Averroes on intentionality and the human experience of the natural world

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Like Aristotle's psychology, Averroes’ psychology aims to explain how human beings experience the world outside of the soul or the world that is independent of the soul. From the perspective of the soul, this world, the natural world, is divided into two parts: that which can be sensed and that which can be apprehended by the intellect. Certainly there are things that are beyond human comprehension, but whatever can be apprehended must be perceived sensorially or grasped intellectually. Like other Islamic philosophers before him, most notably Avicenna and Ibn Bājja, Averroes develops accounts of intentionality to distinguish between apprehended forms, which are present in the soul of the apprehender, and forms that are actually present in the natural world. Much, if not all of human knowledge of the world, it turns out, is attained through intentions. Accordingly, the foundations of science lie, at least to some extent, in intentionality. To understand Averroes’ account of Aristotelian science and knowledge of the world, one must first understand Averroes’ account of intentionality. The English word intention is derived from the Latin intentio, which medieval translators of Arabic used to translate the Arabic maʿnā. While intentio was also used to translate a number of other Arabic terms, here I shall use the term exclusively for maʿnā in an effort to elucidate some aspects of what Averroes means by this term. Maʿnā is one of the most complicated and multifaceted Arabic philosophical terms and it is not always clear how to translate it, or even whether a single English term could suffice to render it unambiguously. Arabic translators of Aristotle used maʿnā to translate such conceptually broad terms as πρᾶγμα, λόγος, and σημαίνει as well as other terms expressing the meaning of things or of words. In these cases, the term seems primarily to express things and their meanings. By Averroes’ time, the term had been greatly influenced by the mutakallimūn, who used it to refer inter alia to attributes (broadly understood), cause, and thing, as well as by Avicenna and Ibn Bājja, who incorporated the term into their accounts of psychology. Given the complexity of its various meanings, it seems best to consider Averroes’ use of the term independently and use Averroes’ own language to discover how he understands the term in his psychological works and how he locates the term in Aristotelian psychology.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAristotle and the Arabic Tradition
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781316182109
ISBN (Print)9781107101739
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

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© Cambridge University Press 2015. All rights reserved.


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