History of Philosophy in Islam, by T.J. de Boer , at sacred-texts.com
1. To the victor belongs the bride. In the wars which were waged in Spain between Christians and Muslims, the former had often come under the influence of the attractions of Moorish fair ones. Many a Christian knight had celebrated "the nine-days' religious rite" with a Moorish woman. But besides material wealth and sensual enjoyment, the charm of intellectual culture had also its effect upon the conqueror. And Arab Science thus presented the appearance of a lovely bride to the eyes of many men who felt their want of knowledge.
It was the Jews especially who played the part of matchmakers in the transaction. The Jews had participated in all the transformations of Muslim intellectual culture: many of them wrote in Arabic, and others translated Arabic writings into Hebrew; not a few philosophical works by Muslim authors owe their preservation to the latter circumstance.
The development of this Jewish study of philosophy culminated in Maimonides (1135-1204), who sought, chiefly under the influence of Farabi and Ibn Sina, to reconcile Aristotle with the Old Testament. In part he expounded the doctrines of philosophy from the text of revelation, and in part he restricted the Aristotelian philosophy to what belongs to this earth, while a knowledge of that which is above it, had to be gained from the Word of God.
In the various Muslim States, at the time when they were most flourishing, the Jews had shewn an interest in scientific work, and they had not only been tolerated, but even regarded with favour. Their position, however, was altered, when those States were together overthrown, and when the decline of their civilization ensued. Expelled by fanatical mobs they fled for refuge to Christian lands, and particularly to Southern France, there to fulfil their mission as the disseminators of culture.
2. The Muslim world and the Christian world of the West came into contact at two points,--in Lower Italy and in Spain. At the court of the Emperor Frederick II in Palermo, Arab science was eagerly cultivated and made accessible to Latinists. The Emperor and his son Manfred presented the Universities of Bologna and Paris with translations of philosophical works, partly rendered from the Arabic, and partly direct from the Greek.
Of much greater importance and influence, however, was the activity of translators in Spain. In Toledo, which had been re-captured by the Christians, there existed a rich Arabic Mosque-library, the renown of which, as a centre of culture, had penetrated far into the Christian
countries of the North. Arabs of mixed lineage and Jews, some of them converts to Christianity, worked together there, along with Spanish Christians. Fellow-workers were present from all countries. Thus co-operated as translators, for example, Johannes Hispanus and Gundisalinus (first half of the twelfth I century), Gerard of Cremona (1114--1187), Michael the Scot and Hermann the German (between 1240 and 1246). We are not yet in possession of sufficiently detailed information regarding the labours of these men. Their translations may be called faithful, to the extent that every word in the Arabic original, or the Hebrew (or Spanish?) version has some Latin word corresponding to it; but they are not generally distinguished by an intelligent appreciation of the subject matter. To understand these translations thoroughly is a difficult thing, for one who is not conversant with Arabic. Many Arabic words which were taken over as they stood, and many proper names, disfigured beyond recognition, flit about with the air of ghosts. All this may well have produced sad confusion in the brains of Latinist students of Philosophy; and the thoughts, which were being disclosed afresh, had themselves at least an equally perplexing tendency.
The activity of translators kept pace generally with the interest shewn by Christian circles; and this interest followed a development similar to that which we had occasion to observe in Eastern and Western Islam (cf. VI, 1 § 2). 4 The earliest translations were those of works on Mathematical Astrology, Medicine, Natural Philosophy, and Psychology, including Logical and Metaphysical material. As time went on, people restricted themselves more to Aristotle and commentaries upon him; but, at first, a
preference was shewn for everything that met the craving for the marvellous.
Kindi became known chiefly as a physician and an astrologer. Ibn Sina produced a notable effect by his 'Medicine', and his empirical psychology, and also by his Natural Philosophy and his Metaphysics. Compared with him, Farabi and Ibn Baddja exercised a less considerable influence. Lastly came the Commentaries of Ibn Roshd (Averroes); and the reputation which they gained, along with that which was secured by Ibn Sina's Canon of Medicine, has been longest maintained.
3. What then does the Christian Philosophy of the Middle Ages owe to the Muslims? The answer to this question lies properly outside the scope of the present monograph. It is a special task, which necessitates the ransacking of many folios, none of which I have read. In general terms it may be affirmed that in the translations from the Arabic a twofold novelty was disclosed to the Christian West. In the first place men came to possess Aristotle, both in his Logic and in his Physics and Metaphysics, more completely than they had hitherto known him. But still this circumstance was only of passing importance, though stimulating for the moment, for erelong all his writings were translated much more accurately, direct from the Greek into Latin. The most important result, however, was--that from the writings of the Arabs, particularly of Ibn Roshd, a peculiar conception of the Aristotelian doctrines, as constituting the highest truth, came to the knowledge of men. This was bound to give occasion for contradiction, or for compromise, between theology and philosophy, or even for denial of the
[paragraph continues] Church's creed. Thus the influence of Muslim Philosophy upon the scholastic development of Church dogma was partly of a stimulating, partly of a disintegrating character; for, in the Christian world, philosophy and theology were not yet able to proceed side by side in an attitude of mutual indifference, as doubtless happened in the case of Muslim thinkers. Christian Dogmatic had adopted too much Greek Philosophy already in the first centuries of its development, to admit of such an attitude: it could even assimilate a little more. It was therefore relatively easier to get the better of the simple teachings of Islam than the complicated dogmas of Christianity.
In the twelfth century, when the influence of the Arabs commenced to operate in that field, Christian Theology exhibited a Neo-Platonic, Augustinian character. That character continued to be kept up with the Franciscans, even in the thirteenth century. Now the Pythagorean-Platonic tendency, in Muslim thought, harmonized well with this. Ibn Gebirol (Avencebrol, v. VI, 1 § 2) was, for Duns Scotus, an authority of the first rank. On the other hand, the great Dominicans, Albert and Thomas, who decided the future of the doctrine of the Church, adopted a modified Aristotelianism, with which a good deal out of Farabi, but especially out of Ibn Sina and Maimonides, agreed quite well.
A more profound influence emanates from Ibn Roshd, but not till about the middle of the thirteenth century, and, in fact, in Paris, the centre of the Christian scientific education of that time. In the year 1256 Albertus Magnus writes against Averroes; and fifteen years later Thomas Aquinas controverts the Averroists. Their leader is Siger
of Brabant (known from 1266), member of the Parisian Faculty of Arts. He does not shrink from the rigorous, logical results of the Averroist system. And just as Ibn Roshd censures Ibn Sina, so Siger criticizes the great Albert and the saintly Thomas, although in terms of the utmost respect. It is true that he asseverates his submission to Revelation; but still, his reason confirms what Aristotle,--as he is expounded, in doubtful cases, by Ibn Roshd,--has taught in his works. This subtle intellectualism of his, however, does not please the theologians. At the instance of the Franciscans, it would seem, who perhaps wished also to strike at the Aristotelianism of the Dominicans, he was persecuted by the Inquisition, till he died in prison at Orvieto (circa 1281-1284). Dante, who possibly knew nothing of his heresies has placed Siger in Paradise as the representative of secular wisdom. The two champions of Muslim Philosophy, on the other hand, he met with in the vestibule of the Inferno, in the company of the great and wise men of Greece and Rome. Ibn Sina and Ibn Roshd there end the series of the great men of heathendom, towards whom succeeding ages, like Dante, have so often lifted up their eyes in admiration.