With Al-Farabi and Avicenna, philosophy could be developed in a amazing way, coming always nearer to materialism. But the major step, the best breakthrough, which had an historical consequence for the world, was the conception of Averroes.
Averroes is a major key of history. He is a giant that must be recognized by humanity as one of its titans. Dialectical materialism upholds Averroes as one of the greatest producer of thought.
Without Averroes – but he was historically necessary – dialectical materialism could not exist like today.
Before him, thoughts based on Aristotle permitted science, but on a idealist basis. Averroes opened the door to open materialism. Let's see how.
Before Averroes, the conception was that an eternal God (as unity) produced in his goodness an intelligence, that permitted human beings to exist as organized matter through a “soul” connected to this intelligence.
This thought permitted to explain the forms of matter and its movement. Thought were a reflect of the external light of the “intelligence” produced by God (as unity).
Nevertheless, Averroes pushed this logic to its end, and so put God away.
He had indeed a problem with this conception of the thought as a mere reflect, of mind at its origin as a “tablet”, “on which nothing is so far actually written” (the words are from Aristotle).
He thought not only that the ability of being written was a disposition – a thought which was one of Aristotle also – but that this tablet was writing on itself: it was not merely passive, it was also active.
There was – in our eyes- what is a dialectical process of writing/rewriting. Averroes did not know dialectics, but he began to move away from the cause/consequence conception.
How Averroes did come out of the intellect as merely passive?
Here is his conception. First, he thought something logical: if the intelligence was indeed eternal (as produced by the eternal God-unity), then the “souls” where it was going naturally must be eternal too.
But the problem was of course that the bodies were not eternals. So, Averroes split the soul.
On one side, there was matter as body-soul. This side was temporary. On the other side, there was a possible intelligence, that connected naturally to the intelligence. Both were eternals.
There was a strict unity between the intelligence coming from the one (=God) and the intelligence that was “possible” (through the union of soul and matter).
So there is:
[union of soul and matter / possible intelligence permitted by this union] + [the intelligence]
In a way, the union of soul and matter is like a computer, which is connected through its internal card (=possible intelligence) to the Internet (=intelligence).
After a time, the computers get broken, but the Internet stays – exactly like the bodies die, but the intelligence stays.
At any time, a new possible intelligence can reconnect to the global intelligence – like a new computer can connect to the Internet.
Here is what Averroes says:
“It is clear that, in one respect, this intellect is an agent and, in another, it is a form for us, since the generation of intelligibles is a product of our will. When we want to think something, we do so, our thinking it being nothing other than, first, bringing the intelligible forth and, second, receiving it. The individual intentions in the imaginative faculty are they that stand in relation to the intellect as potential colors do to light.
That is, this intellect renders them actual intelligibles after their having been intelligible in potentiality. It is clear, from the nature of this intellect – which, in one respect, is form for us and,
in another, is the agent for the intelligibles – that it is separable and neither generable nor corruptible, for that which acts is always superior to that which is acted upon, and the
principle is superior to the matter.
The intelligent and intelligible aspects of this intellect are essentially the same thing, since it does not think anything external to its essence. There must be an Agent Intellect here, since that which actualizes the intellect has to be an intellect, the agent endowing only that which resembles what is in its substance.” (Middle Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima)
So, there is a thought for Averroes, that, to be active, needs (according to him and thoughts based on Aristotle in general) a cause , the intelligence.
The intelligence which was produced by God and writes a form which takes a body, the ability of this form-body relying on the intelligence, or better said by “something” permitted by the intelligence in the form-body. Averroes calls it the “material intellect”.
This material intellect, when working, is the proof of a correct thought, a correct way of living, a proof of the union الاتحاد - al-ittihad, the junction إتصا – ittisal of the form-body and the intelligence (in and as the material intellect).
Here is what Averroes says:
“The material intellect is something composed of the disposition found in us and of an intellect conjoined to this disposition.
As conjoined to the disposition, it is a disposed intellect, not an intellect in act; though, as not conjoined to this disposition, it is an intellect in act; while, in itself, this intellect is the Agent Intellect, the existence of which will be shown later.
As conjoined to this disposition, it is necessarily an intellect in potentiality which cannot think itself but which can think other than itself (that is, material things), while, as not conjoined to the disposition, it is necessarily an intellect in act which thinks itself and not that which is here (that is, it does not think material things).” (Middle Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima)
Consequence of this is that all the humans being must live in a reasonable way, according their own nature (their own nature in nature, will say afterwards Spinoza).
And if human beings can so think in a “independent way”, because there is a “potential intellect”, it is very important to see that this potential intellect relied on the possibility of thinking given by the Intelligence (produced by God) to the material intellect.
And as the material intellect is “one” and eternal, so is the potential intellect. A body-soul “thinking” do no exist: in reality, it connects itself to the principle of intelligence.
It means that all the humans will think the same, all over the world, if they think well. This is a central thesis of materialism, and of course of dialectical materialism.
Therefore, what is then the soul? It is only a temporary tool, a receptacle of the possible intelligence to receive the intelligence from God-unity.
And because of this:
- the souls are not eternal.
- the intelligence do not know the particulars, it knows only the universal, being eternal and always being the same.
- the human beings do not think, they are temporary vectors of the global intelligence.
These are the traditional theses of what will be called in Europe averroism, and which is called today “Latin averroism”.
Theses that were considered as the main threat by Christianity (which will acquire here its identity until today).
In Paris, such theses were forbidden in 1270 and 1277, as in a faculty there were put forward by numerous thinkers. We will see that in details, as this is the real birth of materialism, going directly to Spinoza, Hegel, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.