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The Relation Between Averroes' Middle and long commentaries on the De Anima

  • Herbert A. Davidson (a1)

Where Averroes' commentaries on Aristotle can be dated, the Middle Commentary on a given work can be seen to predate the Long Commentary. As an accompaniment to his fine edition of Averroes' Middle Commentary on the De anima, A. Ivry has maintained that in this instance matters are reversed and the Middle Commentary on the De anima is “an abridged and revised version” of the Long Commentary on the same work. Ivry develops his thesis most fully in Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 5. There he argues that two passages in the Middle Commentary on the De anima refer to the Long Commentary by name, that a third passage alludes to the Long Commentary, and that in other passages the Middle and Long Commentaries use similar phraseology and the former can be seen to have abridged the latter. The present article replies as follows: The pair of passages in the Middle Commentary which Ivry reads as referring explicitly to the Long Commentary can plausibly be read as cross-references within the Middle Commentary itself. The passage that he takes as alluding to the Long Commentary does not in fact allude to that work, but is an unambiguous reference to a later section of the Middle Commentary. And there is no justification for regarding the passages in the Middle Commentary cited by Ivry which use phraseology similar to that of the Long Commentary as borrowings from the latter. In the course of his arguments, Ivry refers to Averroes' position on the nature of the human material intellect, the issue that gave Averroes the most trouble in his commentaries on Aristotle's De anima and that has most intrigued students of Averroes ever since. The present article points out that on the subject of the human material intellect, neither the Middle nor the Long Commentary on the De anima borrows from the other, for the conceptions of the material intellect which they espouse are different and incompatible.

Là où on peut dater les commentaires d'Averroès sur Aristote, le Commentaire Moyen d'une œuvre donnée peut être considéré comme antérieur au Commentaire Long. En accompagnement de sa belle édition du Commentaire Moyen d'Averroès sur le De anima, A. Ivry a soutenu que dans ce cas-ci les choses sont inversées et que le Commentaire Moyen du De anima est “une version abrégée et révisée” du Commentaire Long de la même œuvre. Ivry développe sa thèse avec le plus de détails dans Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, 5. Là, il soutient que deux passages dans le Commentaire Moyen du De anima se rapportent nominalement au Commentaire Long, qu'un troisième passage fait allusion au Commentaire Long, et que dans d'autres passages le Commentaire Moyen et le Commentaire Long utilisent une phraséologie semblable et qu'on peut considérer que le premier a été la version abrégée du second. Le présent article répond à cette thèse de la manière suivante: les deux passages dans le Commentaire Moyen qui semblent selon d'lvry se rapporter explicitement au Commentaire Long peuvent vraisemblablement être compris comme des references a l'intérieur du Commentaire Moyen lui-même. Le passage qu'il comprend comme faisant allusion au Commentaire Long ne fait pas réellement allusion à cette œuvre, mais constitue une référence non-equivoque à une section ultérieure du Commentaire Moyen. II n'y a rien qui justifie le fait de regarder les passages dans le Commentaire Moyen cités par Ivry et utilisent une phraséologie semblable à celle du Commentaire Long comme des emprunts faits à ce dernier. Au cours de son argumentation, Ivry mentionne la position d'Averroes sur la nature de l'intellect materiel de l'homme, question qui a donne a Averroes le plus de peine dans ses commentaires sur le De anima d'Aristote et qui, depuis lors, a le plus intrigue ceux qui etudient Averroes. Le présent article souligne que sur le sujet de l'intellect materiel de l'homme, ni le Commentaire Moyen, ni le Commentaire Long sur le De anima n'empruntent I'un a l'autre, car les conceptions de l'intellect matériel qu'ils embrassent sont différentes et incompatibles.

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1 See Ivry A., “Averroes' Middle and Long Commentaries on th De anima,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, 5 (1995): 7592, p. 77, note 8.

2 Averroes, Talkhīs Kitāb al-Nafs, ed. Ivry A. (Cairo, 1994), p. 10.

3 Ivry, “Averroes' Middle and Long Commentaries on the De anima.”

4 Teicher J., “I commenti di Averroè sul De anima',” Giornale della Società asiatica italiana, n.s. 3 (1934): 233–56, p. 248;Alaoui J., al-Matn al-rushdī (Casablanca, 1986), pp. 85–6.

5 Averroes, Tafsīr Mā Ba'd al-Tabī'at, ed. Bouyges M. (Beirut, 19381948), pp. 475, line 5, 696, line 10, 941, line 4, 1228, line 12.

6 Ibid., p. 1433, line 3. See Bouyges' Notice xxii, note 3.

7 Ibid., Notice xxii.

8 Averroes, Talkhīs al-Samā wa-al-'Ālam, ed. Alaoui J. (Fez, 1984), p. 300 (brought to my attention by an anonymous reader). The editor states that the note is found in the margin of the Arabic manuscript of the Middle Commentary.

9 Averroes, Talkhīs Kitāb al-Nafs, ed. Ahwani A. (Cairo, 1950), p. 90. (Talkhīs is a misnomer for the text Ahwani edited, since it properly designates a Middle Commentary whereas the text is an Epitome.)Davidson H., Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes, on Intellect (New York, 1992), p. 272.

10 Averroes, Talkhīs Kitāb al-Nafs, p. 34.

11 See Themistius, Paraphrase of Aristotle's De anima, in Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca 5.3, ed. Heinze R. (Berlin, 1899), pp. 99100.Arabic Medieval translation, with the pagination of the Greek indicated: An Arabic Translation of Themistius… on Aristoteles ‘De anima’, ed. Lyons M. (Columbia, S.C. 1973), pp. 179182.

12 Averroes, Talkhīs Kitāb al-Nafs, p. 131.

13 See Rodier's note to De anima 425a, 14, 15.

14 Ivry, p. 88, appears to understand that Averroes reconstructed Aristotle's reasoning thus: If the common objects of sensation occurred per accidens in the five senses, they would, because of proposition (1-a), have to occur essentially in another sense; but they do not occur in the five senses per accidens; it therefore does not follow that they have to occur in another, sixth sense essentially. The reasoning would establish that the occurrence of the common objects of sensation in a sixth sense is not demonstrated (if A then B, but not-A), not that the occurrence of the common objects of sensation in a sixth sense is impossible (not-A does not entail not-B). The reasoning would, in other worlds, establish only that the existence of a sixth sense had not been demonstrated, but not that the supposed sixth sense could have no proper object of sensation and hence could not exist. Averroes makes explicit, however, that his reconstruction of Aristotle's reasoning does demonstrate the impossibility of a sixth sense's existing; see Talkhīs Kitāb al-Nafs, pp. 103–4.

15 The passage in Aristotle which is the focus of Averroes' Commentaries here has disturbed students of Aristotle because the manuscripts on which today's printed texts of the De anima are based seem to have Aristotle contradict a statement that he made just a few lines later. See the note to De anima 425a, 14–30 in Ross's edition, and the note to 425a, 15 in Rodier's edition. The text of Aristotle from which Averroes worked had, however, a different version of the argumentation, a version that better fits Averroes' reconstruction. That Averroes had Aristotle's argument in a different version from the one we have is clear from the text of the De anima in the Long Commentary, which Ivry quotes on p. 89.

16 Averroes, Talkhīs Kitāb al-Nafs, pp. 124, 125.

17 Ibid., pp. 123–4.

18 See Davidson, Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes, on Intellect, pp. 276–8. Ivry, “Averroes' Middle and Long Commentaries on the De anima”, pp. 81–2, understands that in – a passage already referred to – Averroes endorses the position taken by Themistius in the latter's Paraphrase of the De anima. In order to avoid a totally confused situation in which the Middle Commentary would endorse three distinct positions on the material human intellect, I prefer to interpret the passage in question as an endorsement only of Themistius' explanation of the destructibility of human intelligible thoughts. See above, p. 143, and note 11.

19 Ivry's translation misses the relative clause at the words “which contain”. The Arabic is: shay' mufāraq, fī jawharihi isti 'dād.

20 Averroes, Talkhīs Kitāb al-Nafs, p. 130, lines 10–11.

21 Ibid., pp. 123–4.

22 Averroes, Long Commentary on the De anima, ed. Crawford F. (Cambridge, Mass. 1953), pp. 395, 398, 430–1, 443.

23 Ibid., p. 399.

24 Ibid., p. 407.

25 Ibid., p. 442.

26 Ibid., p. 399. On these points, see Davidson, Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes, on Intellect, pp. 282–92.

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Arabic Sciences and Philosophy
  • ISSN: 0957-4239
  • EISSN: 1474-0524
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