How Did Averroes Influence the West?

The ancient Andalusian polymath Averroes had a remarkable impact on the Western world, shaping the fields of medicine, philosophy, and more.

Apr 8, 2024By Maysara Kamal, BA Philosophy & Film

how averroes influence the western world


Averroes was an Andalusian polymath whose legacy of works has deeply influenced Western thought. Most known for his Aristotelian commentaries, Averroes came to be referred to as ‘The Commentator’ and as the ‘Father of Rationalism’ in the West. He has likewise made tremendous contributions in medicine, for which he came to be known as the “prince of science’.


Influence on Western Philosophy

The depiction of Aristotle in an Arabic manuscript. Source: Wikimedia Commons
The depiction of Aristotle in an Arabic manuscript. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Aristotle, the hallmark of Greek philosophy, wouldn’t have been relevant if it wasn’t for Averroes. At the caliph’s request, Averroes wrote voluminous commentaries between 1169 and 1195 CE on Aristotle’s works, including De Anima, Physica, Metaphysica, Organon, De Partibus Animalium, Parva Naturalia, Meteorlogica, Poetica, and Rhetorica. He also wrote commentaries on the works of other key figures of Greek philosophy such as Plato. On each book, he wrote several types of commentaries, each intended to meet the different intellectual capacities of his readers. He was interested in uncovering the original teachings of Aristotle and stripping them away from the Neoplatonic tendencies of his earlier interpreters who, according to him, have distorted the Greek philosopher’s original message.


raphael school of athens painting
The School of Athens, Raphael, 1509-1511. Source: Vatican Museums


Since the fall of the Roman Empire in the sixth century, most of Aristotle’s works were lost or neglected and philosophy was a largely abandoned study area. Interest in the Greek thinkers was only rekindled after Averroes’ commentaries were translated into Latin and Hebrew. Since as early as the thirteenth century, Averroes came to be recognized as ‘the father of rationalism’, and continued to be recognized until the Renaissance when Raffaello depicted him in The School of Athens as one of the greatest philosophers in history. Averroes’ commentaries were incorporated into all the Latin versions of Aristotle’s works. His commentaries not only gave rise to Latin Scholasticism but also played an instrumental role in leading to the Renaissance. Averroes did not only revive Greek philosophy in the West but also greatly influenced religious philosophy.


Influence on Religious Philosophy

Church Altar. Source: Pixabay
Church Altar. Source: Pixabay

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Averroes is among the fiercest thinkers who have defended the study of philosophy against the conservative tendencies of religionists. He raised philosophy to a very high standard of significance, not only claiming that it is a medium of reaching absolute truth that is perhaps as important as revelation but also that only philosophers should be allowed to interpret scriptures. Averroes had many views that angered the conservative Muslims of his time, as well as the conservative Christians of the next century. The influence of his works on religious philosophy ignited lots of controversies in Latin Christendom as they led to a similar revaluation of the Church’s rebuke of philosophy.


Manuscript page by Maimonides with Arabic and Hebrew letters. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Manuscript page by Maimonides with Arabic and Hebrew letters. Source: Wikimedia Commons


A scholarly movement started at the University of Paris when a group of philosophers who called themselves ‘Averroists’ challenged the Roman Catholic Church’s stances on philosophy.  Averroes’ works were condemned and banned by the Church in 1270 and 1277, yet they continued to attract followers to ‘Averroism’ until the sixteenth century and influenced many other philosophers, such as Thomas Aquinas.  As for the Hebrew translations of his works, they did not cause as much controversy. They sparked a new interest and interpretive lens to scripture and Judaism, influencing Jewish philosophers such as Moses Narboni, Maimonides, and Abraham Ibn Ezra, who all integrated his thoughts into their philosophical systems, particularly his views on revelation.


Influence in Medicine

The Coverage of Averroes’ Colliget in Latin. Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Coverage of Averroes’ Colliget in Latin. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Although his recognition as a philosopher has often eclipsed his significance as a physician and scientist, Averroes has written over 20 books in medicine that have influenced Western medicinal science. His magnum opus was Alkulliyat Fy-Altibb, commonly known as the Colliget, which was a complete medicinal encyclopedia consisting of seven books. After its translation to Latin and Hebrew, the Colliget became an essential textbook of medicinal science that was taught in Europe up until the eighteenth century. Averroes has also made unprecedented discoveries, as he was the first to identify symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, attribute photoreceptor properties to the retina, and diagnose and pharmacologically treat erectile dysfunction and other sexual issues. He also built on Al-Razi and Avicenna’s works on strokes and influenced the evolution of various pharmacological and nutrition-based treatments. 


Although Averroes’ works have also been influential in other fields, what is the most notable is that the entire landscape of Medieval Western philosophy and medicine would have been entirely different without him.

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By Maysara KamalBA Philosophy & Film Maysara is a graduate of Philosophy and Film from the American University in Cairo (AUC). She covered both the BA and MA curriculums in the Philosophy Department and published an academic article in AUC’s Undergraduate Research Journal. Her passion for philosophy fuels her independent research and permeates her poems, short stories, and film projects.