Изображения страниц

gences of the same species, and receives impressions from them.” Even from so slight a sketch of this doctrine we may readily see how it could happen that a long and stubborn controversy arose, whether or not it admitted the immortality of the soul. The disciples of Averroes maintained that it did ; his opponents urged that it did not. And certainly there is something to be alleged on both sides. If the soul on quitting its tenement of clay becomes absorbed into a superior but still kindred intelligence, it cannot be said to perish. But, on the other hand, if it is to possess no self-consciousness nor personal identity, then, to say the least, there is a wide departure from the idea of an immortal soul as commonly understood or received. It is not to be supposed that this doctrine of Averroes was understood in the same manner by all his disciples. On the contrary, there were numerous subtleties and subdivisions, according as learned men who were attracted towards it laboured from time to time, and with more or less success, to bring it into harmony with the tenets of revealed religion. Thus, it might be supposed that the spark of the anima mundi, which, according to Averroes, is sent to animate each human being, need not at the death of that human being immediately, and of course, rejoin the central essence, but may be destined in punishment or reward first to pass through either higher or lower phases of existence. Such a view of the case would therefore not be irreconcilable with the doctrine of future retribution for the good or the evil deeds of the present life,

[ocr errors]

though evidently falling short of the orthodox dogma which teaches an eternity of acceptance or of condemnation. • It seems far from easy, judging from the passages which I see adduced, to reconcile the followers of Averroes with one another. But hardest of all is the task to reconcile Averroes with himself. The occasional divergence in his views might indeed be well explained by supposing that he, like most other philosophers, had varied in his views at different periods of his life. But what shall we say when we find these divergences occur in one and the same piece of writing 2 Thus in the controversial treatise which bears the singular title of ‘Destruction of Destructions, Averroes contends in the plainest terms that the soul is not divided according to the numbers of the human race, and that it is the same in Socrates or in Plato; that intellect has no individuality, and that what seems individuality is only the result of sensation. Yet in the same essay there occurs the following passage, which appears to take up the old and the orthodox ground. “The eyesight of an old man is weak, not because his visual faculty is weakened, but because the eye which serves as its instrument is weakened. If the old had the eye of the young he would see as clearly as the young. Moreover, sleep supplies a manifest proof that the substratum of the soul is permanent, since all the operations of the mind, and all the organs that serve as instruments to these operations, are, as it were, annihilated during this time of repose, and yet the soul does not cease to be. From such considerations the learned are brought to share the views of the vulgar upon immortality. And further still, the intellect does not seem attached to any particular organ, while on the other hand the nerves are all localised, and may be so affected in different parts of the body as to produce contradictory sensations.” It was not merely on the soul of man that Averroes formed his speculations. I have already found occasion to give you some of his views on the celestial bodies as deduced by Michael Scott. In his own writings these views are still more clearly expounded. He looked upon the heavens as forming together a series of animated beings whose various orbs represent the members essential to life, and whose main mover is to them what in the human frame the heart is to the limbs. Each of these orbs, according to Averroes, has self-consciousness, and knows also what is passing in the orbs inferior to itself. The highest sphere of all has therefore a full knowledge of whatever is passing in the universe. You will see at once how closely this system connects itself with the idea of a central intelligence. And yet, notwithstanding dreams like these, in which many men of genius, besides Averroes, have at times indulged, it may I think be said with truth, that this Arabian, far from being behind his contemporaries on this subject of astronomy, was greatly in advance of them. All at that time clung with undoubting faith to the astronomical system of Ptolemy:—

[ocr errors]

* See these two passages in Renan : Averroes, pp. 154, 155.

The system of Ptolemy is well known. He explained the divers movements of the stars by the supposition of crystalline spheres without any stint of numbers; so that, as Fontenelle long afterwards observed, crystalline spheres cost him nothing, and he designed a new one at each fresh occasion that arose. On this point Averroes, greatly to his honour, forsook his Grecian guide. There is a remarkable passage upon it in the twelfth book, chapter iv. (not the thirteenth book, chapter viii., according to the erroneous reference of M. Renan) of his commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics. He gives arguments against Ptolemy's whole system of epicycles and eccentrics, which he declares to be impossible. “Nature,” he adds, “does nothing in vain, and it is unworthy a philosopher to suppose that she employs two instruments when a single one will effect the object in view. It is therefore needful that there should be a renewed investigation of that genuine astronomy which rests on natural foundation. In my youth I hoped that such an investigation might be made by myself. Now in my old age I despair of it; but still, my observations may stir up some other man to pursue these inquiries in my place.” This wish, as you well know, was fully accomplished, but not until centuries after Averroes had ceased to be. The doctrines of Averroes then, taken as a further development of the doctrines of Aristotle, provoked much keen discussion in the Middle Ages. But that discussion was by no means always uniform; on the contrary, very different phases of it may be traced as it N

proceeded. Under the Emperors of the house of Suabia, engaged as they were in ceaseless conflict with the ecclesiastical powers, a sceptical spirit was afloat. Indeed it has been observed that in this respect Italy, during the thirteenth century, bore a striking resemblance to France during the eighteenth. With the sceptics then of the thirteenth century the disciples of Averroes came to be allied. Still we find the name of the philosopher held in high respect, even by many who dissented from his doctrine. A passage in proof of this may be cited from the twenty-fifth book of Dante's Purgatorio. Here the poet Statius is introduced as solving some doubts that were felt by Dante, and he proceeds to say—I quote from Mr. Cary's version—

“How babe of animal becomes remains
For thy considering. At this point more wise
Than thou hast erred, mo the soul disjoined
From passive intellect.”

Now the early commentators upon Dante tell us that the man “more wise” (pii, savio"), here respectfully referred to, is no other than Averroes. And Mr. Cary adds: “Much of the knowledge displayed by our poet in the present canto appears to be derived from the medical work of Averroes, called the Colliget.

Judging from Dante, then, we may assert that Averroes had no cause to complain of the poets in that age. But he was not treated quite so honourably by the

* Quest e tal punto Che piu savio di te già fece errante.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »