Averroes (Ibn Rushd), the famed Medieval Islamic commentator on the works of Aristotle, reknown as the Commentator in the Christian West, including in the Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas, had a profound impact on Wester Christian philosophical thought. Furthermore, his work influenced Jewish philosophy, including the thinker Maimonides.

However, "Averroes had no discernible influence on Islamic philosophic thought until modern times." (wikipedia quoting Leaman 2002), despite Averroes being a muslim. This thus sets up the context for the titular question (here repeated):

Why did Averroes have a limited impact on Islamic philosophy?

  • My impression is that Islamic philosophy changed direction with Al-Ghazali which created a break with Greek inflected philosophy (Falsafa); the picture that I have is like the contemporary break between analytical & continental philosophy; but of course very different in detail. Jul 17 '15 at 10:53
  • @MoziburUllah I believe you are on to something. In fact, I am certain you are right in identifying Al Ghazali as a key influence. Why he triumphed over Averroes however is left unanswered, and drives at the heart of this question. Could you perhaps expand your comment into an answer?
    – Cicero
    Jul 17 '15 at 12:29
  • 1
    @MoziburUllah, Depsite my ignorance of islamic philosophy (studying western and christian philosophy in more detail as of current), I researched Al Ghazali's main work (through wikipedia and the sources it provied) and compared it to the philosophical trends of Christianity and Judaism (which I am more familiar with). I believe the key is the introduction of occasionalism and the blanket attack on the greek philosophers. Your identification on his attack on Falsafa is correct. I have thus written an answer elaborating on your comment to share the insights I have gained.
    – Cicero
    Jul 30 '15 at 18:02
  • I was intending to come back to this and answer it properly - my own understanding is not as good as it should be. Jul 30 '15 at 21:18

Al Ghazali about a century earlier had written a text called The Incoherence of the Philosophers, a critique on metaphysics (or, more bluntly, an attack on the philosophers). By philosophers he means primarily those scholars whose metaphysics is based on Aristotle and Plato, but his attacks really were focused on Avicenna, the intellectual predecessor of Averroes. Wikipedia summarizes the contents of his work as follows:

He states that Avicenna and his followers have erred in seventeen points (each one of which he addresses in detail in a chapter, for a total of 17 chapters) by committing heresy. But in three other chapters, he accuses them of being utterly irreligious. Among the charges that he leveled against the philosophers is their inability to prove the existence of God and inability to prove the impossibility of the existence of two gods.

The twenty points are as follows:

Refuting the doctrine of the world's pre-eternity.

Refuting the doctrine of the world's post-eternity.

Showing their equivocation of the following two statements: God is the creator of the world vs. the world is God's creation.

The inability of philosophers to prove the existence of the Creator.

The inability of philosophers to prove the impossibility of the existence of two gods.

The philosopher's doctrine of denying the existence of God's attributes.

Refutation of their statement: "the essence of the First is not divisible into genus and species".

Refutation of their statement: "the First is simple existent without quiddity".

Their inability to demonstrate that the First is not a body.

Discussing their materialist doctrine necessitates a denial of the maker.

Their inability to show that the First knows others.

Their inability to show that the First knows Himself.

Refuting that the First does not know the Particulars.

Refuting their doctrine that states: "the heavens are an animal that moves on its own volition".

Refuting what they say regarding the reason that the heavens move.

Refuting their doctrine that the heavens are souls that know the particulars.

Refuting their doctrine that disruption of causality is impossible.

Refuting their statement that the human soul is a self-sustaining substance that is neither a body nor an accident.

Refuting their assertion of the impossibility of the annihilation of the human soul.

Refuting their denial of bodily resurrection and the accompanying pleasures of Paradise or the pains of Hellfire.

Beyond heresy

The three irreligious ideas are as follows:

The theory of a pre-eternal world. Ghazali wrote that God created the world in time and just like everything in this world time will cease to exist as well but God will continue on existing.

God only knows the universal characteristics of particulars - namely Platonic forms.

Bodily resurrection will not take place in the hereafter only human souls are resurrected.


The Incoherence of the Philosophers is famous for proposing and defending the Asharite theory of occasionalism. Al-Ghazali wrote that when fire and cotton are placed in contact, the cotton is burned directly by God rather than by the fire, a claim which he defended using logic.

Averroes attempted to refute this work with his The Incoherence of the Incoherence, which defends Aristotlean thought. However, this work was poorly received compared to Al Ghazali's critique. The main thing was that Al Ghazali had written a fairly well reasoned attack on the philosopher's account of metaphysics, which conflicted with orthodox islamic thought, and instead presented the case for the supremacy of god and orthodox islamic consensus while showing the Aristotleans to be heretical, thus garnering the title "Proof of Islam". So deeply entrenched then was his philosophical account that Averroes account, which went against the tide of Islamic account and to the eyes of his contemporaries, against islam itself, was bound to fail. Indeed, many of Al Ghazali's ideas can be found in the works of later philosophers (Descarte presents the idea that every moment is willed from god in the meditations, for example, and Kant raised some critiques of metaphysics that are similar to Al Ghazali's).

In Christian thought however, despite the critiques of Averroes which echo Al Ghazali, the explicit philosophical movement of ocassionalism never took hold. Hence, Aristotle's ideas were still considered useful to an extent. St. Thomas Aquinas, despite disagreeing with and attacking Averroes's metaphysical positions, still incorporates Aristotlean thought in his works such as the Summa Theologica, finding several Aristotlean concepts useful. In Judaism, a similar dynamic occurs, wherein the philosophy of ocassionalism never took hold.

In short, Averroes's metaphysics is rejected by all three Abrahamic faiths. However, the critiques of Al Ghazali against the entire Greek tradition, and the establishment of the doctrine of ocassionalism in Islamic thought, was unique to Islamic philosophy, and made it less receptive to Averroes's commentaries on Aristotle. The philosophical tides were more receptive however in Christian and Jewish philosophy, explaining why Averroes had a more profound impact on these two philosophical traditions.

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