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Ibn Bâjja [Avempace]

First published Fri Sep 28, 2007; substantive revision Wed Jan 17, 2018
Philosophy in Al-Andalus developed later than in the East; it grew among
Muslims and Jews, since both communities were nurtured by a common
Arabic. The Muslim community was much larger and it defined the cultural
space, a significant part of which was made by Arabic translations of Greek
scientifical and philosophical works.
By the midst of the 10th century CE, materials related to the circle of
the Brethren of Purity were known in al-Andalus probably brought in by
Maslama Ibn Qasim al-Qurtubi (d. 353/964). But philosophy in its proper sense
is first found in Shelomo Ibn Gabirol or Avicebron (1021–1058). The great
figure of Medieval Judaism who was active in Saragossa was also a talented
philosopher. He preceded, by over two generations, the first Muslim
philosophers of Al-Andalus: Abu s-Salt Umayya ibn ʽAbd al-ʽAziz ibn Abi s-Salt
ad-Dani (d. 1134) and Ibn Bâjja, or Avempace (d. 1139), the latter being active
also in that northern town.
The reasons for the later development of philosophy in Muslim Al-Andalus,
therefore, cannot be explained only by the fact that the country was situated
far away from that nurturing source. The cause is likely that philosophy was
never central to the Islamic intellectual constellation and that it flourished in
peripheral areas, geographical as well as doctrinal. The greatest evidence is
Ibn Sina (d. 1037) who lived in the Iranian provinces, never visited Baghdad
and enjoyed the patronage of princes friendly to the Shiʻa. Al-Andalus was
peripheral in geographical, but not in doctrinal, terms. The country followed
Sunni orthodoxy and the Malekite school of law prevailed while Ash‛arite
theology was weakly cultivated. When Abu l-Qasim Saʽid Ibn Saʽid (d. 1070)
devoted a chapter of his world history of the sciences and philosophy to Al-
Andalus, his information about philosophy was significantly scarce (Saʽid
1998: 96–108; 1991: 58–78). In spite of the circumstances retarding its
development, philosophy in Al-Andalus blossomed into maturity with Ibn Bâjja.
C.E. dates are used in the entry unless an Anno Hegirae date is also written;
in this case they are separate by a slash—A.H. is set before and C.E. after it.
No transliteration characters are used except for Ibn Bâjja, where ‘â’ indicates
a long ‘a’ vowel.
• 1. Life and Circle
• 2. Organization of the Sciences
• 3. Logic
• 4. Mathematical sciences
• 5. Natural philosophy and necessity
• 6. Soul and knowledge
• 7. Ethics and metaphysics
• Bibliography
• A. Primary Literature
• B. Secondary Literature
• Academic Tools
• Other Internet Resources
• Related Entries

1. Life and Circle

Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Yahyà ibn as-Sa’igh at-Tujibi Ibn Bâjja was known to
the Latin philosophers as Avempace. We can assume that he was born in
Saragossa around 1085, when the city was the capital of the Taifa kingdom of
the Banu Hud; Yusuf al-Mu’tamin Ibn Hud reigned from 1081–1085, and his
successor al-Mustaʻin II reigned until the year 1110 when he was killed in the
battle of Valtierra. Alfonso the Christian King of Aragon won this battle.
Avempace may have been in the service of al-Musta‛in II Ibn Hud (Maqqari-N:
vol. 7, p. 25). He was followed by ʻImad ad-Dawla Ibn Hud who stayed in
power only for a few months. In the same year, 1110, he was overthrown by
the Almoravid Sultan ʽAli ibn Yusuf Ibn Tashfin (ruled 1107–1143), who sent
Abu ‛Abd Allah Muhammad Ibn al-Hajj, governor of Valencia (and the East
province), with the Almoravid army to conquer Saragossa. ʽImad ad-Dawla
had to leave the town and retire to Rueda, a fortress located some distance
from Saragossa.
After Ibn al-Hajj’s death in 1114, the Almoravid Sultan appointed his brother-
in-law Abu Bakr ʽAli ibn Ibrahim as-Sahrawi, known as Ibn Tifilwit, as the
governor of the province.[1] The connection of Avempace to Ibn Tifilwit is well
attested by both Ibn Khaqan and Ibn al-Khatib. Avempace composed
panegyrics for Ibn Tifilwit who rewarded him lavishly. Avempace also wrote
poems of the muwasshaha kind that pleased him, and they both enjoyed music
and wine. Abu Bakr Ibn Tifilwit nominated Avempace his vizier, and Avempace
went to meet the deposed ‛Imad ad-Dawla Ibn Hud King in his castle
apparently in a diplomatic mission, but he ended up in jail for some months.
Ibn Tifilwit died in 510/1116 in an operation against the Christians and
Avempace composed moving elegies in his memory.
King Alfonso the Battler conquered Saragossa from the Almoravids on
December 18, 1118, after a long blockade. It is not clear whether Avempace
then left town or had already left. We know that he looked for shelter in Xàtiba
in the court of Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Yusuf Ibn Tashufin, known as Ibn
Taʽyasht because Ta‛yasht was the name of his Berber mother. Ibrahim was a
brother of the Sultan ‛Ali Ibn Yusuf Ibn Tashfin (d. 1143), and governor of
Murcia and the Eastern part of al-Andalus. Avempace was again imprisoned
and we may guess the causes. Abu Marwan ‛Abd Malik bn Abi l-‛Ala’ Zuhr (d.
1161) was a famous physician in the service of Ibrahim (he wrote for him
the Kitab al-Iqtisad), and al-Maqqari informs us that there was an extreme
enmity between Avempace and the father of ‛Abd al-Malik, also a physician,
named Abu l-‛Ala’ Zuhr (d. 1130) (Maqqari-N: vol. 3, pp. 432–434). Even worse
for him, Abu Nasr al-Fath Ibn Muhammad Ibn Khaqan (d. 1134?) was also a
courtier of Ibn Ta‛yasht, to whom he devoted the Qala’id al-iqyan[2] a poetry
anthology where he contemptuously put Avempace in last place (Ibn Khaqan
1966: 346–353). The court of Ibrahim ibn Yusuf was not a welcoming place for
In spite of the incident, Avempace remained within the Almoravid circle for
the rest of his life and for approximately twenty years served as vizier of the
mentioned Yahyà ibn Yusuf Ibn Tashfin, another brother of the Sultan ‛Ali Ibn
Yusuf Ibn Tashufin in the Maghrib. Vincent Lagardère has done the most
extended research on the Almoravids in recent times and provided us with
information on all the children of Yusuf Ibn Tashfin (Lagardère 1989: 80 and
174–178). Nevertheless, Lagardère has not found any information on Yahyà
other than he was a son of Yusuf and his wife Zaynab, and that he was born
around 477/1084. Thus, he was of a similar age to Avempace.
From around 1118 until 1136, we have no further information on Avempace’s
life. In 1136, he was in Seville and his disciple Abu l-Hasan Ibn al-Imam was in
his company (IB-coll-alawi: 87). He mentions in one of his writings that he is
moving to Oran (IB-coll-genequand: 202 §60), maybe in his planned trip to
Egypt (IB-coll-genequand: 90 §1). Nevertheless, three years later, in Ramadan
533/ May 1139, Avempace died in Fez.
As for the causes of his death, several sources point to poisoning. Al-Maqqari
recounts that Ibn Ma‛yub was a servant of the physician Abu l-‛Ala’ Ibn Zuhr,
his enemy, and that Ibn Ma‛yub was suspected of poisoning him with an
eggplant (Maqqari-N: vol. 4, pp. 12–13), but Abu l-‛Ala’ Zuhr (not Ibn Zuhr)
had already died in 1130 at Cordova, and lived in Seville most of his life.
The Almoravids bestowed their support on Avempace and other non religious
scholars in spite of being very reverential to the Malikite jurists. Abu ‛Abd
Allah Malik ibn Yahyà Ibn Wuhayb al-Azdi (1061–1130) (Dunlop 1955b)
cultivated all sciences including philosophy but none of his works is extant.
Nevertheless, the Amir al-Mu’minin ‛Ali ibn Yusuf Ibn Tashfin made him his
vizier and his friend. Al-Maqqari informs us that ‛Ali called him from Seville to
Marrakech and appointed him qadi of Marrakech. He ordered him to discuss
religious matters with Ibn Tumart, the intellectual founder of the Almohad
movement (Maqqari-N: vol. 3, pp. 479–480). Al-Maqqari says that Avempace
supported him, but we do not know anything more about their relationship
(Maqqari-N: 3: 434).
We are better informed about his friends Abu Ja‛far Yusuf ibn Hasday[3] and
Abu l-Hasan ‛Ali ibn ‛Abd al-‛Aziz Ibn al-Imam al-Ansari.[4] Ibn al-Imam was
from Saragossa too and was vizier of Abu Tahir Tamim Ibn Yusuf Ibn Tashfin
al-Mu‛izz, (1072–1126) the eldest son of Yusuf Ibn Tashfin, brother of the
ruling Sultan and governor of Granada and later of the whole al-Andalus.
Tamim was a hero, being the winner in the battle of Uclés in 1108.
Ibn al-Imam and Avempace were friends for years; we have several letters that
Avempace wrote to him on philosophical issues. Dunlop translated the
beginning of an incomplete letter of Avempace to Ibn al-Imam in which
Avempace refers to a treatise he composed during his second imprisonment.
[5] As Ibn Khaqan reported, Avempace was imprisoned by Abu Ishaq Ibrahim
ibn Yusuf Ibn Tashfin for a second time, after 1118.
Avempace’s works are mainly preserved in following manuscripts:
• Oxford Bodleian, Pococke 206,
• Berlin, Ahlwardt 5060 WE87 (now Kraków, Biblioteka Jagiellonska),
• Tashkent 2385/92,
• Escorial, Derenbourg 612,
• Cairo, Dar al-kutub, Akhlaq 290,
• Istanbul, Carullah 1279,
• Ankara, Library of the Faculty of History and Geography, Ismail Saib I
1696 (Taylor 1982).
The copyist of manuscript Pococke 206 wrote on folio 120a that he copied his
text from an original that included the handwriting of Ibn al-Imam. “The vizier
finished the reading of this section under him [Avempace] on the 15th of
Ramadan 530” (June 17, 1136) and the place was Seville (IB-coll-alawi: 87).
Ibn al-Imam was governor (‛amil) of the town and in charge of the poll-tax, the
copyist added.
When Ibn al-Imam decided to move to the East, Avempace composed
the Epistle of the Farewell Message as a spiritual companion for the travel.
Since Avempace died in May 1139, Ibn al-Imam should have left al-Andalus
between 1136 and 1139, after he finished copying many texts of Avempace
which he took with him. From his manuscript another one, the mentioned
Pococke 206, was copied in Qus, in the upper Egypt in 547/1152 by al-Hasan
ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad Ibn an-Nadr when Ibn al-
Imam was alive. Thus, 1152 is the earliest date for Ibn al-Imam’s death.
Abu Ja‛far Yusuf ibn Hasday is also the recipient of a letter from Avempace in
which he refers to the astronomer az-Zarqalluh, Azarquiel (d. ca. 1000), and
also writes about his own order of learning.[6] Abu Ja‛far (d. 1123) was the
great-great-grandson of the famous Jewish scholar and statesman Hasday Ibn
Shaprut (ca. 910–ca. 970; Stroumsa 2016). Ibn Abi Usaybi‛a includes in Abu
Ja‛far’s biography his history of physicians,[7] and reports his friendship with
Avempace. Sa‛id Ibn Sa‛id gives a biography of probably his grandfather, Abu
l-Fadl Hasday ibn Yusuf (fl. 485/1092), “of the city of Saragossa and of the
Jewish nobility in al-Andalus” who was first to read Aristotle’s Physics and De
caelo in al-Andalus.[8]
Abu Ja‛far Yusuf ibn Hasday moved to the East and from 1121 to 1125 he
worked for al-Ma’mun al-Bata’ihi, a vizier of the Fatimid Caliph al-Amir. He
wrote for him commentaries on Hippocrates and was involved in building an
observatory at Cairo known as the Ma’muni Observatory (Maqrizi 1913: 174–
176). The observatory was demolished when the vizier fell into disgrace in
1125. Dunlop added a few names to the circle of Avempace, like Abu l-Hasan
Ibn Judi, a younger friend, but Malik Ibn Wuhayb, ‛Ali Ibn al-Imam and Abu
Ja‛far Ibn Hasday are the outstanding figures in his circle. See Annex 1 for a
discussion of sources on his life.

2. Organization of the Sciences

Ibn al-Imam (IB-coll-fakhry: 177–178) produced the first list of Avempace’s
writings, which was followed by Ibn Abi Usaybi‛a in his bio-bibliography
(mentioned above, 1886, 2001). A scholarly account was first made by the late
Jamal ad-Din al-‛Alawi (1983) who not only described manuscripts and
printings, but also tried to determine which works ascribed to Avempace are
authentic, as well as to establish the chronology of his writings and, on this
basis, to draw a developmental account of his thought.
Al-‛Alawi based his chronology on the before mentioned letter which
Avempace sent to his friend Abu Ja‛far Yusuf ibn Hasday in which he explained
that he first learned about mathematical sciences, music and astronomy. He
went on to study logic using the books of Alfarabi and later devoted himself to
physics, the philosophy of nature. We understand that Avempace had not
worked with metaphysics yet. J. Al-‛Alawi distinguished three stages in
Avempace’s development and classified his writings according to these stages.
His writings on music, astronomy and logic belong to the first stage; those on
natural philosophy to the second; and those most representative of his
thinking—the Rule of the Solitary, the Epistle of Conjunction and the Farewell
Message—to the third and last stage.
Avempace himself tells us how these sciences are organized. Ibn Bâjja
followed other Andalusians in turning to Abu Nasr al-Farabi, Alfarabi (d. ca.
950), for instruction in logic and in classifying the sciences. Alfarabi is the
author of a treatise “enumerating” the sciences (Farabi 1952) and some books
of the introductory genre: Epistle with which the book on logic begins (Dunlop
1957a), Sections containing all what needs the beginner in logic (Dunlop
1955a), and the Book of the Eisagoge or Introduction (Dunlop 1956).
Avempace wrote commentaries on many of them, beginning with his
annotations on the Chaptersand on the Eisagoge, mixed with ones on
the Categories. His annotations are preserved in two manuscripts: Oxford
Pococke 206 and, to a larger extent, Escorial Derenbourg 612. These
annotations on the three books belonging to the introductory genre are often
intermingled and may offer different versions (‛Alawi 1983: 80–83).
Porphyry’s Eisagoge was translated into Arabic by Abu ‛Uthman Ya‛qub ad-
Dimashqi (fl. 914) and his translation was used by Alfarabi in his Book of the
Eisagoge (Isaghuji) or Introduction (Madkhal). In his Eisagoge, Porphyry
established five universal “meanings”: genus, species, differentia, property,
and accident, as the foundations of logic, the first element of a chain, the
highest development of which is the syllogism. Alfarabi opened
his Introduction with the following statement:
Our purpose in this book is the enumeration of the things of which
judgments are composed and into which they are divided, i.e., the
parts of parts of the syllogistic expressions employed in general in all
the syllogistic arts. (Eisagoge [Dunlop 1956: 127, {Arabic 118.3–4}])
Avempace comments on his words but when he comes to “in all the syllogistic
arts”, he moves to another treatise of Alfarabi (Risalah [Dunlop 1957a: Arabic,
pp. 225–225, English transl. 230–231]), and seizes the opportunity to expound
on their common classification of the syllogistic arts. There are five:
“philosophy and the [four] arts”. The four arts are dialectic, sophistic,
rhetoric, and poetry. He uses Alfarabi’s words and explains what makes them
syllogistic: “It is in the nature of the syllogistic arts to be employed [for their
own sake] once they are assembled and completed, and not to have an action
as their end”.[9]
Philosophy embraces all beings “insofar as it knows them
with certain science” (IB-taaliq: 27). Thus, two requirements are to be
fulfilled: certainty of knowledge and universality of scope, and these
requirements hold only for the five divisions of philosophy: metaphysics,
physics, practical philosophy, mathematics, and logic.
Metaphysics aims at those beings which are the ultimate causes; they are
neither a body nor in a body. Physics or natural science aims at the natural
bodies, the existence of which does not depend on human will at all. Practical
philosophy—which Avempace calls “voluntary science”—aims at beings
produced by the human will and choice.
Mathematics deals with beings abstract from their matters, although endowed
with number and measure, and is divided into arithmetic, geometry, optics,
astronomy, music, mechanics or the science of weights, and the “science of
devices,” which studies:
How to bring into existence many of the things proved theoretically
in mathematics, where the worth of the device consists of removing
hindrances that, perhaps, hindered their existence. There are
numerical devices—like the algebra, geometrical ones—like those for
measuring the surface of bodies which are impossible to access,
astronomical devices, optical—like the art of mirrors— musical, and
mechanical. (Alwuzad 1988: 253. 7–11; IB-taaliq: 28. 9–11)
We shall soon see that astronomy occupies a particular place in the system
because its subject results from optical observation. Logic is the fifth and last
division of philosophy and focuses on properties that beings acquire in the
human mind; “because of such properties and their knowledge [logic]
becomes an instrument for apprehending the right and the truth in beings”
(IB-taaliq: 28. 13–14). Avempace remarks that for this reason some people
consider logic to be only an instrument and not a part of philosophy, but
insofar as these properties have real existence, logic can be integrated into
philosophy. He concludes that logic is both part and instrument of philosophy.
Since a distinguishing feature of philosophy is the use of the apodictic
syllogism (burhan) because it is the only one that yields certain knowledge,
not all syllogistic sciences can be considered parts of philosophy by
Avempace. He enumerates four such non-philosophical arts: Dialectic relies
only on opinion and negates or asserts something through methods of general
acceptance. Sophistry aims at beings insofar as it misrepresents them and
deceives us: it makes the false look true, and the true, false. And following the
tradition initiated by the Greek commentators on Aristotle, Avempace
includes Rhetoric and Poetics in logic (IB-taaliq: 28–29). These four arts use
other kinds of syllogism but only to convince another, not to infer the truth,
whereas philosophy causes man to convince another and to infer the truth for
The classification of the sciences, indeed, is not complete because the
aforementioned arts are all theoretical and arts like medicine or agriculture
have not been considered. Alfarabi distinguished, at the beginning of
his Risala, between syllogistic and non-syllogistic arts and aligned medicine,
agriculture, carpentry with the second. They were non-syllogistic because,
once their parts were assembled they resulted in doing something, not in
employing a syllogism (Dunlop 1957a: 225). He admitted, nevertheless, that
some parts of these non-syllogistic arts were brought out by syllogisms, and
he mentioned medicine, agriculture and navigation.
Avempace was not as systematic as Alfarabi but he picked up the forgotten
non-syllogistic arts, changed them into “practical arts”, and wrote:
If some of them [the practical arts] employ syllogisms as medicine
and agriculture do, they are not called syllogistic because their
purpose is not [to convince another] nor to employ syllogisms, but to
do some activity. (IB-taaliq: 29. 17–20)
Avempace wrote nine medical treatises (Forcada 2011: 113–114). Forcada has
edited, studied, and translated one of them, his “Commentary on Aphorisms”,
a supercommentary on Galen’s commentary on Hippocrates’ Aphorisms which
illustrates Avempace’s view about medicine. Medical syllogisms have their
premises specifically obtained by means of experience. Experience is obtained
on its turn by means of perception through one’s life time. Avempace
defines tajriba,experience:
As man’s reliance on perception to know particular
[aspects, juz’iyyat] of some matter so that some science results from
this perception.
Experience is said in general and in particular. If it is said in general,
it points out that perception intents knowing particular [aspects] of a
matter, from which a universal proposition results. The particular
[instances] may take place either by man’s will or naturally. (Forcada
2011: 146)
Therefore, Avempace ranks experience not as high in certitude as the first
intelligible but second to it, and he makes it essential part of medicine, insofar
as it can yield universal propositions.
Avempace occupied himself again with the issue of the classification of
sciences in his introduction to the Book of Animals (IB-BA). He placed the
science of animals within natural philosophy, which falls again within
theoretical philosophy.
Every theoretical science is composed of principles and problems.
The results may be called problems (masa’il). The principles can be
concepts (tasawwur) and they are uttered by spoken sounds that are
individual in potency or in actions. The principles can be given
assent to (tasdiq) and they are uttered by sentences that are
statement-making and necessary.
There are sciences like geometry where the principles are more
general and anterior. By “principles”, I mean these concepts
(tasawwurat): the triangle is anterior to the equilateral triangle and
to other kinds of triangles. (IB-BA: 65.5–11)
Ibn Bâjja employs the term tasawwur in a broad sense, since tasawwur in its
proper sense does not express statements as it here does, but concepts. He is
employing also “problems” in a rare sense since he means here “statements”,
he goes on and says:
Anteriority can be either in itself or in relation to us because of our
assent that objects equal to a third one are equal is anterior to our
assent that the sides of the triangle the vertex of which lays above
equal angles are equal. In these examples, the predicates in the
principles are the causes of the predicates in the problems, and they
are anterior in both aspects. (IB-BA: 65.16–66.4)
Geometry and arithmetic do not employ the senses at all but mechanics and
optics do; although their subject matters are sensible beings, they are in
“remote common sensibles”. Mechanics and optics differ from astronomy
because the subject of astronomy is sensible; it needs examination and the
astronomer has to try to find out the causes. Therefore, astronomy follows
mechanics and optics, and the latter follow geometry and arithmetic in the
order of particular to general knowledge.
Both approaches are complementary. In the Book of Animals, Avempace does
not insist on the syllogism as the tool with which sciences are built but he
points to the elements, principles or problems, employed in the propositions
that can be part of any syllogism.

3. Logic
Avempace inserted his classification of the sciences into the Eisagoge, a
treatise whose aim is to discover the simple universal categories underlying
the parts of the sentences. His master Alfarabi added the chapters on
definition, borrowed from the Aristotelian Analytica Posteriora. Alfarabi had
also introduced, at the beginning and in his enumeration of the parts of the
sentence, the distinction between “sound” (lafẓ) and “meaning” (ma‛nà) and
Every predicate and every subject is either a sound signifying a
meaning or a meaning signified by a certain sound, and every
meaning signified by a sound is either universal or individual.
(Eisagoge, Dunlop 1956: 119.1–2)
Avempace observes that “subject” and “predicate” are ambiguous terms
because they may refer to meanings as well as to sounds, and what Alfarabi
considers in this book are the meanings, not the sounds (IB-taaliq: 30. 6–8).
According to their meaning, both parts of the sentence are either universal or
individual. Avempace then follows Alfarabi and divides universal parts into
simple and composite: simple parts of the sentence are genus, species,
specific difference, property, and accident. Composite parts are the definition,
the description, and “an expression the composition of which is restricted, and
is neither a definition nor a description” (IB-taaliq: 30. 16–17). Avempace’s
meaning here can only be understood by reading Alfarabi’s Eisagoge. Alfarabi
defined it as an expression which
is made up of species and an accident, as when we say of Zayd that
he is a white man and sometimes it is made up of accidents, as when
we say of Zayd that he is an excellent secretary. (Eisagoge, Dunlop
1956, translation p. 137)[11]
The nine categories or sorts are parts of the syllogisms (IB-taaliq: 30. 18–19),
according to Avempace and his observations on “subject” and “predicate” are
linked to the sciences which are built on syllogisms. The philosophical
sciences, dialectic and sophistry, have universal subjects and predicates.
Poetry and rhetoric have individual subjects and universal predicates.
Rhetoric employs one or more individual subjects as well as predicates in
cases in which the syllogism resorts to an image or to corroboration[12].
Avempace knew the difficulties of bringing together the
Porphyrian Eisagoge with the Aristotelian corpus as well as the need to
classify and organize the sciences. He did not leave us a systematic treatise,
but only wrote comments on Alfarabi’s writings. In spite of it, we can perceive
a model that starts with the division of “meaning” into individual and
universal, continues with the distinction between simple and composite
universals, inserts the doctrine of the categories, moves toward the
construction of syllogisms, and develops into the variety of sciences according
to their syllogistic nature or not. Let us deal with the place of the categories.
The Oxford manuscript marks a new chapter in the text with the heading “Of
his discourse at the beginning of the Eisagoge”. Here Avempace divides
“meanings” into two kinds: intelligibles (ma‛qulat) and individuals (IB-taaliq:
42. 7). Intelligibles can exist either in the mind or in something outside of it
and they are associated mainly with the universals. Avempace quotes
Aristotle’s definition of the universal: “That which is by its nature predicated
of more than one thing” (De interp. 17a 39) but he borrows the quotation from
Alfarabi who commented on the sentence (Eisagoge, Dunlop 1956: 119. 4–13).
Avempace has two interpretations for the passage. The first says: “that which
is by its nature” refers to an actual resemblance so that universals contain
similar individuals “at one and the same time”. By contrast, the second
interpretation does not limit the universals to any moment, and Avempace
[Aristotle] intended with the expression “that which is by its nature”
the natural [character of the universal] and its disposition to
resemble more than one, which does not imply that the resemblance
exists in its actualization. For it is not impossible for the eclipse,
insofar it is intelligible, to have a resemblance; further it is not
impossible for the eclipse to be predicated of many. (IB-taaliq: 46. 4–
The concepts of possibility and impossibility come into action and the
universal is defined as having the possibility to resemble more than one, “the
possibility inhering in the meaning insofar as it is intelligible” (IB-taaliq: 46.
10–11). On the contrary, the individual lacks such possibility; rather, it is
impossible for the individual to resemble more than one.
Any relation, i.e., the Aristotelian category, in order to exist needs two
possibilities, one for each subject of the relation in contrast to the other nine
categories, in which one possibility in one subject is sufficient. Resemblance is
a relation, since it is to be predicated on two, and both are properties of the
classes of intelligibles as well as of their individuals. The intelligible relations
exist in the categories, not because of their own essence. To sum up, only the
intelligibles possess the possibility of resembling more than one and are
predicted to possess many.
For Avempace, the main purpose of the Eisagoge is to explain the concepts
that underlie the ten Aristotelian categories. The first interpretation of “that
which is by its nature” is more appropriate to this purpose because the second
interpretation affects all beings, but the categories do not affect all beings and
they deal with existents insofar as the mind acquires them. These concepts
are of two kinds: simple and composite. The simple ones are the five
universals and the three composite are the definition, the description and the
aforementioned “restricted composition”.
Avempace affirms that the five predicables are not primitive concepts, but
constitute correlations between two universals falling within the rules of
individuals and classes. He says: “Genus, species, property and accident are
correlates (iḍafa) which are inherent to the intelligibles regarding the quantity
of their subjects” (IB-taaliq: 50). Genus, species and property are essences
inhering in a shared subject; by contrast, the accident is not an essence and
exists outside the subject. The specific difference is related only to the
individual and may be grasped without reference to the universal.
Avempace’s annotations to Alfarabi’s Kitab al-Madkhal are more innovative
than they might seem at first sight. He points out that the Eisagoge should not
be limited to the exposition of the five “sounds”—maybe six, if the individual is
added[13]—and that a particular science was needed to lay the foundations for
the Organon. He conceives this science as a formal theory of individuals and
classes that is followed by the theory of definition and description.
Avempace wrote annotations on other logical books of Alfarabi that were
edited by M. T. Danishpazhuh (1989) and by Majid Fakhry (IB-taaliq), whose
edition is complete. New editions are being prepared by the Center of
Averroic Studies in Fes, Morocco.
The five sections of Alfarabi (Farabi 1986: 63–73) contain general indications
on how to proceed with the study of logic; they are propaedeutic guidelines.
Avempace feels the need for an explanation why these indications are given.
“Knowledge in any art is conceptualization (tasawwur) of the meanings of this
art and assent (tasdiq) to what is made a concept in it” (IB-taaliq: 64. 2–3).
Once again, he resorts to conceptualization and assent as the basic tools of
our knowledge.
In the first section Alfarabi refers to expressions that have different meanings
in the colloquial and in the technical language. When the grammarian
hears raf‛, he understands the vowel of the nominative case, and not ‘lifting a
weight’ as the unlearned man does. Avempace pays attention to the distinction
between term (sound, lafẓ) and meaning (ma‛nà): man listens to a sound, and
gets the meaning that he conceptualized. He may have conceptualized a first
meaning but he must learn that the term has more than one meaning and how
the various meanings are derivate. This learning happens by means either of a
strong mind or of instruction.
The second section classifies knowledge into argumentative and intuitive
knowledge. The third section deals with the difference between the essential
and the accidental. Avempace reminds his readers of the role of
conceptualization: learning means to produce a concept (tasawwur) out of the
meanings and “each concept consists of attributes existing in the object”. The
concept aims at attributes that exist essentially and discards what is
accidental. This section is very useful for conceptualization and assent,
because only the essential is taken in the definition (IB-taaliq: 65).
The Alfarabian fourth section describes the various senses of anterior and
posterior: in time, by nature, in precedence, in excellence, as cause to effect.
Avempace sees the distinction as the way to understand equivocity—primary
and derivative sense, and focuses on three senses of anterior and posterior: as
cause, in excellence and in precedence because the three kinds concern
conceptualization and assent. Priority in cause means that essential things
precede other essential things and the concept has to abide by this priority.
Priority in excellence means that essential is more excellent than accidental
and the concept has to show it. Priority in cause and in excellence are
“degrees” that are applied to the matching concepts in the soul. As for the
assent, the distinction helps man to grasp its levels: to apprehend the
intelligible, the generally accepted, and the simply accepted when the case is
required, and not in a uniform way. It also helps to memorize because “if
matters are ordered within the mind, they are easily memorized and
reminded” (IB-taaliq: 69).
The fifth section is the longest and analyses simple and composite terms (lafẓ);
Alfarabi distinguishes three kinds of simple terms: name (ism), word (kalima),
and instrument (adah) which correspond to the grammarians’ distinction
between name, verb and particle. Avempace justifies the section saying:
Any learner of a logical art must have an ability to distinguish the
signs (dalal) of the terms in order to conceptualize the meanings of
this art in his mind; he obtains the meanings from the terms pointing
to them. (IB-taaliq: 71. 9–11)
His idea of science can be defined as obtaining concepts from meanings and
producing them in his mind, as opposite to memorization. Learning by heart
all the terms would never be a science and Avempace adds that understanding
“everything written in a book” implies understanding the meanings of the
terms contained in it. The ability to discern (mayz) the signs of the terms is
the key condition to learn any theoretical art. Although the ability exists in
most people, the vast majority stifle it from a very young age and Avempace
blames this behavior as the main cause for the ignorance, and not the natural
lack of ability to discern.
Avempace wrote annotations to Alfarabi’s books on the
Aristotelian Categories, De interpretatione, and to the First and Second
Analytics, that were accompanied by “exercitations” (irtiyaḍ). His annotation
on the First Analytics contains his views on Aristotle’s purpose in introducing
the syllogism:
The purpose of Aristotle in his book “Analytics” is to discourse on the
syllogistic potency (al-quwa al-qiyasiyya) because he considered that,
if he discoursed on the action of the syllogistic potency, he had to do
it on the syllogism, just as when he discoursed on the natural
potency, he had to do it on medicine, that is its art. (IB-taaliq: 184. 7–
Avempace explains what he understands under “syllogistic potency”: Aristotle
sometimes would say that many conclusions result from one syllogism, and
sometimes not only one, and this possibility is interpreted as “syllogistic
potency”. According to Avempace, when Aristotle argues: Every man is an
animal and every animal is sensible, thus every man is sensible,[14] he means
that by action of the syllogistic potency the conclusion ‘a certain animal is a
man’ follows from the assertion ‘every man is an animal’.
Avempace links the inversion to the introduction of the fourth figure of the
syllogism in which the middle term is the predicate of the premise containing
the predicate of the conclusion and the subject of the other premise. “Since
[Aristotle] discourses on the action of the syllogistic potency, he keeps
perceiving the fourth figure that Galen thought he had ignored” (IB-taaliq: p.
184. 20–21).
The fourth figure is not rejected by Avempace, who tries to safeguard it by
using potency in a specific sense, “syllogistic potency”. He creates a wider
framework in which he places the “five sections” while the core belongs to the
standard syllogistic doctrine.
To this wider framework it belongs Avempace’s use of the syllogism in his
book on Coming-to-be and Passing-away. When man argues, he accomplishes
a kind of mental movement and the movers are the premises of the syllogism.
Avempace illustrates it with an example: A man takes our money and travels
with it towards Cairo. We go after him and we have to stop over in the
different places of his way up to when we reach the final point, Cairo.
Avempace explains us the story:
Since the existence of the final aim depends on the accomplishment
of a desire, to grasp it is pleasant, and since no other desire
accompanies it, it is pleasant with such a delight that no pain
interferes it, neither essentially nor accidentally. In all intermediate
degrees there is pleasure and pain, and in the first degree, that is
first matter, only pain. That final aim is permanent pleasure and first
matter is permanent pain. The desired thing is the first mover and
the final aim, so that it is both efficient and final cause.
The arrangement of the premises is similar to that of motion, while
the concept (tasawwur) is similar to first matter, and the existence of
the final aim is the accomplishment. (IB-taaliq: 35. 7–36. 3)
The reference to the syllogism, its premises and its conclusion is far distant,
but the topic how man can attain his perfection, and therefore his happiness is
present here as it is in most of Avempace’s writings as we will see.

4. Mathematical Sciences
Al-’Alawi’s exposition of three steps in the intellectual development of
Avempace does not conflict with Avempace’s view of the sciences. In fact,
Alfarabi was active in the three fields in addition to the preparatory logic. The
first of the three syllogistic sciences is mathematics that deals with objects
deprived of matter but endowed with number and measure. Mathematics
contains various sciences, among them music and astronomy.
The biographical sources are informed by Avempace’s expertise as a musician
and as a composer of muwashshaha poetry. In addition, he has left us a brief
composition on the melodies[15]. Avempace expounds on the therapeutic effect
of playing the ‛ud, lute, on the basis of universal harmony existing between
the heavenly spheres and the bodily nature, the humors. Each chord of the
lute is related to one of the four elements: fire, air, earth, water, and each
chord has a beneficial influence on each disease caused by one of the humors.
The chord called zir acts on the bile, the chord mathnà on the blood, the
chord mathlat on the black bile, and the chord bam on the phlegm. Avempace
instructs the player how to place the lute on his body and which finger plays
which chord. If the musician plays the lute in the right way, his day will be
most beautiful.
In his letter to Abu Ja‛far Yusuf Ibn Hasday (IB-coll-alawi: 77–81), Avempace
blames the astronomer az-Zarqalluh for not having properly understood
astronomy and attacks him for his “Treatise to refute the method employed by
Ptolemy to calculate the apogee of Mercury”. This work of az-Zarkalluh is not
extant. J. Samsó informs us that Ptolemy’s calculation of the apogee was
wrong by approximately 30º and that az-Zarkalluh calculated the apogee in
another work only with an error of 10º (Samsó 1993–1994: 676–677).
Avempace, however, criticizes the method that az-Zarkalluh employed.
Avempace wrote a letter to Abu Zayd ‛Abd ar-Rahman Ibn Sayyid al-Muhandis
(IB-coll-alawi: 84–87) about a preliminary question from the first book of
the Conic Sections of Apollonius of Perga (ca. 200 BC). In another letter to his
disciple ‛Ali Ibn al-Imam (IB-coll-alawi: 88–96) Avempace mentions Ibn Sayyid
as the discoverer of new procedures in geometry. In addition to this letter, one
passage in his Commentary on the Physics[16] and another in the Book of
animals (IB-BA: 74) deal with the Conic Sections in a sketchy way. Ahmed
Djebbar studied Ibn Sayyid and Avempace and gathered that both Andalusians
were innovative in their study of warped surfaces resulting from the
intersection of conic and non-conic surfaces[17].

5. Natural Philosophy and Necessity

Avempace commented very freely on the Aristotelian works and wrote
independent articles on various subjects of personal interest. We are not
always sure which source he read and whether it was the complete translation
or an abridgment. In the case of his commentary on the Meteorology,[18] we
know from Paul Lettinck’s edition and translation of the commentary. Lettinck
proved that Avempace read the altered version of the Meteorology made by
Yahyà Ibn al-Bitriq (d. ca. 830; Petraitis 1967).
The Aristotelian treatises dealing mainly with natural philosophy are
the Physics, Coming-to-be and Passing-away, On the Heavens,
and Meteorology. This is the traditional order of their arrangement within
the corpus, and the books on the Animals are last. Avempace followed the
order for his reading of the corpus, wrote his commentaries accordingly and
therefore we should first consider his commentary on the Physics.[19]
Avempace defines this science as theoretical, the subject of which is the
natural body and says that most of its subject is known by the senses (IB-SS-
fakhry: 15.7–9). Physics works on the basis of principles insofar as it is
theoretical and searches for causes as its demonstrative science. We should
not leave aside the long discussion on the essence and position of physics in
Avempace’s introduction to his Book of Animals.
There we learned that the matter of physics is strenuous.
This science must employ all the potencies [capacities] developed
previously in mathematics and logical and it employs them only
insofar they belong to a common genus. (IB-BA: 69. 5–7)
Avempace finally affirms that natural science has various kinds of principles
and problems, and that it contains objects that are not sensible at all, like the
Avempace makes clear that natural science or physics is a theoretical science
which requires mastering other sciences. It is not a science like geometry the
objects of which are anterior, both in knowledge and in reality. Its objects are
posterior in knowledge, but Avempace remarks that some are not related to
the senses.
Motion is one of the main issues in the Physics and Avempace had original
views on the issue. Book VII of the Aristotelian Physics does not fit into the
sequence of Books V, VI and VIII and its chapters deal with subjects not
related to each other. One of them mentions that every movable or mobile is
moved by a mover different from itself (Phys. VII.1, 241b 24). Avempace
considers the tenet that everything is moved by something else, and says:
It is evident that the rest of the whole caused by the rest of one of its
parts takes place in so far as the movable is other than the mover,
and when the influence (athar) of the latter ends, it comes to rest. Its
influence ends because the mover ceases to act either on its own or
because something else exerts resistance on it. Whenever the mover
ceases to act on its own, this happens due either to its destruction,
or to exhaustion (kalal) of the power of the mover, or because the
cause disappears, or because the motion is complete, since the
movable has reached the end toward which it was moving. (IB-SS-
fakhry: 99.16–20. Lettinck 1994: 532–533)
“Influence” is not a technical term, but the words following the quoted text
clarify it. Motion necessarily takes place if a moving power exists in such a
condition that enables it to cause motion and if no contrary moving power
exerts resistance. If the moving power ceases, its influence does too.
The movements involved here are so-called “violent” movements, as opposed
to “natural” ones discussed below. Ibn Bâjja sketches a theory of dynamics
based on a notion of “power” different from the Aristotelian notion of dynamis:
they are mechanical forces which can join another force or counteract it by
offering resistance. Shlomoh Pines introduced the term “dynamics”[20] to
define his views, which no doubt were influenced by the tradition linked to
John Philoponus (d. ca. 566).[21]There is a minimum amount of moving power
for each movable. For instance, to move a boat a minimum of power is needed,
otherwise “one grain of sand could move the boat” (IB-SS-fakhry: 112.27).
When two opposing powers are equal, there is no motion, and when one
power “overcomes” the other, the body moves until it suffers “exhaustion”
(kalal), because any body moved “violently” creates a contrary power stronger
than the one imposed by the mover, and also because the imposed force
becomes “exhausted”. The moving power is also subject to time and distance
factors and the mobile can offer almost no resistance, so that the absolute
terms of proportionality do not apply.
Another contribution is related to motion in the void. Avempace analyzes
“natural” movements such as a stone’s falling through air and water. They are
the movements of the four elemental bodies: fire, air, water and earth. These
movables need a moving power capable not only of moving them, but also of
displacing the medium through which they pass. Dust particles stay
suspended in the air because, although they possess enough power to go
down, their power is insufficient to displace the air.
Aristotle rejected the possibility of motion in the void because the medium
was essential to natural movement at finite speed (Phys. IV.8). John Philoponus
had already expressed the view that the medium is not a necessary condition,
but only provides resistance. The different velocities with which the stone
passes through the air or the water is only caused by the different density of
the medium; it is not connatural to the medium. As a proof that motion
without any medium, namely, through a void, is possible, Avempace adduces
the movement of the spheres:
[In the heavens] there are no elements of violent motion, because
nothing bends their movement, the place of the sphere remains the
same and no new place is taken by it. Therefore, circular movement
should be instantaneous, but we observe that some spheres move
slowly—such as the sphere of fixed stars—and others fast—the daily
movement—and that there is neither violence nor resistance among
them. The cause for the different velocities is the difference in
nobility (sharf) between mover and movable. (IB-SS-fakhry: 116.13–
The role of the medium is not essential, but is only a kind of resistance, and
thus motion in the void is both theoretically possible and confirmed by the
observation of the spheres. Avempace contradicts Aristotle and advances a
doctrine that Galileo will later prove to be right.[22] The similarity with
Philoponus’ doctrine is clear, but an influence is not certain (Lettinck 1994:
The treatise On the Heavens followed next in the Aristotelian order but no
commentary of Avempace has reached us, and the following extant
commentary is on Coming-to-be and Passing-away (IB-GC). Avempace
coincided with Philoponus in a preliminary remark observing that Aristotle
proved in his book On the Heavens the existence of four elementary bodies:
fire, air, water, earth. Since one of the subjects of Coming-to-be and Passing-
away is the mutual generation of these bodies, it is the logical continuation.
Thus, Avempace’s lost commentary On the Heavenslikely comes after the one
on Physics and before the one on Coming-to-be and Passing-away.
This commentary runs parallel to the Aristotelian text. After explaining
changes in quality, Avempace suddenly starts a discourse on force or power
(quwwa) and on the moving power (quwwa muharrika; IB-GC: 26–40). The
four elementary bodies are defined by the four possible binary combinations of
cold/warm with heavy/light. Some of them can be also moving powers:
If the causes of the qualities exist primarily in their subjects and
belong to the same species, the qualities are movers […] Absolute
actuality is the existence of this moving power as moving and this is
only the case because of the existence of the movable being in
motion, and this is coherent if we assume the movable power to
exist. (IB-GC: 26. 1–7)
For Wirmer the passage is one of the pillars, on which he develops the
metaphysical doctrine of “Potenz” in Avempace (Wirmer 2014: 346–352).
Avempace does not extend in the issue of elementary qualities as moving
powers, and focuses on the soul as a moving power (elemental bodies do not
have souls; instead, they have natures). The case of the human soul interests
him most and he wants to explain how intellectual apprehension moves man in
reasoning and action. Avempace will deal, in a more satisfactory way, with the
issue of rank of ideas and forms in relation to human activity in other works.
Avempace’s reflections on absolute coming-to-be and passing-away start with
a linguistic analysis of the term kawn “coming-to-be” which echoes Alfarabi’s
method and itself is a novelty (IB-GC: 41–44). Avempace stresses that coming-
to-be is only possible if the metaphysical structure of act and potency are
admitted (IB-GC: 46–47).
At the beginning of his treatise of Meteorology, Aristotle summarizes his
preceding research: he has established the four causes of nature and dealt
with all natural motion in Physics. He has investigated the ordered movement
of the stars in the heavens in De caelo, and changes of the four elements into
one another, growth, and perishing in De generatione et corruptione. What
still has to be investigated is that which takes place “in the region nearest to
the motion of the stars such as the Milky Way” (Meteo. 338b 3–4).
Avempace’s commentary presents his own theory of the Milky Way. Aristotle
explained it as the ignition of the fiery exhalation of some stars which were
large, numerous and close together. The ignition takes place in the upper part
of the atmosphere, in the region of the world which is continuous with the
heavenly motions (Meteo. 346b 11–12). The version transmitted by Ibn al-
Bitriq diverges and considers the Milky Way to be a phenomenon exclusively
of the heavenly spheres, not of the upper part of the atmosphere. The light of
those stars makes a visible patch because they are so close.
Avempace considers the Milky Way to be a phenomenon both of the spheres
above the moon and of the sublunar region. The Milky Way is the light of many
stars which almost touch one another. Their light forms a “continuous image”
(khayal muttasil) on the surface of the body which is like a “tent”
(takhawwum) under the fierily element and over the air which it covers.
[23] Avempace defines the continuous image as the result of refraction (in‛ikas)
and supports its explanation with an observation of a conjunction of two
planets, Jupiter and Mars which took place in 500/1106–7. He watched the
conjunction and “saw them having an elongate figure” (Lettinck 1999: 434)
although their figure is circular.
Avempace wrote a treatise on animals related to the Aristotelian
books Generation of Animals, Parts of the animals, and Description of the
animals, and another one on plants (Asín Palacios 1940) and probably a third
one on minerals, all following the Pseudo-Aristotelian corpus.[24]
The Book of Animals was edited by Jawad al-‛Imarati (IB-BA). As said above,
Avempace begins his book situating it in the context of the theoretical
sciences, and then within natural science. The science of the living animals is
a species of the natural philosophy (IB-BA: 71). Avempace wonders whether
the relationship of its subject, the animal, is similar to the relationship of
arithmetic to numbers. Arithmetic is a discipline where the pattern of genus
and species applies smoothly: It establishes ten units, and then it combines
them and gives them accidents like being odd or a pair, etc. Since numbers
are made one of another “ten is made of the five multiplied by the two” and
they are “simple forms” which can be continuously incremented (IB-BA: 73)
and animals have a completely different existence, Avempace denies the
Geometrical objects are similar to numbers, but they differ insofar as their
species are infinite. Avempace mentions infinite figures “resulting from
[intersecting] the straight line with the circle, either cylinder or conic”.
Primary genera of geometry are the line, the surface and the body, and
Avempace denies any parallelism to the swimming, walking and flying
characteristics of animals—he uses the term tanasub, ‘proportional’, opposite
to tawatu’, ‘univocal’ (IB-BA: 74. 16–20).
As for a possible similarity to the numbers, numerical specific differences are
anterior and actively dividing, not divisible. On the contrary, according to
Avempace, the science of the animals goes another way:
We must take the first contrariety inherent to the animals and by
which they are divisible, and whether it belongs to the essential
universal opposite accidents by which the primary species come to
stand. (IB-BA: 75. 1–3)
Avempace inquiries further about these basic contrarieties to establish the
furthermost species and make possible a demonstrative science.
We predicate of the animals contrary specific differences, like having
blood or not, and then we can prove it. If we talk about man and
about bull, we cannot make any specific distinction. (IB-BA: 76. 7–9)
Aristotle, according to Avempace, classified the science of animals into four
sections: 1) properties of the sensible parts of animals, 2) properties of their
limbs, 3) properties of their homogeneous sensible parts, and 4) properties of
their non-homogeneous sensible parts (IB-BA: 76).
If we go into the material content of the book, we find some remarkable
contributions of Avempace. Remke Kruk points to his description of the
copulation of insects and to the male and female role in the procreative
process (Kruk 1997: 172–175).
However, the theoretic endeavor of Avempace in his Book of animals seems to
be more relevant. Avempace wants to draw a theoretic system embracing all
reality. Reality is plenty of forms, and their perfection consists of motion and
action (IB-BA: 79). He divides forms into natural and artificial. The specific
difference is that natural forms possess a power (quwwa) which moves bodies
and by which bodies move themselves while artifacts only move accidentally).
Art (sina‛a) is the elaborated form abstracted from matter; it is
abstracted from its matter. The artificial form which exists in its
matter does not have any power to move that which is in it nor to
move something else. This is the difference between artificial and
natural forms. (IB-BA: 79. 1–4)
Natural powers are obviously nobler than artificial ones. Avempace also takes
modal factors into account for his design and introduces necessity in his
discourse. Necessity is predicated of immovable forms in its primary sense,
and metaphysics deals with them. The natural scientist deals with forms
subject to motion and, for this reason, necessity can be predicated “by
design” bi-l-wad‛. Avempace gives the following example that clarifies what he
means with “by design”:
If there is a house, there is a foundation by necessity, and this kind of
necessity is a relationship between the causes of the existing [object]
and the final [cause]. If [the final cause] is described, the various
kinds of the causes follow it by necessity, and the form acts in a
similar way.
If the form is the final [cause] of a motion, motion follows it by
necessity, and it is something evident because, if there is building
activity, there will be a house, and if there is building, there is the art
of construction, but if there is only the art of construction, there will
be no building. If [form] is acquired ‘by design,’ the other causes
result in an orderly way from the final cause by necessity. (IB-BA: 81.
‘Design’ is the human involvement in the example. In natural philosophy,
necessity can be predicated also in another sense. Avempace mentions the
case of the carpenter who choses an iron hatchet because of the hardness of
its iron; the hatchet as formal cause cannot carry its function unless its matter
is iron or an alike material. He sees here another kind of necessity, intrinsec
necessity because of matter. Following the example, iron melts by the
application of fire or it rusts in the soil. Melting and rusting take place by
necessity and “not because the smith intends it” (IB-BA: 81. 16).
By contrast absolute necessity reigns in the heavenly spheres, Therefore,
Avempace reckons three kinds of necessity: absolute, “by design”, and
material. Interestingly, Avempace turns now to the moon eclipses: they
happen with absolute necessity in a determined period of time (IB-BA: 82). As
he goes on and discusses possibility, Avempace admits possibility in relation to
the eclipses, but combined with necessity—he litterally says that “possibility
shares necessity”. Possibility is present insofar as no specific limits determine
the periods of time in which the eclipse exists potentially from those in which
it exists actually. Necessity shows when it does not exist in a given time
because of opposed motions caused by opposed unmoved movers.
Avempace considers then the four elements, in which necessity is only existent
because the temporal determination. Avempace’s lengthy and twisted
arguments end with the conclusion:
Since the celestial bodies do not have any contrary form, there is
absolutely no potentiality (quwwa), and if there is no possibility
(imkan) in them, there is no coming-to-be nor passing-away. (IB-BA:
83. 13–16)
As Avempace’s natural philosophy goes beyond the analysis of motion, matter,
time and place, it extends to metaphysical principles of necessity and
possibility which eventually concern human behavor.

6. Soul and Knowledge

We have read above that physics aims not only at sensible objects (above,),
but also spiritual ones—which allows us to introduce Avempace’s book on
the Soul. The book was edited (IB-S1a) and translated by Muhammad Saghir
Hasan al-Ma‛sumi (IB-S1e) who unfortunately could use only the Oxford
manuscript; the Berlin manuscript is longer although its composition is less
coherent. In 2007 J. Lomba Fuentes used both manuscripts for his Spanish
translation (IB-S-lomba) as D. Wirmer has done for his German version (IB-S-
When Avempace starts the book, he proceeds in a similar way to the one on
animals, namely with a comprehensive framing of the subject. Bodies are
either natural or artificial; all they have in common the presence of matter and
form; and form is their perfection. Natural bodies have their mover inside the
whole body, because the natural body is composed of mover and moved.
Most of the artificial bodies are moved by an external mover, although
automats or machines have their motor inside, and Avempace adds “I have
explained it in the science of Politics” (which is lost) (IB-S1a: 25. 4; IB-S1e:
15). The mover is identical with the form. He distinguishes two kinds of
perfecting forms, namely forms moving by means of an instrument or not (IB-
S1a: 28; IB-S1e: 17). The first kind is nature, the second, the soul.
To define the soul as operating through an instrument, i.e., the body “in an
ambiguous sense”, as Avempace does (IB-S1a: 29. 2), implies it is autonomous.
Avempace defines the soul also as first entelechy (istikmal), as opposed to the
last entelechy of the geometer, i.e., its being geometer in act. Soul appears as
an incorporeal substance, of highest rank. The science of soul is considered by
Avempace as superior to physics and mathematics, only inferior to
metaphysics. Avempace is not disturbed by Aristotle’s hylemorphic view of the
soul which he may have known. He affirms that all philosophers agreed that
the soul is a substance and portrays Plato as the adequate source:
Since it was clear to Plato that the soul is assigned to substance, and
that substance is predicated on the form and matter which is body,
and that the soul cannot be said to be a body, he fervently defined
the soul in its particular aspect. Since he had established that the
forms of spheres are souls, he looked for the commonality of all
[souls], and found that sense perception is particular to animals,
[but] that movement is particular to all, and therefore he defined the
soul as “something which moves itself”. (IB-S1a: 40. 5–41; IB-S1e:
Aristotle’s treatise is relevant for Avempace in its description of the various
powers of the soul, i.e., nutritive, sense-perceptive, imaginative, rational
faculties, although Avempace may have not had any Arabic translation of
Aristotle’s De anima.[25] Avempace often digresses into general reflections; for
instance, at the beginning of his chapter on the nutritive faculty he talks about
possibility and impossibility. But, in other places, there are some references to
Aristotle, for instance, when it comes to the imaginative faculty. Avempace
writes that “The imaginative faculty is the faculty by which the “reasons”
(ma‛ani) of the sensibles are apprehended” (IB-S1a: 133. 3; IB-S1e: 106).
Ma‛nà can translate various Greek words, and the Stoic lektón “meaning” is
the most relevant. The Arab grammarians used the
term ma‛nà, plural ma‛ani to point to the content of the word, to its semantic
component, in contrast to lafẓ, its phonic part; the pair ma‛nà / lafẓ is already
found in Sibawayhi (d. ca. 796). Ma‛nà was frequently used by Islamic
theologians too, to express the concrete cause or “reason” of a thing. The
Latin intentio of medieval philosophy is used to translate ma‛nà, and the
concept of intentio appears close to that intended by Avempace
since ma‛nà has two characteristics: it is some form or figure dissociated from
matter but having reference to the thing the figure of form of which it is
(Blaustein 1986: 207).
Imagination apprehends the internal contents of the sensations and animals
operate with them. “It is the most noble faculty in irrational animals, and
through it animals move, have many arts, and look after their progeny”.
Avempace gives as examples ants and bees, which are exactly the kind of
animals to which Aristotle denies the faculty! (IB-S1a: 140; IB-S1e: 111).
Avempace begins his chapter on the rational faculty by asking whether this
faculty is always actual or sometimes potential and actual. He answers that it
is sometimes potential and sometimes actual (IB-S1a: 145–146; IB-S1e: 117–
118). It is just a note without continuation.
The main activity of the reasoning faculty is to enquire and to learn. Avempace
introduces here the discursive faculty (al-quwa al-mufakkira) which binds
subject and predicate. The text is confusing and the Oxford manuscript ends
inconclusively. The Berlin-Krakow manuscript has a few more pages (176rº–
179rº) that Joaquín Lomba included in his Spanish translation. At the end of
the fragment, the unknown editor writes that it is a treatise on intellect and is
a continuation of Avempace’s discourse on the soul.
The intellect, Avempace affirms, apprehends the essence of something, not
something material and individual. The essence of any object is its “reason”
(ma‛nà) which corresponds to its form linked to matter in this case. If we go
back to a former passage of the same book, we read how the distinction is:
The difference between the reason and form is that form and matter
become one thing without existing separately, whereas the reason of
the thing perceived is a form separated from matter. So the reason is
the form separated from matter. (IB-S1a: 94. 11–13)
Then the intellect apprehends it in such a way that they both—essence and
intellect—are “one in the subject and two in expression”. The speculative
intellect searches for the essences of material beings, but it is not satisfied
with their apprehension. It realizes that they are material intelligibles which
need further foundation and Avempace contends that the intellect knows that
there are superior intelligibles which found them and strives for them (Mss.
Berlin 176 vº). The fragment contains these and other notes which are difficult
to bring together although they are in harmony with other writings of
Avempace. We may refer to his exposition of the “spiritual forms” in the Rule
of the Solitary as more relevant.
Finally, we should mention his text in defense of Alfarabi, accused of denying
survival after death.[26] There, Avempace argues that since man has
knowledge of intelligibles beyond sense-perception and since it occurs by
means of introspection, it is a divine gift to man who has no need for the
matter to survive after death.
7. Ethics and Metaphysics
Avempace illustrated for us his views on how knowledge is organized and how
the world of nature is structured, but we have not yet expounded on his
proper ideas on metaphysics, nor on the sciences that aim at beings produced
by the human will and choice, namely, ethics and politics.
Avempace’s most representative works are the Rule of the Solitary,[27] the
epistle of the Farewell Message,[28] and the Epistle of Conjunction of Intellect
with Man.[29] The latter work contains references to Rule of the Solitary and
to the epistle of the Farewell Message (as well as to his book on the Soul).
Alfarabi’s major work is Book of the opinions of the inhabitants of the
righteous city[30]. It is an exposition of a Neo-Platonist emanationist system as
well of the different kinds of societies. Alfarabi wanted a perfect city, ruled by
a righteous man parallel to the rule of the universe by the perfect One. His
connecting cosmogenic explanations and political plans were known to
Avempace who did not follow him. Avempace does not quote this or other
works by Alfarabi which have a similar content. He quotes Plato but follows
the opposite way. While Plato in the Republic would take the human soul as
the model for the perfect city, so that the perfect organization inside it tells
how the city has to be organized, Avempace starts from the ideal city and
wants to transfer its organization to the individual (Abbès 2011: 86).
Avempace echoes Plato and mentions his division of cities, or societies, into a
perfect one and others which are corrupted (IB-RS-AP: 5–6; IB-coll-
genequand: 123; IB-RS-berman: 125). One assumes that Avempace is
referring to the four imperfect cities, namely, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy,
and tyranny (Republic, viii-ix) although Asín Palacios interpreted them as the
four imperfect cities cited in Alfarabi’s works (IB-RS-AP: 37, note 6), and
Genequand accepts both possibilities (IB-coll-genequand: 256 §13)
The virtuous city is the only that can make its inhabitants happy because they
achieve their perfection. It is characterized by the absence of the art of
medicine and the art of adjudication. Avempace follows Plato, but his version
is also characterized by the absence of weeds (IB-RS-AP: 10. 16–18; IB-RS-
berman: 126; IB-coll-genequand: 126 §32). Avempace explains that in
imperfect cities there are false opinions, but that the majority of inhabitants
accept them as right, or that there are contradictory positions and that there
is no way to know which one is true.
Now the people who discover a right action or learn a true science
that does not exist in the city belong to a class that has no generic
name. As for the ones who stumble upon a true opinion that does not
exist in the city or the opposite of which is believed in the city, they
are called weeds. (IB-RS-AP: 10. 8–11; IB-coll-genequand: 126, §31;
IB-RS-berman: 127)
E.I.J. Rosenthal already pointed to the different evaluation of the “weeds” by
Alfarabi and Avempace (Rosenthal 1951). Avempace borrows the concept from
Alfarabi who saw these men as a danger in the imperfect as well as the
perfect city. Avempace saw the virtuous city free of weeds, because it is free
from false opinions. Weed-men spring up only in the imperfect cities, and they
can help in correcting their views. However, he realized that they were
strangers in the cities or societies of his time, which all belonged to the
corrupted types, and he did not believe that these societies could be
rehabilitated; he abandoned Alfarabi at this point and addressed the “weed-
Avempace wrote a book of a genre similar to that which physicians write to
preserve and acquire health, the so called tadbir as-sihha. He referred to
Galen and what Galen wrote in the Preservation of Health as a model for
his Rule of the Solitary. To preserve physical health requires knowledge of the
natural science about delivering justice, for example, and knowledge of
political science. Avempace concluded that since his treatise aims at acquiring
and preserving spiritual health, “it reverts to the natural and political science”
(IB-RS-AP: 12.15–16; IB-RS-berman: 129; IB-coll-genequand: 128 §38). What
binds natural and political science? Forms, insofar as men have similar and
different forms, and forms are related to nature.
“Form” acquires a broad sense for Avempace who distinguishes various kinds
of it. Forms are known as the intelligible essences of objects. Avempace
accepts this meaning. For him, however, forms have something in common,
namely, moving power, and forms are integrated into a participating hierarchy.
Avempace’s doctrine of the forms is no doubt original, although antecedents
are found in the Neo-Platonist tradition. He once quotes a treatise “On the
Spiritual Forms” misattributed to Alexander of Aphrodisias (IB-coll-fakhry:
166. 16–17; IB-CIM: 18) which S. Pines (1955) demonstrated to belong to
Proclus. Alfarabi’s Risala fi l-‛aql (1938) and other of his works contain the
principles of the participating hierarchy of intellects and intelligibles (cf.
Davidson 1992; Ramón Guerrero 1992).
Thus, man’s actions belong to different levels according to the different forms
found in man: physical, animal and spiritual. The latter are specific to man; we
can know which actions are most appropriate to man only if we know what is
his essence, namely, his most excellent form. Therefore, Avempace
accompanies his Regimen sanitatis with a following Treatise on the spiritual
forms, lengthier than the former. Steven Harvey already insisted that his
epistemology allows us to understand his attitude about politics, and that is
not something accidental (Harvey 1992: 212). Avempace assigns the term
“spiritual” to the soul insofar as it is “a moving soul”. This may be too broad a
definition, but he then specifies the various kinds of “spiritual forms”—all
having the capacity to move:
The spiritual forms are of various kinds: the first are the forms of the
circular [i.e., heavenly] bodies, the second are the active intellect
and the acquired intellect, the third are the material intelligibles
(ma‛qulat), the fourth are the “reasons” (ma‛ani) existent in the
faculties of the soul, i.e., existent in common sense, in the
imaginative faculty and in the memory. (IB-RS-AP: 19.2–5; IB-coll-
fakhry: 49.16–19; IB-coll-genequand: 132 §58)
The heavenly bodies are not only immaterial for Avempace and the long
Aristotelian tradition, but they are also the most spiritual and are followed in
rank by the class of the active intellect and the acquired intellect. The active
intellect is immaterial, but the acquired intellect has some connection to
matter “because it perfects (mutammim) the material intelligibles” (IB-RS-AP:
19. 10; IB-coll-genequand: 133 §59: “il actualize”). The latter are “not
spiritual per se because their existence takes place in prime matter” (IB-RS-
AP: 19. 7–8; IB-coll-genequand: 132 §59), and we assume that they are the
internal counterpart of the substantial forms. We see that spiritual forms differ
from similar forms which are joined to matter and determine the substances.
Avempace does not give us any instance of “material intelligibles”, but we may
well think of the idea of a tree or a horse in our mind. In his later treatise on
the Conjunction of Intellect with Man, Avempace differentiates between
intelligibles of real existing beings such as the horse, and intelligibles of non-
existent beings, such as a one-legged man, and he further differentiates
between intelligibles of real existing beings which one has seen, and
intelligibles of existing being which one has not seen. For Avempace, the latter
are intelligibles in a derivative sense or by analogy (IB-CIM: 15; IB-coll-fakhry:
163; IB-coll-genequand: 191 §27). “Material intelligibles” should contain both
The objects of common sense, imagination, and of memory are not
intelligibles; they are ma‘ani, “reasons”. The term is ambiguous, but it is clear
that a “reason” is the cognitive product of any of these three faculties and it is
also clear that “reason” is some spiritual form.
According to Avempace, spiritual forms divide into universal and particular
forms: universal forms are found in the active intellect and the individual
intellect apprehends them too. Particular forms are found in common sense,
and Avempace gives the instance of a certain mount in Arabia. The “spiritual”
content of the forms in the common sense is lower than in the forms of the
imagination, and that of the latter ones is lower than in the forms of the
memory insofar as their content is more and more “corporeal”. The forms of
the rational faculty—we may say, the material intelligibles—are not corporeal
(IB-RS-AP: 21. 2–3; IB-coll-fakhry: 50; IB-coll-genequand: 132 §61). Avempace
seems to be aware of the difficulties of his explanation, and later on the same
treatise he summarizes the views:
We say: The form of any generated corruptible being has three
grades of existence, the first is that of the universal spiritual form
which is the intelligible form and is the species, the second is that of
the particular spiritual form, and the third that of bodily form.
The particular spiritual form has again three grades, the first is that
of the “reason” existing in the memory, the second is that of the
picture (rasm) existing in the imaginative faculty, and the third is the
image (sanam) or the common sense. (IB-RS-AP: 31.13–32.1; IB-coll-
fakhry: 58.10–15; IB-coll-genequand: 141–142, §90)
Particular spiritual forms may be true or false; if they have come to us through
the common sense, they are mostly true. Spiritual forms play a role in every
aspect of human life, even in the prophetic revelation. The inspiration
received by the prophets belongs to the category of particular spiritual forms,
which do not pass through the common sense, but are received directly from
the active intellect. Avempace wrongly refers to Aristotle in support of his
view and view and ends by saying “These instances go beyond the natural
world, they are divine gifts” (IB-RS-AP: 24. 7; IB-coll-fakhry: 53; IB-coll-
genequand: 136 §71).
As for the Sufis, their experiences belong to the level of the particular spiritual
forms, where common sense, imagination and memory are active, but they
mistake them for universal spiritual forms, and wrongly believe that the
coincidence of the three faculties is the source of supreme happiness (IB-RS-
AP: 26–27; IB-coll-fakhry: 55).
Man has to organize his various faculties—from the rational to the nutritive—
and there are categories of men according to the prevalence of each of the
three faculties. In some of them, corporeality prevails; in a select few,
spirituality does. Ibn Bâjja counts some ascetics and Sufis among the latter—
but for most, the situation is mixed. Man is moved by spiritual forms that may
be as basic as clothing, housing or food. Clothing, for instance, acts on two
levels, the protective and the ornamental. Virtues are attached to the spiritual
forms found in the imaginative faculty because the purpose of virtuous actions
is generating positive feelings and admiration in the souls of those who see
them. The spirituality of most men is, however, limited to particular forms.
Only philosophers attain the highest degree of spirituality, the immaterial and
universal intelligibles. Although philosophers have to take due care of the
corporeal and particular spiritual forms in order to live, and live honorably,
their main concern is the universal separated forms:
Spiritual acts render him nobler, and the intellectual acts render him
divine and virtuous. The man of wisdom is therefore necessarily a
man who is virtuous and divine. Of every kind of activity, he takes up
the best only. He shares with every class of men the best states that
characterize them. But he stands alone as the one who performs the
most excellent and the noblest of actions. When he achieves the
highest end—that is, when he apprehends simple substantial
intelligences (‛uqul) that are mentioned in the
[Aristotelian] Metaphysics, the book On the Soul, and On Sense and
the Sensible—he then becomes one of these intelligences. It would
be right to call him simply divine, and he will be free from the mortal
sensible qualities, as well from the [particular] spiritual qualities.
(IB-RS-AP: 61.11–18; IB-coll-fakhry: 77; IB-RS-berman: 131–132; IB-
coll-genequand: 163–164, §164–165)
In his later treatise Conjunction of Intellect with Man, Avempace reformulated
his theory. He addressed the treatise to his disciple Ibn al-Imam and
complained about lack of time because of his numerous occupations. For this
reason he chose a non technical way to describe how man first acquires the
spiritual forms, then he apprehends the intelligibles, and by means of the
latter he approaches the final intelligence, whose intelligible is itself. He calls
it the natural way: each man has a material intellect which receives them and
the intelligibles are relative to each material intellect (IB-CIM: 17; IB-coll-
fakhry: 164; IB-coll-genequand: 193 §32).
He distinguished three stages, the first is that of the common people and their
intelligibles are linked to the material objects; the second is that of the natural
scientists or philosophers, and their intelligibles are linked to the spiritual
Avempace is not satisfied with an indirect approach to the last intelligence
and wants to reach and acquire the absolute intelligibles, free of any relation
to the material intellects and free of any spiritual form (particular or
universal): it is the third and final stage.
We are informed that absolute intelligibles are the true existence and that
they merge into the one last intelligence. Avempace never says that God is the
last intelligence, which he compares with the sun and its light. The felicitous
person who succeeds in reaching the highest step of knowledge becomes light
himself (IB-CIM: 19; IB-coll-fakhry: 168; IB-coll-genequand: 198 §46). But, in
this stage, he abandons any articulated scientific knowledge and dips into a
wordless mystical experience.
By contrast, practical intelligibles play a minor role in spite of the import they
have in ethics and politics. Avempace includes among them the ruling of the
city or of the armies and considers them “intermediate forms”. They exist in
the solitary only for the sake of one of the three spiritual forms, corporeal,
particular spiritual and universal spiritual (IB-coll-fakhry: 91; IB-coll-
genequand: 179 §210).
As we said above, Avempace presented his Rule of the Solitary (Tadbir al-
mutawahhid) as a Regimen sanitatis in order to acquire and preserve spiritual
health, which obviously equals to happiness (IB-RS-AP: 11; IB-coll-fakhry: 43;
IB-RS-berman: 128). The companion he gave to Ibn al-Imam for his travel,
the Epistle of Farewell, was intended to help him attain spiritual happiness.
Avempace enumerates the different degrees of pleasure, the highest being
science. Man suffers from ignorance and when he reaches the truth, pain goes
away and pleasure seizes him. However, intellectual pleasure is also caused by
the very fact of knowing.
But when we strive for knowledge, we do it not because of pleasure
but pleasure is some profit (ribh) we gain as it follows the existence
of the truth, because every pleasure is like the shadow of something
else. (IB-CIM: 23. 5–7; IB-coll-fakhry: 123. 2–4; IB-coll-genequand: 98
Avempace enquires further on the issue of pleasure and knowledge, and we
can abbreviate it by saying that the highest form of pleasure requires
continuity and that continuous pleasure is attained not only by intellectual
knowledge but also by knowledge of an eternal object. Metaphysical
knowledge is man’s uppermost stage and source of highest pleasure. Averroes
(d. 1198), however, would express doubts whether man’s uppermost stage is a
natural perfection or divine gift for Avempace, an issue which Alexander
Altmann researched (1965). Altmann concluded that Avempace defended the
uppermost stage as a mystical experience, similar to that preached by the
Sufis, and in any case we can agree that Avempace saw the uppermost stage
as a divine gift.
Avempace concluded his enquiry moving out of the rational and leaving many
loose ends. He was a busy man. When he finished his treatise On the
Conjunction of Man with Intellect he apologized for not having been able to
produce a demonstrative argument, burhan, on the issue and uttered his hope
that the addressee of the epistle would be able to grasp its sense and meaning
(IB-CIM: 22–23; IB-coll-fakhry: 172–173; IB-coll-genequand: 203 §60). Still,
the outlines of his system are visible.
Inspired by the Porphyrian division of the five voices, knowledge starts with
the opposition universal/individual, and develops into syllogistic and non-
syllogistic sciences which can explain all aspects of reality. Reality consists of
matter and forms, but form differentiates into a stairway of forms, according
to their distance from matter. Forms are essences as well as active potencies,
and any form is a mover. In addition, the ascension of spiritual forms inside
man runs parallel to the ascension of forms in nature. They both unite in
separate substances, pure intelligibles, and true beings, and at the summit,
man merges into the Active Intellect. Avempace’s intention appears clear, but
whether the conjunction is possible and how it occurs remains obscure.
Even if no metaphysical interpretation of Avempace’s thought would be
accepted, his ethical doctrine would remain indisputable. Avempace was
clearly concerned by man’s fragile nature and the ever-threatening presence
of death (Alwuzad 1994) but he was convinced that man could master his
destiny with the sole means of his intellectual capacity and resolve.