Progressive revelation in Averroes

I came upon this very interesting passage in Averroes’ famous rebuttal of al-Ghazzali, The Incoherence of the Incoherence, which resembles very strikingly the Baha’i belief in progressive revelation [see also the image to the right].   For me, it’s all the more interesting considering his theory of monopsychism, i.e., that rational objectivity is actually not only epistemological, but somehow vaguely ontological, as well (consider this remark by his teacher, Avempace).

“[The philosopher] is under obligation to choose the best religion in his period, even when they are all equally true for him, and he must believe that the best will be abrogated by the introduction of a still better…” [Van den Bergh, 360]

Keep in mind that he was writing this in twelfth century Muslim Spain, which is both a warning not to take it too out of context and yet also why it’s so impressive.  He also goes onto reveal more of the influence of Avempace in the same passage, also with progressive tones:

“And never has wisdom ceased among the inspired, i.e., the prophets, and therefore it is the truest of all sayings that every prophet is a sage, but not every sage a prophet; the learned, however, are those of whom it is said that they are the heirs of the prophets.” [Van den Bergh, 361]

These two remarks would undoubtedly resonate with many an Enlightenment-minded thinker.  However, they would be wrong to believe Averroes was a proponent of natural theology:

“And since in the principles of the demonstrative sciences there are postulates and axioms which are assumed, this must still more be the case for the religions which take their origin in inspiration and reason.  Every religion exists through inspiration and is blended with reason.  And he who holds that it is possible that there should exist a natural religion based on reason alone must admit that this religion must be less perfect than those which spring from reason and inspiration.” [Van den Bergh, 361]

You can begin to see why he was so influential on Albert Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, particularly on the question of whether systematic theology is possible, and if so, whether it is scientific (scientia).  I think it would also be interesting to plumb the rest of his system to see if it could be rehabilitated for Baha’i uses (not to mention the systems of the other Medievals).

But on a different note, just in terms of Averroes’ verve as a thinker, now you can begin to see why I find him so interesting.  He’s unpredictable yet pertinent — all in all, despite all the centuries, not the least bit stuffy and indeed somehow quite alive.


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