely to insist that some verses - agreed by all to admit of interpretation - should be explained or interpreted only to “those well-grounded in science.”

24 And also, perhaps, to inculpate an unidentified group of pseudo-philosophers; see Hourani, Averroes on the Harmony, nn. 172 and 195.

25 The full phrase warrants consideration: “It is obligatory for whoever wants to remove this heretical innovation from the Law to apply himself to the precious book and pick from it the indications existing for every single thing we are responsible for believing” (§ 57, 25:6–8).

26 For a succinct account of the stages of the debate as they affect the interpretation of Averroes's Decisive Treatise, see Mahdi, “Averroës on divine Law,” pp. 114–17.

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