Averroes’s Method of Re-Interpretation

International Philosophical Quarterly 38 (2):175-185 (1998)
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One contentious issue in contemporary interpretations of medieval Islamic philosophy is the degree of esotericism espoused by its proponents, and therefore the degree of interpretive effort required by its modem readers to ascertain the author's real beliefs. One philosopher who has been accused of esotericism is Averroes (Ibn Rushd), particularly because he is quite explicit in distinguishing among the different types of reasoning appropriate to different classes of people: philosophers, theologians, and laypersons. But on closer inspection Averroes appears to have at his disposal some subtle strategies for achieving partial reconciliation between religion and philosophy, strategies which do not actually involve falsifying the views of either side, although that is how it might appear at first sight. These polemical devices appear most clearly in his exchanges with the theologians (mutakallimun) of the Ash'arite school, of which Ghazali is the most original representative. In this paper I will examine Averroes's position on two sensitive matters, the creation of the universe and the possibility of miracles, in order to illustrate the use of what may be called his "method of re-interpretation," whereby certain key terms are interpreted in such a way as to emphasize the agreements between the two sides while downplaying the differences.

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Muhammad Ali Khalidi
CUNY Graduate Center


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