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3 - Expelling Dialectics from the Ideal State: Making the World Safe for Philosophy in Averroes’s Commentary on Plato’s “Republic”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 May 2022

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Summary

Averroes begins his Commentary on Plato's “Republic” with the assertion that the intention of his treatise is “to abstract from the statements that are attributed to Plato about political governance that which is included in scientific statements, and to eliminate the dialectical statements from it.” This assertion would seem to find its full expression in the form of Averroes's Commentary: Plato's dialogue in ten books has become three treatises in Averroes's Commentary, which explicitly omit books 1 and 10. Moreover, Glaucon, Adeimantus, Thrasymachus, Polemarchus, and Cephalus are not mentioned at all in Averroes's Commentary; even Socrates is only mentioned once and then merely with reference to his choosing to die rather than live in a corrupt city—that is, with reference to events not literally referred to in Plato's Republic. Rather, the one who speaks in Averroes's Commentary would seem to be Plato himself. Even if his words occasionally intermingle with those of Averroes, the resulting text takes the form of a monologue rather than a dialogue. Furthermore, Averroes dedicates the first argument of his Commentary to explaining the place of the science of governance, the purported topic of the Republic, in the Aristotelian hierarchy of the sciences. According to Averroes, the science of governance, which is the practical science dealing with volition and will, has two parts: a theoretical part, which treats “volitional actions and habits in general” (haqinyanim wehapeʿulot hareṣoniyyim) and which he associates with Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics; and a practical part, which deals with the establishment and ordering of those habits in order to achieve perfect actions and which he associates with Plato's Republic, since Aristotle's Politics was not available to him. As the practical part of practical science, Averroes's Republic fits into an Aristotelian division of the sciences—even if it is not exactly Aristotle's own division—as a treatise, or series of treatises, dealing with political science. In adopting this Aristotelian form, Averroes's Commentary dispenses with the dialogue form of Plato's writing.

It appears from the rest of Averroes's Commentary that he has thrown out the dialecticians along with the dialogues. Perhaps as a consequence of this, Plato's account of the culmination of human reason in dialectic in connection with the divided line (Republic 509d–511e) is, in Averroes's Commentary, a culmination of human reason in Aristotelian metaphysics (hafilosofiah harišonah).

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Plato's Republic in the Islamic Context
New Perspectives on Averroes's <i>Commentary</i>
, pp. 69 - 86
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2022

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