The discovery of some Averroes' works by intellectuals in Europe had a major effect on the pre-materialist thinkers. Averroism became a flag, as Averroes appeared clearly as the most important pre-materialist philosopher of the era.
Nevertheless, this flag could not be raised by the pre-materialists themselves, because of the pressure of the Christian reaction. Therefore, it was the reaction itself that raised the flag of Averroism, calling a general offensive against it as a “trend”.
Because of this, nowadays, bourgeois searchers are unable to explain averroism. They see that in the 13th century, there was a general Christian offensive against averroism in the universities, but they are unable to find the “averroists.”
What they see are people that are half averroists, people not claiming to be averroists, etc. They understand that the averroists could not openly called themselves disciples of Averroes, but because of their bourgeois class barrier, they don't understand the real sense the works appearing as having a “double truth”, i.e. explaining an averroist conception on one side, but finishing the document in saying that it is all bad, against the principles of religion, etc.
They understand this “double truth” but can only come to the conclusion that averroism does not exist, that the prematerialists were in fact on one side really accepting religion and on the other rejecting it! A contradiction that is absurd.
The term of “averroist” was indeed coined by Thomas Aquinas in his classical document against averroism. Nobody at this time defined himself as “averroist”. It was just not possible in face of the terrible repression.
But averroism existed, because it was materialism. It was an historical tendency, parallel to the rise of the productive forces, and Averroes was a weapon. If we see this evolution through dialectal materialism's lenses, everything is very clear.
Averroes was pushed forward by thinkers that understood its signification. He was translated by Michael Scot, Herman the German, William of Luna, Peter of Gallego; Michael Scot played an important role under the rule of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor who spoke Latin, Sicilian, German, French, Greek and Arabic, and was an important friend of science.
This permitted others European thinkers to know Averroes' thought. The immediate result speaks for itself, with the condemnation in 1277 of 219 “averroist” theses by Steven Tempier, Archbishop and Chancellor of the University of Paris.
In this sense, Siger of Brabant is a major European figure, a hero of the struggle paving the road to dialectical materialism.
Banned by the church that brought him in Rom to survey him, he was murdered by his secretary that he is supposed to have become “mad”, but the catholic tradition that murdered with a pen, he was murdered where he sinned.
Siger of Brabant was the true activist of the first wave of averroism in Europe. According to him, « The human intellect is, like the world, an eternal product » of the first Cause.
The universe is therefore merely logical: “Nothing prevents what is necessary and eternal from having a cause of its necessity and eternity.” (De anima intellectiva)
And the humans do not think; their thought is a product of the global reality: “The intellective soul is in one respect united to the body and in another respect separate therefrom.” (De anima intellectiva)
All of these theses represent materialism. There can be no doubt about it. And his De anima intellectiva was so hard to find after the condemnation, that even the following averroists did not know this work.
And the importance of this is also stressed by the importance acquired by Thomas Aquinas, that become the main thinker of Christianity through his works against averroism (see: The Christian reaction through Thomas Aquinas, only existing in a French version).
Let's remember here how Thomas Aquinas expressed his view, in “De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas”, where he pretends “going back” to Aristotle, in fact to attack the materialists on their own field:
“The Averroists, on the basis of some of the following words (In Aristotle's De anima, 429a13ff), want to maintain that, in the opinion of Aristotle, the intellect is not the soul which is the actualization of the body, nor a part of the soul ; therefore, we have to study carefully the ensuing passages in Aristotle.”
The attack of Thomas Aquinas is a direct attack against a thought and against the principle of thought itself– this is the main aspect, because as dialectical materialists we understood the historical value of this question.
Thomas Aquinas wanted to crush the possibility of the complete development of averroism, of the complete affirmation of the reasonable human. Religion played here a reactionary role after its positive role against barbarism.
Here is how an averroist, Alberich of Reims, explained the averroist conception, at the end of the 13th century:
“Who ignores philosophy is not a man, if not in an equivocal sense. Because, as Averroes wrote in his Prologue to the book VIII of Physics (...) man's name is said equivocally of a man made perfect by the theoretical sciences and other men, just as the word animal is said equivocally of a living animal and an animal painted as mural on a wall.”
Alberich of Reims also put forward the principle of “Ibi statur!”, which means let's stay there, i.e. in philosophy, without going to religious idealism.
As he said:
“When you know you reached the end, there is nothing more to taste it and savor its pleasure. This is what we call wisdom. This flavor that we managed to find can be loved for itself: it is philosophy. This is the place to stop.”
This was the concept of philosophy – the one from the Falsafa, the one from Latin averroism.
Here is how Boetius of Dacia explained this:
“The supreme good for man should be his in terms of his highest power, and not according to the vegetative soul, which is also found in plants, nor according to the sensitive soul, which is also found in animals and from which their sensual pleasures arise.
But man’s highest power is his reason and intellect. For this is the supreme director of human life both in the order of speculation and in the order of action. Therefore, the supreme good attainable by man must be his by means of his intellect. Therefore, men who are so weighed down by sense pleasures that they lose intellectual goods should grieve. For they never attain their supreme good.
For no man is just unless he takes delight in acts of justice. The same must be said of the acts of the other moral virtues. From what has been said one can evidently conclude that the supreme good open to man is to know the true, to do the good, and to delight in both. And because the highest good possible for man is happiness, it follows that human happiness consists in knowing the true, doing the good, and taking delight in both.”
This first wave of averroism, mainly present in Paris, produced a revolutionary perspective in the field of science. Numerous are the authors connected to Latin averroism, advancing more or less unmasked against the dominant ideology.
At the end of the 13th century, we find for example Giles of Orleans (with works on Physics, ethics...) and Ferrandus of Spain (Commentary on Metaphysics, Commentary on Economics, a quaestio De Specie Intelligibli); we found also John of Göttingen, with his “Sophysma de intellectu” from 1305.
This all permitted the second wave, mainly in Italy.
We find for example Siger of Brabant in Dante's Paradiso, in the Divine Comedy :
“This, whence to me returneth thy regard,
The light is of a spirit unto whom
In his grave meditations death seemed slow.
It is the light eternal of Sigier,
Who, reading lectures in the Street of Straw,
Did syllogize invidious verities.”
The works Averroes that were translated in latin were first printed as a global work in 1472 in Padua. This city became indeed the main averroist pole in Europe, after having already played an important role in giving birth to a certain political Latin averroism.
Indeed, unable to raise the masses in favour of reason, a form averroism turned into the direction to support kings against the pope.
We find in particular Marsilius of Padua (circa 1275 - circa 1342), who took a political stand against the hegemony of the pope, helped here by a open averroist, John of Jandun (circa 1285-1323). whose commentary on Aristotle's De anima was published several times in the 16th century.
We have a here a direct repetition of what will happen with Martin Luther.
This opened a path for the cirty of Padua, in whose arts faculty we found especially Taddeo da Parma, Angelo d'Arezzo, Matteao da Gubbio, Giacomo da Piacenza.
They, among others (like Anselmus de Cumis, Cambiolus of Bologna, Jacobus of Placentia [Plaisance], Jordanus [Jourdain] de Tridentia), developped the logic of averroism in a political context going on many fields in favor of progress, against the Middle Age culture.
Paolo Nicoletti, also known as Paul of Venice (or Paulus Venetus) (1368–1428), played here an important role with its Summa naturalium.
But it is to note that the tendency was more and more to move away from Averroes, to go back to Aristotle. The tendency was to see a possibility of triumph without breaking totally with the dominant ideology.
We find therefore Alessandro Achillini (1463 – 1512), who was styled the second Aristotle, or Pietro Pomponazzi (1462 – 1525), his direct opponent who went further in the criticism of Averroes.
We can see also people like Nicoletto Vernia (circa 1420 – 1499), who continued this perspective, but then retracted, as did Agostino Nifo (circa 1470 – 1538), who nevertheless afterwards published... the works of Averroes, indeed with commentaries in favor of Christianism.
All these contradictions express the development of materialism. The rupture with Averroes – and Aristotle – was a necessity. It will be Spinoza that will close the period, producing an averroism without Averroes.
Aristotle's thought was idealist, but did recognize the existence of movement, and this understanding of movement led to materialism. But the affirmation of materialism needed to put aside the existence of a “motor” moving the world, and so of movement itself. This way we moved from Aristotle to Averroes, from Averroes to Spinoza, from idealism with movement to pre-materialism with movement, to pre-materialism with movement to materialism (without movement).
Then, Hegel will bring back the movement (to the expense of materialism) and Marx will produce the synthesis, going over materialism without movement (Epicurus, Lucretius, Spinoza) and purging the understanding of movement of any idealism.