Expelling Dialectics from the Ideal State: Making the World Safe for Philosophy in Averroes' Commentary on Plato's Republic

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Averroes begins his commentary on Plato's Republic with the assertion that his intention is to abstract Plato's scientific arguments "by eliminating the dialectical arguments from it." This statement is usually taken to refer to the lack of any allusion to the dialogue form in Averroes' Commentary. Yet, Averroes does not associate dialectics with dialogue, but with syllogistic arguments founded on generally accepted principles or else on induction. Such syllogisms, according to Averroes, resemble Aristotelian demonstrations, but do not have the same certainty as Aristotelian demonstrations. As such they are one of three kinds of persuasive arguments that are not demonstrative: poetic, rhetorical, and dialectic. Both poetics and rhetoric play key roles in the regime of Averroes' commentary on the Republic, particularly in connection with convincing the people of theoretical notions which are beyond their demonstrative capabilities. Yet, dialectics is never said to be useful for Averroes' regime and Averroes never recommends teaching it to the people. My claim in this paper is that while in Plato's Republic, Socrates calls for expelling the imitative poets from the city, Averroes' commentary on Plato's Republic envisions a regime in which imitative poets play a central role, but dialecticians are entirely absent. Moreover, the justifications that we find in Book X of the Republic for the condemnation of the poets also apply to the dialecticians according to Averroes' reading: viz., they appeal to people who cannot distinguish them from truth, they strengthen unreasoning parts of the soul, they appeal to people who generally know better, and they are an imitation of reasoned argument. Yet Averroes also makes clear who precisely the dialecticians are: the theologians known as the mutakallimūn. Accordingly, Averroes' commentary on the Republic envisions a regime without theologians, while still retaining imitative poetry and rhetoric. This position may have led to Averroes' condemnation and subsequent neglect in the Islamic West, but it played a vital part in the debates on religion and reason among medieval Jewish thinkers who read the commentary in the Hebrew translation of Samuel b. Judah of Marseilles and in the super-commentary of Joseph ibn Kaspi.
Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - 2018
EventPlato, his Dialogues and Legacy - Department of History, Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel
Duration: 5 Jun 20186 Jun 2018
https://www1.biu.ac.il/File/2018/Plato%20program%20Final.pdf (Website)


ConferencePlato, his Dialogues and Legacy
CityRamat Gan
Internet address


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